If you’d asked us two or three years ago what we envisioned we’d do in early retirement, we would have given you some vague answer like, “Travel the world! Climb lots of mountains! Stop waking up with an alarm clock!” And if you’d asked us what we’ll do for money in retirement, we would have said, “We’ll never rely on work again! We’re saving enough so we won’t need to.”
What we lacked in specifics, we made up for with enthusiasm. LOTS of enthusiasm. And just like now, we’d have told you that our to do list was longer than we’d ever reasonably get through, even if we end up having fifty years of free time ahead of us.
But thanks to thinking about early retirement pretty much all the time, reading lots of thought-provoking blogs about it, and of course writing about it in a few thousand words a week, our thinking has continued to evolve.
The Initial Vision: All Leisure, No Work
At first, we were thinking only about the fun part of life: the adventures we’d go on, the trips we’d take, the hidden backcountry spots we’d discover. We thought more about exiting from work than what we were retiring to. And we thought very little about what good we could do the world, what value we could contribute, other than another vague idea that we’d volunteer “more.”
The Financial Assumptions
From the beginning of our real retirement planning – that is once we got laser focused – we had some fundamental assumptions in place:
1. We’d pay off the house before we retired so we could live rent-free
2. We’d invest primarily in index funds as well as a rental property, to give us a diversified portfolio with multiple income streams (dividends, selling shares, rental income)
3. We’d optimize our post-retirement income to max our ACA subsidy for health insurance
Realizations and Purpose
Along the way, as we’ve thought through a lot of the big questions like how we’ll define ourselves once our careers are gone, we’ve realized that a life of pure leisure sounds fun for a while, but not permanently. Fun is the best thing there is (#funisthebest), but it finally clicked for us that a life of nothing but fun would inevitably lose its luster. Not that it can be sustained every moment anyway, but we want that punctuation, the ebb and flow, the ying and yang, the tension and release, all reminding us to appreciate those moments of transcendence, amazement and wonder.
If life is nothing but fun, after a while we’ll surely start to wonder, “Is this it?” And then what else is left?
We realized that we don’t just want to have fun all day, every day. We want to leave a positive legacy in the world, even if that’s something small, and that means finding impactful ways to serve our community and the planet. We want to know that we’re spending at least some of our time doing something important.
That realization led us to map out our purpose.
The Importance and Problem of a Creative Outlet
The purpose mapping exercise – which we recommend everyone do (or do Matt’s version) – helped remind us that not only do we care about the fun stuff and the important stuff, we also care about the creative stuff, that unassuming lower right corner of our purpose. I think my biggest career disatisfaction right now is that I don’t have a creative outlet at work (live tweets of work travel delays notwithstanding), and I’ve been missing that ever since I quit my side hustle of many years. In every stage of my life, I’ve built creative outlets of one type or another, often without consciously recognizing that that’s what I was doing. And I think it was in large part that creative vacuum that led me to start this blog.
The problem of creativity, at least in my case, is that I believe wholeheartedly in the Elizabeth Gilbert Big Magic maxim that I never want to put pressure on my creative outlets to make money for us. But that refusal to view creative outlets as potential sources of income also has us considering borderline-crazy things like continuing to work in some unjoyful capacity in retirement, to hedge against sequence (SOR) risks without daring to consider that maybe, just maybe, some of those creative outlets could actually generate a little money.
To be completely honest, I’m genuinely terrified that connecting the act of creating something with the act of generating income will steal all the joy from my favorite parts of life. But I’m starting to realize, thanks in large part to thoughtful comments here, that I’m being a bit too rigid and precious about all of that. There’s a good chance that some of that creative stuff will make some money at some point, and I shouldn’t resist that. So that’s my goal for the summer: embrace unpaid and paid creativity. I’ll report back.
Translating Purpose into Daily Life
With our three-pronged purpose of adventure, creativity and service mapped out, we’ve been thinking more lately about what that actually means for our day-to-day lives and how we apportion our time. We are not interested in scheduling out our early retirement — the very top item on our retirement to do list is to toss the alarm clock (meaning: stop sleeping with our phones next to the bed) and schedule as few things as possible, at least until we get work out of our system. But we are interested in bringing a frame to how we view our days, weeks and months.
And as of right now, we’re thinking that purpose to activity translation looks like:
And in some idealized world, that might translate into:
We’re going to have to figure out how to balance all three, which we’re excited to experiment with. But it doesn’t seem like too high a bar to do something substantial in every category every week, and maybe even a little something in each category every day. Perfect is never a (conscious) goal of ours, but if some perfect days sneak up on us, we’re okay with that, too.
Escaping the Calendar
For the last month or so, we’ve barely traveled for work, and even though work is still super busy, it’s the most at peace and grounded we’ve felt in a long time. For years, our calendars have been full of work travel, and before that got busy, I had the added scheduling of my long-running side hustle. And this could just be the way I’m wired, but when I have travel or other work on the calendar, I get inordinately focused on that stuff. It’s always looming, stealing part of my attention and energy. Even when it’s an all-the-time thing, it’s still an attention thief. But with it gone this last month, it’s been like POOF, magically more at ease.
What we think that means for our retired future is that we need to stay as unscheduled as possible, and make sure that most of our weeks have no travel or big commitments. Things like regularly scheduled rec league sports followed by pub quiz – that’s welcome. Lots of shifts of fun work? Not welcome. It’s also clear that any work we do take on has to be the kind that’s totally self-directed by us, and doesn’t come with a lot of conference calls. Because I’m totally the person who would let the thought, “I have a conference call tomorrow at 11” occupy all my thoughts today. Instead, any work we do can come with (reasonable) deadlines, but not a lot of meetings in the meantime. Those are the guardrails we’ve realized we need.
Though our original vision for early retirement had extremely strict parameters around the type of work we’d be willing to do – which you can basically boil down to, “would we do it for free?” – we’re starting to consider relaxing some of those rules to ensure that our investments stretch farther, especially in the first few years of retirement. But the calendar realization also reins some of that back in, reminding us that we don’t want to do any work, even if we would do it for free, that forces us to keep close tabs on the calendar.
So I probably won’t try to resurrect my side hustle, or at least not right away. I’m hoping I can talk Mr. ONL out of joining the local ski patrol (more so because ski patrol has a fairly high fatality rate, mostly from avalanches – that would not be in the plans. Anyone else want to help me talk him out of it???). And if we do work along the lines of the consulting we do now, we’ll just have to steel ourselves to say no to all the meetings. We’re not trying to build up new careers or maintain our current ones, after all – we’re just trying to stretch our money.
And given everything, how ahead of pace we are, how protected by contingencies, the fact that we have multiple income streams built into our plan and we’ll have a paid off house that could be rented out if need be — I’m starting to feel a bit more chill about all of it. Starting. ;-) And while that may not be an actual financial evolution, and more of a mindset evolution, it still feels like a very good thing.
But bottom lining it, we’re envisioning a future in which work is increasingly likely to contribute to our cash flow in retirement, albeit with parameters that prevent that work from impinging on our time in a way that will make us feel a lot like the work-stressed versions of ourselves that we hope will soon become extinct.
How Has Your Vision Evolved?
We’d love to hear from you guys — both those of you who are working toward early retirement (or just FI while continuing to work), and those who are already retired. How has your vision for your next life evolved? What has been the biggest surprise? We’d love to chat with you about it in the comments!