the process

When We’re No Longer “Important” // Ego, Invisibility and Early Retirement

This morning was a fairly typical work travel morning.

I had to call United to make a change to a flight, and got to call the unpublished number that’s only available to those who travel as much as I do. When the agent got on the line (after no hold time), he was extra helpful and made me feel like my business actually matters to the giant company. He made changes to my itinerary for free that normally cost a few hundred dollars. He told me once again how much they value me.

Then I left my hotel, and on the way out dropped off my keys at the front desk. They greeted me by my name, told me what an honor it was to serve such a frequent traveler and asked if there was anything else they could do before I leave town. (This was after they’d given me free breakfast throughout my stay.)

In the cab on the way to the airport, I called my assistant and rattled off a bunch of things I need help with today, and several of those things are already done.

This is all my current work life: people treat me like I matter a lot.

They do things for me, give me things for free that other people have to pay for, and go out of their way to be nice in ways that not everyone receives.

And even though I know it’s just an artificial construct, “important” in quotes — the airlines and hotels are nice to me because frequent business travelers are their biggest source of revenue, and my assistant is nice to me because that’s the job (though, also, my assistant is amazing) — it’s still something that I notice.


Only “important” people get this for free, right?

And sometimes it seeps in when I’m not quite so aware. The special phone line with no hold implies that my time is more valuable than other people’s time, and therefore I shouldn’t be made to wait, even though others have to. I recently had to call a different airline, and when I sat on hold, I thought, “Don’t they know that I have better things to do with my time?!” It’s the same signal I get when the hotels upgrade me to a nicer room while giving someone who is probably paying more than I am a worse room — I am more important, and deserve these things. Even if you know this happens, it’s still hard to be unaffected by it.

When We're No Longer "Important" // How will our egos handle early retirement? Will we feel invisible? Will we feel unimportant? How can we let go of the fake importance and focus on the replacing what truly matters to us?

The Duality of “Important” — and Not

When I’m in the non-work-perk world, I don’t get this kind of treatment at all. I don’t carry myself in a way that gets anyone’s attention or dress in a way that announces, “Hey world! I have money to spend!” And so if I stroll into a store, it’s just as likely as not that the sales clerk won’t even acknowledge my presence. People who don’t know that I’m a United 1K and a Marriott/Starwood Platinum couldn’t care less that I’ve entered their establishment. (Because those things are meaningless in the real world.)

In non-work settings, I’m essentially invisible. 

It’s a surreal duality being Very Important when it comes to work, and being invisible much of the rest of the time. Right now I’m fine with it, because though I can function as an extrovert, I’m also just as happy not talking to strangers most of the time. Being left alone in public balances out the attention that comes from being “important.”

But soon all that balance will be thrown out of whack. Leaving work isn’t just about losing the tangible perks of work travel, like having a special phone number with no hold time and nicer agents. It’s also losing a big chunk of my identity. It’s losing my answer to “What do you do?” that elicits impressed responses.

But is it also losing my visibility in the world? Will retiring mean becoming entirely invisible?


Or then sometimes I wonder if maybe I am actually, literally invisible.

Ego and Invisibility

I don’t actually care whether a store clerk greets me or not. I do notice in outdoors stores that Mr. ONL virtually always gets offered help and I usually get ignored. That’s the kind of subtle sexism that’s so commonplace most women don’t even think about it anymore.

But outside of retail settings, I do wonder how it will all feel. Whether we are extroverts or introverts, we all want to be acknowledged by the world. We want to know that we’re seen when we want to be seen, heard when we want to be heard, helped when we need help.

We want to have some evidence that we matter.

And if we don’t see that evidence in our day-to-day lives, how can our egos not take a beating?

Don’t Be That Guy

One of my fears has long been that I’d be one of those people in retirement who’s always name dropping what they used to do or be. Who can’t stop talking about it. I know when looking ahead that giving up our work identities will be a huge adjustment, just like it is for those folks who can’t give it up, but I still don’t want to end up being that guy. Frankly, I’m relieved the transition is something we’ll have to navigate at a younger age, so that we’ll (we hope) be better able to adopt new, different identities than people who’ve had careers for 40 years.

