Finding Contentment in Well Enough

Finding Contentment in Well EnoughWeekends are hard for me. Sundays in particular. No, I don’t dread going back to work the next day. The problem is that the weekends are a chance to slow down. Sometimes. And when I do slow do, I spend time catching up. Often times, I’ll read posts like “How to Pay Off $100K in a Year” and “How I Retired at 33.” I get inspired. But I also get really sad.

Those accomplishments are so far outside of my frame of reference. Simply put, they’re just not doable. Not now, and maybe not ever. This weekend, I started reading part of an early retirement post to my dad. For someone who doesn’t say much and pretends to notice even less, he read my face so fast, stopping me after only a few paragraphs: “You guys do well enough.”

Not the Best, But Better

One of the other comments my dad will make on occasion is the idea that we’re better off than a lot of people our age. He’s wrong, of course, if you look at my Twitter feed. There are people who have retired or are getting ready to retire. There are others who earned enough money out of school that they’re taking time off to pursue degrees in fields they love or are traveling the world. There are people who launched businesses and landed book deals. These people are our age.

The personal finance world is filled with exceptional people who are also kind enough to share their struggles and their successes. Part of what makes their stories so captivating, though, is the fact that they are choosing different paths, they are bucking the norm, they are pushing themselves, and they are challenging the rest of us to do the same. There is no doubt in my mind that I am infinitely better because of this community.

But I am not better off than these people. The personal finance world is not a microcosm of the world. It is not representative of the way that most people think of money, handle money, or approach life. And it’s so easy to lose sight of that. When you spend time in a world where a simple tweet about wanting to earn more money is met with dozens of different strategies by people who have actually charted the way, it seems like this world is a reflection of real life. It really is. And it also isn’t.

There are scary financial statistics about Americans in general. And then there are these statistics on millennials. Nearly half of us don’t save for retirement. About a quarter of us have been delinquent on bills. 40 million Americans, many of whom are my age, are paying off crushing student loans. I have friends who can’t cover unexpected home repairs. I have coworkers who worry about dying in debt. And for as much as I hope on some small scale that my own story might help someone else, I somehow manage to occasionally lose sight of these realities when I surround myself with success stories.

Well Enough in Other Ways

I have big dreams for the future that I’m only starting to figure out how to discuss. But I also have a career that fulfills me right now, a day job that lets me see an immediate impact on the world. I have a family who has put a strong foundation under my feet. I have a husband who is my perfect counterweight. And many times, I spend my time doing exactly what I would do if I weren’t working.

When we visit my parents, I spend countless hours out on the water. I walk through winding roads and wooded grounds. I spend time bird watching and failing at photographing them. Try as I may, the only thing I’m developing proficiency at is scaring them away. We have bonfires, we tell stories, we play games.

Even when I’m home, I walk the lake by our house. I hike the forest preserve trails that stretch for miles including an overlook that lets me see all the way to downtown. And I still can’t photograph those birds. Ducks, yes. Other birds, no. I garden, I read, I write.

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Ducks never seem to mind if I try to snap a shot or two of them. Other birds? Different story!

I don’t have a great success story to share in this post. I don’t have expert advice or a post that is part article and part list that will enrich your life, lessen your debt, or double your dividends. But in this moment, right here and right now, I am doing well enough.

So Tell Me…Have you ever lost sight of well enough? How do you keep perspective and stay grateful? 

Finding Contentment in Well Enough

66 thoughts on “Finding Contentment in Well Enough

  1. I was just struggling with this type of thing yesterday–I think I get sad on Sundays, too! I was comparing myself to others and feeling like I’m coming up short. Weird thing is that I was comparing in an area that I don’t actually value much, so why would it get me down? I’ve shaken it, but I know I’ll go back to feeling “not good enough” if I’m not the absolute best at something. It’s definitely taking my worth from the wrong place. So thanks for sharing this–you’re not alone!

    1. Thank you for sharing, Kalie. I get that it’s part of my personality. And I used to think that the solution was to get better and be more accomplished. While that’s certainly one strategy, I do think probably the better route is to just cut myself some slack and realize how far we’ve come in a fairly short time.

