A few weeks ago, I was interviewed on the ChooseFI podcast. To say I was honored- even a bit confused as to how I was worthy of an interview, is a massive understatement. I’m currently on the path to financial independence, and identify myself of part of the FI/RE community- people who want to shave years off their retirement date by saving more than they spend and investing thoughtfully. FI/RE stands for “financial independence/retire early.” Right. On.
In the FI/RE community, you’ll find a myriad of tactics to help you save more, invest wisely and build an unconventional set of habits that will help you have a life few people have even thought possible from people who are wicked smart and creative. These are the types of people who are typically interviewed on this podcast- wise people who figured out smart ways to tax hack, optimize their dollars and make freedom possible.
I know very little about the sexy FI stuff that will leave you salivating with tactics- investing in rental properties (go learn from Bigger Pockets Or Afford Anything), hacking your retirement accounts (Mad Fientist is brilliant) or being like insanely frugal on a homestead (The Frugalwoods is a guru.) As I sat down for my interview, I pondered pretty hard. What could I share that was valuable for people who sought more autonomy in their life?
Part One: It’s Not All Sunshine & Rainbows But You Were Built For This
There’s plenty of us, that have had years they wish they could take back, choices they wish they could have made differently, and people who we feel are holding them back from being “truly optimal” on the path to FI. How do you get started when you feel like you’re so far behind? How do you get going when the road ahead is long and nothing is certain?
Here’s A High Level Summary Of My Last 5 Years:
- My mother died in her sleep, I hadn’t seen her in six years.
- A year later, I called off a wedding after discovering financial infidelity that broke the relationship.
- I lost $52,660 to wire fraud during the purchase of my first home- all the money I had.
- After the longest month of my life and hours each day on the phone, we recovered down payment by nothing short of a miracle, to close on the house.
- Five seconds later, we discovered the house was a soul crushing money pit with dozens of hidden problems, a skunk infestation and some unfortunate encounters with neighbors, draining my bank account and my faith in humanity.
- My health hit rock bottom with an undiagnosed autoimmune disorder that I silently struggled with for 32 years without knowing it, which left me pretty sick.
- Finally called it quits with the man who had seen me through the above bullet points after over three years together.
- After all that, in 2019, I donated a kidney and felt so blessed I was healthy enough to do so.
I have a delicious secret for you that won’t make anything easier, but hopefully it will give you peace. Life isn’t all sunshine and rainbows, and it isn’t supposed to be.
Despite what our Instagram feeds tell us we’re supposed to think and feel, life is supposed to be hard.
When you realize that many of us struggle with boredom, loneliness, regret, scarcity and insecurity and that’s absolutely OK, it’s probably the best gift you can give yourself. If you can afford yourself the grace to forgive yourself twice: for yesterday’s mistakes and also for today’s struggles with it- it is a true blessing.
One thing I do know, is that your mindset in life is mission critical if you want to reach financial independence, or any sort of life that’s lead on your terms. Everyone focuses on the finish line, but facing the daily grind with resilience is vital. You can cut costs, invest like a beast and house hack your way to freedom, but if you treat this part of you pre-FI life like a prison sentence, you just threw away a good chunk of these precious days you have on Earth. Truly, you’ve missed the point.
If you sacrifice the journey for some mystical fulfillment you think you’ll feel when you hit that number, you’ve lost the point. There has to be joy in the struggle and in the messy middle, and if we can’t do that, simple acceptance works too.
After calling off my wedding, I took a solo honeymoon to Bermuda- because, screw it. I had a blast.
Life Is Hard. Embrace The Suck
I’m as civilian as they come, but “embrace the suck,” has been adopted in my life when I learned it from members of the military community. Essentially- “embrace the suck” teaches us that in life, crappy situations are inevitable. On our path, we will encounter things that are as equally terrible as they are beyond our control. Acceptance of this is essential, and the only way forward is through.
Oddly enough, this philosophy also has roots in Buddhist philosophy. Acceptance of what is, diminishes suffering. When we deny that something is causing us pain, we amplify it. We hide it, run from it, magnify it and develop the suffering instead of facing it. We all have our coping mechanisms- sex, alcohol, shopping, gambling, drugs, workaholism.
The journey is just as important as the destination and often that journey is fraught with struggle. Struggle is absolutely okay, and the sooner we realize it’s normal, the less we suffer for it.
We Cause A Lot Of Problems When We Hide From Our Feelings
We use bottles of booze and new shoes as a metaphorical hammer to play whack-a-mole with our feelings about the sucky things, hoping that if we hit back hard enough with something strong (read: whiskey), the damn problem won’t just reappear in our lives. We run and hide from what is hurting us, or vehemently feed the denial that it exists at all. We hammer it away, and it pops up again and again, usually in a new spot, and usually worse.
