One of my best memories growing up was when my parents finally bought me and my brother a Sega Genesis for Christmas. We had a home computer, but had wanted a gaming console for years. Our friends had at least one, sometimes as many as three. Our parents finally relented, but not without milking it by my demanding our best behavior for months.
It was really the anticipation that made it so memorable though. My brother and I constantly talked about it and daydreamed about what games we would get, where we would put it, etc. Christmas Day was pretty memorable too — I think we were up by 5 am at the latest. We raced downstairs to tear off the wrapping paper — we were giddy at the sight of the Sega logo. We played a lot at first, but a year later, it was just another thing that we had. Same thing with my first real mountain bike. I mowed our lawn for $20 a pop, and slowly saved the $750 to buy the bike. It had front suspension, which was a newfangled thing at the time. I probably rode it two dozen times before I started driving and biked less. At least I still have it — today it sits on our balcony with flat tires and a dusty seat.
This mindset makes me think about the pursuit and attainment of educational and career achievements, as well as FIRE. As kids, we were all constantly told to get good grades to get into a good college. In high school, I could not even imagine life past just starting college. But I could imagine the contentment of going to my dream school. I hung onto that feeling as a motivation to keep studying hard. But I had no idea of what lay ahead. Of course, once I got to college, the message would stay mostly the same, except the goalpost (and accompanying dream) would change. In college, I could imagine starting in my dream job, doing important things while sitting behind a desk…without a further inkling of what that might entail. But the pursuit of that goal would continue to light my fire.
The cycle then repeats. Go to a good law school, get good grades, work for a big firm, make money, make partner, get clients, make more money, win lawsuits, etc. All the while, we dream of the contentment of reaching the next level. Only to quickly acclimate and then instinctively continue to strive upward. There is little reflection about whether attaining each goal was actually worth the time and effort, or such reflection is limited to a monetary assessment. (And that kids, is how big law firms get you.)
I saw this pattern and wanted to break the cycle. I am at a really good place now. But I’m so used to the chase that it feels odd that I should just be content with what I have. Sometimes it feels surreal. I’ve wanted financial independence since 2009, and now we’re here. What’s left to chase? The paradigm has shifted.
I still set little goals for myself, but I know deep down that it will be NBD once I have achieved them. Contentment is a nice feeling, but it’s way less exciting than pursuing something that you’ve built up in your mind to be a huge deal.