FU Space

crispydoc Uncategorized 16 Comments

Those of us in the FI community are extremely familiar with the concept of FU money, the acquisition of funds sufficient that we are empowered to say no: to unwanted work, to aggravations, to servitude.

I’d like to introduce a tangentially related the concept: FU space. Let’s define the concept as the ability to say no to the company of people. This can include people you love, as well as those outside of that particular Venn diagram. Sometimes even those who adore and extol their community need a break from it.

I write this on a return flight from Mexico City, completing my 5th week of summer travel with my family. To say a period of sustained continuous travel with my family has been a gift is an understatement.

I’d envisioned this travel dream and discussed it with my wife long before we’d married or had kids, and the anticipatory period has made it particularly satisfying to savor.

Five weeks off (broken into 2 and 3 week chunks) is a luxury few physicians are able to indulge, and I am grateful. On the flip side, it’s also an awfully long time to spend 24/7 with your family.

I generally adore and dote on my kids, but my ideal day would be spent half with them and half on other endeavors. Staying fit. Enjoying a quiet meal or walk with my wife. Connecting with friends in person, virtually, by phone or via correspondence. Blogging. Learning new skills. Reading fiction (I used to read the paper as well, but reality has become depressing enough to warrant taking a sabbatical). Creating.

So how do I adapt when every day for weeks on end are spent together? I find small moments of solitude.

At home, I brew my own coffee because it’s both economical and damn good. In Mexico, I went out every morning for a half hour walk to sip an espresso and catch up on blogs or read a book.

( In case you need a recommendation: Paul Beatty’s The Sellout came highly recommended from a literary friend, and I could not put it down; contemporary fiction that skewers race relations from a place of perverse brilliance, sparing no piety; my dream is that Donald Glover buys the rights in order to direct and star in the film).

In Greece, I spent 1-2 “insomnia hours” each night catching up on blogs I follow or jotting ideas for future posts while the household slept. I slept less than I usually do, yet felt more refreshed thanks to the first contiguous period in years that was not disrupted by a barrage of night shifts.

Doc G at DiverseFI has written how being an early riser creates space in stolen dawn hours to provide both solace and undisrupted time to focus intently on the task at hand (in his case writing and reflecting).

At home, the rhythm of school allows me mornings to pursue personal priorities, which are promptly shelved when the kids get home in the mad rush to complete schoolwork, ferry them to and from extracurriculars, and squeeze in the family social opportunities in our tight-knit coastal suburb.

While I’d have bought a smaller house if I had a do-over, the one I inhabit provides the luxury of a private office that I use (with mixed effect) as a refuge to write and as my safe room when I need to withdraw.

When we travel, I’m quick to find a coffee shop or bench in a small town plaza to be either in my head or on the page. That’s where I stake out my FU Space.

I recently came across a charming blog that tells the story of a fellow ER doc who dealt with burnout by taking drastic measures: he sold his house, quit work and decided to backpack around the world. Also, did I mention he’s married and has four sons ages 7-11? Wow.

The togetherness challenge we faced this past summer? He and his wife will face it for months on end. Their coping strategies?

First, they have quiet time. Two hours of every day that it’s feasible, each family member claims a patch of the airbnb du jour, and they withdraw. Read. Draw. Write. Sleep. Whatever. They avoid devices during this time, and when they come back together, they are excited to see one another.

Second, they enforce protected space. One kid curls up in a chair, it becomes his turf and the other siblings know to steer clear. No provoking someone in their turf.

Finally, they accept that everyone has bad days. When the daily grump emerges, it’s expected that he or she will acknowledge the fact and warn others, “I’m sorry, I’m in a grumpy mood.” At which point all others are expected to stand down: avoid teasing, offer space, and be kind.

FU Space is most strikingly necessary during prolonged travel where tight quarters are shared, but many of us feel a constant need to enforce some minimal amount of therapeutic alone time.

How do you get your daily dose of FU Space?

Comments 16

  1. FU space is definitely at a premium these days (and worse during school holidays). I try to time it when my daughter is busy doing her homework and then of course when it’s past her bedtime I try and use the 1-2 hours I’m still up to accomplish things that I can’t do otherwise.

