Early Retirement Didn’t Fix My FOMO

I wanted desperately to pack up my work bag, drive to the airport, and catch the next flight to Europe.

It was the summer of 2012, and three of my best friends had quit their jobs and were planning a luxurious holiday across the continent – from the canals of Amsterdam to the sun-soaked beaches of Croatia.

“It’s going to be epic! Fly out and meet us for a week,” the text messages read.

I toyed with the idea briefly, scanning the web for flights and trying to figure out how I could swing it with work. But there was no way. The company I had helped launch the year before had just made its first acquisition, and I was on the hook for the entire operations side of the business. I could hardly get a Saturday or Sunday to myself, let alone a week’s vacation halfway around the world.

I was disappointed, but the answer was easy: “I would love to, but I can’t possibly take time off right now.”

Later that month, I found myself sitting in the office after midnight one night, skimming through my friends’ Facebook photos. Boat rides in the Netherlands. Happy hours in Vienna. Nightclubs in Hvar. Seafood dinners in Santorini.

There was little doubt as to all the good times I had forgone.

“Someday, without this job,” I thought, “I’ll be able to say ‘yes’ to everything on a moment’s notice.”

early-retirement-fix-fomo

A couple months ago, I found myself recalling those moments as we cruised calmly from the island of Korčula to the medieval walled city of Dubrovnik. We enjoyed an Adriatic sunset through the ferry window. I was four years late, but I had made it, and it was everything I had hoped it would be.

Even on the fast track to financial independence, reaching that goal took years of disciplined decision-making and missing out on some great experiences with friends along the way.

But now that we’re finally living the FIRE life, my FOMO – that nagging “fear of missing out” – is a thing of the past, right?

You already read the title. Well, shit.

“Missing out” as much as ever

We recently crossed the six-month mark since we began our travels, and I have nothing but positive things to say about FIRE. It’s an absolute joy – one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. At least once a day, I find myself breaking into laughter and thinking, “Is this really our life?”

One of numerous "is this real life?" moments in Croatia

One of numerous “is this real life?” moments in Croatia

One of the most exciting prospects of a financially independent life was the reopened world of possibility. Today, without the commitments of our full-time jobs, we can do just about anything.

Just like when we were working, though, we still have to prioritize.

We can’t pursue everything at once. It’s that oft-discussed paradox of choice. Choosing one plan invariably means missing out on another. With so few constraints, it’s easy to slip into that “FOMO” mindset about everything. “What are we missing out on by making this choice?”

Take travel as an example. There’s hardly a place in the world we wouldn’t like to visit. The number of potential destinations is staggering – and the more time we spend in each place, the more we realize there is to see. I don’t feel the need to visit all 190-some countries just to “check the box,” but we could spend years and years exploring just a small handful of destinations. Picking one means missing out on many others.

Traveling at all is a trade-off with activities at home. There are dozens of things I’d love to be doing if we were geographically settled, but we’ve put many of them on the back burner. Flying halfway across the world means less time with our friends and family, too. We’ve managed to craft our 2016 travel plans around weddings, holiday get-togethers, and family trips, but it will be increasingly difficult to let that dictate our future plans. On the other hand, I find myself wondering: isn’t it selfish to miss a good friend’s wedding in 2017 in favor of lounging on a beach somewhere? What about all the lifelong memories I’ll miss?

Even when we manage to combine some of our goals – like travel and time with our families – it might mean missing out on something else. Last week, we road-tripped with my parents to Banff and Jasper National Parks – destinations I’ve had on my “to do” list for years. We loved it there, but catching the end of Alberta’s summer travel season meant missing out on a great time meeting many of our readers and blogger friends at this year’s FinCon conference in San Diego.

I realize that this could come across as the most petty of grievances. My goal is not to complain. This freedom to choose our own paths is the ultimate luxury, and I’m tremendously thankful for it. I live every day in awe of how lucky and privileged we are.

I only hope to point out that financial independence and early retirement – admirable goals as they are – aren’t some panacea for our insecurities. They won’t change who you are. FIRE opens up more free time, sure, but it doesn’t even come close to removing time as a constraint.

Embracing “enough” for experiences – not just money and things

I’m a big believer in the importance of defining “enough” in our lives. When we seek riches and material possessions to no end, we lose sight of the things that really matter. Without embracing “enough,” there’s always more to have – more steps between ourselves and fulfillment. The multimillionaires and billionaires I’ve met truly don’t seem any happier for all their wealth.

One of my new goals is to be better about applying “enough” to experiences, too. Just like with money and stuff, the number of experiences we can desire is endless. I’ve gotten pretty good about not craving fancy houses, new sports cars, or designer clothing, but talk to me about scuba diving in the Great Barrier Reef, motorcycling across Southeast Asia, or enjoying gourmet meals in Central America, and it’s another story. I want more, more, more!

