How I Figured Out What I Want To Do With My Life (And How You Can Too!)
I didn’t know what I wanted to do with my life for a long time. A very long time, in fact. I worked for a decade in a career that I thought was my calling, only to realize after about eight of those ten years that I’d made the wrong choice. Whoops. I didn’t dislike the work I did as a communications and fundraising manager at nonprofit organizations, but I very much disliked the schedule and routine of working in a cubicle for pre-ordained hours every week.
Plus, I learned I’m happier working on my own for myself and on my own projects. But I didn’t start out knowing this. I went through a winding journey of spending money, changing jobs, and moving no less than five times in ten years to finally figure out what I wanted to do with my life.
One of the pivotal aspects of successful extreme frugality—which is what I practice and preach—is knowing what you want out of life and committing to that vision with ferocity. Oh yes, ferocity. The linchpin of joyful frugality is spending your money only on what matters most to you. This means eliminating all of the expensive, noisy distractions of consumerism that don’t align with your priorities and that don’t get you any closer to your ultimate goals. I’m not delving into the financial side of things today, so if you’re interested in following the steps I took to achieve financial independence, please take my free Uber Frugal Month Challenge.
But I Don’t Know What I Want To Do With My Life!
Ok, ok, you’re thinking, that’s great and all, but what if I don’t know what I want to do with my life? What if I don’t know what my priorities are? This is a question I get from readers a lot. Like all the time. I want to say daily. And I’ve got to tell you, it’s one that gives me pause because I was in that purgatory state for many years.
I had some passions and some things I liked doing—hiking, writing, nature, singing, and yoga—but I didn’t see a way to make those activities my life. What helped me cement my understanding of my vocation (spoiler: it’s writing), were a few slightly odd-sounding exercises that I like to revisit periodically to ensure I’m still on track. Here they are:
Exercise #1: The Dream Bio
For this first exercise, get out some paper (or open up a new document or tab), and write your current bio. I define “bio” as who you are and what you do. This isn’t merely a career/job bio, so include everything that your life encompasses: your work, your volunteer commitments, your family, your partner/children, your pets, your finances (for example, if you’re in debt you’d want to include that), your hobbies, perhaps your fitness level if that’s relevant to your goals.
Be honest. No one is seeing this but you so don’t be making stuff up. The idea is to encapsulate your life at present. You want to cover your high and low points and to, by omission, identify what you’re missing or what needs to change in your life. Don’t be intimidated, this doesn’t need to be a tome and bullet points work. Again, you don’t have to show this to anyone so don’t get caught up on the grammar and formatting.
Next, get out a second piece of paper and write your dream bio. A dream bio is a bio of yourself as you’d like to be. A bio of what you hope to accomplish. But don’t write it in the future tense, write it as though you are actually doing these things now. Put down everything that you want to be doing and everything that matters to you. Maybe it’s a different career, maybe it’s financial independence, maybe it’s becoming a parent, maybe it’s pursuing a hobby you’ve always wanted to explore further, maybe it’s recording an album. Short of “the ability to time travel,” be expansive in defining who you want to be and how you want the world to see you. Be precise about what you want to do with your most sacred resource of all: your time.
Now, compare your current bio with your dream bio and make a bulleted list of the discrepancies between the two. What opportunities do you have to bring the two into alignment? What do you need to do with your time, your money, your motivation, and your work flow in order to put yourself on track to make your dream bio your actual bio?
Some elements of your dream bio might not be realized for years or decades, but you can start working toward these goals today. Once you know what you want to do with your life, there’s no point in waiting to get started. Wasted time is just that and tomorrow will come and next week and next year and the next five years—you can either be making progress towards these goals or you can still be staring at two disparate bios that sound like two different people. The choice to get started rests entirely with you. My first steps toward achieving my dream bio weren’t glamourous. Nor were they exciting. Like not at all. Here’s precisely what they were:
- Save more money. A lot more money.
- Write more. A lot more.
- Simplify my life and become a better steward of my time. A lot better.
My friends, that is not a thrilling list. There were no accolades for this and no external motivators. No one even knew I was doing any of this except for my husband and close family. Mostly it involved me working really hard and not spending money. But, these were three actionable steps I could start on right away—and I did.
When I began writing Frugalwoods in April 2014 for an audience of three people (me, Mr. FW, and my mom), I felt like I was wasting my time. How was I ever going to create a writing career by writing stuff that no one ever read?!? It seemed like an exercise in futility. But here’s the thing: I knew that I desperately wanted to be a writer. I’ve known since first grade that writing is my favorite subject. Writing makes me happy, it fulfills me, it’s my thing. So who cares if anyone reads what I write? With this perspective in mind—that I was writing for me—I had the motivation to continue building Frugalwoods and to continue writing week after week, year after year. And then I wrote a book (more about that here!), which is the ultimate achievement of one element of my dream bio.
By keeping a laser focus on what I want out of life—to live in the woods and be a published author—I did it. By letting go of distractions and drains on both my time and money that ultimately weren’t important to me, I was able to discover the deep, resounding fulfillment of pursuing a career I love. You have to allow yourself the time, space, mental clarity, and ability to pursue and examine potential vocations.
Exercise #2: Pretend you’re 95 and reflecting back on your life and retelling it to your grandchildren/other young people.
I love this second exercise because it brings the whole business of life home for me. We’re all going to die. Just saying. This should not be shock to you. But what is a shock is how many people allow their lives to fritter away. To simply elapse without any real substance or purpose. People, don’t do this to yourselves.
Bring out a fresh sheet of paper and write your obituary. Or if that’s too morbid, write your life story as you’d like it to read at a very advanced age (I picked 95, but you can adjust as you see fit). Reflect on the following prompt:
When you’re at the end of your life:
- How do you want to have lived it?
- What are the things you want to have done? To have accomplished?
- What legacy would you like to leave?
- What will people say about you when you’re gone? (hint: probably not that you had the newest car or the shiniest shoes or the trendiest clothes or that you ate at the best restaurants).
I like to perform this exercise periodically to ensure I’m populating my life with the memories I want to reflect on. Additionally, this is something that helps me be a better parent. I have an almost two-year-old and am pregnant with my second and I get tired and stressed dealing with the daily rituals of toddlerhood and pregnancy. But when I’m able to remind myself of the life I want to live, I’m able to remember that one of the legacies I hope to leave are happy, well-adjusted children.
I want to raise kids who are good people and who have wonderful memories of their childhood. I don’t want my daughters to think of me as mean and tired (which is how I often feel… ) and I find I’m able to be the parent I want to be through the benefit of artificial retrospective. That sounds bizarre, doesn’t it? Yet it works for me.
I’m a person who needs to see the larger picture when I’m having the fourth battle of the day over putting on one’s shoes and socks. And if I can envision my daughter as a successful adult, I’m able to pause and be patient—funny, even!—as I patiently take her shoe out of her mouth and put it back on her foot (for the f-ing fourth time). This doesn’t always work, but wow does it work a lot. Using this in parenting is just one application of the technique. I also apply it to my work, my marriage, my homestead, my friendships, my health/exercise, and my community. Somehow, imaging myself as an elderly woman looking back on life provides me with the motivation, perspective, and encouragement to have good days and to, in Garrison Keillor’s words on The Writer’s Almanac, “do good work.”
No One Will Care How You Lived Your Life, Except You
The most profound epiphany these exercises revealed to me is that no one will care how I lived my life except for me. I say this a lot here on Frugalwoods, but let me dig into what I really mean. I don’t mean that no one will care—in fact, a lot of people will care! Your family, namely, and everyone you impact: your colleagues, children, community, friends, and more. These people will care because you will’ve been a major presence in their lives. But no one else really cares. Unless you’re a massively public figure, you have to live for you and for those closest to you.
