What we want to do when we grow up // Becoming more useful in early retirement

when you tell people you’re planning to retire early, the first question that inevitably comes back is, “but what will you do with your time?” we suspect this question comes from most people never considering that a different path is possible from the usual work-til-65-then-retire model. (though, interestingly, in the recreation-focused small town where we live, we seldom get this question. people here, who have already chosen to place the outdoors above career, instinctively know the answer. their questions are more focused on the “how.”)

of course we have a response ready for the “what will you do?” question, involving travel, recreation, writing, camping, time for creativity and a little freelance work. but the real answer is:

we don’t really know what we want to do when we grow up. but we think early retirement will finally give us the time and breathing room to find out.

if you follow early retirement news, you probably saw that ridiculous msn “article” a few weeks back about what a terrible idea early retirement is. (we aren’t linking to it because we don’t want to encourage them, but you can google it if you haven’t already seen it and want to reward them for clickbait.) several great fire bloggers, like go curry cracker, have already responded, so we won’t do the same. but one assumption that’s built into the ridiculousness is this:

that people who retire early are giving up on a chance to be useful to society.

we couldn’t disagree more.

right now, our minds are so packed full of all the things we have to do for work, and work travel, and as a result all of the actual life tasks that we’re behind on because of work, that we don’t have time to really think. we are problem solvers by nature, as most people are, and we’re certain that once we have more time to hear ourselves think, we’ll actually become a lot more useful. maybe we’ll invent the next great thing, or solve world hunger, or write the great american novel. we certainly can’t do this stuff while we work high-pressure jobs.

and that’s not even taking into account the volunteering that we plan to do. right now, we both do different forms of consulting, in which clients pay our companies for our time. by definition, we’re working for people and companies who can afford to pay for us.

let’s consider this question: who are we more useful to? the people who can afford to pay us, or those who can’t?

we think we can be a lot more useful to people and organizations that can’t afford expensive consultants, and once we quit our paid jobs, we can spend a lot more time volunteering to help those folks out. and because we’ve spent many years honing our skills, we can be more useful to them than kids right out of high school can.

so while we may not yet know exactly what we want to do when we grow up/retire early, or have any clue what we may figure out once we have time to think, reflect and even philosophize, we know for sure that we’re about to get a lot more useful to society, not less.

what do you think? do you think early retirement is a waste of people’s potential? or do you have big plans for being more useful after you reach financial independence? let us know what you think!

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39 replies »

  1. I think that we get to do more things that are potentially useful to society once you retire; I’m hoping to do some voluntary work once I no longer have to work for an income, so help others and give back. I can’t quite decide in what capacity as yet, though I have a long time to decide!

  2. I have a long list of hobbies that I want to develop more, that I currently have no time for… so rewarding for me. But, I also want to do a ton of volunteer work. One of my main motivations for wanting to retire early (besides spending more time with my kids) is to make a difference in the world – even if its just at a local level. My current job gives me no satisfaction in terms of me feeling like I made the world a better place. So, I think I’ll be even more useful and have more of an impact on society once I retire early!

  3. Early retirement is absolutely not a waste of a person’s potential! In fact, I think society will benefit MORE from me when I’m retired. From being able to contribute more in volunteer capacities, to giving more time to friends and family. It seems our society would be a happier place if we could all figure out how to retire earlier (as long as we contribute in other ways–there are studies that show “working keeps you young” but I think that’s more physical and mental activity keeps you young, not specifically working). But I’m reading “The Overworked American” right now, so this is super heavy on my mind at the moment and I may not be entirely objective. :)

  4. Yeah, the problem with the article that you cited, and those like it, is they directly link having a job with life’s meaning. In other words, if you don’t have a job…something to robotically commute to and spend 30 or 40 years doing, then your life therefore has a giant void. After all, one cannot possibly find fulfilling, worth while and life-changing things to do on their own. No, these things come at the hands of a 9 to 5 job.

    These authors need to understand that when many people retire – especially those who retire young – we don’t automatically turn into Clint Eastwood in Gran Torino and angrily yell at the neighbors kids to get off our lawns. We don’t just sit there and twiddle our thumbs. For a lot of us who have the ambition and desire to retire early, we do so precisely because of the other fulfilling areas of our lives that we’d like to spend much more time doing.

    Maybe that’s volunteering. Maybe it is travel. Maybe it is starting our own little small business in a beach town somewhere. Whatever the case, we don’t immediately cease providing value to society, and in many cases, we don’t even stop working.

    Yes, we quit our JOBS. But that does not mean we quit “work”.

    For example, my wife and I have toyed with the idea of working on organic farms around the world after we finally call it quits.

    Our post-retirement to-do list is quite lengthy, which will keep us AT LEAST as busy as we are now with full time jobs. Quite frankly, with the plans that we have churning in the “retirement mill” out back, we don’t have time for full time jobs.

    There is way too much life to live. :)

    • Haha — but we WANT to yell at kids to get off our xeriscaped lawn! 😉 we are like you — if we do even half of what’s on our list, we’ll be plenty busy in ER. And certainly more productive, since we won’t be resentful of the work we’re doing!

      • Yeah, disturbing one’s impeccably-manicured rocks in their front yards should be a capital offense! :)

        At this point, I don’t even remember how to mow a lawn any more. I’d be looking at a lawn mower as if it were a really loud shopping cart or something like that. Xeriscape is wonderful.

