It’s a marathon, not a sprint.
When I passed the distance marker and read, “1 Km”, I knew that I was in trouble. After all of my training doing hills, cross-training, long runs, short runs–I was finally taking on my first marathon. But as my knee began to twinge and a recurring back injury started to whisper to me, I knew that this was going to be a long, long 42 km (26.2 miles).
After an unspeakable number of ibuprofen and almost five hours of slogging, I did finally cross the finish line. But boy, did I have to dig deep. It’s in those kinds of moments when I was hobbling along and no one was on the road cheering me on that I really needed to hang onto my ‘Why’:
- Why am I doing this? (Actually, it was more like, “Why the #$% am I doing this!?”)
- What made me think that I could do this!?
- What happens if I can actually finish this?
Five hours is a long time to think about this–but for me, the answers ended up being pretty simple:
- I need to finish what I started
- If I can do this, I can do anything
I knew that if I could train, prepare, and complete something this big then I could do anything–I just needed to cross the finish line. Now, when I am having a tough go, or I need to persevere and keep plugging, I think about that marathon. In fact, I tell myself to “Dig deep. Marathon deep.”
Think that this is a great analogy for our journey to financial independence (FI). For some of us it seems like 26.2 miles/42km uphill. For others it might feel a bit shorter with the wind at their backs. But no matter what your journey looks like at the moment you will at some point need to clearly know your “why FI?”
First the why, then the how
Often when folks start toying with the idea of FI they immediately get caught up in the how. How long will it take me to get the money I need? What’s my savings rate? What should I invest my money in? What’s the overall plan? How will I track this? etc. etc.
But before you jump into the how, it’s super important to spend some time on your why. As a start, check out a great podcast discussion where Jonathon and Brad talk about the The Why of FI.
After listening to this podcast and doing my own navel gazing, I thought about some questions that might help me get to the root of my why FI? Perhaps they will be helpful for you too.
What does my current life look like?
For many of us, this can be described as being on the hamster wheel. This tried and true formula might not be so bad except for the fact that it may be missing some key elements for you. It certainly was for me. Let me paint the picture of what my life is like á la hamster wheel:
- Get up/woken up by one of two screaming children. Usually sometime in the 5am range.
- Try to get them fed and dressed (note: this includes at least three major kid meltdowns/week).
- Try to get myself fed and dressed.
- Get everyone out the door to their respective daycare/school and get myself to work.
- Work like a maniac with no breaks–working and eating over lunch, back-to-back meetings–you get the picture.
- Leave work in a semi-panicked state to get to daycare in time for pick up (note: one is charged by the minute for being late–not to mention I can’t stand leaving my kid there for too long).
- Get home and scramble to try to get a relatively healthy dinner on the table.
- Dinner, clean up, sometimes playing with the kids.
- Bedtime routine for the kids (note: also usually involving 2-3 meltdowns/week).
- 45 kid-free minutes. Some of which may be spent on food prepping/cleaning/some other random chore. Or worse yet–some work that I had to bring home. Brief adult conversation with significant other.
For me, this is not good enough. I need more time. Without more time, there is nothing left in the can for me. No time to work out, to think, to reflect, to rest–and certainly not enough time to nurture relationships in the way that I want to. On top of that, I was horrified to realize that this was only getting worse as I get older.
What would I like to be different?
So I am claiming that time is the biggest thing that I want. But let’s dig into that a bit more. Time for what? And is it really just the time I want? Here are some of the things that come to mind when I think of having infinite amounts of time:
- Learn to play the drums like a 70’s rock band (think Boston’s More than a Feeling).
- Go to culinary school/take some courses to learn to be a vegetarian chef.
- Be that mom who makes the cupcakes with unique icing decorations on them for the school/daycare bake sale.
- Do yoga and some kind of meditation/quiet time practice every day.
- Have a weekly lunch date with my main squeeze aka Mr. MoneyPenny.
- Volunteer at my local community food center and urban garden.
- Start a business–be an entrepreneur.
- Perhaps do another marathon and enjoy it!
Boy, that list was easy to come up with–and I could go on! Needless to say, I would have lots of things I could get into.
Even before getting carried away with this list, having time would allow me to go through my current daily schedule more. I could get the kids off to school and not worry about whether I can make my 8:30 am meeting. I could pick them up at three-something when they finish. The house chores would be finished and dinner well underway by the time everyone gets home. I could even have had time to do a little exercise and nurture my own soul for a wee bit. Sounds glorious.
How would being FI allow me to make things different?
But even more, than allowing me to go through my days more calmly and perhaps try some neat new things, the big thing that time could give me is the opportunity to stretch myself and grow in ways that are just not possible right now.
I am somewhat limited in what I can realistically do for work and still make a decent wage. What I mean by this is that if I want someone to actually pay me for a job, I have to know what I’m doing. For example, I could certainly try to get a job as a florist which would be super cool, but after 10 minutes they would realize that the only thing that I have going for me is that I like flowers.
With more time, I can explore passions and interests that are just not possible now. And I will probably purposely push myself to try things that way outside my current comfort zone. This is not just interesting and cool. Without getting too philosophical, I think that this may allow me to take the next step forward in my own self-actualization.
For me, this means that having more time can help me become closer to the person that I’m meant to be. I ended up doing biomedical research and public health as a career, but perhaps there is an artist inside me (sadly, not likely!). But it could mean that I could pursue volunteer work outdoors in nature. I always wondered if I was meant to do something around the environment.
FI also means that I can be more fully what I am now–partner, mom, daughter, friend. I would have the time to invest in these important relationships. More time to spend sharing experiences and stories. More time for me to notice and be present to the other person’s experience. Time for me to reflect on how I can adapt and grow to best nurture these relationships.
On top of all that, FI will allow me to think beyond myself and my close circle of friends and family. I hope that I will also be able to contribute in a meaningful way to the community around me. Maybe through volunteering or by just being a good neighbor.
Basically, I think FI has the potential to just make me the best version of me.
And so that’s why my friends, I am desperately seeking FI!
Your Why FI Elevator Speech
I have been told in various contexts to have my ‘elevator speech’ ready. Meaning that if I step into the elevator and happen to be there with my boss’s boss’s boss, then I should be ready to either describe what I do in the organization in 2-3 sentences and/or what our current contribution/big issue/ask is. If I’m ready, apparently, I will avoid being tongue-tied and make a good impression.
In the same way, it might be useful for us to have a “Why FI” elevator speech. This could be used when people in our lives get a little curious as to why we are bringing our own thermos of coffee everywhere and get excited about re-using Ziplock freezer bags. When the conversation treads into the area of personal finance you might be able to share this great opportunity to pursue FI.
After some thought, I think that this could be my elevator speech:
For me, financial independence means not having to do anything for money. This will allow me to be better in all my important relationships; pursue interests and passions that I might not even know I have in me; and contribute to my community in meaningful ways. Together, I think that FI can enable me to be the best me that I can be.
Do these questions help you get to your Why FI? Are there others? What’s your elevator speech for FI?