Trying to Find a New Life as the Fall Air Breaks Me Down

Fall. It’s the season I struggle most with. I seem to either slip into depression or mania around this time, depending on the year and life circumstance. There’s something about the air. It’s hollow and scratchy. Each breath in on inhale feels icy and empty and yet not filling enough so I open up my lungs to take more in, only to have it attack me subtly from the inside.

But this time, which definitely feels more like the end of one year and beginning of the next (Rosh Hashanah got it right) is one that brings about reflection. And in this self reflection I feel how another year has passed and part of me feels like I haven’t taken any steps closer to whatever satisfaction is and yet the reality is I’ve produced an entirely new person AND increased my net worth substantially since last September. So time feels short but it was certainly filled with a lot of existence and growth.

I want to get to this point financially where I can stop worrying about money so I can pursue something I would love to do. The trade off is always time, because I want time with my kids, and I’m afraid even if I had all the money in the world to go back to school and try something different. I certainly don’t trust my anxious ADHD mind to get through coursework in a way that would make the investment worthwhile. And yet – doing something I love where I have purpose is the feeling burning in my lungs today. It’s no longer a nice to have. It’s a must. Money also is, but what if — what if I could live a life where my income could pay the bills but where I no longer had to aggressively save? What if instead of spending money on things to make me happy I actually found what makes me happy is the work I do. Because Amazon Prime purchases, however much dopamine they fill me with when I punch open a new box that arrives in under 48 hours, are not really making me any happier than I was prior to purchasing them. They’re just adding to my misery, also known as the pile of toys and crap on my floor.

So.

I’m still not sure what the math is. But it seems at the end of this year it’s realistic for our net worth to be about $2M if calculated without 529 and home equity which I should probably start doing since that offers a realistic picture of how much income we can one day have when we start to spend it down.

Now, I may have to dip into this savings a bit to find my way in the right direction. School is not cheap. If that’s the route I need to go. But also I know myself and I’m not going to stop working for an extended period of time. I just want to be able do work that is fulfilling. And luckily the kind of work I want to do pays reasonably well enough that after a few years I could probably get back into earning enough to pay the bills. I’m not sure how much I’d have to cut into my savings, or if I could stomach that, but let’s say somehow I manage to not cut into it too much, or at all…

$2M in 30 years at 5% average gains is $8.4M. And while $8.4M in 30 years won’t equal what it equals today, it’s still a sizable amount for a retired couple of 67. With 3% inflation rate that money will equal about $3.4M in today’s dollars, still a sizable sum to retire with at 67. The NerdWallet inflation calculator says that it’s actually worth $4M today (guessing their inflation rate is a bit lower than 3%.) So, if we never invest another dime, we will have $3.4M-$4M if we retire at 67, as well as most of our children’s educations paid for (with $300k saved this year for 2 kids)

Yes, we still need to afford $10k-$14k a month in expenses for the next 30 years, which means earning at least $200k-$250k per year  (together) total to “Coast.” And we’ll probably still save a bit because once my kids graduate high school and go to college our expenses will drop within that 30 year period. If I change careers to something I love perhaps in those 30 years I can move up again and make decent money as well.

There are so many unknowns it’s hard to plan for the future or be willing to take any sort of risk, especially with how little I trust myself to follow through on things. But I also know I’m miserable now because I don’t feel a greater sense of purpose in life.

I’m also feeling a pull to freelance work and the flexibility it provides. I have no idea how to get enough (or any) freelance work to start with, but if I could actually pick up a handful of stable clients who pay me reasonably then – heck – I could go to school and maybe not lose too much money and pivot and figure out life.

So I’m trying really fucking hard to be optimistic. I’ve got to work on a few things, the work that has purpose, building a small network of friends because let’s be real this introvert is capable of socialization like once a month (and then realizes how much she likes it and is sad when it’s over), having more time to spend with my kids and be there for them as they grow up, maybe having one more kid (yea yea I’m crazy) and… I mean, I do, deep down, think things will all work out. Having the money there really helps with that inner sense of – you know what, thinks are actually going to be ok. And as much as this job grates at my weak ego, it has given me the greatest gift in life — the freedom to know things will probably be ok. Things will probably be more than ok. Even if my kids decide to join some crazy extracurricular that costs $10,000 a year. Or god forbid someone gets sick. Or my husband, who refused to get life insurance and now probably can’t get it, ends up god forbid dying before the mortgage is paid off and our kids are out of college. We have the cushion we need where as much as I worry, I don’t have to worry. Not about running out of money, anyway. I mean, I may have to sell the house and move to a LCOL area. But we would be fine.

I have to keep reminding myself that. And while it makes sense to hold on for the next few months in this job to ride out the year, hit $2M in non home equity/529 net worth, and start planning for what’s next, it isn’t worth staying in this job — or even this field — when I know I have so much more to offer. At the end of the day I know I feel good and proud when I’m part of creating something that adds value to other people’s lives. That can be pretty much anything — I’m not so particular. It has to be something new or improved that makes lives better. I want to build things. Fix things. And so, that’s where my heart is. Yea, I’m a mom. But I want to work too. I just want to do something that isn’t so soul draining. Where we all kind of roll our eyes at our work because none of us really believe in it anymore, we just do it to make it to the next vest and the one after that. I’m tired of the golden handcuffs. And ready to call the shots in my life. I just need to find the courage. And the focus.

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