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.”
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 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.