  2. You are so right about the PF world being a microcosm of real life. It can be easy to get drawn into it and compare ourselves to others. It has taken me a lifetime to figure out that the best things in life are truly free. Cliche? Yes. But true. Blogging has certainly opened my eyes to what is possible. Yet the notion of super early retiring would never have interested me to be honest. There has to be balance and our life so far of being fortunate to have good jobs, raising two healthy kids and experiencing the outdoors with them every weekend and every vacation is our idea of enough. The rest is gravy to be honest. Now it may be tasty gravy at times but it’s still just gravy.

  3. Reading all the inspirational stories from this community is an exercise in acceptance and self-esteem management, that’s for sure. Whatever we each achieve, there’s always going to be someone out there making different choices and having different fortunes. There are people who have earned 10x what we have. People who have traveled for a decade or more. People who are making six figures on their blogs alone. Shoot, why can’t we do that? Those feeling of inferiority aren’t reserved only for material possessions; they’re applicable to achievements and recognition, too. We’re working on “well enough,” too.

    1. Actually, you guys helped me so much a few weekends ago! I told my husband I was fully prepared to leave our little meet up feeling like I was doing life all wrong. But you guys were so sincere and genuine and made me feel like my path was just as good or worthwhile or valuable as your path. So thank you for that, Matt!

        1. Nope! You just opened my eyes to the world of possibilities, but you also made me feel like teaching is really important too. It meant a lot. I just didn’t know how to say it at the time. I’m thrilled to keep following you both on your adventures. 🙂

  4. This is a great post, and one that I probably need to read every day. When I read about people retiring in their 30s, and especially about physicians who are retiring earlier than I will, I inevitably feel like a failure. But then I try to remember that I didn’t pick my career for the money and that I’ve done a great job of paying off my student loans over the past year, and it feels a little easier to handle. Not to mention thinking about the fact that many of my colleagues are condemning themselves to working into their 60s (or 70s) by buying big houses and expensive cars.

    1. Isn’t it funny how this works? I am infinitely better because of this community, but I also know that sometimes it makes me feel more insecure than any other part of my life. Now, I realize that is more a reflection of me than anything. I definitely have to keep my thoughts in check. Props to you for all the success you’re having!

  5. TJ says:

    I think we all struggle with this from time to time.

    For the record, I often feel like you’re better off than many because you have community, companionship and a positive outlook on life that is super duper refreshing.

    I can understand that we all would prefer that our balance sheet looked better, but that’s true of almost everybody.

    When you do achieve contentment in enough, that is the equivalent of hitting the jackpot. That’s my opinion anyway.

  6. Bailey says:

    Trust your dad, he is a wise man. I go through this cycle too, certain period of time I feel inspired and others I feel “not good enough”. During the sad and down period, I intentionally distant myself with the PF world. It usually helps me to put things into perspective. We are all well enough already!

    1. He is! 🙂 I think I will always struggle with maintaining perspective, and your point about distancing at times could be a really helpful strategy.

  7. I wrote a post on comparison. You can’t compare yourself to other people. Somebody wise (not me) said “Comparison is the thief of joy.”

    Everyone’s story and paths are different. I’m jealous of those who are DINK’s in their 30’s with tons of money saved up. But I can’t compare our stories because we’re in different stages. Maybe in 10 years when I get to their age I’ll be further along than them but we can’t know that now.

    The only person you should try to be better than is who you were yesterday. In that regard, you’re killing it!

    1. You’re right, Gwen! We are all in different places on different paths. I actually took a little bit of time to think about my coworkers today. The fact that my husband and I were both able to pay cash for our Master’s degrees (with some of the tuition overlapping!) is so different from other teachers’ experiences. We’ve done a lot for ourselves. It’s true that we still have a ways to go, but I should smile more about what we’ve done!

  8. The Joneses are everywhere, even in the PF community, it’s easy to start comapring yourself and feeling like you’re not measuring up. Perspective – it all just needs perspective.

