My 2016 goals and why early retirement isn’t the point

“You don’t need more free time.” This was the thought-provoking conclusion of a NYT article on a study of the daily emotions of 500K+ people.

The study’s first finding was unoriginal: People have the lowest levels of well-being from Monday through Thursday which rise on Friday and peak on the weekend. The obvious conclusion is that the workweek brings stress, and the key to greater happiness is to get rid of having to work. This belief is the basis for most people’s dreams of early retirement, including my own.

But, the poll also uncovered a second much more surprising result: The weekly cycle of well-being levels held true for all people, whether they were employed or not!

The researcher’s conclusion is that free time is most valuable when your friends and family are also free and you can spend time with them. If you don’t have a job, you end up spending your workweek doing errands and tasks by yourself. Like employed people, your “fun” time ends up becoming limited to weekends when other people are also off.

Of course, this study doesn’t distinguish between people who are unemployed because they can’t find a job versus people who are unemployed by choice. My assumption is that results could be quite different if we looked specifically at early retirees.

However, it was enough to give me pause and reiterate a truth that I know in my heart of hearts but still need to be reminded of: The most important work of my life is not to achieve financial independence. Rather, it is to figure out what to do with my life when it is fully my own. 

Every new years, my wife and I set aside a few days to reflect on the past year and set goals for the upcoming one. This year, in between decluttering our house Konmari-style to make room for a nursery and our impending new lives as parents, we took some time out to get our mental and emotional ‘house’ in order as well.

My simple guide for a spiritual retreat:

1. Reflect on the past: 

  • Grade yourself: Looking at goals set from previous year, what went well? What didn’t go well?
  • Examine your beliefs: What beliefs/attitudes did you hold that enabled you to succeed? What beliefs/attitudes did you hold that were not helpful?

I can’t stress enough how important this second step is of looking at your beliefs. I went through Tony Robbins’ Personal Power program last year, and one of my biggest takeaways was this: My beliefs are what lead to my success or failure. If I think that willpower alone is going to get me to my goals, I’m a fool. When I shifted my belief from “If I have a lot of nice stuff, I will be happy” to “If I have a lot of free time and energy to spend with the people I love doing the things I love , I will be happy,” I naturally wanted to stop shopping. This made sticking to my budget goal so much easier. An area that I am still struggling through is how to get in control of my mornings, which always seem to get away from me and cause me unnecessary anxiety and self-loathing. I realized that this is because I carry a lifelong negative belief that “I am not a morning person.” To combat this, I’m working on instilling a new morning routine and changing my belief to “I have the power to change my attitude in the morning, and therefore the outcome of my day, in spite of how I may feel.”

2. Envision your best life: This year, we decided to create vision boards after watching this inspiring (albeit cheesy) video on the power of visioning your dreams. Another great tool that I’ve used in the past is the Passion Test, which provides a super simple method for helping you identify your core passions.

*Minimalist Tip: We don’t have magazines or poster boards lying around the house, so we made virtual vision boards instead. This free vision board app was super easy to use, and you can save your board as a screensaver or print it out.
3. Turn your vision into actionable goals: Take your top ~5 visions/passions and identify actionable goals for each of them in the next year. For me, this looked like (in priority):

1. I am self aware and mindful of the present.

  • Take time every day to journal and reflect on affirmations and vision board
  • Set time 2x year for a quiet spiritual retreat
2. I am a joyful, kind, and loving spouse and mom.
  • Weekly date nights: explore new events, ideas, activities
  • Go on a family trip during maternity leave
3. I live in close community with family and friends.
  • Intentionally reach out and invest the time and work in my relationships
  • Set up a Personal CRM system to trigger myself to maintain relationships (more on this another time)
4. I have enough wealth to have freedom
  • Keep to the $60k budget and check in on progress monthly
  • Build on my investment skills (e.g. books, webinars)
  • Explore lifestyle business ideas
5. I am learning and engaging in hobbies that bring me joy.
  • Learn to cook a few dishes very well that I would be proud to serve, and get proficient enough to feed my family otherwise
  • Learn to play a dozen songs that I would feel comfortable performing
  • Blog regularly (1x/week) about ideas that I am interested in
6. I am fit, strong and beautiful.
  • Go outside daily and use my body in some way (e.g. walk, hike)
  • Reduce sugar intake and be conscious of how my body feels
  • Take care of my dress so that I feel good about how I present myself

4. Schedule those actions into your daily planner: Make it real! For me, I’m a believer in the GTD system as I wrote about here. So each goal becomes a Project, and each bulleted action goes into my Tasks and gets scheduled on my calendar.

I feel really good about my 2016 goals. Firstly, my topline goals have hardly changed from previous years, which means I’ve really honed into what matters most to me. Secondly, while financial independence is one of my goals, its fourth down in priority after growing self-awareness and building strong relationships.

I recently read an incredibly insightful post about How NOT to pursue Financial Independence from a FI blogger that I follow and respect, the Mad Fientist.  He talks about how his single-minded pursuit of FI lead him down a path of isolation and depression, and when he finally achieved his FI number he didn’t even feel happy!

The truth is that FI is only an enabler – it offers you the opportunity to use your time and energy to pursue what really matters to you in life. But it is useless as a goal by itself.

In the middle of my vision board, I have a beautiful quote from Pablo Picasso:

“The meaning of life is to find your gift. 

The purpose of life is to give it away.”

That’s my true 2016 goal and the end goal for my entire life.

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