the process

Replacing the Gold Stars // A Future with No Promotions, No Awards

If you missed Monday’s post, we issued a challenge to everyone: The Road Less Traveled Challenge. Check it out, and if you’ve done a post about it, be sure to let us know so we can share it!

It’s helpful in life to know yourself — what motivates you, what makes you crazy, what really moves you. We’re still learning things about ourselves all the time, often because we make an effort to ask ourselves the tough questions and really pay attention to the answers.

But — speaking just for me on this one, not for Mr. ONL — something that I have known for a long time and that is no surprise to anyone who knows me is that I am a gold star seeker. I like to know that I’m doing well, preferably exceptionally well. It’s evident in the earliest home videos of me as a two-year-old. I’ve settled down on the competitiveness with age, but I can’t seem to drop the drive for some sort of recognition. It’s definitely not my favorite thing about myself.

We could try to psychoanalyze me and ask why someone who is otherwise confident and self-assured is such a fan of external validation (because, you know, internal validation is so much more evolved), but I won’t waste your time with that. And I won’t make the joke about how it’s weird that I want all the gold stars since I’m not even a Millennial — except, whoops, I already did. Bottom line: I’m 36, and this is probably a trait about me that’s here to stay. (Can you relate? Just me? Anyone? Bueller?) // Replacing the gold stars we get at work once we retire early // Envisioning a future with no promotions or awards

So far in life, I’ve gotten a steady stream of gold stars from the usual avenues: school and work. As in literal gold stars stuck to poster board in school (is that still a thing?), followed by good grades and awards for awesomely hip things like math competitions (#nerdforlife), and then a continuous string of promotions and other recognition over my 15 working years. I’d wager a guess that most people on the FIRE path are pretty similar in that regard. You don’t game the system and engineer your life around an ambitious goal like early retirement without being at least a bit of a goal-oriented smartypants.

Envisioning the Star-Less Future

But now we’re facing a very different prospect: a life with no school and no work. And that life sounds exciting and perfect in every single way, except one: There will no longer be natural avenues for gold stars. No more promotions, no more awards. While that might suit the less ambitious Mr. ONL just fine, it concerns me a little.

And, in case you’re curious, the irony is not lost on me that I’m talking about ambition and leaving my career in the same breath. It’s a slightly unsettling combo to be a naturally ambitious person and also be sure to the core that I’m ready to bid adieu to my career. But we humans are complex beings, and it’s possible to feel multiple conflicting feelings at once. So there you go.

Replace the Gold Stars or Let Them Go?

The central question to me is the same one we’ve asked ourselves when we’ve pondered other big adjustments that will come when we retire, like how will we replace the social interaction of work? It’s essentially this question:

We’ve been getting this good thing (friends, gold stars, etc.) from work, and now work is going away. Should we find another way to get this good thing, or find a way to stop needing this good thing?

In the friends question, the answer is easy. Of course we aren’t going to try to find a way to not need friends. So instead it’s finding more ways to see our current friends and branching out to make new friends who are available during the middle of the workday, which we’ll have free very soon. But friends may well be easier to come by than gold stars, at least in retirement!

I suspect it will need to be a little of both: continuing to evolve to need fewer pats on the head while replacing some of those avenues for attaining gold stars.

Replacing a Few of Them

At 36, I’m not quite a fully baked cake, but I think if I’ve carried a trait through my whole life and still have it, it’s probably sticking with me. Denying that fact would just lead to misery down the road, so I’m already thinking about ways to get some gold stars in the future, even without being employed, though all in noncompetitive ways.

Pursue creative outlets — I’ve talked about how I don’t want to make my creativity pay the bills for us, but that doesn’t mean I don’t want to put creative products out into the world. Pursuing a wide range of creative outlets in retirement will provide an opportunity to get feedback from people, which — if it’s good — definitely counts as gold stars.

Keep blogging — I feel like we’re getting showered with gold stars every day here, thanks to the continued involvement of all of you who read, comment and interact with us on Twitter. We definitely plan to keep this up!

Get more involved locally — We’re already on the boards of some local nonprofits, and feel like we’re doing some good there. But after we have more time, we’ll get more involved, and then there will be lots of opportunities for wins of all kinds — in dollars raised, open space preserved, etc.

Redefine gold stars to include gratitude — This is a biggie. Gold stars have meant promotions, awards and public recognition up to this point, but that’s not the only definition. Thinking about this more broadly, I can choose to interpret anything I want as a gold star, including simple things like thank yous from people. I’m going to consciously work to see any expression of gratitude as a gold star, in any context.

