Monday, December 12, 2016

My Two Selves

Thanks to an introduction from a friend, I might have a freelance writing opportunity. It was just a meeting, and nothing may come of it. Still, it's exciting to think I might earn some money doing something I enjoy. While I have some fears about what might happen to the joy I get from writing if I turn it into another j-o-b, I'm learning to come to terms with that fear because I think it might be what I'm supposed to do with myself.

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.


  1. Ha! Another post that I can totally relate to. I've basically come up with a compromise. I just tell people that I'm "self-employed." They don't need to know quite how passive my version of self-employment is.

    That being said, CatMan is the only real life person who knows about my blog. For all the reasons you stated and then some, I just don't want that part of my life to be public information. And I have tossed around the idea of doing some writing about my experience, and pretty much concluded that I'd use a pseudonym if I did.

    You could always tell people that you're in "property management" and leave it at that. They don't need to know how many hours per week you're putting in! :-)

    1. All great suggestions. I think I could definitely come up with some sort of title, like self-employed entrepreneur, or property manager. That definitely will solve at least some of the problems. I think once I let the cat out of the bag to some friends about what we're REALLY up to, then it created this inevitable duality.

  2. I feel your pain but in reverse. I'm currently open to everyone and hey, it's what helped get me hired where I am, but I feel ready for a change and feel slightly vulnerable with everyone knowing everything...or not being able to sometimes say what I want. I kind of want to go back IN the blog closet. lol! Congrats on the dad thing!! I had no idea!

    1. Hey, Tonya. No kids yet. I just wrote about our future kids in the present tense, because I do that. Weird habit, but I like envisioning my future life and then end up writing like it's already here and realized.

      I think what you wrote about wanting to go back in the closet is what keeps us from going fully public. Once you do that, there's no going back. Though I suspect that your'e enjoying a lot of the benefits of just being "one" Tonya, too, and not worrying about who you've let in on the real you, and to what degree, etc. etc...

  3. Thus far I've been enjoying my secret blogging identity. It has a very superhero fly-by-night feel to it. I think I should get a cape to wear when I'm typing out my posts.

    I understand your concern about being a stay at home dad. I will retire before my husband does (if we stick to the current plan), and there is a part of me that bristles at the idea of folks assuming that I live off my husband's paycheck.

    1. Yeah, there's a stigma. I have a whole bunch of disturbing info and statistics about stay at home dads, too.

      But mainly, I think I have to be honest that I'm a social creature: and that means simply acknowledging that I have some need for that "esteem" block on Maslow's hierarchy of needs. And in America, it's kind of crazy how much esteem we men get from our careers. Simply jumping ship from work without understanding what that may mean for me, socially and psychologically, seems like a bad move.

      I should note that this is obviously applicable for women and men. I'm just looking at it from my own perspective.

  4. Interesting topic. This was something I discussed with many bloggers at the Canadian Personal Finance Conference last month. The conclusion I had was that blogging with your real name provides more credibility, especially once you start appear in media outlets. I have been blogging anonymously as well but it is pretty easy to figure out who I am if you do some digging. Given some opportunities coming up I'll probably end up revealing my identity sooner than later....for now I'll continue blogging behind a closed door.

    1. I agree with all of that, Tawcan. You end up seeming more like a real person, and much more like a real writer, when you drop the pseudonym.

  5. This is something I went back and forth on when I became self-employed. I figured for the sake of my career, I should come out of the blogging closet since it seemed a bit silly to go by E.M. everywhere. But I have seen people do it - or just use their blog names! Depends on the client.

    However, like Tonya, I've become more and more "vulnerable" on my blog lately (just not with numbers). I don't mind sharing and putting things out there in our community, but I don't share it with a certain section of my family or friends. This might sound silly, but I actually set up "lists" on Facebook, so I only promote my blog posts to those on that list, and it excludes most of my local friends. But I also figure they're not interested in hearing about money and stuff so I don't want to spam them. ;) Ultimately, I'm trying to push for more authenticity, so I could never return to being anonymous...but there have been times I wanted to start a little unknown blog somewhere with a psuedonym.

    1. It gets complicated quick, doesn't it, Erin? To push the upsides of anonymity, I feel like I can be more authentic when writing when I don't think most people will be able to connect my writing back to me in real life. I can share what I'm really thinking without fear of reprisal or judgment, or at least consequences from someone I run into at a cocktail party.

      I've also seen the terrible, stupid things written to every FIRE blogger who comes out on a major outlet. It's predictable, but it's harsh.

      I was once interviewed by a major outlet but, then, the next day I asked them to pull the article. I just couldn't go through with it, even though it was all done under my pseudonym.

  6. If you want to write professionally, I think revealing your identity is inevitable. I like being anonymous and I don't want to get paid for writing. I want the freedom to say almost anything. My mother reads my blog so I use it to keep her up to date. My boss and coworkers do not know about it and I don't want them to know even though my boss would be amused by it. He has made his retirement plans known and knows early retirement is my goal. It gives us something to chat about.

