“Draw a circle,” the leader instructed.
She had an aura of someone who would embrace the label of “the cool aunt” and would totally have your back if Uncle Ed had anything to say about your unladylike unshaven legs at the Thanksgiving table, even if she herself always followed gender norms.
With a ruffle of paper and faint smell of Sharpie, we did as we were told.
My first thought was wondering if this was some sort of weird confidence test, as it was almost comical how many circle sizes were present. Some women seemed to anticipate an eventual venn diagram, as theirs were only on one side of the page, and other circles were so tiny that two dozen could fit on the page without any sides touching.
“Am I winning Leadership Class?” I thought, which was immediately replaced with, “or am I just going to look pompous with my big circle?”
“Think of a risk in your life, and inside the circle, I want you to write down everything you associate with your status quo,” she continued, after everyone got a few seconds to rubberneck all the other circles.
The biggest risk I could think of was our plans of early retirement. Unless the market tanked, we’d be financially independent by the end of the year and would theoretically never have to work again. Seeing how joining the ranks of the Financially Independent, Retiring Early (FIRE) crowd is not something generally seen as a positive thing to brag about at work, this risk became “taking a year off to travel.”
Would it surprise anyone that “$$$” was my first addition? Continuing working and not taking the risk of travel meant security. It also meant a whole lot of FOMO.
“Now, outside of your circles, outside of your comfort zones, I want you to write down what it would mean to take that risk.”
So far, so good. I could at least follow this exercise, which is more than I could say at last month’s “communication” session.
“I want you write out what the next steps would be to take this risk, or how you could prepare for the risk.”
That sounded like a list to me, so I list I wrote. Started out strong, and finishing strong. Until she spoke again.
“Now, find the fear. What is stopping you from taking this risk, and how can you reframe the risk?”
This confused me. We were always planning on this. We just haven’t actually done it yet, since we haven’t reached our goal yet.
After it became clear I wasn’t going to come up with anything on my own, I flagged down the instructor.
“It’s just, I can’t think of anything stopping me. It’s something we’re planning for, and something we’ve saved for,” I started.
“Does the thought of taking the risk make you nervous?” she asked.
“I mean, yeah? The thought of not having a steady stream of income makes me nervous, but even then we could likely go back to work or make some amount of money some other way, and we’ve saved up a lot —,” I said, before she cut me off.
“That’s logic. Fear comes from emotions,” she said.
“But I like logic,” I feebly joked. She wasn’t letting me off the hook, that much was clear.
“What about taking a year off is frightening?” she asked.
After more awkward seconds than I would have liked, I responded, “That I’ll fail. That I’ll have all this time to write or work on hobbies and won’t have accomplished anything, and I’ll have no excuse and nobody to blame,” I said.
“But then you’d learn something,” she said, “and you won’t have to wonder. That’s your reframe.”
“Failing at retirement” is weirdly enough not a new concept. On FIRE blogs, there are plenty of commenter trolls that will yelp and scream at anything that hints of paid employment of any fashion, insisting that the blogger is “not really retired.”
This was not my fear. If I ended up getting paid for something I’d love to do anyway, I’d see that as a very good thing.
My fear was that at the end of my first year not working, I’ll have nothing to show for it. Be it Netflix, starting (but nowhere near finishing) a bunch of projects, or being the first human to successfully hibernate, I’d feel awful.
It’s not an unfounded fear. This is my first post on this blog for months, and I’ve been meaning to write it for weeks. Entire days on the weekend have passed with literally nothing accomplished, and my mom would be appalled by the state of cleanliness and tidiness in the apartment.
While I hope part of the reason I’ve been unproductive has to do with a vitamin D deficiency I’ve since started correcting, I know how my brain works. Structure and rules are good for me. Complete freedom brings out my inner puppy dog that just wants noms and attention.
Reframing My Early Retirement Fears
It does not matter if I fail and my first stab at early retirement doesn’t work for me, because every failure is a chance to learn.
- I can take it day-by-day and week-by-week.
- I can change my own rules, whenever I want
- I can volunteer or otherwise schedule structure into my life
- I can even go back to work
- I could even work part of the year or part-time
There is no way I will have a perfect routine from day one, but as long as I’m self-aware and flexible, I can learn and slowly optimize my life.
While it’s not officially in the books yet, I’m planning a mini retirement for most of October and November! Coincidentally, we’ll likely be financially independent about a month earlier, so this mini-retirement could feel very real indeed. I have a few trips planned, including three weeks in a cabin in the woods, and am going to try to have some concrete, small goals.
After my mini-retirement, Fergus and I will have a deeper discussion about timeline and logistics, and we may start transitioning to part-time at work.
So many feels on this side of the blog, how are things on your end? If you’re also seeking FIRE, do you have similar fears? Are there any other big risks you’re contemplating in your life? How are you reframing your fears?