Mrs YFG here. I recently watched a Ted Talk by Mandy Saligari (Feelings: handle them before they handle you).
It strongly reminded me of how I grew up. I have spent most of my life trying to be “the good girl”.
At home with my mother, I avoided conflict and eagerly bent to please. I was the good one who didn’t argue back. And I would comply with the rules without arguing.
I was a “good girl”. I did my homework on time (plus the second homework) and got my validation in the form of gold star stickers (in playschool) and then grades, certificates and awards onwards. Always doing what I was supposed to do – went to university, got a degree, got a good (by society’s standards) job, got married, bought a house. Ticking the boxes.
Mr YFG jokes about me needing “gold stars” as an incentive to function, and it isn’t even a joke – it’s my programming. I need validation to function. My life is about collecting gold stars, and how I can work towards my next achievement.
Surely the next step is to have a wonderful career, make partner and be a female power house?
Erm, nah. As a woman, it’s assumed by many that I want to prove myself and ‘overcome’ my femaleness. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a feminist (and an intersectional one at that, thank you very much).
This doesn’t mean I have anything to prove: I have no desire to be a millionaire partner. I do not think that this would make me feel I’ve “made it” and I’ve finally got to the pinnacle of my career. For some people it is the end goal, of course.
I started my career in 2011 assuming I would go all the way. That’s what you do of course. But after wearing myself down and seeing my senior colleagues over the last few years I don’t want their life. I don’t want to do what I do for the next decade.
So that left me in an awkward position a couple of years in – I had nothing left to “achieve”, to validate. What is the point in working at my job if I don’t know what I’m working towards? How will I know if I’m a good person if there are no more gold stars?
Look at these gold stars – where the f**k is my eternal happiness
When I realised in 2015/16 that I didn’t have partnership / career ideals to work towards I got frustrated, down and depressed by the fact that I didn’t feel happy. Even though I had worked hard (by society’s standards) and got all these gold stars no magic trapdoor opened and bestowed me with eternal gratitude and comfort. I worked hard and just wore my body and mind down.
After speaking to Mr YFG and researching online, I realised that I crucially had no concept of “happiness”. Yes, that sounds weird and unusual, but until a year or so ago I had no concept of what me being happy looked like. I knew that, on a cold calculation, on balance I should be happy. I have acquired enough achievements and I can afford to spend a certain amount of money, which equates to a certain level of purchased happiness.
So I began to explore my notion of what happiness is.
FI and happiness
The pursuit of FI for some is the pursuit of happiness – the ability to do what they want, when they want to, being free to pursue what makes them happy.
How do we know what makes them happy? Since I was a child I’ve never had the inclination to make decisions based on happiness. The majority of my life decisions have been made for ease, efficiency, for some future benefit. Happiness or convenience may be a side-effect of the choice I’ve made, but it is rarely the primary reason I did something.
Until a couple of years ago it did not occur to me that I was permitted to make decisions purely based on happiness – pure enjoyment, with no other motive. How selfish, to act with only your own happiness in mind!
Don’t get me wrong I wasn’t, and am not, unhappy, more that I just never explored doing something that makes me happy rather than something with a gold star attached. What if what makes me happy is not an achievement- what if it’s just something simple- is that allowed? Like petting (read:stalking) local dogs and wearing pyjamas all day.
I realised that I could spend my life doing something that makes me happy rather than just looking for my next source of social validation. But money isn’t what makes me happy.
Once I realised this, I spent some time understanding FI and getting into Mr YFG’s world. Slowly I realised a wonderful thing: I didn’t need to spend money to feel happiness. Buying things did not make me happy – it was the thought of treating myself that gave me a tiny buzz of dopamine (which then fell away so I need another hit, or another item).
Long story short, I’m embedded in the FI lifestyle and working hard to work out what makes me happy whilst continuing on the path to FI.