The Highlight Reel

As a blogger, people often want to know what your highlight reel is that influences your content. Just give us the overview of your life so we can quickly size you up. In some ways, it’s kind of similar to a eulogy or movie trailer.  If someone else were to sum up for life, accomplishments, and contributions, what would they say? What is your legacy?

How do you want your highlight reel to read? I talk a lot in this space about “biggest dreams, goals, values.” If that seems abstract, or you just aren’t sure, instead think about your highlight reel.

I’m 34 years old now. And here is part of mine from the last 15 years.

  • Married to the love of my life for almost 15 years.
  • Paid off $50k in debt. Grew Net worth to over ½ million. Work optional at 32.
  • Adopted a teenager from foster care.
  • Volunteered as a mentor with organizations. Received standing ovation for my work with International Justice Mission.
  • Traveled through 27 countries. Road tripped across the US multiple times.
  • Lived Abroad for 4 years. Learned German.
  • Adopted a sibling group of 3 that had disrupted 4+ placements.
  • Had two bio kids.
  • Paid for our very first home with cash. Renovated 3 homes.
  • Wrote words to inspire and encourage others to their best possible life.
  • Tried to be a blessing to everyone she met.

Are you willing to trade your highlight reel for an upgraded life? For more stuff? Or nicer stuff?

Each of those things cost me something.

Time, energy, income, focus, money.

I could have skipped all that and just had slightly nicer stuff.

I could have traded my highlight reel for a nicer home, with nicer furniture, and a nicer car, a bigger TV, more data for my cell phone, more toys for my kids, and fancier cheese.

At the end of my life, my friends and family could gather and say, “She lived a life a little bit more luxurious than the average person.” Is that the legacy I want to leave?

Maybe I will drive a beater car. Maybe I still wear my favorite dress from 6 years ago. Maybe I packed my lunch to work. Or spent some weekends renovating rental properties. Maybe if you meet me on the street, I wouldn’t seem all that impressive.

I’m not trading my highlight reel for a slightly upgraded life.

Upgrades are distractions. They steal my time, energy and freedom. Maybe people see them as a marker of success. But I see them as thieves. They water down the most important. They add white noise to the vision.

I have 160 years worth of living to pack into the next 50 years. The momentum is starting to build. Becoming Work Optional wasn’t a signal to check out of the game, but the freedom to double down on my highlight reel. Paying off debt, creating rental income, investing; all of that took time, energy and focus. Without the burden of paying the bills, or paying off debt, I can run faster. No longer weighted down, more energy is available to tackle my highlight reel.

I’m not my finished product. And my highlight reel isn’t done. Honestly, the best is yet to come. The end of my race will be even more impressive than the start.

I won’t judge what you want your highlight reel to be. This is the part of personal finance that is truly personal. If you want it to read, “always had the most snazzy shoes,” so be it. But if your highlight reel feels lack luster, take a look at what you are giving away all your freedom and choices for. Are you trading a great legacy for a slightly upgraded life or extra TV time?

What if we can’t have it all? What if we have to choose the most important and give up the rest? What is your “most important” and what is “the rest?” This is different for everyone. So we have to do the hard work of figuring it out for ourselves.

One of my “most important” is adopting kids that were passed over or too challenging for anyone else and being a truly exceptional mom. “The rest” would be having so many toys in my house that the floor is like a landmine. But maybe your “most important” is traveling and volunteering overseas, and “the rest” would be having kids. That is just as good. The right answer for you might be the wrong answer the next person. Your “most important” is fashion design and “the rest” is travel and eating out. Your friend’s “most important” is writing books and inspiring a movement, and her “the rest” is wearing fashionable clothes.

Treat the most important, like it’s the most important.

Treat the rest, like it’s just the rest.

I want an epic highlight reel.

If I have to cut out some of the trivial noise and random upgrades to do that, so be it.

I want to live a life that shines like a blaze of glory.

A life that inspires my friends and family long after I am gone.

With an adventurous spirit, she traveled, explored, carved out her own path, bucked the norm and chased down her vision and dreams.

She overcame. And persevered.

She was a blessing. In every situation, to every person she meets. She lavishly gave encouragement, support, comfort, inspiration, time, and, not least, her money. And the world was better for it.

She built things, created things and wrote things. Things that are special. Things that only she could have done. And those things last to this day. And we are better off because we have those.

Strength, tenacity, perseverance, vision. She was a game changer.  A ruckus maker.

What do want on your highlight reel? What kind of legacy do you want to leave? How will people remember you years after your time on Earth is done?

