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Blog Description:

My journey to early retirement. From how I decided this was the path I needed to take to the steps I am following to prepare and make it happen.
Blog Tags: retirement - travel - life - family
Blog Added: August 11, 2017 07:57:55 PM
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Blog Country: United-States   United-States
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The Forgotten Strong

I remember few real details about when my ex left the house, other than his statement, "In three months you will be over this and fine." Maybe that was true, maybe it wasn't, but regardless, it stung. It implied that just because he viewed me as a strong person, I didn't have feelings at that moment. Over the years, since my divorce, I have been told by many friends that they view me as one of the strongest people they know. Part of me prides myself on being viewed this way. But, part of...

I remember few real details about when my ex left the house, other than his statement, "In three months you will be over this and fine." Maybe that was true, maybe it wasn't, but regardless, it stung. It implied that just because he viewed me as a strong person, I didn't have feelings at that moment.
Over the years, since my divorce, I have been told by many friends that they view me as one of the strongest people they know. Part of me prides myself on being viewed this way. But, part of me knows that the main reason I am viewed as having strength is because I have learned how to bury emotions and feelings when times are tough. Many years ago, I would get so depressed that I couldn't get out of bed for long stretches of time. I felt very hopeless. Everyone around me knew if I was upset because there was no way I could hide it. Over the years, though, and partly because of my kids, I have developed coping strategies. When you are a single parent, there is no room in your life for a breakdown or to fall apart. It can be for no other reason than you have to get out of bed every day and do what needs to be done to take care of your kids. I think I learned how to block out that type of incapacitating sadness so I could function and be a mom. But in doing so, many walls were built. I learned how to be so independent that letting people get too close, where they could break through and make me feel again or depend upon them, became terrifying because it opened me up to potential hurt and disappointment.
Even with all the coping mechanisms, though, even the "strong" need other people in their lives. I know it is extremely hard for me to ask anyone for help and it isn't because I don't need it, but because I don't want to burden someone else. There is also the fear of someone saying "no" which can make me feel even more alone. So, I tend to keep everything inside and face everything on my own. That can be hard. And when someone doesn't ask for help or say, "hey, I am going through a tough time, would you mind listening," they often don't get it. People naturally tend to focus on those who appear most in need and assume everyone else is doing okay. But sometimes those that appear to be doing okay are just waiting for someone to show they care and ask the question, "how are you?" and genuinely mean it.
Life can be very scary for those of us who feel there is no individual we can rely on, who will be willing and available to help us when we have a bad day or the car breaks down. So we convince ourselves we don't need anyone and, hence, no one else views us as needing anyone either. But sometimes that gets lonely. Sometimes we get sad and just try to hide it from the outside world or bury it as deep as we can. I am trying to do a better job, myself, of checking in on my friends. It can still be hard to let others in when they try to check in on me. Still, I have some friends I admire for their strength, but I know it was built on a lot of pain and heartache in their lives and they need me as much as I need them, in order to face whatever days lie ahead. So, please, don't forget about the "strong."



On the Flip Side of Divorce

I take it very personally when someone says that the best thing for kids is being in a home with both parents. Someone said this to me about six weeks ago and I had to bite my tongue. I have been divorced for ten years and I think my kids have thrived being in my home because their father and I are not together. Of course, the ideal situation is two people being in a rock solid marriage and loving each other, but how many times has that not been the case and two people, who are not right...

