Turning 37 and Being Happy Where You Are

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Today is my 37th birthday. I’m feeling wonderful about it, and as always, am taking a look back at the past 365 days and what I learned along the way.

This year I discovered the shoehorn. What a magnificent invention.

I’ve never really used one before. I always thought they were an old man thing. But lately I’ve been wearing fashion sneakers a lot more often than I used to…and a full-sized shoehorn lets you PUT YOUR SNEAKERS ON PERFECTLY WHILE STANDING UP, WITHOUT BUNCHING UP YOUR SOCKS.

How about that.

I also got my first pair of glasses and realized that I need to travel with my own pillow.

In all seriousness, though, I feel deeply grateful to be here today, healthy, vaccinated, COVID-free, my family and friends doing well, my business crawling back to life. Not everyone has been so lucky this year.

Kate holding up her little passport-like document that says Ceska Republika on top.
Prague, Czech Republic

A Year of Patience

When I think of age 36, I will remember paperwork and waiting for the slow wheels of government agencies to turn. Waiting to finally be allowed back into the Czech Republic. Waiting for my bridge visa. Waiting for my family reunification visa. Waiting for my trade license. Waiting for my health insurance card.

Waiting for COVID vaccinations to begin. Waiting for my age group to become eligible in Massachusetts. Waiting for my first vaccine appointment on April 26, hours after I landed in the US. Waiting for my second vaccine appointment on May 24. Waiting for the two-weeks-post-vax celebration. Waiting nervously in immigration lines. Waiting for my EU Green Pass.

Waiting to complete 84 days of Lewis the cat’s FIP treatment. 67 days of incredibly painful injections that made him shriek. 84 days of nervous observation. But he got better, stayed better, and Lewis is now cured of FIP. A miracle.

This year was an exercise in patience, made more significant because Prague was virtually shut down for six months this winter. Only essential shops open and we had a 9:00 PM curfew every night. At one point Charlie and I couldn’t leave the city limits. At one point the Czech Republic had the highest infection rate in the world. Our lives shrank down to our apartment.

Between my arrival in Prague on September 26 and my return to the US on April 26, I left Prague exactly twice: to Mělník, just outside the city, to the foster home where our kittens were living before we adopted them. Once on November 14 and once on November 21. That was it.

(Once we spent three days in another Prague neighborhood while our apartment was being painted, and it felt like an exotic vacation!)

It was a tough winter. But we were healthy, and that was most important. We had a safe home. We were able to work remotely. We were financially secure, if not financially thriving.

This winter could have been an opportunity to claw our eyes out with boredom. Or worse, to throw ourselves into traveling the world, unvaccinated, unmasked, ignoring local rules, when the virus was raging at its highest levels yet.

Instead, this winter was an opportunity to give our kittens a consistent home environment while they were young. This was even more important when Lewis got sick. It was also an opportunity to live cheaply, to get all my Czech paperwork done, and to get me acquainted to living in Prague, albeit Prague on lockdown.

It couldn’t have been more different than the winter before, gallivanting around Mexico with our friends, guzzling cheladas and mezcal margaritas, jumping into dark cenotes and swimming in shimmering blue lakes.

And yet there was beauty in this window. Seeing fat snowflakes fall from your window as you sip a cup of tea. Finding the mustard-colored pillows that pull your living room together. Watching the moment of Ted Lasso when Keeley leaves the club and sees Roy waiting to walk her home. Seeing Lewis learn to run again, play again, jump again, be a kitten again.

More than anything, this year was an exercise in being happy where you are.

Kate and Charlie taking a selfie, holding champagne, each one holding a kitten. The kittens are very interested in the champagne.
Prague, Czech Republic

You need to be happy where you are.

It’s so easy to get wrapped up in what you’re moving toward. To look into the future and say, I know this sucks right now, but my life will be so much better once things change.

Once I have more money.

Once I’ve lost more weight.

Once my kids are older.

Once I move to a better place.

Once I finish school.

Once my partner and I split.

Once I have a better job.

Sure, we should build toward the future. But how are you supposed to live in the meantime?

In early 2020, I made a resolution to level up my finances and began reading books, listening to podcasts, and getting active in online finance communities. That focus came in handy a few months later when COVID went global and my income was decimated.

Being active in these communities has kept me focused on building a strong financial future.

One of those communities is the FIRE community: Financial Independence, Retire Early. Basically, if you can invest 25 times your annual expenses, you can live off that forever, withdrawing a safe 4% from your investments. There’s a lot more nuance to it than that, but that’s the main gist.

Most FIRE people are content to live simpler lives and forego luxuries, both now and in the future. Some are wonderful, socially conscious people dedicated to protecting the planet and alleviating economic inequality. Unfortunately, many are assholes content to step on whoever they can in their pursuit of wealth.

But there is a running theme in the FIRE groups: people who put themselves through hell for years or decades so they can retire sooner. People who choose to struggle through awful work environments, often sacrificing their relationships and endangering their health as a result.

