You are much stronger than you know

A few weeks ago I posted a new short form video to Two Sides of FI, the YouTube channel I produce with my show partner, Eric. These videos are often highlight clips taken from our full-length videos which we share between episodes. This one was a little different. In that video I talked about the idea of spontaneity, something I thought a lot about during a 13-mile walk* I took the day prior. I’m not going to rehash the content of that video, as I think that’s covered well there. I hope you agree. Rather, I’d like to write about the walk itself.

What I didn’t state in the video is that walk was the second-longest I’d done in my life. In fact, the longest was a 14-mile hike in Utah that my wife, Lorri and I did nearly twenty years ago in 2003, when I was in the best shape of my adult life. We basically lived inside the boundaries of Acadia National Park at that time, didn’t yet have a child, and hiked often. So even though 14 miles is a long hike no matter what, it wasn’t too much of a struggle as I recall. This picture seems to support that, as we don’t seem what I would characterize as miserable.

Me and my wife smiling next to the sign at the end of the trail after completing our hike
2003 (Utah): Happy at the end of our fourteen-mile hike

Time for a new challenge

Fast forward to now: I’m closing in on 50 years old faster than I’d prefer, am certainly heavier vs. 2003 though thankfully otherwise in excellent health, and while I still walk and hike at least five days a week, most of my excursions are around three miles long with occasional hikes of 4-6 miles. I’m still good to go on trails marked as Moderate intensity, but a longer Strenuous graded hike on a hot day will definitely kick my ass. But I can get it done. But it’s certainly been a very long time since I hiked more than 7-8 miles in one go.

So honestly, for me it was kind of a big deal that last month with almost no advance thought, I decided to walk out my door and not stop for more than 13 miles until I arrived two towns down the road at my targeted lunchtime stop. The reason I gave Lorri for undertaking this endeavor was my interest in doing some backpacking, and needing to see what my endurance was like these days. But if I’m being honest, the main reason I undertook that challenge was simply to see if I could do it. It turned out that I could!

I was really happy with that achievement, which was the equivalent of walking a half-marathon. But I knew I was capable of more. I hadn’t fallen apart after more than 13 miles of walking and honestly didn’t feel too bad the next day either. So yesterday I decided I had more tests I wanted to take on. My family was going to be busy with other things, so the timing was great. After considering a few route options, I set out to walk to a grocery store in the next town. Taking a longer route on back roads through vineyards and ranches, it would be about ten miles to get there. Depending on how I felt at that point, I’d either take a more direct route home for 17.5 miles total, or what I really wanted to do: reverse my earlier route for a total of 20 miles.

Raising the bar + going for it

Completing either option would have been a huge achievement for me, and the longest hike/walk I’d ever done at either 25% or 43% longer compared with the Utah hike I described above. The first ten miles went fine and then I grabbed a quick lunch. After sitting for 20 minutes to rest and eat, I set out again. After a little deliberation, I decided I just had to go for 20 miles. What was the risk? Even if I couldn’t make it back I could always call for a ride. I felt pretty confident that I could make it though. If I’m being honest, I kinda knew it, and would regret choosing the shorter walk home had I done it.

That confidence aside, I was pleasantly surprised how well it went. Yes, my split times got a lot worse in the back half of the walk. My usual ~19-20 min walking pace slowed quite a bit to yield the average shown above. It was a hot day, and my hips, feet, and legs were definitely tired. Listening to music helped, particularly some more aggressive industrial + metal for when I started dragging. So I soldiered on, drinking water from my trusty CamelBak all the while, and got through it. I took a pit stop before the last two miles and grabbed a cold drink at a store, as the now-tepid water I was carrying wasn’t gonna get me to my goal. Once I got back to my neighborhood I did an extra lap around the block to ensure I hit my target: 20 miles. I had done it!

My daughter was really surprised (and sounded a bit concerned) when I told her how long I’d walked. Teens aren’t great at measuring the passage of time so I’m not sure she realized I had been gone for eight hours and walking for nearly all of that. My response to her amazement was pretty simple: “You are stronger than you realize.” I’ve always believed that’s true, though I’ve not often considered athletic achievements when saying that to myself. I was, after all, one of the kids always picked last for teams in gym class. Always. So choosing something so sporty to test myself with was kind of a big deal.

I think it’s important to remind ourselves of just how much we are capable, and that’s the core lesson I took from this experience. Perhaps we don’t always need such tests to do that, but they can be a pretty helpful tool to prove it to our ever-doubting brains. I do know that until recently, I wouldn’t have conceived of taking this on, nor made the time to do it if the idea had crossed my mind. “Giving up” a whole day for a walk like this is certainly a good example of the power that time freedom really offers, and why I consider this the greatest benefit of my early “retirement”.