I take it very personally when someone says that the best thing for kids is being in a home with both parents. Someone said this to me about six weeks ago and I had to bite my tongue. I have been divorced for ten years and I think my kids have thrived being in my home because their father and I are not together. Of course, the ideal situation is two people being in a rock solid marriage and loving each other, but how many times has that not been the case and two people, who are not right for each other, get married and have children. I know that was the case in my life and, though I don't regret the marriage because I have my children, I don't regret the divorce either. I am thanking my lucky stars that I was able to recognize I was in a very unhappy marriage, with the wrong person for me, and had the courage to do something about it. It wasn't an easy decision at all. I had two, young children and I imagine every parent debates whether or not they should stay for the kids. I struggled with the decision for a very long time, until one day it was clear as day that the marriage needed to end so we could both have the potential for happier lives. And I even felt it was time to end it for the benefit of the kids. No, their dad did not have the same feelings at the time, but the ultimate problem was I couldn't tell their dad I loved him and mean it. I couldn't put on a smile and be sincere. I couldn't fake being happy, when inside I was sad and, at times, that made me difficult to be around. I was basically living with a roommate, who happened to be my children's father. I knew that living a sincere life, with all the imperfections, was better than faking it for my kids. And what has motivated me to write this post is I have not had just one friend reach out to me over the past several months, but a handful of friends. They are all struggling, either with trying to save a marriage or being ready for it to end and how to navigate that path. I feel for them because I have been through it, and I went through it when no one I knew was in the same boat. I didn't have anyone to talk to who could relate or tell me what to expect or how life might turn out. Now, ten years later, I don't want people to view it as the worst thing in the world for their kids because it isn't. In fact, my daughter, Reese, surprised me the other day with a statement she made, but I will get to that later.
So, here is the flip side of divorce that people, who haven't experienced it, seem to omit.
1) My ex and I have very different parenting styles and, though I would personally love to be able to co-parent well, it has never been possible. With that being said, I parent how I see fit in my household, giving my children a lot of independence, with a certain amount of structure. We talk through a lot of things and I treat them as individuals who are fully capable of freely expressing their thoughts and ideas, and capable of making decisions for themselves. I absolutely believe that my bond with my children is so incredibly strong because there is no conflict in my household due to constant disagreements with another parent about how to parent.
2) As a follow-on to point number one, it's obvious that because their dad and I take such a different approach to most everything, my children must go back and forth between two households that operate extremely differently. This could be viewed as negative. However, it's amazing how adaptable children can be when they simply don't have a choice in the matter. Let's be real...life is not perfect. Adults have to learn how to deal with different personality types in their careers and personal lives and, to succeed in these areas, they must be able to adapt with changing environments all the time. The fact that my kids have grown up already having to establish such skills has only made them better at reading people and knowing how to adjust to a variety of situations.
3) I have exposed my children to a variety of experiences that would have never happened had I remained married. My ex husband and I didn't have any common interests. For instance, I love to travel, which my ex husband hates. I enjoy science and learning, but my ex husband prefers to spend his time engaged in sports. I enjoy the arts and theater and my ex husband complained every time I tried to drag him to one of these events. By having the freedom to live my life as I wish, without acquiescing to someone else's interests, I have exposed my children to all of my interests without any guilt. My girls attend talks with me at the museums and we discuss them afterwards. I have introduced them to Broadway shows and plays. And, my children already boast about all the places they have visited, as we prepare for another trip this year to the Galapagos and Amazon Rain Forest. I can guarantee that virtually none of this would have been a part of my children's lives had I remained married to their dad.
4) My children have had the opportunity to witness me in a relationship that did express love and affection and was positive in many ways. Though, I have not found that one person to spend the rest of my life with, my kids have witnessed what I think a healthy relationship is supposed to look like. They aren't growing up with a mom who is permanently lifeless, as I would term it. Even if I wasn't crying every day with my ex husband, there was no affection or expression of love. We were just going through the motions and that isn't what I want my kids growing up believing is supposed to be a normal marriage. Yes, I have shed tears since my divorce, but I also know it is okay for my kids to witness me going through the trials and tribulations of real life and still pressing forward to achieve happiness.
Life after divorce is not necessarily easy, but being married typically isn't either. I still believe in marriage, but I don't believe that it is a necessary requirement for kids to grow up happy and fulfilled. So, back to what my daughter said to me the other day. We were sitting by the pool and just talking about some upcoming plans, when Reese blurts out, "You made the right decision divorcing dad." She has never made that blunt of a statement before, and so I was a bit surprised. But, the reason I can make all of the above statements is because it's based on how my kids have expressed things to me, as well. I know I made the right decision for me and my kids ten years ago and, in today's world, I don't think anyone should feel bound to the wrong person and wrong relationship "for the sake of the kids." The short term hell you may go through during the process of ending a marriage can very well be worth the long term gains both you and your children experience for the remainder of your lives.



A Return to the Living

I haven't written anything in a really long time, but recently felt the urge to take a look at my past, through my posts. It became evident how far I have come. And also how far my children have come. In fact, they might be ahead of me! In "rereading" my life, I realize I had forgotten how much pain we all experienced over the last year. It's amazing how the brain seems to protect us in many ways, as days feel normal again, and we can suddenly focus on the good memories rather than bad ones....