    1. That's fantastic that you can have such an open conversation with your boss about early retirement. Maybe I'm keeping things a secret for no reason...

      I think I've settled on using a pen name, and linking the two personas. I can link to any outside writing from the blog, and vice versa, while just using a fake last name.

  7. Gah. I hate using my real name in bylines. I still try to keep things as anonymous as possible, but I do have some clients that require it. The result is that I am googlable, but even people who regularly read my blog get confused.
    Confusion=privacy? Maybe?
    Most people I talked to about it said to hold onto the anonymity as long as you can---they missed it. I love the pen name idea and wish I had been smart enough to do so.

    1. Sorry for the super late reply -- family emergencies have taken over.

      Confusion as a proxy for privacy is fantastic. I think the pen name will have a similar confusing effect for people who know the whole truth (Is this Brian the same Brian as "our" Brian?) I'm kind of looking forward to it.

      It's an improvement over the current duality, but certainly is still a duality. It's a fake name and a false persona, just one that sounds real. I imagine I'll still have some weird feelings about being two parts, and I guess that's just part of the process if you want to write about early retirement but don't want to tell everyone and anyone the whole truth about it.

  8. I have the same thoughts. I want to remain anonymous because I sometimes write things about co-workers/friends/family and their spending habits which they may not look kindly on. I also see that being anonymous would hold you back if you really want to build your brand, blog and/or do freelancing work. It's a double-edged sword I guess. Once when a big site wanted to quote me, I did a pen name kinda...used my real first name and part of my middle name as my last name.

    1. That's a great call out, Andrew: it's not just OUR privacy we need to consider. It's that of our friends, family, and coworkers, too. I hadn't really considered that.

      I like the middle name as a last name, too. Clever solution, because in some ways, that really is you.

  9. Interesting. In my case, I started out anonymous, and shared with just a few because I thought it would help them, and pretty soon the gossip line started and it felt like the whole world knew. I finally had to put myself in the mindset that I really needed to stop caring what they thought.

    I think you'll have more clarity on this when you have kids too. They really do change your perspective on things, especially as they grow and get older.

    If you're going to come out of anonymity, just be prepared for some backlash. :-)

    1. Hey Laurie. Stopping caring what others think is the REAL solution to this problem. The false narratives and separate identities are all half measures (yuk yuk) and the root of the problem is that we care a whole lot about what our friends and family think. We don't want to seem like rich jerks.

      Maybe kids will provide more clarity to all of this. Maybe when you're running on 4 hours sleeps, the neighbors can think whatever the hell they want to about your finances.

  10. I got contacted by a TV show producer a week or so ago about people attempting to save and retire early.

    It sounds like good fun but there is no way I could ever go that public! Imagine what people at work would say. I think the TV is almost a non starter because I am certain most people wouldn't want to splash their face and what their net worths etc were across a TV screen.

    In terms of staying anonymous after FI, I think there is a good case for that. Most people just won't be able to wrap their heads around it and there is obviously the whole jealousy thing plus people thinking your rich and them treating you differently.
    It would be nice to be the same person across all facets of life but I think it would actually be easier to be the same person in terms of personality wise by keeping some things a secret from other people. That doesn't mean you aren't being genuine, just means it's none of their business really.
    As for the solution, I agree with above posters, just say you are self employed or an internet entrepreneur and are running a couple of websites or are a freelance writer for websites (might not be an actual lie anyway by the sounds of things). Sure that will answer the question enough for most people. When I tell people I am a software developer now most people don't advance the conversation any further than that... haha.

  11. I just need to come up with the most boring job ever, to stop inquiries in their tracks.

    "I'm an accountant for corporate accounting firms that want to outsource their auditing and financial analysis...."

    And, snooze.

    Good call out on the difference between being yourself and just keeping people out of stuff that's none of their business. Though I do think telling people what you do for a living is something that's tough to get out of.

    "Hi, Brian, good to meet you. What do you do for a living?"

    "Mind your own business, jagoff."

    I'm impressed that you turned down the television offer. I think most people's vanity would get the best of them on that one.

  12. Haha, jagoff... never heard that one before. Will start bringing that to the UK!

    Hmm I dunno how impressive it really is, I mean imagine being on an ER tv show and work finds out? Not going to look that great is it, so really I was only looking out for no.1
    I should also point out it wasn't exactly a headhunt type of situation they just spammed a load of UK ER bloggers and see who bothered replying :)

  13. Congrats on the freelance writing opportunity! Even if nothing comes out of it or you decide not to take it, the fact that you got asked to do it is worth celebrating!

    And yes I can see the dilemma of revealing your identity while you're still working. This is why we didn't tell a single person about our FIRE plans before we quit. It was so HARD keeping a secret. Especially when your coworkers think you're shooting yourself in the foot and losing your drive/ambition for no reason and you can't tell them what's going on.

    It's actually been a huge relief to let out this big 'secret'. And surprisingly we've been getting lots of praise and positive feedback from our friends. There will always be the jealous haters too, but that's expected.

    Keep us posted on the freelance writing opportunity! I'm excited to read your article!