When that is crystal clear in your mind, everything else becomes simple.

My Mentoring Program looks at a few elements: keystone habits, daily actions, benchmarks, your trajectory, but it starts here. Your highlight reel. Your legacy. Because if you don’t know where you want to go, it’s awfully hard to create a plan to get there.

cheshire cat quotes life plan

I wanted this post to be part of our Financial Independence series, even though it might seem like an odd fit. But to me it makes perfect sense. I didn’t want to live hand to mouth my entire life. I wanted to do more than work so hard, just to pay the bills. I wanted more on my highlight reel. I wanted a bigger legacy. Financial freedom just made that easier.

Money was the means to end.

Honestly, it should always just be the means to a much larger and more important end. 

You just need to figure out what you want your ending to be. 


For Conversation:

What’s your “most important” and what is “the rest”?

What kinds of things do you want on your highlight reel?

By creating more financial freedom, what would that make possible?

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53 thoughts on “The Highlight Reel

    • Thanks so much. =) I find that the clarity of that focus simplifies all the other choices we need to make. Often when I see people struggling to make progress, it’s because they don’t really have a clear picture of where they are trying to go, what their “most important” is and what is “the rest”.

    • What’s kind of funny is I had all these plans for our life, and we basically wrapped them up in 15 years. I had planned for it to take another 20 years. But the more action I took, the more focus I had, the more momentum built. Part of taking a year off was to give us time to plan and dream what else we want to do. It’s like having a to-do list of 10 things, planning on it taking all day, only to finish by 11 am. Then going, “huh, well what should we do for the rest of the day?” My next 15 year plan is even bigger. =)

  1. most important is to seen as a good father husband and friend that helped other get better. That’s all…!

    In that, there is a lot packed in. It means I get to show how to be a good, person to my kids, how to take initiative and go after goals that are respectful and worthy. It means I spend quality time with people I care about and we have experiences that people will remember…

    • That’s awesome! By having that clear “most important” is such a good filter for our choices. It makes so many life choices easier. I will spend more time, money, energy on my “most important” and “the rest” gets the left overs. I combine my “year in review” with this and what benchmarks I want to hit and that filters how I spend my time, money, focus, ect. It makes my choices really clear.

        • No joke! One of my biggest issues with the typical 9-5 it that it not only thinks it’s the “most important” but also the only important thing. It’s almost never the only important thing to people.

  2. That’s a lot of kids you have there… great highlight reel. From what I’ve read of your site it fits well with your values. For me it’s all about the best life for my wife and kids while experiencing the world. When I talk about things with others it always comes back to hiking or camping with my family somewhere new. Those are my valued highlights.

    • It is a lot of kids! We love hiking and camping too. =) It was great to take our 6 week camping road trip last summer. And I think we will do a few weeks this summer as well. We all love the time outdoors and in the wild. You should look at some hiking/camping trips in Glacier National Park! We could have a pf family hike day. =)

  3. Sie sprechen deutsch? Toll!

    You have quite the inspiring highlight reel. My “most important” right now is travel and “the rest” is yet to be determined! I’m still figuring out what I want my highlight reel to look like.

    • Ja-ine. Aber es ist ganz scheisse. Ich lebte vier Jahre in Deutschland. Es half nichts. 😉 The rest might just be everything thing else. Travel was a huge goal for us the first 15 years. It’s still important but in this season of life, we are trying to add more adventure into each week. Then do a few weeks of concentrated travel.

  4. Awesome highlight reel Ms M! You stuck to a great plan so far!

    My most important is probably Freedom. Freedom to follow my passions, freedom to spend time with loved ones, freedom to travel and learn, freedom to make a bigger impact.

    I am striving to set myself up to travel more, volunteer, teach, start a family, and become work optional in my 30s. Looking forward to my ride ahead the next 5-10 years!

  5. I aspire to be a fraction of the writer you are. This is such awesome, moving stuff that I want to print it out and tape it to my wall. Well, I don’t have my own wall right now, but you get the idea. I wouldn’t trade my highlight reel for any of “the rest” — especially any societal expectations that I don’t value.

    Most people in the financial independence community write about FIRE like it’s the end goal — and when you’re in the process of getting your financial life in order, it can feel like it. But like you said, the highlight reel’s not over. In fact, we feel like we’re just getting started. The best is definitely yet to come.

    Is that last bullet point a Brandi Carlile reference, by the way? 🙂 Love it either way.

