There is one tricky detail to decide on: which name should I put in the byline?
I've been writing anonymously since 2012, and it's suited us well. Mrs. Done by Forty and I are fine sharing the blog with a small number of friends. But we don't want all our coworkers and acquaintances (let alone a world of strangers) to know how much we spend in a year, or that we own a couple rental properties, or that we're trying to stack up a million in investments and to leave work when I hit forty.
We like our privacy. We like having some control over who knows about this part of our lives: the weird, frugal, wealth-building part. We don't want my employer to know that I'm a short timer who plans on voluntarily leaving the company in four years or so, lest they start withholding raises, bonuses, or promotions. And then there's always the possibility that our plans will change. If I change my mind and decide to stay on my current career path, once the brass thinks I'm leaving, I can't easily put the toothpaste back in the tube.
But anonymous blogging has created a duality, too. I have a public self, the one that works in Procurement, owns a modest home and a hatchback, likes to spend his money on travel, and is about to start a family. And I have a private, online self, who leans in to frugality and investing, is planning an extremely early retirement, and writes a blog about it.
I keep track of these two selves, and have to constantly remember which one I am to which of my friends and family. When the two groups mix, those who know about our blog and those who don't, it can get messy.
Up until now, I'd thought that this duality would come to an end as soon as we reached financial independence. We'd simply use my real name in the byline, maybe even accept an interview request with some media outlet, and whatever I wrote or saved or did would be in the open. But (and maybe this is just because financial independence is getting somewhat close) the more I think about it the more I realize I'll probably keep both identities separate going forward.
Do I really want to tell people that I'm financially independent, or retired, when people ask what I do for a living? If I don't want to be that open and honest now, I don't see what's going to change when we have even more money later.
If my wife chooses to keep working, am I comfortable with just owning the role of a stay-at-home dad, even if that isn't the whole truth? Will I feel judged, or feel the need to let people in on our real financial situation because of some insecurities about being a man without a job? Will I want to prove that the money I earned while working was helping to sustain our family, not just the income from my wife? Will I worry about what my kids will tell their friends about what their dad does for a living? (More to come in a future post on this whole stay at home dad thing.)
Worse yet, would I get another job, not because I truly wanted to do the work, but because I want some sort of status attached to a career?
It's weird, but I haven't given all that much thought to the kind of narrative I want to tell after we leave traditional work behind. Part of that is procrastination: I often will put things off if I can, especially long term goals. Financial independence and early retirement are kind of anomalies in my personal history of goal attainment: I'm usually not good at sticking with something for this long.
But I think the real reason I haven't given much thought to the story I want to tell people is that it's exhausting to have to craft various fictions for your own life. Like everyone, I assume, I want a life that's integral: whole. I want to be just one person: to be the same guy whether I'm at work, or home, or anywhere else. I want that life to be real, and honest. I want to be proud and secure in it and, unlike now, not worry so damn much about what the neighbors think about it.
Still, all of those fancy ideals are fine when written on a page and constructed in the abstract. It's another thing altogether to tell people that you now have enough money that you don't have to ever work again...and then ask them to split the check.
As with everything in life, there are more questions than answers. I have a vague idea of what the problem is, but no real solution. Maybe that's okay. I have some time to think about all this and to craft the story I want.
For now, the two fictions continue.
*Photo is from Filippo at Flickr Creative Commons.