I’m Financially Stable but I Feel Like I’m Adrift

This guest post from Shara G. is first installment of the “reader stories” feature at Money Boss. Some stories contain general advice; others are examples of how an MB reader achieved financial success — or failure. These stories feature folks from all stages of financial freedom. In this case, Shara is stuck in the vast gap between agency and security — and she doesn't know what she should do.

My best friend jokes that I've been planning for retirement since junior high because…I have been. I haven't been aggressively pursuing Financial Independence since I was a pre-teen, but I knew I wanted to set myself up in high school for a good college that would lead to a good job and a good life and a good retirement.

As such I set myself a succession of goals:

  • In high school, my goal was to rank as highly as I could.
  • In college, I had dual goals of good grades and internships.
  • I had a goal to find a good man to share my life and have kids.
  • And so on.

Each goal has led to another goal in a logical succession, some academic, some personal, some professional. Finances were there and in control and a means to achieve my goals or occasional small goals in themselves in pursuit of the future.

The problem is: I'm out of goals.

Perhaps my goals were too modest. Or perhaps I'm just much better at achieving them than I thought. But I got a good stable job I enjoy, had a child, supported my husband through his MSEE, had another baby, got my MSEE, got promoted, and had another baby. My youngest is now two and my head has come up out of the fog of life with an infant to focus on a new goal.

My first thought was Financial Independence, so I ran my numbers. I'm 34 and my husband is 36. Making no changes to our admittedly relatively generous budget we will be FI in about ten years. (There's no way I could convince my husband to make many lifestyle changes to make that time much shorter.) We like our jobs and our home, so there's no goal of new jobs or a new house or any feeling we need to accelerate retirement.

I'm up for a promotion at work which would be a new title but the same work so I don't really care either way. (It's just nice to be recognized.) Neither of us are terribly enthusiastic about a Ph.D., though we have a standing agreement that if a good project falls into my husband's lap he's free to pursue it.

We've considered having another baby as I really want four, but I finally decided that pregnancy was too physically demanding for me to really go through with that. There are places I'd like to see, but I'm a homebody (and traveling with a toddler isn't terribly appealing). I have goals for organizing, fitness, etcetera — but no philosophy around which I structure my days to make those daily decisions and weigh against “Will this bring me closer to my goal?”

J.D.'s note: If she hasn't already, I'd encourage Shara to work through my personal mission statement exercise — or something similar. This may help her find focus.

In the here and now, I'm focusing on how I can consciously create memories for my children. But I feel adrift, like a sailboat with no wind.

I've done a number of mental exercises:

  • Do I want to work fewer hours?
  • Would another job interest me?
  • Is there a cause I'd like to volunteer for?

But everything would be change for the sake of change. I like my life. I've gotten where I have wanted to go; I just got here a lot faster than I expected.

There may be no answer, or I may need to drift for a few years while I focus on my family and just leave bigger dreams alone until they come to me. But I feel like in the meantime I'm not properly tethered and I don't like that sensation.

Long-time readers remember that reader stories were a weekly feature when I ran Get Rich Slowly, and I've been eager to add them to Money Boss. This column may be irregular at first but will increase in frequency as I get more submissions. If you want to share your story, please drop a line.

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Annie
Annie
3 years ago

I am probably similar to you. I feel like a shark in that I must keep swimming (keep moving) to stay alive. I literally don’t do well with free time – three day weekends have to have a plan. Something that has helped me is mindfulness. Feel the boredom, or the depression, or the drift. Live in that feeling. I wouldn’t go searching for a goal just to have one. I think you should try to really experience whatever emotion you’re feeling. In time something true will come up, and you’ll be available for that goal, vs. having your head… Read more »

Shara G.
Shara G.
3 years ago
Reply to  Annie

Oh, I feel them and don’t have a problem with it. And I make a point that when I’m with my kids I’m actually with them and not thinking about what’s next. I guess the best way to describe my problem is to analogize to how I plan a vacation. I plan something to do every day, but I don’t plan something to do all day. I need the structure so I, and my kids, have a reason to get up at a reasonable time and something to look forward to, but vacation isn’t a job with clear deliverables. People… Read more »

Chris
Chris
3 years ago
Reply to  Shara G.