But there are pieces of that behavior that I’m beginning to understand better. Like when I start wondering, “Will anyone ever ask me for my input on something again?” The answer is: I don’t know. And that thought makes me sad. I love helping people think things through, and making things better in the process. That doesn’t mean I need to do that every day or as part of a full-time career, but the thought of never doing that again is enough to make me feel like reminding the world, after we retire, that, “Hey! I used to be good at that!”

I don’t need to matter to companies, but I still want to matter to people.

Savoring It — While Reminding Myself

By saying no more this year, we are so far succeeding at creating enough breathing room in our work lives to savor some of our work “lasts.” And I’ve been focusing on appreciating the work perks for a while now, because I’ve known all along that they have an expiration date that gets closer every day.


But I’m doing something else now, too, which is to remind myself in those moments of being told or shown how “important” we’re all pretending I am that none of it is real.

The travel niceness is a purely economic relationship that’s not actually with me at all — it’s with my employer and my clients who pay for all of it. I’m just the person the perks and niceness pass through at this moment, but I’m interchangeable, and soon they’ll transfer to the people who take my place. My assistant isn’t serving me, but rather serving the position I happen to occupy right now.

I don’t know if this plan will work, but I’m hoping that — by both being extra grateful for the perks and making an effort to see them for what they are — the transition into unimportance next year will be less jarring.


Focusing on What the Ego Really Needs

I’m not gonna lie — I have a little anxiety when I think about flying in the back of the bus again where it’s extra cramped. But this isn’t about that. My ego isn’t kept afloat currently by hotel front desk clerks. That’s just the stuff that makes it most visible that I “matter.” (And seriously, airlines — all knees matter. Can we just get a reasonable amount of space for everyone on the plane, and not just the muckity mucks up front?)

But it’s helpful to think about not just how I can matter to the world, but what actually matters to me and my ego. And the stuff where I’m an economic pass-through is not what matters. What I care about — and what I’ll always need — is to feel valued for the stuff that’s inherent to me, not just attached to whatever position I’ve occupied. Being a person who has an assistant doesn’t matter, but being someone whose opinion you’d like to get on something does.

It took a little soul searching to figure out my answers to those questions — What’s the superficial ego boost stuff that I can let go of? What’s core to my identity, and important to keep in my life? — but it was time well spent. And if you’re nearing a big life transition, I urge you to ask yourself that stuff too. Because at least for me, asking those questions has helped me see what I need to recreate in my post-retirement life in other ways.

I don’t want people to ask for my input in the future because they feel bad for me because I won’t shut up about how I used to be a ____. I want them to ask it because I’ve proved my worth in some other new way, through other collaborative projects. That’s not about being important or “important” — it’s about making sure that I continue to bring value to the world in ways that matter to me.

Chime In!

Do you ever think about how it will impact your ego when you leave your career? Any tips from anyone who’s been through this transition? Anyone else ever wonder about becoming invisible? Other fears you have about your post-retirement life? Any interesting answers that have arisen when you’ve put in the effort and done the soul-searching? Let’s chat about it all in the comments!

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144 replies »

  1. I, too, have had the luxury of flying first class and staying at top-notch national and international hotels. It doesn’t take much getting used to and it does inflate the ego and make you feel like you are someone. I didn’t even know those flying lounges for first class existed before my current employer. Haha! So I totally understand where you’re coming from.

    On the flip side, I haven’t thought about your current question – probably because I don’t travel as much as it sounds like you do. I do wonder how I will handle not being a “scientist” anymore. Despite wanting nothing more than to quit at the drop of a hat, I fear it has become more of my identity than I realize. But, I’d like to think I’m ready to walk and accept new challenges.

    I am striving for making a name for myself in this community. It seems like you guys are too! Maybe this will be the next platform where we ARE someone and get the special treatment. :) You never know, life has a way of surprising us from time to time.

    Mad Money Monster

    • I certainly love the community we’ve built here, and hope that continues after we retire, but it was definitely never my goal to be “blog famous.” (And having had a taste of that at FinCon, it only means something about three days a year.) ;-) I think it’s great you’re thinking in advance about the identity questions — that stuff is so important. And if you think there might be more of your identity wrapped up in your work than you’d like to admit, then it’s a great time to figure out what about that identity you want to retain in retirement, and plan ahead for how you’ll give yourself spaces to assert that identity. :-)

  2. Ohh, how this post speaks to me! I used to also have gold/platinum etc status in a bunch of hotels and airlines some years ago. I was so used to getting treated like royalty when I travelled for work but also privately that I somehow thought this was normal.