Evolving Beyond Stars

I see it as a super positive thing that I’ve become less competitive with age, since that feeling of competition can definitely get toxic. But that trend overall tells me that I can keep moving gradually away from needing gold stars. After all, once we’ve achieved early retirement, I’ll kind of be carrying around the biggest and best gold star (at least to me) around with me for the rest of my life. If only I could wear it on my belly like a CareBear! But even without that star being outwardly visible, I do think it will feel pretty darn spectacular to know every day that I was part of a duo who achieved this massive life goal. I bet it will take a long time for that feeling to fade.

What’s Your Equivalent of Gold Stars?

There’s something for all of us that work provides that we’ll miss when it’s gone. For Mr. ONL, it’s the feeling of being a provider. For others it might be the chance to be a leader, or to be forced to learn new skills often. What will you struggle to replace after you’re no longer working? Or for those who are already retired, what has surprised you that you miss about work? Let’s chat in the comments!

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83 replies »

  1. You get a gold star for this post – and especially the line that almost made me spit out my coffee laughing, “If only I could wear it on my belly like a CareBear!” I am working on a decision today to keep teaching at a college because I enjoy working with students who want to be teachers and make a difference in kids lives! I teach online as well but nothing is the same as hearing the stories of my students who go to school’s for field experiences. When they share their work with children, it makes me “whole” to feel like I am a part of shaping who they will be. I will definitely miss that!

    • Yay for gold stars! :-) And wow, I can see why you’ll miss doing what you’re doing! Preparing the next generation of teachers is such important work, and I’m sure you get a ton of fulfillment from that, even if it comes with all the same frustrations as any job. Do you have some thoughts about how you’ll replace that feeling?

  2. Honestly, if I were to stop working today for the rest of my life I’m certain that I wouldn’t miss one thing. I’m not wired with a need for gold stars or a sense of providing or anything like that. In fact, I think overall fulfillment and sense of purpose and belonging would increase significantly if I were to never work another day in my life. But who knows. Once, and if, I ever walk away maybe I’ll realize a massive blind spot that I’ve been missing for years…and then spend the rest of my retirement in therapy :)

    • Haha — You sound more like Mr. ONL! :-) I know I won’t actually miss the work itself, but I’d be lying to myself if I didn’t think I’d miss some of the good stuff — the thrill of presenting and winning a new project, feeling that my ideas and contributions are valued, etc. So that’s why this post. But if you don’t need any of that stuff, then more power to ya! I’m jealous. :-)

  3. Love this post!

    What I’ll miss the most is built-in social interaction. I consider many of my coworkers friends (my college roommate even sits right next to my desk) and it’ll be difficult for a while, I imagine, knowing that while I’m free in the middle of a Tuesday that I can’t just ring them or my other still-working pals up to hang out. I’m relatively shy and can be extremely introverted at times, so it’ll be effort I have to put in to make sure I don’t devolve into mumbling at inanimate objects.

    • Thanks, Taylor! LOL — It seems like it would take a while to devolve into mumbling at inanimate objects. :-) But it’s good to know this stuff about ourselves, and anticipate the challenges we have. Then we can make a plan before we actually pull the ripcord to avoid become unvalidated hermits who never leave the house. :-)

  4. You pose (yet another) great question for all of us on the path to FIRE. Something I haven’t pondered quite as fully yet. Although you won’t find the true gold stars in your life as obviously as you have in the past, you probably need to just rethink them and find in other avenues. I believe volunteering is a huge outlet for gratitude and self fulfillment. I hope you find the same gold star in something like that (along the lines of giving back locally just like you’ve mentioned). Lean on your friends and loved ones and you’ll be just fine! And just because you’re 36 doesn’t mean your traits can’t evolve :)

    The Green Swan

    • Thanks, TGS! I agree with you that it will be a matter of finding gold stars in new ways, from new sources, maybe more coming from an internal place. :-) Volunteering is already a part of our life, but we plan to amp that up in a big way! So I bet you’re right that that will provide a lot of joy.

  5. What’s a “Care Bear”? Hahaha just kidding I think that I am goal oriented and being a Leo, I love to hear about it when I’ve done a great job. I think that was another thing that killed it at my last company is that my boss was so “1950’s dad” stereotype in that he was just always critical and wouldn’t ever utter a simple “good job!” It was so disheartening, almost like anti-motivation. Here at my current company I get lots of recognition from my boss all the way up 3 bosses up and sometimes beyond that depending on the visibility of the project. I love that, but not sure where it will come from in our Lifestyle Change/ER.

    Like you point out, I’ll just have to look for that in other places, like volunteering at the kids schools, like Justin at The root of good and his kids schools, or who knows where, but I’ll probably have the same issue. I think getting more active in clubs/non-profits will help that and like you, I’ll make my own goals to raise the most money, or set the bar high for a goal and work towards it on my own. At the very least it will keep me motivated. I think it’s just figuring out the rules in ER and like any new game it might take a little bit before you get good at it.

