Hi all. Yes, I know, it’s been a while since I’ve written anything. There’s a reason for that, all be it not a good one.
We lost my partner’s Dad last year. It still hurts to even write that sentence down. At the same time, it’s felt impossible to write about anything else – which is why I’ve avoided writing for a good long while since.
So yeah, not a good reason but the truth. Unlike when I lost my Nana, I’m still not ready to write about losing Charlie. He was one of a small handful of people I could truly be myself with. The kind of people you make an effort to hang onto in your life.
So perhaps one day I will be ready to share all that he taught me, but that’s not for now.
Instead I want to share the strange sense of an alternative life his death brought. And how on reflection that applies to so many times in my life when making decisions.
Charlie’s death was one of those ‘not expected but not surprising’ ones. He’d been getting gradually worse over the last couple of years. But he always pulled through and recovered strongly.
So we felt reasonably safe making plans for a three month trip to South Africa. I dived into the planning as per usual, resulting in an amazing agenda planned out and booked up, ready to enjoy, all good to go.
A few days before we were due to fly, we went down to see Charlie and S’s Mum. We had a great time, Charlie was showing off his new exercise regime, better than ever.
We left them both feeling happy and confident in our decision to go, with their firm encouragement ringing in our ears. Charlie was always all about the living, doing what you can when you can.
So it was more than a shock when a couple of days later we found ourselves in a tiny hospital room, instead of an airport. One mis-step, a bad fall and this time there was to be no recovery for Charlie, the king of bouncing back.
I know these things are always a shock, expected or not. But the clear sense of diverging realities was hard to shake.
In one world we were away, delighting in exploring and sharing everything with Charlie through the joy of technology. In another world, we were plunged into chaos and upheaval, comforting, crying, cancellations, funeral planning. The unenviable list of unwanted tasks went on.
It was almost a perverse pleasure to imagine an alternative version of us out enjoying our planned travels. It made for a very surreal sense of paths not taken.
We’d be sitting there, going through funeral plans. Knowing that in another reality, we would be eating steak and sipping a good glass of Pinotage. The ‘if only’ wishful thinking of avoiding facing pain and accepting this reality.
This particular path was forced on us by circumstances outside of our control, as it has been and will continue to be so for many. Like others, we are dealing with it as best as we know how.
But while this choice was not ours, there have been many moments in my life when a clear fork in the road appeared. A decision to be made, with consequences for the future me.
Looking back, it’s interesting to reflect on how aware I was (and wasn’t) of the potential impact and what drove my decision-making.
The first time I can clearly remember such a choice was in my early twenties. It wasn’t long after the disastrous end of my first real relationship and lets just say I wasn’t in the best of places for rational decision making.
So when faced with a choice between jobs, it wasn’t all about the money or best career opportunity. In fact, it was pretty much the complete opposite.
I’d recently started a new job in my local town. I hadn’t really got to grips with it, since I was still a mess after splitting up with my ex. I’d previously been temping in London at Which? magazine, something I’d enjoyed and made a lot of good friends at.
So when my old boss phoned with a permanent job offer, I was seriously tempted to accept and return. The money was slightly better than the local job, although not much after the additional commute cost was factored in. Both were starter positions in entirely different kinds of career paths.
In the end, it wasn’t a logical, financial decision for me. No, I’d simply had all I could take of change at that point. The end of my relationship, and losing my home with it, had left me exhausted. I just didn’t have enough left in the emotional tank to go through another change.
As it happens, I now think it was one of the best (non) decisions I made in terms of finances. My resultant career in energy trading was far more profitable than writing would ever have been for me. It led to meeting S and everything wonderful that he has brought into my life.
And eventually it played its part in enabling my own financial freedom story.
So it seems strange now to have been so unsure of my choice at the time. But that’s the truth of it, sometimes it’s just luck. Or making the most of where you end up.
But my path to financial freedom wasn’t just luck, it was the result of many different decisions over a long period of time. So what have I learned about what worked and what didn’t?
What Decisions Actually Matter?
The decision on which career to follow was an obvious path-splitting moment, even at the time.
But not everything is as obvious. And not all decisions will have such a big impact on your future life.
It seems to me impractical to fret over every single decision. You’d never actually end up doing anything. We had a phrase for it back at work, “analysis paralysis”. It was a pretty appropriate comment for many office projects back when I was working.
So how do you know which decisions matter without having a crystal ball into your future? For me, it’s always come down to knowing your priorities.
If you really know what’s important to you, making decisions in line with those priorities makes decision-making much simpler. And eventually it all comes down to how you use your time.
For example, if you want to be a millionaire by 30, then you’d better focus on making money. Want a loving relationship and family? Then invest your efforts accordingly.
The problem comes when inevitably people want everything. I understand that – but I honestly don’t think it is possible.
Life is a series of trade-offs about investing your time.
There are clear choices to be made about where to spend your one truly limited resource, your own time. That’s the big allure of financial freedom for most people I think, owning their own time.
The hard part is being painfully honest about what is most important to you. That can take time to know. And even longer to be brave enough to accept it. But after that, it becomes much simpler.
Certainly for my own part, as I became clearer on what was important to me, to us, it was easier and easier to make decisions based on understanding those priorities.
Time with S, a few meaningful relationships, plus my health and freedom to explore. Financial freedom has always been an enabler for those things, not a goal in itself.
Knowing that makes making any decision so much easier.
Small steps, large leaps..
It’s not that different to financial investing in its own way.
Small decisions supporting your end goals every day will go a long, long way to making those goals happen. A lot like the compounding interest snowball effect in investing.
It can be hard at the start of trying to be healthy when not much changes. But if you persevere with the small choices, it starts to add up. Swapping chips for salad with steak on a single day won’t give you a beach body. (Hey, I’m in Argentina right now, it seems an appropriate example!)
But keep to those healthy small choices over the years and that’s plenty of pounds saved – all be it in weight not money…
Our financial journey was a similar story. There were some big decisions that undoubtedly helped move the dial, so to speak. Building our own home and using geographic arbitrage to our advantage are a couple of big examples.
But without all the little decisions to support our plans along the way, it would have taken much longer. Not buying stuff for the sake of it. Choosing to live well below our means. Prioritising value for money.
That’s the snowball effect of understanding your priorities. And of making choices that support them. And financially, it all adds up over time.
Making Your Own Reality
Knowing that we’ve used our priorities in decision making is one of the few things that has comforted myself and S through this difficult time. Hand on heart, we can say we absolutely made the most of our time with Charlie.
Over the years we spent some good times with Charlie, often involving copious amounts of wine late into the night, debating the world.
We prioritised our time with him and S’s Mum, resulting in several fantastic long holidays and creating many, many happy memories. We have no feeling of “if only we’d spent more time together, had done this”.
I think that’s an incredibly lucky thing to be able to say. Even if I’m still sad I have to say it at all.
That’s why making conscious choices in decision-making is so important to me. It’s all too easy to drift through life, to end up in a reality unchosen.
I couldn’t decide to keep Charlie with us, that was not my decision to make. But I can choose to remember my time with him and smile at the memories that my decisions gave me.
I may not always know which decisions will make the biggest difference in my life. But, I’d like to be able to say that as far as possible, I’ve decided. I’ve chosen this reality, this life. My tiny oar in the stream of life.
This conscious choice on investing my time really matters to me. It’s probably one of the biggest things that helped make our financial freedom dreams a reality.
After all, this reality is the one that really matters. No wishful thinking about different choices. And it’s good to be able to say that despite recent times, I’m still happy where my decisions have led me so far.
So, as Charlie himself would have said, bring on the next adventure…and pass me a glass of that wine…