Joe Dirt famously said “Life’s a garden. Dig it!” But what happens when you neglect your garden? Your chosen plants wilt and die, quickly replaced by weeds. If your life is indeed a garden, and you neglect the parts that make it fun and enjoyable, you’ll get overrun by weeds.

Jillian Johnsrud reminded us that we need to be intentional about our lives and choices. She pointed out that life isn’t a race to the FI finish line, where you’ll start out with a barren plot of land to make a garden at that point. If you get there and have nothing to focus on, your plot of land will either be a patch of weeds in no time or maybe the dirt will dry out and get caked up as it does in a drought. She encouraged us to plant 1,000 seeds, to get ideas started germinating, which could be hobbies, business ideas, or friendships.

That is my (poor) retelling of the final classroom session at this year’s inaugural Adventures to FI Retreat. 50 FI-seeking individuals from around the US and Canada converged on Whitefish, Montana for a weekend of fun, learning and thinking about our paths to Financial Independence and beyond. Jillian also invited 3 special guests to join us and help lead discussions and sit on a Q&A panel, who have all already achieved FI: Pete (AKA Mr. Money Mustache), Ed from the ChooseFI International Foundation, and Kerry Ann from The Best Chapter (who has an audacious goal of giving away a million dollars).

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The event was held at The Lodge at Whitefish Lake, a picturesque ski lodge sitting on the banks of Whitefish Lake, complete with a Boat Club, pools and hot tubs (both indoor and outdoor), and a conference facility. Jillian also rented a large luxury home in an adjacent neighborhood for the group to mingle and share meals in a more relaxed setting.

We mostly arrived on Thursday afternoon/evening and made our way to the luxury house for some drinks and ice breakers/introductions. The event began in earnest on Friday morning (after a plentiful breakfast) where we heard from Jillian about finding happiness all along the route to FI. You don’t just wake up one day with a enough money in your accounts that you have a permanent smile on your face from that point on… it takes deliberate steps to build happiness into your daily life and routines. After Jillian’s talk, we had the Q&A with our esteemed panel, including some questions from Jillian to seed the conversation, along with audience questions. By the end of the morning, we had breakout sessions where people chose to talk to others about topics of interest to them; I chose Mindfulness and then skipped over to the Real Estate table before we stopped for our afternoon break.

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Jillian leading a Panel Q&A with Ed, Kerry Ann and Pete
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Photo courtesy of ShawnaBensonPhotography.com

Whitefish Montana is near Glacier National Park, so a lot of folks headed out onto nearby trails or to catch the famous Red Bus Tours. I stayed behind and walked into town with an attendee named Peter from outside of Toronto Canada. He heard me say I was going to check out a barbecue restaurant, and since they don’t get good barbecue in Canada, he was happy to join me. I also lucked out that he had some American Dollars that he “needed to get rid of” so he picked up the tab for our delicious lunch. He headed back to the lodge to get some work done on his laptop, but I continued into town to check out the cute little shops and restaurants in Whitefish (AKA I wanted to see if I could find hiring signs to submit on JobSpotter). After finding 4 signs (worth over $8 to me), I was starting to get a little chilly and walked back to the lodge to sit by the fire.

The evening session on Friday was back at the luxury home but was really just a meal and more conversations. Jillian posted in the event Facebook page that she was hanging out drinking tea by the fire in the big house, and that anyone was welcome to stop by early if they weren’t out exploring. I headed over right away to chill out on the oversized couch and catch up with my friend Jillian, who I really didn’t get to see a whole lot during FinCon only about 6 weeks earlier in Washington DC. It was just the two of us for probably 30-45 minutes, and that was so nice to just sit and chat with a friend!

Saturday started with another big breakfast, then each breakfast table became a 10-person mastermind session for an hour. Each person had 7 minutes to ask a question or state a scenario, and the other 9 people would provide suggestions, ideas, or questions meant to help each person think through the options of the situation they described. At my table, a lot of the questions centered around finding different career tracks, without completely abandoning the knowledge and skills we’ve developed along the way. Some people were interested in getting started in real estate, and although I have not invested in any rental real estate to date, I have studied quite a bit and regularly listen to podcasts covering that material, so I had a lot of useful info to provide in that segment (thanks Coach Carson, Rethink the Rat Race, Bigger Pockets, etc).

Then we went outside the lodge to take a group photo, before heading inside for 1 more breakout session on a topic of your choosing. This time I sat down with 7-8 other single people on the path to FI, where Jennifer Mah led us through a lot of considerations she’s been thinking about because there are a lot more things to worry about and deal with as a single person, without a partner or children to make decisions for you in the case you become temporarily or permanently incapacitated. It wasn’t all depressing though, as the conversation eventually came around to dating, with questions such as “would you date a person with debt?” and “would your partner have to be on the path to FI?” with various responses to those scenarios. Generally, we all said we’d be ok with debt if there was either good reason for it (student loans to finance an education for a professional career) or they were actively working to pay off the debt. But the path to FI question definitely had us split – I said I would want her to be interested in reaching FI and joining me in traveling, while others didn’t seem quite as concerned with that situation, although they weren’t all necessarily happy with traveling the world as a solo woman.

For many of the attendees, this was their first FI-related event that was longer than a couple hour meetup. But there were some familiar faces from CampFI SE in Gainesville last year, or FinCon, and/or a Playing with FIRE showing. In all, I knew 9 attendees/panelists before arriving, so I came away from the event with 40 new friends. 5 of us even wound up on the same plane to Seattle on Sunday, so the conversations kept going in the shuttle to the airport and during the 90-ish minute wait to board the plane!

After I arrived in Seattle, knowing I had 7.5 hours until my red-eye flight to Philadelphia, I hopped on the Link light rail into downtown Seattle to join up with Angela from Tread Lightly Retire Early and Purple from A Purple Life. We’ve been friends on Twitter for a year or two by now, but I had finally met them in person during FinCon in DC, so it was very cool of them to meet me downtown on an abnormally rainy October day to hang out and help pass the time. We grabbed edible cookie dough, then checked out the Seattle Central Library, walked through a park I had been to back in 2003 but neither of them knew existed(!), and we went to a Mexican restaurant for tacos.

I got home about 24 hours after I boarded that plane at Glacier Park International airport, so I’ve been struggling with a bit of jet lag and exhaustion since I made it home. I’ve been meaning to sit down at think through all of the terrific advice I received from my mastermind group, and try to figure out what my next steps will be as I try to grow a better version of my life’s garden, filled with the kind of work and people I love. So far this year, that has meant travel to these FI events like CampFI, FinCon, Playing with FIRE documentary showings, and a trip to Cabooselandia. But the trips are always so well worth it to me, and the Adventures to FI Retreat in Whitefish Montana was no exception!

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Photo courtesy of ShawnaBensonPhotography.com
  1. This looks so fun! I mean, average scenery but everything else … 😉 Montana is on our list. Also, ALL OF THE TACOS. Yum. What a wonderful message — happy you’re filling your garden with such cool people and experiences!

  2. I’m so jealous that you got to go! It seems like such a fun experience in a beautiful place.

    Also, I love the unicorn on purple’s face. Ha.

    1. I had a lot of fun, and it was well worth the following week of jetlag 😁 I was looking for a purple emoji for Purple, and that one stuck out to me! 💜

    1. It was a whole lot of fun, and I got to meet some really interesting people from all over the states and Canada.

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