I’ve done a lot of opting out in my life. Some of my opt-outs were scarier than others, but I’ve made it through all of them.
In fact, what’s even scarier is thinking about what my life would be like if I hadn’t chosen to “opt out”, particularly in recent years.
Here are a few of my early opt-outs.
- I decided to move out of state to go to college when almost everyone I knew was going to the local university.
- I spent my college summers volunteering or studying abroad in various Latin American countries instead of doing internships.
- I decided to work in a nonprofit organization right out of school even though I knew that entry-level salaries were much lower than the private sector.
- We’ve always lived below our means, even when I made $11,000 in AmeriCorps in 2011.
This last opt-out was particularly acute. I remember being invited to a concert in New York City (we lived in NJ at the time). Our plan was to go to the concert, grab dessert somewhere, and get back home. Our friends’ plan was to go to the concert and bar hop until 1 AM. This was such a foreign concept to us. We didn’t have “go out for drinks” money. All I could think about was how far that $10 would go at the grocery store.
In this case, we were the weird people who didn’t drink and left early.
But, I haven’t always gone against the grain. There was a period of time for me, between the ages of 24 to 31, where I lost sight of who I was and what I wanted.
Because of the financial scarcity we had experienced, I “leaned in” on society’s script for success. I was constantly pushing toward that next promotion and pay raise. I’d go above and beyond so that I could build my skills and reputation.
I numbed my feelings of discontent with being “crazy-busy.” I didn’t stop to think about what I wanted or where I was headed for so long that everything finally caught up with me. In fact, I pushed so hard chasing someone else’s definition of success that it broke my mental health.
While painful, this crisis led me to another series of opt-outs. I’m so grateful for these decisions that have helped me design the life I’m living today.
Here are a few of my recent opt-outs:
- In 2018, I actually decided to take my mental health seriously rather than using therapy to get back to my (not great) previous baseline.
- I quit full-time work, took 6 months off to focus on my mental health, and decided to go back to work part-time.
- I started my own business, and after starting to generate income, I recently quit my part-time job to take the leap to entrepreneurship.
I know when I’m living in alignment with my values. I feel at peace and confident in my decisions. I also know when I’m living out of alignment with my values. Experiencing sadness, pain, or the desire to numb these feelings are surefire signs that I need to evaluate what I’m doing.
There aren’t many people in the personal development space who are focused on helping others figure out their own unique, unconventional path. Instead, there are many “how-to guides” that help you follow in the footsteps of someone else.
I don’t want to follow someone else’s script. I want to write my own. That’s why I was so excited to read Adventures in Opting Out by Cait Flanders.
Defining “Opting Out”
The first thing I want to do is define what “Opting out” means.
In the book, Cait Flanders writes defines opting out this way:
“To opt out is to step off the path you’re on and start doing what feels right for you. To do it, you have to embrace the fact that it will be an adventure, filled with risks and uncertainty, but also rewards and lessons that could potentially change your life in ways you have never imagined.”
Opting out means that you are stepping off the path that has been laid out for you by society or family expectations. It means that you’ve decided to figure out what path is right for you.
For example, I used to think that success meant career success and more money. For me, that definition came from a toxic version of feminism. This version of feminism’s highest goal was to prove that women could do everything that men could do. So, my goal became climbing the corporate ladder, so that I could pave the way for other women.
After my mental health crisis in 2018, I initially felt like I had failed. After significant reflection, I realized that it didn’t matter if I “failed” at someone else’s definition of success. Feminism doesn’t mean that I need to prove I can do everything that men can do. Who says men are doing it right and that we want to emulate them?
Feminism means that I get to choose to do what I want.
Based on this realization, I started to define success very differently. Now, success means that I’m crystal clear about what I value and have the time and energy to focus on those things.
Opting out means that I get to decide what I value. Then, I can proactively design my life so that I have time and energy to focus on those things.
How to Know When To Opt Out
It’s hard to know when it’s time to make a change.
I was miserable for years, but I didn’t realize there were other options besides what I was doing. For me, it took experiencing severe anxiety and panic attacks to push me to make a change.
I hope that you won’t let yourself get to that point before deciding to make shifts. As Cait shares in the book, you don’t have to want to run away from your life to opt out of things. You can opt out of something that’s fine (or even good) for something better.
In Section 1 of the book, Cait Flanders goes through a comprehensive list of the signs that we might be living out of alignment with our values.
Here are just a few of the potential signs:
- You find yourself constantly complaining about the same things over and over again
- You feel bored, numb, or ambivalent
- You have trouble sleeping
- You feel defensive about your choices
- You feel jealous and resentful of others lives
- You feel stuck in your current situation
- You are numbing yourself with food, alcohol, shopping, etc.
- You don’t like yourself very much.
Wow! This entire list encompasses exactly how I felt in 2018 before I finally left my toxic job.
Over the last few years, I’ve become a lot more mindful about what I’m feeling and experiencing. I can now identify these feelings and emotions as they arise (rather than bottling them up). Now, when even one of these comes up, it’s usually a sign that I need to make a change.
For example, over the last few months, a lot of people started asking me when I was going to leave my job to take my coaching and writing “full-time.” I concocted a story in my head about how I wanted to keep the job until I could cover my full salary so that I could continue to build up an abundance mindset.
As I started to experience some negativity in my job, I felt like I was starting to get defensive about my decision to stay. This was a sign that I needed to re-evaluate things.
Finally, when I realized that I was having more bad days than good days at my job, I knew that something needed to shift.
If you are experiencing any of the things on this list, it is a good sign that you might want to re-evaluate what’s going on in your life. These signs can help you figure out where you are living out of alignment with who you are what you value.
Why We Should All Opt Out (Of Some Things)
In the book, Cait reflects on the top five regrets of the dying and calls out one specific regret.
“I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.”
Now, that is a powerful statement. Sometimes, it’s hard to know what it means to be true to ourselves. It’s often a lot easier to know when we aren’t being true to ourselves.
Once we walk away from these things, it becomes much easier to figure out what being true to yourself means.
In the introduction to the book, Cait writes:
“As soon as I walked away from something that wasn’t working for me, I could finally hear my own voice. I learned something about who I was, what mattered to me, and how I wanted to show up in this world. I learned to determine what my values were and how to live in alignment with them.”
We can figure out our values when we walk away from things that aren’t serving us.
When we start to live in alignment with who we are and what we value, there are so many benefits that can come from it.
Now that I’m living a life that’s a lot more true to myself, I’ve realized that there are so many benefits:
- I’ve learned to focus on what matters most, so I now have a more sustainable pace of life.
- I’ve built a growth mindset. I can “try things out” without putting too much pressure on myself.
- I’ve built some incredible friendships with people who have helped me grow.
- I no longer feel the need to numb my emotions. In general, I am happier and at peace with my decisions.
Moving toward living in a better alignment with your values is totally worth it. But, it doesn’t mean the path to get there is uneventful!
Opting Out Brings Up a Lot of Fear
Taking a new path in life can be very scary! When we make a change to opt out of something, there’s always something, someone, or some part of ourselves that we are leaving behind.
Cait shares a long list of reasons why opting out is hard and scary. Here are just a few of the fears that might arise if you decide to live differently:
- Fear of how this change will impact your relationships, your health, or your finances
- Fear that it’s the wrong choice
- Fear that it will “fail” publicly and then others will shame you
- Fear of entering the unknown
- Fear of rejection
I identify with so many of these fears. When I was first starting my group coaching work, I was afraid to fail publicly. I worried that someone saying “No” meant I was being rejected. I worried that I’d go down the path and not like it. I was afraid that I didn’t know the right steps to take. I was worried that people would judge me for trying to make money from my work.
I often think about my fears as limiting beliefs. These things could hold us back if we let them. Yet, these limiting beliefs do not need to have power over us.
Here’s how I try to approach my limiting beliefs so that they don’t have power over me.
- Sometimes the simple act of recognizing them is enough to diffuse their power.
- Other times, I need to consider what is actually true based on my own past experiences or the experiences of others.
