Dreaming in Maximum Bigness

This past weekend, while listening to the radio, we heard that it was the start of the Iditarod dogsled race in Alaska. Almost immediately, I exclaimed, “We should do that! We love dogs, we can handle the cold, and how many people ever get to do such a thing?” (I felt quite sure Maggie would support this idea.) We had a good laugh, but agreed that we actually could do the Iditarod after we retired, if it’s something we feel like pursuing one day. That’s a pretty amazing thought.

Related Post: Mapping Out Our First Year of Early Retirement

Early retirement will give us the incredible privilege of getting to dream big — and actually bring some of those dreams into the realm of the possible, the doable, the done. It’s not just about not working, although that’s a lovely thought all on its own – it’s about getting to do the things that most people only dream of, that can’t be done with three weeks of vacation a year, that can’t be done as just a side hustle.

Dreaming in maximum bigness

What if we decide we want to sail around the world, Kon Tiki-style? We can do it! Recreate Ernest Shackleton’s Antarctic voyage, but with a more successful ending? We can do it! Finally track down that pesky fountain of youth? Well, you get the idea… (Not quite sure why my brain went in such a sea-faring direction there, especially since the only boats I like are little tiny things like canoes and kayaks.)

Our dreams may not be as big as completing the work begun by Ponce de Leon, but they’re still BIG DREAMS compared to what we realistically have time to accomplish in our vacation-limited lives now. For all of us pursuing — or already living in — early retirement, we really do have the chance to think at a level of maximum bigness. Heck, the Mad Fientist is applying to be an astronaut! His dream is so big the planet Earth can’t contain it!

Heading off to Mars may not be your dream, but we’d wager that there are some things you would have loved to do as a kid that you gave up on at some point. Maybe this is the time to put those dreams back on the table. It’s probably too late for me to win Olympic gold in figure skating, but you can bet that I’m going to ride rollercoasters on a school day! (Only because #science won’t actually let us make Jurassic Park a reality — obviously I would be a velociraptor trainer otherwise.) And Mr. ONL hopes to live his once-extinguished dream of being a bonafide ski bum, since his childhood dream of being a gumball machine is neither lucrative nor metaphysically possible. (And, turns out, we needed more ambitious dreams as kids.)

If you could do anything, what would you do?

We love this thought experiment, and love even more that it doesn’t have to be just an experiment once we’re retired in less than 22 months. Sure, it might not work if what we dream of is to buy and destroy Lamborghini after Lamborghini. But if we’re just talking about things we can do and experience, not things we need to buy, virtually any dream can be within the realm of the possible.

We’ve long dreamed of climbing lots and lots of mountains, but the longer we’ve been planning for early retirement, the more we know that we don’t just dream of climbing tall mountains, we dream of seeing every corner of the world, and imbuing those travels with meaning via art and literature. While that means we’ll probably never become world-class mountain climbers, it means we’ll see a whole lot more of the planet! That’s a trade-off we can happily accept.

Here are some of our big ideas we’re already dreaming of:

Make a documentary film series, produced over the course of our travels, shedding light on injustices in our society.

Learn Spanish well enough to read novels in it, read One Hundred Years of Solitude in the untranslated text, then drive to Colombia in a campervan to retrace the book’s journey before continuing on to Tierra del Fuego.

Audit courses at a nearby university in archaeology, and then volunteer on archaeology digs in Central America or the Middle East. Maybe bring along an Indiana Jones hat and recite witty repartee from The Last Crusade. 

Hike a long trail like the Continental Divide Trail or Pacific Crest Trail while sending back updates to a classroom of students or a scouting troop.

Climb all the 14ers in Colorado, California and Washington while collecting climate data for NASA and NOAA.

Race the Iditarod – maybe. :-)

Making any of these dreams a reality would take lots of research and planning, as well as some all-star budgeting and travel hacking. Slightly more than it will take to get me on a rollercoaster mid-week, anyway. Slightly less than it would take to build a real life Jurassic Park. But anyone who’s serious about retiring early has already got a bad case of the planning bug, and won’t mind the logistical side one bit.

The fun of this post is all in the sharing, so spill it: What would you do if you could do anything? What long-dormant dream would you resurrect? What new dream would you pursue? For those who are already retired, what have you already done that you never would have thought could be in your life plans? Go!


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66 replies »

  1. I’d go back to Belize and participate in another Mayan excavation or two. Hiking more of the AT and PCT are on the list, too. Really, I just want to be outside all of the time. 😁

  2. Your dreams are so interesting! We would definitely like to travel with our kids. We would like to serve the poor in some way as a family, domestically and internationally. We’d also love to expand our farming hobbies, and maybe even employ/mentor youth at the “farm”? That one’s still in the dream stage, for sure.

