How to Have Successful Life Change Conversations With Family and Friends

Introduction

When had our life change conversations with those closest to us it was amazing. They were interested in “How We Retired Early.” Family members connected with the benefits of the extra time with our kids. They appreciated how hard we worked to achieve our goals. It was not taken personally…plus, we have six-pack abs, can fly, and have a magical unicorn!

As you may have guessed, sadly, the entire first paragraph is untrue. We are part of many online groups:

  • Financial Independence
  • Early Retirees
  • Worldschoolers
  • Travel Groups
  • Nomadic Families
  • People Moving Abroad

Across all these groups we have seen one concept that brings out a lot of emotion. When people are making a life change they want to know how to successfully share it with those closest to them. These posts often have hundreds of responses. People are looking for help and are not sure how to do this successfully. People worry about how people will view their decision. The forums are full of life change conversations that went wrong.

We have been through all this. To be transparent, our life change conversations have often been traumatic. This was especially true with some family members. On the upside, we received support from friends and other family members. The goal of this post is to share the learning from our experiences. We genuinely hope you can learn from our successes and failures.

Types of People During Life Change Conversations

There are two types of people who you will talk to when you tell them you are making a major life change. Our life change conversations focused on

  • retiring early
  • international travel
  • world (home) schooling

Here is the blog post about “What retirement means to us” which gives you more context about our life change.

Type 1: Supportive People

Supportive people are the best! They hear your news and ask questions with genuine interest. A supportive person can think about this from your point of view. They not only listen, but they may also give you advice. They may see things you may not have thought about.

But it is not all kittens and rainbows. They may be sad that you will be gone, or think about how it negatively impacts them. They may also be jealous or have other unfavorable feelings. But they understand their emotions are their responsibility to manage. They do not place negative emotions on you. They might not even agree with your decision or reasoning. Our most supportive family members even told us this directly. But what they will always do is accept that this is your life. They know that you get to live it how you want. In general, they will let you know that they want to support you.

Supportive people are so impactful because you need this type of person to talk to. Without them, life changes will be a rough go. Even the strongest people, most emotionally intelligent people, crave acceptance and validation. When a person is supportive and is also a family member this means even more. When you have these types of people in your life do everything you can to keep them!

FIRE Travel Family - Change Picture - How to Have Successful Life Change Conversations With Family and Friends - Brock, Becky, Kyra, Verity - Financial Independence - Retire Early - Early Retirement

Type 2: Unsupportive People

Unsupportive people are more difficult. It is not typical for them to be completely unsupportive 100% of the time. But some will be. We know because we have lived this reality.

What differentiates unsupportive people are their mindsets. They may still care about you or what you want. However, they view your decision from the lens of how it makes them feel. Their questions/statements come from emotions like fear, envy, grief, and anger.

Unsupportive people may ask questions and then not listen to the answers. Often they are thinking about the next reason your life change is “wrong.” Or they may listen to find things to use against you. They may be passive-aggressive or indifferent. Some will even write you off. Many will talk behind your back, some will tell you directly. We have experienced both and uniquely unpleasant.

How do you identify unsupportive people?

This is easier than you think it will be. Read the non-verbal cues people are giving you during your life change conversations. Facial expressions, tone of voice, and so on. Even easier, in most instances, is the immediate reaction when you tell people your plans. Supportive people will say things like:

  • That is so great/cool/awesome!
  • I am so excited for you and your kids!
  • You must have really worked hard, how did you do it?
  • While I am sad personally since we won’t see you as much I am excited for you!

The unsupportive people will likely have different questions that sound like the following:

  • Won’t this be bad for your kids?
  • Why would you do this?
  • What happened that you are not telling me about?
  • Why do you think you are better than everyone else?

We are sure there will be instances where you could get both above. But in our experience, most people have fallen into one category. It is important to establish which type of person you are dealing with. This is because the life change conversations go different with each. But before we jump into that, let’s talk about what we can control.

FIRE Travel Family - House Sale Picture - Successful Life Change Conversations - Brock, Becky, Kyra, Verity - Financial Independence - Retire Early - Early Retirement
House We Owned in Dubuque, IA – Selling It Was a Contentious Point During Life Change Conversations

What you can control in life

In essence, there are two types of things in life:

  1. Things you can control
  2. Things you cannot control
FIRE Travel Family - Thing You Can and Can't Control - How to Have Successful Life Change Conversations With Family and Friends - Brock, Becky, Kyra, Verity - Financial Independence - Retire Early - Early Retirement
Know the difference between what you can and can’t control

You have to know that you can only control your thoughts and feelings. Sometimes that is even difficult to do! Seeking to control the thoughts and feelings of others is a path to relationship destruction. You need to understand when it is time to let go of the things that you cannot control.

What to know about life change conversations

People making life-changing decisions should do their homework. They should spend time learning about possible pitfalls. They can read blogs like this. Questions can even be asked in online support groups. Some groups even allow anonymous posts. Do this before making any strong commitments.

