What I Do Have, Not Could Have

Do HaveSometimes, I wonder if I was happier before I fell into the world of personal finance. My life is more fulfilled now. My priorities are more concrete. But there is something to be said about blissful ignorance. Yes, it’s ephemeral. It was only a matter of time before that bliss came crashing down quite literally. My closets could only hold so much stuff.

Still, I realize that my happiness hasn’t shifted quite the way I anticipated when I started this blog last August. I have ambitions, I have goals. I’ve reached pretty impressive milestones in a relatively short span of time. While I have even shifted my mindset in terms of focusing less on material things and more on freedom, this change in mindset hasn’t been quite as transformative as it sounds. Whether it’s focusing on acquiring more things, more money, more investments, or more freedom, I’m still focusing on what I could have, not what I do have. And therein lies the problem.

I have so much. And I’m not just talking about the fact that Americans are so comparatively wealthy when it comes to a global perspective. Don’t believe me? In a 2013 study reported on Forbes, it found that “the typical person in the bottom 5 percent of the American income distribution is still richer than 68 percent of the world’s inhabitants.” So, yeah, I have a lot in terms of wealth.

But that’s not what I’m talking about. I have so much in terms of the rest of my life. I don’t talk about it much here–I’d like to blame the double-edged sword that is anonymity, but it’s more likely my myopic focus on dollars–and that’s a shame. In fact, it’s probably the reason that I’m not as happy as I’d like to be. I get so bogged down in the fact that I don’t have a six-figure income that I forget that I love my job. I spend so much time pouring over spreadsheets and early retirement posts that I forget that I’ve already found fulfillment. There might be days when I want to run out of my classroom tearing at my hair. To say otherwise would be a lie. But you know what? After a few days away, I miss my students. By about the second week of summer vacation, I start dreaming about literature circles, Socratic discussions, and that one time I knew a kid was tricking me into opening an exploding Go-Gurt and I did it anyway because he really wanted to pull a prank on me.

That’s to say nothing of my family and my friends. I don’t always have the support system I’d like in terms of things like navigating 403bs and Vanguard versus Betterment versus Wealthfront. But in those rare moments when it felt like my world was ending, that I was completely unmoored, and that all hope had been extinguished, I’ve had so many people act as anchors, extending hugs, kind words, and compassion that I feel so incredibly foolish for overlooking them.

And while we’re on the subject of money, the personal finance blogosphere is rife with bloggers whose net worths are so sky high that my mouth drops a little bit every time I click on their updates. Could I have that? Maybe. But instead of allowing myself to read those posts and think about what I could have, I’m suddenly awash in all the incredible wisdom, generosity, and laughs that these friends–yes, you are my friends even if you do not know my real name–are willing to share with me and the rest of the interwebs.

Could I have more? Yes. And I know that as I continue along this path, I will acquire more — more wealth, more wisdom, more laughter, more love, and more memories. Still, when I stop and think about happiness, I realize that it has nothing to do with what I could have and everything to do with what I do have. I have more than enough to be happy. I really do.

So Tell Me…How do you stay focused on what you do have while pursuing future goals? Have you ever had to realign your perspective?

What I Do Have, Not Could Have

34 thoughts on “What I Do Have, Not Could Have

  1. It’s definitely far too easy to compare yourself to others. I have found that in my personal life as well as my business pursuits. We try to focus on ourselves and our own goals, and leave it there.

    1. I keep trying to tell myself I’m only competing against me. But the perfectionist in me is always trying to emulate other people and see results now. Ekk. I definitely need to learn to “leave it there” more.

  2. Your posts are really mind stimulating. The focus on what do we have comes with the wisdom of life, I think. It depends on why you want to accumulate wealth. It can be just to stay out of debt, or to have your own home. For some people, having big amount of money makes them happy.

    1. That could be why I chase my tail so much. We want to acquire wealth to pay off our mortgage and stay out of debt. But beyond that, we don’t have a specific purpose. Of course, we want freedom and choice, but I don’t think we want to retire early. Really defining why we do what we do would probably help a great deal. Thanks for the reminder!

  3. Finding joy in the present moment will always be a struggle of mine. I love my life now. It’s amazing. It’s awesome. But I get stuck planning the future so much, I forget sometimes. Mr. T is infinitely better at this and is very good about reminding me about the joy we have now. It’s really about slow and steady. Spend your morning time (or whenever you do it) planning, hoping, reading, and writing. But then leave. Go. Live your day. And enjoy what you have. That’s the distinction I’ve had to make. I get up, get inspired about what could be, and then I shut it down to go live the life I do have.

    1. Yes! There are so many gems here, Maggie. I definitely need to think of the “shut down” feature more when I log off my blog. Leave it be.

  4. I feel so similarly sometimes. I see what other pf bloggers have built for themselves and I want it for myself. Too often I am chasing after the future, when my present day is pretty awesome. I think a break from reading about accomplishments and net worth’s is key, and taking some time to really indulge in the greatness of you current life. Make a special dinner with your partner, spend three hours on the phone with a good friend, enjoy a cup of coffee at your school before anyone get there. Soak in the greatness of the now!

