My heart sank as soon as I saw the email’s subject line.
In December, we feted Chuck’s 30-year career at the university as everyone in the building wished the long-time maintenance chief a fond farewell and good luck in his new adventures in retirement. He was 64 and ready to set off with his wife to enjoy the great outdoors as a ranger at Yellowstone, a retirement they had been looking forward to for a long time.
Three months later, Chuck died unexpectedly at home. He never even made it past the state line.
My mind swirled with so many thoughts. First at the sadness for his family, who just celebrated what is supposed to be a glorious start to a new life and were now faced instead with sorrow. Then for Chuck, who never got to truly enjoy the dream retirement he worked so many years to achieve.
Then I thought about his retirement party months earlier.
You can’t attend your own funeral, but with all the wonderful things said at that party and the smiles and well wishes that came with them, it was about the closest thing.
That made me smile.
So often when we lose people unexpectedly, there isn’t that natural time to let them know what they meant. Chuck had that time, even if no one knew then what was soon to come.
I also thought about my own retirement. I’m about the age Chuck was when he began his time at the university. I don’t want to wait 30 years to do whatever I decide I’m going to do when I retire. Chuck did everything you’re supposed to do to reach a dream he never got to live.
Sure, lots of people don’t meet that fate. They retire at 65, travel the world, see their grandkids have kids, while away the day playing pinochle with their retired friends and bid this world adieu in their late 80s or even 90s.
But some of them are Chuck.
What am I doing to live life today?
FIRE seekers choose live at least part of their life today for the uncertain future.
Financial independence doesn’t happen by accident. It takes planning, delayed gratification, an acknowledgement that there is a future you who needs the resources today’s you controls. That takes a future-based mindset.
However, just like you can live too much in the present and neglect the future, you can also live too much for the future and not appreciate the present.
Sometimes I catch myself looking at the clock mid-afternoon on a Saturday and thinking the day is almost over. Never mind that I might have another five to seven hours of the day left, my brain is already scanning to tomorrow — to the future.
What if the future never comes?
Tomorrow only exists as a dream. I don’t say that to be a downer. Nor do I say it to excuse the “you only live once” crowd that can’t see past today and one day wakes up to realize they can’t afford another day.
It’s all a balance. Not just in money, but also in time, attention — intention. Paula Pant says you can afford anything, but not everything. She’s absolutely right. Everything is a tradeoff. It’s all a tradeoff of time.
The individuality of equilibrium
Everything we do, everything we buy, everything we invest — it’s all just a barter for time. We trade time for money at our jobs. We trade that money for pieces of companies to invest, with the hope that our investment will allow us to trade less future time for future money. We trade an hour in front of the television for an hour doing other things. Those are all conscious decisions about how we use our time based on what we feel at that moment.
Sometimes time gets away from us. We look back on another day gone by and wonder whether that was time well spent. That definition differs for all of us.
For those who fall in the YOLO camp, they may very well feel the best exchange of their time is to earn the money to spend on whatever they want. If they’re living with intention, making that conscious choice with no regrets, who am I to disagree?
They may look at how I spend my time and my money and think what I’m doing is a colossal waste of time. And those on the ultra-frugal scale may look at the same circumstances and reach the same conclusion for totally opposite reasons.
My family needs to be comfortable with our own journey. It won’t look like yours, and both you and I have to recognize that. We may share commonalities. We may share philosophies. We may share segments of the trip, where we ride side by side toward our destination. But we will not get there the exact same way at the exact same time.
What we can do is share our story, support one another, and appreciate the journey.
And one other thing.
Recognize the people riding along with you.
One of them might be Chuck.