Welcome to ‘Into the Middle’

Achieving financial independence doesn’t have to be so dang hard. What do I mean by that? Well, welcome to Into the Middle.

I promise this site will be primarily focused on financial independence. But if you could be so kind in this inaugural post, please take a little journey with me first. Mrs. Middle and I have taken a long and winding road on our path towards financial independence. Much of that winding was due to our lack of awareness with respect to how today’s actions impact tomorrow, and consequently, the CONSISTENT motivation to make present day Mr. & Mrs. Middle sacrifice a tiny bit so that future Mr. & Mrs. Middle can enjoy the immense payoff down the road.

Did you notice the emphasis on CONSISENT above? Have you ever found yourself in these situations?

That was a long week, let’s just relax and watch some TV for a bit…  Wow, we just watched three full seasons in a single weekend. Impressive.

I think I should start eating healthier…. Excuse me while I throw out everything potentially unhealthy in the house, sign us up for an expensive meal service and try to change our entire lifestyle for a month (Who am I kidding? Definitely less than a month).

I think we should do a better job saving for retirement. But now the old gang is getting together for a couple of beers…  No thanks, if we cut out this happy hour we can retire 7 minutes sooner.

I should probably start exercising…. I think I’ll do p90x…and then immediately do it again (by giving up everything else for 180 days).

Seems like I’ve been drinking a lot more than normal… I just won’t drink a drop for a couple months.

How to achieve financial independence with a more balanced approach

Sound familiar at all? It does to me, because these are all true stories. Call it OCD if you like, but I tend to spend my time swinging from one extreme to the other (I’ve never been tested, but Mrs. Middle, who is not a medical professional in any respect, is certain of her diagnosis). When I focus on something, I REALLY focus.  Is this healthy behavior? No. Do I recognize that? Of course I do. I’m not that much of an idiot. Has that knowledge changed my behavior? Not as much as I’d like.

Using diet and exercise as an example, I tend to either be a 0 or a 10 on this scale. I can’t seem to find a long-term spot in the middle. Would a 7 or 8 be a more healthy and moderated approach? Of course. Do I suck at finding that balance? Yup.

A range of diet and exercising that shows various outcomes. For these, and financial independence, the optimal range is likely "into the middle."

Maybe it’s just me that struggles with this (I know it’s not but since I don’t know you I’m trying to give you the benefit of the doubt).  While intellectually we all realize that life would be better with a healthy balance, we all struggle to find that balance.  Time is unquestionably the most finite resource in our lifetime, yet we tend to squander it like no other. 

As illustrated below, there will always be a trade-off between these two opposing forces:

  • How much time are we spending on all the things that fill our days? (Shown as values A to J)
  • How important are the things on which we spend our time? (Shown as values 1 to 10)

The Happiness Quadrants

A quadrant of happiness that shows the relative tradeoffs between how much time you are spending and what you're spending it on. Specifically relevant to your ability to retire early.

Here’s a little more on each quadrant:

Unhappy: You’re busy, but you don’t really value what you’re busy doing. Maybe it’s a demanding job that provides you with a nice paycheck, but no sense of accomplishment and no time to enjoy the fruits of your labor. Maybe it’s 7 nights a week at the local tavern where you’re having plenty of fun in the moment, but not really moving towards anything meaningful.  Either way, if you’re way in the extreme corner (A1) you are likely to be miserable at the end of most days.

Unfulfilled: You’re working on the things that are important to you, but not enough time. Maybe you’re chasing too many passions. Or maybe what you want to be your passion really isn’t. Either way, this can be a frustrating way to live.

Meh: You’re not spending your time on things that aren’t important to you, but you’re not effectively using that time to actively pursue your passions either. Perhaps you work 9-5 at a job you don’t hate or love and come home and watch TV for a few hours and go to bed.  When someone asks you how things are going, you likely shrug your shoulders and respond, “Meh.”

Happy: The holy grail.  Whatever is important to you, that’s what you spend your time doing.  When someone asks how you’re doing, you respond, “Living the Dream.”  But you’re not being a smartass when you say it, or throwing in “you know, nightmares are dreams too.”

Still with me? Piece of cake, right?  Probably not. Most folks can’t jump straight to the Happy quadrant. It typically takes work (and sacrifices) to get there (and stay there). If you’re one of the lucky folks that have a day job that provides for all your family’s needs and is also truly fulfilling and rewarding, then you’ve hit the jackpot. Is this common? Not in my experience. Are you out here reading this if that does describe you? Nope. So to these unicorns I say GFY… (Either ‘Good For You’ or ‘Go F Yourself’, I’ll let you decide) Not really worried about offending those folks because they’re off doing something awesome instead of reading this blog anyways.

Which quadrant are you in? What are you doing about it?  Mrs. Middle and I are probably somewhere around C5 or C6. We’re mostly happy, but we really wish we could spend more time together on the things we love. Why can’t we? Because the things we truly enjoy are not activities that are also financially lucrative. We are lucky enough to have careers that are somewhat financially lucrative, but aren’t that personally rewarding.  (Considering I refer to the building we work in as “Soul-Suck Tower,” perhaps I’m downplaying how unrewarding our jobs really are).

What are we going to do to try to push our way toward A10 in the Happy quadrant?  There’s multiple ways to go.  We could:

  • Quit our jobs, find much lower-paying but less soul-sucking jobs, dramatically downsize our lifestyles and have more time to do what we love, or
  • Double-down in the Unhappy quadrant and just kick as much ass in Soul-Suck Tower as possible to hopefully propel us more quickly toward financial independence. Sure, we’d be miserable, but hopefully for an abbreviated length of time.

While many readers won’t agree, Mrs. Middle and myself consider both of these strategies as a little too extreme for us. So as you might imagine by the title of this blog, we’re hoping to find our happiness by putting our focus somewhere Into the Middle.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *