A Life Full of Experiences May Not Mean Less Financial Security

Carl Richards Behavior Gap Why Not

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote a column about the growing tribe of people who value experiences over security in their lives. But there is something that I didn’t say then that I want to emphasize: You don’t necessarily have to trade experience and financial security off against each other.

One of my main inspirations for writing this follow-up column was my friend, Brett Davidson. A few years ago, Brett and his wife, Debbie, lived in Britain. They were running the successful consulting firm FP Advance with the goal of helping financial advisors live the lives they so often help their clients achieve. Brett and his wife, who have no children, had a nice home with beautiful furniture, and everything was going about as well as anyone could hope for.

Except they weren’t exactly happy with the way they were living their lives. So they decided to visit a life coach, Kerri Richardson.

“The very first conversation I had with Kerri,” Brett recalled, “I had just read a book, and one of the key questions in the book was, ‘If you lived without fear, what would you do?’” Eventually, they chose to take a turn toward the unconventional.

Here’s a portion of my conversation with Brett after he and Debbie made their decision:

“We began with just taking more time off. However, about a year before we left London, we decided that working around a quarterly schedule for our face-to-face work would be O.K. for our clients and for us. At Kerri’s insistence, we started investigating what would be involved with renting our home out. We got an auctioneer around to see if we might sell our furniture via auction (as we’d decided that anything you ever put in storage never comes back out, so let’s bite the bullet and let it go). The auctioneer guy turns up in late April or early May and says, ‘I love your stuff, but I need it now so we can photograph it and get it in our catalog for June.’ We looked at each other and said, ‘Take it.’ That forced our hand. Two days later, we had no furniture, and so we got serious about renting our place out. Four weeks later, we’d found tenants who moved in, and we left.

Since leaving the comfort and security of their ordinary existence in London, the Davidsons now have a pretty nice life. Their itinerary over the last year has included time in Amsterdam, Iceland, Canada, and Spain, with intermittent trips back to Britain for work. They’ve made time for a ski instructor course and a yoga retreat.

The point is not to make you jealous. Instead, ask yourself the same question that Brett and Debbie have asked themselves: “Why not?” What if you really did follow the advice of Henry David Thoreau and “live the life you’ve imagined?” Given all the tools and opportunities we have to work remotely (especially if you’re part of free agent nation), I’m beginning to suspect that this is more a problem of imagination than actual constraints.

 

Even if you don’t own your own company, the opportunities exist. According to Flex Jobs, an online service devoted to helping people find positions that allow for remote work, there was a 36 percent increase from 2014 to 2015 in listings for such jobs, including some for writers, engineers, healthcare consultants, and marketing professionals. Companies like Amazon, American Express, Apple, and General Electric were included in the listings.

Worried about flexibility? The Davidsons are financially successful. Not having children makes a big difference, too (though not as big as you may think, which is something I’ll address in a future column).

Worried about money? The Davidsons are not spending significantly more money to live this way. Between the money they earn renting out their home in London and being smart about airline miles or buying cheap flights, they are close to breaking even compared with their previous life.

So it’s not a change in expenses that has allowed the Davidsons to make this shift. They are able to live in this remarkable way because they restructured their lives in a way that would allow it. It’s simply because they had the courage to ask, “Why not?”

And if you’re wondering how this radical shift affected their income, here’s what the Davidsons have to say: “Since we’ve left home, we believe we’ve become more creative in our business and are doing some of the best work we’ve ever done. We’re thinking bigger, but also eliminating the ‘fake busy’ stuff and only doing things that will really make a difference. We didn’t know any of this would happen before we left.”

Consider that for a moment. Not only are Brett and Debbie living closer to their dream, they also say they are doing better work professionally. Experience? Check. Security? Check. Winning? Checkmate.

Experiences and security don’t have to be mutually exclusive. And the surprising fact that the Davidsons’ business has improved with this radical shift, even though that wasn’t their main intention, has at least made me wonder something. What if experience and security might be connected in a way that goes against the grain of the story society typically likes to tell? What if putting experience first makes us happier, more fulfilled, more creative, and more memorable people? There’s a lot of research to suggest that this might be the case.

None of this is to suggest you drop everything and live like the Davidsons. Maybe you don’t want to travel. Maybe your dream is to work at home in your pajamas and walk the dog an extra two miles each day with the time you’ve saved from your old commute. That’s great.

It doesn’t matter what your dream is, in particular. What does matter is that whatever you want to do, you start asking yourself a simple question: “Why not?”

This column, titled A Life Full of Experiences May Not Mean Less Financial Security, originally appeared in The New York Times on May 24, 2016.

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