    And then…my job was made redundant and I found myself unemployed from one day to the other. I could maintain my status during the rest of the year but then went to “basic” status everywhere. Suddenly, I had to queue to check in for my flights, no more priority line in hotels, and definitely no more upgrades or free breakfast…

    I must admit that it was very hard for my ego during some time. But at some point, I realized that I had been living in a fantasy world for 15+ years, enjoyed amazing benefits and accepted it was over. I started to consider myself lucky to continue being able to travel for holidays and still use the miles/points I had in my accounts.

    I relaxed and starting being nice to all the staff in the hospitality industry, actually smiling and looking at them in the eyes. Sometimes I got upgrades (most of the times not), hospitality staff seems to often deal with very stiff and stressed customers…like I used to be.

    Interestingly, my conclusion is that this has been a positive experience for me; going back to the “real world” has taught me a couple of lessons:

    1) When you are nice and friendly, you get nice and friendly service, with or without traveller status
    2) I learned, the hard way, how important it is to be frugal and carefully decide how I spend my money to be able to become FI. I have since then completely reviewed my spending habits and this is something that will continue doing in the future. I don’t think I would have understood this if I hadn’t gone through this experience.

    • I’m so glad you made that deliberate choice to be kind to service staff — I couldn’t agree more that service staff are so often mistreated, most often by the very people who interact with them most! I make a point to be kind and respectful and treat them like real humans, not like service robots with no feelings, and I find it appalling when I witness that bad behavior from fellow travelers.

      I appreciate you sharing your experience on the travel perks. I’ve already accepted that that stuff is going away, so that’s really not what I’m worried about. We’ll still have tons of miles to buy upgrades if we feel we need that, so it’s more about continuing to feel like I matter in the world — and that’s something we’re thinking a lot about!

  3. Great post, deeply introspective and showing a mature thought process as you prepare for “the transition”.

    Thinking about this stuff is important, and I suspect the folks who don’t are the folks we read about who struggle with retirement. Bravo, you!

    I was running last night on the treadmill (Pandora’s classic rock station pumping thru my buds). Boston’s “Don’t Look Back” came on, and I had a similar thought stream to yours as the lyrics streamed thru my brain.

    Google those lyrics. You’ll find them interesting at this stage in your life. Don’t look back, a new day is dawning.

    • You can always count on ONL for some good navelgazing. ;-) I think you’re right that it’s important to consider this stuff in advance, or else that transition will be even tougher than it needs to be.

  4. Very nicely written, Ms. ONL. It hasn’t been long yet since I retired, but in my experience so far, nothing really changes as far as your experience (read: expertise) and how other people look at you. When you can add value, people are generally supportive of your willingness to jump in and lend a hand. Personally, I’ve probably written more computer code *since I retired* than in the last six months of working a full-time job.

    One of the amazing things about retirement is the freedom that comes with all that additional time. You can pick and choose what you’d like to get involved in. You can even start your own business/side hustle to add even more impact into the community. The world truly is your oyster, far more than it ever was when working full-time and working projects that the company wanted you to work on. To me, this was the biggest difference.

    I feel more engaged now than ever before – party because I derived very little satisfaction from what I did for a living, but also because I chose what to get involved with. I believe in the things that I’m doing now. It’s no longer just about a billable client or the bottom line. To me, that was totally impersonal. Nothing “important” about that.

    But now – what I do IS important…both to me as well as to others that I am working with. We are building something. Creating. Designing. All for a cause that I truly believe in.

    As far as I’m concerned, THAT is what is truly important.

