Wednesday, June 18, 2008

I'm Scared

I’m scared.

I’ve been thinking about doing this, in one way or another, for so long that now that the time has come to get things going I’m genuinely petrified.

A LITTLE ABOUT ME
I’m banking on a little anonymity in the short term, but I can say the following:

early thirties
working in DC

THE PLAN
It’s actually fairly straightforward: stop living a life of excess, materialism, and unnecessary stress in order to gain something much more valuable: unencumbered, simple happiness.

THE ENEMY
A $300K plus annual salary.
A beautiful, newly renovated 4 level townhouse.
A mix of very expensive antique and modern furniture.
18K in credit card debt incurred as a direct result of owning so much stuff.
Thousands of dollars worth of student debt.
Miscellaneous stuff I just don’t need.

MY STRATEGY
To systematically focus on each aspect of my encumbered life and find effective, practical ways to break the chains of the material. This is not going to be easy. I’m not even sure that I can do this. But maybe that doesn’t matter. Maybe it’s the mere act of rebelling against the enemy that allows a person to secure genuine freedom.

ABOUT THIS BLOG
I want to use this blog to focus my ideas, vent my frustrations, and share my successes/failures. My dear reader, I hope you will join me in this crazy, exhilarating experiment. I have a feeling I will need all the company and support I can get.

35 comments:

Fox's Mom said...

Bookmarked you, will return.

Good luck with your plan, because that income is gonna be tough to beat-have you thought about investing a large portion of your income in funding the educational opportunities of those less financially encumbered (yeah, the 'less financially encumbered' part was said somewhat tongue in cheek:)

Have you thought about approaching this by imagining you've suffered some terrible downturn or disaster?

I used to be an American Red Cross Disaster Relief worker, one of my activities was to give community classes on preparing for disaster. One thing I would try the hardest to get across was how important some things really are, after your living loved ones, of course.

I told the participants to go into each room of their home and slowly look at every single item-while asking themselves what would break their heart to lose?

People lose things in fires, floods, civil unrest, quakes, nasty divorces-they usually all say the same thing about a year or so later.

"I don't miss the big screen/home entertainment components/leather couch/nice car-I miss the photos, the mementos..."

When disaster strikes and one loses 'everything', the financial life often takes a serious downturn as well. Most manage and do so on waaaaay less than before the disaster.

Imagine your life without the huge income, what things would destroy you to lose? What losses would render your life so miserable that it would be too depressing? Make a mental list, and do what you need to do to keep those things. (Hey, for me, life without AC is too depressing!)

Then lose the ones that you've found wouldn't really be a great loss, and (here's my humble opinion of how to turn this simplfying exercize into a really beneficial event for you and others) use the money you're going to save not buying & maintaining that stuff to start a foundation to pay someone's way through a good college.

If you are smart enough to be bringing home $300K, you can figure out a way to start a healthy foundation.

I'm not a socialist, or a communist, just a mom who has seen so many kids with a ton of potential and motivation end up barely making it through each day because of the lack of good education.

How much do you NEED to get through the year, including putting a sufficient amount away towards your eventual retirement at say, 65 or 70? ( Someone in their mid-thirties bringing down your income is not the type to go quietly at 50 or so:)

So, whatta else ya gonna do with the other $200K or so?

cristi said...

I came across you via "Cage Free Family" and am here to root you on!

My husband, child, and I have been doing (are still in the process of doing) exactly that which you are hoping to achieve. You. Can. Do. It! Some family and friends may think you've gone a bit off your rocker as you sell possessions to lessen your load, some may think you've hit hard times, just remember to smile and remind them all that you are just making life better and easier for yourself. Perhaps you'll rub off a little onto them.

Best wishes on your journey!

(www.squeekybuddha.com)

Jack said...

Fox's Mom:

You know, that's not a bad way to look at the situation. Because, after all, everything that I truly value will, by definition, remain with me after this whole process if over.

As for my income, the way I am looking at it right now is that I need to keep working for a little while longer, get out of debt as much as possible and then have enough left in the bank so that I can live on less than 10k a year going forward. I probably won't have much in the way of a ton of retirement savings. But I will have enough to be happy.


Cristi:
Thanks for the encouragement! You have no idea how weird it was to start the blog yesterday. For some reason, it made this whole process real and concrete. From the looks of your blog, you guys are already much further along on your own journey. I envy you. I will be checking in on your progress. Good luck!