That’s not always a healthy mindset. Just like with stuff, it’s easy to start dreaming about the next adventure before we’ve even fully enjoyed the one we have.

We’ll never be able to do everything or see everything. No matter how much free time we have, there will always be trade-offs. And even with the most frantic itinerary, there will always be something we miss. We don’t get a choice about that. The choice we do have is to live in the present – appreciating everything we have and not yearning for all the things we don’t.

“Missing out” is perpetual. Feeling bad about it doesn’t have to be.

22 Comments

  1. Great insight in FIRE and the challenges it brings. To me, it still is the ultimate NIrvana where all is peaceful and happy. Like you said: it dies not change who wr are and does not remove time as constraint.

    I wish you many more “is this real life” moments.

    • Thanks, Amber! It’s not quite nirvana, but pretty close. We’re having plenty more “is this real life” moments already 🙂

  2. Yes yes yes. I’m unemployed right now and there still isn’t enough time for everything I want to do. At the very least, I’ve been able to enjoy the last bits of summer and I can spend a lot more time with friends than before because my long commute is gone. I’m purposefully not traveling on this sabbatical because I want to enjoy the time in the city where I live this time.

    • That’s awesome, Leigh! We spent a little over a month hanging out at home between quitting our jobs and starting our full-time travels, and it was really nice to see friends and spend time in the city during the work day. There’s a lot to be said for just enjoying things nearby.

  3. Even though you remove a constraint on your time (work) there are still so many, like only being able to be in one place at one time, that will always be there. FIRE is about removing the work constraint that most of us don’t enjoy and replacing it with more enjoyable parts of our lives. Interesting take on it Matt! Unfortunately FOMO is incredibly resilient and very difficult to fully remove from life. We can only try and be as purposeful as possible with our decisions to fight it back.

    • The FOMO is definitely resilient. Perhaps that’s a sign of the unfathomable amount of choice and opportunity we enjoy in life.

  4. I’m becoming more introverted as I get older, so I feel FOMO less. Still, it is sometimes a huge struggle to focus on what I do have rather than what I could have. This post is a lovely reminder.

    • Interesting take on things. Do you think it’s the introversion/extroversion or just age driving the FOMO reduction? I lean introvert, and it doesn’t seem to make it any less intense.

  5. Your last line really sums it up well. Your article is also reminiscent of a Zig Ziglar quote I like: “you have to say no to the good so you can say yes the great.” In short, priorities. Thanks for the reminder!

    • I really like that quote, Jay! I think it’s hardest when saying “no” means inherently prioritizing people and relationships — but you’re right, you can only say “yes” to so many things.

  6. It’s so true! No matter how many amazing things are happening, other cool things are happening in other places at the same time. Although I had such an amazing time hanging out with you guys last night, that I doubt FinCon could have been any better!

  7. Yep. I can relate to that exactly. Despite all the time to do ANYTHING, you still can’t do everything.

    • Yeah, sounds like you’ve experienced a lot of the same with your active retirement so far. I’m loving following along!

  8. Yes! We are guaranteed to be planning our next vacation / trip while still on a vacation / trip. OK, maybe it’s about getting inspired for the next great thing, and pre-FIRE vacations will make you want to do that. Extrapolate to post FIRE and we’ll be planning and thinking about the next great thing all the time.
    This is a great reminder to slow down and enjoy the now

    • Yeah, I’m the worst about that! Your point about getting inspired makes me feel a little better about it, but I still have to force myself to fully take in the moment. Glad you liked the post 🙂

  9. Thanks for sharing. Over the past couple of months as FIRE is becoming more of a reality I am having some apprehension. FIRE has always been the end goal and I thought that traveling around the world would be amazing. However, traveling with my one year has been somewhat difficult and I am resigned to the fact we may not be traveling as much as we anticipated. I am now having to readjust my expectations of what FIRE will look for me and it’s causing me to think maybe I should work a little longer until I can figure out this next step for me and my family.

    • I can see why that would be a tough adjustment to make after working toward one vision of FIRE for so long. I definitely understand why you would want to spend a little more time figuring out the FIRE life plan. Thanks for taking the time to comment.

  10. I really appreciate this post. Thanks for illustrating that early retirement doesn’t change who we are or our insecurities, and that we can be “greedy” for experiences as well as money or things. Great words of caution!

    • I hadn’t thought of it with the “greedy” word, but you’re right — that’s exactly it. Glad you enjoyed the post.

  11. So you saying that the philosophy should be: enjoying the things you have done, rather then thinking about the things you did not?
    In that case, there is only one answer: Absolutely!

Leave a Reply

© 2017 The Resume Gap

Theme by Anders NorenUp ↑