Rekindling the Eye of the Tiger – Escaping Mediocrity

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Rekindling the Eye of the Tiger - Escaping Mediocrity

We all know that life’s got its highs and lows. When you’re riding one of those highs, life can’t get any better. You feel that all your hard work has paid off and you’re sitting on top of the world.

But when those lows come, they can be like a sucker punch that takes you completely by surprise. Occasionally, those times can make you feel there’s no way out either.

As someone who tends to have higher-than-high and lower-than-low temperaments in life, I sometimes have a hard time in those lows. Unfortunately, life’s not always a bowl of cherries so you gotta push your way through the bad times to get back to the good. The key is to be able to step back and realize that the lows are just a blip in life’s radar.

Funny enough, for probably close to a decade now, my life has taken a similar track to that of the stock market. Up until last year, my life was primarily a healthy bull market. I discovered the financial independence community, made goals and crushed them (both financial and personal), and continued to reap life’s rewards because of these things and others. It was an incredible run for sure.

But then things changed for us last year and once we moved back to Ohio and got settled in, life was like a market crash. Last fall, I felt lost, confused, and completely unsure of myself. It was like I suddenly lost my way in life.

I’m not gonna lie – it was incredibly hard. It took me months to get past that slump and the winter weather blues didn’t help either. Although I’m not completely back to where I want to be yet, I’m ready. It’s time to get back the eye of the tiger in life again.

A good bull run of highs

Life’s been good to me over the years and I certainly can’t complain. I don’t believe that luck or your background can wholeheartedly make or break your success in life, but I do think they can play a part. Moreso than that though, I believe you still need to have a clear vision of where you want to be (call them goals if you want) and the ambition and determination to make your life into what you want it to be.

For years, Lisa and I lived the normal family ideal. I bought a cheap house in a bad neighborhood that we lived in for a few years to fix up and rent out. We worked hard like most folks and eventually we were able to buy a nice house in a good suburban area. We had two nice cars, a beautiful baby, great neighbors, and plenty of electronics and toys floating around. I had a nice stable job as a Systems Engineer that paid good money, especially once I was promoted the SE manager.

Life was good and I don’t regret it one bit… but something was off. Eventually, I didn’t enjoy my job anymore and I was having a hard time being there rather than being with my family. I wanted to be more of a part of my daughter’s life growing up.

Probably around 2014, I discovered the FIRE movement (thanks, Joe @ Retire by 40!). This became a game changer and the eye of the tiger in my life. I realized that it was a possibility to make the changes needed in life to make it a reality.

When I had that dream to work toward financial independence and retiring early, things were running full steam ahead. Then we took it further and found new adventure and invigoration by moving to Boquete, Panama, starring in a House Hunters International episode, and even staying in a lodge in the middle of the jungle!

It was exciting and everything seemed possible – heck I even trained for and hiked up a volcano in Panama just to see if I could do it (I did!).

I’m not saying that every day was something adventurous, but it was like living the dream. Even just taking a walk in the beautiful town of Boquete with the perfect 75° weather every day, the palm trees all around, and so many friendly people saying “good morning” (or “buenas tardes”) was surreal. I can’t tell you how many times I thought to myself, “wow, this is actually our life.”

What caused the crash in life

After almost three years of living in Panama, we moved back to the U.S. for a couple of reasons that I’ve gone into before. It wasn’t something I was thrilled about but it seemed to be the best decision at the time.

So we moved back to Ohio in the spring of 2022 and that in and of itself was its own little adventure: a bus ride to Costa Rica, almost two weeks in Mexico, and then once we got back, a trip to North Carolina to get our new furniture. We didn’t even have time to get unpacked before I headed off to a fishing trip of a lifetime in northern Quebec and then we did a week-long cruise in October.

Look, I can’t make this stuff up. It truly was like living a dream… until it all stopped. We were finally settled in and then reality set in as well. No more living in another country many call paradise along with the regular adventures we were having and all the friendly people we were meeting. We’re back in Ohio for the foreseeable future.

And don’t get me wrong – Ohio’s great for what it is. The park system here is unbelievable, the zoo is great, and of course, it’s where many of our friends and family live.

But the winter and the cold. The politics in this country. The healthcare system here. It’s just a lot to take. I’m not beating up the U.S. either, but like any place, it’s got its problems. And a lot of the big problems can be even more apparent after living in another country for a while.