Jessica said...

Good luck to you. I've been working on something similar and I love it. I moved out of my apartment almost exactly a year ago, and into a van so I could work only a couple months out of the year and travel the rest of the year. I can't imagine going back.

Two days ago I moved from the van into my prius (the van was my dad's and we'd traded cars for the year). I've only been in it for

One thing that might help you is not to look at the project simply as getting rid of stuff, but as building a new lifestyle. That's something that helped me keep focus when I was still working crazy hours while saving up to be able to do this.

Do you have an idea of what you to do with your time when you've sorted it all? Are you going to travel? Move to a small plot of land and grow your own food? Sit at a lake and paint all day?

Glad you thinking that the first step is getting out of debt. As a side note, I hope that when you say 10k a year that you'll be taking that 10k a year out of interest from investments. Then the principal of those investments can serve as your retirement fund. I'm hardly qualified to give financial advice, but that's the set up I have (though I'm hoping to keep adding to the investments while I'm still working part time). I can't tell you how comforting it is to know that I have these investments if I need them in the long run.

I'd highly recommend the book "Your Money or Your Life" by Joe Dominguez and Vicki Robin. It's more than just getting your finances in order, because they take the view that the best way to do that is through a simplification. But they aren't about deprivation :). The goal is not to spend as little as possible but to spend what it takes for you to live comfortably and not anymore. Sure some people might see going to the movies or eating out as a waste of money, but if you get enjoyment out of it equal or greater to the cost then it worth it and you shouldn't feel guilty about going.

I love eating out with friends, but don't think that an apartment is worth the money. So I'd rather (and do!) spend my money at restaurants and live in my car.

Jessica
(ayearinacar.com)

jack said...

Jessica,

I find it fitting you posted a message. I spent a good 45 minutes going through your posts yesterday and got super jealous! How is the Prius treating you?

To answer your questions, I'm not sure, exactly, what I will be doing after the initial "phase" is complete. I definitely want to take a year to travel all over and then put down roots in a place that makes sense. Van/RV life is incredibly attractive to me and the more I read your posts, the more it seems like something I would love to do. I think, ideally, I would love to be in one place for 7-8 months out of the year and travel the rest of the year.

And yes, I'm referring to interest earnings. Not going to be touching the principle. Rule of thumb is, I think, to tap only 4% in interest earnings per year...but that's probably a whole other blog post.

And yes, already read YMOYL. In fact, it's one of the books that got me firmly on this path. I think I've always been on this path, I just needed some focus...

Take care,

Jack

Jessica said...

It's only been two nights, but so far the prius has been great. I'm heading out of town tonight so I'll have a better idea of how it's going to work in a week or so, but it's pretty clear to me at this point that it WILL work.

I'm looking forward to reading more about how you make it work for you.

By the way, I think you can do much better than 4%. If you can put together a good sized pile of money, operating as a hard money lender will get you over 10%.

Jennifer F. said...

What an exciting idea for a blog. What you're doing is so wonderful.

My husband and I have been doing something similar for the past few years, although simplifying our lives was more of a subset of some larger changes we made. Indeed it was a scary jump -- he has multiple Ivy League degrees, we used to live in a gorgeous 21st-floor loft downtown, drove a Jag XJ8, etc. To go from that sort of lifestyle to a much simpler one has been a huge, huge change.

I think you'll enjoy blogging about this. I know that I've found blogging to be really helpful in working through all the thoughts that swirl around in your head when going through something as drastic as this.

I look forward to reading more.

Jack said...

Jessica,

Wow, you seem pretty handy with those power tools. Where did you learn all the technical aspects of retrofiting cars? I've definitely seen quite a bit of info put up by fellow van people. But I assume there is a bunch of trial and error involved.

Also, on the interest stuff, yeah, you are probably right, although some financial planners say that you should only tap 4% a year because of inflation (i.e., basically take out 2.5% from whatever interest you earned during the year) and because you will have good years and bad years and it all balances out. Again, probably merits another post later on.

Jennifer,

I haven't had time to look at your blog in depth but my inital impression is that these "changes" have been rather drastic, probably more so than whatever I'm getting myself into. As a former altar boy, I'm going to carve out some time to read some entries tonight or tomorrow.

