Chautauqua UK & Self-awareness

Chautauqua UK is a magical place where people at all stages of the journey to financial independence meet to discuss ideas, validate numbers, play football in the pool, and fly drones (check out the video below). I just spent the last 2 weeks in bloody England. I started out at the first ever Chautauqua UK hosted at the beautiful Ettington Park hotel near Stratford Upon Avon (birthplace of Shakespeare) and the second week exploring London with my girlfriend and another couple.

During Chautauqua I felt empowered like I could do anything I wanted as long as I put in the time. I was burning to get back to my day to day life and apply all the inspiration from my experiences. There were so many ideas running through my head.  Maybe I would start Spanish tutoring on the side, get my savings rate up to 50%, live more intentionally, or all of those things and more. Spending time with like-minded incredibly smart people can do that to a person. When they are vulnerable with you and empathetic when they listen, you can easily build up confidence to take charge of your life.


This was exactly what I expected out of Chautauqua. I had heard all the stories about how attendees came back to their lives with a new vigor for life. But this…this was so much more than what I expected. It was… BRILLIANT! The inspiration was bursting out of me like when I get over zealous filling up a burrito.

I wanted to share my amazing experience with my girlfriend so I sent her a text immediately after I recorded a podcast with the Mad Fientist and Vicki Robin (podcast will be out next spring coinciding with the rewrite of Your Money or Your Life). I just couldn’t hold in my excitement anymore. Not only did I get to meet and spend a week with my heroes, I got to participate in a podcast with them. O. M. G. I thought she too would be over the moon.

When my girlfriend and I met I was already on the path to FI. We both swiped right and on our first date she gave me a Ninja Turtle (Donatello for those wondering). So you know it was pretty serious from the start.

Although my girlfriend supports my odd FI ways, we’re not on the FI journey together and my habits and behaviors sometimes hurt our relationship.

Reality Check

When I texted her about the Mad Fientist podcast, she asked if this was my dream vacation and if I would ever do a second Chautauqua. I told her that I probably wouldn’t attend a second one because even though I had so much to take away, I didn’t think that I’d get as much out of a second one. But if she was interested then we could attend one together. This was her response:


text message from girlfriend during chautauqua


Herein lies the problem. The Marshmallow Test sums up the differences in how we view money. It studies people’s ability to delay gratification with the promise of two marshmallows in the future if you can resist eating one in the present. As part of my FI journey I delay gratification and wait for the two marshmallows (portfolio income). When I reach FI I plan on relying on my portfolio for income instead of my job. She doesn’t envision a future where she wouldn’t work because she loves her job and career. So for her, there will always be another marshmallow (employment income) so why wouldn’t she eat the one now? There’s no reason to wait for two in the future!

Unintended Consequences

The unintended consequence of enthusiastically sharing my Chautauqua experience with her is judgement. The simple act of my attending Chautauqua makes her feel judged. Because the FI community is a group of people that get together to shame others about the purchases they make, right? There’s no way in hell that I want to make her feel judged. Who wants to be around a person when they feel judged all the time by a pretentious asshole? I sure as hell don’t!

Self-awareness is at the core of all happiness and success in life. It is the ability to see yourself as others see you. The moral of the story is that even without actively judging someone, our actions can make them feel judged. Think about going out to dinner with a group of friends and one of your friends is on a diet. When they order the salad and skip dessert do you feel like they are secretly judging you for your decisions? I do. I imagine their superior thoughts like “If only Brandon could live like me, this world would be a better place, he is such a glutton who doesn’t care about his health at all!”

Judgement comes in many forms. Like this little encouraging nugget from my mom recently “Why don’t you follow Christ. It’s a life or death decision.” Just a little judgement text to let me know I’m living my life for nothing and everything I do is meaningless. I love you mom, so subtle.

Or how about when you show up at a friend’s place dressed like…well, dressed like me in some stylish old New Balance mall-walking shoes, ripped jeans, and a hoodie while everybody else has on their crispy button downs, designer jeans, and fashionable shoes? I feel really out of place in those situations and that’s my own damn fault. I bring that judgement down on myself.

So it could be passionately sharing ideas that don’t resonate with others, a shitty text from your mom or simply feeling out of place with your friends.

Chautauqua Take-away

Yes I want my girlfriend on the FI journey with me but I don’t want her to feel pressured into it. I’m beginning to learn that sharing FI is more about the person that I’m sharing with than the idea or how I feel about it. Self-awareness is the ability to realize how what you share affects others.

This blog is about personal development and I took a pretty big step over the past couple weeks. Personal growth never seems to come easy but I’m thankful for it all the same. Our relationship is stronger than ever and we even used the “L” word! Do I have all the answers? Nope! Not even close. But I sure as hell know I’m going to think of her first when I talk about FI and make sure I understand how my actions and words affect her. Getting judged feels shitty and the last thing I want to do is make her feel guilty about how she lives. Who wants to be around somebody that makes them feel like shit? Not me!

Stayed tuned for a future post about driving on the left side of the road LIFE IN THE LEFT LANE and what I learned from that! All the round-a-bouts…

Are there people in your life that feel judged by your actions and words?


