Welcome to part 4 of this 9-week blog series on life after FIRE!
So far, we identified why it’s important to intentionally transition from full-time employment to early retirement, uncovered our conscious and unconscious beliefs about retirement, and started to answer the big question: who am I?
While “who am I?” seems like an enormous and hard-to-answer question, I suggested an approach where we: 1) collect internal data, 2) collect external data, and 3) use our intuition to discern the answer. Last week, we analyzed internal data by mapping, organizing, and analyzing the chapters of our life. And this week, I encourage you to collect some external data from people who know you well.
I like to start people out collecting and analyzing internal data so that when they ask others, they won’t be overly influenced by external feedback. But now that you’ve examined your life for answers to the question “who am I?”, it’s time to turn outwards.
Ask 5 People About Your Gifts and Talents
Be forewarned, for most people this is awkward. But I promise you, the data you’ll receive is well worth any momentary discomfort.
Step 1: Select 5 People Who Know You Well
Start by picking five people in your life who you’ve known for a significant period of time and who know you well. The longer they’ve known you the better and it’s ideal to mix family, friends, peers, and professional colleagues.
I encourage you to select people who can serve as a mirror for you because sometimes we have blindspots in our self-perception. By that, I meant that it’s common for people to overlook their biggest gifts and talents because they assume everyone has them, they’re not that special, or they see their gifts as “problems” or “flaws”.
Because many of us cannot name our gifts and talents, it’s important to collect objective external data from multiple sources to add to our internal analysis of our life chapters.
Step 2: Ask Each Person 3 Questions
Once you identify 5 people, let them know that you are working through a process to plan your future. If it’s hard for you to ask others for feedback, you can try a tactic that several people I’ve worked with use: they say they’re “taking a class” and this is one of their homework assignments. It’s not dishonest! I was a professor and I’ve taught this material as a class. And if you’re following this blog series and actually doing the work, you’re moving through the equivalent of a 9-week class!
No matter how you position your request, your job is to ask your trusted assessors three simple questions:
- What do you think are my 3 greatest gifts?
- What makes me unique or different from other people?
- From your observation, what am I most passionate about?
While you can ask these questions in a face-to-face conversation, I find you’ll get the most useful data if you send each person an email. If you ask these questions in person, you will miss capturing some of the nuance of their responses (because it’s hard for most people to take in positive information about themselves). You may also filter out or diminish the positive comments in a verbal response. By contrast, an email request allows the person you’re asking to write out their responses. And when you have responses in writing, you can’t change, filter, or edit them.
Remember, you’re just collecting some external data. So you want it as raw and unfiltered as possible.
Step 3: Analyze the Patterns
Once you receive all the email data, read everyone’s responses from start to finish in one sitting. Then look for the patterns across their responses.
Some of the patterns you discover will validate what you already know about yourself. For example, every person I asked identified one of my talents as the ability to dream big and make it happen. After analyzing my life chapters, this was no surprise to me. And while people described this gift it in various ways, they validated what I know to be true about myself: I love to generate big ideas and birth them into the world.
While some patterns validate what you already know, other patterns may surprise you. It’s common for the other’s responses to reveal important blindspots you have about yourself. For example, every one of my 5 respondents described me as “generous”. This was a surprise to me because, I’ve been called “selfish” so many times in my life (because I don’t have children). And regrettably, because I’ve been called “selfish” so frequently, I unwittingly internalized that judgment. So it was shocking to read that people I love and trust describe me in radically different terms than I understand myself.
Whenever there’s a surprise in your data, that’s gold because it provides an opportunity to examine the accuracy of your self-perception. You can ask yourself a few important questions:
- Where did my (negative) assessment come from?
- Is my self-perception accurate?
- Why do others see me differently?
- Am I willing to incorporate this new information into my self-understanding?
- If not, why not?
- If you can incorporate this new data into your self-understanding, how does that change your answer to the question: who am I?
The purpose of this exercise is to add the external data you collect from your 5 trusted assessors to the internal data you collected last week. This additional qualitative information will round out the picture you’re creating of your self. And when you hold these two perspectives together, it will help you to further clarify your answer to the question: who am I?
The Weekly Challenge
This week, I challenge you to:
- Continue starting each day with journal writing and ending it with gratitude.
- Select 5 people you trust to give you feedback.
- Send 5 emails (one to each person) asking them the three questions.
- Once you receive all the responses, re-read them all and ask yourself: what are the patterns?
- Ask yourself: what patterns validated what you already know and what patterns surprised you?
- Feel free to share what you find in our Facebook Group.
- Do another one of the 25 things you love and notice how you feel while you’re doing it.
I realize this exercise is a tremendous challenge for some people and it may push you outside of your comfort zone. It’s hard to ask others for honest and positive feedback. But I encourage you to do it anyway because the data you’ll receive will round out your own self-understanding. And if you truly want to plan an authentic and invigorating life after FIRE, you’ll need to get out of your head and into conversation with others. We’ll be doing more of this in the coming weeks so this is a baby step in that direction!
p.s. – if you missed any of previous parts of the series, here are the links:
- Life After FIRE: Now What?
- Life After FIRE: The Inner Work of Early Retirement
- Life After FIRE: Who Am I?
- Life After FIRE: What Are My Gifts and Talents?
p.p.s. – if you want to be in conversation with others on the FIRE journey who are imagining what their early retirement will look like, join our FB group:https://www.facebook.com/groups/lifeafterfire