A company that you buy material possessions from won’t care. Random people you’re trying to impress with your trendy furniture won’t care. Tertiary acquaintances and neighbors you find yourself straining to “keep up with” won’t care. As a matter of fact, a whole lot of people won’t care. So don’t worry about them. Disabuse yourself of the notion that you’re living for others because you’re not. Your life can have a profound impact on those closest to you and you have the capacity to do indelible good, but don’t confuse that with the idea that people care what kind of car you drive or how big your house is. At 95, will you even remember or care what kind of car you drove? I doubt it (unless cars and car restoration are your passions, which you would’ve identified during the dream bio exercise ;)!).
But I’m Not 25. Or 30. Or 50…
No worries! Frugalwoods is fortunate beyond belief to have readers spanning a number of generations and I want to take a moment to say that my urging to figure out what you want to do with your life doesn’t need to happen at the traditional “beginning” of your life. If you’re reading this, you’re not dead yet! So why act like your life is over? It’s not!
Here’s an example: I met a new neighbor of mine who recently purchased her dream homestead and is transforming an antique house and barn into a productive farm with animals, vegetables, and homemade farm goods. On her own she has already accomplished ten times what Mr. FW and I have with our land. And by the way? She is in her sixties. At least. She might be in her seventies. I’m not making this up. As she explained to me, this is her dream. This is what she wants to do and this is the legacy she wants to leave. So she’s doing it. If that’s not motivation to start now and don’t look back, I don’t know what is.
No matter where you are in your life or on your journey, it’s not too late to change course or amend your lifestyle. Why live a life you’re not passionate about, whether for the next fifty years or the next five?
A Reflection On Privilege
I want to take a moment to reflect on, and acknowledge, the immense privilege that surrounds an ability to pursue a dream bio and an ideal life. Following this path entails having the financial ability to do so, which is predicated upon a great many factors. From income level to career path to education to geographic location to health, our finances are impacted by diverse factors that aren’t always (and in fact, often aren’t) fair. I don’t want you to take this advice as Pollyanna-ish “follow your dreams” bluster. It’s not. Rather, it’s an encouragement to identify where you are now and where you want to go. Wherever that may be. However incremental that might feel. If you’re interested in more reflections on privilege, you might enjoy the following posts:
- The Privilege Of Pursuing Financial Independence
- Striving For Compassion In A World of Judgement
- Starting The Thanksgiving Season With Gratitude
I think it’s important to recognize that merely having the ability to articulate dreams is a privilege. Just asking yourself these questions, and writing out the answers to these exercises is, in my mind, a privilege. These are higher order concerns, and concerns that can only be addressed after base level needs have been addressed. And those base level needs aren’t insignificant. Having enough food, clothing, shelter, a stable environment, a savings account—these are all profoundly out of reach for some people. What we do here is unusual. The conversations we have are privileged and fortunate.
Perform A Time Audit
Once you’ve written out your dream bio and your obituary, it’s time to perform a time audit. When I began my journey to a life of writing, homesteading, and financial independence, I was working a full-time job. I didn’t think I had time to do any of this stuff. How wrong I was. I outline the time audit I performed in this post–How To Be Frugal With Your Time, Not Just Your Money–but briefly the idea is thus:
- Write down how you use your time every single day for at least a week. It’s like tracking your expenses, but for your time.
- Then ask yourself:
- What are you doing with your time?
- What do you want to be doing with your time?
We all have the ability to make time to do what matters most to us. We might need to give up TV or movies or dinners out or shopping, but that time is there. Just like there’s almost always more to cut from our spending, there’s almost always more time in our days than we realize.
You Have Enough Money To Do This
I am willing to bet that you already have enough money to do what you really want to do with your life. Many of us, in fact, do. Please see the reflection on privilege above for an understanding and context that this is a very fortunate, rarified experience. For the vast majority of people and the vast majority of situations, it’s not that they can’t afford something, it’s that they’re not prioritizing it.
I’ve seen enough of your budgets and heard enough of your stories and consulted with enough friends and gone through this enough myself to know that it’s all about prioritization. When you spend money ONLY on what matters MOST to you, you will have enough money. Same goes for your time. When you strip away all the pointless spending that doesn’t strike at the core of your dream bio and that doesn’t populate the future memories of 95-year-old you, you’ll have enough money. I can (almost) guarantee this.
For example, it’s not that you can’t afford to go on vacation to Italy this year, it’s that you can’t afford to go on vacation to Italy this year AND eat out all the time AND buy pre-made food from the grocery store AND go to concerts AND lease a new car AND buy clothing… you see where I’m going with this.
You have enough money to do what you MOST want to do, but you (probably) do not have enough money to do everything you might possibly, perhaps want to do. Eliminate instant gratification and replace it with a steadfast focus on longterm goals. Let go of the ‘treat yourself’ culture and instead embrace the profound fulfillment of doing what you most want to do every single day.
P.S. I WROTE A BOOK! I’m a little bit excited, can you tell?!? My book is now available to be pre-ordered, for which I will mail you a signed bookplate. Check out this post for all the details.
How did you discern what you wanted to do with your life? Are you doing it?
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My dream bio? That’s something I need to figure out. I have a bucket list, but I that’s slightly different.
And thanks for reminding us about our privilege. Saving money, working towards FI/RE starting/reading a blog,…are things out of reach for a lot people around the country or globe.
We are starting to inch our way to our dream bio little by little. After getting on track with finances and pursuing activities that made us more fulfilled, my husband and I saved aggressively to escape a high cost of living area in favor of a lower cost of living, rural location near family (and ultimately a house with land). We made the cross-country move and found our house + property a little over a year ago and now continue to pursue little adjustments in life that eliminate the things that are unnecessary or unfulfilling in favor of the things that drive and engage us.
I really like your focus on ensuring that you “populate your life with memories you want to reflect on”. That is an incredible way to frame your focus and make sure your life aligns with your goals. I look forward to trying the Dream Bio and Obituary writing… who knows what may come!
When we started out our FIRE journey we didn’t know what our specific goals were, we just knew it would give us options. Over time we have worked to figure out our dream bio and now we are trying out new things to see what we enjoy most. It could be a difficult and stressful exercise, but because we have frugality built into our lives we can relish in the journey.
Seeking FIRE and pursuing frugality has opened up many options for us. We didn’t know exactly where we were headed in the future but saving extra money to make the future something we would enjoy made perfect sense to me. In time we have worked to figure out our dream bio and live our life towards that direction. The challenge of nailing down that dream bio is much less stressful since we have a low monthly budget and high savings rate.
This is definitely how I feel. I have always known that saving money and tucking it away diligently will open all sorts of doors down the road, and it already has (like allowing me to purchase my second house). I’ve found that the anti budget works the best for me, so savings comes first and then whatever is left can be spent.
I’m always trying to be smart and mindful that all spending is adding to my life. I don’t know where I want to ultimately go, though. I’m only 26 and feel like I have my whole life ahead of me. There are so many unknowns between my family, partner, and ever-shifting career goals and aspirations. I’m looking forward to working on these exercises tonight.
For me, time has been the biggest issue. I read the book “Overlap” a few months ago and it actually helped me outline better uses of my time. In fact, I just started my new time regimen this morning! I started waking up an hour early and use that hour solely for my dream projects. If you don’t think you have the time, you do, you just have to find it.
Can I have more detail about that book, who is the author? Seems interesting 😉
I’m pretty close. The only thing I really need to add in is location independence. I’m working on that as my current employer supports it to a moderate level.
I do like your focus methodology here. It’s hard when your young to see where you want to end up.
Congratulations are turning your dream into a reality. Too often people will fritter away good years doing something they really dislike without ever thinking there is an alternative. I do hate the idea of writing an obituary, so I’ll focus more on the bio part 😉 This will be a wonderful exercise for me today – and a great start to my weekend. Thanks for all you do!
This is such an insightful article! I’m sure many people can relate to the question of what is it that we want to do with our lives. I ask myself this question on a regular basis and get frustrated when I don’t know what the exact answer is.
It used to be much worse before I started blogging. I felt like I was looking for my main purpose in life but just hadn’t found it yet. Now that I have my personal finance blog, I know that at least I’m passionate about blogging.