Take care,

Jonna (aka mom) said...

There's nothing to be scared about. think of it this way... it is not something better... or worse... that you are thinking of doing. It is only 'different'.
Maybe put everything you own into storage, there are ways of doing it without having to give up so much. Easier to do if you have some money. Hang in there... you'll make it.
Jonna

Jessica said...

Jack,

I learned in all from my dad. Basically, I go out to the car, stare it for a while. Go inside to ask dad a question. Come back outside to stare a bit more, then go and ask dad another question. After the second or third one he comes out to take a look and help. I'd say I did over 50% of the actual labor, but the design is mostly his.

LiveWorkDream said...

Well, what a story you have to tell, and what a change you are embarking on. You can do it, just hook up with other like minded individuals.

I have a very materialistic niece who is just starting to embark on the lawyer thing, and I hope that someday she will come to the same conclusions you have.

A lot of people will think you're insane for giving up your lifestyle, but we know the truth. It's all so fragile, and never guaranteed. Your lifestyle is something that can disappear faster than home values in Florida. By realizing this before most of your life has passed by, you're so far ahead of the game.

Congrats, and thanks for commenting on our blog. We'll be keeping an eye on your plan.

Jack said...

liveworkdream,

Thanks for the encouragement. Actually, reading your blog is encouragement enough. :)

Keep it up!

J

Homeless said...

There is so much more to be had out of life than just stuff. He who dies with the most toys does not win. Stuff is great at first but eventually it owns you. We carried our stuff with us as we moved from one place to a another. Each time we moved we got a bigger place so we would have more room for our stuff. Then we would buy more stuff. It was never ending...

Then, about one year ago, we decided it was enough. Life wasn't about having a big place with a bunch of stuff. It wasn't about working for people you hate at a highly stressful job just to get more stuff. It is about living. That's when we got rid of the stuff and got on the road.

Congratulations on your choice to be free. We haven't regretted yet. Life is getting better all of the time. Seriously, its amazing how nice people are when they aren't going to, sitting at, or coming from a stressful job. We have met so many amazing people who are living in the now and are happy. Happy and genuinely kind. Kind because they are happy.

Make sure to clean up that debt. I couldn't imagine trying to do what we have done if we had debt.

Anyway, I have raved enough. Best of luck to you in this life change.

jenn
Hitek Homeless
A couple of 30-somethings embark on the ultimate adventure!

Jack said...

Homeless Jenn,

I wholeheartely agree with you! It's a shame that I came to realize this oh so late in life. On the other hand, I wouldn't have been able to internalize it if I hadn't gone througha phase of getting more and more stuff for less and less enjoyment.

I'm happy you guys are now free and hope to join you someday soon. Good luck!

J

Alecto said...

Go, Jack, Go.

Jack said...

Thanks Alecto!

I'm Chris Harne said...

Found this blog from your comments on Lydia's blog. I'm in. I love to watch shit like this unfold. You have my support and attention. For the record, I'm $10K in debt with credit cards, and I'm fucking around on a bicycle sleeping in the woods. I think it helps to get a new perspective on life, and get out somewhere to look back at the 'normal' way things are so maybe you get new ideas and options for changes. That might make no sense. I can say for sure that I'm happier with far less stuff, so I surely believe you are on the right track. Not track: general flowing direction. There's no track - nothing to really fuck up. Well. Thanks for the blog. Peace be with you, brah.

Jack said...

Thanks Chris, appreciate the support. Funny enough, I've actually been following a couple of your blogs for a while now, so have some background. Let me be clear: in all the ways that matter I want to be where you are are soon as possible. Period.

Take care,

J

jenfarmgirl said...

Funny, I just left my home near Washington DC and escaped to Utah. No mosquitos, no poison ivy, no stuff. I can be outside all day and it's JULY. My kids don't even have toys. And they get along better than they ever had. Granted, it was easy for me because I just left my stuff in my house and our friends are living in it for now. Once I got here, to this little house and no stuff I realized a couple of things. One, it's easy to get more stuff. Too easy. I've had to actually turn down things people offer me because I like it simple. I don't miss anything I had. And I have much more TIME. It's liberating and wonderful. I wish you the best.

Jack said...

thanks jenfarmgirl,

How weird that we have that DC connection. Sounds like you are definitely living a dream. Do you have a blog?

