Welcome to freedom. Now what?

“What is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life,” asks Mary Oliver in her poem The Summer Day. With less than two weeks before the decade wraps, let us ponder this question. Yet in this exploration of career reinventions, more time with the kids, or rekindling a long lost hobby we’re often faced with a recurring roadblock.

There’s an insurmountable obstacle blocking our ability to live that wild and precious life. In the words of Destiny’s Child: bills, bills, bills.

In The One Page Financial Plan (affiliate link) financial advisor (and RadReader) Carl Richards describes an onboarding session with a smart, successful and driven couple by the name of Mark and Sara. They had worked long hours to save a decent nest egg and wanted the best financial plan money could buy.

But Carl threw them a curveball. Instead of handing them an asset allocation, he asked them a seemingly simple question:

“Why do you make money?”

The couple gave him exasperated look, uninterested in his touchy feely existential questions. And to the T, they gave the answer Carl had become accustomed to hearing.

“Freedom,” answered Sara. (After all, who wouldn’t want more freedom?) She followed up with “flexibility.

But Carl knew they had barely scratched the surface. “Tell me more,” he prodded.

“I just want some time.”

The answer surprised Carl because she seemed to thrive in her high-pressure life as an ER doctor.

“Okay, let’s pretend we’re there,” Carl asked. “What’s important about being in that spot?”

Then Sara took even her husband Mark by surprise.

“I really want a family,” Sara said, “but I haven’t had the time to think about it.”

To Sara, her wild and precious life included a family – yet she’d never spoken directly about it to her husband.

The Freedom Fallacy

Freedom is the quintessential gazingus pin. The deeply held fantasy freedom will snap everything into place; yet remains just far enough out of reach. It’s the misplaced belief that one more bonus will hurdle you beyond The Number, that working for yourself in Bali will make you to love your job, and that taking a year off to travel will infuse your life with meaning.

I’ve spoken with hundreds of people in this pursuit. One friend was very early in crypto and had the freedom to quit her job and travel the world. Despite being adventurous, self-aware and super social, her experience looked nothing like Julia Roberts’ in Eat, Pray, Love:

It was mostly painful accented with some joys. I was constantly wondering if I was doing the right thing, wondering what I was missing out on, then feeling guilty for not enjoying myself. In a small cafe in Cambodia I found a photocopied book and opened the page up to exactly what I needed to hear: ‘Too much space can be just as bad as none. In fact, it’s worse because it can’t even claim to have purpose.’

Freedom will not guarantee your wild and precious life. But is freedom a pre-cursor to your wild and precious life?

Do you just want to travel?

Vicki Robin’s Your Money or Your Life (Affiliate Link), the de-facto bible for the FIRE movement makes the case that if we can truly “deconstruct” freedom, we can meet our needs differently.

Robin believes that when people say “freedom” they often really mean “travel.” And the desires that underlie that core need might include:

Novelty, stimulation, and getting out of daily and sometimes deadening routines. It’s needing some aimlessness and idleness in contrast to my norm of purposefulness. It’s learning new languages, cultures, facts. Meeting new people. A slower pace with less stress. Swimming in a different sea of assumptions, getting jolted out of narrow-mindedness. Tasting new food. Indulging in a novel during a long flight. It’s being out of town and unavailable for all the meetings and decisions that tend to whittle down my store of daily joy.

While the FIRE movement is typically associated with frugality (some might say, deprivation) to Robin, it’s not about “downgrading pleasure” it’s about having the awareness to know what delights you. Freedom from the mundane every day tasks could include “letting go of a rigid standard” (ahem, Inbox Zero), “some burdensome responsibilities” (the pressure to always say ‘yes’), and “some entrenched habits” (the guilt of upgrading to Economy Plus.)

Hunting elephants

Behind the obfuscating oasis of “freedom” lie hundreds of small, achievable wins (which to Daniel Kahneman is the definition of happiness). Yet instead, we go elephant hunting: chasing cars, clothes, and electronics. In The Limits to Growth, the environmental scientist Donella Meadows wrote:

People don’t need enormous cars; they need respect. They don’t need closets full of clothes; they need to feel attractive and they need excitement and variety and beauty. People don’t need electronic equipment; they need something worthwhile to do with their lives. People need identity, community, challenge, acknowledgement, love, joy. To try to fill these needs with material things is to set up an unquenchable appetite for false solutions to real and never-satisfied problems.

Now how will you find “identity, community, challenge, acknowledgement, love, joy” in your wild and precious life?

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