We’re here though and I’ll adapt as I probably need to. However, it’s been tough.

You know how when you go on a wonderful vacation somewhere and just think, “Wow, this is wonderful – there’s got to be a way we could do this forever…”? Well, we were living that amazing life and it was wonderful. It’s hard to get a taste of that for so long and then go back to a “normal” life again… well, normal but still early-retired.

I used the word “mediocrity” in the title and I went back and forth on that one. I don’t want to sound unappreciative of where we’re at in life. We’re so very blessed and I’m definitely grateful for what we’ve accomplished.

That said, we went from a spacious 3-bedroom, 3-bath condo in a resort on a golf course with a river and palm trees all around to a tiny 2-bedroom, 2-bath apartment in a building built in the 1970s in a somewhat decent neighborhood. Our weather changed from 75° every day to a wildcard of weather that most of the year ends up being too hot or cold for my taste.

And with that change, our cost of living increased as well. We shouldn’t have a problem with continuing our life of early retirement but it’s absolutely tighter now and we might need to be a little more judicious in the number of vacations we take each year.

So, this isn’t the end of the world by any means but it’s still like getting hit with some solid jabs in a boxing match. It stings but you’re far from out of the fight.

The bigger problem was that as the colder weather of winter started knocking at the door, I floundered. I hate the cold and essentially stopped leaving the apartment for the most part. After all, this was essentially my first winter here in Ohio since retiring at the end of 2018 that I didn’t need to leave. I’m not working (s) and I’ve got my own workout equipment here in the apartment. I also walk about 1.3 miles through the halls here almost every day for more exercise.

During the past several months, I probably only left the apartment once or sometimes twice a week at most for errands or to visit with friends. I will say that it gave me a chance to catch up on all the movies and shows that have been on my list to watch for years, which was nice.

I think the idea was fair… however, being cooped up in this small apartment during the winter has its own set of problems. I started to get the blues and really lost my way in life. I felt like I had lost my sense of purpose and was back to running through the motions of life every day instead of living the life I wanted to live.

Here’s the thing though, I can get knocked down, but I’m always going to get back up. And that’s exactly what I’m doing.

Eye of the tiger, baby!

I’m a big fan of the Rocky movies and the Creed movies that followed. I like movies where you’re rooting for the underdog. Ok, that’s part of it – honestly, I’ll watch any Stallone movie with some good violence in it!

So I’m looking forward to seeing the new Creed III movie once it starts streaming. To get ready though, it’s critical that I watch all the Rocky and Creed movies again first, right? Ok, maybe not, but I’m doing it anyway!

I just finished watching Rocky III with Mr. T as Clubber Lang – not the best of the series but still fun nonetheless. Regardless, at one point Rocky loses his mojo and Apollo Creed gives Rocky a speech about getting that hunger back… the eye of the tiger…

Look, man, when you beat me, I hurt all over and I didn’t wanna know from nothin’ or nobody – not even my kids. Hell, every fighter knows that hurt, and we get sick inside trying to live with it, so don’t back off now. Make it right for yourself or you’ll be sorry you didn’t.

We held the greatest title in the whole world, babe. You lost that fight, Rock, for all the wrong reasons. You lost your edge. All right, I know your manager dying had you all messed up inside, but the truth is you didn’t look hungry.

Now when we fought, you had that eye of the tiger, man, the edge. And now you gotta get it back, and the way to get it back is to go back to the beginning. You know what I mean?

Heh-heh, maybe we could win it back together.

Eye of the tiger, man.

— Apollo Creed “Eye of the Tiger” Speech — Rocky III

Now, I hate to compare life to a Rocky movie, but sometimes you just gotta take your cues where you can get ’em! In this case, that’s my problem – I lost that hunger, that eye of the tiger.

When we started on our journey to financial independence, I had that hunger and drive. I knew what I wanted and went after it fiercely because it was going to happen no matter what. We saved aggressively, cut costs everywhere we could, bought rental properties, and I continued to learn everything I could about other ways to optimize. I had the eye of the tiger.

Once we reached financial independence though, I started to become a little more complacent. We had sold the rental house earlier but we sold the duplex, too, just because the market was so good. True, we could probably make a little more over the long haul by keeping it, but REITs are less hassle, give more diversification, and the liquidity factor is so much greater.