    Our Lifestyle Change plan may not work for most folks, but I don’t want to do ultra frugal living, tiny living, or ultra minimalist living either. We found a nice comfortable plan that works for us, and we’re good with it. Some will have more to spend in retirement, some will have less. Meh…

    We might even still work – Gasp!! The Horror, that’s not early retirement!! Fraud, Fraud! Hahahaha

    I still have to remind myself that it’s not a competition, and our plan, is our plan for a reason. 🙂

    1. Ha! I almost spit out my tea. Thank you, Mr. SSC. You’re absolutely right. I need to do what works for me. It’s so strange, though, that people aren’t putting pressure on me to join them. I put that pressure on myself. I am my own worst enemy sometimes!

  9. There will always be people better off (or better at something) than you are to make you feel bad about yourself and people worse off (or worse at something) to make you feel good about yourself.
    But that’s not the whole story. It goes back to the ‘you can have anything but not everything’ truth. While some people save a ton, how are their relationships? Did they give up family time? Travel? Their soul?
    What about the people in debt? Did they get to enjoy some amazing experiences and make beautiful memories? I hope so.
    We’re all trucking along, doing the best we can, putting more emphasis on certain priorities in certain days or seasons of life.
    And your dad is right–you’re doing great.

    1. I’m trying to remind myself that everyone really thinks they’re doing the best they can with the cards they’ve been dealt. And in blogging, it is a lot easier to get the whole picture (or as much of it as people are willing to share). Then, I go through and decide “he’s doing so much better than me” or “why didn’t we make that choice?”. I really need to get myself in check! I know that’s the exact opposite of what the PF community intends to do, and it’s definitely something I bring on myself. I’m really lucky I still have my dad to keep me in line 😉

  10. I think the whole “pay off 100k in a year!” blogs are great, but they’re the major exception. I think we got rid of $25,000 of debt in a year, which was absolutely INSANE. While that might not be crazy to people in the FI community, once you step outside of the frugality norms, paying off $25,000 of debt should earn you a ton of kudos.

    We’re on the tail end of renovating our home (with cash, mind you), and it’s been hard to stay grateful, but we’re working on it. It was a struggle just to be able to buy the house, and it’s our dream coming true. It’s hard to remember that, of course, when the A/C is pumping hot air in the summer, the lawn mower explodes, and your washing machine is recalled.

    But we carry on and strive to improve each day. 🙂

    1. Ha! One of my coworkers recently found me on Twitter, and I think that’s in my bio. Something about how we paid off $24k in debt last year. He seriously acted like I was Houdini! And my first reaction was, That’s nothing! But it really is something. And I hear you about the homeownership dream. I can’t wait to hear about the renovations when you’re finally done. It feels like a never-ending project to us!

  11. Ty says:

    I wish I had something wise to say, but I don’t. So instead I’ll just tell you that I really enjoy your writing and am happy that you are a part of this community!

    1. Ty, you made my morning! Thank you so much. I’m really happy to have been so warmly welcomed into a community full of amazing (and amazingly kind!) people.

  12. Your dad probably has a pretty good perspective…it can be pretty discouraging to compare myself to some of the PF community, but that’s not the world at large, as you’ve pointed out with your stats.

    I know I feel sometimes it’s hard for me to connect because so much of the reason we can be semi-retired is due to luck, not planning or smart strategy. Planning and strategy are helping us maintain it, but that’s about it, so there’s been no grand FIRE post from us and probably never will be.

  13. Thank you for this, Penny! Really. I love our pf community – the support, the encouragement and the inspiration. It makes me better (in so many ways). But it is easy to get caught up in the goal. I’ve definitely felt like we started really late to FIRE and sometimes I get frustrated that we aren’t getting there faster. But, your dad’s brilliant statement is so true, we are doing “well enough”.

    1. One day, I’ll tell him that I blog. He would get SUCH a kick out of being called brilliant on the internet! 🙂 It is so easy to get caught up in the goal, isn’t it? The journey should be the best part. The rush of the challenge. The accomplishments checked off along the way. Yet, I lose sight of it. I’m so glad to have you all to rein me and my perspective back in!

  14. I do suffer from the Sunday-night blues, big time. I’ve also been noticing that one of my eyes twitches a lot at work, or when thinking about work. You are doing pretty well merely by having an enjoyable and fulfilling job.