    • I’m so glad that you’re feeling so fulfilled, Steve! And so fast — I mean you’ve only been at this retirement thing for a short time, and you’re already killing it. Awesome. I think in my case the adjustment will have far less to do with how others perceive me (we live in a mountain town, after all, where no one gives a flip what you do for work), but more how I perceive myself and whether I feel like I’m doing things that matter. But that just means I have to plan to build something in retirement that provides that. Good thing doing so is already on the list! ;-)

  5. Honestly I haven’t thought much about it. I just figured through travel hacking much of it would continue anyway. For example my current cards give me free lounge access and gold status for a hotel chain. It’s more that I’m more likely to fly budget airlines that don’t have upgrades on my own dime, So I guess ultimately I’ll have the same problem. Honestly I’d rather camp in a trailer then be weighted on in a hotel, so I think beyond the cramped airline seats it will be less noticeable for me.

    • The travel stuff really isn’t what I’m worried about because that doesn’t ultimately matter, it’s just nice to have those little extras. It’s more the feeling of being valued or mattering, but we’re trying to plan ahead for that so we don’t feel some big void when we retire.

  6. I have thought about what we will tell people when asked the “so what do you do” question that seems to pop up early in every small talk conversation and how hard it would be to answer on the spot – people tie you to your job/title and make a snap judgement of your success.

    That being said – people that frequent this site (me included) will value your expertise – you get us thinking!

    • You can say you’re a blogger! That’s definitely something I plan to do. Or maybe professional napper if I don’t want to talk to that person, hahaha. In the past when I had my long-term side hustle, I would give that answer instead of my real career if I didn’t want to talk to the person asking, and it worked like a charm. They weren’t impressed, and I got out of a conversation I didn’t want to have. Win-win! ;-) Thanks for your note on valuing our expertise — that means a lot! And we’ll definitely keep at this.

    • Something that I do is talk about my fun outdoor activities like skiing or climbing with a mischevious grin. It shows you are confidently bypassing the conversation (so are successful) and also shifts the discussion to what folks do for fun. Most folks are quite happy to talk about their hobbies.

      If the conversation lasts long enough and goes deep enough to go more personal no problem. If not, no harm.

      Lastly, it is nice to get in the habit while still working as you develop practice and if they really press you have something to say. I’ve found my friends who hear me repeating this line also start to smirk when they hear my answer: they know how successful I am but also appreciate what is in some ways a modest deflection

      • This is a bit of a segue from your comment, but does everyone you work with have hobbies outside of work? This is one of the more surreal things we bump up against — most of our coworkers are so consumed by their work that their other hobbies are minimal. (“Um, I like watching football.” “Um, I watch HGTV sometimes.” I am not exaggerating.)

      • Wow! The article itself was really exceptional, but this blows my mind! Most of our friends enjoy travel and the outdoors, and many also pursue deeply fulfilling past times. They cultivate huge gardens (and do all the food preservation associated with such things), read, are well-paid photographers, write and perform music, create masterful meals and dream of opening restaurants, and so much more in their spare time. I do what I love for work and still have hobbies. That said, I’m looking forward to to offering my skills to small local non-profits when I retire. I have a friend that chose to stay at home to raise two small kiddos, and she struggles with many of the things that you mention in this article. Her struggle isn’t related to her ego as much as it touches on her sense of self-worth. With this level of deep introspection, I’m sure you’ll do great!

      • Thanks, Melanie! I suspect our colleagues’ lack of hobbies has much to do with the all-consuming nature of the work, which we can share soon! ;-) I love that you, on the other hand, are surrounded by people with wonderfully full lives.

  7. Don’t worry! You’re a source of information as someone who has been through what I want to go through. I’ll never stop asking you questions or getting your input! It’s very valued. You’re paving the way for those that aren’t so far in our FIRE journey.

    Also, you’re a wealth of knowledge about skiing where I am very much a raw beginner. Lots of questions to ask there too :)

  8. This hasn’t crossed my mind but I’m just a lowly analyst :) I do think it’ll be hard to answer the question of “what do you do” but it’s just a matter of coming up with the right answer.

    People will still seek your input and opinions but the topics will shift. Rather than being related to what your career is/was, it’ll be around FIRE and anything you’re doing in “retirement.” I know that I personally will look forward to hearing about how you’re handling finances, healthcare, etc. in early retirement. You’re going to keep the blog posts coming, right??

