hope you all had a wonderful weekend! we took a little trip to a city where one of us used to live, and an interesting thing happened while we were planning for the trip: we were thinking about what we should do while there, and after eliminating all of the shopping- and spending-related activities, we realized that we couldn’t easily think of anything else to do there. what an eye-opening realization! to know that all of the past time there, even as a broke student, revolved around spending money. that sure explains why one of us graduated college with credit card debt! it made us reflect on how we have some places that, for a range of reasons, serve as spending triggers for us. definitely good food for thought, and perhaps a post for another day. back to our regularly scheduled programming…
today’s topic is one we wrestle with a lot, and which feels central to us as early retirement inches closer and closer:
how will we define ourselves once our careers no longer define us?
we’ve danced around the edges of the topic once before, but want to think about it more broadly today. and please share your thoughts in the comments — we’d love to know how others answer this same question!
even though we’ve long had a different vision for our lives than working past 60, we still get a lot out of our careers, beyond the monetary compensation, that helps shape our sense of self-worth:
- sense of accomplishment
- praise for good work
- feeling smart
- feeling valued
- being part of a team
- feeling connected to current events
- being providers financially
- feeling “important”
we put that last one in quotes, because it means different things in different instances. it doesn’t mean that we get vip treatment wherever we go, but we do feel that we play important business, leadership and mentoring roles within our companies, and are highly respected by our clients and in our fields.
that list of career stuff boils down to this: our work gives us the feeling that we’re making a contribution, and in return we feel valued for that.
putting aside all the stuff you already know (we don’t like working, don’t want to do it longer than we have to, can’t wait for early retirement) and that we all deal with at work (corporate bs, coworker drama, office politics), that feeling of making a contribution and being valued is significant. what will it be like when that feeling is gone? when we don’t feel important anymore?
we actually think the more important questions are: what will replace that feeling? and what will be our new vision of self worth?
one of the exciting and terrifying things about early retirement and our next life is it gives us the chance to decide for ourselves how we want to be defined, instead of letting that definition happen by default. we’ve all read the studies that show that mortality goes up after retirement — in essence, people don’t have a purpose anymore, and without a purpose they literally lose the will to live. we are determined never to let that happen to us, and that’s why we’re thinking about this now, not when we give notice at our jobs. or when we’re a few years into retirement and feeling aimless.
this is a different question for each of us, because we currently define ourselves differently, and have for most of our lives. for the mr., who is and always has been sporty, and is less defined by work, we’re envisioning an easier transition. our early retirement vision involves a lot of sporty, outdoorsy activities, so early retirement could actually be his path to self-actualization. he may struggle a little, though, with not feeling like a provider anymore. for the ms., however, who has always been defined more by her smarts, losing the “smart outlet” of work could be tough, even if the choice between work and freedom is an easy and obvious one. (we assume we’ll become permanent fixtures at trivia night at the local pub, instead of occasional participants like now, since pub quizzes are the only “smart contest” for adults, once you outgrow spelling bees and math competitions!) ;-)
so back to those questions — what will replace the self worth we get from work, and how will we define ourselves? the answer is: we don’t know yet. but we’re thinking about it! this is a big deal, and we haven’t seen this question discussed a whole lot on fire blogs. we also don’t think there’s any easy answer. sure, we hope to volunteer a lot, and make a big contribution in retirement. but does that rise to the level of defining our self worth? unclear. maybe providing value and making a contribution won’t be a part of our vision of self worth at all, as unimaginable as that seems right now. certainly we remain committed to leaving the world in better shape than we found it, so even if that will play out differently once we quit our jobs, that will still be a part of how we define ourselves. or maybe our self worth will be based entirely around freedom, autonomy and flexibility. maybe being able to do exactly what makes us happy will be entirely fulfilling, and that sense of fulfillment will define us. or maybe there will be something else we haven’t thought of yet that will be how we define ourselves.
we don’t have the answers yet, but we’re determined to be deliberate and thoughtful about how we define ourselves in early retirement and beyond, and not be defined by the absence of work. we feel incredibly energized to know that this decision belongs entirely to us, even if we don’t know what the “it” is yet.
of course we’re curious — how do you think your sense of self-worth will change in retirement? how do you define yourself now, and what part of that will go away when you’re no longer working? any ideas for how we should be thinking about our self worth and purpose? please share!
Want extra Our Next Life content? Get the e-newsletter!
Subscribe to get our periodic newsletter with tons of top secret, behind-the-scenes info we'll never share here on the blog.