Wednesday, September 30, 2009

The Emotional Aspects

Any life changing decision can evoke plenty of emotions and this one is no different. But we were not really expecting the variety and magnitude of what we continue to experience. So far, this journey has been one big emotional roller coaster. One day, we're absolutely certain that this is our destiny; the next, we wonder if we've lost our minds. We have found ourselves excited for the upcoming adventure, guilty for not living up to the expectations set for us, sad at the thought of having to get rid of so many of our valued belongings, overwhelmed at how much there is to do, and scared out of our minds about the unknown future...sometimes all at once! But what we've learned from others who have preceded us down this road is that all of this is quite normal. I suspect that many of the questions we've been agonizing over will be the same ones that our family and friends will ponder as well, so I wanted to share some of them here. I don't know if it will offer comfort for those who are concerned about our plans, but putting my thoughts 'down on paper' helps me to understand them better and hopefully will help some of those who follow us in this journey.

Are we crazy?
We have a life that so many would love to have, especially during the current hard economic times. We both have steady jobs which provide us a comfortable living. We are both well respected in our workplaces and feel pretty secure about being able to retain our jobs for the long term (although that could change in a heartbeat). We own a home, 2 fairly new cars, a fairly new RV, and lots of nice 'stuff'. We can afford to eat out, go on vacations, and for the most part do whatever we choose. So why would we want to give this all up to live in a few hundred square feet with very few 'things' and no idea where our next paycheck will come from? It just doesn't seem logical. And it's not, which has been very difficult for me to digest being the far left-brained type of person that I am. But there are times in life that you just have to trust your heart. And more often than not, I'd suspect that most of our gut instincts are spot on. Both our hearts and guts are telling us that we need to go for this. This is the right decision and the right time. We've done our homework and we know the risks, but we also have an inkling of the rewards. Our heads are serving as the devil's advocate, but I think that's good because it keeps us cautious and alert. So in Billy Joel's words, "You may be right, I may be crazy". And in all honesty, I don't think we'd have the courage to do this if we weren't slightly off our rockers!.

If the traditional lifestyle is good enough for your family, friends, coworkers and neighbors, why isn't it good enough for you?
I don't know. I've asked myself this question more times than I care to admit. Is there something wrong with me? Do I have a mental ailment? Do I have some form of A-D-D? Do I have some other disease? I believe the answer to all 4 questions is 'no'. As I touched upon in Our Decision page, I believe that there are people who have some gypsy blood in them and we fall into that category. Why should we have to settle for something that doesn't feel quite right for us? Don't we all have the right to live our lives as we choose, as long as we're not harming others? We've tried the traditional lifestyle and now we're ready to try something different. Different strokes for different folks.

Aren't we worried about giving up the security of a regular paycheck? How do we expect to support ourselves?
I would say being self-sufficient is our number-one concern. It is very scary to trade in a secure source of income for the unknown. I wish I could honestly state that we have everything figured out and we know exactly where our next job will be and how much we will be making. But that would be a lie. What I can say is that we've identified many potential sources of income. And while we hope that at least one of these will always be profitable, there is no guarantee. There very well could be times that we aren't able to land the type of job that we were hoping for, but that is what our safety net is for. We have committed to maintaining at least 1-year's worth of expenses. And if we have to 'borrow' from this for a while until something comes through, that's what it's for. After all, is this really any different than the traditional lifestyle? Are there really ever any guarantees? Isn't that why we all try to store away some money for those unexpected hard times? We believe that one of the biggest keys to success will be flexibility. We are willing to do just about any type of job...after all it will only be temporary. And by living in a house on wheels, we can pick up and move to a more profitable area if needed. The other critical key to success is faith in ourselves. We have a variety of marketable skills. Those combined with a good work ethic, easy-to-get-along-with personality, and the desire to succeed...who wouldn't want to hire us? :)

Do we have enough restraint to strictly follow a limited budget?
While we currently have a budget and we track our income and expenses at a pretty detailed level, it's mostly monitored after-the-fact. We hope we stay in the ballpark, but we have enough of a slush-fund built in that if we miss the mark, it's not too big of a deal. That will need to change because we don't anticipate being able to handle much excess. Of course, we'll have a catastophic fund for those emergencies, but I'm talking day-to-day expenses. We may not necessarily be able to go out to dinner because we don't feel like cooking. We may not be able to buy that shirt just because we like it. Since our sources and frequency of income are unkown, it's a bit unsettling because we really don't know how much we'll have to sacrafice. If it begins to feel like we're sacraficing too much or if we're working more than we want to so that we don't have to sacrafice, that will probably be the point that we decide that this lifestyle no longer works for us. But until then, I expect to be a little more thoughtful about how and where we spend our money. After all, isn't that something we should be doing today anyway?