    • Ugh, 1950s dad bosses are the worst! Who still thinks that that’s how you motivate people?! I’m so glad you get more recognition now! I love the volunteering and setting my own gold star goals idea — and even more I love your point that it’s something we’ll have to practice and get better at.

  6. Great, thoughtful, honest post! I found an abrupt dearth of gold stars when I went from a smartypants university student to a high school teacher. Kids aren’t there to applaud your awesome lessons, and although there were bits of feedback, both good and bad, throughout, I definitely missed the feeling of getting A’s on papers. This was but a shadow of the transition to motherhood. More than stars I’ve missed achieving. It’s a long haul that really isn’t about “how I’m doing.” This has been challenging in very good ways, and I’m still learning, but I can say my need for stars has significantly decreased. Great point about noticing gratitude; I also think finding ways to recognize others’ growth or accomplishments can be equally rewarding and you may have more time for that.

    • Thanks, Kalie! As I wrote back to Penny, I think teachers have one of the most needed but least appreciated jobs, and it bums me out that we don’t do more to recognize teachers! We pay them badly, ask too much of them and don’t thank them enough. So THANK YOU for doing that! And as for being a mom, it’s really good to know that your need for stars has decreased! I definitely wonder if that will happen to me, but it’s great to know that others have had a positive decline in star need. :-)

  7. It is hard to move toward needing external praise to be satisfied with internal praise. The last few years I just keep thinking about how I want to make the world a better place, even if its just in a small way. And so I’ve been re-tuning my gold stars to come more from that place in your soul where you feel like you did something that day to make the world better and not worse. Plus, as money has become less of an issue for us as we started fining happiness in non-monetary things, getting a raise or a little $50 thank you at work stopped having meaning to me, because it wasn’t the money I was chasing anymore.

    • I love the evolution you’ve been going through! Giving yourself the gold stars instead of looking for them externally is so fantastic! And especially if it’s from making the world a better place. :-) I totally agree with you that the money isn’t that interesting as validation — it’s really more about knowing that my ideas are valued and needed. :-)

  8. can relate to your competitiveness at work, even though it is just a job and am indifferent to the work, I still want to do well

    Some day when we are early retirees we will find things to occupy our time, I just have a feeling it will be competing with myself vs others – help people more, exercise more and hopefully blog more, learn took cook amazing meals, etc

    • That speaks highly of your character that you still care about doing a good job at work even though you aren’t totally invested in it. Same with us. And I think competing with yourself (within reason!) is a healthy place to channel some of that drive! Working to better yourself instead of competing with others. When you learn to cook those amazing meals, will you share? ;-)

  9. I think quite a bit about what a dramatic change not working will be in life. And you’re right that you might lose a little bit of the ol’ pat on the back. But I think I’ll be pretty content with it.

    I don’t anticipate losing my drive in life… I think that’s just something you’re either wired with or not. So I think I’ll be able to continue to find things that are good for us and hopefully provide a contribution to society as a whole as well.

    — Jim

    • So true — if you’re wired with that drive, it’s not something that goes away. That’s definitely what I believe for myself, anyway. I know I’ll have no trouble finding places to channel that energy, but I wonder about the gold stars part — those will be harder to come by!

  10. We all need some “attaboy” or “attagirl” back slaps. I think it is also important in any stage of life to recognize and understand your own personal stars. i.e. your own personal accomplishments have to feel good from within and not always rely on external validation. That self-talk is important CBT for me.

    Whether that is taking time to be content about the small wins day to day or thinking deeply about those perhaps distant goals ( stars)

    On the latter point, one blogger who I read voraciously, wrote:
    ” If you reach for the stars, you may not get one. But you won’t come up with a hand full of mud either”

    • Or, as I like to think of it, you might ALSO get mud, but mud and stars is better than just mud. ;-) Haha. I do think it will get easier to focus on contentment over the little day to day things that feel too minute to matter while busily working right now.

