It’s been a bad week.
Every quarter the VP of the business holds an off-site management meeting and the sixteen or so leaders from various parts of Europe meet for a few days. I attend in my capacity as Finance Business Partner and as an introvert, the whole thing is my idea of hell.
Acting the Part
From the beginning (go around the table and introduce ourselves for the benefit of any new team members) to the individual presentations (on which I am called on to probe the numbers and provide the finance insight), to the evening social events (an organised activity followed by a restaurant) – I am performing.
Don’t get me wrong, this is part of my job and so I don my professional persona and perform as expected. But the lead up to the event is always stressful as I think about the few days to come and I leave exhausted and fit for nothing.
Each quarter, this event is held in a different European location. And being a single parent, that adds to the stress. Thanks to my mum being willing to travel 8 hours on a National Express to come and stay with the boys, I do know that they will be well taken care of.
Nevertheless, it had started to occur to me that my youngest was often ill when I was away. Once or twice could be coincidence. But again this week, the texts started around 7.30am complaining of stomach aches and feeling sick. It’s so difficult to judge when you are not there to see for yourself, so I told him to head to school anyway, thinking the walk in the fresh air would do him good and that the school nurse would send him home if needed. Half way to school he called in a panic that he was going to be sick in public and begging to go home.
What could I do? I was half a day away from being able to help him. He spent the rest of the day quietly in his room (PlayStations are strictly not allowed when you are off school sick), while I spent the day worrying and with a rising sense of guilt about my parenting – or lack of.
This child has always had a weak stomach and when for others it may be migraines or coming down with a cold, the first sign of any stress with him is sickness and stomach aches. And when it happens they are very much real – whatever the trigger.
But when I thought about how often this happens now compared to how often it has happened in his lifetime, I started to get worried. There has been a definite increase in these episodes over the last year or two and they almost always happen on days when I am not there as he gets ready for school.
I’m not there because I am away at one of the off-sites or I’m not there because I have left really early in the morning to get to work, but either way, I’m not there. At 13, I had thought this would be ok for him as long as it is not too often. At 13, I was babysitting other people’s children. But for him it seems it is not ok at all.
It’s some form of anxiety that causes his stomach issues to flare up which has just been confirmed by his doctor who ran a full battery of tests and questions this week.
My guilt now is enormous. Since I have taken my current job I have to be away for a few days each quarter and then a couple of times a year I will be away for a week. And I leave to get to the office very early in the morning once a week or so. I have been doing this for about 18 months And in this time, unnoticed by me, my son’s anxiety has been gradually increasing and the frequency of his flare-ups with it.
It’s taken me all this time to figure it out. I feel like the worst parent in the world. My selfish pursuit of FIRE has meant sticking with a job that obviously doesn’t suit my family situation and is making my son ill.
We had a chat in the car today coming back from the doctor’s surgery. He cried. He said he was so sorry for messing up my work meeting. I told him it didn’t matter a jot and I would get a different job. He cried even harder and said “but that would ruin you being able to retire early.”
That, right there, was rock bottom.
Bring On The F.U. Fund
And so, I am invoking the F.U. Fund. I have enough saved that I could say F.U. to this job and live without financial worries for a while. I could work part-time elsewhere or take a mini-retirement of a year or two and go back to work later. Of course, this would set back my financial independence date and would see me working a few years longer than anticipated. But it may be that is what we both need for our health and happiness and well-being.
I have some thinking to do.
As I’ve written before, much as I hate it I’m onto a good thing at work. And there’s no point throwing the baby out with the bathwater. We live in a mobile society and I can work from anywhere so I don’t have to get to the office early – that part is easily fixed. But the trips away are more difficult to avoid.
Using the attitude allowed by my F.U. fund, I’m not afraid of declining a few of these off-sites and dealing with the consequences. It’s likely that I can stretch this behaviour out to the end of the year – missing a couple of away events is do’able (even if if feels like I’m not doing my job properly). But miss any more than two and questions will be asked. At which point I will need to come clean about not being willing to travel any more.
From this point on I am 100% certain I will no longer travel for work and I’m 90% certain that will mean walking away from the job.
I am 100% fine with that. Thank you F.U. Fund.
I’m not sure what this post is – a warning about being so laser focused on an outcome that you lose sight of everything else? A real example of the life-changing value of an F.U. Fund? An apology to my family for taking so long to connect the dots?
Take it as you will. But to my son – I’m sorry.
What Do You Think?
Comments are where things start to make sense. I’d love to hear from anyone who has faced a similar situation or can empathise with me (or my son). Do we get too focused on the goal and lose sight of the important things? Do we struggle to make changes that will lengthen the timeline to FIRE?
(1,005 days….. pending readjustment….. ).