How can we justify selling our house, which is typically an appreciating investment, for an RV, which could depreciate as much as 30% as soon as it's driven off the lot?
As I've mentioned before, many of the decisions that go along with this lifestyle are not logical. This is one of them. From a strictly financial perspective, this is probably one of the stupidest moves we could make. But this is not all about money. Actually, it's not about money at all. It's about happiness. I don't want to find myself at the end of my life full of regrets for not taking a chance on my heart. Honestly, I can't imagine much worse. So back to the house thing. I've tried to imagine the worst-case scenario: we sell the house, spend all of the proceeds and then can no longer live the nomadic lifestyle. We can't afford to buy another house, so we end up having to rent until we can save up enough for a donwpayment. Either that or maybe our grandkids will be old enough by then to support us! We've admitted that this is a risky lifestyle, but so is signing a 30-year mortgage with no guarantees that the house will appreciate or that you'll always be able to afford the payments. I didn't even touch on the catastrophes that happen everyday which lead to foreclosures and such. In that realm, the low cost of fulltiming makes far more sense!

How can we feel comfortable with disposing of all of our 'stuff'?
Just like all of the questions above, this is an agonizing one. Do we keep everything and pay for a storage unit in case we change our minds in a year or two? Do we get rid of everything and re-accumulate if and when we go back to a 'sticks n bricks'? There will undoubtedly be some things that we just can't get rid of. What do we do with those? We certainly don't have all of the answers, but we've decided to land somewhere in the middle. We plan to rent a storage unit for the sentimental items and a few bare basics needed to re-establish a permanent household. If after a few years we are fairly certain that we will continue the nomadic lifestyle, then we will get rid of the basics and give the sentimental items to family and friends. This will no doubt be easier said than done; but the important thing to keep in mind is that getting rid of tangible items does not equate to getting rid of memories. It is the memories that we will always have with us and cherish most. We are also aware that just because we come to terms with shedding our belongings, doesn't mean that it will come as easily for those who are close to us. There may be items which some will take offense to our discarding of because they were gifts. It may be perceived as a slap in the face or that we didn't value the item. This will be a hard situation because the last thing we want to do is cause anyone pain. But we hope that if these circumstances do arise, we will be able to diffuse them with some heart-to-heart discussions and comprimises. And I think it's important to remember that these same issues arise in the traditional world too. So we're really not all that different.

While we may be able to leave 'stuff' behind, how can we so easily leave our family and friends?
Although the initial departure from our current hometown will no doubt be emotional, we believe that the opportunity to strengthen existing relationships and build new ones will be one of the primary advantages of hitting the road. First of all, just because we're leaving doesn't mean we won't be back. As we're passing through we will have the flexibility to stay for a few weeks. And it's very likely that we'll choose somewhere nearby to spend a season or two. Because we won't be bogged down by the stressors of work and home, we anticipate that the time spent will be much higher quality. And just because we're not living in a traditional house doesn't mean that we won't expect visitors. We plan to spend time in some very cool places and while we may not be able to offer a bed in our domicile, many campgrounds have cabins or RVs for rent or there will be lodging nearby. With the ease of communications these days, it will be rare that we will be out of touch. We hope to be living a very exciting life which we plan to share often. As our parents age, it is worrisome for us not to be nearby. But with the flexibility that this lifestyle offers, all we have to do is pack up and we can be there in a matter of days. And in the case of an emergency, there's always airplanes. Once again, these are struggles that many people encounter today, whether they are living a traditional or nomadic lifestyle.