There are several areas like this where I just aimed for simplifying versus maximizing every dollar I could. And while that’s not necessarily a bad thing, I feel like I lost the eye of the tiger.

This goes for other areas of life, too. I’ve talked several times before about how I have a hard time with balance in life. I want to do it all and I want to do it all right now.

But I also want to spend more time with my family – that’s one of the biggest reasons why I strove for financial freedom in the first place.

So here’s the deal – we’re not moving back to Panama, Mexico, or any other adventurous place for the foreseeable future. That could change, but for now, it is what it is. We’re neprobably staying in Ohio for now as well. That could change at some point as well (Tennessee or the Carolinas, anyone?!), but there aren’t any definitive plans in place right now.

Guess I’ll just have to suck up living here in the winter for now. Maybe next year we can try to travel a little bit more during that time of the year.

In the meantime, I’ve been reading some books to try to get that eye of the tiger back in life in finding my path and some adventure. I’ve read two books on the subject and I’m currently reading a third:

I have one more I plan to read as well and then I’ll put together a post about these soon. Figuring this out has also led me to build a spreadsheet that’s a mashup of a bucket list, a passions list, and a list of things I want to learn/try. I’ll be sharing this with you as well soon.

After hitting what you might call rock bottom last fall, I’ve been determined to rebuild better… stronger… faster.

Man, I’ve watched too much TV and movies in my life!

Anyway, I’ve learned that one of the things I especially want to be toying with right now is programming. I took a class back in college in Visual Basic 6 (yeah, that was a long time ago!), but I loved it and tinkered with it on and off for a few years after that. I enjoy the challenge, the problem-solving, and having something to show for the hard work.

So I’m starting to bring back the eye of the tiger by putting my attention toward something I want to be doing. A couple of weeks ago, I started learning Kotlin, which is a programming language that can be used to build Android apps. I’ve started with the Android Basics with Compose course by the Google Developers team as well as a couple of other resources. I’ll likely explore other courses like the Kotlin Bootcamp for Programmers through Udacity, too.

I’ve had a vision for an app idea in my head for years now and I think it would be great to make it come to fruition. It’ll be hard work but something I find enjoyable and I’ll have a finished product for the world when it’s done. If it’s helpful for other folks, that’s a bonus. And if I make a few bucks off of it, too, well, that’s another bonus, though not the motivation for making it happen.

So what am I telling you? I’m telling you that I’m back in the game. You might see a missed week of posting here and there (like last week) while I open up my life to doing other things – starting with Kotlin. I’ll also be delving more into other challenges, adventures, and bucket list items that I’ve realized are important to do while I still can.

You can’t let life pass you by with the monotony that is too easily instilled in each of us. Take control, figure out what you want out of life, and make it happen. You’re the only one who can do it.

Eye of the tiger, baby… eye of the tiger!

Plan well, take action, and live your best life!

Thanks for reading!!

— Jim

You know you wanna share this!!

39 thoughts on “Rekindling the Eye of the Tiger – Escaping Mediocrity”

  1. Wow, thanks for sharing. I love your honesty & I bet you really helped some readers as well who may also be struggling. Good luck with all your undertakings!

  2. Great post! Love the honesty on a topic far too few talk about, the reality that living the life of early retirement often falls short of one’s expectations. Finding that purpose, or the eye of the tiger, is the proven path through the fog. Fight on, tiger. You’ve got this!

    1. Appreciate the love, Fritz! But I will say that early retirement definitely hasn’t fallen short of my expectations. I still wouldn’t trade of minute of these past 4+ years of it for the world. I think I’m now just ready to move on to the next chapter. 🙂

  3. Warren Ray Johnson

    This is a great blog. Personally, it came for me at the right time. I hope it continues to inspire me.

    1. Appreciate the kind words, Warren, and glad that you’ve found it helpful. In the words of Rocky in Rocky Balboa (might as well stick with the theme! 😉 )…

      It ain’t about how hard ya hit. It’s about how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward. How much you can take and keep moving forward. That’s how winning is done!

