It’s an especially stressful time for both of us at work, which we expect to continue through year’s end, maybe longer. I just logged a 70-hour week, not including all of last week’s travel craziness, and Mr. ONL’s week was more like 90 hours. (This is the golden handcuffs, friends.) We’re not proud of those numbers — we don’t take joy or derive status from describing ourselves as “busy,” and we try hard not to use that word at all. But the reality right now is that work is sucking up a ton of our time, as in almost all of it, including the time when we’re supposed to be sleeping.
And what that means is that we’re saying no to things. A lot of things. Invitations to go climbing, or spend a day on a boat in a lake. Today we turned down an invitation to hike to a waterfall and swimming hole we’ve been wanting to see.
We’ve been through work cycles like this before. And we know how it goes. People ask us to do things, and we mostly say yes. Then as work takes up more and more time, we start saying no a little more. It gets to a point where we’re saying mostly all no’s.
Then things get worse. The invitations stop coming.
At first we don’t notice, because it’s not like we have time to do the things people are inviting us to do anyway. But then work starts to slow down, we have time to breathe again, and eventually we wonder, “Hey, where did all our friends go?!”
It takes time to rebuild those friendships again, to remind people that, yes, we are still worth inviting to things. We’re still good people who care about them and want to spend time together. We might actually agree to come and gasp, we could even show up.
Right Now We’re Living a Life of No
It’s a temporary state, we know, and it won’t even last all the way until we quit sometime next year, but it is definitely not a feeling we enjoy to know that we’re getting zero time with our friends, we’re being bad friends, and we’re missing out on all the fun. #FOMO
But more than all that, the Life of No that we’re in right now is the exact opposite of what we want for our lives. We don’t want to live by default, we want to opt in affirmatively to the life that fuels our stoke and makes us bound out of bed in the morning. We want to be our best selves now, and not wait for early retirement and expect that that will magically change everything. To do all of that, we must say yes!
The Ideal State
While we love to quote Maggie and remind ourselves that “Future you is still you,” meaning that we won’t magically wake up different people just because we’ve quit our careers for good, the truth is that having more time on our hands — a lot more time than we have at the moment — will make a big difference.
And in our ideal state, here’s what we envision:
We’ll have lots more time on our hands. We’ll schedule many, many fewer things. And we’ll be stoked to try new things. All of that equals a Life of Yes. At least it equals that in a perfect world.
The Ideal State May Never Happen… and That’s Okay
It’s fun to dream about perfect, but we try not to plan on it happening. We’ve heard from enough retirees that they still feel busy in retirement and wonder how they got anything done before, back when they were working. I’m sure we won’t be immune to that feeling.
So we won’t have endless time, but we’ll still have more time than now. And we’ve resolved not to schedule too much, so that we can play things by ear at least part of each day. We have some things we know we want to do in our first year of retirement, but none of them require us to have more than a few things on the calendar each week, and that’s how we plan to keep it at least until we adjust to the new rhythm of life and decompress from our old working life. The last thing we want to do is retire from an overscheduled and stressful working life to a new life that’s also overscheduled and therefore stressful!
As for that third component — the stoke — we can pretty much guarantee that that will be at an all-time high when we pull the ripcord. We stayed in that sparkly relationship stage for an awfully long time after we got together, and something tells us that we are going to fall deeply, madly in love with early retirement too. ;-)
Spreading the Stoke… and the Love
One of the biggest regrets of our working life is how much we’ve missed out on in our friends’ and families’ lives. We’ve missed a few big things like weddings because we couldn’t get away from work, but we’ve missed many more of the little joys and sorrows. We haven’t been the friends we wish we could be. Even little things like birthday cards — we’ve become kind of terrible about getting those in the mail on time. (Mom, if you’re reading — you’ll be getting your card about a week late. Happy birthday!)
That’s not who we want to be. We want people we care about to know we’re thinking about them. We want to get cards in the mail on time — preferably homemade cards that we made with love. And more than that, we actually want to spend those big days with them instead of sending off some lame text while we shake our heads that we didn’t plan ahead enough to do something more.
So that’s how we define spreading the stoke: making sure that the people we love can feel that love in a real way, and they don’t feel like they are an afterthought to us. Because we care so much more than we’ve been showing these last few years. That’s the first thing we want to change.
Saying Yes to Adventure
Being into the outdoorsy stuff that we love, it especially hurts now when our friends invite us to hike a new mountain or mountain bike a new trail or climb a new wall… and we say no. Those are the moments when it’s hardest not to complain about work. It’s less actual fear of missing out and more about feeling like we’ll never get that time back. In the back half of our 30s, we’re already past our athletic prime, and every outing we say no to is something we may never get around to in the future.
So saying yes to adventure is our second order of business. Both the big adventures and the small ones. Saying yes to the random text on a Tuesday asking if we want to try some new backcountry ski slope. Or to the idea of hiking the Continental Divide Trail in 2019. (That’s not an actual plan, just a possibility.) We want as much life in our years as we can pack in, and that means defaulting to the thumbs up, not the thumbs down.
Not Waiting for Retirement to Say Yes
We’re trying hard not to wait to get to retirement to be our best selves or to be in strong enough physical shape to climb mountains. And likewise, we can’t wait to get to our next destination to start saying yes again.
Given what work is like right now, saying yes to everything is not realistic, and we’d just build up more resentment in ourselves if we expected that to be different. We’ve agreed to stick it out in our current jobs until we can quit, and this goes with that territory.
So instead, we’re looking for the small yes moments. Saying yes to a 10-minute walk in the evening when we can sneak away from email just long enough to see the sunset. Meeting up with friends for a quick coffee when we can’t do a whole evening. Taking a break to swim in the lake for (not exaggerating) 10 minutes, even though we’d like to spend the whole day there.
None of these small yes moments are what we’d ideally like to do, but they’re a whole lot better than saying no to everything. And they feel like a compromise that will help us get through this last full-out sprint before retirement.
What Can You Say Yes To?
Do you feel like you’re saying a lot more no than yes these days? What could you be saying yes to? Or what are some of those small yes moments that you could find time for, even if the perfect yes isn’t an option? We know we aren’t the only ones feeling the no life. Let’s make each other feel better in the comments! ;-)