    • It wasn’t suppose to be a Brandi Carlile reference, but maybe her words have just been imprinted on me? =) I think you are totally right that the race to the end (of work) can seem that the ultimate goal, until you get there. Then people really need to have a plan for the meaning of their life/time. I think it’s something that takes a lot of time and thought in the years before. The “we’ll just figure it out when we get there” rarely works.

  6. Sometimes I wonder if having kids young was a sacrifice to my highlight reel. I like my life–dont’ get me wrong, but I do sometimes wonder what I would have done if I had lived like most millennials and delayed some of these milestones.
    Then I see all the things you have done, and I realize I’m probably just behind on my game. Foster care/adoption for a teen is definitely something I want to do in the future. I might wait until my own kids are older, but it’s always so sad to me when kids are “left” just because they’re not infants.

    • I have had to stop looking at because it just breaks my heart, and I start trying to talk myself into how we could make it work. (We can’t!) 20,000 kids each year just age out of foster care because no one ever wanted to adopt them. I can’t imagine going through life without having the love and support of parents. I speak to organizations about adoption from foster care and to foster parents. Mr. Mt worked in that field for a long time. But it’s challenging when your home life so closely mirrors your work life. I won’t lie: it’s not for the faint of heart. It takes a lot of grit and love. Every time we adopted it put everything else in our lives on pause for 2-3 years. But I love my kids so much, and they were all worth it.

  7. Thanks for sharing. I like how you separate “the rest” from what’s important.

    You are truly inspirational. Your heart is so big and I’m amazed by all that you do. It takes a special person to nurture children everyone else gave up on.

    • With over 100,000 kids in the US ready to be adopted, but no one lining up, I wish there where more people out there that feel called. But it is hard. Like crazy hard. On my very first date with Mr. Mt I let him know this was a calling on my heart, and wondered how he felt about the idea. I think the fact that we planned and prepared for this from day one was a huge help. And I think it’s true for most things. If you plan and prepare long enough, you can do whatever you set your heart to.

  8. I love this so much, Ms. M! I often think of these things, the stuff that means so much to me, that my wife and I pour our hearts into, that will for the most part go unnoticed. But there’s an eternal value, and our lives are so much more enriched for it.

    Reading your post, I’m reminded of the Jon Foreman lyric,

    If we’ve only got one try
    If we’ve only got one life
    If time was never on our side
    Then before I die I want to burn out bright


    Great stuff.

    • Awesome! I think it takes a fair amount of time and effort to find the things that really resonate for each of us. But once we do, the purpose becomes so clear and the path much less cluttered.

  9. Very inspiring, and another reminder that I really need to work on the social end of my life. We have been so very family focused for the last few years, and I think strong family bonds are worth celebrating. But we also have a small aging family. I fear that as folks age, we’ll get more isolated if we don’t start creating more bonds to others.

  10. Great post! I like the idea of a highlight reel! Mine would be a crazy read for someone else, but it would be thought provoking. Now that I’m staring down the last 30 years or so, I feel like I have finally started to figure things out. Better late than never I say 🙂 Stumbling upon the world of minimalism, PF, and FI has changed my perception of who I am, and has finally given me a clearer understanding of what it was I was always searching for all those years.
    Thank you for your kind responses to my comments on your earlier posts. I’m glad to have found your blog, and the fact that you are an adoptive/foster family makes it all that more special.

    • I think it takes a lot of intention to separate out: the norm, everyone’s’ expectations, societal expectation, ect and really figure out what exactly it is we want in our lives. What kind of impact we want to have. What we want to accomplish. What we want our legacy to look like. Then convince ourselves we have more control over those things than maybe we thought we had. Plus it takes time to try things, test things, and figure out if we really want what we thought we wanted. Even though this is mainly a PF blog, figuring out the money piece is just a means to make the rest possible. 😉

  11. Great post! I completely agree. If you live a life of constant upgrades, you’ll never be happy. Let’s say you’re a car nut and you’ve always wanted a porsche. You go out and by a porsche boxter. But you quickly become accustomed to it and wish you had the porsche 911. But instead of being content with the porsche 911, you then wish you had a Ferrari. It never ends! Much better to have a life of experiences than a life of accumulating stuff.

    • I think it become a lot more simple when you know your most important. Whatever it might be. Enjoy that, spend time, money, energy on it, and don’t worry about the rest. It’s finding the balance on where to splurge and where to sacrifice. The biggest lie we can fall into is, “well, everything is important to me.”

      • Indeed. Just seems that many have a hard time figuring out what is important or what actually brings them happiness. For instance my friends with huge houses and expensive cars that are constantly complaining about what they have (or don’t have) when they see someone who bought something better than what they have.