With denial, you begin martyring yourself with a cassette tape of mental pain nobody wants to you to keep playing in your head. You become the drunk uncle at Christmas parties who keeps bringing up ancient drama when everyone else is having a good time. Everyone wants to unsubscribe to your issues, and God knows, you wish you could too.
I know all about this cassette tape of pain. I sometimes like to play it on repeat until I can sort through it- but while I can’t tell you how to magically get it to stop playing, I can try to help you get the volume down, or heck, even learn how to put your headphones on and dance with it.
Giving A Big Ol’ Warm Embrace To My Biggest F*ck Up
In May 2017, I closed on my first home. I had saved for years, my dad chipped in for closing costs, and I was able to scrape enough cash together for 20% down on a $250,000 home. I was damn proud. This home had a pecan tree in the back and a clawfoot tub (see above.) I was instantly smitten.
I envisioned running a successful business with my significant other in the spare room, and a gaggle of rescue dogs running in the backyard. I wanted a warm home that was filled with laugher, and a place people wanted to come visit.
Then of course, on the morning of closing, the email chain with my closing documents was intercepted my hackers. In the flurry of closing, a veritable f*ck-ton of small mistakes were made by my Realtor, my title company, my bank and of course, by me my money was gone. In under 5 minutes, my $52,660 was wired to a hackers bank account.
Two hours later- I came to terms with what I had done and through shaky hands and hysterical tears, I made a flurry of phone calls and tried to stop my hard earned cash from being lost forever. My partner held me as I worked through heaving sobs, and my brain tried to comprehend that yes, I had been failed and yes, I had been tricked- but worse still, I played a role in my own demise.
So what happened? In summary, I hadn’t slowed down when things didn’t feel right. I didn’t insist the Realtor or title company call me back before I went to the bank. I didn’t ask more questions. I didn’t ask for support. I didn’t demand the professionals in charge give me the service I should have been given. I failed myself.
Navigating Through The Dark Night Of Suck To Recover My Cash
For three and a half weeks, I rotated in a shame spiral of failure. I made daily calls to both banks involved, the police, the FBI and my real estate agent. I broke out in a stress rash, and my back literally seized up. I literally didn’t know what I was going to do. I got on social media, people commented and retweeted to raise awareness and to try and get the banks to call me back or work towards an answer.
Through the pain and humiliation of losing all the money I had in one stupid transaction, I do remember a moment of clarity. I made the decision right then and there, that no matter what- I was owning my situation and if the money was truly lost, I would double down and earn it back.
It was truly the first time I embraced the suck. I made the decision that I didn’t want to just survive, I wanted to thrive. All I could control was my outlook on life, and the choices I would make going forward.
Of course, I wouldn’t thrive right away- in the beginning it’s all a matter of getting through a sh*t wave by putting one foot in front of the other and simply surviving the day. You keep wading through the sh*t wave, and keep your eyes locked the shore- paddling when and how you can.
You have to make the choice again and again and again, and some days it catches you off guard on how hard it is to show up when there’s no progress. “Am I’m going to get out of this bed to fight another day?”
Having been through a few hugely public setbacks, I give you permission that when you face something similar it’s absolutely okay to cry in your beer and admit that it sucks. You don’t have to force a smile or put a motivational quote on Instagram. All you have to do is survive and to commit to surviving, then make that choice 1,000 more times.
Today Is Always Your Choice
I want to take a moment to stop and pause on that last point- you have to make hard choices again and again and again. You have to choose them when you can’t see the finish line. This is especially true on those days you personally caused yourself to take a giant step back. Are you going to get up and try again even after you self-sabotaged, tapped out or gave up? Today is your choice. Today is always your choice.
Embracing the suck is about shifting your mindset. Embrace what is awful and realize the only way out is through. One of my favorite quotes from this time of my life is a quote that’s loosely attributed to Winston Churchill- “If you’re going through hell, keep going.”
This philosophy got a nation through the darkest days of World War II, and it has been a guidepost for me to navigate the suckiest of suck I’ve encountered…that and a good cigar with Scotch. Winston was right about so many things.
Part Two: Embracing The Suck Means Letting Go Of your Ego
Embracing the suck isn’t just about getting through the darkest days of life- it’s also about leveling up and doing what needs to be done. On the long path to financial independence, we have to frequently face our own shortcomings and failures.
Many of us, when we discover the path to financial independence, have to own up to the fact that we have not only screwed up in the past, which is undeniably uncomfortable- but we’re forced to face our own ignorance and weak points. Truly, what got us here won’t get us there. Suddenly, we’re faced with large gaps in our skillsets and understanding.
