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This is a guest submission by Colleen from ColleenFriesen.com

“Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and glorious life?” – Mary Oliver

Go Big or Lagom

Lagom (lah-GOME) is a Swedish word. I don’t think there is an equivalent word in English. To my best understanding lagom means ‘just the right amount’. I suppose the word enough is close, but that doesn’t carry the perfection of the exact Goldilocks-rightness of the Swedish term.

Lagom was the summation of our retirement plan. Not that we knew that in midst of the swirling materialism of the 80s, but what my now-husband, Kevin Redl, and I did know was that we wanted more than two-weeks of the year to ourselves.

In 1985, I was twenty-five and Kevin was twenty-eight years old. We were busy ‘having it all’, behaving exactly the way our targeted demographic was supposed to,  right down to our Ralph Lauren wardrobes.  We spent every nickel of our paychecks and lived beyond our means…in short, although we’re Canadian, we were living the American Dream, including 24% interest payments on my Mazda RX-7. Yeh, baby.

And then Kevin’s dad developed cancer and was dead two years later at the age of 49. Two years after that, my mom received her cancer diagnosis. She died at 63.  The message was very clear.

Do or Die

We realized that we had been lulled into a startling disconnect between life and the reality of death. It was time to quit acting as if we had all the time in the world. We knew we had to plan like we were going to live forever, and yet live like we could get killed by a meteor any minute.

We created a 15-year plan. Our goal? To have the exact right amount to buy a 45’ sailboat and have enough invested so we could live off the interest and do pretty much whatever we wanted for the rest of our lives. We had one other caveat. We had to enjoy the quality of each moment on the way there.

You Will Never Reach More

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But like any objective, you can’t say I’d like to lose some weight. You need to say I would like to lose eight pounds or fifteen pounds or whatever the number is you want to reach. Likewise, we had to be very specific with our goal. As Kevin said, “I don’t want to save for the sake of saving.” We could not just hope to have ‘more’. More, by its very definition cannot be reached.

We were also up against those ads schilling this strange notion of Freedom 55, where silver-haired beautiful people stride around golf courses and other Disneyfied versions of life, while the voice of authority explains that we need seventy percent of our highest earning years before we can ever hope to arrive at that same mythical freedom.

Consequently, everyone obediently marches out of their pretty super-mortgaged houses, jumps into their enormously debt-ridden cars and believes that if they keep grinding away and doing it like the money managers tell them, then one day they too, can stroll purposelessly into a sanitized heaven on earth; where the only thought will be of martinis and golf scores.

Color me cynical but I think we’ve collectively drank the purple Kool-Aid.

Live and Let Die

Here’s what I know for sure: We’re going to die. We might as well decide for ourselves how we want to live.

And yes, I can hear the cries of protest. Easy for me to say these things. But I want to tell you that it didn’t feel that easy to get here. People don’t always admire those who don’t conform to the status quo. If there’s nothing else I’ve learned in my fifty years on this planet, it’s that no one gets that ‘Get Out of Jail Free’ card. No matter how shiny a life looks from the outside, everyone has paid a huge price to arrive at wherever they are right now.

I know too, that nearly all of our former business peers are still grinding away at their jobs. They have bigger houses, more cars, a vacation home and glittering bling. They also have tons and tons of stress and payments and no time to unplug from the madness of that spinning hamster wheel of non-stop competition.

The bonus for us in the West is that we were born to more privileged existence than most of the world. Yes, we all work hard…

She Works Hard for Her Money

…but when I watched a Guatemalan woman carry four big concrete bricks on her back with a tumpline across her forehead to secure the load as she scrambled up a dirt hill multiple times a day, and knew too, that at the end of her day of endless labor, she MIGHT have enough to feed her children, well, that was my moment of profound realization. I know for a fact that I have never worked that hard or in the face of such hopeless odds.

Our society may stack things in our favor, but we still don’t get to have it all. We found we had to make priorities and the choices weren’t necessarily easy. Goals had to be worked at and some things had to be let go.

Dream It. Plan It. Do It.

We knew we needed to start with a dream of having the life that fit us; not one that fit the other people in our suburb or in that fabled land of Freedom 55. It had to be a life that made sense for us.

Our dream adapted as we went along. Turned out we didn’t really want to live on a boat. We’re sure now that it was simply a metaphor for the freedom. We tweaked our numbers as certain catastrophes dictated, but finally, when I was 36 and Kevin 39, we cut loose from the world of paid employment.

Playing at Working

Kevin has dipped back in to the working world now and again, in pursuit of various interests, and I “work” at my travel writing. But none of this is done out of necessity, and that is the freedom we were seeking.

We’ve had 15 years to enjoy doing whatever we want. I wouldn’t change it for the world. Besides, in just over four years, I’ll have reached Freedom 55Colleen Friesen lives her dream in the beach house she shares with Kevin Redl on Canada’s Sunshine Coast. You can read more at her Traveling Light blog: colleenfriesen.com/blog

For a more in-depth version of this story, please read the article, Mind Over Money.

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