I wasted years talking about how much I wanted to be a writer, but not actually writing anything. Even though I felt compelled to write, I had a litany of excuses for why I wasn’t: I was too busy, I didn’t have any story ideas, I had nowhere to publish, it’d be a waste of my time, no one would want to read it, and on and on and on… I created a narrative for myself about why I wasn’t acting on this supposed passion of mine. But the real reason is that I simply wasn’t motivated enough.
Once Mr. Frugalwoods essentially forced me to start writing Frugalwoods (he registered the domain name unbeknownst to me), the floodgates of my creativity flew open. The man knows me better than I know myself and he was certain that getting me to write would be life-changing and exhilarating. He was right. Thrilled as I am with how much I’ve written in the last year and a half, I can’t believe it took me so long to get started. All those years, the only thing standing in the way of me doing something I genuinely love was me.
It was easy for me to construct a scenario in which other people were holding me back (my job, my family, grad school, my responsibilities), but the reality is that I was the only person preventing me from doing what I wanted. That’s a simultaneously terrifying and liberating thought.
The advent of my writing coincided with the start of our journey to financial independence and a homestead in the woods. We could’ve spent another couple years tossing the homestead concept around and making zero progress towards it, but for whatever reason, we were so fired up that we enacted our plan the very day we crystallized the idea (March 29, 2014). However, our immediate action involved a good deal of biding our time. And therein exists the crucial difference between foolhardy goal pursuit and strategic delayed gratification.
The Value Of The Long Play
When Mr. FW and I made the determination that we wanted to quit our traditional jobs and decamp to the woods of Vermont, we could’ve executed our move immediately. That Monday, we could’ve handed in our notices, put our Cambridge house up for rent, and schlepped ourselves up to Vermont. But we didn’t.
Had we plunged into our desire immediately and without proper foresight, we would’ve thrust ourselves into a somewhat precarious financial position. Our savings wouldn’t be as robust, our side income wouldn’t be in place, and we’d lack a refined plan. As it is, we’re plotting until the opportune moment. However, we also didn’t vaguely pronounce that we’d move “someday in the future.” In my experience, “someday” is almost always synonymous with “never.”
Instead, we set a specific deadline of fall 2017, which gave us over three years to prepare, research, and save money. We arrived at this date primarily through financial modeling of our projected savings rate (which we’ve been able to surpass), the season when the rental market for our Cambridge home is ideal, and the time we estimate we’ll need to locate a suitable homestead to purchase.
I think there’s a fine line between delayed gratification and never getting started, but I do think there’s a balance to strike. My entire philosophy is based around the idea that everyone should discover what they’re passionate about and then find a way to do that thing every single day. Because what’s the point of living a life where you don’t do what you love? However, the footnote to this philosophy is strategic, thoughtful delay. While I admire the guts of people who fling themselves into a new venture on a whim, I’m personally more comfortable with a measured approach.
Working On A Plan Is Action
Over the course of our homestead countdown, we’ve realized that working on a plan constitutes actionable progress. Even though we haven’t purchased our homestead yet, the amount of analysis we’ve done–both from afar and through visiting properties–serves as tangible advancement of our goal.
In this way, even though we’re delaying our dream, we’re still making headway towards it every single day. Every time we don’t spend money, we’re on the right track. Every time we research homesteading, we’re advancing our cause. Every time we learn more about real estate and landlording, we’re furthering our knowledge base.
I’m a huge fan of the “just start and do it now” mindset, but I temper that with “make sure you know what the heck you’re doing first.” I’m a belt-and-suspenders type of gal–I like to know I’m covered through multiple avenues and that there’s very little chance my proverbial pants will fall down (although I am sort of having a problem keeping my maternity pants up lately–there are no belts in maternity!).
This desire for security is why Mr. FW and I don’t plan to draw down on our investments in early retirement–rather, we’ll be living off the income from our rental property, our AirBnB rentals, and our freelance work. Our investments will continue to accrue and serve as our emergency back-up.
Aside from the homestead, which is clearly our ultimate long play, Mr. FW and I have employed this research-and-wait methodology to an number of other decisions in our life.
We spent years going to open houses and investigating the market before we bought our home; adopting Frugal Hound happened only after years of holding off for the right moment to own a dog; we waited to get pregnant until we felt adequately prepared for the challenges of parenthood; I didn’t go to grad school until I secured a way to attend for free; and we postpone every major purchase until we’ve had ample time to explore all of our options.
It might sound arduous, but honestly it’s awesome. We don’t suffer buyer’s remorse and we feel confident in our decisions. While we make plenty of mistakes and stupid choices, we at least always know our rationale behind them. And there’s a great deal of comfort in that. No one ever makes all the right choices all the time, but it is possible to at least back your choices with sound reasoning. It enables us to feel as though we’re doing the best we can.
If You Want Something Badly Enough…
After years of dilly-dallying and fabricating excuses for not writing, I finally recognized that if I want something badly enough, I’ll find the time and the means to make it happen. Short of desiring an irrational or super expensive objective, you can make just about anything happen in your life. I think the universal truth is that how we spend our time indicates our values and our desires and will ultimately constitute the result of our lives.
I used to watch TV every night while simultaneously complaining that I didn’t have the time to write. Well, turns out, once I stopped watching TV every night, I had plenty of time to write. I used to hit the snooze button every single morning (Mr. FW, my former roommates, and my parents can all corroborate how annoying that habit of mine was), while whining that there wasn’t enough time in the day to do the things I wanted. Now, I get up at 6am and it’s astounding how much I can accomplish in the mornings before work.
You can absolutely, 100% make time for the things you want to do. Ruthlessly prioritizing every single day helps me to organize my time in such a way that I’m able to achieve the things I truly want. I’m still behind on about 9,000 different projects, I have to-do lists so long they could make Guinness World Records, and unreplied-to emails that are embarrassing to even think about (apologies if one of those emails is from you!), but I do the stuff that’s most important to me.
I’ve also found that allocating a set amount of time for any given task works surprisingly well. Last night, I needed to clean the bathroom and I decided to do it while Mr. FW cooked dinner–for the very specific reason that I’d have to be done by the time our food was on the table. Historically, I’ve been a slow cleaner, but you know what, I managed to knock that baby out in record time. In the same way that spending is like a gas (it’ll expand to fill whatever space you give it), tasks are like a gas. I could spend 2 hours cleaning that bathroom, but since I only had 35 minutes last night, I miraculously did it. Amazing/slightly scary how easily I’m able to trick myself…
We set limitations for ourselves every day. We assume we’re not smart enough, quick enough, rich enough or beautiful enough to start saving most of our income, or paying down our debt, or pursuing a long-dormant hobby, or moving across country to a city where we’ve always wanted to live. But we’re fabricating this reality for ourselves. The world isn’t imposing it on us.
Beyond the limitations of time and ability that we perceive for ourselves, we fear being different. I know I once did. I’d torment myself with worry over whether or not people would judge me, accept me, and like me. Now, I’m just who I am and I do what I want and what I feel called to do and what I believe is best. Don’t let the fear of being different or going against the grain keep you from following your dreams. They’re your dreams and no one else’s.
Go Out And Start Today
Whatever it is that you want to work towards, go out and start on it today. I wasted years with my inaction and spent so many hours talking about what I wanted to do with my life instead of actually, you know, doing it. You can start on a project or goal today, no matter how herculean it might feel. Even if your initial steps are incremental–as they were with our homestead plan–you can empower yourself to take action in the direction of your long-term aspirations. You have the time, you have the skill, and you have the determination. So go do it!