Chasing pavements is a song by British singer Adele, inspired by an incident she had with a boyfriend. After she had found out he had cheated on her and had punched him in the face in a bar, she walked down the street alone and thought to herself, ‘What is it you’re chasing? You’re chasing an empty pavement’.
Urban dictionary defines chasing pavements as follows: A fruitless activity. Trying to achieve something that is destined to failure, usually as a result of blind hope.
That’s the impression I get sometimes. That people think I am chasing pavements when I tell them I pursue financial independence. Not that they necessarily doubt I will reach it. They just don’t understand why. They think I am chasing something that isn’t there.
When you ask people who they are they often tell you what they are. A doctor, Scandinavian, soon-to-be-husband. It means we realize we are many different things. More than just a name.
But can we truly know ourselves? Who we are? Our identity? It has been discussed since the origin of Western philosophy. The short version? It’s complicated.
Philosophy deals with the persistence of personal identity over time. How do we know we are the same person as when we were a child? Is it because we are in the same body or perceive to have the same mind? How can we proof we are one and the same person? And indeed, how can we proof we are in fact a ‘person’? Complicated. Let’s look at something a bit more down to earth.
In a sociological sense, personal identity is the concept you develop about yourself that evolves over the course of your life. It’s made up of all features and properties you identify with. This may include aspects you have no control over, such as your gender, ethnicity, and aspects that depend on your choices, such as job and relationships. And then there are your values, fears, hopes, beliefs. You could identify with a property or feature, even though you do not have it. If you are convinced you are Einstein, then that would be part of your identity and your actions would reflect it, even though it’s false.
Knowing ourselves and our limitations
Knowing ourselves, the formation and understanding of our identity, requires a lot of exploration and discovery.
And an underestimated aspect of this discovery is knowing what our limitations are.
We are often told as a child that we are perfect. That we are all unique and special. And that we can be anything we like. That’s a very attractive promise. You can take any identity you like. Be an astronaut, firefighter, pilot, president.
That’s not wrong. It’s a positive message. It teaches us to go out and explore. To have dreams. Columbus had dreams.
Maybe later we add some identities. Famous YouTuber, supermodel, someone who saves the world (and looks good doing it).
We live in a world of consumerism. Where ever you turn, the message seems to be: You can be anyone you like. Everyone is equal. Everyone is special. Evolve. Develop. Grow. Change. There are no limits. Be who you want to be. Realize your dreams. And consume while you do it (you need matching perfume, clothes, car, house…right?).
But does it bring us closer to knowing who we really are? If we are only consumed by what we can become and believe the answer to knowing ourselves is closely linked to what we are (and what we own), then isn’t that chasing pavements?
There are things in our life we will never reach and never be. We’re not equal. We’re of equal value, but we’re not equally intelligent, strong, sensitive, (physically) beautiful or healthy.
But we’re all unique, different. And we all have unique qualities as well as limitations. And that’s perfectly okay. Your limitations are part of your personal identity as well. But it’s a different message and you don’t hear it.
Have you ever seen a commercial with the following voiceover?
“You will probably never be as rich and beautiful as the person in our ad who is driving on highway one in his expensive cabriolet, but may we suggest you buy our sexy sunglasses anyway?”
I have quite some limitations and I discovered them over the course of many years. There were things I wanted, but couldn’t get because I wasn’t clever enough or lacked the talent (yes, I wanted to become a famous football player). In school I wasn’t charming enough and was too average looking to get the pretty girls to talk to me (talking about chasing pavements). At work there were always colleagues who climbed the corporate ladder much quicker than I did.
But I have come to a point where I realize that knowing my limitations is actually a strength. I know what I am good at and I know my weaknesses. I know when to steer clear of potential obstacles. And when I step into the unknown, I always have myself to fall back upon. I will never know myself completely, but what I know cannot be taken away from me.
You may wonder, what’s the connection to seeking financial independence?
Seeking financial independence is about the realization that personal identity is not about what I am and what I own. That’s maybe what many people think. That I am a materialist and just want to live a jet-set lifestyle, free from responsibilities. They couldn’t be more wrong.
I cannot get everything I want. You will never see me in a speedboat on the Mediterranean, flashing my new Rolex while wasting an expensive bottle of champagne. I will never be rich-rich. When I reach financial independence, I will have just enough for quitting my full-time job.
And I don’t care. It’s irrelevant for my search. The search for who I am. A search that is never ending.
Financial independence is about having the time to search.
I am not chasing pavements.
What about you?
What are your thoughts? Do you identify with what I wrote? Or perhaps not?
A bit about myself
My name is Marc. I document my journey to financial independence on my blog earlyretirementplanning (you also find me on Facebook). I recently turned 50. Not that young anymore and a late starter as far as ‘retirement planning’ is concerned, but I believe it is realistic to retire before I hit the big 6-0. Where I live, the current retirement age is 68, but I am not going to wait and hope it is still 68 if I am lucky enough to get there.