And what about other relationships, such as doctors, dentists, and other service providers?
This is another one of those unknowns. My dentist recently retired, but I really like my doctor. I don't care for the idea of seeing a different doctor each year who isn't familiar with my history. Luckily, we're both pretty healthy and usually only have to visit the doctor once a year. So one possibility might be that we arrange an annual trip back to the area, during which we schedule our annual exams. This is what I'm leaning towards currently. But there will be those times when urgent care is needed and we're too far away. It is imperative that the health insurance plan we select has nationwide coverage. We will not go with any other option, even if it costs us a little more. So it may not be the ideal solution, but I think it's certainly workable. This is one issue which has probably caused me the least amount of sleepless nights!

I could go on and on because there are hundreds of other questions that we've agonized over and anticipate being asked, but I think this post is long enough! Maybe I'll post a 'Part 2' some other day. But one thing I hope that this post illustrates is that even though we don't have all of the answers, we have thought this through as thoroughly as we are capable of at this time. We'll continue to gain answers over time and I imagine that we'll look back on many of these and realzie that they were really non-issues. But I hope you get the impression that there is no "whim" in this decision. We feel comfortable that we are as prepared as we ever could be. There's only so much thinking, analyzing and worrying that you can some point you just have to have confidence and go for it!

Friday, September 25, 2009

Our Decision

For many of you, this may seem like a drastic decision. For some, it may sound like a mid-life crisis. True on both accounts. According to Webster, the definition of a mid-life crisis is “a period of emotional turmoil in middle age caused by the realization that one is no longer young and characterized especially by a strong desire for change”. There’s no doubt that that fits us to a “T”. Although there were many factors which brought us to this point, I wanted to attempt to summarize the major ones. I have no doubt that this concept raises many questions for friends, family and strangers alike. I hope that this page will help provide answers to some of those.

Not a spur of-the-moment decision
It’s hard to pinpoint a specific time when this idea was first formulated, but I can say that it has been building for a long time. We’ve been wanting to leave the city for years, but just didn’t know how to do it. We seriously thought about leaving when our Morrison house was on the market, but mostly out of fear of change, we settled back to the life we knew and bought our current townhouse. Then 5 years ago, upon returning from our 3-month sabbatical, we again discussed moving. But as we did before, we came up with justifications to stay and we settled back down into life. The desire never disappeared; we just stored it away.
The concept of full-timing was introduced to us in 2004, during our 3-month RV trip. Prior to that, I knew people took extended trips in an RV, but I had no idea that one could make it a permanent way of life. Initially, I had a lot of misconceptions about these folks, mostly assuming that they were down on their luck and had no other options. As we met more and more people who were living this way of life, we became more educated and realized that for many it was a choice. Our eyes were certainly opened to a different way of life and little did we know that the ‘bug’ was implanted in us…permanently.
Upon return to traditional life, we tried to quell the desire. We frequently dreamed about full-timing, but it was always in the context of retirement, which was ‘a long ways in the future’. A couple of years ago, our conversations started to get a little more serious…moving away from a pipe dream and toward the ‘what ifs’. Initially, we started pondering how early we could really afford to retire and targeted our mid-to-late 50’s. But that still seemed too far away and after awhile, we started thinking about semi-retirement –working part of the year and traveling the rest of the time. We decided we would shoot for this in 5-7 years, when we anticipated being ‘empty nesters’ (i.e. our pets will have passed on). But as our jobs continued to drain our spirits, even this time frame seemed too long. We had to come up with another option
It was about this time that we started researching in earnest the full-time lifestyle and our eyes were opened! We discovered that there were a lot more people living this way of life than we ever imagined…and they weren’t all retirees. So we started reading, asking questions and learning as much as we could. How do these other people do it? What kind of jobs are they working? Are they struggling to make ends meet? The more we learned, the more certain we became that this could be possible.
So as you can see, this is in no way a spur of the moment decision. In many ways, I feel like we’ve been planning this for many years…we just didn’t know what we were planning for.