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  1. jlcollinsnh on August 25, 2017 at 7:53 am

    Hey Brandon…

    Great post and I am so glad you chose to join us in the UK. You make a great insolent servant. 😉

    Reading this, I am sorry your GF felt uncomfortable at the prospect of coming. Over the years, and at this one, we’ve had many non-FI focused partners tag along unsure of what to expect.

    They have a great time and mostly leave with a better understanding of why this path so excites their partners, even if they chose to remain removed from it.

    I hear your GF on the whole judgement thing and we try hard to make sure everyone feels comfortable.

    Like any community, FI has those judgmental types. Indeed, some with a frugal focus take Chautauqua to task for not being a frugal event.

    Of course, it is not meant to be. It is meant to be a celebration of the power of being FI.

    You might give your GF this slim little book: The Richest Man in Babylon.

    One of the images from it that has always stuck with me is that of having your purse (see, we love purses!) having so much gold flowing into it no matter how much you spend, it keeps overflowing.

    Whether at a future Chautauqua or elsewhere I hope our paths continue to cross!


    • Brandon on August 25, 2017 at 5:16 pm

      Thanks for the comment!

      Kristy encouraged me to be vulnerable in my writing and this was the result.

      My GF is planning on reading your suggestion of The Richest Man in Babylon. Also, if anyone is wondering, I only posted this with her consent.

  2. firecrackerrev on August 28, 2017 at 4:12 pm

    Wow, someone learns fast 😉 See, what I mean when I said you’ll get it faster than I did?

    I’m seeing so much improvement already. You’re telling stories, you’re being vulnerable, and all the while not taking yourself too seriously with jokes sprinkled throughout.

    I especially love this: “During Chautauqua I felt empowered like I could do anything I wanted as long as I put in the time.”

    It’s really good to know you felt this as an attendee, because as a speaker I felt this too but couldn’t quite put it into words. Thanks for doing it for me!

    Keep writing. Keep editing. Keep being awesome 😀

    • Brandon on August 28, 2017 at 4:33 pm

      Yeah, writing is so easy – said no one ever!

      It was odd going back to work today like it was such an insignificant part of my life. Maybe that’s too extreme but that’s how I’ve felt most of this day…

  3. Baby Boomer Super Saver on October 15, 2017 at 9:49 pm

    I didn’t realize you had a blog but am glad I found it! I guess I missed hearing you say that during our time together at Chautauqua UK, too. You make writing look easy, though. I really enjoyed this post, very interesting perspective on unintended consequences and perceptions of judgment. Generally, I feel pretty accepting and laid back when it comes to other people’s choices – that is their path, and we all have our own paths to follow, which is right and good. I find that I can get hung up sometimes by what I think others may think of me or my choices – it’s more of my own internal “stuff” or insecurity that bogs me down. I try not to let my monkey mind get control of me, but I’m only human. 🙂

    • Brandon on October 16, 2017 at 7:22 am

      Thanks for the kind words! Yeah, I think we all let the monkey mind get the best of us sometimes.


  4. freddy smidlap on November 6, 2017 at 2:36 pm

    i know what you mean about the shaming. mrs. smidlap and i share most of the same values of our financial lives but she still has a little upper middle class suburban “imprint” around certain company. i accept that and it doesn’t put any plans off schedule. when i mentioned all the sentimental (to her) items that fill up our way to big for 2 people house she wasn’t into ridding the place of any of it. i kinda had to huck finn her into this little ebay thing but it worked.

    anyhow, good luck.

  5. lindbritt on August 5, 2018 at 11:15 pm

    It was really interesting to read your post because I feel like I’m in a very similar situation. I have recently discovered the idea of FI and have started to get very excited and motivated. I spend most of my free time reading blog posts and listening to podcasts and I’m pretty sure I’m driving my partner nuts. He’s never been much of a spender, always naturally saving and he enjoys his job. We listened to one podcast together that I was excited about, but afterwards he shared with me that he felt like the people on the podcast looked down on people like him (it was about not owning homes and he very much wants to be a home owner). It was surprising to hear that something I enjoyed so much could make him feel completely different. While I was motivated and inspired, he felt judged. It left me wondering, when so many of the FI interviews I hear are of couples that are working towards FI together, can someone in a committed relationship (we are getting married this October) pursue FI without the collaboration of their partner? For your sake and mine, I sure hope so. I’m sure going to try, at least. Thank you for sharing this story. I feel like it may help me to be a little more understanding of my partner’s feelings in the future.

    • Brandon on August 6, 2018 at 9:20 am

      Wow, that does sound familiar! Congratulations on the engagement and pending marriage! We aren’t getting married in the fall but we are attending Chautauqua in Greece so I’m pretty excited about that. As far as “can someone in a committed relationship pursue FI without the collaboration of their partner?” I absolutely believe so!

      If you haven’t checked it out yet, Brandon (Mad Fientist) has a podcast (Sane Fientist) on the same topic that he did with his wife Jill.

      Keep in touch,

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