        • It’s tough for some people to disconnect spending money with enjoying life. Advertising runs on the idea we need to spend more to be happy. But take my January expenses for example, most of what made that month awesome was free or low cost. When 7 people can have an amazing month for $1700, it’s not money buying happiness.

  12. Your highlight reel is very similar to the one I hope to achieve. I don’t get excited about nicer things, but instead I get excited about a greater life. A life that impacts others along the way. I want to travel and see the world, but most of all I want to serve others. My life is not my own. I am working to become financially free to give me the freedom to do more than I can today. Thank you for sharing!

    • I am working to become financially free to give me the freedom to do more than I can today.
      It will absolutely be the case! Now that we don’t need to spend all our time earning money to pay bills, we have so much more to give. I’m spending about 15 hours this week preparing a talk for teens in a skate ministry. I’m so excited to be able to share with them. But if we were still working 40+ hours, trying to get ahead, there is no way I could. So many things have opened up since we were able to leave the 9-5. =)

  13. Wow, you’ve packed a lot into 34 years, very cool! Traveled to 27 countries?!? I’ve been to, let’s see, exactly three–or two if you don’t count 2 hours in Tijuana one day. 🙂

    • It’s been full. I blame in on intentional living. =) I had always planned/dreamed of traveling. So when we got an offer to live abroad for 4 years, we jumped at the chance. Plus we had saved up a bunch of money to make it happen, and did it on the cheap.

  14. I love this!

    I can’t help but wonder sometimes how having a partner who was more sorted in terms of career and $ would have affected my highlights reel. Overall I’m happy being able to say I took 6 amazing months off to travel the world, have had 4 dream jobs, doubled my income, bought a house and own 2 gorgeous dogs.

  15. Thanks for sharing. SO in total, you raise 6 kids? wow!
    I am 28 and I haven’t have much highlight… I count myself blessed because I don’t have a money problem but I don’t know what’s my most important and the rest, which is a bigger problem. :p I try asking myself and God this question for a long time but I haven’t found the answer.

    • Our oldest passed away almost 5 years ago, so we have 5 at home right now. I wrote about that a bit if you search a post called “Can’t waste good.” Figuring out what those most important things can take some time. In each month of my mentoring program I added an exercise to help clarify those goals and kinds of things people want to end up on their highlight reel. It’s a little pricey because it’s literally hours a month of me walking through each step with you. But we can always try to see how much ground we could cover in an hour long consult too. Make sure you sign up for the email list, because I am giving away a free consult in March! =)

    • Retire by 40 is an awesome and super kind blogger! I’m glad you found your way here. =) I like reading a variety, but I’m definitely happy there are some really cool ladies writing in the PF space.

  16. I have a workshop that I give locally that covers a very similar topic. I call it ‘Clear the Chaos – Live Fearless, Focused and Failproof’. When I ask adults what they really want out of life, it is rarely a bigger house or a fancier car. It is more like a ‘highlight reel’ as you put it. However, with all the noise from society, it can be hard for people to focus on their dreams.

    Also, for me, when I was younger, I did a lot of physical adventures, but now that I’m in my early 40’s, I get more satisfaction out of intellectual adventures, which fortunately, doesn’t require a lot of money or stuff.

  17. Oh, this is amazing! If I’m going to have “snazzy” shoes, I’ll only have one pair 😉

    But seriously, adoption is a huge part of my story — I’m a bio kid and we adopted three boys from foster care when I was 9 (they were 9 months, 1.5 and 3 years). My life’s trajectory shifted that day I came home from school — adoption has been on my heart ever since!

    Funny that I’m reading this post now, after I just write a post about we get to “choose our own adulthood” based on our own values and circumstances, not necessarily what everyone expects “adulthood” to look like.

    Thanks for being you, Ms. Montana!

    • That is amazing. I often wonder how our oldest bio son will look back on this. From being an only child after his brother passed away, to adding three little adopted siblings all at once.

      And your post was spot on! So many parts of our life are really unconventional. But we get to pick whatever we want. We have to take a little flak and push back from others. Like when my grandma first saw the first house we bought and was like, “Oh, sweetie, you aren’t really going to live here, are you???” Yup, and we will make it awesome! And it is. It’s a great little home now. It just started by looking terrifying. =)

      • I talk about my brothers’ adoption all the time. I actually think I probably talk about it more than they even *think* about it 🙂

        If you ever want to chat about it, I’m always up for that conversation! I’m sure my perspective isn’t everyone bio kid’s perspective, but I’m totally willing (and eager, let’s be honest).