In January 2018 Jordan and I were less than two months away from our son Henry being born. Rather than planning his nursery or practicing swaddling techniques, we were consumed with questions about how quickly we could get our life back to normal.
- How soon could we expect to have him sleeping through the night?
- When could I get back into my old clothes?
- And how much time did I really need to take off work?
One Saturday afternoon Jordan’s mom called us. She had recently retired and was counting down the days until her first grandchild arrived. She and Jordan’s dad were planning to visit us in London for a few months. I expected they were calling to talk about some of the logistics.
“I have an aggressive form of breast cancer. I need to start chemo immediately.”
We sat there in stunned silence for a while. Then we cried. Jordan quickly booked a flight back home for a week to visit while I stayed in London, too pregnant to fly.
A few weeks after Jordan returned home, Henry entered our lives. And while Jordan balanced life between a sick mom and a (thankfully) healthy newborn we realized this:
We didn’t want to run back to our old life. In fact, we weren’t all that happy with our old life.
At this point, we’d been living in London for Jordan’s career for the past five years. It had pretty much become a running joke since 2015 that this is the year we’re going to move home. We had ideas for other things that we wanted to do in life, but we kept putting them off saying that we’d get there “someday.”
We never veered off course of a traditional career and life because we’re two very type-A, follow the rules people. We graduated with good degrees, got good jobs, went to a great business school, and got even better jobs. We took out a mortgage to buy a house. And we planned fun summer vacations to escape it all.
We did all the things we’re told we should do. But after a few emotional months, we realized that we weren’t living the best life we could.
Turns out, we were far from alone in feeling this way.
I’ve talked to a number of friends who admit privately that they’re burned out, stressed out, unsatisfied with their life trajectory, and not healthy. Whenever I would ask why they don’t change, they’d say they will… someday.
- The kids get older
- They reach a certain point in their career
- They pay off that car (or that house)
- They can talk their partner into making a change
Someday when they figure out what to do with their life.
This isn’t something just our circle of friends struggle with. According to a 2017 Gallup survey, 70% of Americans hate their jobs or are completely disengaged at work. Another poll has just one-third of Americans saying that they are happy with their life.
So if roughly one-third of us are happy, what is going on with the other two thirds?
Jordan and I weren’t unhappy with our jobs (Jordan actually really enjoys his job), but we saw where our path was headed and we didn’t like it. But how do we change?
Why people stay unhappy
There are a lot of different reasons why people stay in jobs they hate, stay with spouses they can’t stand, and give up on living a really good life.
One that really rang true for me is that we like certainty, even if that certainty isn’t ideal. We’d rather take $100 than flip a coin to have a 50/50 shot at $200. We’d also prefer a terrible, but certain outcome over an uncertain outcome.
For us, veering off course leads us into uncertain territory. Changing our life means we’re no longer following a path that is supposed to lead us to a certain yet moderately happy outcome.
Knowing that certainty is always going to be what we default to, this is what we did:
We answered, “what do we want to do with our life?”
We’ve always had ideas of what it would be fun to do in life, but none of them really stuck. We’d read about other people doing interesting things and think, “oh, that would be nice.” But we never took it further than that.
So how do you even begin to figure out what you could possibly want to do? There are a number of ways: meditation, journaling, coaching, goal-setting, etc.
Those didn’t really work for us. But here’s what did: George Kinder’s three questions.
As a financial planner who is very focused on helping clients find freedom and live the life they’re truly meant to live, he’s got this down to a science. The questions were good – so good, in fact, that they led us to start a podcast and invite him on as our first guest.
By answering these three questions it doesn’t mean that every step of our journey is figured out. I can’t tell you exactly what I’m going to be doing in 10 years. That’s not the point. I can tell you more about what’s important to me — my core values that won’t change — and what type of life I really want to pursue.
Jordan and I have very similar shared values:
- spending time with family
- reducing our impact on the environment
- being physically active and adventurous
- building a career and a company we’re proud of
With those core values we’ve decided to:
- Move to Hawaii: Jordan can explore opportunities in the green economy, we can live a low-carbon footprint lifestyle, be active outdoors, and be closer to family. Albeit only 3,000 miles closer.
- Change how we eat: mainly organic produce, pescatarian, and reduce our food waste.
- Make it easier to be more active: a home gym setup lets us workout efficiently while having a baby at home.
- Spend time building our consulting business: this is currently my full-time job and Jordan’s side hustle. We want to know that we can earn enough income to never be dependent on anyone else.
A caveat here: these are our values and the changes we’ve personally decided to make. They will in no way reflect what you want in your life. You may not understand why we are choosing some of these things and you probably won’t agree with them. That’s why it’s our life plan, not yours. But we share this because if you’re struggling with a ‘meh’ life, we hope to share something you can take away and use.
We flipped the certainty
Knowing that Jordan and I are those people who would definitely take $100 over flipping a coin for $200, we had to figure out how to find certainty in this new plan. And that’s challenging because it comes with a lot of uncertainty: will Jordan be able to keep his job and work remotely? If not, will my consulting business be able to earn enough to provide for our family?
To fix this, we challenged our ideas of certainty.
We used to look at our stable, yet possibly unfulfilling careers and think,
“but at least our income is stable. At least we know how much we can spend each month.”