  5. Is early retirement a waste of people’s potential? I not think so.
    You can have potential in different areas. One can be working in a corporate job, helping the corporate world move forward. Others in retirement can help as consultant small businesses, allowing these to grow harder than before. Or you can do volunteer work, helping out the community and make the community better.
    What is best? no clue… The main criteria: it should make you as a person happy and give a feeling of satisfaction.

    I also like the question: let’s consider this question: who are we more useful to? the people who can afford to pay us, or those who can’t?

    The answer is clear to me!

    • Glad you like that question — that’s central for us! People who can afford consultants can find others to help them. But those who can’t afford consultants need us!

  6. It’s ridiculous to think that if you retire early you are “giving up on society”. What about all of the people who donate their time to those in need while retired? Are they not useful to society? I think people are more useful to society when they are retired!

  7. Can’t wait for you 2 to retire and save the world! (after you rest of course – no pressure or anything!). The stories will be awesome!

    That article you’re referring to is so ridiculous. “You won’t provide value to anyone” was the most offensive, I found.

    • One saved world, coming up! 😉 and YES — so ridiculous in that “article”! As if most jobs add value! And we all have nothing else to offer. It’s laughable.

  8. I get the impression from the few people who know our FIRE plans view us as being selfish. Part of the reason is because we also don’t know exactly what we will do if/when we reach financial independence and as a result, we are not able to articulate it well to them. We truly believe that not needing to work will free our minds of the daily routine and will allow us to develop and create wonderful things. Despite having a full time job and raising a child right now, I volunteer my time to my community. I wish I could give my time to more organizations that are in need (like you mentioned in your post). My husband on the other hand has all kinds of incredible ideas he would like to spend his days (instead of a few hours on the weekends) creating and developing. I guess we will just have to prove all the naysayers wrong one day!

    • No doubt we both will prove them wrong one day! 😊 It’s awesome you make time for volunteering while working and with a little one. So admirable!

  9. Great title/ great post! I was just talking to a kid at work today that just graduated high school and is feeling pressure b/c she doesn’t really know what she wants to do with her life. I just laughed and told her that at 38 I still have no idea what I want to do when I grow up. She probably thinks I was joking. If she only knew.

    We allow ourselves to get so busy that we never just take time to be still, meditate, pray, think about what we really want. I started down this path to ER because of all he things I want to do with my life but don’t have time for. As we get close, the thing I most look forward to is not HAVING to do anything, and instead having time to just sit and think about how to answer this question.

    • Tell that kid we feel the same! We’re pretty sure most adults do, in fact. Most of us just fall into careers, and that’s fine for now. But we want to be intentional about how we spend our time after we hit the reset button.

  10. I’m still a 12 year old kid trapped in an old dude’s body, and I hope I never grow up :)

    I know I’m supposed to say I want to volunteer more and contribute to society, but even if that never happens and we are simply able to pursue our own interests in a joyful way, I think the world is still a better place than if we were still working. Happy people are better people. We smile more now, and more people in the street smile back

    As for the haters, I think Neil Young said it well in Old Man:
    It doesn’t mean that much to me to mean that much to you

    • Great way to put it: Happy people are better people. We believe that 100%. You guys are ahead of most of us in this journey, so it’s great to watch you discover what brings you joy outside of career. Thanks for commenting!

  11. I definitely do not believe early retirement is a waste of potential! I initially think that in order to retire it takes a certain amount of determination, willpower & almost strategy to do so. Most people that plan for early retirement (unless luck just somehow occurs with a stock pile of money) do so intentionally, and will not just drop everything once they have more freedom. I think about the potential I could tap into if my mind wasn’t stretched in hundred different places with allocated amounts of time! I think you will find yourself discovering many more talents in early retirement. :)

  12. do you think early retirement is a waste of people’s potential? Sometimes I get roped into the “normal” corporate America standards. I start to think “I’m just as smart as these people, I’m doing really well, why wouldn’t I stay until I reach the highest ranks?” And then I come back to reality and realize what I really value is freedom and time to do what I want. So no I don’t think its a waste of potential because once you get there you can apply 100% effort to your passions and interests. Maybe create the next online dating app or something that will change the world :)

  13. I’m very sure I will be much more useful once I retire. Right now, a ton of my time is spent with keeping up with regulations and insurance compliance issues that really don’t help patients or the world in general. Once those are off the table, I can use the skills I have to be more efficient. I could do volunteer work and double the amount of eye exams in a shorter amount of time.

  14. I like this one… I’m sure people that really know you aren’t saying that you are wasting your potential or not helping society. While some of my work is meaningful, it gets in the way of the truly meaningful stuff.

    • We’re lucky that our real work now is meaningful, but not every hour or even every day. At the very least, we can get out of the way for others to do that work, and we can take on new work that’s more meaningful and close to home. :-)

      • My work is meaningful too, but the constant 24/7/365 connection to the soul sucking device takes away some of it. That and the stress and ya, I love that I’m hooking up some of my colleagues to step right into the spot I’m vacating. It feels good to be able to pass that along.

      • 100%. Even the most meaningful paid work these days if filled with a lot of unhealthy crap.