Yesterday, the ticker on our sidebar went from 22 months to 21 months. And every single one of those ticks gives us a little thrill. As we get closer and closer, of course we get more excited. But it’s not all puppies and ice cream sundaes, either. There are some definite ups and downs that have come along with our journey, even when you leave the stock markets out of it.
One of the things that we notice a lot is how our retirement plan and our proximity to actualizing it impacts how well we roll with the punches at work. Some of this stuff is hard to disaggregate, because as we’ve gotten closer to early retirement, we’ve also moved up in our companies and taken on increasingly greater responsibilities. So the years of being close also happen to be our most stressful — we suspect we’re not alone in this, since most people will retire at their most senior in their careers. And they’re the years of the most travel (I’m writing this from an airport hotel, listening to planes landing and taking off — hey, at least I can watch a little free HGTV! Evidently shiplap is now a household term).
Related post: Why We’re Not Going to Complain About Work Anymore
We can’t know what it’s like to be 21 months away from early retirement in minimally stressful jobs. But we can use ourselves as a highly unscientific sample of two to look at the effect our retirement plan has on how we handle the stress of our work. And the answer is: very differently.
Ms. ONL — the plan and its downs
I’m in a place with work right now where being so close to our exit date makes things tougher. And though 21 months isn’t itself super close, we think of 2017 as our “senior slide” year, when we’ll work a lot less hard and coast a lot more. So in many ways, we just have nine and a half more months of real work, rounded down to nine for the holidays.
So even though I only have nine more months in my whole life of having to work my butt off, I’m struggling. #firstworldproblems, for real. I know. But if we were going to be working for several more years, I would be strongly considering looking for a new job. That would be tough in our mountain town, for sure, but I would be using my network to try to convince a contact that they want to hire me remotely. I feel pretty certain I could do it, but given that we have so little time left, it doesn’t feel the least bit worth it. Actually, it would feel dishonest, since I wouldn’t be willing to commit to any reasonable period of time.
On an emotional level, I want to react to drama moments at work these days by shouting, “I don’t need this crap! We’re financially independent!” I’m sure, in the past, I had thoughts like, “You can’t speak to me that way!” or other indignant, self-righteous reactions. But I definitely don’t remember having so many urges to tell people to shove it before we got so far along in our plan. Or maybe I’ve always wanted to tell people to shove it, and I have just let that stuff fade into the fog of time. :-)
I’m also just the kind of person who sees problems and wants to fix them, and it’s hard to accept that I need to stop trying to fix problems at work. Because I won’t be there long enough to make a real difference. But old habits die hard, and that desire to improve things has turned into bottled-up frustration.
Mr. ONL — the plan and its ups
On the other end of the spectrum is Mr. ONL, who is finding that being close to the end of his career is an incredibly freeing, positive thing. He is not ambitious or type A like me, but is still an uber-achiever, and is crazy valued at his company. But he would tell you that that comes from a place of extrinsic motivation, which is a fancy way of saying that he works hard out of a sense of guilt and obligation, not because he innately wants to prove himself.
This feeling of guilt is something he’s been struggling with since before we met. And he’s actually finding that being so close to retirement is the only thing in his almost 20-year career that has helped reduce that sense of obligation. He’s actually letting himself phone it in a little more, and not spend too much time on projects that don’t warrant it. He’s not bending over backwards as much to please obstinate clients who will never be happy. And he’s not letting bad coworkers get to him.
Navigating the ups and downs as a couple
It’s a great time in our relationship in that we’re both on the same page about our finances (mostly), and we’re super duper crazy excited about our future which is not so far away anymore. But it’s also a challenging time because work is so all-consuming, and because we’re both experiencing very different emotional reactions to the closeness of our end date.
This is definitely a one-day-at-a-time kind of thing, and something we’re continually navigating, but it’s proving to us once again that our marriage is our most important asset, and it needs tending. We can’t just tend to the investments, or track our net worth diligently. We have to make sure we’re taking good care of each other, too.
Ultimately, we know these last less than two years will fly by, and they’ll be barely a blip in the rearview mirror of our lives. But for right now, they’re our reality, and that reality isn’t as easy every day as we might like to think it should be. That just makes us all the more thankful that we’re in it together!
Do you notice that you handle work stress better or worse as you build up your savings and get closer to financial independence? Have you had any situations like ours, where you and a partner react differently to the same plan? Tell us all about it. :-)