Your thought exercise is super helpful and very original. Thank you for sharing your thoughts! 🙂
I hear you on the career part! I spent so many years getting an education for something I primarily did because I had a need to feel useful, not because it personally fulfils me. Now I am in it, and I have to admit, the research I am trying to do has largely already been done. We know the environment needs help, and we have known for decades. More research is just icing on the cake. What we need is action!
Which leaves me rather dishearten that I spent the last decade working for this, only to realise that the cutthroat competition and long hours are not really for me.
At least now I know?
Exactly! At least now you know and can make a plan to move into something that is meaningful for you. At first, I felt like I’d “wasted” ten years of a career–not to mention a graduate degree(!!!)–but I’ve come to realize that it was simply part of the journey for me. I wouldn’t be where I am today had I not gone through the learning experience of doing what I didn’t want to do. All that to say, you’re now in a great position to move forward! I wish you all the very best :)!
Thanks, and exactly! We are working on it as we speak. 🙂
For me, the university years were such times of amazing growth personally. Even if I end up somewhere in ten years that is not aligned to my education, I still gained sooo much from moving away from home and meeting amazing people who really expanded my world view.
Mrs. Frugalwoods – Excellent advice! I particularly liked… Exercise #2: Pretend you’re 95 and reflecting back on your life and retelling it to your grandchildren/other young people.
I’m 57 and FIREd now, but my career path was as windy as a mountain road. I went to University of Michigan and earned a BA in Psychology. I had lots of fun, but the degree qualified me to do nothing except a crappy Wage Slave job in retail. So that’s what I did.
I eventually got an MBA from Duke University which finally qualified me to do something better. I found a job as a Financial Analyst at Scott Paper Company and mostly played with computers. I became a company-wide spreadsheet guru which was fun. But there only so much you can do with spreadsheets, so I gradually got bored.
But I LOVED computers so much that I got a Masters in Computer Science from Villanova University part-time. I finally found my career as a Software Developer. My career lasted over 20 years and I worked both as an employee and a freelance consultant.
As you can see, it took me awhile to find the right career – I’m what you call a slow learner. 🙂 I finally figured out my formula for finding the right career – pick a career that you have a natural aptitude for, enjoy doing, and pays well enough.
That is an awesome story!. I am 57 and a half, and I still do not know what I want to do when I grow up, so I am a VERY slow learner ….lol.
It too bad that we don’t have some sort of system in school to help us find what we want to do and give us the resources to do so.
Thank you for the excellent and actionable tips, Liz. I’ve been thinking about my ‘dream bio’ in a vague, sort of piecemeal way, but I realize that your suggestion is a much better approach and I look forward to trying it. It also certainly helps having this wonderful internet that can expose us to people like yourselves that are living a bit differently and act as an example of what’s possible. We can take in all of these different views of what’s possible and then use them to build the life that is going to be best for ourselves. It’s a real gift.
EXACTLY what I needed to read this morning. Thank you SO much!
I love your blog and your no-nonsense, practical yet inspiring advice and experiences. I also appreciated your reflection on privilege and how that impacts financial – and life – freedom. I wanted to add that race and able-ism are among two other aspects impacting one’s privilege or lack thereof. People of color, individuals with disabilities, children of parents with little financial means – do not have the same ability to capitalize on our country’s rich resources and opportunities. That being said, I do believe there are things we can all do to improve our individual situations – but some of us have greater potential to do so because we happened to be born white or male or physically/mentally able. Since you broached the subject, I thought it was important to mention some of these other key factors impacting one’s ability to achieve financial, psychological, physical, emotional dreams. This is not a criticism – just an expansion on your conversation. Thank you again for giving me more food for thought, Mrs. F!
I totally agree! There are many, many dimensions to privilege, which I don’t specifically address in this post, but which I do explore in my posts that are focused on privilege. If you’re interested in reading more on this topic, you might enjoy those three posts I linked to above. Thank you for your comment!
I disagree, coming from a family of little financial means with a step-brother with mental limitations, we never let ourselves be “limited” in achieving our goals. My step-brother went to public school, attended a culinary program, lived in a independent living group home and married. My grandmother received public assistance/food stamps for me and trust me that was a huge motivator to excel. My children had a privileged life and I often reflect to myself that while they are great adults, they don’t have the same drive, self-reliance that my siblings and I had growing up the way we did. Also, as someone who worked in the social services field, there are many programs out there to assist families who struggle, college assistance to name a few. While it might be harder, opportunities are out there and one shouldn’t limit themselves because of life’s circumstances.
Love the idea of retrospective parenting in the present. I’ve been using that recently and it’s been so helpful. When my 1st grader wants to play Barbie’s at 4pm after I’m already worn out for the day and thinking “what am I making for dinner?”, I fast forward to her having a conversation as a grown up about afternoons playing with Mom after school and it suddenly feels like the most important thing I could be doing.
The most profound thing I have seen written on any blog, anywhere….and I am 57 1/2 yrs old. Thank you.
Thank you so much! I really appreciate that.
Agree completely! And I am 59 yrs old. Love this post so much!
Agreed, this is REALLY good. Profound is a GREAT term to use for it.
I’ve been pondering on this quite a bit lately. Whenever I get out in our small plot of land, I remember why we bought this place. We want to do more with our land, raising more of our own food and getting outside more often. Being out in our barn feeds my soul.
I feel like I’m treading water while we work on getting out of debt, but deep down, I know that the real problem is time management. I am going to dig into your post on time management and figure out what I can do differently to get more out of life now.
I really enjoyed this post. I have to underscore the acknowledgement of privilege when being able to pursue this type of life. Being in good health and having a good paying job to be able to save for this type of pursuit is not always the case as it is with my family currently. Paying for medical treatments and losing one income as well as having a toddler in daycare has really hit us hard in our pocketbooks. We’re doing everything we can to avoid plunging more into debt and to save as much as possible but unfortunately my take home pay is not able to cover all of these expenses. I am hoping that starting next year when we are done withe medical treatments and when my husband can go back to work again that we can try to focus on this type of exercise to be able to live independently financially and to do what we really want to do. Never take your health for granted.
I Totally understand what you are saying. Health and a at least average job are critical.
just one question. what kind of Internet service do you have there in the woods? we are looking to buy a home, prefer wooded, but hubby’s job requires high speed internet. thanks
That is a great question and I always tell people, internet access is NOT a given in rural areas and it’s crucial to investigate options before buying a home. We are fortunate beyond belief to have high-speed Fiber internet (which is better than what we had when we lived in the city!) thanks to a local cooperative dedicated to supplying internet to rural parts of Vermont. We feel so strongly about bringing internet connectivity to rural areas that Mr. FW now volunteers on their board of directors.
Does Mr. FW ever sleep?! It seems like he does so many things! Working, parenting, taking classes, forest stewardship, volunteering…
Thank you for this post! I converted my job into my dream job –flexible hours, working from home, able to travel more — and ironically it sparked a mid life “what do I want to do with my life?!” crisis, probably because I now have the time to think about such things. This was very helpful!
I LOVE this post! I have plenty of regrets for how I’ve spent my time and money over the years, but I’m working to waste less of both as I move forward. I’m 37 and feel like I’ve missed a lot of opportunities, but I’m certainly not done yet! Writing is very much at the forefront of my dream bio as well.
These are useful exercises for beginning to live a more deliberate life. My husband and I always say we don’t want to “just end up” somewhere or in whatever jobs we find. We want to be intentional about our life choices. It’s a process for sure. Thanks for sharing this part of your journey!
This is something I have been dealing with recently. I know that I desperately want to be retired so I can do whatever I want, but I’m not really sure what I want to do. I know several things I enjoy, but I’m still looking for my passion. From reading your post, I know, whatever it is, it will definitely involve my kids.
Thank you. Yes, I want to write LOTS more….and yes I want to invest LOTS more money……and yes I only want to spend on what is meaningful. Snap. just what I needed today!
This post is exactly, exactly what I needed to read today. Thanks so much for your wisdom and perspective!!
