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Well, we are back from two straight back-to-back Chautauquas and once again it has been an EPIC time for everyone.
This year we did 3 weeks: one in Stratford-Upon-Avon, UK and two in Portugal, and what I love about Portugal is
- It’s relatively unknown. People tend not to know what to expect when you mention Portugal.
- The landscape is frigging breathtaking.
So having been here multiple times in our travels, it was with a great deal of enjoyment as I watched our guests board the shuttle, get driven up and down the windy, mountainous roads of the Douro Valley, and round a corner, and see…this.
“Is that where we’re staying?!?” they whispered to each other in wide-eyed excitement.
Welcome to Chautauqua Portugal!
Location, Location, Location
The location we picked this year was called Douro 41, and it’s absolutely sprawling. It has a spa, an indoor pool, an outdoor pool, a library, and so many hidden nooks and crannies that it was always possible to find a place for a one-to-one chat.
Oh, and the view. This was what we woke up to every morning.
Yeah. Every morning we got to see the sun crest over the hill on the other side of the Douro river and light up the entire valley. I’m not exactly a morning person, but this was one of the few places I didn’t mind being woken up at 7 each morning. Prettiest damned alarm clock ever.
Fun fact: We actually scouted out this place last year, and back then an area was roped off because it was still under construction. We asked the manager whether it would be ready in time for our guests, and they couldn’t make any promises. So imagine our surprise when we arrived and found that an entire upper wing of the hotel that we weren’t expecting had gotten finished in time. That’s right, our two-pool joint turned out to be a THREE-pool joint!
This is one of my favourite things about the Chautauquas in Europe. Rather than having it at the same location every year, we scout out a new location in a new country and, as a result, it’s a different experience each time. And not only is this great for us speakers, it’s great for returning alumni because it’s a whole new experience for them too.
You Make Chautauqua Special
But what’s really makes each Chautauqua unique is you guys. The attendees. We’ve now spoken at 7 of these, and the best part really is the group dynamic, and even if we ran the same one 10 times in a row the event would come out different each time because each group is special in their own way.
Each Chautauqua, a theme tends to come out. Previous ones have been really numbers-heavy, others have been about climbing the “Wall of Fear” of retirement, as Mr. Money Mustache puts it. For me, the realization that came out of Chautauqua Portugal was that money is the combination of numbers and emotion.
Money = Numbers + Emotion
Money being about numbers is kind of obvious for us. I mean, we’re engineers (or at least, we WERE engineers) so we naturally see the world in terms of numbers and spreadsheets, and money is a natural fit for being analyzed in this way. However, money having an emotional aspect was something I knew, but didn’t truly understand until this week.
We think and write about money mostly from the investment side, and in that lens, emotion is your enemy. Emotion causes you to plough your money into things as they skyrocket in value past all reason (like houses) and flee in terror when things plummet (like Bitcoin). Emotions screw you over, and the more you ignore your emotions when it comes to investing, the better.
Where you can’t ignore emotions, however, is in your relationships, especially with your significant other, and that’s something I realized in the first week when Scott & Taylor were there.
These past 2 weeks, J.L. “The Godfather” Collins, ourselves, and Alan Donegan from PopUp Business School were the speakers at both, with the 4th slot changing depending on the week. And the first week, the 4th slot was occupied by Scott & Taylor, who produced and starred in the FIRE documentary Playing With FIRE.
If you haven’t seen it yet (and you should, because FIRECracker’s in it!), Playing With FIRE follows Scott & Taylor’s journey from consumerist spendaholics living in California as they transition towards an intentional life in pursuit of Financial Independence. They sell their house, downsize their lives, and start investing (in VTSAX. Go figure), and they do it while documenting the emotional roller coaster they go through in the process.
As is typical in these situations, one spouse gets introduced to the idea of F.I.R.E. and is extremely into it, while the other spouse kind of gets pulled along. These transitions, by the way, don’t always go smoothly because intentional living and becoming F.I. requires some sacrifice (or at least compromise) and if both spouses aren’t doing it for the same reason one can quickly grow to resent the other.
We had more than a few couples during this week struggling with this exact issue, and I quickly realized that while FIRECracker and I are experts at the numbers part (MATH SHIT UP!), we have no idea when it comes to the relationship part. When I found out about F.I.R.E., FIRECracker was doing a job she hated and people were dropping like flies at her office from overwork. I didn’t have to sell the idea very hard at all. Once she vetted my math, the only question she had was “How soon can we do this?”
But that’s not the typical experience. Couples fight about money. A LOT. And what I realized was that while we are super lucky to have each other since the last big fight we had about money was 7 years ago, it does make us unrelatable to people who are not as aligned as we are.