How should we invest? How can we learn new skills to save money? Are we disciplined enough to balance a job, a family and a side hustle? What the hell is a backdoor roth IRA? It’s all incredibly humbling when you realize you suck at a lot of things you’ve never even considered before and now you must fumble through something new with the slippery grace of a freshly birthed giraffe.
You have to suck at a lot of things before you get good at anything. You have to watch hours of YouTube videos, read through boring prospectuses. You have to sell a bunch of the embarrassing crap you used to think was important. You have to burn your own food and fix your own broken things. Truly, to be free- you have to suck really hard a things first and face your own ignorance and shortcomings regularly.
You Have To Suck Because Others Don’t Want To
Most people, don’t want to suck. They want to be really excellently mediocre and blissfully unaware. They measure themselves with the toys they buy and challenge themselves only enough so that they can skate through their yearly performance reviews at work. Many of us spend a lot of money and time hiding from our suck. With access to an attractive credit limit, it’s easier than ever. But truly, we all suck. We suck hard- and that’s the beauty of life and truly, challenges make life interesting.
All in all, embracing the suck sparks a sense of wonder for me. The most beautiful moment of life- the most wondrous ones, are the skills and experience we accumulate by first accepting how bad we are. Giving a big ol’ bear hug to the fact that we aren’t perfect, and in fact we’re laughably human and terrible at a plethora of things is gorgeously freeing.
I invite you to burn casseroles, take a stab at that plumbing job, mentor a troubled youth you feel vastly unqualified to guide, ask someone out on a date and read books that make you feel stupid. Do so regularly. Bathe in your own suckyness, otherwise you might realize you’re simply asleep at the wheel.
Being sucky is being alive, truly alive. It means you’re taking chances and you’re not waiting for some mystical number on a spreadsheet to tell you that you can live. Suck now. Suck every day. Show up and throw a punch. Do things that are bigger than you thought possible and face the possibility of failure on a regular basis.
You Don’t Have To Carry Your Baggage
At the end of the day, life is going to throw punches at you. Things will not go how you expect. You’ll screw up, you’ll be embarrassed- humiliated even. But no matter what, you get a choice with how you deal with it these setbacks and missteps. You’re absolutely allowed to cry in your beer for a bit, but nobody else is going to pick you off the floor.
Everyday, and yes- it’s a choice every single day, you can put your ego aside and face it head on. To truly embrace the suck, it won’t make dealing with life’s problems any easier, but it will help ensure you don’t stay mired in the same problem over and over again. It is an active choice to accept radical responsibility for your situation.
To double down in faith. To believe, truly so, that you have every ability to take charge and move forward. And finally- to do so without cynicism. Cynicism is a convenient world view for victims who insist everyone needs to applaud their ability to keep carrying their baggage from place to place instead of simply letting it go. Don’t become cynical. Just put the suitcase down and leave it- tomorrow is a new day to make a new choice.
You And Your Unique Suck Are What Makes Life Wondrous
After over 2,800 words and a bunch of “lean in and take the punches” type sentiments- I have to admit to you that these last few years really sucked for me, but they are also the years I’ve felt most alive. But, I practice what I preach and will keep doing so until I die. Embracing the suck doesn’t liberate you from suckyness, but it does help liberate you from additional needless suffering and yesterday’s heavy baggage.
No matter who you are, and where you’re at, you can do something amazing with your life. The best thing you can do for yourself is embrace the suck and commit to being the best version of yourself no matter what you’ve done before, or what you want to do tomorrow.
Show up today, don’t wait for life to be perfect.
Fast forward to 2018: The day after my boyfriend moved out, my house, which had been hard fought to save, felt empty. Life was visibly different. I had to figure out how to remake myself and find meaning again, despite the giant aching hole in my chest. The pain felt so familiar, but then again, so did the response. Hello disappointment, my old friend. I can handle you.
The day after he moved away, I put my name on the transplant list of a person I had never met, to see if I was a match to be a kidney donor. Turns out, I was. Despite all of my setbacks and failures, my shortcomings and sidesteps- I discovered through that process, that I had something amazing in me, that I didn’t even know I had that could help someone else.
In this case, it was a kidney- but I think we all have something special we can share, but to find it, we have to embrace the suck.
For you, it could be found in the patience to counsel a friend or the financial assets that could keep a non-profit afloat. It could be the written word, a kind smile, or a set of hands. You have something powerful already within you, that could positively impact the world- so go find it and don’t wait for life to be perfect, your retirement funds to be fully funded or someone to give you permission.
So, that’s where I’ll leave you. You suck. I suck. Life is hard. You don’t have to lie and make it look sexy on Instagram, nestled amongst an inspirational quote. Find a reason to celebrate today, right where you are- even if it was hard and messy and rough. These moments make up our lives, and celebrating the suck along the way will make your goals, when you get there, even better to be savored.
You so got this.