These written exercises are also great for motivation on days (and weeks, months, years) when we grow weary of working towards our dreams. It’s so helpful to keep those handy to refer to as a reminder of what matters most. Then, when we’re tempted to waste time on things that don’t advance us forward in goal achievement, we can keep pushing towards the dream!
Beautiful post! And Liz, these are two great exercises in iImagining your future and taking action to make it happen; thank you for reminding us all that these are indeed privileges. What a lovely essay. I love lists and use them to push much of my life forward too.
I doubt this would work for you, Liz (you make no bones about how much you HATE anything that smacks of crafts, and this suggestion is–gasp!–a little crafty 😉 but I also use vision books in my process.
This is imagining as imaging. I have constructed these books for myself for the past 25 years (how time flies!). They are a tool, they are only for me, and they become a kind of compass. I use very large spiral-bound artist notebooks. I put aside cast-off magazines and if I am in a rested, meditative mood, I’ll go through them and pull out photographs, images, colors, words, sayings, articles, and gather other scraps (fabrics, pressed flowers, etc) that feel meaningful and that attract my eye and attention.
When I have some time, I pull out my latest vision book and go through the stack of scraps and arrange them on the pages, without over-thinking it. It’s not scrap-booking, which is to make something to show others or to commemorate something. Instead, the process is private and rather dream-like.
Only in retrospect, when I review the book, do I realize what I selected is sending me a message about the next steps I need to take, the next true direction. Images that attract me and that I arrange in my book often express yearnings, goals, and values I am only just coming to recognize. My vision book reinforces what attracts me, and illustrates what I’m thinking about.
A couple of decades ago, I was living in Manhattan but my book was full of images of vegetable gardens–yes, now I’m Upstate surrounded by gardens. New jobs, ideas for writing and other creative projects, even circles of new friends (!) have shown up first as images in my books with astonishing results. I find myself puzzling over what the latest images could possibly mean, and recognizing what the old ones have led me to.
Over time, using images has been a valuable tool for me. I read about it first in Julie Cameron’s excellent book, “The Artist’s Way,” and other writers have also recommended it. This method has allowed me to see my growth and my progress as, day after day, hour by hour, I have taken the myriad actions that add up to shaping an intentional life.
WNTWN, I love your expression ‘an intentional life’ (and I love Julia Cameron’s book, too). It fits in really well with what Mrs FW is saying in this post.
I suddenly realised, in my 30s, that I had been going through life thinking my chosen path would just open up for me without any effort from me. Doh (especially considering that I’m a very ruminative person – how did I not pick up on the need to be proactive?).
I’m now 57 and feel that I still haven’t made a lot of progress towards my ideal life. I had an 18-year career in accountancy, most of which was in self-employment, which is exactly how I need to live. Now I’m wondering why I still haven’t got to where I feel right.
Although I’ve never earned a lot, and I deal with the limitations of suffering chronic fatigue syndrome, I am still aware of the privilege I enjoy eg having bought land and built a house that I now own outright, while paying huge interest rates on the mortgage, but before the current price boom in housing in Australia.
But as you,. Mrs FW, say, it doesn’t matter where you’re starting from. I’m still starting (OK, so for the 45th time this year….) at 57, but I’m alive, so why not start? Again. I just have to keep reminding myself that I’m not a failure because I’m still working on figuring it all out at 57, whereas the FWs are such young’uns and seem to have it all figured out.
You’ve inspired me to look into jobs at local colleges/universities when my kids are approaching college-age to take advantage of the free tuition. Since we have a lot of student loan debt, it’s a dream of mine to help the kids start their adult lives without a crushing pile of debt, but our means to save for college are currently low. Once childcare expenses lessen, and my loan forgiveness goes through (I hope!) we’ll be able to save more. But for now, we are hoping that two years of county college + two years of free education at a university will help our kids get started in a good place. I just had to take the time to find an alternate way to pursue my dream. And all this relates to your post because I just had to take the time to figure out how I could do everything I wanted (retire early AND help the kids with college) with the means I have. So while I had to sacrifice some conveniences and treats, the long-term goal is reachable.
I love reading the comments and couldn’t help responding to yours. As a college advisor to freshmen, I think starting out at a community/county college is a GREAT idea. Your kids can easily knock out their gen ed classes there, and for far less money than at a larger state or private school. In terms of academics and first-year courses, CCs are usually just as good, and usually far less expensive. Most CC advisors also know how credits will transfer to larger area schools – so you can be sure that your kids are taking classes that will count towards their overall degree. (Ignore me if this is annoying!)
Beautiful piece. Thought provoking and well written. Thanks for the inspiration this morning!
oooh I love the dream bio exercise. I’m going to have to try this out 🙂
Perfect timing. I’m in my 60’s and wondering what is next. I still want to work with life coaching clients, but there is something else tickling at my heart. I’m becoming certified in guided autobiography classes for people who want to write to heal, leave a legacy, or just for the sake of writing. Maybe that is it. But the one thing for sure is that it is time for me to sit down with the exercises you have recommended. Thank you.
Linda, this is wonderful comment. It syrucj me after radibg your comment to send this article to my mother. My father passed away and she has been going through a huge lifeshift. Prayers for you as you consider your next step.
How did you get into my head? I so needed to read this right now! I love my life (homeschooling SAHM) but have been feeling like something’s missing. In fact, just yesterday my husband mentioned National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) and asked if I’d heard of it. I told him that not only have I heard of it, I’ve wanted to do it for years and years but never thought I had the time. Thank you for the kick in the pants!
You consistently put out inspiring and great work, and this post is just another example!
I’ll have to try the dream bio idea. I think the results would be very interesting for a lot of people. I know I ask myself the “what do I want to do with my life” question at least weekly (which is a sign I am probably not doing it…). Others do as well. Great stuff in here. Off to write down my dream bio…
This says it all: “ When you spend money ONLY on what matters MOST to you, you will have enough money.“ I used to worry about the astronomical numbers the ‘experts’ told us we needed in savings to retire comfortably. I worried which robbed me of the joy of the present. Then I realized we could break from the pack and ‘cut our coat to fit our cloth’, prioritizing only what matters to us and leave the rest.
Some excellent points in this! For us, our journey to having what we want definitely would NEED to involve worrying about earning more money for now, as we’re a family of 3 that lives on about $32,000/year at present. But even with us making so (comparatively) little, even we still manage to save some money and put our dollars where our priorities lie, like how we bought our first house this year and go out on monthly day adventures as a family (which are both things we value). True, for our greater dreams of being able to take our children on trips around the world and to really make a big impact with our money generosity-wise, we need to make more. But even now, we’re happy right where we are, which is a good sign that we’re on the right track.
Keep on writing these great posts! I look forward to every new blog post you put up 🙂
Thanks so much for sharing this comment, Torrie – as someone who’s struggling to do what I love on what might be less than minimum wage for a while, it is so encouraging and comforting to see that someone else who is making lower numbers is also making it work and managing to save a little bit and become a home owner. HUGE congratulations to you and your family, I hope that my partner and I will be able to do the same in the next few months!
So glad it could help! I find the only way we’re able to do it (besides practicing the same kinds of frugal tips found here on FW!) is because we’ve stayed completely out of debt (other than the new house) since we got married, and we live in a relatively low cost-of-living area. Good luck to you in pursuing your dreams!
This is gonna sound grumpy but I don’t mean it that way…. This all feels like EXCELLENT advice for ‘how to do what you really want with your life’ but not really ‘how to figure out what you want to do with your life’. I have done tons of these exercises and tried to do yours but since I don’t know what I want to do I just kind of sit there blank at the question ‘what do you want your life to look like?’. You even said that you knew you wanted to write since young childhood. Do you think that if one just tries the exercises enough times that eventually one will hear an answer?
I was just so excited to see the title and then it felt like all of the suggestions were for steps beyond where I sit (not knowing what I want). I know you can’t figure out what I want for me (although that would be great! 🙂 ) but I seriously have no idea and can’t figure out how to figure it out. Anyone else out there who doesn’t know and for that reason can’t really construct a ‘dream bio’? Or anyone who had no clue for a long time and then somehow figured it out?
