The trip I’ve been looking forward to for most of this year has come and gone, and I had several significant take-aways, both financial and otherwise. It’s very timely given the approaching holiday.
We’ve already gotten the question several times since we returned—“So do you still want to do it?”
The answer is yes. Spending a week down there only increased our appetite to eventually take the family for at least a year. Whatever you call it–a mini-retirement, sabbatical, or full immersion experience–we want to do it.
Sometimes I think leaving my job for something else is just not possible. What about the money? What about a job coming back? What about this and that? There is so much uncertainty that just doesn’t sit well with my job-security prone personality, but I think I’ve come a long way in seeing how the benefits outweigh any uncertainty.
Amanda is a big fan of biographies and historical documentaries, so she always has some profound quote up her sleeve. The last one she told me was from Eleanor Roosevelt—“You must do the thing you think you cannot do.” This is definitely applicable in my case.
I couldn’t have said it any better than Steve from Five Bag Fit.
Going into full frugal mode to retire early is a noble pursuit, but not a practical reality for everyone.
Doing a year in Central America will be such a unique and bonding adventure for your family. I can’t think of a better lesson for your kids – giving them a full cultural immersion for a year. Better than any course at school. Better than a 2 week vacation anywhere.
Don’t worry about your career coming back. Getting a job is not luck. You get a job because of the person you are – educated, experienced, well spoken, and capable.
I ran into a friend from work at the park a few weeks ago and ended up talking about future plans. He’s planning to go back to school, and I told him about my desires to take the family to Central America.
He told me he had a good friend who had already done that very thing and gladly put me in touch. I ended up talking to the friend all about his experience living with his family in Nicaragua for a year. I even took a package from him down to a family he had grown close with while living there.
The package was for the Hernandez family—a dad, mom, and 2 kids. Juan, the dad, is 28. He works full time, is finishing an accounting degree, and holds a church leadership position that takes even more of his time. We were able to have dinner with them one night in their very modest home.
Despite the humble living circumstances and being very busy, Juan was very upbeat. He talked about how when he got married, they had nothing (one might argue they still have nothing). Now they have a house (about 200 square feet, if that), a motorbike, and a beautiful family.
I don’t know if I felt more amazed at how happy he was despite his circumstances or guilty for ever having complained about anything in my life.
Just a few weeks earlier, Amanda and I had the chance to spend some time with a family we are very close to. They are about our ages and live the same sort of lifestyle (stay at home mom, homeschool, church, etc.)–only they make several times the income we do (yes, mucho).
It’s only been during the last 3 years they’ve been raking in this level of income, and now that I had the chance, I asked them if they were happier. Guess what they said?
They said they weren’t. They did admit that life is definitely more convenient, and it’s a relief not to have to deal with certain financial constraints, but those conveniences don’t necessarily translate into increased happiness. I just found it very interesting to be able to directly ask someone that question and have a first-hand response. We all hear that more money won’t make us happier, but most of us have a hard time believing it.
Our experience with both of these families just reinforced the notion that money (and maybe not even early retirement) itself won’t make you happy.
We were reminded over and over again on our trip that life can be so much more simple than we make it. A common attitude in Latin America is that if something doesn’t get done, there is always tomorrow. People don’t stress as much, and they don’t accumulate as much stuff.
Think of all the apps you have on your phone. They likely make some aspect of your life easier. But at the same time, they are also making it more complex. We’re always worrying about everything syncing properly, making sure everything is charged, etc.
My dad recently sent me an article about simplifying life which included a line from the book Clutter’s Last Stand: It’s Time To De-junk Your Life!
Each item we accumulate stifles us and robs us of freedom because it requires so much of our time to tend. We have to pay for it, keep track of it, protect it, clean it, store it, insure it, and worry about it. Later we have to move it, hide it, apologize for it, and argue over it. … But these things are valuable, you say? What about the value of the life and time to store, to clean, to insure, to transport, to protect—what does all that cost? More than money.
A lot of people have it right when they say it’s not about the money. It’s about freedom. The irony is that when people finally have the freedom to do what they want and buy what they want, they often find themselves becoming slaves to their stuff, and thus are no longer free.
Leonardo Davinci said that “Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.”
No wonder it seems like there are so many people these days selling all their stuff in pursuit of a simpler lifestyle.
I asked Amanda if she had any thoughts from our trip I could share.
Shortly after returning, she noticed that her facebook feed was blowing up with opinions about letting Syrian refugees into the U.S.
One person wrote that the U.S. just doesn’t have enough resources to accept anyone into its borders. Amanda is not one who gets worked up by political issues, but having just returned from the 2nd poorest country in the Americas, she just couldn’t reconcile that comment in her mind. “We have SO much!” she told me.
We live in a country where even homeless people have access to shelters with food, beds, running water, flushing toilets, and electricity, which is more than the majority of people in many countries can say, Nicaragua included.
It’s amazing how increased perspective can change the way you see things.
Like most people who spend time reading personal finance articles, I love talking about early retirement, financial independence, working because I want to and not because I have to, etc.
It’s good to be reminded every once in a while that these things are privileges that most people in the world can’t even comprehend. They are what we might call “rich people problems.” You may not think of yourself as rich, but remember that at least to someone, you are the Joneses.
I’m not a fan of the idea that we should be grateful for what we have only because there might be someone else who has less. That’s what I might call relative gratitude. Though seeing how little others might have is a helpful wake-up call, I think we should be grateful just because. And when we can learn to do that is when we will start to find real happiness.
So let’s all make ourselves a little bit happier by being grateful. And don’t forget to invest in what you are thankful for!
Do you believe gratitude needs to be relative? What experiences in your live have given you a broader perspective?