Journal: Renewal, April 2021

In Personal

One common piece of running advice is to break it up. A marathon is “just” eight and a half 5K’s. A 50K is “just” a marathon plus a bonus 5 miles tacked on.

That’s how I often see life: as a series of segments along parallel tracks, some with clear finish lines and many others without.

At this point, I’m rapidly completing one clear segment of my life and hurtling into the next.

What’s happening? In short, I’m moving out of an apartment I’ve lived in for 7 years. I’m buying my first house. I’ll be living, working, and traveling in a van for about 3 months.

As a result:

  1. Emotionally, there’s a sense of nervous excitement, similar to graduating from college. There’s also a sense of instability and anxiety, similar to leaving a long-term relationship. I’m stressed, but it’s (mostly) stress that I control.
  2. Environmentally, I’m purging much of my material past. Seven years is a long time to stay in one place. I don’t consider myself a hoarder, but I’m also no minimalist either (yet). On this track, there’s a sense of wistfulness. But there’s also a sense of renewal. I like keeping ephemera that evoke memories of trips and moments long past. But I realize that I’ll have to discard much of it for a cleaner break.
  3. Financially, I feel mixed. If I continue my current lifestyle, I’ll be financially independent before 39 — if I stay single and don’t have kids, remain in my rent-controlled apartment, assume 2.5% annual returns and 2% inflation, account only for long-term capital gains tax, and assume that I won’t have any major medical expenses or other liabilities (like a second house). With a mortgage, I delay financial independence until I’m 49, under the same financial conditions and if I don’t rent out room(s). But since “real” FIRE hasn’t been an explicit goal (but buying a house /has/ been), I’m not too uncomfortable. Ironically, buying a car (for the first time), with all its attendant costs and risks, feels like a bigger change to me.
  4. Intellectually, I’m doing the most research I’ve ever done on both settling down in one place (i.e. homeownership) _and_ living on the road (i.e. digital nomadism). I’ve known for years that I’ve wanted to pursue both. But I’ve never imagined that I’d do both at the same time! But it makes sense. One half of me craves stability and certainty. Another half craves excitement that can only come from new experience, the unknown, and the physical world (vs. the digital one).

There have also been tracks that I’ve put on pause this year, or will be slowing down in the next 3 months.

  1. The most obvious one here is physical. Without races or many in-person events, I’ve not been motivated to hit running, cycling, climbing, and other athletic goals. In fact, I now eat more, move less, and feel more tired, on average. I suspect that this will get worse on the road (many recommended apps for truckers turn out to be food tracking and calorie counting apps!). That said, I hope that nature’s call will be hard to resist, when I’m on the road — and that I can complete my van’s water and shower system in time!
  2. I’m also concerned that I’ll be less productive working remotely from a van. Will I have enough power? Will I have enough bandwidth? Will I get internet access at all? I’ve heard enough success stories for me to feel fairly comfortable that everything will “just work out.” But still, I’m now installing a cell signal booster in the van (mostly because I hope to spend time outside cities and off interstates). I’m also considering another deep cycle battery and a solar setup (though it’s likely I already have enough energy budget with the current power system). I hope that I’ll be able to get all this done for a test run around the Bay Area, where “home” will still be within reach, if things go awry.

So where does this all leave me? On one hand, I feel that I’m hitting another “adult milestone” by buying a house. In that sense, I join many of my home-owning peers, where conversations revolve around the rather miserable home-buying process, furniture selection, and kitchen renovation. I may also become a landlord for the first time (weird!). On the other hand, I also feel that, with the van, I’m about to get a glimpse of a life that I missed in my 20’s. I now know many friends who “used to do the vanlife.” They all did it when they were “young.” I know that no one “keeps track” of where we’re at in life, but man do I feel kinda old to be doing this haha.

It’ll also be hard to say exactly when I’ll see such a clear break in “life segments” next. I feel that with this, I’m definitely growing into an even more stable identity, one that’s now more or less rooted in East Bay and one that might rove around the country in a 20-year-old van a few months of the year, maybe showering on the side of random highways. If anything, that next segment will probably happen if I’m ever joined by a partner haha. We’ll see!

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