Go! Journey to F.I. without a Map

Financial Independence is a magical destination. The only way to get there is one small, often painful, step at a time. Oh…and missteps, too. You cannot wait to start down the road until AFTER you know what to expect, or EXACTLY how you’re going to do things. You just have to start!

Take off Like an Explorer

Think of yourself like one of the great explorers from our elementary school history books. They often took off without knowing exactly where they were going, much less exactly how to get there. Trying to get to the state of ‘Financial Independence’ is an adventure, and should be approached as such. You need a bunch of courage, a bit of arrogance, possibly a few close mates to come with you…but you will definitely NOT have a detailed map.

So, grab your backpack, strap on your boots, and set sail like an Explorer of old. Be okay with getting lost, you might find it’s better than where you thought you were going. But try not to spread smallpox or anything like that.

The Hero’s Journey

Literary types will know immediately what is meant by ‘the hero’s journey’ but for us regular folk, here’s a brief explanation. It is way more complex, but for the purposes of this silly blog post, its basically a common pattern used in story telling. Generally, its the tale of a normal person, who is somehow presented with a supernatural challenge. There’s usually some resisting the challenge, but the person ultimately goes. They are often helped by an inspirational person, mentor of some type. Of course, the ‘Average Joe/Jane’ faces many trials and tribulations along the way, which forces them to grow and change. The protagonist is morphed into a hero, now almost super-natural in their own right, by the end. (Star Wars is often cited as a classic example for the Hero’s journey narrative.)

Now, apply this to you and your Financial Independence challenge. Time to write your story. Maybe it goes a something like this…

Adventure Calls

You think you’d like to have more choice in your life, want to stop trading time for money, get off the hedonic treadmill. Your cubicle job, credit card bill, fear of lay-off, whatever it is for you… is becoming intolerable. You white knuckle it for a while, but eventually you cannot stand the thought of doing this for 30 more years. You must go!

Inspiration is Found

You stumbled on Mr Money Moustache, or maybe you hung out in the basement with the Stacking Benjamin’s crew and they got you into the FI mindset. Perhaps Your Money or Your Life was gifted to you by a crazy relative and now you’re obsessed with Vikki Robbin. You start bingeing podcasts, devouring YouTube channels. It starts to seem like something you could actually do. You start to identify with certain stories, examples of how people before you were able to reach FI. Now you have your Obi Wan.

Trials and Tribulations Begin

You download the Personal Capital app and it doesn’t want to connect to your bank account. You’re having so much fun watching your savings grow and then the car breaks down, and you have to blow it all. You ‘estimate’ your annual spending as one thing to come up with a nice ‘FI’ number, and come to find out, you actually spend waaaaaay more. Oh, and then you start thinking about health insurance, ugh. Journey over….but the algorithms are still feeding you Bigger Pockets articles and you joined that ChooseFI Facebook group. You must go on!

Explorer Toolbag

There are plenty of resources out there that can give you ‘inspiration’ as to how to progress towards a state of Financial Independence. But not a single one is going to fit you or your circumstances perfectly. Times change, the landscape changes. Exactly what worked in the past may not work in the future. Also, Financial Independence isn’t just about mastering money. Its about getting to know yourself, designing your life, and actively living your life. There’s only one YOU, so only YOU can find your ideal state of Financial Independence through your own hard work.

However, there are some traits, habits, skills that are pretty universally helpful to budding Heroes.

Favor Action – Do something, anything!

Start moving, keep moving…even if you only have the vaguest sense of which direction to go. Move towards the things that interest you. If budgeting and tracking every dollar sounds terrible to you, then don’t do that. At least not right now. If opening a brokerage account and buying your first ETF sounds interesting, then do that. Even if you don’t pick the exact right platform, or the most advantageous product, I guarantee you’ll learn something! Don’t let perfect be the enemy of good.

Don’t be a victim of analysis paralysis. Do some research, don’t be a total idiot, but you cannot know everything there is to know about something BEFORE you start doing it. And the only way to know what is around the corner is to walk towards it. Sometimes you have to a pay price for admission to get there. You will make mistakes, but almost never will they be terminal. Just make a correction and keep moving.

Be Creative

Creativity is a super-power, and it is honed by challenges. Creativity doesn’t always just happen, though. You have to coax it along and exercise it. Some ways to do that:

  • Take a long walk, sit on a quiet porch….but with no devices. Get bored, even. Your brain will do crazy creative somersaults in the absence of distraction.
  • When faced with a problem, or decision? Make yourself write out a list of as many solutions as you can possibly can. The more the better, force yourself to think of some off the wall stuff. Be playful with it, unrealistic or silly ideas are acceptable. Especially if they make you laugh when facing a tough situation.
  • Have a routine? Purposely break it on occasion.

I once attended a function where groups had to come dressed in specific colored shirts, a different color was assigned to each group. My group was assigned red…I look terrible in red. I convinced my group to get brown shirts and put the word ‘RED’ on them. A member of another group loudly exclaimed, “I didn’t know we had permission to be creative!” when she saw what we had done. Don’t wait for permission. Just go ahead and be creative!

Experiment whenever possible

Once you have a crazy idea, or direction you think you want to go, test if you can. Especially big life changes, or something you’ve never tried. See if you can think of a way to dip your toe in to see how the water is first. Set it up like an experiment. Have a hypotheses, design your test, measure the results, and report your findings.

If you brainstorm that you might like to take advantage of some geo-arbitrage and move to Mexico, but you’ve never been to Mexico….you might want to set up an experiment rather than making a run for the border. (Mmmm, now I want Taco Bell.) You could try going to Mexico, for as long a period of time as you can, and try to do the every day tasks of living. Before you go, you could list the things that are important to you in somewhere to live, and journal while you’re there to keep track of how things go. Reflect on it once you get back home. Get a white lab coat if it makes you feel more official!

You may find that it was fantastic, or you may find that there was some stuff you didn’t anticipate. Important thing is, you did something, you learned something, and hopefully, you didn’t spread smallpox, or pay too high a price for the knowledge you acquired. If it seems like its going to work for you, you’ll have so much more confidence in your decision. If you find out its not your cup of tea, then you know you saved yourself tons of money and time in moving.

Question Everything

Thinking of a plan, trying to formulate an idea, examining your current state of things? Write it out! Get your thoughts on paper (or screen) and then underline every decision point, belief, or assumption and ask yourself WHY? Why did I decide that, why am I doing it that way, why do I think this way? Challenge your assumptions, look for cognitive biases. If you find yourself not knowing the answer to your why questions, then you have some work to do. You will learn a lot about yourself, at bare minimum. Knowing yourself, your behaviors and tendencies are crucial to getting things right…for you.

The End is the Beginning

The Hero’s journey ends with a transformed individual returning to live in the world. You might not even recognize your self at the end of this journey. After becoming a Financial mutant, who has their finances on lock, knows themselves and what they value, has developed super-power skills like deploying their creativity and ideal lifestyle design …how do you go back to being around mere mortals?

Some wise people who have gone before me and reached the magical state of F.I. say that this is where the real hard work actually begins. You might not fit in with the Jones’, or you may make people uncomfortable at cocktails when they ask ‘what you do?’ You may have no choice, knowing what you know now, but to try and help others, help the world, super hero that you are. So, are you going to answer the call to adventure?

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