    I also tend to get up a little early to catch up on blog reading and commenting before the daily grind starts. On slow days (which unfortunately are getting rarer at work) I can work on my blog as well.

    FU space is vital for everyone and it doesn’t mean you can’t stand the ones you love but you need a bit of separation to truly enjoy the moments you are with them better.

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      Perhaps it’s not that absence makes the heart grow fonder; it just enables you to appreciate company without resenting intrusion.

      I’m impressed you can function late at night. My med school years were spent routinely studying with a close friend until 11p or 12a, but now I find I’m incapable of linear thought after about 1pm (when it comes to blogging, not medicine).

  2. I will have to think about the F U part of this. I’m not necessarily wanting to tell people off or even to push them away. I love people and I love being around them and helping them, but it certainly does drain my batteries after a while.
    I definitely need my personal space and quiet time to read, write, and think. For those of us who are very introverted it is absolutely essential. My extroverted wife tries her best to understand this but really cannot.
    I tend to get up early (5 AM or 5:30 AM). That gives me a little bit of time where I am by myself and the house is quiet. Typically I stretch, meditate, think, and plan my day a little. Then I throw in a small dose of exercise. Then the hectic chaos begins with kids, cat, home life, and work.
    Events like FinCon are wonderful but very draining for the type “I”

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      Interesting you should mention that, Wealthy Doc. I got the vibe that you were a quiet person in a loud space at FinCon, making the most of it but needing occasional solitude. At the conference I met 5am Joel, an extrovert guy who uses the early rise for productivity as well as reflection, and we had one of those great late night talks that you usually only get to enjoy in college.

      If and when I stop working nights, I think I’ll lean toward the early riser camp both to enjoy undistracted productive time and to allow thoughts to marinate a little before typing them out.

      Thanks for sharing your early morning template for productivity and solace,

      CD

  3. A great way to articulate the concept Crispy Doc. School shelters us from the kids and my wife and I find our FU space readily then. If not, then a quick FU usually stakes out the territory 😉 The summer is a different story and we need to intermingle the home time with some day camps or glamping trips for everyone’s safety.

    We have some friends that the glamping works great with. The kids all take off together while the parents each huddle around their own site. We get together for a big meal per day, but otherwise just enjoy the solitude. When we do an extended motorhome trip without our friends, I have learned to book site with a separate bunkie for the kids around day 7. A few days of that gives us a good reset for living in the small space. Even then, 2-3 weeks is about our max.

    Those are some good tips from Matt’s adventure – will have to operationalize those rules on our next trip. Might “extend our range”.
    -LD

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      LD,

      Matt’s my latest blog crush, and I’m learning a great deal from following his family’s adventures. Another win for brilliant Canadian pioneers in the space!

      Like you, I routinely enjoy sending the kids off to play “Lord of the Flies” in other parts of the house with visiting, equally neglected children while the adults sit around the dinner table and catch up whenever we have the opportunity to break bread and sip wine with friends.

      Usually the kids plan a show involving interpretive dance and puppets that we are forced to watch at evening’s end – it’s the price of being left alone for an hour. After a couple of rookie mistakes, we now set a timer for five minutes (my wife thinks that is four minutes too long) and let them know that we will clap and depart when the timer goes off, so the artists ensure the performance matches our attention span.

      I’ll take your camping tips to heart – we are considering motel camping at Bryce or Zion this summer, and designating a special quarantine area for my children sounds idyllic. Appreciate the good advice as always!

      Fondly,

      CD

  4. In real life, I currently have more FU space than I need or want. I work part time (135 days per year), my wife works full time, my almost 17 daughter shuns is, and our son is in college. Much of the time, it’s just me and the dogs.

    As a formerly shy extrovert (yeah, wrap your mind around that), I find myself increasingly craving more in person human interaction, and this is a major reason why I have fired any FIRE 🔥 plans.

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      I love and relate to the concept of the shy extrovert!

      I also appreciate the time-informed perspective. Whenever one of the kids decides to leap onto belly and tackle me while I’m napping, I try to think how in a few years I’ll beg for this sort of attention, and it quells the impulse to grimace and shake my fist a la Mr. Wilson from Dennis the Menace.