I haven't written anything in a really long time, but recently felt the urge to take a look at my past, through my posts. It became evident how far I have come. And also how far my children have come. In fact, they might be ahead of me! In "rereading" my life, I realize I had forgotten how much pain we all experienced over the last year. It's amazing how the brain seems to protect us in many ways, as days feel normal again, and we can suddenly focus on the good memories rather than bad ones. I can't even remember the exact time that things suddenly felt okay, but maybe that was because it was gradual. I know it took quite a while, but we just had to keep moving forward day after day, knowing that at some point we would get through it. Some day, the heaviness would be gone.
But something that I omitted from my earlier posts, probably because it was hard to write about at the time, but that I think parents experience in all different situations, was my feeling of guilt. I felt guilty for hurting my children. No, I wasn't the individual who ended the relationship, but I was the one responsible for bringing that person into my kids' lives. See, initially, when they were six years old, they didn't want him there, but I did, so my kids didn't have a choice. He joined in activities with us, ran errands with us, ate dinner with us, and was around most of the time; after about six months, he moved in. It was not one, big, happy family at first. I remember Taylor was angry about it, while at least Reese was a bit more accepting. But it was what I wanted because I could see beyond the immediate time frame towards trying to build a lasting relationship that would not only make me happy, but hopefully my children, as well. And, as time went on, my kids did grow to love him. In fact, by the time he deployed, about a year into the relationship, my kids wanted him to be their stepdad and didn't want him to leave at all. And even though he called every day and Skyped with my kids, when he returned three months later, things were more difficult than expected. Taylor, in particular, didn't want him around because she felt he "was different than before." She wanted him to leave, gave him those glaring death looks, and no longer felt close to him. It was hard to experience, but, again, I wanted him there, and so she didn't have a choice. And, with lots of struggles over about a year, she grew to love him again. In fact, both my kids loved him very much and formed a bond with him that I always wanted for them. For a brief period of time, everything seemed pretty perfect. And then, without being prepared for it, he was gone and they never saw him again. They came home from school one day in late May, just over a year ago, and, within hours, the relationship ended and he literally disappeared from their lives, only leaving behind a lot of pain. And that was my fault. I am the one who allowed the two, most important people in my life, who were completely innocent and without any control over this situation, to get hurt. I felt I failed my kids and I was the one who was to blame for their pain. I beat myself up over it and even told them I would never date again because that was the only way for me to prevent them from experiencing this type of heartache in the future. I absolutely meant it...then.
But the thing is, time seems to heal all wounds. So cliche, but so true. We even learn to forgive ourselves. Yes, I have made choices that have ultimately hurt my children, and those choices were based on me trying to fulfill some need I had for myself. It sounds selfish. But if we don't show our children that we are real people, who don't give up on ourselves, then maybe when they grow up, they won't give up on themselves either. I initiated my divorce ten years ago because I didn't believe it was beneficial for my children to grow up in a household with a parent who was unhappy in a relationship that just wasn't right and never would be right. And since that time, I have brought a couple people into their lives, who I hoped would be there for the long haul. Though it hasn't worked out that way so far, I haven't given up on myself, and I want my kids to see that. I do believe it's important to remember that we, as adults, still have needs independent of those of our children and it is healthy to try to fulfill those needs. Life is not perfect or easy, and as hard as it is to ever see my children hurt, I am actually thankful that my kids have experienced such painful realities and gotten through those experiences, with me helping them, so that they know how to cope when things don't go as planned or they have no control over a difficult situation. We sometimes have to make really hard decisions and deal with horrible events, but with strength and a lot of deep breaths, hours worth of tears and immense sadness, sleepless nights and extreme patience, time is an amazing thing. And, so just a couple weeks ago, I had a talk with my girls that I was dreading...the dating talk. Not the one where we discuss them dating, but the one where we discuss me dating. For a long time, I didn't feel like I ever wanted to date again. I had that "dead inside" feeling and I was okay with it. But then, I started to come alive again. I started to think it might be nice to get back out there and test the waters. So it was time to talk to my kids about it. I fully expected tears, especially from Taylor, who suffered a lot during my last breakup. And to my utter shock, my kids teased me like I was one of their friends and asked me all kinds of questions about whether I had been on any dates and did I have a crush. I wasn't prepared for such a positive reaction. I could tell my kids had healed. I had healed. You would never look at us now and have any idea about what we experienced and how hard it all was for so many months. All those days of just trying to make it through to the next one, with the hope maybe THIS day would be the first normal one had finally turned into days we aren't just surviving, but days we are living.