Wow, both your story and your comment above encapsulate how I feel exactly. I am genuinely appreciative for all we have achieved however I wonder what is next ? I haven’t semi-retired partly because I am so conservative have that just a couple more years feeling, but equally likely because I worry about not being able to layout my next chapter.

dh
dh
3 years ago

Here’s a short clip from Youtube of Woody Allen discussing his distraction philosophy, which kinda ties into Annie’s comment above:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Xf8fl1bsRB8

Marie
Marie
3 years ago

Oh I am so there with you. For a long time paying off our student loans was the big focus but even at the end I didn’t really care. They are all gone. Have no inclination to actually travel. I started piano lessons but even that feels more like work now then fun. I have been heavily involved in volunteering the last six years but I am feeling done with all the politics. I have tried to find something to study or read that will grab my interest and have quickly bored of the things I’ve read. It is a… Read more »

Jennifer B
Jennifer B
3 years ago

For a financial focus, I”m not seeing anything about saving for college costs for your kids – would having a fund to build there provide a goal? I know some families believe that kids are more motivated to do well when they pay for college themselves, while others consider college costs to be at least partially a parent goal – I would tell you that if you want to be helping your kids with college, starting to save now is not too yearly…

Shara G.
Shara G.
3 years ago
Reply to  Jennifer B

Saving for college is part of the financial independence calculations. We intend to offer our kids some level of reasonable college aid, but we don’t know what will be available via scholarships or educational assistance through our employer (they have occasional research agreements that include tuition reduction for kids of employees) or even if our kids want to go to college. They may prefer to start a business or study a trade instead.

But yeah, that is already baked in.

Sonny
Sonny
3 years ago

If she is content with her life now and wants to create memories with her kids, just focus on that. Simple !!! Spend quality time with them, take them to places (road trip, zoo, museum), travel (domestic, international),cook, read, play music… and many other things. It sounds like she wants everything and fears loosing something if she chooses something. She should be in small percentage of people in the world who says I am happy with where I am right. Goals driven life is OK. But after you have achieved your stated goals, enjoy, relax, and have fun what you… Read more »

Shara G.
Shara G.
3 years ago
Reply to  Sonny

Hm. No I am happy where I am. But why would I want to stay here for the next 50 years? That doesn’t sound fun or good for me or anyone else. I do spend quality time with them, take them places, travel, cook and read (they play music, though it doesn’t really interest me at this point). I manage their commitments like I manage my own: enough to make them work, but not enough to overwhelm them. And I ENJOY goals. I appreciate the accomplishment. The problem is that I need a goal to actually motivate that accomplishment. I… Read more »

Sabbaticalia
Sabbaticalia
3 years ago
Reply to  Shara G.

I’m on this plateau with you, though with a head-wind of spouse’s family’s issues. Fostering the niece pushes back FI for us, but hey, FI’s a means not an end of its own. Right now, I lessen the perception of “drift” by continuing to track the progress towards FI, and making sure I have mostly near-term goals. Each major transition coming up will cause me to reassess anyway, so why have many goals further out? Whether it’s putting each of the three girls into college, or launching them with a grubstake and seedling portfolio, or shifting her mother or my… Read more »

Mollie
Mollie
3 years ago

The biggest thing that strikes me about your story is that financial independence is within your 10 year reach, but you’re someone who definitely needs to stay busy. If at some point down the road you’re going to quit your job for FIRE, now is the time to figure out what you want to retire toward one day. And you’ve got the chance to try it out in small doses while you’re still working and raising kids. I agree with Annie above. Look into the idea of mindfulness. Feel what you feel. Allow yourself to be bored and live in… Read more »

JP at TheMoneyHabit
JP at TheMoneyHabit
3 years ago

Completely identify with this feeling. Even after retirement, I’ve found it’s important to feel like there’s a project or challenge to help me stay engaged with the world, though I now have that play a smaller role than it did in earlier years. The only thing I can say is that for someone with a personality that loves to find challenges, a new idea will come, even if it isn’t right on the timeline you wish it would. The waiting period is painful, but it will come. Shara, what’s your MB Mission Statement which sits above your financial goals? Will… Read more »

Shara G.
Shara G.
3 years ago

LOL! I have that problem with blogs all the time. I had JD’s info from way back when he was on GRS.

Sue G.
Sue G.
3 years ago

Shara, thanks for sharing your story with us. I’m in a similar situation in that I consider myself recovered from my last two big goals: completing a masters (and subsequent promotion) and buying my first (and possibly, forever) house. Now what? I know I want to pay off my house as soon as possible and maybe retire early (so, FI). But, it’s slow going right now as I set retirement investing goals in place. There’s not a lot of active, daily/weekly goal achieving going on. I’m used to my hair being on fire. I mean, isn’t there something I should… Read more »

Anne
Anne
3 years ago

Shara, this is just a thought, but might there be some relationship goals toward which you would like to work? Are either set of your parents struggling financially/emotionally or some siblings who need help? Do your children have cousins with which you would like them to be closer?
How about your own network of friends?
There are many different goals in life besides financial. As I said, just a thought.

Mr. RIP
Mr. RIP
3 years ago

I think Shara’s story is one of my biggest fear in pursuing FI.
What I’d suggest her is to “get the hell out of that soul destroying comfort zone”!!
I know, it’s not how we, humans, are wired. Easy to tell, hard to do.

Good luck Shara!

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