      It’s fantastic that part-time work fulfills this need for you. I’m curious, Vagabond, one of the things I notice with men in general and male physicians in particular is that we make other male friends based on shared interests (i.e., this is the friend I go play softball with; this is the friend I work out with at the gym; this is someone I sculpt or woodwork alongside) but it’s not that easy to actually create a friendship based on simply liking the other person. Not a character flaw, we just don’t naturally trend vulnerable in that particular way.

      Do you think finding more male friends who have similar free time would help make it more than you and the dogs? And would you meet these folks where other shy introverts tend to hang out during free time on weekdays? The library or local community pool? Just thinking aloud, since I anticipate finding myself in similar circumstances over the next decade, and I’d love to know any tips or tricks you might advise. (Consider this your invitation to guest post on the topic if you have the time and inclination!)

      Fondly,

      CD

  5. I can’t tell you how important alone time/space is to my sanity.

    Whether it’s at home or on vacation, I always try to seek out some FU space – even if it’s just going down to the hotel lobby to grab coffee so I can have 2 minutes of peace on the elevator.

    It appears you and I are cut from the same (scrub) cloth.

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      I have no doubt we are cut from the same green polyester fabric stained by toddler boogers and variceal blood.
      Am I hearing the beginnings of our new collaborative blog, FashionFIRE.com?

  6. Well this has been my experience as a mom. I think I am not normal but it is what it is.

    Since my children were born, I have always just brought them with my while I spent hours a day reading. Both my kids are completely used to having me around them a lot. But it is all “parallel play” for me and them. I was not one to read to them loudly in the library, I just taught them how to read QUIETLY.

    I have always stayed in touch with all my good friends. Every Friday for as long as I can recall. It would just take a quick email, text or phone call. And for meet ups, we have always balanced it as every 3 months since you can only interact to an extent online.

    I notice that my daughter who just started university still prefers to hang out with us while she is doing her homework. I have provided the kids with their own unit downstairs, yet they keep coming up to my unit. And it certainly isn’t for the food cuz I don’t cook.

    The biggest difference is I was never one of those parents who “played” with their kids. I enjoyed them tons but just by being around them. I almost never organized play dates cause I’m sorta old school. So my kids were always kind of effortless. Seriously my husband is more work than my children.

    So for the time with friends, I just make it part of my routine. Friday afternoons- it has worked fabulously. Most men think it just happens. The wives know to schedule it in.

    My husband would have never kept up with any of his friends if I had not done this over the years for him. 😊

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      “Seriously my husband is more work than my children.”

      I love your comments, Dr. MB, they always bring an unexpected smile.

      I enjoyed reading about your parallel play/self-entertaining kids, although it may be a result of both nature and nurture, a combination of the seed you were given and the fertilizer you innately brought to the mileu to foster their growth.

      I do play with my kids a lot more, partly because I genuinely enjoy it and partly because nothing makes me prouder than giving a game of chess or Othello my total effort only to see my kids beat me – an incredibly satisfying experience for the both of us.

      We read together less because they need it (they are both voracious and read nightly before bed), but because there is something sweet we find in the shared experience of an excellent book. It brings us together when other activities might silo us apart. From a book review in the New Yorker I read over breakfast just now: “Happiness was everyone in the same room captivated by their own digital device.” (Whistle In The Dark by Emma Healey).

      As a man who also doesn’t think to plan friend events until a day or two before, your husband is exceedingly fortunate to have you providing the infrastructure to his social life.

      Thanks for the perspective into your refreshingly unconventional brain,

      CD

  7. Interesting concept Crispy Doc.

    Right now, it seems like all of my time and space is dedicated to either work or family. I don’t really have an “FU space”. But at the same time, I’m not quite sure if I really crave it.

    I’m definitely not an introvert. I don’t think I’m a shy extrovert either. I best describe myself as an extrovert who doesn’t like to be at the center of attention and is a better listener than speaker. That said, I like to be around people. I get energized. When I spend too much alone time I get lazy, unmotivated, uninpsired, and tired. That’s just me.