  11. This issue was a major concern for me, and one that drove my decision to keep working after I was already in a financial position to retire. I was worried about the lack of social interaction, accolades, structure to the day, responsibilities and everything else associated with working (including the six figure salary). Had the employment situation not deteriorated as quickly and as dramatically as it did, I’m certain I’d still be there, waiting to retire until age 62 when I’d be able to collect social security to offset medical insurance costs (my original, revised early retirement plan). With the advent of the job becoming ever more stressful, less rewarding and more time consuming, the constant emails, voicemails and text messages nights, weekends, holidays and on vacation and/or sick time, the general culture of the corporation taking on a profit first, employees last bent, and a myriad of other issues, I became highly motivated to shape a future without employment there, but never intended not to work again. My revised plan was to find a low stress, set hours job that would provide medical insurance coverage for me, and allow me to keep working until age 62. Once we made the move, however (both physically to a new location and emotionally by my sudden resignation), it just didn’t seem necessary for me to seek employment. There was just so much time! Time to shop and prepare fresh foods instead of eating out, time to create homemade toiletries and cleaning products, time to see medical professionals in a timely fashion, time to address every expense and see what reductions could be achieved. In the end, what I would earn from a part time, lower stress job wouldn’t make up for the work related expenses and associated hassle, particularly if I was to work just for health insurance. Yes, we’d save some or all of the monthly $945.12 premiums, but I’d be gone for hours every day. I’d miss being able to watch the sun coming up, the slow pace of lazy mornings with Mr. AR and a cup of coffee, the walks around the block with the pugs, the beauty and serenity of the mountains, meal preparation where everything (even the burger buns) is from scratch, the errand running, the vet appointments, the visits with the neighbors and friends and relatives…the list is endless! When people say once they retired they can’t imagine how they ever found the time to work at a job, they’re right! It’s only been slightly over a year, but I can’t imagine getting up this morning and trading a quiet cup of coffee on the deck watching the sunshine sparkle over the lake for a cubicle somewhere shuffling papers, no matter what it paid. What do I miss about working? The six figure salary, sadly, is the only aspect of employment I miss, but not even very much. The price I paid for those paychecks was way too high. As an avid gold star seeker, no one is more surprised than I am, but the reality is the rewards I receive daily in my quiet, peaceful stress free life (like watching deer graze the lot behind the house, or hummingbirds dart around the yard, or houseboats on the lake full of families) far outweigh the file of excellent performance reviews and merit increases I finally shredded. I’ve learned a quiet gratitude for just simply not trading my time for someone else’s money, and no one is more surprised than I am.

    • I’m SO happy to read your account since you’ve been exactly where I am — and WOW, you even contemplated staying at work longer for gold stars! It’s so reassuring to know that you don’t miss any of that, and you’ve filled your life up with so much goodness. You totally made my day! :-)

      • I have a feeling you’re going to make the adjustment very well. It’s a shock to the system for certain, but in such a good way. Learning to relax and enjoy life and live in the moment hasn’t been easy, but I wouldn’t trade one glorious moment of intentional in employment for any number of gold stars. Sitting on the deck with a cup of coffee and a hearty slice of a freshly baked loaf of flaxseed bread slathered with farmer’s market butter is a better reward than all those meaningless performance reviews put together! Who knew?

      • You make a pretty strong case. :-) Not having to slurp my coffee down at my desk or while sprinting down an airport corridor will be a welcome change! Fortunately I think I already know how to relax (at least a little bit), but I’m SO excited to level that up and relax for real. Knowing that my relaxation is always time limited now makes full relaxation harder. (And yeah, I will NEVER miss performance reviews. I’ll leave those behind and never look back!) :-D

  12. I honestly had to think a little bit about your question to determine what exactly I will be missing from work. Truthfully, this was tougher than I had imagined, but I guess the best answer is “something to focus on” throughout the day. Though I have many-a-goal for my post-retirement lifestyle and things to keep myself mentally engaged, I guess the daily, required must-focus-during-business-hours thing will be missing from life.

    But honestly, I welcome that. I like to focus on things, but I don’t like to be *required* to focus on things. I don’t like a schedule. I’m a free-flowing kind of person. The things that I’ll be giving up by leaving work will be replaced by what truly makes me happy, a lifestyle built around what I actually want to be doing during the day.

    That’s the goal, at least.

    The truth is I won’t be missing much, which is probably why I am so eager to move into my next phase of [retired from full-time work] life.

    • Haha — You know I can relate to everything you wrote! I don’t like being forced into a schedule either, but the upside is that forcing it does have a way of making me more productive. So maybe I’ll miss some of that — but I bet I won’t miss it enough to trade back the freedom! :-)

  13. Nice post!

    We are all driven by different percentages of extrinsic and intrinsic motivators. Deep rooted psychological issues shape them early in life…..not smart enough to figure out how:-)
    But consider this….fire needs a bigger percentage of intrinsic motivation….the sacrifices and walking a different path will not hold if dependent only on gold stars.

