It’s always fun to do the blue sky dreaming when it comes to early retirement, or really anything in the future. Sometimes we think dreaming about early retirement is the best part, but then we remember that we’ll actually get to live the dream soon. And we keep hearing that the real thing is even better than what we’re imagining… though, I don’t know, we’re dreaming pretty big. Either way, we love thinking about the stuff that gets us feeling all stoked and fuzzy.
We like to plan for pretty much every possible eventuality, and given that we’ve already put about as many contingency plans in place as we can, we’re still thinking about the question, What if things don’t go as planned? But we’ve exhausted the financial answers, and so we’re thinking about the more metaphysical ones.
So we’re wondering: what about the things that aren’t worst case at all, don’t imperil our financial future in any existential way, but just make things not fun?
Is there some point at which the reality of early retirement is not worth the effort it took to get there?
That’s right, friends, today we’re talking deal-breakers.
Defining a Deal-Breaker
To us, a deal-breaker isn’t just an annoyance, or something not going the way we envisioned it. Heck, we hope that life is still filled with lots of mysteries and surprises, so it better not turn out exactly like we’re picturing it! Nor is a deal-breaker just another word for a first-world problem, like “We didn’t end up having enough money to spend to fly first class overseas every year, so our retirement is a letdown.”
A deal-breaker is something that fills you with a lasting sense of dread, thinking, “I did the wrong thing.” Or “I should have kept working.” Or “this is it?!” Something that forces you so far off your course that you know in your gut that the effort it took to reach early retirement or financial independence or any other big goal wasn’t worth it in the end.
Of course, it goes without saying that we hope none of us ever has to confront any of these things! But actually reflecting on your own deal-breakers can — we think — be a powerful way to help focus you on what you DO want. Or you can think of your deal-breakers as your anti-purpose. If you know in your heart that you’re meant to live a creative life, then not being able to express your creativity in any form could be a deal-breaker.
Our “Anti-Purpose” Deal-Breakers
In line with the anti-purpose idea, our deal-breakers are pretty much the opposite of the purpose we mapped out for ourselves: adventure, creativity, service.
No Adventure — To anyone who casually asks us what we’re going to do with ourselves in early retirement (you know, because we might get bored or something), our short answer is always the same: Travel the world. It’s what we dream about most, it’s what’s been important to both of us from an early age and has carried through to this day. If we couldn’t travel — because of lack of resources or poor health or any other cause — we’d feel pretty adrift. We want to see all the corners of this incredible planet of ours — the cities and the culture and the history, and the nature and remote spots and high peaks where few have stood. If all of that was off the table, we would absolutely wonder if our hard work to save for retirement was worth it.
No Creativity — I have written a lot of words here about the importance of a creative outlet in my life, and in some imaginary scenario in which it’s possible to lose every creative outlet, I’d be pretty miserable. (What could that even look like? I go blind and lose the use of my hands? We quicky devolve into some Mad Max future with no computers or writing paper?) I think losing this one is pretty far-fetched, so it doesn’t feel like a probable deal-breaker. But it sure would be one if early retirement in some way leads to losing those outlets.
No Service — To us, service means leaving the world in better shape than we found it. It means contributing net positivity rather than negativity, encouraging others however we can, giving back to help those less fortunate than ourselves, and trying to find solutions to problems in our community and the world. If we ran super low on funds and couldn’t afford to support any charitable causes, that would feel like a huge bummer to us, and could be a deal-breaker if paired with a scenario in which we also couldn’t volunteer or coach local nonprofits because of poor health or disability. It’s really the combo that rises to deal-breaker level: if we couldn’t provide either financial support to causes we care about or volunteer in meaningful ways, then we’d for sure end up wondering what it was all for.
The Other Deal-Breakers
Of course, not every deal-breaker has to rise to the lofty level of running counter to our purpose. There are more day-to-day problems we could run into that would definitely have us wondering if this was really what we worked so hard for, like:
Having to move somewhere we don’t like — We fully accept that we could already be retired by now if we lived in a low cost-of-living area. But loving where we live is super important to us, and the things we love in a place tend to come with a higher price tag (top of that list: easy access to skiing). If stuff hit the fan and we were forced to move somewhere we don’t like just to get by, there’d be a good chance we’d regret not working longer and saving up more money.
Having to give up a home base entirely — It is still very much an open question in our minds of whether we should downsize from our medium-sized home to a small home, but much as we’ve discussed embracing a fully nomadic life, we’ve accepted that that’s not for us. We will always want some form of home base, we think, even if it’s a small, modest home. Both because we are just people who find comfort in having a physical place to call home, and because friends and community are super important to us. Mr. ONL is an extrovert all the way, and could make new friends anywhere, but I consider myself an ambivert, which means it gets exhausting fast to have to put out the level of effort required to make new friends — I can’t imagine trying to do that all the time. I think we’d both get lonely fast if we were always on the road, and we’d wonder if this was really what we’d been dreaming of.
Defining a New Dream?
Something we talk about occasionally is what happens if one of us gets seriously injured, or if I become disabled. In that case, we wouldn’t be able to do all the adventurous stuff we love, and that we definitely focus on when we’re defining our future dreams. Then would it all feel like it was a waste of time, or — worse — like we would have been better off if we’d kept working and saved more money, to be able to live a cushier life?
In those cases, we’d answer with a resounding “No!” Life is short, our time here is precious, and even if we have only a short time to climb mountains around the world like we hope to, it will be more time than we would have had if we’d stayed on the usual career treadmill. So that’s still a win.
But then what? If all the mountain stuff is off the table, living where we live would be a lot less appealing. It’s amazing in the summer, of course, but in the winter there’s all that snow. Not ideal for someone with mobility challenges who can no longer enjoy the powder. And all the stuff we want to do with our days? Some of it — the creative work — would still be on the table, but we’d have to reimagine most of the athletic activities. What then?
What then is we’d move to the beach and create a new dream! We aren’t shackled to the mountains, and much as we love them, we also realize that we probably won’t want to deal with the cold and snow when we’re 80, nor with the tourists who don’t know how to drive in the snow. So we’re already talking about our “late retirement home” in a walkable west coast beach town, one that we could love equally but for a different set of reasons. And so if we had to move that plan up, make it more real and call it the new dream, we would do exactly that.
What Are Your Deal-Breakers?
We’ve shared a lot about our deal-breakers, but what are yours? What are the things you need in your life, whose absence would make you question everything? What would your new dream look like if your path deviates way off course? Or are you one of those happy-go-lucky folks who can roll with the punches and be satisfied no matter what? We’d love to hear from you guys in the comments!