    • Thanks, Kalie! I really admire how dedicated you guys are to serving others — it’s so awesome. And I hope your farm dream is something you keep dreaming about, and I hope it happens! :-)

  3. Right now I get to work in a very tangential way with some cool non-profits. I’d love to get really involved in some humanitarian work in Syria and actually feel like I am helping the children who have been impacted and help them build back their lives. Or do some research and writing about effective delivery of humanitarian aid.

    I’d also like to hike a few long trails! Appalachian, Pacific Coast, or maybe hike/bike from Denmark to the southern tip of Italy. Spending three months hiking through the alps singing “the Sound of Music” with my kids is also high on my list. :)

    • I love that your dreams are all meaningful do-gooder activities. You’re speaking our language. :-) And wow, that European hike/bike trip would be incredible! And YES, I hope you get to do that Sound of Music trip!!

  4. I’d buy commercial land within easy biking distance (3-4 miles) from the house, build or renovate a building on the land, and run a software studio from it. I’d leave open a few community rooms to rent out, and host a Toastmasters club there. Priced a few parcels nearby — my favorite is just out of range but could also host a small parking structure and some other small shops.

  5. Some of my dreams for the “retired life” include, but aren’t limited to:
    Building a wood strip canoe from scratch. I have the tools and instructions, just not the time.
    Finish the last section of the AT I never completed – maybe do a thru-hike if one of the kids get interested or I get a bee in my bonnet when/if we make it back to that part of the country.
    Go hiking around Scotland. I wanted to do this with my dad and it never materialized, but now, it’s just on me to get it done.
    See a baseball game in very MLB stadium – I’ve visited about 8-10 so far, but it could be fun road-tripping with the kids and tying that in one summer. :)
    Spending a month or more in non-U.S. locales during the summers – my first choice would be Costa Rica or Nicaragua (beaches and mtns), then Mrs. SSC loves Italy, Southern France would be nice as well – but the idea is to get out and see the world some on a slower pace.
    Expanding my gardening hobby – which will be difficult to do from another country, so that will ebb and flow with our plans.
    Find a good cause to volunteer with or spearhead and start in whatever town I land in – each time we land in a new one. It seems we’ll probably be in at least 3 after Houston…
    Enjoy my free time with kids and family

    Finally, but most significantly to me anyway is appreciating the unique situation we’ve made for ourselves with our FIRE/FFLC planning which affords me the TIME to be able to do these things. :)

    • I love all of those plans! I hope you’ll blog about all of them — the canoe, the baseball, the travels, the gardening… And we would LOVE to hike around the UK as well. We’ve seen such incredible pictures. And we definitely have a bee in the bonnet to get to Scotland, based on friends’ accounts, but all the more so after seeing that last scene in the new Star Wars. Must go there!

  6. Although travel is part of the equation, it’s not as big as some people’s desire to travel since I’m kind of a homebody. But like you, I’d like to make documentary films or some kind of video project that is all mine. And keep blogging and write what I want, when I want. Really just slow down and enjoy life!

  7. I don’t have a burning desire to do some specific particular goal, and I think that’s the main reason that I tend to default to sticking with the comfortable familiar known, even if it’s not super exciting and passionate….I definitely envy those who just know exactly what they want to do.

    • I’m sure none of us know *exactly* what we want to do, but at least in our case, we’re overflowing with ideas. If you’re not there yet, don’t rush it — it will happen. :-)

  8. I love the tone of this post. It’s so easy to pick up the child-like thinking and wonder that’s necessary for thinking in ‘maximum bigness’. I believe that as adults we have a hard time removing our bigness filters to see what’s truly possible.

    I have a couple that I’ve been mulling over that I haven’t shared on the blog yet. Here goes:

    Trails – Definitely have through-hiking the AT and the PCT on the list, but maximum bigness mean hiking in Ireland, Scotland, and Belgium. I’m sure there are more that I should add.

    Travel – I’d like to hit at least one other country per year. It would be nice to get a rental for a few months and actually live there and learn the place. Visiting for a week or two is nice, but there’s so much more.

    Farm – Trade in the big house for more land and become more self-sufficient. It’d be really neat to pool resources with friends or family to grow a community that supports each other. It’s so interesting to live in a suburban neighborhood and feel so isolated from the other people that live within walking distance. Hello hippy commune :)

    • Thanks, Chuck! We definitely see ER as a rare opportunity to go back to childhood in certain ways, so we’ve been thinking more about what we would want to do if we actually were kids again. :-)

      Your hiking plans sound fantastic! We’d also love to hike in the British Isles. Travel — we’re right there with you on having more time in places. And when you start your farm, we’ll live vicariously through you — our growing season up high in the mountains is about five seconds long, so real gardening is not an option unless we build a very expensive greenhouse. But wish you luck with your hippie commune!

