Don’t “Just Go”

Daniel’s mom bought me a t-shirt.

It was very nice of her to think of me. A shirt is one of the few gifts I can actually use right now, and it’s been a long time since I last went shopping for clothes. It’s the newest thing I own by far.

But…

Can you keep a secret?

Just between you and me: I can’t stand this shirt. When I wear it in public, especially if we’re on a trail or in a National Park, I find myself crossing my arms so that other people can’t read it.

The shirt in question

The shirt in question

Cute, right? It’s so relevant to our travels! WOOooo, we’re free spirits! We go wherever, whenever. We’ve thrown caution and risk-aversion to the wind. “There’s no need for a plan,” we tell people. “Just go!”

Perhaps this is how our non-traditional life choices appear to other people. Nine months ago, we were gainfully employed – with all the staples of a normal, successful life. Less than a year later, we’re out traveling the world and spending part of the year living out of an old minivan. If you ask us when we plan to return home and start working again, the best answer you’re likely to get is, “We’ll see.”

We're free spirits, man! Just go!

We’re free spirits, man! Just go!

To some of our friends and family, maybe this whole adventure looks like a snap judgment.

In reality, when I first saw the shirt, I almost gagged. “That is the stupidest thing I’ve ever seen,” I told Daniel with perhaps just a shred of hyperbole.

It didn’t help that I had just watched Wild, the 2014 biopic of Cheryl Strayed’s ill-conceived attempt to hike over 1,000 miles of the Pacific Crest Trail. The film begins with Strayed making a series of infuriating blunders, from overpacking to the point that she can barely lift her backpack to discovering five miles into the trail that she brought the wrong fuel for her camp stove.

“Who the hell goes into the backcountry alone with no preparation?” I wondered angrily. Out in the wilderness, “just go” is the kind of mentality that gets you killed. If we hadn’t been on an 11-hour flight, I might have turned off the film right then.

Our lives right now might look spontaneous. We hop from one destination to the next at our leisure. We don’t know exactly where we’ll be three months from now, let alone three years from now. But the reality is that we’ve been preparing and planning for this for years.

I’ve been planning to take time off work since I started my first full-time job. From the very first day I set foot in a professional office, I knew there was no way I could spend the next 40 years working full-time with only the occasional vacation. Even before I had any concept of “early retirement,” long-term breaks from work were part of the plan.

We’ve been saving aggressively for the majority of the last decade. Since I deposited my first full-time paycheck, my goal has always been to save at least 50% of my income. Even on a social service salary, Daniel paid off his student loans in just a handful of years. It’s no accident that we were financially prepared to take time off.

We spent nearly a year preparing to quit our jobs. When we finally had a date in mind, we started the long process of downsizing our possessions. Our furniture, clothing, electronics, and most everything else were sold, donated, or given away. I started building a side-hustle business – even offering my services at no cost for a while to build up a small client base and some good references. None of that happened overnight.

We have plenty of backup plans in place. If we’re no longer enjoying ourselves, or if the finances aren’t working, we can change course. We have multiple streams of income. We have room to be more conservative with our spending. And we can always return to full-time work – even if it takes a long time to find it.

“Just go” is not a sound life strategy. Financially speaking, “just go” is the antithesis of good planning and responsibility:

“Just go” is the thought process of the millennial with no emergency fund who buys $15 cocktails.

“Just go” is what gets people into five figures of graduate school debt with no career plan to show for it.

“Just go” is what inflates lifestyles and leaves people thinking they can’t make it on six-figure salaries.

“Just go” is the reason people end up 10 years from traditional retirement age with no savings.

“Just go” is exhilarating in the moment, but it doesn’t often lead to positive long-term outcomes.

I'm not sure my revised t-shirt will sell as well

I’m not sure my revised t-shirt will sell as well

What do you think, readers? Has spontaneity helped you make positive life changes or good financial decisions?

Or am I reading just a little too much into a ten-dollar t-shirt?

32 Comments

  1. I’m sure she had good intentions with that shirt, even if it reads like the side of a Monster energy drink. Are you old enough to remember the No Fear logos that adorned so many shirts, trucks, and trucker hats? Those always annoyed me, too.