    The personal finance community is great for inspiration, learning, and encouragement. But at the end of the day, your individual situation should be the main focus. Only you know what’s right for you. If life seems good right now, and you’re not struggling financially, then I agree that you’re doing well enough. There’s always room to improve, but don’t forget to take some pride in your accomplishments thus far 🙂

    1. It’s funny — sometimes I think I stress myself out over not being stressed about work. Don’t get me wrong. Teaching is VERY chaotic at times. But I feel like Sunday is when I really start to feel the intersection of PF and real life. Sometimes, I feel like I have each foot in separate worlds. Maybe I should look into how I can bridge the two better!

      As for that eye twitch, I have a few students who bring that out in me! Just kidding! 😉 I’m sorry that you feel stressed out on Sundays. It’s the worst. We can commiserate and twitch together on Twitter.

  15. Oh man. My Wednesday post is pretty much identical. It is me going: “Crap, I haven’t contributed any to my Roth IRA, haven’t opened a solo 401k, I’m going to owe taxes next year… I’m the worst.” But really, we’ve all come so far. We need to stop comparing and start celebrating! I would change your phrase. Don’t get comfortable with “well enough.” Celebrate your AWESOME. You are doing AWESOME things. Celebrate that!

    1. Thanks, Maggie! I feel like a broken record…but I find so much inspiration and motivation on your blog and in your comments. So lucky to have you in my little PF world!

  16. Excellent post!
    I liked how you mentioned the key point of most bloggers out there. They are taking different paths. And debt can be scary. I guess how you handle it just depends on what type of person you are.
    The time spent at your parents sounds really swell. It was a really nice description of enjoying the outdoors. And thats a really nice photo!
    I’ve definitely lost site of well enough at times. I just try to remind myself of how fortunate of a position I am in. I try to handle it by reminding myself that I have health, friends/family, and that there are people that have it worse off. Sometimes I just need get outside and be in the fresh air on a nice day. Great post!

  17. Yes I think we all fall prey to that. I don’t want to compare myself to the norm, because quite frankly, the norm totally sucks. I look at people who are killing it, and while it’s inspiring, it’s also like you said, sometimes depressing. I just try to accept my feelings and see if there is something I can do to better myself or my situation. If not, I keep carrying on down my own path.

    1. That’s such a refreshing way to put it, Tonya. I don’t want to be average or part of the norm. That’s what got me into the too much stuff, not enough savings mess to begin with. But the second part of your logic really helps!

  18. One great thing about switching careers: way more financial security and choices.

    One bad thing: being in a world now where six figure incomes are the norm and within reach, puts me in a weird space. I’ve always struggled with comparison and contentment, and while I would never go back, it is difficult when you are surrounded by people with MORE.

    1. I hadn’t thought of it that way. I bet it’s even more challenging to be surrounded by more in real life. That’s the funny thing about teaching. Depending on the “age” of a staff, you can get a spread of people who are just starting and those who are well past the retirement cut off. And it can be a HUGE chunk of change. Hmmm. More food for thought.

  19. Barb says:

    You said an interesting thing in that you noted that many days you are doing what you’d do even if you were not being paid. That is huge! Life isn’t a race to the end and you are doing work you mostly love AND saving for your future. Give yourself credit as you are doing more than just “ok”! 😁.

    I retired this year at age 62 when I could have retired at least a decade earlier. I don’t regret not retiring earlier and in fact may go back to work part time as I loved my work as a Registered Nurse. Life is about more than just accumulating the biggest pile of money. Several people mentioned having a balance in life and I think that is key.

    1. First of all, Barb, thank you for all that you did for us as a nurse. It takes a special person to do that! And you’re right, of course. I am so lucky to love how I spend so much of my time already. It’s not a race to the end at all! Thank you.

