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“Watery grave,” I muttered under my breath. Standing on a ladder leading into 25 feet of deep, dark water, I couldn’t help but shiver. It was a sweltering 32 degrees (90F) outside, but I my hands shook so hard I could barely hold on. The last time I was in deep water, I was a scrawny 14-year-old, pulled out of the school pool coughing and spluttering, my life flashing before my eyes. I’d decided then and there that I was giving up on swimming lessons and refused to go near water since.
“C’mon hon!” Wanderer yelled encouragingly from the platform above. “You got this!”
“Shut up!” I yelled encouragingly back. To say I was a little peeved was an understatement. A week before we left on this Caribbean cruise, Wanderer showed me a new excursion they offered called the “Sea Trek”. At first glance, it didn’t look like the sea at all, but rather a bunch of people wearing space helmets, walking on another planet. “It doesn’t matter if you can’t swim!” Wanderer was saying. “They pump air into the helmet from a raft up top, so all you need to do is breathe and walk! You can do that, right? Should I sign us up?”
“Hello?” I said. “Have we met?” I jabbed the text underneath the ad. “It says 25 feet under water. As much as I love drowning in a watery grave, I think I’ll pass.”
So of course Wanderer signed us up anyway, knowing that if I decided to chicken out, we’d have to forfeit the $60 deposit. He’s such a gem.
“You can still back out,” he said while I glared at him with the heat of a thousand suns.
“No. We’re going,” I said through gritted teeth. Sure I was deathly afraid of water, but you know what else I was deathly afraid of? Losing $60.
And that’s why I was still seething, a whole 2 hours later, as I felt the Sea Trek helmet lower onto my head. I had no choice but to closed my eyes and climb into the water, white knuckling the railing as I went.
It took several shaky breaths and a whole lot of nerve-settling for me to finally open my eyes.
That’s when I saw a massive school of angelfish swim by, followed by a gorgeous blue parrotfish. Beautiful azure water surrounded me on all sides, but instead of suffocating, it gave me a crystal clear view to a whole new world.
“So this is what I’ve been missing,” I thought to myself.
The Ripple Effect
What I didn’t know, at the time, was that that one small decision to climb down that ladder would have a ripple affect.
That single decision, to not be afraid, lead to a whole series of life-changing experiences .
From then on, I:
- learned how to swim without crying
- mastered how to use a snorkel without hyperventilating
- dived to the bottom of the pool, with my eyes open
- learned how to be become an Open Water Scuba diver
- swam with sea Turtles in the ocean
- discovered my new obsession: swimming in underground Cenotes
The ocean doesn’t terrify me anymore. In fact, every time we dive it blows my mind even more than the last.
So, after conquering my fear of water forever, you’d think I’d be completely fearless when it came to retiring.
But I wasn’t. All those fantasies of golf-carting around the office, screaming “I QUIT” at the top of my lungs, and playing my boss’s head like a bongo didn’t happen. In fact, when I handed my notice to my boss, my hands were shaking—just like they did on that ladder 9 years ago.
I was standing on the ledge, looking down at the water, shivering. Would I swim? Or would I sink like a rock?
A hundred “What ifs” filled my head:
“What if we run out of money?”
“What if retirement isn’t all it’s cracked up to be?”
“What if I end up bored and depressed?”
“What if…what if…what if…”
But just like that fateful day, I closed my eyes, took a deep breath, reminded myself that I was going to be okay (after all, I had a life vest)…and leapt.
As it turns out, I didn’t sink. I swam. Swimming came so naturally, it turns out I had been a mermaid all along. And I couldn’t help but wonder why I hadn’t gotten into the water earlier.
Because here are all the incredible things that happened after I overcame my fear and retired.
- Portfolio actually went up since we left!
- Discovered it was CHEAPER to travel the world than staying at home!
- Realized that in places like Eastern Europe, Southeast Asia, Mexico and Central America, healthcare is a fraction of what it costs back home! You can live a 5 star experience (pool, massages, eating out all the time) for just $20,000 – $40,000 CAD/couple/year (or 15, 000 – 30, 000 USD/year)!
- Found out so-called dangerous places (like Mexico and Thailand) aren’t dangerous and so-called expensive places (like Japan) aren’t that expensive. You just have to be smart about it.
- Met a lot of other early retirees, like JLCollins, RootOfGood, GoCurryCracker, whom we chat with on a regular basis.
- Met a ton of people from many different walks of life, from entrepreneurs to the world-schoolers, who taught us the value of not following the herd.
- Got my Open Water Scuba certification, thus conquering my fear of water forever.
- Started learning Spanish so we could get to know Latin America.
- Started this blog, which has reached 1.6 Million views in the first year.
- Built an app for a non-profit, which will debut in Chicago at one of the biggest librarian conferences this June.
- Got invited to speak at two Chautauquas, thus fulfilling my lifelong dream of public speaking and traumatizing an entire room full of FIRE people with my insanity.
What You SHOULD Be Afraid Of
So that’s why when readers tell me they’re biggest fear is running out of money in retirement, I tell them their fear shouldn’t be running out of money. It should be running of time. When you let fear rule your life, you fall into the “one more year” syndrome. This causes you to continuously push back your retirement date and, as a result, spend way more time working than hanging out with the people you love.
You can always make more money, but you can’t make more time.
By being afraid of everything that could go wrong, you forget to focus on what you’re giving up. Or, in other words, the opportunity cost of NOT being afraid. In our case, if we hadn’t retired, we would’ve never done any of the amazing things I mention above. And from experience, I’ve learned that these experiences and human connections lead to other opportunities, and over time, you get a snowball affect.
Just like what happened when I stopped being afraid of water. And just like what happened when I overcame my fear and retired.
Thinking back, what I should’ve been afraid of was missing out on those priceless experiences.
Nothing in life is guaranteed. But the trick is not to turtle and hide, but to take calculated risks with backup plans.
As J. K. Rowling once said
It is impossible to live without failing at something, unless you live so cautiously that you might as well not have lived at all – in which case, you fail by default.
The next time you worry about a place being “too dangerous”, “being bored in retirement” or “running out of money”, remember all the opportunities you are giving up by being afraid. Every time I’ve done something that scared me, I’ve never regretted it.
So ask yourself, “What would I do if I wasn’t afraid?”
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