- Finally, figuring out what I would do in the situation if my fear actually came to fruition is incredibly helpful. Usually, I realize that I can problem solve and get through it. Things are usually scarier until I think through the actual ramifications.
When we can work through our fears and our limiting beliefs, we can learn to trust ourselves and move forward.
I love this quote from the book,
“All I knew was that I was following my curiosity. My excitement about the possibilities finally weighed just a little bit more than my fears.”
These strategies to reframe and overcome our limiting beliefs can help us get to this point faster – where our excitement outweighs our fear.
Ideas to Support Your Journey of Opting Out
In the book, Cait shared so many ideas to help support an opt-out journey. I want to share my favorite ideas from the book.
See Each Step as a Learning Opportunity or Experiment
This is one of my favorite recommendations! When I’m working with my coaching clients, we talk a lot about experimentation. How can we simply test out an idea to see if it’s something we enjoy and want to pursue further?
It’s okay if it doesn’t go well the first time. We don’t need all the answers. We don’t need to invest a lot of time and energy into it upfront.
We can simply try it out, and if it doesn’t work, we learn from it.
For example, over the last several months, I’ve thought about starting a podcast. This idea felt overwhelming to me and there was so much I didn’t know about it. So, I decided to take an experimentation approach.
I asked myself, “How could I simulate the experience of a podcast to see if I enjoy it without investing a lot of time and effort?”
After thinking it through, I decided to set-up a conversation series (Slow FI Coffee Dates) on Zoom. This will allow me to experiment with different formats and structures. I will also get immediate feedback from the audience and get to engage with people in a new way.
If it doesn’t work, no problem! Who knows? I may even learn something along the way that helps me gain clarity about the direction I want to go.
Taking one step and then another with intention will lead us to a much better place than if we didn’t experiment at all.
Don’t Compare Yourself With Others
It’s important to cultivate a level of trust in yourself so that you can be confident that you are doing what is right for you.
Earlier this year, I worked with a coach during the launch of my coaching business. The most important thing that I learned from her was that I needed to pay attention to what I wanted and what felt good to me.
I had this erroneous belief that there was a “right” way to go about launching a coaching program. Don’t get me wrong. There were plenty of valuable insights to learn from others. More times than I’d like to admit, I’d ask my coach a question, and she’d point out that there wasn’t a single right way. Then she’d ask, “What feels right to you?”
I’ve learned to listen to (and have confidence in) my inner voice. There’s no one right way to do things.
Say “No” so that You Can Say “Yes”
I love this advice. I talk a lot about setting clear boundaries, but I don’t always talk about the purpose of setting those boundaries.
In the book, Cait did a great job of pointing out the reason for creating boundaries in the first place. It’s so that we can say “yes” to the right things when they arise.
We aren’t letting go of things in our life just so that we have less to do. Although, sometimes we objectively need to do that. If we let go and create boundaries around things that aren’t serving us, it provides space for us to say “yes” to new relationships and experiences.
Build a Community
If you decide to opt out, most people in your life won’t be able to imagine themselves doing what you are doing. So, they may try to talk you out of it.
I love Cait’s perspective on this:
“People can only see as far for you as they can see for themselves. So, we have to remember that if people aren’t doing the same thing as us, they won’t automatically understand.”
This is why it’s so important for us to seek out people who are on similar paths.
Over the last 2 years, I’ve built many new relationships that have helped me learn and grow. I have an accountability partner who I meet with on a weekly basis. We have both been blogging for a few years and are at the beginning of building our coaching businesses.
It’s been life-changing to have someone who understands my fears and limiting beliefs. Yet, it’s even more helpful that she also understands why I’d want to keep pushing through the challenges to reach my goal.
In fact, she often has more confidence in my abilities than I do. I can’t understate the importance of having a community of people who believe in you and want to see you succeed.
Follow Your Joy and Curiosity
In our society, we have so many messages about “hard work.” One of my least favorites is, “No Pain; No Gain.” While I know there are limited ways in which this perspective is valuable, when we generalize it to all of life, it’s not helpful.