What tests have you intentionally or by circumstance undertaken, proving to yourself just how strong you are? I suspect anyone reading this has great examples of the same. You are all stronger than you may know. I wish you all the best.

*when all my time moving is spent on paved or unpaved roads or on the shoulders of the same, I term these excursions as “walks” – no matter how rural they might be. This is in contrast to hikes, which for me indicates that I’m traveling on trails, navigating irregular terrain, etc. In the end they can both have lots of elevation change and range from Easy to Strenuous grade, and are definitely both exercise, but I choose to differentiate the way I use the terms. 🤷‍♂️

FIRE is rarely, if ever, a solo journey

a picture of the author and his wife at Chichen Itza

Much of what I’ve written about to date on this blog has admittedly been rather self-focused. I’ve largely discussed the solo aspects of the FIRE journey: my career, the path I undertook to achieve my goals, and how it has felt to take these steps and process the emotions associated with the same. I have written about the impact of this path on my family, but not in extensive detail. This week I found myself thinking about how I was overdue to dig into this a bit more. If there is one thing that has been reinforced by time spent on the Two Sides of FI project, it’s that FIRE is not a solitary process. Most of us have a partner, close family, or others in our lives taking part in and being impacted by this journey.

My greatest FIRE mentor of all

The amazing person in this vacation photo with me (sporting my pre-FIRE hair!) is my wife, Lorri. We’ve been together for around twenty years as I write this. She is my greatest ally, closest friend, and the best person I have had the good fortune to meet. There is no question just how much my life is improved and enriched by having her in it. As I think about all the years we’ve spent together, I must also acknowledge that Lorri is among the most important mentors I have had in my life. I’ve written about the importance of mentors before, but largely in reference to my career or during college. We all must surely acknowledge how much we learn from our partners and spouses. But how does that pertain to FIRE? Very much so in my case.

In a recent conversation on my YouTube channel, we talked about how Lorri greatly influenced and enabled my FIRE path. Very early on, she gave a strong and supportive voice to what I had already been thinking – that I did not want to stay in my chosen biotech career until traditional retirement age. We both craved the freedom to spend our time as we wished: seeing the world, learning and experiencing all it had to offer, and doing so together, free of schedules set by the workplace and our bosses. Lorri helped normalize this idea to me, and together we formulated our plans and set out on this journey.

I have learned much from many FIRE blogs, YouTube channels, and from working with financial advisors. But in the end the most valuable and impactful input has been from Lorri. She has an unfailing ability to maintain perspective, and direct my focus to the things that are truly most important. It’s so easy to get hung up on the mechanical aspects of financial independence – the numbers, modeling, and other “busywork”. Rather, my wife has always ensured we spend enough time on what really matters: our family, our aspirations, and on the big picture. As someone wired for getting lost in the minutiae and in managing the many tasks involved, I can’t overstate how important this has been to our journey of financial independence and early retirement.

Before and afterwards, you’re in it together

Whether we are talking about pre- or post-FIRE life, the decisions made and steps taken impact our loved ones as much or more than they do ourselves. My own chosen career path and “leveling up strategy” to achieve FIRE, often meant long hours at work, substantial travel, several relocations, and frequently work interference in our personal lives. This meant sacrifices all around, including many made by Lorri. Yes, it was tough for both of us to be apart, particularly on longer work trips. But it was assuredly even harder for her, dealing with all the things back home, alone. I didn’t always appreciate or acknowledge that as often as I should have, and I feel pretty guilty about that. However, even when times were most challenging – when our daughter was very young, for example, my wife had a remarkable way of being supportive and keeping us focused on our goals. To set the record straight, there’s no question that Lorri had just as big a role as I did in enabling our success!

In the ten months since I took the huge step of leaving my career of 23 years, I have experienced a series of emotions. Documenting and processing these has truly been the biggest benefit I have experienced from writing this blog. However, it’s important to acknowledge that these changes do not only affect me! Lorri has been dealing with me in new ways – and for many more waking hours in any given week – than ever before. True, the isolation associated with the COVID-19 pandemic has only amplified this situation. But even without those added challenges, this would still be a big change. Yet, Lorri has been incredibly supportive the whole way. She’s so great about getting me to talk about what I’m feeling, and pushing me to get out and take a hike together, or to plan a small family trip. I’m really thankful for that nudge and I know I don’t express that often enough.

Once recommendation I would share is to ensure you check in with your partner and your family along the way. I’ve gotten valuable feedback I might not have received otherwise, simply by asking questions about how things are going. Particularly in my initial months after leaving the workplace, I didn’t do a good job of this. I was definitely keeping my feelings bottled up rather than talking openly with Lorri or others about them. As you can imagine, sometimes this led to negative and frustrating outcomes. Realizing the benefit from talking more openly – something very much facilitated by my wife, I’m now better about this. Make no mistake, I remain overwhelmingly positive about my decision to continue on the FIRE path! But I’ve also learned that it’s easy to underestimate the impact of such large changes. Given that these also affect your family, it’s vital that you work together to both enjoy all the great things as well as manage the challenges as they come.

