It was roughly a year ago today when I told my then boss about our decision to become full-time RVers. This was a very difficult conversation to have for several reasons, not the least of which was I was sure that I was going to get fired. I work for a very large company and what I am doing is extremely unusual. Truly, of the thousands of people I work with, I don’t know of one other person who has ever done anything like this. And since it is a very conservative company, and I was in uncharted territory, I assumed the worst. Consequently I did a significant amount of research on what it would take to start my own consulting company. Lee and I had looked at our skill sets and really thought about how we could make money on the road. Consulting was something I have always wanted to try, but with kids and a mortgage it was too big of a risk for me. And for me, a big part of why I was so attracted to the full timing lifestyle was that I thought it would work so well with consulting for a living. I know for many people full timing and minimal working go hand in hand, but that was never my goal. I wanted a lifestyle that would give me more flexibility in my work environment. I never expected it to eliminate the need for our working completely.
So, I was pleasantly surprised when my then boss, Dave, agreed to give it a try. He wanted me to stay in the southeast part of the country, which I felt I could make work at least initially and he also had a small list of requirements that would make him feel comfortable with the arrangement. Since there was so much change going on in my personal life I was very happy to meet those requirements in order to keep the job. If you don’t already know this about me, you should know that left to my own devices I am a not much of a risk taker. I have worked at the same two companies for 23 years and as long as I have had opportunity for growth I’ve been promoted every 2-3 years, have great benefits, and lots of exciting job assignments. I didn’t feel the need to take a big risk and with the responsibility of the kids and the house and life in general I was always mostly content to stay where I was. There was always a part of me though that wanted to stretch my boundaries and see what I could do on my own. I mostly took those feelings and put them into school and for 10 years I worked, raised kids, and educated myself. I completed my bachelors, my master’s, my PMP (project management) certification, and finally my Lean Six Sigma Black Belt certification. At the end of the MBA I knew I was done. My skill set was good enough and now was the time to apply it. All of this coincided with the decision to become full-time RVers. I do think it’s important to note here that my professional journey, while somewhat complimentary to my personal journey, would have happened regardless of the decision to full-time. Full timing with its low debt financial position and lack of a mortgage makes it easier to make bolder choices professionally, but I like to think I would have done that regardless of whether I was a full timer or not.
Fast forward to a year later and overall I have been very grateful to have had the opportunity to stay with my company. It gave me some consistency in a year of major change and kept a more than adequate stream of revenue coming in. The situation was not without its stresses though. It has taken awhile to work through how to do my job on the road. Business travel, using home space for work space, the need for constant cell/internet communication, and RV travel days have all been major issues we have had to work through. With Lee’s help, we have addressed every issue head on, and I feel very confident at this point I could do this job indefinitely while being a full-time RVer. Plus my new boss Charlie has been absolutely amazing about it. His stance, since we first talked about it, has been “as long as you are near a phone and an airport why do I care where you live?”. What a great attitude, and hopefully I have paid him back by providing him with lots of value despite my unusual situation. But unfortunately, I am very aware that his attitude is somewhat unique. Co-workers seem to fall into one of three categories when it comes to what I am doing. They couldn’t care less (as long as they are getting what they need, they are really interested and happy for me), or they seem to have an issue with it simply on principle. I learned pretty early on to downplay the more amazing aspects of the lifestyle. People who are largely unhappy don’t really want to hear about how you saw grizzly bears over the weekend. So unless someone asks, I generally just don’t mention where I am, or what I am doing and even then, depending on the people, I tend to downplay the experience. Enough people have fallen into this last category though it has made me nervous about what would happen if I got a new boss. Because of my role, and changes in the company structure, I have had 5 different bosses in the last 5 years. Just in the last year I have had to have the full timing conversation with two different people and both times it was very stressful. Basically, any time you do something unusual in a large company it increases your risk position. Since I tend to be risk averse by nature, that’s not a comfortable position for me to be in.
Wow, I am really taking the long way around here, but I think it is important to fill in the background for others who might find themselves facing a similar situation. Plus, it is therapeutic to write about it. Overall, things have going well with the job. I am grateful as I said for the stability and certainly for the paycheck, but the last couple of months have been a little more difficult for me. A couple of things happened that started to change my outlook some. First we spent a month with Howard and Linda of RV-Dreams and I got to see first hand what it looks like to both live the full-time lifestyle and make a living on your own terms. While we were there I had a couple of bad days in particular and Howard and Linda spent quite a bit of time talking to me about my situation. Linda summed it up beautifully by saying I had a foot in both worlds and was struggling with that. Then we went to Glacier and I experienced both the high of what this life could be and the low of struggling with limited cell coverage. I have never felt the limitations caused by the need for cell phone, internet, and airport so keenly as when I was in Glacier and it was not lost on me that the only way I even made that work at all was by taking a week of vacation time. For the first time in years I was completely disconnected from work and I found that very freeing.