  4. Have you seen those “stuck in Ohio” bumper stickers? Yeah…..
    I have to go shovel 3-4 inches of snow after writing this…
    So I completely understand how you felt moving back to Ohio. You sort of get used to it as we had the same issues moving back from AZ. It was good that my kids got to spend more time with the grandparents and family and the schools were better so not all bad.
    With that said I have been putting together a spreadsheet comparing cost of living in other states to Ohio as I have 2 years and I’m gone (at least for winter, hell or high water)! Tennessee is one of the best to save a few bucks. They do have high sales tax and just read they tax certain forms of dividends and interest. South Carolina wasn’t favorable and North Carolina was almost a wash (for early retirees). Regardless, it is south or west for me!

    1. great, raw and honest post, thanks. This post validates my fear =). We are currently traveling through South America while I work remotely. We have the exact same feelings of pinch myself is this really real moments. But I fear the return to normal life but I also recognize that it might be necessary but then I ask myself does it have to be? I struggle with this often. I really want to be retired but then I feel guilty since essentially Im getting the best of both worlds, traveling with family and working (=making money). I could go on an on, but wanted to send a note of appreciation.

      1. Thanks, Nadeem! My friend and fellow early retiree, Fritz from The Retirement Manifesto, and I were on the phone several months ago and this subject came up. In his former line of work, he knew a lot of folks who would live in other countries and then struggle when they came back. It’s called Review Culture Shock and it’s a weird thing (something I had never heard of before he brought it up). It’s been a lot harder integrating back into the U.S. than it did moving to Panama… very odd, but it is what it is. It’s just worth being aware of it if you ever do move back.

        Enjoy your days there and don’t take them for granted (I didn’t in Panama!). If you do come back, you’ll figure it out. Just know that if you do struggle for a bit, you’re not the first and you will adapt.

    2. Yeah, I can imagine that was tough moving back here from AZ. But yeah, family so it makes sense. I’m looking forward to hearing where you choose to go and your reasons so keep me posted!

      Hope your shoveling went well – I’ll stick with apartment living for now to let them handle it! 😉

  5. I’ve enjoyed your blog for a long time especially when you share struggles that aren’t normally discussed on FI blogs. This is something that worries me too about being an early retiree. Glad to hear you have been able to push through. Thanks again for sharing!

  6. Thanks for the honesty about your ups and downs. Having suffered from depression off and on in my life, I just wanted to mention that medication and talk therapy are helpful and necessary for many people experiencing depression. There is no shame in getting help when you need it. Glad you’re feeling better!

  7. You got it Jim, Eye of the Tiger! Hey Tennessee is wonderful, if you ever need guidance on places in this great state of Tennessee, let me know! Also, you mentioned Politics and Healthcare in the US being a pain, I get it! Is the healthcare more accessible in Panama? It has gotten less accessible here in the US, I found out the hard way while seeking medical attention for my mother. Hope things are thawing out in Ohio, and the weather will warm up soon for ya!

    1. Appreciate the offer on TN, Jim! Sorry to hear that you had a hard time with the medical and your mother – it’s a shame how needlessly complicated the system is here. The healthcare system is far from perfect in places like Panama but the simplicity makes it so much easier. In most cases, you can just message the doctor directly on WhatsApp. That’s right – you have the doctor’s number and can talk directly to them.

      When you go to the doctor or hospital, you pay on the way out… no back-and-forth billing of exorbitant prices that are games that the hospitals and insurance companies play. You can still get insurance but for most folks in the U.S., the prices are easily affordable even without it. And the doctors are well-trained generally in the U.S. or Mexico and many have equipment that is the same or better than what you’ll find here in the States. Again, there are exceptions and it’s not perfect, but it was something I thought was a breath of fresh air.

      1. That is really interesting. I always thought we have the best healthcare in the world, and everyone wanted to come here for it. Good to know!

        1. We do not remotely have the best health care in the world, though it’s
          *excellent* if you are rich and have the connections to get into the top docs at places like Mayo or Cleveland or Johns Hopkins. But on most measures of health care for the average person, we are somewhere in the twenties or below – even though we, on average, spend far more per capita on health care than any other country.

          1. So true, Susie – it’s funny that many times we have a home bias and assume that “we’re the best” (so do most countries), but in several areas (healthcare is a big one), it’s not really true.

    1. I’m 100% in that camp. I haven’t watched the news in ages and, for the most part, social media for me is mostly a marketing tool for this blog. I keep a breaking news app on my phone just to stay in the know, but that’s just to see the headline and swipe it away.