  9. My plan is to be a hermit in the woods. Maximum bigness would be if I could live like Grizzly Adams or Dick Proenneke! But lacking land for a cabin, I’m debating between a truck camper or canvas wall tent. Plenty of public land to explore is exactly why I live in Montana!

    • That plan sounds fantastic! We’ve been debating for years how we want to camp in retirement, and keep going back and forth between a fixed up cargo van (Sprinter style) or a small trailer. Who knows — maybe we’ll do both so we have options. :-)

  10. Question: how to you balance future dreams against current reality? I’m really struggling with patience, I want to go NOW!

    • It’s hard! And sadly, I don’t think it gets easier with time… if anything, we get MORE impatient. Here’s a post we wrote on the subject, if it helps: ournextlife.com/2015/06/15/living-for-today-and-tomorrow/.

      • Actually I’m having the opposite problem: not taking the money I have now and retiring to the woods all summer! Then go back to work when I run out of money, rinse, repeat.

        It’d would mean losing $10k in performance bonuses each year and creating health insurance confusion, but I could conceivably work winters and play summers forever, instead of work and save now, retire and play later.

      • Ah, gotcha! We struggle with *that* too, but realized that we’re so close at this point, that it’s worth it to push through and finish the last few years so that we can travel and play forever. But it totally depends on your timeline and priorities!

  11. We were just talking about simply wanting to be able to finish a book in an amount of time that we can still remember what the beginning was about by the time we get to the end:)
    As for some bigger things, we really want to return to our original ideas of being “Dirtbag Millionaires” that started us down this path. We want to live for at least a few years in a ski town where we can get up and hike or climb for a few hours in the warmer months or ski or snowshoe for a few hours in the winter out in the fresh air most days of the week instead of most of our exercise coming from a piece of equipment in our basement and then rushing off to work.
    As for longer term stretch goals, we would love it if our daughter took to some or all of our interests and we could travel the world as an adventurous family. We have started visiting the state high points with her and are up to 10 at age 3 and should be up to 15 by her 4th birthday. I would love to visit every state in this way if we can shoot for Denali by the time she is a young adult and competent mountaineer (if the Mrs. and I can hold up!) I also would like to try some international slow travel, taking in much more of the culture than you can get in a 1-2 week vacation.

    • You already know that I think your plan is awesome. Love the idea of the state highpoints — and I especially hope that little EE gets into mountaineering so you can do Denali together! Though you can probably knock out the other 49 by the time she’s 12 or so. :-)

  12. These are great, boy you keep inspiring me for more future blog posts. Love it!

    Climbing lots of mountains is a great goal. I’d love to be somewhat fluent in Danish so I can speak Danish with Mrs. T’s family.

  13. I’m never running the Iditarod! But I will DEFINITELY be there to send you off! My big plans include getting actively involved in literacy organizations in Cambodia. (I need to start my Cambodian lessons this year!) I also want to do a lot of kid-directed travel. I’m already planning a trip (in probably 2 years) based on Penny’s desire to go to Mexico to see “a sombrero, eat yummy Mexican food, and see a pyramid with stairs.” How great is it to get such a simple list and then show up in Mexico to show her it is so much more than just those!

  14. Looks like you know what to do 22 months from now!

    On my list: travel from the north of North America to the South of South America. While doing so, take the time to photograph and do some local work.

  15. Some interesting personal goals mixed with side goals mixed with retirement goals……LOL that is our curse , the wandering mind of excitement and dreaming. Love your enthusiasm.

    • Haha — yes, it’s always too much enthusiasm, too much dreaming, not enough time! But it’s been a transformative realization to see that we don’t have to limit ourselves to “adult dreams,” we can think back to our kid dreams and actually reach those too!

  16. My latest big dream is to become an Angel Investor with start-up companies that deliver a social good – health care, sustainability, or benefit people in poverty.

  17. I want to hike. Work on volunteer trail clearing teams. Run and/or work at an animal rescue. Restore a historic building (or several.) Write a book. Any one of these I can do before I retire, so I’m making them a part of my life anyway. But, I’ll definitely continue once I’m free from work. There’s other travel, too.

    • Ooh, yes, restore a historic building! That’s a great one to add to our list, too. Because there will for sure be hiking and continuing to volunteer at our local animal shelter, just like on your list. :-) I love that you’re not waiting until retirement to do this stuff!

