My brain is often bombarded with reflective thoughts (I over-analyze everything), but this is especially true with my birthday. The celebration marks another year gone from my limited time on this earth. Everyone must engage in a little self-assessment on their birthday – pondering where you’ve been and what’s to come. Yet, it’s supposed to be a happy day, full of indulgence and special treatment. Birthdays celebrate the relatively minimal accomplishment of surviving another year. It’s for us to decide whether we put that time to good use.
So, let’s see. I’m now 34 years old, almost halfway done with my thirties. I have a little bit of net worth (as opposed to $0 at the beginning of 2016), but we still have a long ways to go before reaching our goal of semi-retirement. We have three children and a good-enough home. We have one rental property. I have a graduate degree. I really dislike my job, but it pays well and is somewhat flexible. Also, we need it to pay off our debt and build up the assets needed to support us as we strive towards living our dream life.
The debt. No discussion of current status is complete without discussing the way in which our past mistakes continue to haunt us. We did make some good decisions along the way, but fell for the charms of advertising and used credit in an attempt to keep up with those damn Jones’s. Now that the damage has been done, I find thoughts of constantly accruing and compounding interest are always on my mind. I try to channel them as motivation, but other times they are downright depressing.
Our current financial situation often causes me to regret the time wasted in my past. It’s hard not to see “kids” achieving financial independence before the age of 30 and wish we would have done things differently. I fantasize about the increased possibilities for our young family in a different reality, if we had just been more frugal from the beginning. However, there is no point to wallowing in this self-disappointment. The important thing is to understand the reasons underlying my poor decision making in the past. I’ve finally allowed myself to realize that the issue was discomfort with being myself. I wasted time and money searching to find my place in mainstream society. I thought it was the only way to be happy.
I’ve come to realize that I’m incompatible with standard life, most likely it has something to do with the requirement that you adhere to a routine. Each day is ruled by schedules and responsibilities. Maybe I’m immature, but I’ve never felt like a “grown-up.” I like the challenge of new experiences, but quickly become bored. Status and predictability never really impressed. me. In retrospect, besides my family, I get the most joy from being a collector of experiences. I love to think back on the varied, and sometimes surprising, things that make up the past 34 years. I have convinced myself that the best way to make the most of the years that I have left, is by channeling my energy towards financial semi-independence. If we free ourselves from the bonds of debt, build up some assets, and keep our living expenses low . . . then we can escape from full-time employment.
Our plan allows for more engagement with life and the flexibility to shift our focus towards an endless variety of new experiences. But there is a cost, to be paid over the next five years or so. Right now, I always feel busy and constantly struggle with the idea of balance. As I’ve written before, the ability to achieve real balance between full-time employment and actual life is a myth. That type of balance is not the goal. My current difficulties are with the constant hustling to pay off debt as fast as possible, while not feeling like I’m missing out on everything in the present. We come into contact with so many messages every single day. I’ve honed my skills when it comes to tuning out the consumerist commands. There are other messages, about living each day to the fullest and walking away from everything that makes you unhappy. They remind you not to waste your finite time on this earth. It gets difficult to reconcile my desire to escape the trappings of mainstream society with the responsibility to repair our damaged finances.
I don’t have it all figured out just yet, but highly doubt that it’s necessary to have a meticulously planned route to our future. The progress we’ve made so far is encouraging. Also, I take comfort in the fact that paying off debt will only give us more options, even if we change our goals somewhere along the way. Ultimately, my birthday really just is another day. It’s another 24 hour block on the timeline of my life. I’m optimistic for the future, which is why there won’t be any shopping sprees or fancy dinners at a restaurant. Money and assets create opportunity, whereas debt traps you in a corner. We’re building something amazing and I have faith that it will be worth all the extra effort. I just have to make a conscious effort to enjoy the present as well, especially those small moments that last forever as precious memories.
Well, those are my birthday ramblings – now off to go enjoy a hot fudge brownie ice cream sundae 🙂