I was eating lunch today with a good friend of mine (we’ll call him Larry), with whom I often discuss financial topics like investing, trading, and 401ks. He’s been a CPA for around 20 years, and knows his stuff. As such, he works very long hours at the office, has a 30 minute commute in and out of the city, and is in a similar stage of life to what I’m in (two kids, comfortable salary, etc.) The biggest difference between us is that he’s living in an affluent neighborhood on a golf course, in a house that costs him about 4x as much as mine, but it’s a price he’s willing to pay.
As we talked over lunch I began telling him about The Expeditionary Man, a book I read recently. I loved the book and it got me thinking about how my own FI Journey would be affected if I really try to make time with my family a higher priority than my career and income level. Big picture thinking, you know. But as I shared a few of the book’s tenants and a few of my thoughts, I could see Larry’s defenses going up. He wanted nothing to do with considering the points of the book, and immediately began poking holes.
“You’ve got to question how much money he must have been socking away before making a move like that” Larry said. And again, a little differently “He must have been independently wealthy to even try that”. Those are the kinds of thoughts that I’m used to hearing, spoken by good friends who are generally very smart. That’s OK with me, since I’m very aware of the fact that I tend to think a little bit differently than most.
It was when Larry said the following that my brain started hurting, and my patience was tested. He said “and that guy probably wasn’t middle-aged with kids either, because once you get to this stage of life you’re pretty much stuck. Expectations are already set for you.”
I’m sorry, that line of thinking just doesn’t sit right.
What Would You Tell Yourself?
It’s in moments like that when I see my friend Larry across the table, and I want to give him a good shake and say “wake up man! Snap out of it! You’re talking like someone who has zero say in the direction of your own life! Talk to me Larry! Can you hear me?!”
I wish I could help Larry step back, take a deep breath, and then pretend that he was someone else entirely. That he could look at himself objectively, looking past all the biases, the personal history, and the relationships that hold him back from thinking outside his own box. If he could do that, I’m sure that he would change some of the decisions he makes on a day-to-day basis. He loves his wife and kids, and makes plenty of money. And he told me himself that after retirement some people languish, and don’t live long past 65 years old. He understands the risks of delaying “living” until after retirement, and of looking at retirement as an age-65 event.
What kind of sense does that make, to work yourself to death for what could be later in life, and miss out on some of the best times of your life right now? Obviously my personal opinions are creeping in here, because priorities in life are different for everyone. But my point is that we can change! We can alter our circumstances if we want to. WE are in charge of our financial decisions, our goals, our spending, our careers.
Other bloggers have written about this over the last few days, which I was excited to see. Yesterday it was J.D. Roth at Get Rich Slowly, talking about how we are each our own boss. Earlier this week it was Mr. Money Mustache talking about how quickly the naysayers will jump all over a new idea or another person’s success, instead of looking at that situation objectively and thinking about how it could help them, too. So this line of thinking is not unique or hard to find.
I really identified with J.D. Roth when he said–
Since I’ve become aware of this distinction — between folks who believe they’re in control of their lives and those who don’t — it’s been like waking from the Matrix. I can’t help but see the patterns everywhere I go. (And can’t help but see the same pattern in my past life.)
-J.D. Roth, GetRichSlowly.org
It absolutely does feel that way! I’ve almost used that illustration several times in the last month, because I see the same thinking everywhere I go. Some people just won’t be able to look at things from a 10,000 foot view without a catastrophic event forcing them to.
So What Is There To Do?
As I’ve thought about this situation with Larry, I can only think of one direction for myself to take, and that’s to continue casting my vision to my friend. I don’t think we’ll ever quite see eye-to-eye on our life priorities, or our financial goals, but we can definitely still learn from one another.
I’ve got to be open-minded and seriously consider his ideas and advice, and I can only hope that he will reciprocate that and begin to understand where I come from with mine. And perhaps as he sees me living out my priorities in life, he’ll begin to ask the question… “what is the Matrix?”
Do you have friends like this? Do you have a message you can’t help them to understand? How would you handle getting through to Larry?