  5. I am constantly reminding myself to enjoy the now, and be thankful for all of our blessings. Yes, we have debt and I really don’t enjoy my job anymore, but things could be far, far worse. As far as the money goes, we’re working hard to reap an awesome reward of being able to semi-retire. Everyone needs a plan, ours is trade some sacrifice now for more freedom in the future – the option to forge that path is, in and of itself, something we have.

  6. I’m so glad you mentioned comparison, because it’s always there. And it’s so evil. And I’m sure it sounds ridiculous for me to say that, because I know we make more than you by virtue of you talking about not making six figures. But we get envious about other things — people who figured out the path to FI earlier in life than we did, people who live in lower cost of living places than we do (although we also don’t want to move to many of those places!), etc., etc., etc. If you let yourself focus on that stuff, nothing good comes from it. Far better to appreciate what you have. And other than the grind of work, we have a pretty sweet life that we’re super grateful for. And even work has plenty of moments that make us happy. But since you know our focus is to quit ASAP, I’m not going to lie and pretend that I’m totally able to appreciate what we have and how we live now — I still believe we’ll be happier when we quit. 😉

    1. That’s the struggle for me. I can find the joy, but I also think about much more joyful I would be if ______. And that’s becoming kind of toxic for me.

  7. Oh gosh, this is definitely on my mind lately. In fact, the post I’m writing for this week is about trying to balance my perspective, which I’m noticing has been crazily out of whack lately. Thanks for presenting a positive viewpoint of all of this — I need more of that in my life.

    1. Ha. I think balancing or shifting perspective is much harder than I originally thought. I am such a creature of habit (and I’m not even sure how entirely convinced I am that people can change in truly fundamental ways), so making this transition has been much more cumbersome than I thought!

  8. Contentment and gratitude for what I have already can keep me from focusing too much on what I don’t have, even if it sometimes takes reminders from my wife to feel that way. This is a great post and another great reminder to me that it’s not all about the chase and the hustle.

    1. It’s not all about the hustle, is it? I’m currently struggling with that as I figure out my summer plans. I committed to an extra three weeks of summer school this year. Now I’m trying to figure out tutoring. Last night at dinner, my husband asked, “Don’t you want to relax or garden?”

  9. Absolutely, I have struggled with this as well–while I feel quite content with my life, posts about people’s killer income or reaching FI leave me feeling inadequate at times. One thing that’s helped me is to realize that there are so many dreams, goals, and versions of the good life out there. I have my version of that, and it’s a journey. I can’t have every phase of every possible dream at once. It’s logically impossible! And I don’t even actually want a lot of other people’s dreams, anyway.

    1. I love that, Kalie! We are all living our own iteration of personal finance, so dreams and goals and accomplishments should all look and feel different.

  10. I so appreciate your posting this. I suspect we all have these feelings; I definitely do at times, especially when reading some of the personal finance “heavyweights” and having the same jaw-dropping reaction to sky-high net worths and spending levels. I try to remind myself, though, of the way I’ve felt every time I’ve hit any kind of financial milestone: perhaps a brief moment of self-congratulation, but mostly nothing at all. Money doesn’t provide fulfillment on its own; life does.

    1. My favorite part of this reply is your last statement. Life is fulfilling and blogging isn’t living. Sometimes, I forget that. It’s great to come here to reflect, grow, and learn, but it’s not the real part of living.

  11. I can definitely get with this feeling. I simply remind myself that I’m no one else but me. I have what I have because it’s meant for me to have and enjoy in this moment. Of course, we all have dreams and goals, that makes us strive to do better and get better. However, that doesn’t mean we’re not already good enough.

  12. I’m always balancing the need to strive for more against appreciating what we have now. I wrote about contentment a while back and realized that it’s ok to take seasons to reap what we sowed, as much as it is to take seasons to plant and sow, cycling through them with some patience is how we learn and grow. And it’s ok to balance feeling content and appreciation for what we have while working to build it into something more for the next stages of our lives, whatever they are.

  13. Just saw this on Rockstar. That’s awesome. Congrats!

    This is such great perspective. I too get caught up in my spreadsheets and calculations and forget that “yeah, we’re all doing pretty good for ourselves.” Really this was a much needed read for a Friday.

    1. Thanks so much, The Bus Thinker! I wrote this only a few short weeks ago…but I definitely needed the reminder today as well. Happy Friday!