Anyone who knows us will not be surprised by the fact that we did a LOT of research before deciding on our life change. We made so many spreadsheets and documents! Becky and I talked about all the various options, not just the one we ended with. We broke things down and talked through different possible scenarios. For us, it had to make sense mathematically and feel right in our hearts.

Here is the thing, the people you talk to (even supportive ones) are not likely to care about any of this. They will still see this from their perspective and from how it impacts them. Remember most other people don’t care about your spreadsheets or research! Life change conversations are not the time to share your research.

If you remember one thing from this article we want it to be the following 3 tips for having successful life change conversations:

  • You cannot change people’s opinions
  • People are not required to support you (it is their choice)
  • It cannot be your goal to gain people’s support

Tip #1: You cannot change people’s opinions

From what we have seen online people are looking for magic words. The ones that will change unsupportive people into supportive people. You will probably be searching forever. The problem is there is a huge mismatch. Words and reasons are logic. But people react emotionally. Logic rarely has an impact on emotion. This isn’t limited to sharing your plans during life change conversations. But it seems to be particularly relevant here.

Think about politics. When is the last time you saw a logical conversation result in someone changing their political party? We have seen this happen zero times. It is because in most cases people let their emotions make their decisions. Then they find the logic they want to support it. The thing is they don’t know this is how it happens.

It is critical to remember that you are not trying to convert people to your lifestyle. You are not selling anything. You are simply informing and possibly educating (assuming they ask questions that require a follow-up). Change has to come from the inside. That is the only way unsupportive people change to supportive people.

Tip #2: People are not required to support you

We have been pretty focused on our own needs in this post so far. Now let’s put the shoe on the other foot. It is not other people’s responsibility to support you. Period. Think about this. Have you always fully supported every friend and family member’s action? Did they ask you to? This is probably a no in both cases. If you think they are required to support you then you are not being fair to them.

It would be nice to get support from those who are the closest to you. But it may not happen. If this is a family member and/or someone you are close to this can be especially difficult. But your need for acceptance and support is not someone else’s responsibility.

That said there is an important line here. We do feel like it is people’s responsibility to be decent. If during life change conversations people are being rude, hurtful, or otherwise toxic you need to walk away. Do not argue because it is a waste of breath. Additionally, in heated times things will be said that cannot be unsaid. To avoid this, you have to “read the room” or watch the person’s reactions. If you see things going downhill it is always best to disengage, change topics, or walk away.

FIRE Travel Family - Garage Sale Picture - Successful Life Change Conversations - Brock, Becky, Kyra, Verity - Financial Independence - Retire Early - Early Retirement
We sold over $15,000 in personal belongings via Garage Sales & Facebook Listings!

Tip #3: It cannot be your goal to gain people’s support

A better goal is to simply be an information sharer. Let the people you are talking to take it how they want. You do not need to explain everything to everyone. Unsupportive people are unlikely to share your enthusiasm for your plans. Your excitement may even put them off. It can make them think your goals and dreams are an indictment of their life or lifestyle.

Our life change conversations experience tells us unsupportive people will infer a lot. They will infer things you did not say and likely do not feel. The cognitive dissonance your alternate lifestyle can create is tough for many people. Essentially, it is hard for people to understand your life change if they have no understanding of the lifestyle you are changing to. Even without understanding, it can create a lot of strong emotions. Rather than looking into themselves, it is easier to protect themselves. This often means the easiest place for their negative feelings to go is to you and your plans.

But here is the thing. Do you even need this person’s feedback and support? Most people you talk to will be living an entirely different life than you would ever want to live. Do you need feedback from someone who is living a life you do not want to live? Realizing this has been critical for us. We are an outlier in so many ways in our family and many social circles.

How We Would Have Life Change Conversations Now

We thought we were prepared to have our life change conversations. To be blunt, we were wrong. We went in with the wrong attitude and wrong expectations. We thought people would react better and were naive. If we were starting on this now we would prepare by focusing on the following.

Focus #1:Mindset

In life change conversations you cannot look for

  • confirmation
  • acceptance
  • support

This is especially true when dealing with unsupportive people. Instead, you have to keep in mind that you are only informing. If people ask questions you can also educate them. But you are not

  • Trying to get emotional support (especially in the first conversation)
  • Getting some kind of sign off or acceptance
  • Looking to get people interested in what you are doing

You have to remember how much it will be to take in for the person you are talking to. They may be shocked, confused, or any number of other emotions. You can only control one person’s expectations. That person is you. Do your best to have your expectations set correctly going into any life change conversations. Expectations and mindset go together. This is the definition of controlling what you can control.

Focus #2: Attitude

You may be very excited about your decision and its implications. Alternatively, you could even be nervous or scared. Either way, in life change conversations, you need to check your emotions at the door. You have to be able to listen actively to what the other person is saying. If you want this to go well you have to be empathetic to the people involved. You have to see and hear what is being said. It is easy to be excited and not do a good job in answering questions from a supportive person.

