What do you do when you want to make a change? A big change, like the kind that turns your whole life upside down... What do you do? Do you even let yourself go there or do you slog on day after day, doing exactly what you've always done? Society's script often pressures us into leading lives that may or may not be our best. But who made those rules, and why are we blindly following them?
I'm the kind of person that has lived their life outside of the box more often than within it. I find myself happier marching to the beat of my own drum. When I started college, I spent the first year going part-time, while working a professional job I could change my residency status to in-state. I moved to New York to study musical theatre, spent the better part of two years living bi-coastally in my late twenties, and the examples go on. Right now, there are parts of my life that seem to be following society's script, and if I'm honest with myself, I'm not sure it's entirely me. Despite being almost a decade older than the last time I made a ginormous leap into the unknown, I believe it can be done at any age. It might just look a little different than it did before. So, here are the basic steps to creating a plan to defy societal norms at any age.
Step 1: Dare to Dream
If you had literally zero limitations, what would you do with your life? Where would you work? Where would you live? What would you be doing with your days? What would your hobbies be? How much stuff would you have? Who would be with you?
As you know, over the course of my life this has happened multiple times for me, and it's in the process of happening again. We're living beings that are constantly changing. Our visions for our lives must also change. About ten years ago, I was living on the west coast when I had the realization that I wanted something a little different than my life at the time. My life was pretty good really. I had bought a house, had a lovely partner (whom I am with to this day), and wonderful friends. I produced art and had a steady job. But a piece of my heart was still in New York. I felt like I was selling myself short by staying where I was; it was a lovely life, but I wanted to give myself a chance to succeed at some things that would be incredibly difficult where I was living.
I feel the winds of change coming again as my desire for a higher level of freedom sets in. As I design my own life, I let myself dream without limits. I picture my home base in New York always, but lots of slow travel to places where my loved ones reside, and plenty of places I've never experienced. I see myself writing, teaching in some fashion, and producing art again. When we were kids, we allowed ourselves to dream without limits. Why did that change? Who decided that once you passed a certain age, all of your dreams had to fit some unknown entity's definition of practical? While some of the finer details of the individual dreams will fall away, others will inspire action. I am not 100% sure of where this will take me, but I know there are certain elements present in all of them and that it involves me producing more art, and moving toward greater location and time independence.
Step 2: Find Support
There are so many people in life feeding you a script about the way your life should be. If you are going to defy the way life's being prescribed to you, do so unapologetically! If you plan to go against the grain, you'll need to surround yourself with people that are either going against the grain themselves or respect and support the fact that you want to live your life a little differently.
When I decided to move back to New York, my partner very nearly had a heart attack "We just bought this house three months ago!" But I laid out my reasons and ideas, and within about three days she was fully on board. My family and friends were also fully supportive. They all know that I march to the beat of my own drum and have no desire to make me be the perfect model of societal expectations. Thank goodness, because I'd be miserable. I also had some support in the destination I was headed toward. I lived in New York City many years before that and had a few friends that lent support. A couple of them let me stay at their places for a night or two while I was in town for interviews. A couple even let me move in with them for a bit while my partner and I transitioned from one place to another. Sometimes, your friends, family, and partner provide the majority of the support you need. Other times, you need to seek support in other ways.
Currently, I am participating in a group coaching program that falls under the category of "lifestyle design," which is conducted by my friends, the Fioneers. The magic of participating in this kind of program is multifaceted. It challenges people to dream big and without limitations as I described in Step 1. While this hasn't been an issue for me, the group process requires me to prioritize this in my life. It's entirely too easy to decide you should be doing the dishes rather than daydreaming, right? Group coaching also provides a structure and time frame for those dreams to be transformed into inspired action. While individuals are always in control of their own timelines, it wouldn't make a lot of sense to spend the time and money to participate in a life design program if you didn't intend on taking any action? Additionally, the group support and coach are a huge asset emotionally, but also in terms of brainstorming options when you feel stuck.
Step 3: Make a Plan
The best plans start with the question and end with inspired actions. Ask yourself, "What needs to be true that isn't right now?" Honestly, this is where the subject of money often pops up. We've been cultured to believe that money is the reason we are supposed to be shackled to society's script. But what if money could actually be the key that releases us from all of that? Does that idea feel better?
Right now, one of the things I'm thinking is that I want to go gallivanting whenever I want in an old school VW van. Sounds a little wild, right? The good news is that I have my partner's full support on this. How much of the year would we go? I'm not sure. Maybe just summers at first. What has to be true that isn't true right now? Well, we don't have a cool VW van. So, we need to research that and prepare our finances to add a vehicle into our lives. Currently, we don't have a vehicle at all. We would buy one outright; I'm not interested in any loans. But, we'd still need to prepare for fuel, insurance, and parking fees. So, there's probably a savings goal that needs to be considered, and a budget review to understand where this monthly financial commitment would fit into it. Would this replace our monthly metro passes? Be in addition to that?
What if we wanted to (hypothetically) start doing this for more of the year? We would need our income sources to be such that allowed for location independence. Thus far only a small portion of our income meets that standard in a long-term sense. What would help us to achieve this? We could pay off the mortgage on our rental (Hmmm... that seems to keep coming up), ramp up our side business...
Now, what takes this from the realm of idea to a plan? Time. I've identified four things to do: create a savings goal, mortgage payoff goal, business ramp-up goal, and finally, revising our budget to determine how quickly we can achieve these items and with which funds. This will help facilitate your desire to live outside the box in the near future, but what about planning for the distant future?
Step 4: Consider the Future
I realize this dreaming and planning is about your life in the near future, but it's important to also consider the more distant future. I'm a Slow FI kind of gal, and I'm all about improving my lifestyle along the way to financial independence, but that does not change the fact that financial independence is actually a goal too! I am about two years from my Coast FI number. So, in about two years, I will have secured a traditional retirement for myself and my partner. This means that we won't really have to worry about putting more funds into retirement accounts (though we likely still will), and our retirements will be secure. This provides the freedom to focus primarily on generating enough income to meet our regular monthly expenses. If you haven't met your Coast FI goal yet, retirement savings should still be a part of your planning. If your dream life doesn't involve a regular 9-5, consider what retirement vehicle you will want to use to continue to save toward that portion of your future. This might include SEPs, solo 401ks, IRAs, or simply some bridge investing.
And the final step: Let Go!
Trust that you've been deliberate in the creation of your life and reality because you have. You've dreamed, found support developed a plan, considered your future. At some point, you just have to spread your wings and fly. Just think of the places you'll see.