    So, you will find another set of intrinsic motivators after fire…the percentages of extrinsic and intrinsic motivators will change…that is all. It all starts with a question and you have asked it😀

    • I decided not to go into intrinsic and extrinsic motivation for this post, but you’re so right. And you’re right that I ALSO have a pretty sizable amount of intrinsic motivation. I’m certainly not sticking with our multiyear FIRE savings plan just to get a gold star at the end! So I do think you’re right that more intrinsic factors will keep arising, but it’s also a matter of “know thyself.” ;-)

  14. I love your attitude and foresight. Our plans for early semi-retirement involve spending a lot of time with the kids. The only thing I might miss about regular office work is the interactions with adults. I love spending time with my husband (who I sometimes view as an adult), but there is something nice to chat about life with other people. However, the more I think about it, the more I’m convinced that our adventures will bring plenty of opportunity to interact with others. We always have the choice to engage in conversation with new people, it’s just a matter of taking some initiative to connect with others.

    • Thanks, Harmony! I have heard something similar from other parents, and I do think if you lose work social interaction, it will take more effort to have adult conversations. But kudos to you guys for realizing that it’s totally doable, just with a little more effort!

  15. I’m not a competitive person and it wasn’t the promotions that gave me external validation… it was the reaction to my ideas. The builds, the questions, even the devil’s advocates. They all validated “my brain”. That is what I miss the most. Social interaction to validate my brain. The blogging helps here – when I get a comment. [My blog is not-where as evolved as yours – I get 3-4 comments from 20-30 readers per blog. But I am trying!] And some part time consulting helps as well.

    You talk about finding new friends that will fill time during the day. That is not an easy road! Most friendships come from physical connectivity – where you live, where you go to school, where you work, who your kids go to school with (not for me – but you get the idea). So when you are now retired, finding new friends isn’t that easy especially early retirement – most people my age still work!… and true friendships take time to form. It is an area I have been consciously working on for a year and it has not been easy. I continuously reach out to others (invites to walk, go to dinner, go to a sporting event) and try to form connections with new people – to replace the loss of work “friends” … who validated my brain. So that is that what I miss and am trying to replace!

    • I think you’ve hit on something important here, and that is actually what I’m craving: brain validation. Because I truly don’t need awards or promotions — I just need to know that my ideas and insights are valued and needed. And I think I’ll seek that in similar ways as you do — blogging (keep going with yours! you have great things to say!), maybe some part-time work and volunteering in a strategic or consulting role. And I totally agree that making friends is hard! The only reason we think it will be a tiny bit easier is because we live in such an outdoorsy community, and there is a ton of openness here to make activity friends, even if those people don’t become close friends right away. And so many people work alternate schedules that finding people free during the day will actually be the easy part! But we know that’s completely unique to where we live. :-)

  16. This is so compelling (which ONL isn’t?!). I give a lot of gold stars, metaphorically and literally, but I don’t really receive them as a teacher. As someone with a salary schedule, I think I would miss knowing my exact path in retirement in terms of finances. I might not make what I would like, but I do know exactly what I’ll make and when right now.

    • Aww, thanks, Penny. :-) I am actually dying to know — are actual sticky gold stars on poster board still a thing in schools?!?!?! I think teachers have one of the most important and yet thankless jobs there is, so I completely admire you for doing it despite the lack of gold stars, pay equal to the value you’re contributing to society and gratitude from the parents and kids you serve (I know that can vary, but I’m sure you deal with some jerks sometimes). I think it’s great you have such a positive view of the salary schedule, but I just want you to know that there are lots of us out there who don’t get to say it to teachers very often, but we totally appreciate what you do. HERE ARE ALL THE GOLD STARS!!! :-)

  17. I used to be addicted to Gold Stars, too. Definitely on team NerdforLife! I give myself love and affection when I take good care of what is in front of me. This could be sleeping enough for my body, exercising and feeding it well, or something else entirely. I feel good when I can show up in a real way for a friend or when my expertise can make a difference for an organization doing work I value.

    • I love all of these examples! What a great way to evolve your need for achievement into something much more positive and healthy. I could definitely try to strive for more sleep gold stars right about now… ;-)

  18. I’ve thought about this a lot, because even if we decide not to retire early I have decided to change professions within the next few years and definitely by 40. Going from getting my Masters in my chosen field to not using my degree at all feels like a failure. My hope is that whatever I do choose, I’ll be passionate about that decision and that overpowers the feelings of inadequacy.

    • I definitely don’t think you’re alone in not using your degree as you thought you would! There are lots of examples here in the FIRE space. I’m sure you still got lots of personal enrichment out of it, whether or not your degree actually pays your bills now. But I love the idea of pursuing something that you feel more passionate about! That will pay dividends every day. :-)

  19. This post makes me wonder what current early retirees ended up missing from their careers vs. what they thought they’d miss. I’m sure that when the time comes, we’ll all learn something new about ourselves. I’ve been so fixated on what I won’t miss that I haven’t thought about the flipside.