      1. Barb says:

        Thank you. It is ironic but I think of teachers as the ones who do the HARD work! I had a childhood filled with abuse and mostly grew up in a deeply flawed foster care system. Several teachers literally saved my life by providing the loving, supportive concern that I received nowhere else. I recall thinking that I can’t be THAT bad because my teacher loved me and said I was a “good girl”. Small words and gestures meant everything to me and more than one brave teacher called child protective services on my behalf. I am grateful everyday that teachers are working to educate, encourage and to protect. Thank you for what you do. 😘

  20. The PF blogosphere is yet another way to compare with others. Am I building up my investments fast enough? Am I paying off my mortgage fast enough? Am I traveling enough? It’s so important to think about what you want without the context of what others are doing. I don’t want to retire early to travel the world – I’m too much of a homebody for that. I don’t need to finish paying off my mortgage just because I told my readers I was going to pay it off aggressively. It is such a struggle and some days, not that dissimilar to everyone’s perfect lives on Facebook. Practicing contentment and joy are so key to life and I’m glad we get to practice them together!

    1. That’s a really interesting connection that I hadn’t made, Leigh. There’s basically been radio silence on my personal FB feed since I started blogging. Because this world fulfills me so much more. But there are some similarities now that you mention it!

  21. Comparison is tough. The PF community is full of amazing folks, and even were I up to their amazing standards, at 67 it’s a bit late to retire early and travel the world! But well enough is important and deserving of gratitude. When I think about comparisons, I try to compare my current self to where I was years ago. I strive to improve myself, not to become someone else. Nonetheless there are times I am envious of others, including you Penny! So let’s just both try to remember that while we may envy others, others also envy us. 🙂

    1. Awww, shucks! Gary, I admire you so much. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again. Your honesty and your humor are unparalleled. I’m so glad we started blogging around the same time and had the chance to connect!

  22. A big hearty “YES” to this struggle. I wrestle with it constantly. Sometimes it’s about my personal finance life, sometimes it’s about my creative writing life…I’m always searching for some extraordinary project or something that will shake up my life in a big way. Yet, there is nothing wrong with my life. It doesn’t need a big change. Not now. I think it’s a hard lesson, but a good one. I have to learn to embrace where I am. Lean into this situation, which is a better one than I had a year ago. I do want to learn to be satisfied. I’ve worked for a good enough life. Why is it so hard to enjoy?

    1. That’s so beautifully put, Amanda. I’ve been thinking a lot (more than usual!) about my grandma lately. Her life was a series of struggles strung together by well enoughs and little victories. But when I look back on it, it’s so lovely, so enviable, and so inspiring. Perhaps we don’t have that perspective yet. I hope it’s coming 🙂

  23. Contentment is so hard to find sometimes. It’s hard for me too..not so much in finance but thinking I have to do more. It amazes me the stamina that some people have and can get so much accomplished. Then I realize it’s amazing how much I get done with everything that goes on in a day!

  24. It is definitely hard to keep perspective in this community. With so many people retiring every month or starting new ventures, you can feel like you are stuck in a hamster wheel. I only discovered FIRE 2 years ago and so I have a journey ahead of me to get to where I want to be.

    I find contentment when listening to other people talk about their finances, in the real world (I know this probably sounds bad). My girlfriend mentioned to her friends the other day that she maxed out her 401k this year (it’s her first year and she’s very proud). She doesn’t understand that other people wouldn’t be proud of her as well. She wasn’t exactly met by a flood of congratulations. It makes me appreciate the community we have here and the ability to share our unconventional accomplishments, even if they are at a slower pace than some.

  25. “I don’t have a great success story to share in this post. I don’t have expert advice…”

    What do you mean? I thought it was a great post filled with fantastic insights.

    Thanks like gratitude is the key to happiness (first paragraph after “WELL ENOUGH IN OTHER WAYS”

    What about the idiom – you can’t soar with eagles if you hang with turkeys….you reinforce that with your statement “I am infinitely better because of this community.”

    I think this post is filled with expert advice. Thanks for sharing.

  26. Penny
    Be proud of yourself. You have cleared $24k of debt, that you would probably still have, if you hadn’t stumbled on the concept of FIRE and all the money blogs.
    Yes, you’re not making 6 figures, however, relatively speaking, only a few are. There are hundreds of thousands of blogs out there…. Your blog posts are interesting and you’re getting plenty of views & comments, which is itself great. Far better than many. Who knows what tomorrow will bring…
    I’ve been doing this a few months, and I think it’s great if I get 10 views and the odd comment!