    I admit that there are times that work and family time (especially with a young baby) can be overwhelming or tiring. But I try to cherish it whenever I can – especially the family time. Whenever I do feel overwhelmed, I just take a step back from what I’m doing. I take a relaxed, deep breath. Or maybe two and three. Then get back to it.

    Whenever, I do have my own personal FU space, I’m usually exercising or working out. Sometimes I meditate. Catching up with blogs is tough, which is why I’m always late on the comments section 😉

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      DMF,

      I got the sense from hanging out at FinCon that you enjoy being the “off-center of attention.” You demonstrated a nice balance of feeding off the energy without needing the limelight, a great place to be.

      Kids will eventually force you to place greater value on increasingly more elusive FU space. The first time you hit the toilet and your toddler comes trailing after you and plunks down a puzzle to assemble as you start to bear down is the moment you determine to assert some mandatory solitude. This builds at least until they stop showing interest in following you wherever you go, which then triggers nostalgia for the times you were the most interesting person in their world.

      In other words, as Vagabond eloquently noted, by the time you have ample FU space you won’t want it quite so desperately.

      Enjoy the heliocentric stage of parenting as best you can – we won’t be the center of their universes forever.

      Fondly,

      CD

  8. Great and might I add very relaxing read! I like to meditate for 10-15 mins every day to get my mind to calm, but today your post had the same effect.

    Having FU money changed my life, and many physicians I know have plenty of $$$, but they choose not to use it to transform their lives. Practice Balance blog recently called it the Stockholm syndrome.

    One of the biggest challenges for everyone in my household is having dad around all the time. I think I am slowly driving everyone crazy! I like your idea of splitting the time between family and other activities. Too much of anything can be overwhelming. I have spoken with many post-retirees who go through the exact same thing. My mother came within a pen’s stroke of divorcing my step-father once they retired. After a year and several counseling sessions, they both found their individual lives away from each other so they could enjoy each other’s company when they are together. Even though I have a personal space to blog, write, read, etc., in my home, it is probably healthier to get out and spend some time in a library or coffee shop to give my family some distance.

    I had my first extended trip to Hawaii last year for two weeks, but after reading about your 5 weeks, I am ready to try “the art of slow travel.” We go to Mexico quite a bit especially since we have family in Mexico City. Do you ever get nervous traveling in Mexico? Other than getting ripped off by a taxi, I never had a problem but the news… I quit reading it too; it is too depressing.

    🙏🏻

    DOAT

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      DOAT,

      I like your stepfather’s story and the implied corollary to retirement – when you retire to something, you might need to retire away from someone for the sanity of all involved. Coffee shops and library are among my favorite places to set my mind free as well -something about the gift of the meandering mind that reinvigorates.

      I’ve never felt unsafe in Mexico City, in the same way I’ve never felt unsafe in New York City. It’s like any urban landscape: I stick to reputable areas, rent airbnb’s in walkable and gentrified neighborhoods (usually Condesa and Roma Norte so we can free range the kids at Parque Mexico or Parque España), use Uber (no taxi ripoff stories), and enjoy five star meals at two star prices.

      When we’ve left Mexico City, we’ve found more welcome than menace. We spent a couple of weeks in Chiapas, and the lack of Uber meant we got to hear from taxi drivers sympathetic to the Zapatista movement there – a fascinating perspective. We happened upon a chess seminar for elementary school age children in San Cristobal De La Casas (literally found a sign on a small colonial plaza off the beaten path) and enrolled our kids to play against local talents for an hour every afteroon while we relaxed at a nearby coffee shop. In Oaxaca City, we walked through local markets, where our kids were delighted by tropical fruits and home-made yogurt. They were also surprised to learn that chicken does not always resemble the boneless breasts we get from Costco, and that all start out with feet attached (if they become vegetarian, we’ll know why).

      The ratio of terrific compadres to bad hombres is 1000:1 so far, but we choose our travel to optimize the chance of encountering the former and avoiding the latter.

      I look forward to hearing about your future adventures should you opt for slow traveling in Mexico!

      Fondly,

      CD

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