And that’s where Scott & Taylor really did a fantastic job. While our one-on-one’s and our round-tables were filled with spreadsheet dissections and discussions about portfolio withdrawal strategies, theirs became a sort of financial couples therapy. Over and over again, we kept hearing about how couples that came to Chautauqua had their lives changed because they were finally able to get on the same emotional wavelength when it came to finances, and that was all Scott & Taylor.
Plus their talk was funny, poignant, and above all, vulnerable.
Anyway, my point is Scott & Taylor made me realize how critically important the emotional core of a relationship is to F.I.R.E. Without it, you can’t achieve F.I.R.E., and if you have it, count yourself lucky (as I do) because most couples have to work really hard to get there.
Money != Happiness
The second week shifted gears completely. This group generally wasn’t struggling with couples dynamics, but what they were struggling with was happiness post-F.I.R.E. The demographics of this group just happened to be such that many of them weren’t worried about the money aspect, or even the relationship. In terms of money, a lot of them had way more than they needed to pull the retirement trigger, but this group seemed to be so burned out by their jobs that the question they were struggling with seemed to be “I have the money. How come I’m still not happy?”
And I totally get it. Money does not equal happiness. Not having ENOUGH money equals unhappiness, but the inverse isn’t true. Once you fix the money part of your life, you don’t magically become happy. You still have work to do.
Now don’t get me wrong. Crossing that million dollar mark and hitting our F.I. goal was pretty frigging awesome, but for us happiness didn’t come because our spreadsheet said we should be happy. Happiness came from building the awesome life that we now lead, and that was, for lack of a better word, work.
Learning how to travel together was work. Learning how to live nomadically out of our backpack was work. Learning how to blog, and do SEO, and publish a book with Penguin was DEFINITELY work.
But what F.I.R.E. does is it frees you from having to direct your time and effort towards money, and instead allowing you to direct it towards your own personal fulfillment.
What makes you happy?
That was the question we dealt with in week two, and that was where our friend J.D. Roth came in.
Fun fact: Many people (including myself) think of J.D. Roth as a money guru, and he’s definitely an authority on that. But what I found really surprising the more time we spent with him is that he’s not actually as interested in the numbers side of F.I. as I expected. Instead, he’s much more focused on happiness.
Which, when you get right down to it, is what we’re all really pursuing at the end of the day. Yes 25 times our annual spending is great, but why are we spending all this time micro-optimizing our spreadsheets to achieve that goal? It’s not numbers for numbers’ sake, it’s happiness. It’s important to realize that we shouldn’t just retire AWAY from something (i.e. our hateful jobs), we have to retire TOWARDS something (i.e. a happy, fulfilling life). And that’s what he spent all week working through with our attendees. Because what makes us happy (living out of our backpacks, travelling the world, and publishing books) might be torture to someone else, and vice versa.
His talk was ALSO funny, poignant, and vulnerable. Only great speakers get invited to these things, it seems 🙂
So long story short, every time we do a Chautauqua the attendees have a great time, in a great place, with cool people, and often they come back from the experience a changed person. What surprises me each time is that this change happens to even me.
Have you ever read those news articles about “Tax Freedom Day”? It’s the day in which you stop working for the government (because of your income tax bill) and you start working for yourself (because you get to keep your after-tax earnings).
F.I.R.E. is the day in which you stop working for money, and you start working for yourself.
Thank you Chautauqua, and thank you once again to J.L. “The Godfather” Collins, Alan & Katie Donegan, Scott & Taylor, and J.D. Roth for making Portugal Chautauqua another wonderful experience for everyone.
What Makes You Happy?
So to return back to that question that kept coming up over and over again, what makes you happy? I’m asking you, person reading this article!
If you haven’t thought about it, think about it now. One of the most interesting scenes from Playing with FIRE was when Scott & Taylor sat down and listed out 10 things that they do that makes them happy. Do it for yourself, and if they’re game, ask your significant other to do it to.
Because what Scott & Taylor realized was that despite the wide chasm that seperated their approach to money, what actually made them happy included stuff like having a coffee with friends, or playing with their kids. Those things weren’t actually all that expensive.
And further, a lot of their happiness list matched up. So they discovered they were a lot more aligned on what made them happy than they thought. And that was what kicked off their journey towards F.I.
So what 10 things do you do that make you happy? Share it with us in the comments below, and if you can get your significant other to play as well, let’s hear it!
What Makes You Happy?
And of course, if you want to be the first to know about next year’s Chautauquas, join the mailing list here.
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