Try a vision book. And keep it playful. Don’t push for answers, but just feel your way along. Sometimes gathering images will “shortcut” your busy-mind and point you to somewhere you did not consciously know you wanted to be. It also takes the pressure off articulating your goals, which for some people can lead to anxiety. Images might help you stop thinking where you “ought” to be, so you can tap into your authenticity. It might also reinforce the goodness of where you are now. Good luck to you in finding your path….
busy-mind and anxiety? that doesn’t sound like me at all! 😉 thanks! I’ll give that a go.
You are not the only one that has ever felt this way. I remember just wanting a JOB when I first started out, then as I got older realized that I wanted something more meaningful to me. Over the course of your lifetime what makes you happy and fulfilled might also change several times. I always tell my kids don’t take a job for the money, have a passion or strong interest in the field. If you try it and it doesn’t work out, try something else. I looked at what made me happy when I wasn’t working such as helping others, organizing, hosting events, etc. then I asked myself how can I parlay this into an occupation. Good luck in your journey!
I would add that, for some people, one lifelong career is not going to make you happy – there is joy to be found in pursuing a variety of experiences over your lifetime. One of the great things about frugal living is that more money will give you more options to wander down different paths.
Great post and congrats on # 2 🙂
So true! It really is all about options–that’s probably our chief reason for pursuing financial independence. Thanks for bringing this up!
This is awesome and just what I needed today. I literally have been sitting on a blog that’s been growing in my head and heart for a long time. I’d been waiting to launch it but finally pressed the button today. So thank you for the encouragement! I too love to write, and have been doing it on and off since I was a kid. Thankfully I saved my poetry from my teenage years so I can relive that angst whenever I want 😉 I don’t get to write much in my “day job” so a blog is going to be my creative outlet. Add to that the challenge of blogging anonymously and it’s going to be a learning curve, but hopefully worth it!
I also love your mentions of privilege. I just had an argument with someone the other day about this. They believed that “anyone can do this if they work hard enough”. And it felt like beating my head against a wall to make that person understand that we all have a different “start point” so no, not everyone can achieve the same goals in the same timeline (or perhaps at all). And that while we should be proud of what we have achieved through hard work, for both myself and that person I was arguing with, we had many things in our life that helped us outside of our hard work too. I think speaking of privilege still makes so many people uncomfortable since they feel it discounts their achievements. But I think it is important to recognize to help be compassionate towards others.
A couple of your points struck a real nerve with me this morning.
1. I am rapidly approaching a milestone “0” birthday. Rather than the stereotypical freak out (as witnessed amongst many of my LA friends, colleagues and acquaintances), I am marveling how lucky I am to finally be on the path to my dream bio.
2. I too dreamed of being a writer from a very early age yet I let my passion dwindle in my adult years. It isn’t too late to correct that, and who cares if most of my writing never progresses beyond a Word document on my laptop. The journey is always more important than the destination (for me at least).
3. Finally a moment of horror regarding how others will remember us. A few years ago at a trade show, one of my Italian colleagues described me as among the top 5 stylish women in the industry. At the time I was incredibly flattered, especially coming from a Milano lady. Now though, WTF? Is that how she’ll remember me? Someone who simply spent too much money on Theory dresses? At the time I thought I was spending money on something that mattered. Hopefully present and future me is significantly less superficial (and much better off).
Writing ALL of it down is a great way to really reflect. I started writing down my new years’ resolutions a couple of years ago (actually I keep them on a tab on my budgeting spreadsheet). This way I can track progress and always see where they are. Writing little notes about myself has really helped me become a kid once again as well and do the things I always liked but for some reason stopped doing. 🙂
Yes!!! This very very very much does hit home for me! How in the world, seriously, did you do that?! Especially #3 – yes you would be right we do have the money for it… It’s just that stubborn trigger finger and fear.
#1 I had to write a bio for a guest blog post and it took me a loooong time. I would have preferred no one seen it because it was boring. My dream bio would be amazing though… I’ll write that later and I’ll decide if I should publish it or not :p
#2 is what I’ve been doing lately, not on paper but in my mind. It’s hard to imagine death but I know the legacy I want to leave so it fuels the drive even more. My husband told me that I have crazy high drive compare to him. He wants to play video games and sleep.
I want to be on Oprah.
I’m learning as I go, discarding what I don’t want in our lives and working to enrich it consciously. I’m not 100% there yet because I’m not positive about the part where I need to know what I want to do for money but my current job is fulfilling and pays well enough, and most importantly allows me so much freedom and autonomy that I don’t have to answer that question in the next year or two. I love being able to prioritize my family over everything else, including work, without having to sacrifice either – that’s the biggest lesson I’ve learned these past five years as I’ve transitioned out of being a workaholic (had to be, in the competitive jobs of the past to keep the income and health insurance) and into being a more balanced human who can pay attention to my chronic illness and actually do what’s good for me, not what will propel me forward in a career.
But boy o boy, as we are also in the throes of toddlerhood, I will never understand this: “…fourth battle of the day over putting on one’s shoes and socks”. I know for a fact that JB can put on zir own socks and shoes, but why do we have to keep fighting over it? It’s a fight everyday and is simply baffling. I have to breathe deeply and remind myself that those 4 minutes in the scheme of the day and life is not a big deal.
I SO feel like saying “Just put on the dang shoes already!!!” but I have to restrain myself and remember that everything is a learning/growing experience, but still, just put on your freaking shoes so we can leave the house, kid ;)!!!!!
When my toddler is engaging in similar behaviour, I often think, slightly amused, that an adult who behaved like that in the workplace would be fired on the spot. 🙂 Parents deserve medals for patience sometimes.
Thank you so much for this!
I recently attended a career training session through my employer, which I found incredibly beneficial. It focused a lot more on resume writing and interview skills (which I need the all the help I can get with!) and touched a bit upon how to figure out what to do with your life – but not like this. This has given me something so much more to think about, in a way that compliments where my head has already been.
I will absolutely be spending some time writing my bios and my future story. And then hopefully make it happen 🙂
I thought that early in life, you go to school and get the education you need then figure out in college what you wanted your career to be. After getting out of college you try to find that dream job. Unfortunately for me I did not land that dream job after all that schooling but does that mean that something else is in store for me? Who knows, only I will have to figure that out by pushing myself to see if I really want it.
This journey is a learning path and you know more about yourself along the way. I thought that getting those degrees in college were a failure because I ‘wasted’ my time in school and did not translate into a career I wanted but now looking back at it, it’s something where I tried and be part of this learning path on my life journey.
Love these posts that diverge “pure” frugality topics. Really thoughtful insights!
Thank you so much for this post! I’ve been putting off the figuring out what I want to do question for years (since before I graduated college, to be honest) but realize I’ve got some decisions to make in the next year. You just gave me some homework to do (which of course I’d rather not have 😉 ) but thank you for the reminder that I need to work on figuring this out sooner rather than later!
Wow. I think that’s the first time I ever heard you reference the “F” word! Cheers to you, Liz. 🙂 Makes you seem so much more real. Loved it. I also wanted to thank you for chiming in on the age thing. I’m in my early 60’s, and sometimes I feel like my life is on the downside and is over. Nothing new will ever happen to me again. I know I’m wrong , but I need to remind myself periodically. And to prove how wrong I am, at 50 years old, I remarried, left the big city and corresponding job, moved to rural Vermont, joined my husband in self-employment, and have never looked back (well, only a few times when I’m mad at him!). My life could not be more different than what it was before. I love living here and what we do now. We still have more dreams, and I’ll get going on that bio. I also wanted to comment on the privilege thing. If someone would have told me that I would be where I am now in life, I would have thought they were certifiably insane. I was a city girl with all the clothes, shoes, and everything else that goes with it. I now drive a tractor through mud clearing our property and sometimes a forklift at work. Who’d have thunk it! It is a tremendous privilege to be able to choose such different lifestyles at different times in our lives. I am beyond grateful for these opportunities to see life from a different perspective. And, God-willing, I will have more opportunities doing new things in the future….sort of like your new neighbor. For any young person out there reading this, please know that you don’t have to figure it all out when you’re young. Don’t feel you wasted your time or life in the wrong arena. There are many different arenas out there, and the true privilege is that anyone can try any number of different things at any time they choose.