      PS What’s a paper? 😉

  8. Consider moving to Colorado! Having moved here from the midwest over 20 years ago, I can’t imagine a better place for home base in the US. You get all 4 seasons, plenty of natural explorations opportunities, no humidity, etc

  9. I can understand how you feel, Jim. When you have it so good, and then come back to a less desirable situation, nostalgia kicks in. Sounds like you lived in a lovely place! I to miss my last house and neighborhood. Getting caught up in selling because the market was good, sometimes you forget not everything is about the money, and the things you took for granted are constantly popping up in your mind. I’ve also been against a life of mediocrity.

    And to your point about Tennessee, I lived there for 7 months during the pandemic and loved it. The summer and individualism takes a little getting used to, but the people are wonderful and it’s a lush state.

    1. Great point about not everything always being about the money! In our case, it wasn’t so much about the money and more about family and that’s the main reason we moved back. But yeah, it’s tough downgrading a life situation for sure.

      That’s cool to hear you enjoyed some time in TN. It seems like that might be a good change, but yes, I’ve heard that the summers can be a little warm! 🙂

  10. Great post, it’s one of your best! It captures something we all deal with, but rarely talk about, a search for personal meaning in our lives. Every now and then we need to shift gears, adapt to our environment and keep moving forward in positivity. I look at life as a football game and attempt to keep the ball in motion and celebrate my small successes. For me there’s nothing more boring and mentally draining than being stuck with no goals or vision for a positive future.

    1. Thanks, David – appreciate the kind words! Your way of thinking rings true in my book, too. I like your analogy of keeping the ball moving in a football game… maybe I should pass that along to the Browns for next season! 😉

  11. Hang in there Jim. I was down after coming back from Thailand too. There are so many problems here in the US. It’s a downer. There are a lot of problems in Thailand too, but I was mostly shielded from them because I’m wealthier than most people there. I imagine it’s the same for Panama.
    I need to find the next project too. I’ve been a bit aimless lately.
    One thing I find helpful is trying to get out of the house at least once per day. Even on rainy days, I walk to the library, grocery store, or just around the neighborhood. Being inside all day is not good. It must be tougher in Ohio, though.
    Thanks for the mention!

    1. I appreciate hearing from you, Joe – it’s always comforting when someone else can relate to what you’ve been going through (thanks for talking via video chat, too!). Your suggestion about walking outside daily is something I should have utilized earlier (I hate the cold though!) but now that the weather should be turning, I’m going to try to make that happen.

  12. Hi Jim,

    I believe that this is the way of process in which one will encounter during FIRE. If one is not happy with such status, it means that one can make the necessary change to see whether the new circumstance appeals to him/her. If yes, continue the process. If no, make the change and try the new circumstance. It is the matter of experiencing and making the necessary decision.


    1. 100%. I think this is the same thing we need to be doing whether FIRE or not though. Life’s a journey and you need to mold yourself to be happy with things that just are and change the parts that you’re not willing to accept.

  13. Hey Jim
    Great article and perspective. Your honesty is to the core. For the record, you have the “eye of the tiger”.
    Good luck

  14. Thanks for sharing Jim. The imagery of you walking 1+ mile a day in the apartment hallways is vivid. It reminds me of one of the episodes in season 11 of The Walking Dead, where they discover Negan with his wife and new crew. They have to stay mostly inside because of the zombies outside!

    As the weather gets better, I’m sure you will be happier. It rained every day last November here in San Francisco that it bummed me out because I couldn’t play pickle ball or tennis. As a result, i ponies up $1600 to pay for an indoor tennis and Pickleball membership. Although it’s a lot of money, it has been a mental health booster during the winter.

    My vote is living in Hawaii. Yes it’s more expensive than Ohio. But it is such a wonderful wonderful place.

    To commiserate, island to my trough of sorrow post below. I haven’t felt this way in a while. I like many things, we revert to our steady state.

    All the best!


    1. Ha! It almost feels like a scene out of the Walking Dead! 🙂

      It’s not a waste of money for the membership if you’ve got it and it’s helping your mental health. I keep hearing about pickleball and need to try that – sounds like a fun game to play.

      Hawaii’s definitely out of our price range but I know you’ve been considering that as a place to move. I’ve got friends there and they love it as well!

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