Crunching Numbers

Let me start by saying that I didn't begin saving for my retirement until I was 24 years old. I felt I was ahead of the game by graduating college and graduate school, debt free. I'm thankful to my parents for funding my college education and to my Ph.D. program for paying my graduate tuition and livable stipend because even though I began with no assets, I also didn't have any loans to repay. When I entered the workforce, it was the first time I even thought about saving for retirement. I...

Let me start by saying that I didn't begin saving for my retirement until I was 24 years old. I felt I was ahead of the game by graduating college and graduate school, debt free. I'm thankful to my parents for funding my college education and to my Ph.D. program for paying my graduate tuition and livable stipend because even though I began with no assets, I also didn't have any loans to repay. When I entered the workforce, it was the first time I even thought about saving for retirement. I did what I was told and the basic rule of thumb. I contributed at least as much as was required to get the full company match. By deferring 6% of my income, my company matched 3%. This means that 17 years ago, with 9% of my income being socked away into a tax-deferred account, I was saving roughly $5000 a year. Over the next handful of years, I didn't feel the need to contribute more because I was doing what I was told and at least ensuring I got my company match. During the next decade, I can't recall, but I may have contributed to a Roth IRA I had opened, and even that would have only amounted to about $10,000. Eventually, I upped my 401K contribution to about 10% of my income, figuring I could afford that since I had also been receiving raises. When I got divorced nine years ago, my ex husband and I each kept our own retirement funds because they were roughly the same amount. I believe I had somewhere around $65,000 at the time, though even that I cannot recall. After all, retirement accounts are supposed to magically multiply over time so that you are all set when you hit 65 years old. At least this is the premise that was drilled into my brain. I didn't start to get serious about contributing to my retirement accounts until about seven years ago. That's when my financial situation stabilized after resolving the ownership of the marital house so that I could not only assume the loan, but refinance it and save over $1000 on my monthly payment. Prior to then, it was challenging enough to pay all my bills and save what I mentioned above. So in 2011, I also began contributing an additional $1000 a month towards after-tax, brokerage accounts in order to diversify how my money was invested. And after an annual meeting with my financial advisor in 2012, I made it a priority to max out my 401K pre-tax contribution to the $18,000 each person is permitted annually. I also started maxing out my Roth IRA contribution annually. I share this information because I had a bit of a late start, as I think a lot of people may. But by aggressively starting to save, even if I was on the verge of negative cash flow at times, it has paid off and that was confirmed yesterday.
I had my annual phone call with my financial advisor, where we do an in-depth review of my financial outlook. We conduct quarterly phone calls, as well, but for this annual call I have to prepare by providing detailed information to my advisor the couple weeks prior so he knows the status of all my debts and assets he doesn't actively manage. Even though he helps me analyze various aspects of my portfolio, I will only focus on my retirement outlook here. He presented two scenarios. The first scenario is considered my present plan, which is now really my prior plan, where I intended to retire at age 60. In this plan, it assumes that my home won't be paid off until 2039 and that once it is paid off, I will never cash out the equity. The second scenario is my "proposed" plan of retiring at age 49, living off investments that are accessible, while my tax-deferred accounts remain inaccessible, sitting there and continuing to grow (hopefully) for another ten years. In this second scenario, I sell my home and invest the proceeds into my non tax-deferred accounts, so I can access them to help fund my early retirement. My financial advisor is very conservative in the additional assumptions he makes for all the calculations; I appreciate this because I don't want to be presented a rosy picture that will never be achievable. I want worst case scenarios. So here are the additional assumptions my advisor has made for both of the above scenarios:
1) My income remains the same as it is today until I retire. With the way my company addresses raises in given years, this assumption is more realistic than I'd like. I remain hopeful, though!
2) The inflation rate continues at 3% each year. Note that the inflation rate has been below 2.5% for the past 20 years, but has averaged 3.3% over the past 100 years;
3) My annual rate of return from today going forward on my investments until retirement (either 49 or 60 years old, depending upon the scenario) is 8%. My annual rate of return has actually exceeded that value every year for the past ten years, so I am hoping that trend continues;
4) My annual rate of return after I retire (whether that be 49 or 60 years old) will only be 6%; and
5) No social security is factored in at all. This is a very conservative approach, as even if the laws change, it's expected that since I will have paid into social security for at least 30 years, I should receive some portion of the benefit, if not the full amount.
Now for the numbers. If I choose to work until I am 60, I am projected to have a nest egg of approximately $4.1 million, which would allow me to withdrawal somewhere around $120,000 in today's dollars each year and never run out of money. If you don't know what "today's dollars" means, it essentially means that I would really be withdrawing around $230,000 the first year I retire and that number increases for each year thereafter because inflation has been taken into account. I must say that before I even found out what my assets are anticipated to be valued at if I retired at 49, I thought, "Well it's clear retiring at 60 would just be stupid!" There is no way I anticipate needing that kind of money for just me. I won't even have kids at home then and I will already have socked away the money to pay my portion of their college education. Now to the part I was really interested in. If I retire at 49, I will have approximately $2 million saved at that time, which would allow me to withdrawal approximately $65,000 each year (in today's dollars) and never run out of money. This is where I started to smile. I truly didn't anticipate my picture being this rosy, especially with how conservative the assumptions are that are being fed into the calculations. I was preparing myself for a much lower figure, especially since I cannot touch certain assets for ten years. But, as it turns out, that shouldn't be an issue. My adviser stated he would actually expect me to be in much better shape than the picture he painted above because he believes my returns will be greater than what we've stated and I should receive social security, in some form, at the appropriate age. And, contributing another $100 each month can even make a drastic increase in the amount of money I could withdrawal each year because of the time it has to grow. He started laughing as he said I could retire sooner, if I wanted. So, I guess I am not crazy, or at least not crazy when it comes to all this talk about being able to quit my job in another eight years and never needing to work again. Sure, some people may wonder why I would be willing to cut my retirement savings in half, just to quit my job 11 years earlier than I originally intended. But this is why people should be realistic about what they need to support the lifestyles they intend to pursue. Personally, I cannot wait to simplify, and I am more than willing to give up millions of dollars I view as overkill to get back 11 years of my life that I can spend doing all sorts of things I enjoy. Of course, anything could happen to totally derail this goal, but at least, assuming I don't lose my job and we don't have a catastrophic stock market crash and my house doesn't get sucked into a sink hole, I am pursuing a totally achievable dream. If I could get this far, based on when I started, I believe others can do it, too. It does take commitment, though. When necessary, I have chosen to save over all the luxuries, big and small. For nearly a year, I lived without any furniture in half my house because furniture doesn't matter when you only have money to feed your kids and pay your mortgage. I have always been fairly disciplined, but going through those times made it easier for me pick and choose carefully what I have spent my money on, enabling me to fully maximize every dollar to support my priorities. And there is also value in being disciplined enough to save even when you don't know exactly what you are saving for because it seems so far into the future. Being fiscally practical in my past has given me options going forward. I absolutely believe in the tenet that money doesn't buy happiness, but it does buy freedom.