That is wonderful to hear! I love that you’ve created a new and wonderful life for yourself at age 50+! It’s so true that you have many new adventures ahead of you and I’m excited to hear about the things you’re doing with a tractor ;). And yes, parenting a toddler drives me to imagine the F word in my head a lot… though never out loud as she’s a pitch perfect mimic of EVERYTHING we say :)! Never has my language been so sanitized and thoughtful…
This is a great expertise that I am going to work through. I think it will give me some clarity on my goals. I have been a cook, a high school teacher, and now I am a medical student slash blogger. Anyways, I am happy to have found your site.
Well, it’s interesting to me that almost all of the PF/FIRE blogs have this kind of focus — the idea that people pursue financial freedom in order to do *something else* with their professional lives. I already do exactly what I want to be doing professionally (something trained for many years to do, and feel regularly grateful that I’ve been successful at doing). So I’m left wondering why *exactly* I’m so concerned with saving and accumulating money…..I’m sure for many people that larger question is still hanging out there, of what money *symbolizes* or *means* to them outside of career path.
For me, more important than the question of “do I love my job or not” is the question: “do I have options?” And having plenty of money is a chief way to engineer options into your life. Jobs can go away, layoffs can occur and for someone like you–who has enough money saved up–an unexpected job loss would be a time of discovery as opposed to a time of intense stress and crisis. I think financial independence is the ultimate self-insurance against unforeseen calamity since it removes the problem of having enough money to eat, pay rent, and live. For me, having enough money = freedom.
This is a wonderful read.
I’m fortunate/unfortunate to be very very close to my dream bio. Fortunate because I’m essentially doing what I really want to do right now, and what I think I’m best at.
Unfortunate due to the circumstances that led to my early retirement/full-time blogging career (laid off when the startup I worked for closed shop 1 month after I started).
P.S. Thank you, on a personal level, for writing deep, detailed, authentic, personal blog posts that offer YOUR insights…rather than regurgitated SEO-optimized blog posts on frugality.
You’re an amazing blogger, and I sincerely appreciate these insights.
What’s surprised me most about my life to date, is how differently things have turned out to what I expected. I studied something for 6 years that in the end I didn’t enjoying doing. I dreamt of financial freedom to discover that I thrive on big challenges and I actually need to find work that achieves this even if it isn’t a 9-5 job or a particular dream career. Then there was having children. I could never understand other people’s drive to have them and now I’m so totally smitten with my toddler I can imagine having 4! She loves shoes though 😉
I’ve read that one of the biggest regrets elderly people have, is the things they didn’t do. I don’t consider myself a courageous person at all, but a few friends believe I am because I’ve been willing to try different things. And I think that’s part of finding your way in life. Sometimes you need to take a risk and muster up the courage to change direction away from something you thought would make you happy, but that doesn’t.
This is great advice, but…I want to be a musician and fluent in several languages, but truly never had the opportunity to take lessons in either, and despite my intense diligence at one language and my attempts to learn both music theory and practice, my efforts (in my forties) are falling flat. I also want to live in a place I love, with friends and family, and that’s proving financially impossible.
I’ve tried substituting cooking and writing for music in my dreams, but it’s not what my heart wants. Likewise, I’ve tried living in cheaper areas, and while I make the best of it I’m not happy.
Writing, saving, yes- those are achievable goals. But music and languages and enough money to live in my hometown seem like pipe dreams.
So there seems to be little point to trying for my dream bio. It just makes me sadder!
There are now technology devices where you can learn languages: Rossette Stone, Glossika, and a website named Doulingo.where you can learn languages for free.
What an insightful post. I really enjoyed the line, “For the vast majority of people and the vast majority of situations, it’s not that they can’t afford something, it’s that they’re not prioritizing it.” I think our lives tend to be reflection of our priorities and choices, so it’s important to make sure our choices reflect our goals. Writing out your goals in a “dream bio” or something similar is one of the best ways to figure out what interests you and then make decisions to put you on the right path. I think it’s best to assess it on a yearly basis because you never know when your interests will change, and it’s time to start something new!
What I most appreciate about this find-your-path advice is that it’s not presented as a quick fix. A lot of bloggers and podcasters who have found their way make it sound like it happened overnight. But… that hasn’t been my experience when it comes to transformation. For me, when I want to change my life in radical ways, it takes months or even years to make it happen (we’re in the midst of a years-long revamp right now), and it takes a lot (A LOT) of hard work and dedication. I really appreciate this post!
Thank you for pointing that out! I agree that it takes time and work to figure out what you want to do and then to act on it. It certainly wasn’t an overnight process for me and it was frustrating at first to realize I was looking at a years-long process. But it’s such a worthy endeavor!
Mrs Frugalwoods , here is another post that makes me say, You Rock! You are inspiring, uplifting and helpful, all the way on the other side of the world.
That looking back on life exercise is a GREAT way to help a person get out of a funk, or, when you are swamped for what ever reason and just cannot get your focus.
It’s a stinking hot day here in Brisbane Australia. I’ll likely wilt if I go outside. For a few hours in the middle of the day, I’m catching up on internet readings, then going to trundle up to the Laundromat and catch the $2 happy hour wash time, and get in some exercise there and back. Panic and depression have been plaguing me for ages, but it calmed down a lot when I thought the other day :” If I get to 70 and look back on this moment, I know I’d be happy to know I looked the way I do today” ….which rather surprised me as, moments earlier I was poking at my stomach where a bit of fat is, and saying unhelpful observations.
I decided to do this ” What would 70 year old Me say of this situation? ” when I found myself stuck,ovover thinking, being mean to self, or, just swamped by all the options in the future. And, your article here has reiterated that and infused it with your positive attitude towards life that really lifts my spirits.
Thank You <3
I really appreciate your recurrent discussions of privilege on your blog. It’s something that many financial bloggers seem to be missing, but something that I think is essential.
Wow. I needed this today. Real meat and potatoes. Your writing is skillful and refreshing. Be well!
Thanks for writing this post. I have been thinking about this topic for a while, and reading this made me want to action it. I’m the kind of person who tends to put her own needs and wishes in the background and support others instead, but being a martyr is neither attractive nor healthy, and it’s something I want to change. I still want to support others, of course, but not at the cost of feeling resentment and frustration at not doing what I would like to be doing. When I think about what my dream bio would be, however, I feel that there is some imcompatibility with what my husband’s dream is. Do you have any advice on how to reconcile the two/compromise without giving up too much?
That’s a great question, Jane! I have a post on how to talk with your partner about financial goals, which I think might be applicable to this situation as well: Reader Suggestions On: How To Convince Your Husband Or Wife To Be Frugal. Additionally, my Uber Frugal Month Challenge (which is free and can be signed up for at any time) has a section on longterm planning exercises with your partner, which you and your husband might find useful to do together: Uber Frugal Month: The Ultimate Guide To Saving More Money Than You Ever Thought Possible.
In August 2016, roughly a month before my fiftieth birthday, I learned that I was going to lose my corporate job of 14 years. After the initial shock wore off, my husband and I sat down and crunched numbers. I knew that as a middle-aged woman without a degree, it was going to be extremely difficult for me to get a job that paid comparably to what I was making, and besides, I had really grown to detest corporate life. My dream, like yours, was to be a professional writer. Thanks to savings, investments and a pretty generous severance package, I now live that dream. I don’t make a lot of money writing, but what writing lacks in money it makes up for in happiness. If you think you’re too old to start over, I’m living proof that you’re not!