  18. So many amazing ideas in your post and in the comments here too. Once I started thinking of things, it was hard to stop… I’d love to get more comfortable with outdoorsy stuff so I have the confidence to do some longer hikes or canoe trips… Hiking mountains would be cool too… And I’d love to be able to grow enough food in my garden to preserve a bunch and be more self sufficient… And travel… obviously lots of travel… especially in low seasons when you can stay in a place and really get to know the local culture… And I’d love to help out with animal rescues or be a foster home to rescue animals… And the mind is off racing with more ideas… too many to list… Thanks for the fun Friday distraction!

  19. Dreaming of things we could do once FI is one of my favorite activities. :) Currently we are both dreaming of being ski bums as we have been thoroughly enjoying the slopes in Utah this week (although I am currently laid up with knee pain). Do we wait until we reach FI to move to the big mountains out west or do we move sooner and get jobs out here? So many options and this is only this week’s dream…

    • Sorry about your knee, but glad you had a nice time skiing! In our case, we decided not to wait for FI and moved to the mountains several years ahead of it — and we’ve never regretted it! But we have jobs that let us do that, which we know isn’t true for everyone. It would be essentially impossible to find jobs with comparable incomes in the mountains, so we’re pretty lucky we could pull off our telecommuting gig!

  20. I really enjoy your blog, but never have commented before.

    First, I found that this was an interesting follow up to Maggie’s (I read her’s too) Fill The Bucket List of things we have already done. It really got me to thinking.

    Second, I just had to tell you that I absolutely love all the photos you display every post. I really look forward to seeing what you will display next. That is why I think that with your photographic skills and focus on the emotional side of FI here on your blog, you could really make a great documentary.

    Third, I just want to say another reason that I come back to your blog and other FI blogs is that I love the positive reinforcement that the community provides each other, even when people have opposing viewpoints. If only our presidential candidates could be so respectful of others…

    Fourth, I when I read that you wanted to read One Hundred Years of Solitude, it brought me back to my junior year of high school, Christmas break where that book was required reading and I HATED it. It is good to know that someone feels it is worth reading, but it was just so over my head-and probably still is.

    Fifth, my list is spending time getting to know my grandchildren (don’t have them yet but I should be getting some in the next five years), mission trips around the country and maybe outside the country, visit all of the national parks, take an Alaskan cruise, but most of all to read and take a long trip to New Zealand. I have read so much about it and it seems like a great place to enjoy nature.

    Thank you for letting me share on my very long first comment. :)

    • Hi MJ! Thanks for reading, and thanks for commenting for the first time! So glad you’re here. :-) So appreciate your lovely compliments, especially about the photos! And AMEN to the community! We feel so lucky to be a part of it! Your list sounds fantastic! Exploring so much of the world, including far-flung places, lots of time with your future grandchildren — I hope you get to do it all!

  21. I, too, often dream of what I’d do with financial independence. I have lots of free time (if not “free” money) over the summer, so a lot of what I dream about is possible in short spurts during the warmer months.
    Lemme try for maximum bigness, though—larger than summer. I’d like to:
    • Hike both close to home and far away with my dogs.
    • Fix up the house so that every space is beautiful and functional, which is part of beauty in my view.
    • Grow food and eat it. (I don’t have any garden yet).
    • Do string art, and maybe write about string art.
    • Work on my knitting business and my blog.
    • Support my hubby by helping him publish his books.
    • Job shadow people in all walks of life—just to learn about different ways people work and do good.

    • Those are wonderful dreams! Such a nice mix of getting out into nature, creating and being creative, and connecting with your husband and other people. Love it!

  22. After having the time of my life being unemployed. My big dream is to retire early. I would love to be a stay at home parent full time!

    If we want to talk about more crazy dreams, I always wanted to be a pro wrestler growing up. Wait, scratch that. I was always short growing up (5′ 4 – think Kevin Hart) so I actually didn’t dream to be Hulk Hogan – I wanted to be a wrestling referee! So sad that a young kid was already limiting his dreams.

    I also wanted to be a baseball announcer.

  23. I love the idea of learning a new language, so that you’d be able to read a classical story in it’s original language. But even better is the idea of tracing books journey. I should put this kind of a idea in my bucket list too!

    We are also dreaming about sailing the world with our future children, when we retire early ;)

    • Wow, what cool ideas! I love the idea of chasing a book’s journey through time and space — and sailing the world with kids would be a massive adventure, for sure!

  24. So, we’ve been living overseas for 7 years now, but it’s shockingly embarrassing how little of home we have seen. Just a few states for the both of us put together. So, when we hit our number in 3 more years, we’re going to come home and spend a year doing a bike tour circumnavigating the US. We found a plan online that takes exactly one year, using the best cycling routes, and – here’s the kicker – keeps you in perfect 70 degree weather the whole time! :)