How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Embrace the Future
This is a guest post from my friend Mrs. Frugalwoods.
“Just start and do it now.” I repeat that incredibly simple little phrase to myself all the time. It’s my reminder that it’s within my own power to accomplish whatever I want. It’s my cue to tackle big projects and not worry about the fact that I haven’t started them sooner. It’s my impetus to make the changes in my life that I want to see right now – not tomorrow or in a week or a year.
My Journey to Financial Independence
When Mr. Frugalwoods and I made our decision to work towards financial independence and a homestead in the woods by 2017, we started work on that goal immediately. At the time, our end date was more than 3.5 years away. Far enough that we easily could’ve said, ehh, we’ll start saving in earnest next month, or next year. But we didn’t. We hatched a plan the very afternoon of our decision and haven’t looked back since. We changed our spending behaviors immediately and we ramped our savings up to over 71% in the first month after formalizing our goal.
I’m not sharing this to brag about how awesome I am, but because it’s an example of how I’ve been able to evolve into a more confident, action-oriented person. But I haven’t always been like this.
I used to be a dweller (not as in someone who lives in a dwelling, but as in someone who ruminates endlessly on the past). I’d fret and worry and consternate over things that had already happened. Letting go of the past felt like an impossible feat I’d never master.
My tendency to dwell on bygone conversations, choices, and actions (or inactions) would thwart my own progress towards the future. After all, there’s literally nothing I can do to alter events that have, well, already occurred.
Old me would’ve zeroed in on the years during which Mr. FW and I had spent more than we needed to and how much closer to our homestead dream we’d be if only we could go back in time and change those decisions. But new me sees the utter absurdity in that line of thinking.
Previously, I couldn’t just take on a project and boldly charge forward. I had to first agonize about it… a lot. But now, instead of hemming, hawing, and generally panicking over the “right” course of action, when I know I want to do something, I just do it. I don’t wait until the next month, or until the next pay cycle, or even the next day. This holds true for so many facets of life: exercising, working towards financial independence, paying down debt – any of these changes can be enacted today, now!
There’s No Such Thing as the Perfect Time
Waiting for the perfect moment to begin a new adventure is almost as bad as dwelling on the past. Perfect moments don’t exist and striving for that elusive time can just become an excuse. I was formerly guilty of that mentality – “oh I can’t start saving money until all of the stars align and I receive a sign from the universe that it’s the perfect time.” That’s a surefire way to ensure you never actually get started.
Mr. Frugalwoods and I could’ve lulled ourselves into thinking, well, this year isn’t ideal to start an extreme frugality regime because we have a few weddings to go to, and a vacation planned, and some renovations we need to do on our home, so let’s start next year. But that would’ve pushed our dream back and I bet when we reached the mythical “perfect” time a year later, we’d find an excuse for why we ought to delay yet another year in order to hit a more optimal phase in our lives.
If there’s something you deeply and earnestly want, why delay starting work towards it? There’s virtually no chance it’ll get done on its own and it’s unlikely someone else will do it for you (unless it’s emptying the dishwasher – I’ve found that if I delay doing that, Mr. FW will usually do it for me… ). But if it’s a goal really worth having – like early retirement, or a relationship, or a new job – we have to put in the hard work ourselves.
Ok But Honestly, I Did Still Dwell for a Long Time
In all honesty, this dwelling tendency dogged me until recently. By obsessing over stuff that I wasn’t pleased with, or was embarrassed by, I felt like I was in constant battle with myself. I’d replay conversations and scenarios ad nauseam to try and ascertain precisely where I’d perhaps made a misstep. Finding peace and satisfaction felt out of reach for me since I knew – I just knew – there were things I could’ve done better, smarter, or prettier. Part of this was the undercurrent of low self-esteem that many women suffer from over being “less than” the perfect ideals society holds up for us. And part of it was my general anxiety and tendency towards perfectionism.
I also labored under the delusion that after I’d accomplished some goal or another – like say getting a good job or marrying the awesome Mr. Frugalwoods – I’d finally be happy or content. But that wasn’t the case. I just found a whole new set of things to anguish and dwell over. This was turning into a vicious cycle.
What I eventually came to learn is that I had to develop my own internal confidence and security before I was able to truly stop concentrating on the negative and living in the past. It was a combination of good old maturity (I am 31 after all) and perhaps most importantly, figuring out what I want out of life.
It was also about other people. More specifically, it was about me no longer investing so much time and energy worrying about what other people might – or might not – be thinking about me. When I reflect on how much effort I put into trying to divine what people thought of me, I realize what folly that was! First of all, who cares?! And second of all, I could’ve been doing much more productive things with all that time!
If Mr. Frugalwoods and I spent time fretting over what our friends, co-workers, and neighbors might think of our crazy plan to save a ton of money, quit our jobs, and become homesteaders, I guarantee you we’d come up with a dozen excuses why we shouldn’t pursue this dream. But it’s our dream, and it’s not about what society thinks about us – it’s about what we want out of life. We’re the only ones who can live our lives as we want to – and in the end, we’re the only ones who’ll care how we’ve lived that life.
Things We Can’t Change
As I gained this clarity of purpose, I realized I’d been expressly honing in on the one genre of things I shouldn’t: things I can’t change. I was losing sight of future opportunities and valuable experiences by giving so much credence to things that have already happened. Becoming mired in our personal history can take shape as stressing over debt we’ve incurred or self-flagellating over stupid choices. But what if we only looked ahead? What if we only set our sights on what’s actually in our control – our future?
As I internalized this newfound confidence and attitude, I began to exert my energies on things that actually matter to me and sloughed off the concerns of other people, which I’d been bending to for so long. I need to live my life for myself and in accordance with what my goals are – not within the formula of what society or other people expect of me.
Only Looking Ahead
This quote from Emerson resonates and feels like an apt description of what I’m trying to attain:
“Finish each day and be done with it. You have done what you could. Some blunders and absurdities no doubt crept in; forget them as soon as you can. Tomorrow is a new day. You shall begin it serenely and with too high a spirit to be encumbered with your old nonsense.”
What a liberating concept! Instead of beating myself up over doing dumb things yesterday, I can instead turn my attention to charting the path I want to be on tomorrow. I realize this might sound like an oversimplification, but I find a great deal of strength in reminding myself that the past is over and the future is an opportunity.
Admittedly, I still struggle with the demon of dwelling on the past, but I’ve gotten much better about asserting my desires and resolutely moving ahead with my plans. Perhaps surprisingly, frugality is one of the things that enabled me to succeed in this way. Frugality forces me to prioritize, identify what really matters to me, and live my life according to my own wishes. It has truly enabled me to see myself in a new light and has decreased my focus on less important aspects of my life: like my appearance and whether or not people perceive me as “successful.” Frugality has given me confidence.
In reflecting on this transformation, I recognize that I still fail, I still have missteps, I still say ridiculous things, and I still make bad decisions. The difference is that I’m able to just roll with those things. I don’t persecute myself (as much) for my human foibles and I don’t hold myself up to the unattainable standards of beauty, success, and perfection that our culture dangles out for people (and I’d argue especially women) to strive towards. I’m just me, doing my frugal thing, and I’m happy about it.
This is one of the greatest changes I’ve made in my life and, it’s something you can start on today. It doesn’t take any money, fancy equipment, or even another person. All you need to do is make a decision and act on it. Today. What’s holding you back?
Mrs. Frugalwoods writes at www.frugalwoods.com about her journey to financial independence and a homestead in the woods with her husband and their greyhound, Frugal Hound.