  27. Diane says:

    It is Monday morning right now, and I am sadder than I was on Sunday, because it’s almost time to go to work. I love my work. I hate my job. However, I have a plan, and I think it will work, and it is worth the sadness.

    What struck me most about your post is your list of all the things you do that you love outside of work. I feel like I am constantly getting ready to go to work or recovering from work. I am going to hike more. THANK YOU!

    1. Oh, yes! Yesterday, I had on two fleeces, gloves, and a headband. I felt so silly bundling up to go for a walk when we have a treadmill. But there’s something about being outside that just makes it worth it!

  28. Basil says:

    Way late commenting on this post, but I wanted to note that I love how you incorporate insights from your family into your articles. We don’t get enough intergenerational wisdom in our day to day lives, since we stay so busy with work, live away from parents, and otherwise stratify into peer groups. Thanks for sharing!

  29. For me, recognizing that after basic needs are met + a little more, there’s no connection between income and happiness is key to relaxing into the thought that we’re doing well enough. I know that more stuff and more cash will do nothing to boost the satisfaction I feel with life. So what would be the point of pursuing either?

    1. Ha. That’s exactly how my dad looks at it, too. And I wonder if I would see it that way more clearly if I wasn’t part of the PF world. I’m so fascinated by FIRE that it seems like there’s no such thing as too much money. Of course there is. And there’s certainly enough, which is exactly what we have.

  30. Sometimes, when I come across contemporaries who have had stellar success in their working lives, I berate myself for not doing well enough.
    But then I try to remind myself that my husband and I have made conscious choices to take a different direction. We moved to the country and switched to different jobs so we could live happier lives, and spend more time together and with our children. We’re trying not to let financial success define our lives, but think in terms of time and happiness, and enjoying all the things that money cannot buy. Above all, I try to remind myself that we’re incredibly lucky to be able to make that choice. Without good fortune with house prices, and then budgeting, saving and making the most of our money, it just wouldn’t be possible. So yes, I think finding contentment in doing well enough is a great aim, even if I have to remind myself about it on occasion!

  31. Jacq says:

    Oh man, I want to say so many things! The first is a cliche going around this year… “You do you.” But taken as inspiration, not the dismissal it can be.
    I really like my job, for the first time in a long while. I still don’t like commuting, or that my industry is in high cost of living areas, or that the industry isn’t stable. Those are some of the reasons for my FI goal. If I could work remotely, sweet…and I imagine having the FI (fu) money to negotiate that someday is going to be the key.
    Work gives me the ‘oh no I’ve done my life wrong’ feeling. My manager is 6 months older than me, and is 3-4 levels above me. How am I ever going to catch up? The trainer, in introducing himself talking about a previous role mentioned how much he made (6-10 yrs ago), which is what I make now. How am I ever going to catch up?
    Well, I have decided I’m not. I am not one of those competitive fight for the win people (big reason I stay away from sales roles). I have realized I don’t want to fight my way to a c suite. I’m going to do the best job I can, and side hustle as my own CEO into FI.
    There are bloggers in industries different than mine, who are older than me, who are married, who do or don’t have kids, who held jobs for long periods of time, (I was in a cycle where 2.5 years was my longest until my last job, which was soul draining and I should have gotten out sooner, 4.5), …I could go on. But my life is the life I’ve been given, crafted, run with, excelled at, learned from mistakes in.
    There will always be people smarter (less smart), richer (poorer), retired earlier (later), etc. than us. Like you said, you have these cool, inspiring experiences, hobbies, surrounded by family & friends….that’s pretty awesome! Keep doing the You that makes you happy!

  32. Thanks for this post, it early hits home for me. I find it hard to relate to the posts that talk about saving ‘X’ amount of dollars in ‘X’ amount of days. I just want a little financial balance and be able to do some of the things I want to do now whole saving enough to do some of the things I’ll want to do in the future. It never makes sense to me why you would to force yourself to live so strictly now just to be rich in retirement, I’m just fine being average always. Boring but true. Thanks for making me feel ok about that!

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