FIRE Travel Family - Garage Sale - Sports Cards - Successful Life Change Conversations - Brock, Becky, Kyra, Verity - Financial Independence - Retire Early - Early Retirement
On the First Day of our First Garage Sale, Brock Sold The Sports Card Collection of His Youth – It Was the First of Many Emotional Moments on Our Journey

Focus #3: Plan/Script

You need to be prepared and ready to communicate the most important points. You do not need a PowerPoint or speech. Neither would likely go well. For those with a background in entrepreneurship, think about an Elevator Pitch. Essentially, what are the 2 or 3 most important concepts? What would you communicate if you only had two minutes? In reality, this could be a few minutes more. But you should not talk for more than 5 minutes. Especially in a first conversation think concepts, not details.

Focus #4: Handling Questions

After your Elevator Pitch, you need to stop. This is when you let the other person take the conversation in the direction they need. Do your best to keep the “inform and educate” mindset.

  • Try not to take any questions personally
  • Keep answers concise
  • Speak from what you know and avoid speculation

It is important to recognize the questions that have merit. They could be the same ones you have thought about. In some cases, you may even agree with the issues people bring up. This is something you can acknowledge. Nothing can shut down a negative question quicker than agreement. It can even be helpful to thank them for their concern. People on the other side of the conversation want to be heard, just like you do.

Most people who have achieved FIRE are detail-oriented and analytic people. 99% of what people brought up was not new to us. But you can also share that you have researched it and feel prepared for it. Many times issues that seem large to outsiders are ones that you know are a small part of the larger picture of your decision. If you are like us and people question you it can make you feel untrusted. But you have to remember the people asking questions likely are not meaning for it to be this way. You have to work to control what you can control, in this case, your mindset.

Focus #5: Deciding When to Stop With Unsupportive People

At a certain point, you have to stop worrying about what people think. What is critical is understanding where this point is for you. For some people, it is right away. These people might not even have life change conversations. They might announce it first on Facebook. For others, it is a very long path. Neither is right nor wrong. But everyone needs to set a stopping point. Our advice is to know yours before entering life change conversations.

What Was Our Elevator Pitch?

You may be wondering what our elevator pitch was. Over time this has changed a bit but essentially it boils down to this:

  • Life is short and there are no health guarantees for anyone
  • Meaningful time with our kids and each other is what we value the most
  • We have saved enough to make our dreams happen
  • We travel the world more cheaply and live with less stress than we can in the US

There is a lot more that can be filled in from there. But this is enough to start with and adding more only dilutes and confuses the topic for most people.

Do unsupportive people ever become supportive people?

It can happen and has happened to us. There is one person who is very important to us and our kids who made this happen. So there can be hope for unsupportive people after early life change conversations. That said, it is pretty rare and takes someone who truly cares about you. If you think someone is unsupportive but wants to be supportive it will take a lot of time and patience. But it can be worth it if you value that person’s support. But remember the switch has to start inside of them, you cannot bring it about.

What is more likely is that people will moderate from fervent opposition to something less passionately opposed. Part of this is time and success in your dreams. As you go about your business and live your plan the chances are that others will see that it was not that crazy. When Brock quit his job at 24 and went traveling for 14 months people’s views changed over time. As he went on his 2nd and 3rd trips abroad it was normalized. Some people who were originally skeptics came around when they saw how things were going. People usually like to be part of an “interesting story”, even if they had little to do with it.

FIRE Travel Family - Brock Leaving on First Trip in 2004 - Successful Life Change Conversations - Brock, Becky, Kyra, Verity - Financial Independence - Retire Early - Early Retirement
Brock on his first international trip (for 14 months) starting in 2004; part of his mid 20’s retirement

For Friends and Family Reading This Post

For those supportive people in the family and friends, we appreciate you SO MUCH! We are not naming names, but you know who you are. You have been thanked in person and in other blog posts. You have been critical to this working for us and we love you! We did not even realize how amazing you were during our early life change conversations, but we do now. You are awesome!

For the unsupportive family and friends. We specifically did not name names positive or negative in this article. This article is not meant to call anyone out. It is to help others as they go through their life change conversations and the difficult conversations that could follow. As we mentioned in the blog post we could have done a better job communicating with you. We know now that we should have had our life change conversations differently. Our expectations were also likely wrong as we thought everyone would be excited and happy for us and our dreams. This was not the case. We also know many of you are still unsupportive. While we are disappointed by this, that is your right. We are doing our best to practice what we preach and accept it.

In Closing

Good luck to anyone looking to have these life change conversations! We could not have written this blog post 6 months ago (or even 3 months ago). It took us time to get to this level of perspective. As you go through this give yourself the time and space you need emotionally. Please consider and protect your mental health.

We hope that we have helped you get in the right mindset for this. For others who are reading this and have been through this feel free to comment on this post to add what has helped you. Also, share this with others who could use the support. We appreciate your support!

For those who are new to us, you can learn more about us starting with our about us page. You can also subscribe to our YouTube channel or Newsletter.

Brock Waterman

Written: 3/27/2022 through 5/25/2022
Posted: 5/25/2022

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