Oh this is why I see your blog mentioned all the time in the PF world, makes total sense now. Thank You for choosing ‘writing’ as the thing you want to do more. A Lot of us FIRE types know we have a feeling pulling us in this direction, but lack the eloquence to put it into the right words. I am going to have to tab this and read it slower 🙂
This is a very inspiring post. I really enjoyed it! This is such a great exercise for anyone at any age.I think it’s so great that you learned this early in life and you will spend such quality time with your children! I really admire your bravery and dedication to live a more fulfilling life. I regret not planning my life better and realizing what I wanted to do earlier in life while my kids were young but it’s never too late. I am 51 and about a year ago decided it’s now or never. I’m halfway through making big changes in my own life now and well on my way to living the life that I dreamed of. The dream is not to be rich in money but to be rich in experiences. Just knowing that I’m taking those steps to make it happen is giving me great joy! I have subscribed and will check out your other posts and look forward to future ones.
A great piece. I’ve heard this type of advice before, but it adds clarity to see how it affected your life and decisions. My wife and I often say “it is not about knowledge, it’s about execution.” Seeing how you executed on your knowledge makes all the difference.
What a great post! It really resonates with one of my favorite quotes from Mary Oliver’s poem, The Summer Day, “Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?” Certainly for me personally a bit of energy spent on a time audit would be time well spent…because you are spot on-we all make time for what matters to us!
And I enjoyed meeting you at FinCon. Best of luck in 2018, it should be a very blessed year for your growing family.
Love this article. I too had to do some serious reflection on the issue. And like you, I am a writer and also a vlogger. I now travel the world exploring and creating videos. It’s so empowering to connect with likeminded people!
Fantastic, thought provoking article. Thank you.
One of the best posts I’ve read in a long time. I’m going to take care of the dream bio and current bio this week. Anytime they don’t match up is going to result in an action plan. Can’t wait to do this.
Thanks so much for such an inspirational post! I know what I’m doing this weekend…
Great post. I have been living a frugal life for many years and worked 38 years full time as a Medical Technologist. When I turned 64 I decided to leave full time work, retire and spend time doing the things I loved: Gardening, Reading, Taking Long Walks in the Woods etc……I wake up every day happy and content knowing I am creating my own roadmap. How liberating!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
You found your place in the world! congratulations! I kind of hated my chosen career as a dental assistant. By concentrating to find out the interesting things in my work made me happy and better in my job.
I don’t know where else to write this because I can’t find a Contact Us button but I’ve signed up the Uber Frugal Month Challenge and I am not getting any emails. Am I doing something wrong?? Help!
Hi Rachael: Check your spam and all other email folders–sometimes they hide in there. All of the Uber Frugal Month Challenge emails have “UFM” in the subject line, so you can also search by that. Additionally, when the emails arrive depends on your email and internet service providers, so there could be a delay from your particular providers. Good luck and thank you for signing up!
I did check my spam. After the 3rd attempt I finally got an email asking me to confirm that I wanted to receive emails. I am hoping that means they start coming today?
Great article. Perfect timing for me as I’ve been wondering what to do with my life and career. Thanks!
I have been thinking of doing something a bit similar – writing my epitaph. And then seeing what gaps would need to be filled in, based on what I’ve done and what I have yet to do.
Thank you for the very practical tips. I would also like to focus more on my writing and think I will be using some of your prompts this weekend to help me focus myself even more. I’m also inspired to hear how much your blog has grown in just a few years. Gives me hope for mine, now that I am putting a lot more attention and effort into it, and to connecting with other bloggers on issues I really care about. Community is so important. And creating and working on your dream life, even just a little bit every day – it helps me to keep going.
Agree with Number 2. I once heard Jeff Bezos say one of the things that helped him make the leap from safe job to starting Amazon was imagining himself at 80 and looking back, and wondering which path would have given him the biggest regret – and how that mental exercise made choosing to start Amazon much easier. That advice really stuck with me and I started doing it, and it definitely helps put things in perspective and make better decisions.
I started a blog back in July and it has been a lot of fun sharing my ideas. I have not gotten a lot of traffic yet, but everything takes time. I love my job as an academic advisor/career counselor, so no issues there. I think for me it is just saving enough where I do not have to work. Not sure if I will retire at that moment, but I at least want the option. Financial freedom is key.
When I grow up, I wanna be…
Wow. What a concept. I’ve always thought I knew what I wanted to BE when I grew up, but I never really thought about what I wanted to do, or how I would do it.
Financial well being can change your whole outlook on life. If you have some basic wealth, the key to success is expanding it, not building it. You don’t have to “start from scratch” if you’ve figured out how to live well, and expand your wealth. I find purpose and expand on that… It’s an awesome way to live.
Thank you for sharing these insights. I loved the leisurely walk through purpose and intent. Good information to share!
Wow, this was such an encouraging article. I’ve read it slowly over the past three days, working through each exercise before moving to the next section. I have a 3 page Word document of all my answers from your prompts. My husband is going to work on this tonight, and we’ll talk about it this weekend! I noticed that my dream bio and my legacy reflection have some discrepancies. When I think about my life in 5 years versus when I think about my life in 60 years, I have different priorities. You’ve given me a lot to think about. Thank you!
A wonderful article. Thank you, Mrs. Frugalwoods. I don’t like sitting in the cubicle either. It is cold, isolating, not great for teamwork. Being frugal is not easy to do, but is the right thing to do. Our society is more and more towards consumerism. It is sad. I agree, we should only spend on what matters most to us. But it takes a lot of time and soul searching to figure out what matters. We are bombarded everyday by those commercials: buy this, buy that, buy happiness. Really?
This is such a large and looming question and you have a great strategy on getting insight into it. I also think it’s important to continuously reevaluate, revisit, and revise. We continuously grow and change (hopefully) with our experiences, so it’s important to make sure you aren’t working toward a dream that you no longer want.
The dream bio is such a simple concept…but amazing. Thank you so much for pointing it out! It’s one of those things you don’t even consider when you’re blinded by your current bio. Thanks for reminding us all to step back and dream. 🙂
Long-time reader, first-time commenter.
I was going through a bout of financial/economic insecurity this morning. This happens to be sometimes. Especially late at night. It’s always coming on at the most inconvenient times!
Reading your post helped me realize that this financial insecurity is not necessarily a feeling of not enough. It’s a feeling of not knowing where I want to go and what I want out of life. I’m working so hard on my food blog, for example, and yet I can’t tell what the point is.
Your advice really helped put things into perspective. I love this line: “When you spend money ONLY on what matters MOST to you, you will have enough money.”
I did the current & future bio exercises. They gave me great insight into realizing what next steps I can take to move myself closer to my future bio. It’s funny that a lot of things in my future bio don’t actually cost that much. So the reason I’m not doing them is because I’m lazy, don’t have a system set up, excuses and simply haven’t budgeted the time. It’s not because I can’t *afford* it.
I’m looking forward to doing my obit and time audit soon. I think they will be critical for carving out room to grow into my future bio.
Thanks & looking forward to more of your stories.
BTW, congrats on the book. You must have felt amazing about that achievement. It’s so great to see how much you and your family have progressed and grown in life after following your blog since the early days when you’re still living in Boston.
This was a very inspirational read. Having worked a job that I did not like for many years and then stepping out and deciding to be self-employed I have learned a lot of similar lessons. It is a very nice feeling to have to actually walk out into your dream. You learn so many things, like how to save money and how to not be attached to a certain schedule or routine. Reading this article was very refreshing!
Do you have any advice for someone who knows the components of what she wants from a job but not what specific job/field she could find these in? When I do my dream bio I do not come up with anything concrete, just a bunch of words like rewarding, challenging, flexible, and makes
a difference. I still have no idea what that is though.
This is an eye opening activity I need to do. I just started to day dream about how I would write me Present Bio and got all weirded out by how much I didn’t like it. Thanks for helping me start a new chapter in my life!
I recently did my dream bio in my passion planner. All I can think about is blogging but, with everything going on and college classes starting it has been difficult to keep up my blog. Did you ever have anything get in your way of blogging or did you just buckle down and do it? did it ever get stressful trying to keep up a blog and life at the same time when you first started?