    When I was dating my future (now current) wife, my Mom gifted her a nice long-sleeved tee of her home state’s flagship University of… A thoughtful gift, except that her entire extended family attended State, and U was universally hated. Best intentions…

    Cheers!
    -PoF

    • Haha, yes, I definitely remember those! Maybe I can find an old No Fear t-shirt to support my new “big risk-taker” persona.

      That university mix-up would get you kicked out of a lot of families! That’s hilarious.

  2. Ha! Yeah, I can understand what the shirt was trying to get at, but it’s true – you don’t “just do” early retirement, or “just go” out into nature without a care in the world where you end up. As much as I would love to fly 100% by the seat of my pants, that just ain’t possible.

    Perhaps that can become your “work shirt”. 🙂

    • Yes, I strongly advise against “just doing” early retirement, lest we end up just moving into our parents’ basements after a few months! 😉

  3. I am not a hiker. I mean, I hike. But no great distance with no serious equipment. Even the bit of hiking we did around the Grand Canyon required planning and forethought. So yeah, we don’t really “just go” anywhere except the mall maybe in our society 😉

  4. Is it one of those shirts that with a heavy press with the iron, the letters fall off?Or perhaps a few extra wash cycles….?

    Spontaneous works well in romance and occasionally in the FIRE that is combustion.

    Heading into the unknown, whether it is a long hike or a big life change needs the map, compass, tent and whatever else you can hold of at REI. (Retire Early Instantaneous). Preferably on sale.

    Mrs. PIE and I made a decision to move to the US after a fairly brief discussion upon me getting a job offer. It was kinda spontaneous but even after we said yes, it was like “Oh crap, now what “. Not what you want to be feeling on the trail if lost and with no water….although if you could start a fire, you could set light to the the t-shirt for some warmth…..

    • Ha, it’s slightly better-made than that, I think. I’m with you — more preparation is generally a good thing, with a few exceptions.

  5. Awesome post. Yes, I think the “just go” mindset is the polar opposite of the mentality that drives most of us that pursue financial independence. “Just go” doesn’t jive well with daily questions along the lines of “should I contribute to a non-deductible traditional IRA or just stash the cash in an after-tax brokerage account?” [footnote: question became moot in 2010 when back-door Roth became available, but that’s another discussion.] In fact, I’m pretty sure that the “just go” mentality is what lands people … ahem … trapped in work. “I’ve got a job! I can buy stuff! Just go! I’ll worry about sound financial planning and retirement saving later!” “Just go” without a plan can land you in a heap of trouble.

    • Your example made me laugh out loud, Joe! “Should I contribute to a non-deductible traditional IRA or just an after-tax brokerage account?” “Whatever, just go!”

      Sadly, that is the approach of most people, whose eyes glaze over at the mere mention of investments and retirement accounts. That’s a costly decision, to say the least.

  6. Take the bear spray off that t-shirt! You don’t need that! 😉 #unnecessarygear

    You know I agree with every (other) word of this post. While there’s some personal growth that can definitely happen if you do things before you’re ready, that doesn’t mean making major, life-altering choices without a plan in place or the resources ready to back you. I wouldn’t want to wear that shirt either… though it is cool. 😉 But I’m sure you’re reacting to the general ethos these days around travel that says it’s good to go travel the world without a plan, and worry about the consequences “later.” Which is pretty much the worst advice of all time.

    • Haha, I thought of your post when I made that list! In most places, I totally agree. For our recent hiking in Montana, though, where we saw grizzlies 50 yards from the trail, I changed my mind! I bought a thing of bear spray for the first time in my life.

      You’re totally right about the general “quit your job and travel, woo!” ethos right now. People sometimes ask us if we’re just going to travel until the money runs out. “Runs out”? Huh???

  7. A great post that made me smile [with only 27 office days left to work] and completely agree, good things are worth taking the time to plan and I would hate that t-shirt too. But if we can pick at your list I would ditch the GPS … you’ve got a map and a compass so you will know where you are … although if you are in dense woodland I understand that can be more tricky and I might be mis-understanding completely what it is like to hike in the US. Here in the UK we have hardly any trees and the cloud is either high and you can see for miles or the cloud is low and you can’t see beyond your fingertips and need to follow a compass bearing.

    • Ha, I’m getting hammered in the comments for my list of unnecessary gear! 😉 Totally agreed; we don’t actually carry a GPS aside from the ones in our phones. 27 office days left; that’s fantastic!