    I’m an introvert and have no problem with staying home by myself for days on end, so I’ll need to have things lined up once I retire to ensure I don’t become a hermit :) That would likely be the biggest thing I’ll miss about working but I’m hoping to volunteer or maybe work part-time to fill that void.

    • So funny — I was just talking about the introvert vs. extrovert thing with a friend in exactly this regard! It is just a gut sense, but I think that introverts would have an easier time transitioning to ER because the lack of social interaction wouldn’t be such a problem. I’m definitely an ambivert and have elements of both, so it will be interesting to see. But yeah, if you know you’re happy staying in, I do think you have to make a bigger effort not to become a hermit, as you said. :-) I think volunteering or part-time work would be great for that.

  20. Never cared about gold stars. I’m with Kate- I need a reason to leave the apartment, but there’s no reason that it has to be work.

    • Totally agree — NO REASON that it has to be paid employment for someone else that gets you off the couch. We’re excited to fill our days with activities of our choosing. :-)

  21. I suspect you will find yourself earning more than enough gold stars in your next life. My gold stars to-date have been almost entirely external validation (school awards, grades, work reviews, promotions, client feedback, etc.) I still have a few external sources without work, but the gold stars are more self-driven now: quit my job *star*, hiked 15 miles today *star*, explored a new part of the world *star*, spent a day with an elderly family member *star*. There’s no award to hang on the wall, but that’s okay — these are far more fulfilling objectives.

    If you still find yourself longing for external feedback, you can always continually revisit your LinkedIn profile to remind yourself of your prior achievements 😉

    • Haha — I am actually looking down to shutting down my LinkedIn profile when we quit! (Is that bad?) :-D

      But I think you’re right. And in truth I get tons of gold stars from “real life” — running a marathon, reaching mountain peaks, organizing a successful fundraiser for a local nonprofit, obviously blogging. So thank you for helping me look at things that way. And there will be way more time to do that stuff, too, so the pace should accelerate. In a perfect world, I wouldn’t need that validation, but when you get it from day one, it’s hard to stop wanting it! :-)

  22. The gold stars a great analogy to define the need we have for recognition. Recently I had a profile analysis done at work as part of a coaching and surprise, surprise, I came out as a very goal oriented person with the need for social recognition (and yet, I do not like to be in the spot light) As such, I recognize some of the story you tell.
    When the above is correct, to mean that means that you have a high probability to keep being a gold star seeker. It is important to know that of yourself.
    When I read your plan and comments you make, you have some good areas that can deliver the gold stars.
    Creativity being one of them. And you have the advantage that you are technically already Financially Free. You thus do not need it for your income, to pay the bills. That in itself can be a great accelerator of creativity. The blog is another one.
    You will very probably define other things as gold stars.
    It would not surprise me if you start something of yourself, not for the money, for the gold stars shower.

    Only time will tell (keep the Linked In, just in case)

    • I knew you were a kindred spirit. :-) Gold star seekers unite! I agree with you that that’s nothing something that’s likely to change, even if I wish it would, though enough people have written in today to say that it will lessen over time — so I’m hopeful.

      I think you’re right that it’s a privilege not to put the money pressure on our creative hobbies, and so we have a different level of freedom to explore them. And knowing myself, I will definitely start other things, hopefully not for the money, and I would certainly hope to do them well! But I’ll keep the LinkedIn… you’re right that that would be wise. ;-) But I’m turning off all the notifications!

      • The notifications got me my start up job. They stay on forever now!

        What about indicating you are open for volunteer work or very specific missions that you really really love?

      • Well you’ve just made a good case for those annoying things! :-) That’s cool that LinkedIn actually did something for you. That’s a good suggestion to be very clear about what I’d be open to.

  23. I’m a gold star lover like you. I’m very goal oriented and relish figuring out and optimizing whatever system I’m in. It’s hard to replace the rush of those big and small wins – closing a deal, figuring out a new system and explaining it to my coworkers, getting in to see a new prospect, nailing that presentation, etc.

    My company got bought 2 years ago, and I’ve been in a work environment where I’m fairly isolated and I won’t make more or less money (or get more or less recognition) regardless of what I do. This may be nirvana for some, but I’ve become increasingly anxious and even borderline depressed. It turns out I really need a challenge – literally.

    What I’ve discovered is that while that challenge doesn’t HAVE to come from work (theoretically I could train for a marathon, take up violin, etc), I do much better with structure, routine, accountability and support. And the corporate world tends to provide that in spades. So while I’ve toyed with the idea of early retirement after grinding through a few more years where I am, I’ve recently been contemplating a career move to another employer instead.