I’ve done that once in my life: when I was saving up to travel Southeast Asia. I was 25, living in downtown Boston and reverse commuting to the suburbs, hating my job so much that I marked every 15-minute interval that passed, freelancing and working on this blog past midnight, barely eating, sleeping four hours a night, eliminating all unnecessary spending and throwing everything I could into my travel fund.

That lasted seven grotesque months. Of course, I had motivation — my future travels were an electrical current that lit me up in excitement several times a day.

But I am never doing that again.

Putting yourself through hell for an extended period is not worth it. Life is so short. 11 years since I went through my temporary grind, a number of my loved ones have gone through difficult life-altering events. Many of them lost the futures they had planned. Illness. Disability. A special needs child. Caring for aging parents.

You can’t assume the future you dreamed of will be there waiting.

For some of those FIRE folks who choose to live hellishly for years to reach financial independence sooner, and who do survive, they often find themselves lost when they get there. They don’t know what to do, what they like, what comes next, how it’s all supposed to feel.

Which is why some other FIRE people reject this mentality completely. “Build the life you love, then save for it,” they say.

Build the life you love, then save for it. That really struck me hard. I think I’ve been doing this all along, and I had no idea.

Some people liken it to hedonism to spend so much time enjoying yourself, to not push yourself at work until you’re gasping for air. Our culture seems to reward the latter more.

But you need to find happiness in the day-to-day. Beyond that, you need to indulge yourself in the day-to-day. Life is for finding out who you are as a person, not waiting until the future to find out what makes you happy.

Kate taking a selfie in sunglasses, a low-cut swimsuit, and a zebra print kimono.
Motovun, Croatia

You need to build a life that works for you.

It’s easy to get wrapped up in what other people are doing and think that you need to do the same. Even if you’re living a somewhat alternative lifestyle, you might measure yourself by your peers’ milestones.

My life is unconventional in many ways. I live abroad. I make my living from my blog. I don’t have kids. I rent and don’t have plans to own. I don’t have a car.

I LOVE not having a car, in fact!! Not having to worry one bit about car insurance, parking, gas, maintenance, snow, a replacement fund? Just renting one when I need one? AWESOME.

(Granted, you could say I did a bit of a bait and switch — my boyfriend has a car. But I can’t drive it. It’s manual, I’ve never driven stick, and Charlie keeps threatening me with driving lessons.)

Anyway — there’s a lot of social pressure in making unconventional choices. (Much of it from regretful people who didn’t realize opting out was an option.) But I’ve spent so many years figuring out what I love as a person, what works for me. And that has allowed me to build a life I truly love.

I’m very lucky to have Charlie. As he would very Britishly say, he’s all right, I suppose. And our kitties fill every day with joy.

And Prague? Prague is FABULOUS. It’s uncanny. I never would have chosen this city for myself, but it’s a perfect city for me. Good size, inexpensive, big international community, excellent food scene, tons of green spaces, wonderful setup for international entrepreneurs, tons of cheap flights all over Europe.

I feel lucky to work a job I still love after all these years, work the hours I choose, take time off whenever I feel like it, travel a ton, and earn enough money to fulfill my biggest priorities.

Travel-wise, I’m getting closer to finding the rhythm that works for me long-term. Lots of time in Europe, lots of Italy, a good amount of Croatia. No pressure to visit tons of new countries or hit certain numbers — but I do pressure myself to go to more new places!

Kate taking a selfie on a boat in Sicily, wearing sunglasses and her hair in a braid. Behind her, people are sunbathing on the boat's top deck; behind that, rocky islands.
Filicudi, Sicily

Looking Ahead This Year

I don’t have huge expectations for the rest of 2021, or even much into 2022. There are too many unknowns. I will take what I get, and look for ways to enjoy life along the way.

Travel-wise, there is nothing audacious on the books. I’m fairly certain I will be sticking to Europe, with the exception of visiting my family in the States.

I’d love to visit new places in the Czech Republic. Karlovy Vary, Tabor, and Bohemian Switzerland (weird name but yes, it’s Czech) are high on my list.

I do think it’s plausible that one year from now, I will have reached my long-held goal of visiting all 20 of Italy’s regions. Only Valle d’Aosta, Calabria, and Sardinia remain! SPOILER ALERT: I AM GOING TO VALLE D’AOSTA THIS WEEKEND!!

I would really love to go back to Paris, but that is one of the biggest unknowns of all. Only if things improve significantly.

And after last year’s tough winter, Charlie and I have decided to spend this winter somewhere warm in Europe. More on that at a later date.

Outside of travel, I’m finally feeling ready to join a gym and get a trainer again, mostly because COVID infections in Prague are so low and the vaccination rate is high. I look forward to getting back to the gym rat lifestyle that I loved in New York.

And I want to explore Prague more! Now that places are open again, I look forward to writing some Prague guides!

Overall, I’m very happy to be here, and I’m grateful to all of you who have supported me over the years. Thank you so much!

Are you happy where you are? Have you built an unusual life for yourself?