It didn’t take long for us to see how that certainty was a lie. Jordan’s company had layoffs just a couple of years ago. Rather than thinking about how we don’t want to rock the boat with his stable job, we say:
“wow, those layoffs that your company had were scary. We had no control and we’re not sure when they’re going to happen again. Our income is so much more certain if we control it.”
It sounds small but changing how we looked at certainty completely changed how we view the risk.
We set a deadline
Like most people, we used money and time (or lack thereof) as an excuse to not do things. Without a deadline, we could keep putting off this plan forever.
We want to be ready to jump by September 1, 2019. When we gave ourselves that deadline a few months ago it felt like that date was ages away. Now, with 5.5 months remaining it’s getting real.
Aside from this big deadline, we’ve made mini-deadlines to help us along our way. We have a deadline for when Jordan is going to start negotiating with his company. We had a deadline for registering Henry for childcare so I could spend more time working. I have different deadlines to negotiate my rates with clients.
With these mini-deadlines, we have little guideposts to work towards. Though we don’t have a ton of time, we wake up at 4:30 am to get in work hours before Henry wakes up or Jordan has to leave for his job.
We figured out the money
We’re entering that time in our lives where people start to feel stuck. A mortgage. A baby. Saving for our baby’s college. Golden handcuffs at work. Again, Jordan actually enjoys his job and is hoping to work out an alternative arrangement with his employer. But we’re not designing our life around his job.
Getting really specific about how much we needed to save and earn was eye-opening, in a good way.
Now, we have a real number to work towards and not just a vague “I need more money before I can live the life I want” excuse. We did this in two parts.
[If you’re ready to figure out the money for yourself, we have an easy to fill out spreadsheet that you can download in the show notes of our podcast. Plus, in that podcast episode we walk you through exactly how we through through all of our money plan decisions (including places we didn’t agree and what we did about it). Find it all here.]
But creating a budget for our Hawaiian life was crucial. Here’s how we did it:
- We created 3 budgets: a bare-bones budget, a mid-range budget, and a lavish budget.
- We did a little research: how much does childcare cost in Hawaii? How much is rent? How much will we need to travel back to the mainland for conferences? How much do we need to continue contributing to retirement and Henry’s college fund? How much is health insurance?
- We calculated the difference: assuming that Jordan won’t have an income from his corporate job, how close are we to paying for our lifestyle with the income from our consulting business?
Ideally, we’d like to take the leap with monthly consistent income at the mid-range budget level. We’re not there yet, but we’re working towards it.
Because we do have a slightly more complicated financial situation with a mortgage on a piece of land, a mortgage on a rental property, and the possibility of inconsistent income, we will feel more comfortable with more in the bank than the standard 3-6 months of expenses in an emergency fund.
On that same spreadsheet, we listed out how much money we wanted to have saved to feel financially stable to take this jump. For us, that included:
- a savings account to help smooth out any months of inconsistent business income.
- a savings account that would cover any emergencies with our 90-year-old rental home.
- and a savings account that will help us pay off our land loan when the adjustable rate mortgage goes up
We then compared those savings goals to everything we own (it was made easier because we keep our accounts organized with Personal Capital). Just like with the income, we’re not quite there yet. But at least we have a real number that we’re working towards every single day.
What we’ve learned so far
Momentum is everything
If we press snooze on our alarm in the morning, the odds are that the day won’t be nearly as productive. Not because we’re missing out on that 30 minutes of work while we lay in bed half asleep, but because once that momentum wanes it’s so hard to get moving again.
For example, as part of his healthy lifestyle, Jordan made a goal for himself to work out every day. When he misses one day, he ends up missing three. When he has a ten-day streak going, it’s so much easier for him to keep working out on that 11th day.
I make it a goal to write every morning when we get up at 4:30. If I get distracted with emails first thing in the morning, I usually don’t end up writing anything substantial until noon. On days when I start out writing, I usually stay focused on my real priorities and end up getting a lot more done.
Maintaining momentum has made all the difference.
You need someone to keep you accountable
George Kinder said this in our podcast, and I wholeheartedly think it’s true. We need people to hold us accountable. There are a lot of moments when I waver, and Jordan helps me stay focused and vice a versa.
That person who is going to hold you accountable doesn’t need to be your partner. It could be a best friend. Your mom. A co-worker. It can be anyone who is going to call you on your excuses and remind you that you’re not settling for meh.
Not everyone is going to wish you well
We all love praise. Live for it, actually. It keeps us in jobs we hate. And it keeps us counting the likes and comments on social media. We do things to get praise.
Well, surprise, when you do things that might seem out of character or off the standard path of what other people think you should be doing, not everyone is going to be excited for you.
At first, it bummed me out that some friends would give a bit of a patronizing “oh that sounds nice,” while absolutely thinking, “you nut job. There’s no way you’ll ever do that. That sounds irresponsible.”
But knowing that praise is a trap has helped.
We’re ditching our somedays and we hope that you do too. Follow along as we share everything on our podcast and in our weekly newsletter. It’s created just for people like you — people who want more out of life.
It’s time to live a life that’s better than fine.
Follow our journey and get the money tools and resources to start your own.
Erica Gellerman is a CPA, MBA, personal finance writer, and founder of The Worth Project: personal finance and family travel. website. Her work has been featured on Forbes, Money, Business Insider, The Everygirl, The Everymom, and Lifehacker. When she's not writing about personal finance you can find Erica exploring Europe from her temporary home base in London.
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