    I’m self motivated to a point, but I’m much more externally motivated. And I disagree that that is somehow less evolved. I may start my own business one day, but I know from experience that the bars set by others are much more compelling to launch myself over – and therefore much more rewarding as well, psychologically AND (so far) financially.

    • It’s great to know you can totally relate on the gold stars. I’m sorry to hear that your work situation now is tough, and it’s a hard situation to get motivated in. I think potentially switching jobs could make a lot of sense, if that feels right for you. It’s really a question of both the money and the day-to-day satisfaction and joy that you get from it, and it’s your call which is worth more. But life is short, and if you feel really anxious in your current job, that seems like an important signal to pay attention to. And I do actually agree with you on the evolved question. But it does feel like I should be able to pull all that motivation out of myself and not just seek out validation from others. ;-)

  24. Ha, love that there is a Care Bear reference and a reference to Ferris Bueller’s Day Off! :)

    I think everyone has their own definition of “gold stars”, you know? When I left my job to become a stay-at-home mom, there wasn’t a boss telling me that I was doing a good job or anything. But when my daughter tells me that I am her best friend, well that is enough gold star for me :)

    • Haha — yeah, two early faves. :-) And WOW, it sounds like you’re getting some pretty awesome gold stars from your daughter. That’s such a sweet story. :-)

  25. Interesting, I did well at school (once I wasn’t embarrassed to be a nerd) and have a pretty senior job but wouldn’t call myself ambitious and don’t really strive for to be the CEO or anything. But I am very goal orientated. I love your list, these are the types of things that motivate me too.

    • I definitely think this stuff is a spectrum, not all or nothing. I don’t want to be CEO either, but I have always wanted to progress in my career and be recognized for my contribution. But interesting to know that similar things motivate you even though you aren’t so ambitious!

      • Yes I’m the same I want to be recognised and rewarded for my contribution. I did actually get promoted last year and I was very pleased with myself. The ‘replacement’ gold stars you listed was what I was suggesting motivate me – creativity, gratitude, making a contribution to society. And I have to put family in there too. I think it is also interesting the perception of women being ‘ambitious’ in the workplace and whether we ‘can have it all’. I certainly don’t think I can and have consciously chosen family higher in my values/priorities than career.

      • Oh, women and ambition is a much bigger topic! Let’s not even get into how people see that as a negative for Hillary Clinton but a positive for every man who wants to be president! ;-) And though I used to think we could have it all, I no longer do — and that realization put me into the FIRE mindset big time! Congrats on your promotion last year! :-)

  26. With utmost respect for ONL Inc.- I would say that the avenue for these accolades are actually unnatural in many ways. “And this award goes to Bill D. Brown-Noser for saving the company loads of money for laying off staff while piling additional work on those remaining”. A bit dramatic perhaps yet I’ve seen such sillyness occur. ONL is poised for great things post workforce….plastic trophies ( perhaps even in the form of fancy glass ) and framed “certificates of participation” will no longer hold any significance.

    • It’s so funny — to me, gold stars are not synonymous with plastic trophies and phony certificates. I just want to feel like I’m making a real contribution, that people are valuing my ideas, and that some of what I’m working on actually sees the light of day. I’m sure there will still be room for versions of that post retirement, but it won’t be so baked into my life. :-)

  27. Yes!!!!
    In my time between school and work, this is the one thing that bothered me the most.
    I felt as if I were stagnant; no praise, no promotions, no hope for advancement.
    If anything, I think that this would keep me working longer than I reasonably want to.

    • Read the comment by the Accidental Retirees! She also almost worked longer to keep the gold stars flowing, but ultimately retired, and has never regretted it. Seems relevant to your concern!

  28. I think your question is incredibly important. When I saw the question, the way that I interpretted it was, “How can I know if I’m living a meaningful life if someone isn’t telling me so?” The craving for approval is incredibly powerful in my life, and it’s one reason that I find that faith is so important to me- it’s an underlying foundation that can allow me to choose counter-cultural positions without needing approval.

    Basically what I’m saying is that this is a good question, and I think that being a human means that you’ll ask it again and again and again, even if you find a satisfying answer.

    • What an interesting way to read that Q, Hannah! I hadn’t even thought about it that way, but I totally see it. I think what I was trying to say is that I crave being valued, and I worry I won’t be valued anymore after quitting. But I definitely see as well the desire for approval! And I’m glad you have the grounding you need to follow your heart and know that you don’t need approval for that!

  29. Some days I just want nothing to do with it all, that constant purusit for recognition is relentless and tiring. The escape of a multi-day trek weighs heavily many days of late but then I worry that I am being selfish and need to ensure I do my part to be responsible in my every day life.