  14. Lee jazz says:

    I have waited years to find this validation that so closely mirrors my thoughts on answering the “what if?s” since becoming an avid reader of PF Blogs. As a young wife and mother, I remember not having heard the term RRSP until my father starting talking about his. To me, investing was something for ‘old people’. Me, I spent all of my time and energy just trying to hold it all together with a very loving husband and two kids, but working in a job for which I simply was not suited and could not handle emotionally, despite all the education it took to get me there. At rock bottom, I took a shot in the dark, applied and was hired in a field to use my educational background to help other people, while not having to work in a confrontational setting any longer. After that, things improved immensely and by simply by putting one foot in front of the other, my husband and I, as ‘nesters’, finally got ahead of the bills and started to have something left over to start thinking about paying off our mortgage more quickly so that we could save more aggressively for retirement.

    Since I started reading these blogs a few years ago to help me make that happen, I have not been able to live with all that I ‘could have’ done if I had just been more observant, and smart about the way of things. I could have gone into a different field of study right out of high school; I could have started saving that $25 a week that is all I need to be wealthy at 50 (or whatever); and gotten a 6-figure job immediately. My husband and I could have retired early and sailed the Seven Seas, happy beyond our wildest dreams.

    I can’t help but think that, while everything is pretty much settled now, we missed the boat to having larger incomes, more security, and the ability to retire quite a bit younger. Apparently, as I read in the PF blogs, this is quite do-able (just not for me).

    On the other hand, my husband reminds me that I may not have enjoyed another field when it came right down to it; we barely had the internet then, and there was no advertisement for bank products and really only word-of-mouth for things like investments, and RRSPS, for those rich enough to get personal attention at their financial institution. His best point? If life had unfolded any differently, we wouldn’t have met in the first place!

    What you wrote in your article says it all. I have a husband who is my BFF and is perfect in every way (and I’m not at all biased – LOL) and we have a nice house, two cars and a vacation home – nothing fancy but they are ours free and clear, and a job I created out of nothing that I would practically do for free, that has paid far more than the one that wasn’t my cup of tea in the first place. Even looking back on the hard times when the kids were young, we have only happy memories, just being grateful (as we still are) to be together and in love (as we still are).

    I have to say that, while these PF blogs make you face your shortcomings, and unfortunately you can’t ‘un-know’ some of their harsher revelations, you do have the power to take what you can from them, and then go out and live your life as an individual with a unique set of circumstances. Something tells me that, things are the way they are meant to be even though my husband and I are not rich, comfortably retired, or world-travelers.

    I’m not a fancy dresser, don’t socialize, and hate traveling anyway. 🙂

    1. Lee, I love this! I find your perspective so refreshing. It sounds like you are right where you need to be. I am so happy that you’ve found such a lovely life with your husband and your work. Cheers to you and all that you do have! 🙂

  15. No matter our income, debt or net worth, I think that gratefulness and generosity have to be praticed at each step. I have to be mindful towards thankfulness or else I can get sucked into the lie that I just need “more”. And more always moves on us as soon as we get close. We try to not postpone life till we “arrive” but instead fill each year with as much adventure and generosity that we can while still making progress on our financail freedom.

  16. I don’t know that I do, tbh. I have all these same struggles. For me the hardest is people making a huge living online. Now, I adore my job and I love being an employee and I’m happy with my income. I would be terrible as an entrepreneur and have no desire to make money the way these bloggers do. And yet…!

  17. My wife tends to tell me I over analyze everything when it comes to finances and well… shes right.
    This article had me at blissful ignorance…
    What if we didn’t worry about our finances the way we do, and just appreciate what we have. I mean like you said we are all mostly anonymous friends here that have been brought together because we all have one common enemy…. Debt.
    We all come from different backgrounds and ages but we are striving to what we believe is financial independence.

    But like you said..what we may not realize is that we are already blessed beyond measures. I have debt yes but I am more fortunate than a large majority of people because I have clean water and a place to sleep at night.

    So yea sometimes when I’m working of our monthly budget and start to get stressed out, or if a bill unexpectedly comes up, I get upset. I worry. I think I’m failing. But then I think about why I’m doing this in the first place. I think about why I hounded my wife into sitting and talking with me about this and starting this.

    I want to leave a better life behind. Whether it be for my family or for anyone that I can help.

    Do I need millions of dollars to be happy…of course not.
    I don’t need a fancy car. Or a huge house, or any of that.
    I want to build wealth, so my family won’t have to worry.
    I want to help others.

    So I don’t worry as much. I try to be patient. I realize that I am more fortunate than most and I don’t try and rush things.
    Yeah I wish I was out of debt but I want to enjoy the time until then.

    Great Post!
    Really gets ya thinking


  18. I try to remember that doing something is so often enough. When my girlfriend wants dinner and my undivided attention, she gets it. Those moments are the most valuable to me.

  19. There is a danger to constantly thinking about financial independence and even more so about early retirement. It’s like you are waiting .. Waiting to achieve your next goal, waiting to make the next milestone. It can cause anxiety and ruin the here and now. Thanks for sharing!

  20. It really is when the world crashes down upon us–in terms of a horrible job or job loss, a death or illness, a natural disaster–that we realize how much we truly DO have in nonmonetary terms. Friends, family, smiles, love, and laughter overcome all.

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