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18 thoughts on “Turning 37 and Being Happy Where You Are”

  1. I absolutely loved reading about how you discovered the FIRE community! I found out about this community and way of living when I was taking a year “off” teaching English in Madrid in 2013. I was able to enjoy a life I loved and save enough to become financially independent in 2018 and travel the world for a year. I love the freedom but I have now but it has definitely been a challenge to figure out what truly makes me happy now that I don’t have to work. I would love to read more about how you are pursuing FIRE and what it looks like for you. 🙂

    1. Amazing!! I’m pretty private about my finances online, but I can say that I do the boring thing — just chuck money into index funds and watch it grow. Because I’m self-employed outside the US, I don’t have a 401K or HSA; my tax-advantaged accounts are my Roth IRA and SEP IRA. Taxable brokerage after that. And a teeny bit in crypto, more for fun and to feel involved than anything else.

  2. Happy Birthday, Kate! I have been reading your blog for as long as I can remember. Your writing style is inspiring and unique. Your travel stories have their own rhythm. You instill a great level of confidence in bloggers that it’s possible to make a living out of a blog. It’s definitely hard, but it’s possible.

    Keep being amazing!

      1. A very happy birthday Kate! I have been occasionally with you for the last few years, stealthily so, sorry for that 😊

        Lucky you @just 37, experiencing, learning so much. Delighted for you! Patience is, I think and appreciate, the most wonderful trait you exhibited this year …

  3. Hi Kate, I think this is a very valuable message. I also had a period of saving like crazy and thus sacrificing my QOL just to save up for a trip. I lived in a garage with no WiFi, worked two jobs and had no social life, for about 9 months. It funded a long trip around South America, for which I’m grateful, but now I’m in my 30s, I’m trying to achieve a bit more balance to my life! Looking forward to reading more updates from you for the rest of the year.

  4. Happy Birthday! Long time reader who loves this post. I am a long ways away from FIRE (hello 300k of med school debt and the fact that my partner and I bought a house last week that we did not pay for in cash) but really do believe in the idea of living within one’s means. We purposely chose to buy a house that we can afford on one income if we needed to and opted for a 15 year mortgage. We put lots of money into investment/retirement accounts, drive used cars, and are in general pretty frugal but also know when to splurge (hello fancy sock collection). I like that you seem to be taking a similar approach. Financial independence does not have to mean suffering to be debt free, but it should mean assessing things regularly and finding a way to live where your financial needs do not have to drive all your choices.

    1. Aleta, it sounds like you are taking a very smart approach. Getting a place you can afford on one income with a 15-year mortgage — that’s so smart. I hate to say it, but Dave Ramsey would be proud! And then he would get mad at you for living in sin! LOL.

      Personal finance, ultimately, is personal. You cover your financial bases, whatever that means to you (i.e. putting x amount in savings/investments), then spend the rest on what means the most to you. And so much of that extends into travel. Thinking back in the day, I stayed in so many $3 hostels in Cambodia and loved it…but one of the highlights in the Aeolians was staying at SUCH a nice hotel, Hotel Ravesi. Very happy to be spending more on that these days.

  5. Happy Birthday fellow Leo!
    It is so empowering to know how to drive a stick shift ;-). Not only were stick shifts the only cars my parents owned (you don’t learn, you don’t drive), but I got my license the summer after we went to Europe for the first time and my parents sold me on the process saying, you can’t drive in Europe if you don’t learn.
    I do put my foot down driving a stick on the “other” side of the road, even in Australia/NZ, where the roads are good and very like California, don’t think I am confident for that yet.

    Plus, it’s fun to see men’s eyes widen in surprise when you say you know how to drive a stick. Very fun!

  6. Hi Kate!

    Your headline caught my eye because I am about to have my 38th birthday.

    Happiness is when we choose it, not after achievement, that is so true.

    I live in central Texas, and Texans are struggling with low vaccinations and Delta surges. Just a few weeks ago it appeared we would have a bright comeback. But now, that is not the case. My family has gone back into near lockdown.

    I think your point about building the life you love NOW and then saving for it encourages resilience, which we all need in this new normal.

    Glad your cat is recovered. We have bunnies, I know, unconventional! 🙂 Stay well!

  7. Happy birthday, Kate! This really spoke to me: “There’s a lot of social pressure in making unconventional choices. (Much of it from regretful people who didn’t realize opting out was an option.)” Thanks as always for sharing so much of your life with us.

  8. I so enjoy reading your updates! I too am trying to enjoy the day to day, even the waiting periods, it’s a matter of changing mental habits. Thank you for sharing your story and being so authentic. Can’t wait to hear more about Prague.

  9. I’m a little late to the party but Happy Birthday, Kate! Your travels are blog recaps are wonderful. Prague looks so beautiful!

    I have a question…what is the treatment that cured your cat of FIV? I would really appreciate an answer.

    1. Hi Lily! I tried replying to your email but it came back returned, so here is what I sent:

      My cat Lewis had FIP, not FIV. Are you looking for FIP treatment? If you are, I recommend joining the FIP Fighters Facebook group and connecting with an admin ASAP. Hours matter when FIP is concerned; please do this ASAP!

      We actually treated Lewis with Kumis (kumidoctor.com) which is technically not recommended by that group but came recommended by our vet. Make sure you talk to them about the correct dosage; you need to know your cat’s exact weight to dose properly.

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