It takes a village, after all

All of this is not to say that any of us should expect our spouse or partner to be the sole outlet for helping manage challenges we experience, or to be the provider of all solutions. That’s a lot to ask! As close to perfect as she may be in my eyes, Lorri is not the only person from whom I receive the benefit of support. I have found tremendous value in talking with a few close friends and family. While we may all be on different journeys, there is surely something to learn from the path each of us is following. Admittedly I’m someone that doesn’t ask for help very often. But if you spend your time – virtually or otherwise, with the right people, they’ll make sure you get the support you need.

When I started working on Two Sides of FI with my longtime friend, Eric, I knew it was going to be a lot of fun – and if we did it right, informative for our viewers. What I didn’t realize was how impactful it was going to be for me, personally. Tackling the topics we have covered in our episodes to date (three released and a fourth about to go out as I write this!) has been of immeasurable help to me in managing this transition. If there’s one thing I’ve learned about producing a YouTube channel and podcast, it is that the editing process requires you to repeatedly review footage. This repetition, combined with Eric’s insightful questioning, forces me to spend a lot of time thinking about the exchanges we’ve had. After a fast-paced career where I feel like I was alway racing from one thing to the next without stopping to reflect, I’m now forced to slow down, focus, and think more deliberately. I think this is a hugely positive change for me. I recognize that blogging or YouTube may not be the right outlet for everyone. But even journaling, or simply confiding in a good friend, is a vitally useful way to process the many emotions experienced on our path through life.

Money topics, including FIRE, can be difficult to discuss for many of us. And not everyone will understand your decision to seek financial independence or to retire early – that’s a whole topic unto itself. It’s for this reason that I think online communities and social media can be so useful. I’ve received tremendous value from interacting on Reddit, forums, and more recently on a FIRE-themed Discord server. These forums can provide a very useful mechanism to seek advice, learn from others’ experiences, and talk with other like-minded people. This is online after all, so caveat emptor! Not all sites are as useful, there is always a certain noise level, and sometimes “group think” can be an issue. It is also vital to remember that not all information out there is 100% accurate. But in aggregate, I have gotten much benefit from the time I have spent with these communities, and recommend them as a valuable source of information on your financial independence journey.

Whether you are on the FIRE path or not, I believe there is something of value in what I’ve written here for each of us. None of us travels our path through life alone, and humans largely are not solitary creatures. Seek support in the comfort and guidance supplied by those closest to you. Don’t forget to acknowledge them either! It’s all too easy to get caught up in whatever we are feeling in a given moment. It’s vital that we remember the partnerships we have in family and friends. It is a shared journey and we need to support each other. I wish you all well and for the fullest success in achieving your goals!

Introducing: Two Sides of FI!

Two Sides of FI logo

As I referenced in my last post, I’ve been eagerly anticipating the day where I could discuss the project that my good friend Eric and I have been working on. That day is finally here! I’m happy to share a short trailer for our new YouTube channel, Two Sides of FI.

Trailer for the Two Sides of FI YouTube channel

It’s now been about two months since Eric and I started working in earnest on this endeavor, based on an idea we came up with last fall. If you saw my earlier post about the Choose FI livestream, you’ll remember Eric. We’ve known each other since middle school – nearly 35 years at this point, and it’s our belief that this will enable us to be super candid with each other, and by extension our viewers. Our stated goal is that this will yield conversations that go beyond the commonly discussed FIRE advice – others cover that content well already. Rather, we believe that this approach, coupled with our different life paths and our respective journeys to achieve FI, will be something unique. As you’ll learn, Eric is several years away from FI, and I left the workplace last June.

While this is only a trailer, I’m hopeful that the video coupled with this post helps to project our intentions. We’ll be posting full episodes in the coming weeks, and look forward to sharing those with you. In the meantime, thank you for watching this brief introduction! My apologies for the lower fidelity AV in some of my footage – that’s on me. We’ve worked that out now, and you’ll see the improvements in segments of this trailer. The keen-eyed will also note that you can readily track our timeline by my ever-changing hair. ?

If you’d like to ensure you’re notified of any new Two Sides of FI episodes, please consider hitting the “Subscribe” button on our YouTube Channel page; also found next to the description box beneath the video itself. Eric and I welcome any feedback on topics you’d like to see us cover on the channel. Please feel free to leave comments on this post or in the comments section on the YouTube video. Thanks!