  8. Great article! It’s funny how people in general – even those very close to you – don’t seem to appreciate the planning, preparation and work that you’ve put into achieving your goals. I’m sure the shirt was given with good intentions, but I definitely appreciate why it would rub you the wrong way.

    And personally, I like a little spontaneity – but I’ve found that while the spontaneous impulses are good for helping me identify what dreams and goals I want to chase, just going after them without a plan is often irresponsible.

    • We’re all for spontaneity at times (I couldn’t tell you exactly where we’re going to be even in the next three weeks, for example), but not for pursuing big life changes. I imagine that whenever we decide to settle somewhere again, I’m going to want to do a trial run in each potential city before we finalize our choice!

  9. Haha that’s funny! Well a nice gesture for sure even if it was a bit off target.

  10. Agreed with the message of the post… You need to prepare before you jump.
    On the other hand, I do believe you should leave some room for unexpected things to happen. Waiting for all the stars to align before you jump can lead to never jumping at all…

  11. Hey I’d buy your t-shirt! I don’t often wear t-shirts with messages on them, but if I did, they would be accurate messages!

    I think that “Just go” only works when enough preparation has been carried out. Sometimes we overcomplicate things and never take the next difficult step in our lives. In that case, definitely Just Go, because any further preparation will just make you more anxious and scared of failure.

    • Haha, I’m glad I have one buyer lined up! 😉 I completely agree with you that once the preparations are in place for a goal, it’s time to “just go.” We still had plenty of hesitations about quitting our jobs to travel when we pulled the plug, but we knew we were prepared and that there wouldn’t necessarily ever be a better time to do it.

  12. I completely agree with this post, but at the same time, as someone who has frequently come up with reasons to delay/ to NOT make that big scary life change, I think there are times when maybe we do need to just go for it in life, but obviously it’s in your best interest to have various back up plans in place in case it doesn’t work out as intended.

    In regards to “when the money runs out”? Uh….I’m not liquidating my entire net worth just to take some time off work. I suppose maybe when the “Road Trip Cash Account” runs out? Something tells me I’ll get bored of driving before that happens though.

    • Yeah, I always cringe when people get the impression that we’re just burning through savings until we can’t afford to be on the road anymore! If we’re overshooting the 4% rule of thumb too much or there’s a huge market correction, we’ll reassess, of course. But I have no intention of going back to square one!

  13. Just go looks like a TV ad that makes you spend those 2 cents you saved. “just do it”, “be stupid” and a lot more.
    Same is true for “YOLO”, or its versions we have in Italy: “you can’t bring your money with you in the coffin”.
    In this time where everyone keep working to maintain their lifestyle and keep their head above their debts, those who plan and act like you are those who are sare.

    • “YOLO” is a funny one to me because it doesn’t include the conclusion. The way I would complete the sentence is “You only live once,” so you’d better plan to achieve your goals rather than living with regrets!

  14. This 100%. I hate so many of these platitudes (usually displayed as memes on social media) because they often simplify things that’ can’t be simplified. Everyone wants a quick-fix or easy solution to what is actually a complicated endeavor. It’s like watching a play: the actors, costumes, and the sets all flow to make the appearance of magic on the stage but in the background there are many people running around busting a move to make it appear seamless on the other side of the curtain. It’s easy to look at something from one angle and make assumptions but when you realize how much work is going on behind-the-scenes you realize that planning and hard work is what really makes the magic.

    • Yeah, those social media platitudes bother me too! You’re right that there’s usually a lot of work and planning behind the scenes. Many of the travel bloggers we’ve met, as one example, work 40+ hours a week writing and editing — even if it looks to others like they’re just luxuriously exploring their way around the world.

  15. Haha this post made me laugh! I’m sure she had the best of intentions. Most people would think it’s such a spontaneous move to “just go” and leave traditional life behind, not realizing the prep and planning that goes into it. I think “just go” is a great mentality when taken figuratively, as in stop overthinking and overanalyzing. But just going without bear spray and a map?! WATER?! Hahaha

    • That’s a great way to look at it, Lauren — at some point, we do have to stop overanalyzing (something of which I’m often guilty) and just take the leap. But not without some forethought!

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