Mrs YFG: on counting gold stars ⭐

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.

13 thoughts on “Mrs YFG: on counting gold stars ⭐

  1. Good post Mrs YFG

    We’ve all been brought up with the mindset of ‘get qualifications, earn money and buy things’ is the goal to achieve happiness. For us in the FI community we have realised there is another way.

    The way to achieve happiness is not a one size fits all solution either. This can vary with different people. Some people do like work and that may make them happy. Travel may be the way to happiness for other people, or it may be that just pottering about doing very little makes someone happy.

    The important thing is to find out what makes you happy and follow your own route to happiness.

    1. Mrs YFG here: thank you, and yes this is what I thought for the majority of my adult life (I mean I became a lawyer to buy THINGS and having more THINGS would undoubtedly make me happy). It’s only in the past few years that I have reassessed what happiness really means and seen people ahead of me fall into the trap of desperately trying to spend to improve their lives when if they stopped and assessed what they wanted they might act differently. For some people money and things = happiness and good for them, they know what they want! But it’s not for me. I still have to work hard to avoid the trap of seeing pretty things I could afford and might like, but then reminding myself that the money saved by not buying it means more to me long term.

  2. This really resonates with me. I went to private school and my dad is self made from a poor background and worked his way up to md. I always assumed id follow but to be honest it was only ever about the money for me. Suddenly five years ago a change in contract took my salary from 30k to 50k to as of this year 86k a year plus I’ve had 3 golden handcuffs deals giving me 15k 20k and in 2020 40k gross on top . Plus three years ago i got divorced. All of a sudden my life plan was derailed and having aspired to earn good money i had reached that goal at the age of 32. I’ve felt pretty lost the last 2 years as to what i want to do now I don’t like the idea of management now (mostly spreadsheets stress and redundancy risk, plus i already earn more than my boss.)

    Fi for me gave me a new goal to work towards

    1. Mrs YFG here: thank you for the appreciation and the comment. I think I just found it very difficult when I realised I’d reached the peak of what I wanted to do and that my job and money just didn’t do it for me anymore. It’s quite scary when you don’t know what you want or what to do next or what makes you happy. As you say, your life plan gets derailed and you think “shit, what now?!”. FI has given me something to work towards like you say.

      1. Yes this was very much like it was for me . I suddenly had the kind of salary i ld been working towards and realised nice cars and big houses didn’t really do it for me It was just more stress.

        Don’t get me wrong i love my house and like the space(4 bed extended semi around 500k) but i could upsize to something detached for maybe up to 800k but the stress of trying to pay for it totally puts me off even though wed both love to be out in the country somewhere. I could downsize I suppose but round Reading you’d struggle with much less to get something in the country. That maybe an excuse but I’ve got used to the size house I have now and wouldn’t want to go backwards

  3. Epic post – this really resonated with my thoughts about WHY I’m chasing FI. It used to be so obvious – I hated being skint and in debt, it made me unhappy: so being smart with my money removed that unhappiness and stress. But there was a serious diminishing return once I wasn’t stressing about money. It took me longer than I’d like to recognise that a goal that was very helpful for one stage of my life wasn’t serving me in the next stage.

    I found the books The Happiness Project and Happy Money really useful in structuring my life to prioritise my happiness. The author of The Happiness Project is a Gold Star Seeker type so might speak to you

    1. Mrs YFG here: oh yes I have read the Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin and I love it, it really just explains why I am the way I am! Reading it for the second time and trying to put it into practice. Thank you for the comment! ⭐️

  4. “Look at these gold stars – where the f**k is my eternal happiness” I think that’s going to be the title of my resignation letter.

    Having reached a role that doesn’t lead upwards, in both pay and responsibility, you very quickly realise the monotony of work. That’s when you know that you need other things to make you happy. You often get fooled into thinking that the next thing or role will be better, but it’s good to discover early on that’s often not the case. It does make FI tough when you reach the happiness/earning cap of your current job. At least the lack of gold stars makes you reassess everything you thought was important.

    1. Mrs YFG here: completely agree, and I could have written a shorter article which says just that (*facepalm*). But yes at some point the work and earning more money just doesn’t appeal to you and you have to work out what’s next . Thank you.

  5. Another way of looking at it is you’re moving from being extrinsically to intrinsically motivated.

    My feeling is that intrinsic motivation is a much better way of living. Its definitely more robust.

    1. Hi Rhino yes I agree and that’s a good way of putting it! I want to do things because I fundamentally want to do them rather than feel I have to or am forced to.

  6. It’s good to hear you had such an epiphany.
    FI is all about doing what makes you happy at the heart of it. Having the time and money to let you do it (or for many actually finding out what “it” is in the first place) is obviously key. But you needn’t wait till you get to FI to start finding out this stuff of course!

    Great post, definitely deserves a gold star from me ⭐ 😉

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