    We will find the balance if we just focus on what is right before us, forget yesterday and screw tomorrow.

    • I’m pretty sure not a day goes by when I don’t want to head out on a multi-day trek. :-) Most of the time, with our work schedules, we have to settle for the little after work race-the-sunset hikes… though those are longer this time of year, at least! To your point about recognition, I think I’ve realized through this post and responding to comments that it’s less about recognition for me at least, and more about just feeling valued, especially for my ideas and hard work. That could be hard to replace!

  30. I am not officially retired, but I am no longer working a full-time corporate job. I went from overseeing nearly 200 people, spending almost all of my time on the phone or Skype, and interacting with large insurance company clients to a shop of one spending most of my time on the computer.

    This has been an adjustment. After over 20 years of having my schedule mostly dicatated to me by the fires that I had to deal with on a daily basis, I now find myself deciding how to spend my time.

    While the lack of structure is nice, it’s a whole new mindset and is taking some getting used to.

    • That sounds like a BIG transition to make! Do you ever struggle now with feeling “less important” since you’re not overseeing all those people? In many ways, we see that as being the manifestation of our lack of gold stars in ER. But we’re still a little ways from finding out. :-) It’s awesome you have control over your time now, though — that sounds like a huge positive!

  31. Hmmm this is interesting and I’ve never really thought about it. I mean its nice to get promoted and get told I did a great job, but I don’t think that is what makes me tick. I think I’ll be fine without the gold stars. Or maybe other activities, will provide these as well and it’ll be a smooth transition from one type of gold star to the next :)

    • Dude, lucky you. :-) In truth I don’t care as much about promotions and recognition as just knowing that my ideas are valued, and that could be hard to replace! Especially if we’re only doing basic volunteering, as opposed to the higher level nonprofit coaching we hope to do. Like if I’m just walking dogs at the animal shelter, do they really need my ideas? ;-) Probably not.

  32. Oooh you can be the FIRE CareBear and have a picture of a snow-covered mountain on your belly. That will totally work. I think I will miss the validation part of working too – the reminders that I’m doing a good job, that I’m contributing to a company’s performance (and growth), that I’m needed. I know I can channel all my effort into family and myself and to the community but I also know that it will take time to get used to it.

    You get the goldest star for this post! You always get us thinking and reflecting. Especially me, when I’m not even thinking of RE yet. :)

    • Haha — I was picturing gold stars on my Care Bear belly, but I think I like the mountain pic better. :-) Since I’m not really into gold, sparkly, tacky, Trump-esque things anyway. ;-) Haha. I agree with you — there is something about feeling needed and feeling useful, and I’m sure that’s part of this feeling for me, not just wanting accolades. I think I want to feel valued for my ideas, most of all, so we’ll see how I find ways to channel that. And thanks for the gold star on the post! Hope you’re doing well. xoxo

  33. I’m the worst at getting the proverbial gold stars when it comes to work. My ideal work situation is for me is to just keep my head down and do quality work. As a generally shy guy, it’s been difficult for me to put myself out there so everyone (not just my boss) can know what I’ve done. I’ve been somewhat better at this the last few positions, but it’s not something that doesn’t come natural to me.

    • There is absolutely nothing wrong with your approach, Vic! And honestly, I’m not in it for the public credit. Writing this post and responding to comments made me realize that all I really care about is feeling values, especially for my ideas and contributions. And that feeling of value doesn’t have to come from a lot of people — it can come from a few close colleagues. I hope that feeling is something that you have at work! :-)

  34. I’m trying not to spam too many of your older posts by commenting, but I am compelled to chime in on this one. Psychologists currently think that people are motivated by at least one of three primary needs: the needs for Power, Affiliation, or Achievement. Sounds like your primary need is for achievement, followed perhaps by a secondary need for affiliation (given the strong ties you felt at your place of employment). []

    As someone who was also motivated by achievement need, I can only share that 1) I am older than you [Gen X’er]; 2) the need for achievement did not go away when I quit working; 3) it took years and much angst [and becoming chronically ill] before I was able to come to terms with letting go of external validation and finding contentment with living life on my own terms and according to my own values.

    Before I reached this state (and it’s still a work in progress), I found fulfillment in volunteering. [May have joined an organization and swept the awards at the annual banquet a year later – heh]

    You’ll likely get there too, given your penchant for pondering metaphysical questions.

    Also, when I first commented on one of your posts, it gave me the option to follow comments or not, but has never given me this option again. It might be nice if it asked every time, like J.L. Collins’ blog does. I have since decided I would like to change my answer, but have never been given another opportunity. Thanks!