I am not financially free yet. But I do consider myself financially secure.
Something happens as you inch there: you think about the subject of life a whole lot more. Specifically, the meaning of life. This short, fleeting life.
The thought process didn’t come overnight; rather, it was an increment. It gradually builds itself up and took up more space in my head.
Rationally, I know why it happens. As you accumulate money, you get to choose what conveniences to buy. That gets you time. And when you have free time, you start thinking about how to fill it.
This realisation shocked me; even though I should’ve seen it coming – I did write the 23 Things That I Can Do At Home, Instead Of Spending Money article a while back. That was me exploring what I can do for cheap with the extra time that I had. And this is me using that time to put my thought processes about the meaning of life into order.
The society-accepted ‘Meaning of Life’
The societal norm for achieving a fulfilled life should be familiar to you, too: Go to school, go to university, find a job, find a spouse, buy a house, have some children, work your ass off, save for retirement and enjoy retirement (with some grandchildren).
The guideline is helpful enough to start, especially when you’re young and have no idea yet what you want to do in life. It’s standard, and it helps you assimilate into society.
At this point in life, I did the first three, but I’m not sure I want to proceed with the rest. Not that I reject it, but I want greater flexibility in available options. I’ve seen people regretting their marriages and house purchases, simply because ‘it was time to get married/buy a house’. Kids are nice, but not a compulsory element for a fulfilled life – people can be just as happy without them, if not happier. Maybe those funds can be better spent towards what truly makes one happy, however one defines it.
Then there’s the final three phases, the work-hard-until-retirement phases, where only then you’ll be allowed to rest from working all your adult life. I don’t want this at all. Instead, I like the idea of permanent semi-retirement even from a relatively young age. I like the idea of always working on projects I’m passionate in, regardless whether I’m 30 or 60 or 90. Not having things to do beyond housekeeping and providing childcare seems like a terribly boring way to live (no offence to those who enjoy this, good for you).
For me, knowing what I don’t want is the first step towards finding what I do want out of life. Process of elimination and all that.
The fear: regret
As a feeling, regret ranks way up there in the ‘nope’ category, doesn’t it? I don’t have major regrets in life (yet; touch wood), but even the small ones make me cringe, no matter how many years have passed since then.
A while back, I read the ‘top 5 regrets people have before they die’ articles with interest. Copying from this article, here they are:
- I wish I pursued my dreams and aspirations, and not the life others expected of me
- I wish I didn’t work so hard
- I wish I had the courage to express my feelings and speak my mind
- I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends
- I wish I had let myself be happier
Oooh, a punch to the guts. I really don’t want to be thinking of these on my deathbed!
I did make some progress in ‘defying others’ expectations’ (regret no 1). After high school, I penned a letter to my Dad begging for his forgiveness for not wanting to go down the medic route, like he wanted me to. I cried writing it, knowing it’ll break his heart. I just want to say he’s a great Dad – he said ‘I love you’ a lot – and choosing not to do what he wanted saddened me, but it also relieved me. Thank you for your unconditional love since then, Dad.
I’m also known as a fairly blunt and direct person (regret no 3). This has hurt my Mom’s feelings many times, usually after I dismiss her many motherly suggestions (stay home, wear hijab, etc). However she did admit finding value in this trait. She said she values my opinions because I don’t say something just for the sake of ‘jaga hati’. Thank you for understanding, Mom.
I’m nowhere near perfect, but I try to keep in mind the above regrets when I make life choices. Work-wise, I prioritise projects that allow me ample rest time (regret no 2). I try to meet up with friends as often as I can (regret no 4). Knowing that experience – not things – provide higher levels of happiness, I prioritise travel and self-development (regret no 5).
Life-long passion vs short-term passions
I’m lucky enough to have a specific area of interest that I’m wholeheartedly passionate in: personal finance. This blog is 2.5 years old, but I’ve recorded my expenses since I was 17. I had my first job (telemarketing) and earned my own money at 18. I moved out of the family home and managed my own expenses after college. I’m not ‘better’, just privileged, mind you.