J

bee said...

kudos and all the best!!!

Jack said...

Thanks Bee!

Jennoit said...

Wow. I am glad I stumbled across you (via Up in Alaska Jill, btw). I wish you the very best of luck and I think you seem to know in your heart what you want to do. You'll get there - best of luck in the process.

Catherine said...

Jack! I am so impressed with your latest move. Good for you. We need more people like you on the planet. I'm a 6th year associate at one of those big firms (although I "only" make $210,000).

Maybe I'm a little bit like you. I went to law school and one day years later I woke up and realized I never really thought about what I truly wanted in life.

aknsdtr said...

Time is finite, you do not get it back. As attorney's we live our lives in 6 minute blocks. I once had a client remark that there are three eight hour days in every day so there is no real reason something cannot be done in a day.

I am no longer in private practice. I took a position paying less than 1/3 of what I made in private practice in exchange for time. I have never looked back or had any regrets and most noticeable I have no desire to buy things and it is actually easier to save money. I have not noticed a big change in our lives other than we now plan to go on a vacation rather than just pack our bags and go.

The goal is to gain the ability to spend what limited amount of time you have in bliss.

Anonymous said...

Go Jack!

I'm sorry to say that I never quite came to your realizations, or rather never felt able to satisfy my obligations to family without following the big firm path, but at the tender age of 55 do find myself living much of what you aspire to live.

It's been years since my last firm, work is now part-time and partly at home, and the pro bono part just seems to happen naturally.

But do you really think that anyone is happy in big firms?!

Lisa Deanna said...

I made a similar leap of faith about 4 years ago. I left the law-firm rat race to become a school teacher. (I teach a HS class on the Constitution as well as AP Gov.) I also promised myself to focus on the non-material wealth my life (wealth of love, wealth of music, wealth of friendship, etc.) Life still has its ups and downs, but I absolutely love it. Best of luck to you!

Micky said...

Far from being a selfless awakening, I think that this is one of the most garish acts of privilege I have ever seen. One can only burn a Harvard law degree if one has it to burn and at any rate you still have the Harvard education. As far as I can tell, this symbolic act just spits in the face of the countless people who will never have the opportunities that you have. Thousands would beg to have the "burden" of your education or your personal wealth (not even the salary).

Nevertheless, I applaud the anti-materialism effort. It's a good start, but not enough. Your education is powerful and can be wielded to do any number of socially valuable, fulfilling, and (incidentally) quite low-paid things. But voluntary poverty alone does not help the poor (not that you will really be poor in the sense that most are, because you can pick right back up if you choose). I hope you will take your education and do something of value and service with it- you don't even have to work 40 hours a week at it if you want simplicity.

Jonna (aka mom) said...

Whoa! What good is money and privilege and a Harvard education if it's going to drive a person over the edge into misery or maybe even make them nuts in the end? I guess that since it is no social secret that there is a very high incidence of alcoholism in the lives of lawyers... doesn't that say something? If we can be supportive of Jack to steer his life in a direction that might help him to utilize his education and skills in a direction that could possibly give him a sense of self fulfillment... shouldn't we do so? Jack is young yet, it's not too late for him. Jack could make a difference in something but he can't do it until he closes one door and moves on to open a different one.

I can see your point, Micky, yet still.... He's not such a bad guy really.

Anonymous said...

I retired after 20 years in law. The stress was getting to me. Constant deadlines, pressure to bill, arguments with partners. But I had built up a portfolio of rental income properties while working to the point where I had enough positive cash flow to cover expenses.

Two years on, I'm doing some real estate sales (more of a hobby than anything that generates income) because I love real estate and want to help others invest. I'm also doing a small amount of law, about 1/4th of what I was doing in the firm and earning about 1/4 also. It is really nice to be your own boss. Very low stress. I don't have an office and don't have an assistant. I keep only electronic files. The way I am set up, without much overhead to feed (only an address in the executive suites, malpractice insurance, internet, phone and some marketing expenses), I can live and work anywhere, and can work as hard or as little as I want. I decline more projects than I accept. It isn't a bad way to live and makes practicing law low stress.

Good luck on your adventure.

Jack said...

Jennoit,

Thanks for the comment. Keep on riding!