What do I want?

Even though the question is clear and simple, my answers to this question keep changing. How can it be so hard to figure out exactly what I want? I start off with definitive thoughts and then, as time goes on and feelings change from one day to the next, fears and doubts kick in. I will have days of feeling like I know exactly what I want, but then the reality of embarking upon it entirely on my own can seem overwhelming and scary. Then things get fuzzy again because I know I need something,...

Even though the question is clear and simple, my answers to this question keep changing. How can it be so hard to figure out exactly what I want? I start off with definitive thoughts and then, as time goes on and feelings change from one day to the next, fears and doubts kick in. I will have days of feeling like I know exactly what I want, but then the reality of embarking upon it entirely on my own can seem overwhelming and scary. Then things get fuzzy again because I know I need something, I just don't know what that something is. Yeah, the plan is the same. Retire early. It's the details of what I want to do in that early retirement that are in flux. I do want to hold myself accountable, though. I cannot be in this same place, debating these same things, without acting upon anything, ten years from now. It helps having lived with a person for quite some time, who talked a lot about a lot of different things he wanted to accomplish, but didn't see any of them through; it gives me the clarity and drive to get my own act together. I have said it before, but I will say it again, I don't want to be that person who is all talk and no action. I could have easily let a lot of the changes I began two months ago fade away and justified my lack of commitment because of the increased demands at home. If I allowed myself to fall into my old patterns, though, it would defeat the purpose of why I began making these changes in the first place, and I would end up no happier in my life. Still, I have had to allow for some modifications. I may not run every day, but I do run two to three times per week and then I go on one to two hikes per week. While it was easier to fit in running every day over the summer, now that I have to rush kids around to extracurricular activities and doctor's appointments after work, I am tired. I don't want to succumb to laziness, but I do want to give myself a little leeway so these hobbies of mine don't become stressful or feel like chores. The same goes for my Italian lessons. I have missed a few nights, but I don't want to lose the knowledge I have already gained, so I am making a point to try to fit this in every night, no matter how tired I am. Writing these commitments down, instead of just thinking about them, helps me hold myself accountable. Another thing I have begun doing, but is not part of any greater plan, is cooking dinners for me and my kids. I can't take all the credit for this, as my ex was the one who took the lead for quite some time on meal planning and got us accustomed to eating "real" food instead of just ramen and mac and cheese. And, looking back, I can now see that as he pulled away from us, he also disengaged from those things he used to do for us, like make dinner. But, I am thankful that it continued long enough to make it something I wasn't prepared to give up just because there was no one else there to take the lead. Last night, over FaceTime, my kids asked what we were having for dinner this week. It was awesome to show them the ingredients I bought for the recipes I figured we'd try. I can tell my kids are happier and, in turn, it makes me feel like I am doing something beneficial for all of us. And it's made me aware how important it is not just to commit to people, but to certain activities and to the concept of change.
However, when I think about my kids going off to college and finally having to hold myself accountable to begin my early retirement plan, I do get scared. I'm not scared of whether or not I can afford to quit my job when the time comes. But I am scared of launching into a future that pushes the limits of my comfort zone, when I have no one else to rely on or to experience it with. Even though I don't really have anyone else to rely on now, at least I have the security of my kids, friends in the area, and a home to come back to each day. Do I want to be able to go on an extended road trip and hike through the national parks for a while, like I have written about? Absolutely. Am I scared that it will be too much for me to even consider alone? Absolutely. I read other people's blogs, who are traveling the world, and they are typically doing it when they are in their 20s or as a couple. I anticipate being close to 50 and alone. I fear that I could become extremely lonely or sad, if I am primarily by myself, with no real home. But I also fear never acting upon these types of goals merely out of fear. Fear of fears...I am sure there is a name for that. And then I think of the desire to do something that helps endangered animals or an endangered environment. Maybe it makes more sense for me to seek out volunteer work somewhere in the national parks or another part of the world, where at least I won't be entirely on my own. And there are also those rare occasions when I think it might be nice to be open to love again. I am just not sure if that is realistic for me. I don't want to set aside my big picture goals because someone isn't in the same financial situation as me or because of their phase in life. I don't want to have to trade off one thing for another, and I wonder if I am just too established and set in my ways now. Ultimately, I suppose I am a bit burnt out, too. I know I cannot go through anything like what I did in my last relationship again. I don't want to have to worry about someone else's financial situation or deal with the drama that results from lack of trust. So, a relationship is my lowest priority. It just sounds like way too much work when I start to think about the possibility. But still, in an ideal world, imagining hiking or volunteering with someone else seems much more comforting and enjoyable to me than doing it alone.
Regardless of where my life takes me over the next several years, though, I refuse to be that person who is full of hot air and whom people roll their eyes about because they never follow through with anything. Next year's trip to the Galapagos and Amazon Rain Forest is a step in the right direction. It will definitely push my comfort zone, but is controlled enough that I am not terrified. It makes sense for me to take trips like this, while I still have an income stream and can expose my kids to unique experiences before those experiences may not be available to travelers anymore. I figure that I'll either become more accustomed to the idea of traveling independently, as I force myself to transition towards that, or I will discover some opportunities, through the people I meet, that might help me figure out what will be the best fit for me later. Ultimately, all I want is to be doing something that makes me happy and doesn't leave me feeling lonelier than when I set out. As appealing as the idea of resigning myself to becoming an old lady, who spends her days half in the bag so that none of the other stuff matters may be, I don't think that is the answer to what I actually want.



