As we grow older, the phrase, “time flies” is uttered often. For me, however, this past year did not fly by; the year progressed seemingly slowly in the best possible way. While only 365 days have lapsed, I feel as though 5 years worth of experiences had taken place since I unchained from the golden handcuff.
Did I figure out what I want to do with my life yet? Not exactly. But I’ve found peace in not rushing to define that big lofty question. After all, life is a journey, and I’m in no hurry to get to the end. I did, however, had ample time to try out new things, and forged life lessons that I can take with me as I continue to navigate life through the great unknown.
Plans are Suggestions Only
I like plans, a lot. In the corporate world, I almost always had my precious 15 days of vacation days strategically and meticulously planned out by January 1st of each year. The year is then spent pining for these vacations to arrive. This past year, however, has forced me to let plans modify and let life forge on its own.
If I had made plans for more than a month in advance, they were often forced to be changed. We had job opportunities that popped up and not worked out at the last minute, which we were then happy to fill with travel plans. More than once, I’ve found myself booking accommodation on a bus en route to the destination.
Being free from the 9-5 grind also means giving up a well-defined structure. Living with a great deal of unknown has its own set of challenges. Just because life no longer has a routine, does not equate to an open-ended vacation.
Freedom Fund and a Well-Stocked Toolbox
Years before I unchained from corporate life, Xav and I had forged an “early retirement” plan. We started a 1,000 Day Countdown that would end by 2020. Clearly, we abandoned that plan. But along the way, we’ve built up a healthy Freedom Fund. It’s not enough that we’d never have to work again, but it’s enough to at least temporarily step away from uninspiring jobs and gain some headspace.
The FIRE (Financial Independent Retire Early) movement has caught on like wildfire over the last few years, and as everything goes, there are lots of labels: early-retired? semi-retired? mini-retirement? taking a year off? The answer is: none of the above. We intend to (and need to) work again, just not sure in what domain or under what capacity.
The important thing is that we have a healthy freedom fund (or if you’d like, the more vulgar term, F***-You Fund), to do what we like for a while. And we are able to enjoy this time at ease, because we have skills that we’ve built up over the years to make money in the future.
Immediately after I left my job a year ago, I submitted myself to an intensive 9-week coding camp, not because I’ve always dreamed to be a software developer, but because I believed that skill is a useful one to stock in my toolbox.
If you are feeling stuck and would like to take some time to live differently, start crafting a plan to become debt-free, then build a healthy freedom fund, all the while collect useful skills so you can enjoy the freedom at ease.
Meaningful Life Exists in All Forms
One of the best books I read over this year was Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind. My takeaway? We are all merely monkeys trying to survive in this world. Societal expectations? Social norms and religious rules to follow? All subjective ideas conjured up by a bunch of monkeys. Somehow, images of a planet full of monkeys instead of humans put everything into perspective.
And as we traverse the world, observing individuals live lives in all sorts of ways, I’m reminded that prestige is in the eye of beholder. There is no set of jobs that are “better” than others; contrary to what I’ve been taught my entire life, white collar jobs are not superior. Furthermore, life doesn’t have a formula. Some days, I dream of working as a barista in a hipster café. Some may say that would be a waste of a fancy degree, but I say, so what?
We owe it to ourselves to live the life that we want to live. We’ve all heard that before, but that truth is way easier said than done. Decades of brainwashing cannot be undone quickly. It takes time and space to define what my ideal life looks like. A year later, I am still not sure. But it’s slowly taking shape. Slowly, but surely.
The Art of Slowing Down
When I first arrived in my Cameroonian village with the Peace Corps, I did not know what to do with vast amount of unstructured time. So I filled it up, until I realised it was silly. Same thing happened 10 years later. I left my job, and immediately filled my time with activities, even if some were unplanned. Nevertheless, I did not slow down for the first six months to have any real headspace to process life.
Leaving my job and bidding farewell to Shanghai were both major life changes, not to mentioned getting married, and embarking upon a whole new lifestyle. These milestones deserve reflection, and it took a lot of time before I was okay to spend an entire day sitting in an AirBnB, doing nothing but to read a book, write, and ponder about life.
When we are caught up on the loop of métro, boulot, dodo (the French phrase for metro, work, sleep), we dream of the day where we can consistently wake up without an alarm and do NOTHING. Yet, the reality is that most of us are conditioned to be “productive”, and we do not know how to “do nothing”.
Re-learning to let go of my narrow definition of productivity, and be still has been an important lesson. I read headlines of today’s children not getting enough unstructured play, and it’s no wonder, because we adults have no idea how to live without structure.
So what’s on deck for the next steps? To be totally honest, I have no idea. And that’s half the fun. I will welcome opportunities with open arms, but meanwhile continue to take the time for myself, to reflect and redefine my version of an ideal life. What is your version? I would love to know!