If you want to hear god laugh, tell them your plans.
I’m going to one-up that strategy and give the universe (and my readers) a full blog post with all of my future plans. In doing so, not only will god be able to mock me but also every single internet troll.
Why would anyone write such a ridiculous post? Well, it’s birthday week. And for the past 2 years, I’ve shared a personal, reflective post around my birthday. This year, instead of looking back, I’m looking forward.
Here’s what I’m feeling as embark on my last solar orbit before reaching 40.
Table of contents
- Why future-proofing your life is dumb
- Pillar 1: Functional Fitness
- Pillar 2: Mental Health
- Pillar 3: Financial Health
- What would 80 year old me think?
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Why future-proofing your life is dumb
The <h1> tag of this post is about future proofing your life and the first <h2> tag is saying you shouldn’t future proof your life. I bet you didn’t see that coming. But hear me out.
Trying to predict the future is a fool’s errand.
Imagining your future self is nothing but suffering but it is also nearly unavoidable.
In the next section I’m going to talk about all of the different ways that I’m setting myself up to live my best possible life. But I don’t have any illusions about it.
I could wake up tomorrow with a cancer diagnosis.
Or my bike could get crushed by an 18 wheeler on my way to the office.
Having a plan vs. having to follow a plan
If you read as many finance blogs as I do, you’ll see lots of people’s plan for the future. Having a plan can be motivating and comforting. We all struggle to varying degrees of not knowing what will happen in the future. Plans help us deal with that uncertainty.
But plans change.
Being attached to your plan is sure to cause more suffering. And some of my favorite bloggers have talked about how difficult it was to adjust to early retirement.
No matter what my future holds, I think there are three things that I am trying to hold onto as I get older: functional fitness, mental health, and financial health. If I have these three things, I’ll have a great life. And as they start to slip from me (like they inevitably will), I’ll have made my peace with knowing that I tried my best.
Pillar 1: Functional Fitness
Unless I die of an accident, there will be a day when I cannot physically get out of bed.
That day will be preceded by a day that I can’t get out of a chair without help. And before that there will be a day that I can’t tie my shoes any more.
I’m not trying to be overly morbid. Just stating facts.
So my goal is to prolong the portion of my life where I’m able to accomplish these tasks to the oldest age I can.
A shift about how I think about fitness
I’ve been obsessed with fitness ever since I found out I was going to be a dad. I wanted to set a good example for healthy living for my children. For many years, the only exercise I did was running. I gauged my fitness in terms of my race times.
Race times are a very easy metric to track. You either get faster or you don’t. And I was pretty darn fast compared to the average American. I’d occasionally win my age group. I thought I was pretty healthy.
However, I’m now convinced that running is not tied to health outcomes I care about.
I’m a big fan of Peter Attia, MD who has a podcast about the science of longevity. Peter often talks about how he is preparing himself for his “centenarian olympics“: a series of health benchmarks he wants to be able to perform when he’s 100 years old. Things like get out of bed by himself, pick up a toddler (great grandkid?), put a suitcase in an overhead compartment. I also want to be able to do these things when I’m older.
I realized that running the fastest half-marathon for a 50 year old isn’t going to help me achieve these things in my 80s.
So, starting last year, I decided to stop running as much and focus on strength training. I don’t know why I had this fear of the weight room for most of my adult life. Strength training has helped me feel like I’m in the best shape of my life. Even if I’m slower than I was a few years ago (and weigh a few pounds more).
Not using role models in my life
I didn’t need a podcast.
I could have just looked at my parents. (Why do kids struggle to learn that mom and dad are right?)
My parents are both in the 70s and lift weights several times per week. When I talk to them on the phone they’re always talking about how their friends have so much less mobility than they do and how it’s now getting harder to socialize with their friends.
Maybe the fact that my parents are swinging kettlebells and throwing medicine balls against their basement wall is why they’re the “youngest” ones in their friend group. Maybe I should have taken my cues from them years ago instead of trying to shave another minute off my half-marathon time.
In the end, it doesn’t matter. I think I’m doing the right things now and hope to continue to do so.
Not just exercise
I’m exercising because I want to be able to pick up my great-grandkids (great-great-grandkids?). But I’m also trying to eat a diet that will help me get to that age. (Also, I quit drinking).
If you’ve read any of my posts our insanely low grocery budget, you know that we eat a plant based whole food diet and make all of our food from scratch. While I’m not sure there is an optimal diet for health, I feel that avoiding processed foods can only help.
And it’s not just what I eat, I also focus on having prolonged periods of not eating. While I know the science is still inconclusive, I believe that the autophagy that occurs during fasting can help improve longevity. Also– I feel great when I do 24h+ fasts. At about 24 hours your body starts burning ketones for energy and that’s the best feeling in the world. When my body goes into ketosis I have a ton of energy and I’m incredibly joyful. (Honestly, I wouldn’t have believed this was a thing until I experienced it fasting).