The Little Picture

If anyone has driven in the D.C. area, you will feel my pain as I say how much I hate it! It's not even just rush hour when traffic is horrendous. All hours of the day seem to be rush hour around here. I try to make the best of my morning and afternoon commutes to and from work, since I don't really have a choice. I enjoy my coffee on the way in and chat with my kids on my way home. Fridays tend to be a little bit easier getting into the office. I guess a lot of D.C. takes the day off...

If anyone has driven in the D.C. area, you will feel my pain as I say how much I hate it! It's not even just rush hour when traffic is horrendous. All hours of the day seem to be rush hour around here. I try to make the best of my morning and afternoon commutes to and from work, since I don't really have a choice. I enjoy my coffee on the way in and chat with my kids on my way home. Fridays tend to be a little bit easier getting into the office. I guess a lot of D.C. takes the day off on Fridays. Yesterday, though, it was unusually bad and I felt even more than normal that I just don't fit into this area anymore. I used to put up with this lousy traffic because being here afforded so much opportunity for a high paying job and career growth. In my 20s, I had a desire to climb the corporate ladder, buy the big house, and have all the nicest things. The bigger TV, the better, was my philosophy, which is why I presently have a 119" projection screen in my home theater (and I rarely use it now). CNET was one of my favorite websites to research the best surround sound systems and electronics. I fit totally into that yuppie, rat race lifestyle, maybe because I was born and raised in one of the most affluent areas of Northern Virginia, even if I was technically just an upper, middle-class kid. The past couple years, though, I have slowly been rejecting that mentality I used to embrace, and, in doing so, I know that D.C. is not the place for me, when I finally have the freedom to leave.
Luckily, as I have come to hate the general, D.C. vibe, I do love certain opportunities I am given because I am close to the city. It took me nearly 40 years to discover that the museums offer tons of lectures, screenings, and events, some of which are even free. Two weeks ago, I went to a happy hour at the National Geographic Museum, where three speakers centered their presentations around the Galapagos. Perfect, right, since I am going there next year?! They showed archived photos, presented their research, and presented their conservation efforts in that area of the world. I smiled and laughed, at times, as I listened to them tell their stories, and I drove home that evening on a high. I have been in my own, little cocoon for so long, that one of my favorite things is hearing about the meaningful work people are doing to help the environment and animals around the world. I may not be able to physically join them right now, but it's fun to daydream about it, as I return to my home in the burbs. And, it brings excitement to my life that is built around a lot of routine.
Then, this past week, I went to two more talks, one with my kids at the Natural History Museum about the five mass extinctions Earth has experienced in its lifetime and the second at the National Geographic Museum about three theories surrounding the disappearance of Amelia Earhart. Talk about entirely different subject matters, but both held my interest and left me thinking long after the lectures had ended. By the way, I am going to side with the theory that Amelia Earhart was taken prisoner by the Japanese. So, three events in two weeks about varied subject matters and all of them were fascinating. I was ready to quit my job and offer to assist any one of these individuals in their efforts. I can't do that presently, but the crazy thing is I can eventually. And who knows, someone may also be crazy enough to take me up on my offer, when the time comes. But for now, I am registering for more talks that interest me. Over the next month, I will be watching a documentary (which has a rating of 100% on Rotten Tomatoes, btw) "Chasing Coral" at the Natural History Museum, attending a talk by the astronaut, Scott Kelly, at Lisner Auditorium, attending two different events to hear the escapades of several of National Geographic's wildlife photographers, and, again, hanging out at the Natural History Museum to learn about how humans innovate as a result of natural disasters. And, it's interesting because, even though I attend some of these with friends or my kids, when I attend them alone, I find that I end up talking to the people around me. Even if I don't ever see these people again, it has been fun chatting with strangers, who are also interested in these topics.
Now, none of this makes me want to settle in D.C. for the rest of my life. I still can't wait to have the freedom to do something with my life that I find meaningful and enables me to explore this country and other countries. But, how fortunate am I that I am presently in an area where I have so many opportunities to be exposed to new ideas, new research, and new experiences that can make my days feel fulfilling. Every time I walk out of one of these talks I attend, I feel inspired and motivated. I am not trying to make any major life changes for several years, but not everything has to be about something huge. I really enjoy these little things. A two hour lecture here or there is a great distraction to the frustrations of everyday life, like traffic. And just maybe some of the brain cells that were dulled when I attended wineries more frequently will be brought back to life. (As a side note, though, I still enjoy wine, so I'm not knocking wineries! )



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