It reinforces the perspective that things (particularly work) should be hard.
I have a coaching client who recently uncovered this as a false narrative. She felt like she shouldn’t get paid for doing the work she enjoyed, because she had internalized that work was supposed to be hard. In her mind, hard work was more “valuable.”
When we can recognize a limiting belief, we can let go of it.
Letting go of this limiting belief allows this person to follow her joy and curiosity and feel good about getting paid to do something she loves.
Take Breaks When You Need Them
Over the last few years, I’ve learned that everything doesn’t have to feel like a struggle. When something is in alignment with my values and it still feels like a struggle, it usually means I need to rest.
One of my favorite quotes from the book speaks to exactly this concept.
“You might worry that taking a break will make you look bad. It doesn’t. It helps you enjoy the overall experience more… It’s not a race. You don’t need to prove anything to anyone, and it doesn’t need to be a constant struggle. You have a choice about how to proceed every step of the way. This is the place where you are intentionally creating the life you want, one that is ultimately aligned with your values. If you are doing that, it should naturally start to be more enjoyable. If you’re not enjoying the journey, what’s the point?”
This last line sounds eerily similar to the motto of our blog: The journey should be as remarkable as the destination.
Everything worth doing does not have to be a struggle. We can take breaks and work toward our goals in a way that brings us joy.
Celebrate Your Accomplishments
When you are making significant life changes, it can be hard to recognize progress. This is why it’s so important that we recognize and celebrate our accomplishments, no matter how small or large they are.
In my coaching groups, we celebrate small wins every week. We take time to acknowledge a simple mindset shift, small blessings, and how we feel as we take a single step toward the life we want. Recognizing these things help us to appreciate the importance of the journey.
We don’t need to rush to the destination because we are experiencing a rich and fulfilling life now.
How to Figure out Your Own Path
One thing that this book doesn’t cover much is how to figure out what after you opt out of something. It does talk about becoming more aware of our thought and feelings and identifying the things that we truly value.
While these are important first steps, the purpose of the book was not to provide a guide on what to do next.
After reading this, you might find yourself with this question, “How do I figure out what I want?”
I’ve been attending a book club that Cait has been putting on each Sunday to discuss different sections of the book. In the book club, variations of this question have been asked over and over again.
If this question resonates with you, I want to point you to a resource to help support your journey. Several months ago, I wrote a post called What You Must Do Before You Can Design Your Ideal Life.
In this post, I share more about how you can embark on your own lifestyle design process. This process involves building your mindfulness, reflection, and experimentation. These all support figuring out what you love doing, your core motivations, and how you want the different aspects of your life to fit together.
I call these the core elements of your ideal life. These are the foundational elements of lifestyle design, and I use this framework with my coaching clients.
If something feels off, we can usually determine whether it’s related to the what, the why, or the how. And how we can shift and “opt out” of something that isn’t working for us.
If you want to learn more about this, I encourage you to check out the post or explore my group coaching programs.
Slow FI as an Opt-Out
Usually, I’m a skeptic when it comes to personal development and personal finance. My first thought is often all the reasons why something isn’t a good approach or why it won’t work for me. I suppose this helps me to be an “opter-outer.”
One example of this is my perspective on FIRE (Financial Independence Retire Early). One on hand, I can certainly see the value in a good portion of the FIRE message (i.e. spend less than you earn, save, and invest the rest). But, neither the goal (retiring early) or the path I kept hearing about (deprivation while working a job you don’t enjoy) resonated.
So, I decided to opt out of those aspects of the FIRE message. I decided that I could build both financial freedom and a life that I wanted to be living along the journey. This is exactly how Slow FI was born.
When you are pursuing Slow FI, it doesn’t mean that you are just flipping the traditional 40-years of work script on its head. It means that you are using the financial freedom you gain to design a life of meaning, purpose, connection, and joy.
Opting out and Pursuing Slow FI will look different for everyone. If you want to see the diversity of experiences, check out the 25+ interviews in our Slow FI series. I know you’ll walk away inspired to carve out your own path.
In what ways have you “opted out” throughout your life?