Catherine,

Thanks for checking in. I would suggest you take a couple of days away from it all to think about what you, indeed, truly want out of life. If you see firm life as part of that then great. If not, DO NOT wait. Figure out a good exit strategy and get out. Life is too short to spend most of your waking hours on something that is not fulfilling. Good luck.

Aknsdtr,

I am in total agreement. It sounds as if you are where I long to end up. You should share your experience with others; some of us are doing it from scratch and would love the inspiration.

Jack said...

Anonymous,

I tend to agree; that sounds like bliss! As for happiness in big law firms, all I can say is that I actually know people who love their jobs, love the competition etc...I guess you could argue whether that is real happiness but I think everyone should define happiness on their own terms.

Lisa,

Thanks for sharing. Sounds like you made the transition for the best reasons. Good luck.

Micky,

Thanks for the comment. I can definitely see your point. If I was in a different place in life I might actually be making the same point. On the other hand, I never claimed that burning my diploma was a selfless act. In fact, it was absolutely selfish. I did it for my own personal reasons.

Also, (and at the risk of not sounding like a lawyer :) ), I find a variation of that line of reasoning internally inconsistent. If burning a diploma has no real meaning (since I still have a degree from Harvard) then why should thousands of people be insulted in the first place? If, in fact, thousands are insulted by the burning of one piece of paper then there are, indeed, some real problems with our profession.

And thanks for the other suggestions. I have just started this process. Give me some time and let's see where I end up.

Anonymous said...

Go Jack go. I had been an equity partner with a large national law firm for 24 yrs until June of this year. Our practice was largely defending civil lawsuits for corps and insurance companies. A year ago in July, my best friend and partner of 23 yrs died suddenly of a heart attack. He was only 56 and our families were very close.

When I started with the firm I was living across the Hudson from Manhattan. My wife and I bought our home at the beach in 1995. When our daughter was born in '97 we made the beach house our full time residence. I had been commuting 60 miles each way since then. When my partner passed, I started to really question my own life and what was really most important to me. I had long considered trying to move my practice closer to home, but had a great thing going at the old firm and truly enjoyed the work and the people. I promised myself and my family I would do all the things in my power to try to try to avoid dying from something silly and preventable and to that end started getting all sorts of physicals and tests.

When you say all things happen for a reason - I could not agree more. On Jan 2 this year I went in for a colonoscopy. I hit the big 50 in August. I was feeling kind of run into the ground but chalked it up to year end pressures. The night before the test I was feeling pretty awful and vomiting most of the night. The early a.m. test went ok, but that night I was really feeling sick with my head in the toilet until about 5 a.m. I finally said to my wife something is wrong - all the time thinking it was related to the test. I went to the ER with a massive headache and they diagnosed a pan sinus infection by way of CT scan. Off I went with some antibiotics but continued to feel worse and was back in the ER the next day overnight. Finally a Dr came on in the a.m. and asked whether I was photosensitive. I told had never been more photosensitive in my life and felt like the top of my head was going to blow off. At which point he said he wanted to do a spinal tap. It freaked me out to hear that, and asked what are looking for. His response meningitis. Next thing you know I'm bent over a table with this whopper of a needle is in my spine. 5 hours later the doctor walks into my room and tells my wife and I that I have meningitis.

I didn't really know all that much about it other then it is serious stuff that can kill you. So I ask "what are we talking about - viral or bacterial". To which he replies, I'm pretty sure it's viral. Not too comforting a response. I ask what are you basing that on. I wasn't really scared until he said "you're still alive. Most people die within 72 hrs of contracting bacterial meningitis. We won't know for sure for about 5 days." Off I went to isolation.

That first night, I questioned my own mortality for the first time in my life. Convinced I was not ready to die, I resolved to change my life. Two simple solutions were abundantly obvious, leave political life (I am in the waning days of my second term as a Councilman in my town) and move my practice closer to home. Thankfully it was viral and it took about 2-3 months to fully recover.

I joined a 15 member firm as a partner in June about 7 miles from home and have never looked back. Most of my clients came with me other than the large insurers and I now handle a mix of plaintiff and defendant personal injury, employment law, and commercial litigation.

There is life after large lawfirms, if you allow yourself to live it. The pressures of the practice will always be there, but once you realize you won't always be alive, simple things become much more obvious and what seem like monumental decisions become pretty simple.

Good luck finding your way to a more meaningful and simplistic life.

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