I hope this passion continues. It dreads me to think of the day when I might not like it anymore. There have been times when it came dangerously close – when I developed passions for other things (or so I thought). During those times, I stopped reading/researching about personal finance and dedicated all my energy to something else. For example, when I was in college I was hooked on anime and cosplay culture for a while. I watched anime every single day, during any available free time. I went to cosplay conventions. Cosplayed only once though – as Cooking Mama (lol).
Okay, so maybe short-term passions are fine as well. Maybe I can just call them ‘flings’. They make life interesting. I shouldn’t be guilty of this, now, should I?
There are a few ‘flings’ I’m considering right now. Being a full-time traveler is one. Being a coder is another. Being a data scientist, too. My third ambition – back in primary school where teachers ask you to fill in the ‘cita-cita saya’ box – was to become a scientist. I even drew myself in a lab coat. (The first ambition was flight attendant, the second one was ninja assassin).
There was a time when I felt guilty (there’s the G-word again) about wanting to reinvent myself throughout life. The norm is dedication to a single craft, no? But over time, I’ve witnessed people – successful people – who have reinvented themselves again and again. Julian Hosp of Tenx (a crypto-related startup) was a professional basketball player, a professional kitesurfer, a medical doctor, and now a startup founder.
Why the heck not? Allowing myself that freedom to try out things completely outside my area of expertise and outside of my comfort zone was liberating. Recently I became a theatre producer for a (small, one-night only) show. It was fun as heck. I even made a small profit out of it – paid more or less the same as the performers in the show – but a profit nonetheless.
Research-backed ways to be happy
Research-backed paths to happiness appeal to me more than religion-backed paths to happiness. To be clear, it’s not binary, not one-or-the-other. It’s more like one-over-the-other. Even when I refer back to religion, I choose the ‘God-as-a-loving-entity’ narrative rather than the ‘God-as-the-punisher’ narrative.
This article is one of the best compilations I’ve found on the topic. Sharing their infographic:
Money-related habits appear pretty regularly, either as a means or a tool to achieve happiness. See it in: 7) Pursue personally meaningful goals, 11) Let go of materialistic tendencies, 12) Give freely, 18) Jobs as a calling, 19) Have things to look forward to, 20) Spend money on experiences and 21) Spend money to benefit others.
Of course, there’s also that other study that proved money is needed to achieve optimal emotional happiness. Apparently you are happiest if you make at least between $60,000-75,000 per year. Make over the ‘satiation point’ ($95,000) and the income/happiness correlation no longer applies. Note: the amount differs from country to country – from as low as $35,000 (Latin America) to $125,000 (Australia/New Zealand). Note 2: No idea what’s the specific amount for Malaysians.
In any case, can I admit that THE NUMBERS ARE FREAKING INTIMIDATING???? Even the lowest number $35,000 is RM135,000 per year!
Hmm, oh well. Change what you can, accept what you can’t. I guess I’ll be okay with whatever level of happiness I can get with my income level. I’ll try my darnest to earn that amount, but even if I don’t, I will make the best out of what I have, dammit.
The conclusion here is anticlimactic: I have no conclusion. I still don’t know what is my personal meaning of life. I just know:
- Money bought me the time to think about life fulfilment
- Maybe the society-accepted Meaning of Life model is not for me, and that’s okay
- Try my hardest not to make decisions I’d regret
- Work on passions, and keep finding new passions (even temporary ones)
- Use research to guide me towards making habits that generally make people happy
And just be open to possibilities and make the best out of it. While I figure out my meaning of life, I’ll keep trying for that sweet income level recommendation. Maybe the progress in that area is the catalyst. It’s a start anyhow.
What is your thought process like in deciding your life path? Was it consciously yours, or did something (or someone) else guide you?