A few weeks ago I was at home in Mexico for a late-season rain. I’ve been adding a new level and unit onto my small home in Baja California Sur. Although I expected the construction to be completed sometime in October, the finishing touches continued to drag on. This meant that with my two pre-existing units starting to be occupied by short-term renters for the ‘tourist season’, I was scrambling a bit for a place to stay. This was made all the more urgent by the forecast tropical storm set to fall during the days that I would be ‘homeless’. I reached out to a friend of mine who has a property nearby with four living quarters that he rents on Air BnB, and as it turned out he had some space during those days.
The rain was forecast to arrive during the night, and it looked like it was going to rain pretty hard and steadily for about 24 hours. Early that day the sky had gone from it’s usual brilliant blue to a dreary, overcast grey. When I went to bed, however, the night was calm and still.
It rained overnight – I woke up at times and could hear it on the palapa roof of my cabaña – but nothing too serious. I woke up in the morning and all was still quite calm if not a little damp.
Could that have been the storm? Was that what all the hype was about? I doubt it but you never know.
I lounged around, waxed my surfboard, and continued to nurse a back injury. It was a nice morning, cool compared to most, so what was the rush to go anywhere? Why should I want to leave the place? It was nice relaxing on the palapa-shaded patio, listing to music, enjoying my coffee and reading.
I spent several hours hanging around like this. I didn’t have a lot of options given my injury, but at least I had this nice space to hang out in and could walk down to the cafe to see the crew whenever I wanted.
And just as I had decided to do exactly that, it started to rain.
Now this is the real rain. This is the storm predicted.
It went on through the day and into the night, raining heavily almost the entire time. This was a downpour, on the level I was used to witnessing on the West Coast of British Columbia. Only here in the desert, with a lot less vegetation to soak up the rain, the dirt quickly began to flow with water.
Suddenly the idea of walking just a few hundred meters down to the cafe seemed a lot more daunting.
I’m starving! I should have gone down there earlier. Now who knows how long I am stuck here for!?
I proceeded to eat a fig bar and lie down to read some more. Between a tropical storm and an injured back, it didn’t seem there was many more options to consider at the time.
Sometimes just one option is enough for us to feel free. Sometimes the loss of just one option is enough for us to feel stuck.
Freedom is about options
One of my old bosses used to get really stressed out sometimes, and rightfully so. It was a fast-paced, high-pressure environment where we worked 12 hour days 7 days a week, and expectations were high.
Although I didn’t appreciate the wisdom at the time, I remember her once describing how she felt she was able to handle it because she knew she could quit anytime. That is, her mortgage was paid off and she had a fair amount of savings and no huge outstanding debts to service. From what I could surmise she was not quite financially or personally ready to retire, but she was far from living paycheque-to-paycheque. She had the option to leave if she decided she just didn’t want to live with the stress anymore. In short, Financial Freedom.
To me this sounded nice. It also sounded like something that only people way older than me could have achieved or that maybe required more lifestyle sacrifice than I was willing to make.
I was less than a year into my first mortgage at the time. I was barely keeping my head above water and away from home half the time trying to do so. My relationship gave me a sense of meaning at the time. But when that fell apart everything came into perspective. I realized that in order to continue to service my debts, I had no option but to keep on doing what I was doing no matter how miserable it made me.
It was only at this point that I understood the value of Financial Freedom. and in what my boss had told me. And it required a complete shake-up of my life in order to put myself on that same path.
The Meaning of ‘Underwater’
If someone told you to hold your breath 20 seconds, could you do it? I would guess that most likely, yes, and without much issue. But what if someone told you to hold your breath indefinitely? My guess is you would likely feel a lot less comfortable at the 19-second mark than you would knowing the suffering ends at 20.
When I’m surfing, and I wipe out, I’m often held down by the wave for a short time. Usually, it’s not long at all – 5-10 seconds. But the uncertainty of not knowing when you will surface can really play tricks on your mind.
Has it been 5 seconds? 10? 30? And how much longer to go still!?
Uncertainty, fear and panic take over.
This analogy applied to our finances and our debts. And this is what it means to be underwater. Your options become limited very quickly when all that matters is getting back to the surface.
My Norwegian Prison
I joke with my friends and call work my “Norwegian Prison”. This is due to the fact that it is, indeed, northern, quite comfortable and very beautiful – much like I picture a Norwegian prison being. There are hot springs and three free, square meals a day, and by any standard in the world, I get paid quite well to be there.
I am very fortunate, but it doesn’t always feel so when I am there. Despite all the creature comforts and beauty on hand, I can’t leave. No matter what is going on out in the real world that may be giving me feeling of missing out, I am there for three weeks, 24 hours per day. ‘There’, of course, being 310 kilometers by gravel road to the nearest town,
Options are limited.
Feeding the FIRE
Personally, I struggle to find meaning or fulfillment in my current career. Therefore, my strategy is to earn a disproportionately large salary up front, live on relatively little, save a lot, and plant the seeds that will allow me to achieve a modest level of Financial Freedom at an early age. The only reason I take interest in economics and personal finance is out of desire to never restrict my options again.
Meanwhile others, whether they have reached Financial Freedom or not, may particularly love their job. And that’s just as great if not better. Again, the goal of the #FIRE movement and of this blog is not to demonstrate the one and only way to get there. Instead, it seeks to highlight the many paths – all borne of shared values and beliefs – that can lead one to a sense of personal Freedom and Happiness. Values such as quality over quantity, process over outcome, people over things, and curiosity over conformance, to name but a few.
Ultimately, if the day of the week doesn’t negatively affect your level of happiness, you are fortunate. This likely means one of two things: you have reached a level of Financial Freedom that allows you to live a work-optional lifestyle, or you are working at a job you love (or both).
Money used to come in the form of shells. It is simply a collective trust in a system. It is nothing more than a construct of modern society and therefore must be treated simply as a tool. A means to an end.
Because when it becomes the end game itself, all is lost, and all the money in the world couldn’t help you find it again.