Pillar 2: Mental Health
I was unsure of whether mental health was the first pillar or the second pillar. What’s the point of having money and being in good shape if you are depressed or have an anxiety disorder?
I’m not here to make light of mental health. I’m not going to say that doing burpees and sitting in sunshine to get Vitamin D cures depression. It doesn’t.
I’m here to say that mental health is important. And it’s something that I’m consciously working on as I get older.
Luckily, I’m not battling any mental health crises. I have the garden variety bad days, get anxious about work deadlines, and occasionally get annoyed with my spouse and kids. Who doesn’t?
But I have been working really hard on mental health this past year. Balancing 2 careers and 3 kids without in person school has been a huge burden on my wife and I. There were days when I was exhausted and upset and miserable and unpleasant to be around.
I’ve been meditating daily for over a year now. However, in the past couple of months I’ve really deepened my meditation practice and it has been amazing.
My work offered a mindfulness based stress reduction course taught by one of Jon Kabat-Zinn’s students using the original MBSR curriculum. Although the training was completely secular, it did awakened my spirituality way more than church ever spoke to me.
Since completing the course I make sure to set aside some time each day to meditate and it has been amazing. I can’t put into words how much it has changed my life but I feel better than I ever have in my life.
And since a lot of Kabat-Zinn’s work borrowed from Buddhist traditions, I started to explore that as well. While I’m no monk, I have started attending group meditations at a Buddhist community and have really been enjoying community.
Performing body-scan meditations is definitely something I want to continue as I age. MBSR has been shown to have a host of quantifiable health benefits and it makes me feel good. It’s definitely part of my future plans.
I’m an introvert. I’m happiest when I have time alone to think and read and learn. But even introverts need some social interaction.
Right now I get most of my social interaction from my family. They’re amazing companions. I hope that they’re still in my life for a long time.
On the other hand, people get divorced. Kids cut their parents out of their lives. People die unexpectedly. My family may or may not stay together. While my behavior towards my spouse/kids partially determines whether or not they’ll want anything to do with me 10 years from now, there are other factors in control too.
Mostly, I’m working on being the best spouse/parent I can be right now and hoping that our bonds will stay strong as we venture forth into the future.
But writing this blog post has made me realize that perhaps I have not quite cultivated as many social connections as I should. I know that social connections are an important part of my future but I’m not sure what I’m looking for. I feel like a lot of my ‘friends’ now are my online blogger friends. Does trading DMs count as social connection?
Finally, I think when I stop learning is when I will begin dying. Again, I’m taking a page out of my parent’s book here. My dad is still building robots and teaching himself new programing languages in the 2nd half of his 7th decade.
As a researcher, I’m always learning new things in my day job. But I want to be more than my occupation. If my job disappeared tomorrow I’d want to have some identity outside of that.
Lately, I’ve been teaching myself so much about SEO, email marketing, self-liquidating offer funnels, and everything else you’d need to learn about running an online business. Not that I have some giant evil plan for running the world from this blog. It’s just fun to learn new things and try new things and tinker with things. (My mastermind group is always shocked when I tell them I edit my theme’s CSS on my live website and sometimes crash it. What can I say? I love to tinker).
So my plan is to keep learning for life. Whether it’s about wood decay fungi, or growing an online business, or organic farming, or taking piano lessons as an octogenarian.
Pillar 3: Financial Health
Having a robust financial plan for retirement is like the least important part of getting old. Yet somehow that’s what 90% of personal finance blog content is about.
My retirement strategy has lots of contingencies built into it. While I’m not close to pulling the plug yet, my current early retirement plans involve:
- Having a portfolio that can sustain withdrawals of 120% of my current spending.
- Using a 3.5% withdrawal rate instead of 4%.
- Drawing a deferred FERS pension at age 62.
- Drawing Social Security at some point.
- Living in a paid off house.
- Earning income in retirement/early retirement from consulting in my current field, blogging, freelance writing, and other side hustles that interest me.
I estimate that we’ll reach all of these milestones within the next 5 years or so. Although honestly, I’m in no rush.
What would 80 year old me think?
So I just wrote my 40-year plan for the 2nd half of my life. It’s ridiculous to think that it will go as scripted. No matter what happens, I’ll try to take it as it comes.
What I’m most thankful for is the fact that the FIRE movement has allowed me to build a 40 year plan for my life. When I first read Your Money or Your Life I was obsessed about leaving a bad job situation. But as the money pieces started to come together, finances became the least important part of FIRE.
And maybe I’ll read this post on my next birthday and laugh. But that’s okay. It will just mean that I’ve grown into a different person.
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