I am a mother to 3 boys who works outside the home due to the fact my husband doesn’t think he could support us financially by himself. I started to go to school to become a teacher but I see so many people unhappy with their lives after a few years due to stress, politics and money in schools. I know I love working with children and staying home would be my ultimate dream bio. I feel conflicted if I should keep racking up debt in college to do a job I may not love in a few years?
Please help !
Mrs. Frugalwoods, I have to tell you–I found the “Dream Bio” exercise to be so powerful! It has taken me almost two weeks to finish, but I really feel like I have identified my priorities like never before. Since (as you pointed out!) it is for my eyes only, I felt comfortable listing ALL of the things, big and small, that I would like to do with my life. I also gave myself permission to believe in and chase after the “big” dreams, such as financial independence, instead of worrying how other people in my life might poke holes in it. Thank you so much for this post! I am also really enjoying the UFM Challenge.
That is AWESOME, Nora!!! Thank you so much for sharing about your experience :)!!!
Thanks for this post – and also the rest of your blog! It’s helped me both to remember how much in my life experiences (Self funded MSc, extensive travel) happened through a mixture of extreme frugality and privelege. In the last year or so i’ve been more sucked in to consumer culture and the belief that ‘i deserve’ meals out/cocktails etc because I can afford them without going into any debt. Your posts have helped me realise that in order to pursue my dream (of writing childs literature and opening a library in Western Uganda ) I need to both invest serious time in writing and also adjust my spending so that I can realise my dream. Due to the difference in economies between UK (where I work) and rural Uganda I think I can build a home and set up the library by my 30th birthday if I can keep committed to this long term dream 🙂
I am in my 70’s – the third chapter of my life, and find your blogs inspirational. You are right – I’m not dead yet and I should/will reflect on how I am spending my resources of time and money. Am I doing what I want just now? Thank you for your inspiration.
Hello – I know this is an old post but it felt like the most appropriate one to comment on, here’s hoping you see it!
I’ve been on a massive kick the past couple of years to dig myself out a debt hole for the first time in my adult life (I’m mid-30s now) and slowly slowly, the horrible fog of constant anxiety about money and the future, which was hanging about me 24/7 is lifting. I was honestly really despairing at one point a few years back. It makes me so sad to think that so many people are struggling like I was (and much much worse) every day.
Although, post making a commitment to change, I was already pretty damn good at frugalising my life (I too am a master at making huge portions of rice n beans for work each week, and being the weirdo who bikes even through the bleak northern-UK winter ); it’s reading blogs like yours that have kept me inspired to keep going. So much so that I’m thinking about starting a one myself to pay it forward and maybe help a few other people out, who knows.
Although I’m light years away from what you’ve achieved, I too have my quiet dreams of escaping to a little semi-self sufficient rural idyll one day- although right now I’ll settle for buying my first home in the next few months (within easy cycling distance of work of course!)
Overall I feel so much capable and in control, not just of my finances, but of life in general. It’s a wonderful thing!
Hi Megan!! I am so happy to hear you are in a good place and feeling in control!!! That is wonderful to hear and I am wishing you ALL the best :)!!!
Hi, I have just recently found your blog and have been SERIOUSLY enjoying the read, it’s full of ideas I needed to hear. Thank you. I wanted to comment here because I think it is really the most fundamental aspect of the whole thing. I certainly struggle to focus on the long term (as we all do?), and retain my sense of purpose. But I think I struggle more with my budgeting/wasting of time more so then money. I am already generally on the frugal side, though actually reckoning our budget and seeing where we are being wasteful was certainly an overdue task. What I remain perplexed by, however, is where the need comes in for EXTREME frugality, and I wonder if you can comment on that? You said above the #1 thing you felt you needed to do when comparing your dream to actual bio was to save a lot more money. Particularly as it sounds like you’ve now purchased your homestead and are financially independent… what is it all that money you’re still saving actually for? Or maybe you just continue to enjoy the habit and simple lifestyle of it? At a first glance at the beginning of our careers we appear to be saving 30-40% and given that we both desire to keep working at least for now, I’m just unclear if this is really something we should be focusing on, however much I am drawn to the ideas. Thank you!!
Ok, by reading your book I found answers to my own questions! (Chapters 10 and 15 especially!) It seems you started out with frugality as a means to an end (living in the woods) and found frugality morphing into an ends in itself – a life of simplicity and essentialism. It’s amazing how I can feel so connected to what you wrote despite having a very different origin story. I’m going to write a very abridged version here. Because you have shown up uninvited at my internet doorstep with something incredibly special to share, and I don’t think I can help mend your well – but I’d love to at least try and share to give back.
I grew up with a mom who was a homemaker and a dad who was an artist and part-time professor living in a relatively rural college town. My mom lovingly gardened our half-acre while my brother and I played in the stream behind my house. My dad was a charismatic dreamer who spent most of his time secluded in his art studio – he often waxed poetic about finding your passion in life. In short, I had an idyllic childhood.
I’m grateful thinking back that I grew up in such a frugal household – not as a philosophy really just something enabling us to live on half of one income since that’s how my parents chose to live their lives. We are a family of introverts, which in and of itself is a fabulous thing (hat-tip to the book: Quiet). But as we found great joy in our own pursuits, it perhaps let us turn a blind eye to our lack of community. Lacking friends can be tough for a kid. I remember resolving sometime around the beginning of middle school (when the social climate is particularly vibrant with inclusivity, scratch that, meanness) that I would get good grades and go to a great college where I’d be sure to find an amazing network of intellectual, kind peers. Fast forward to me halfway through freshman year at an ivy league and I was miserable, because there is nothing worse then realizing delayed gratification of half you’re life’s wait – only to find it minimally gratifying. I had many friends on the superficial level, sure, but truly connecting is an art-form and my skill had atrophied if it had formed at all. I have dutifully been pursuing the idea of finding my passion, but it’s a hard thing to do. I have never gotten too swept up in consumerism (though I’ve drifted along in it a bit of course), probably largely because I am lucky enough to have read this book right as I am about to start making a noteworthy income. Since starting college I’ve been in school or training for 13/15 years. The 2 years of exception where when I was trying to be an artist. Now I’m emerging from training, 33 years old, a physician, and still feel relatively disconnected and unclear if I’m on the right path. Scared I might realize that again the mountain I’ve climbed didn’t lead where I needed to go. At least doing primary care I can feel I am doing a little good in the world, and I get a chance regularly to connect deeply at least on the professional level with my patients who often open up about their deepest fears and truths. But I’d still like to connect more often on a personal level. Feeling disconnected from mainstream culture makes that challenging. (Particularly as someone who rarely puts myself out there, as I am, for whatever reason, doing now).
I am so envious of the life and community you describe finding in rural Vermont, but while part of me certainly wants to, I’m not headed exactly there, at least not now. Though I have a healthy skepticism toward social media I imagine one of it’s great promises is to link together communities of like minded people and I’m so excited to have found this counter current where I might fit in. So, any advice on where to meet the local frugalites (for someone who just moved to your old haunt, Camberville) is appreciated. Otherwise, maybe I can hope to be a reader case study someday once I better elucidate my finances, goals and questions (teaser: I have an interesting financial situation where I choose not to be formally married and not to pay off my debt as I believe it is in my best financial interests). In the meantime, thank you and thank you again, for the inspiration!!
Thank you so much for this post, particularly for acknowledging the 50-60+ crowd who, like me, hasn’t exactly decided “what next.” I earned my bachelor’s degree, then earned my juris doctor degree. I practiced litigation for nearly 20 years and left the field for health reasons. At the same time, I also established that I had no yearning to return to the practice. So thank you for a potential roadmap.
Also, I received a present for Christmas that I’ve wanted for some time — your book “Meet The Frugalwoods – Achieving Financial Independence Through Simple Living” by Elizabeth Willard Thames.
I have followed your blog for years with great pleasure and I look forward to enjoying every page of your book.
Best wishes to you and your family for a Happy New Year!