Nomadic Soul
For as long as I can remember, I’ve always had a feeling of “unsettledness”. After a few years in one place, I get antsy. This applies to both my work place and my home place. I have never lived in any one dwelling, worked for any one company, nor retained a large expenditure item such as a car for more than 7 years. I’ve always attributed this desire for change, in part, to the frequent moves I encountered during my childhood. And maybe that is partially to blame, but I really don’t believe that is the sole factor. After all, Tracy has the same itch and she grew up in a small town. I truly believe that there are people who are born to be sedentary – those who can remain in one house until its paid off or stay with the same employer and same job for years on end. There is definitely a certain security to that lifestyle and it works for many, many people. After all, it is the traditional American dream. But I also believe that there are people who are born to roam – those who get bored easily and are constantly seeking something new. I believe that we are part of the latter. And as I get older, the yearning for change gets stronger.

Making A Difference
In addition to wanting to make a difference in my own life, I also want to make a difference in others’ lives. I feel like I’ve been searching for the meaning of my life for many years. Maybe it’s because I don’t have kids of my own or maybe it’s something that everyone ponders, but I frequently think about my legacy. What will I leave behind when I die? Will I have done anything to make this a better world? After I’ve been gone for awhile, will anyone even remember who I was? These concerns continue to grow stronger as I age, which I suspect is normal. But the stronger they grow, the more I feel the urgency to start building that legacy now. I want to have the opportunity to give back. I’ve tried to achieve this in my daily life in small ways – through volunteering, through my choice of employers, through making smart environmental decisions – but it doesn’t feel like enough. Maybe because the results aren’t always immediately visible, or maybe because I don’t feel like I have enough time or energy to devote to the effort. Whatever the reason, I don’t feel like I’m achieving what I want to achieve in life. And I know that only I have the power to change that.

Just going through the motions
Maybe because of my nomadic soul or maybe because I’m looking to make a difference, but I feel like I’m constantly yearning for “the” job for which I have a true passion. One that I can get excited to do day in and day out; one for which I can actually look forward to a Monday instead of dreading it. Yes, I know that’s why they call it work, but I believe that it still should be fun and nurturing. For many years, I’ve felt like I’m just existing…just trying to make it through the week to get to the weekend, or to the next vacation. But the problem is that these are temporary and they eventually end. I feel like I’m wishing my life away. None of us knows how many more days we have left in this life and I would hate to think that I used all of mine wishing for something different.

Taking control of our lives…and following our hearts
Enjoy life…this is not a dress rehearsal”. I don’t know who said this, but I want to live by it. I don’t feel like I’m truly enjoying life. Instead, I am following the path that is expected of me…by my parents, by my peers, by society. But who says that this is the right path? Or the only path? Or that everyone must follow the same path? I know that I am ready for a change; that I need a change. So I could continue following my current path and wish that things were different…or I could jump the track and make the changes happen. I have chosen the latter. Ultimately, I know that it is up to me and only me. No one will do it for me.

Isn’t this a huge risk? How can we be so certain that we will succeed?
Absolutely, it is a big risk. But isn’t it the big risks that offer the biggest payouts? There are no guarantees that we will succeed and cash in the big payout. But if we don’t try, we’ll never know. We are giving ourselves the best chances for success by mitigating our risks. First and foremost, we are educating ourselves as much as possible. We realize that we’ll never have all of the answers, but we are learning from all of those who have preceded us down the road. And we are building a support system for those times when we find ourselves stuck. Second, we are planning. Analyzing, list-making, and generally being prepared is in my blood. I wouldn’t know how to proceed without my eyes wide open. We have developed a very detailed budget and have been tracking our income and expenses for quite some time, so we are very familiar with the ins and outs of our money. We have also agreed that we will always maintain a ‘safety net’ of 1-year’s worth of expenses for those inevitable “hard times”. Also if we ever decide we want, or need, to return to our old way of living, we will be able to do so. We have identified and researched several different ways to make money, some of which are professional contract gigs, temporary employment agencies, seasonal jobs and workamper positions. There are other options as well. We don’t expect that all of these will yield results all of the time, but the more options we have, the better likelihood that we’ll be able to bring in the income we need to survive. Thirdly, we are confident that as long as we believe in ourselves, we will make it happen.
But in the off-chance that we find that we cannot support ourselves or we determine that this lifestyle is not what we thought, then we know we can always return back to our former lifestyle. This doesn’t have to be a permanent change. We are still young enough that we should stay marketable in the career world for many years to come. Do we think we’ll be able to jump back in right where we left off? Probably not, but we can certainly work our way back up. The most important thing to remember is that there are always options.