And then something very interesting happened.
When I got back from vacation and was slogging through a ton of emails, I saw one that said I was eligible for a voluntary separation program.
The email was close to a week old and stated that the company was offering an enhanced separation package to people who qualified. As an interesting side note, last year they also offered a similar separation package but I was 30 days shy of the years of service needed to qualify. Yes, just 30 days. At the time I was pretty mad at the world for not qualifying, but now in retrospect I believe that was absolutely God looking out for me. I really don’t know how I would have done with so much change at once, but I am absolutely certain our life would look very different now and many of the best experiences we have had this year simply would not have been possible with that much immediate financial pressure. This time, however, the timing was almost too perfect and this is where my faith in God comes into play. Yes I am risk averse, and yes I am not a huge fan of change, but when God lays out a path for you that is that clear, well in my opinion you are an idiot if you don’t follow the path. So, I applied for the Voluntary Separation and after a nerve-wracking 10 days received the call that it had been accepted. Contractually I can’t talk about the specifics of the deal, but it does allow me to pay off our remaining debt (except for the RV) and gives me full salary and health care at current prices for quite some time. Basically, it puts us in the exact position we originally thought we would be in after selling the house, and allows us to really see if this lifestyle is financially sustainable for us. I have been very honest about our budget and expenses in this year, and in the back of my mind I have wondered whether or not we could make this work without my real world regular salary. Now we will get the opportunity to find out, plus we will truly get to experience what full timing is like without the compromises required by my job. Is it a big step? For me, yes, and here’s a list of questions and their answers that have been rattling around in my head.
- Can we do it? I have no idea, but smarter people than me believe we can.
- How will we fund it? Hopefully through multiple revenue streams including RV Tech, videography, work kamping, and consulting.
- What about health insurance? I get health insurance at current rates for several weeks and then will look at COBRA versus Affordable Health Care. Not crazy about what that will do to the budget but we are going to need to figure that out, like so many other people. Thankfully, we have been very healthy and I have been contributing money to a HSA account for several years and I have over $10K in that fund, which I get to take with me. That will hopefully cover any expenses for a few years. Of course something catastrophic could happen at anytime, but in that scenario I will be glad we took the time we had and really lived life and saw things. The monthly cost of insurance is a real concern though.
- What will our lives look like? At this point I have learned enough about this lifestyle to know that I have no clue. I do have zero expectation that it won’t involve compromise. The difference is we hopefully get some say in what compromises we will and will not make rather than someone else deciding for us.
- What if it all goes horribly wrong? First I have faith that God wouldn’t lead me down this path just to pull the rug out from under me, but to answer the question, worst case scenario we can always stay for a while and find traditional jobs.
- Am I excited? Not really. Just being honest here. Mainly I am dealing with feelings of fear and loss. I know that’s kind of sad, but I am not a throw caution to the winds kind of person. Hopefully as I work through the more negative emotions, the more positive emotions can take their place.
- What am I afraid of? The simplest but most powerful fear is of being poor. I grew up poor, and know firsthand what that is like. I also understand poor isn’t about how much money you have but more about the quality of your life. I knew a farmer who lived on $10K a year and she was by no means poor. I also understand that this is a deeply rooted fear which is at the heart of my reluctance to take financial risks. It’s time for me to face that head on and conquer it once and for all. The second fear is much more complicated. I wrote about changing the way I define myself in a blog post several weeks ago. Giving up my job is really going to bring that to a head as what I do for a living has always been a major piece of how I define myself. During this transition some serious self-examination is definitely called for, but to be honest I am not looking forward to it. I think most people go through this experience the first time they lose a job or a company they have built, but I have never been in that position. I have never been fired or downsized and this is the first time in my life I have left a job without having another one to go to. Weird right? So this is long overdue, but ultimately people who come out the other side always say they are better off for the experience.
My main goal at this point is to give myself time to work through all of this and keep as much of it off of Lee as possible. Small space, lots of emotion, not a great combination. He has been very supportive, especially since he just went through this himself almost a year ago, but ultimately it’s my journey and I need to take responsibility for it. And take a lot of deep breaths. That always helps.
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