    • Fortunately we (and you!) already have some great ways to answer the What do you do? question: Blogger. Self-sponsored athlete/hobbyist/adventurer/traveler. Funemployed. Early retired. ;-) And YES! We’re absolutely going to keep the posts coming, so you’re right that this will be a good outlet for some of that input… assuming people are still reading! ;-)

  9. Blessings to you as you make this change and transition. Finding your ego through work must be a difficult thing when your work is gone, because like you said, none of it is real when it’s over. I have been self employed for 4 years with a little sales business I enjoy. I enjoy it the most because I get to do what I want. I get to work with clients who are like me, and value interactions like me. I find my value through my feelings and relationships, and not always my numbers, titles, or commission checks. The only thing I have found that is real is the journey I am on with god. That is what is most important in my life. Everything else is superficial and meaningless, like you say. I sell because I need a living. I write on my blog wealth well done because it is what I am meant to do. For me, my realess always stems back to the source of my purpose. Be well, as you commit and trust your future journey of realness.

    • That’s great you have created a business for yourself that gives you satisfaction, and that lets you have relationships with clients that you both enjoy. We don’t want to have to put in all that work to build a new business (though maybe we WILL want that after we’ve decompressed from our main careers — who knows!), but admire people who can put in the time and effort to make this happen.

      • Yes, I sell branded promotional apparel to corporate accounts. About five years ago, I needed a job, and I saw becoming an independent rep as my early escape from the “normal work world.” I could start a business with no money invested. I would just have to put in the sweat equity which I had in spades. I went door to door cold calling accounts, and one by one, I started to get clients. I work from home and contract all the “work” out to production companies. I work when I want to work. The great thing about corporate accounts is that they only operate M-F, 9-5, so I don’t have to worry about calls during my off time. I now have enough “big accounts” that send me reorders all the time so I just manage relationships most of the time, and use the rest of my time to work on the passion projects that inspire me and make me feel alive. I have taken a different path to “early retirement” and “freedom” but it works for me, because I genuinely like who I work with and what I do. I am a great sales person because I love people, and I love to help make people’s lives easier. If you can do that, and be likable, the sales naturally just find you. Peace out!

      • How about this. I am REALLY good. My wife has gotten good in a short time. Between us, we’re as good as we need to be. Remember, my first job was a ski instructor. No matter how great I am at certain things, I am always a teacher first. You could probably learn a few things for me. Last weekend my wife and I went out skiing. I was teaching her how to ski through the trees as that’s her next area of development. The trick to being a good tree skiier, is being able to see three or four turns ahead of yourself so your always setting your turns up for success. As I was teaching her this, I realized the same lessons are true to become financially savvy and build wealth. The trick is to be able to see three moves ahead of yourself, so you’re always setting your next decision up for success. I took pictures. I have to make a post out of this little tree skiing/wealth building lesson. Peace sister!

      • I just laughed to myself. Look at my last comment… You could get a ski lesson, and some financial saviness inspiration when you ski with us. What could be better than that! Haha.

  10. I’ve found that people are much more impressed that I’m retired in my early 50’s than they ever were with my former job. And they always ask what I’m retired from so you’ll have plenty of oportunities to talk about your former life without turning into that guy! I suspect you’ll miss the perks but I’ve always felt sorry for the people who walk the red carpet because I know what they’ve had to trade for that. You’ll have no trouble finding ways to add value to your community and causes–it’s such an exciting time!

    • Haha — I really, really don’t want to be that guy! ;-) You’re right that I’ve had to trade a LOT to get the perks, and that’s a good thing to remind myself of once they’re gone. In return we’ll have a lot more freedom and time, plus no 3 am wake-up calls to catch flights for work! I think the travel perks will be easy to get over, but the parts of work that I love will be harder to replace, and that’s what I’m truly focused on preparing for.

  11. I began my second retirement 2 days ago. I went back to the workforce for a reason that you mentioned without using the words. Here it is:. I was not emotionally prepared for retirement. Financially we were fine since my wife was still working. But I was unhappy to have lost the perks, though my perks in the military were far different from your corporate perks.

    This time I, actually we, have prepared emotionally for this. It doesn’t hurt that we are going to live in a retirement community where nobody asks “what do you do?”, but rather “what did you do?”.

    Once our initial celebratory retirement trip is over I will get my blog started. Until then….

    • Thanks for sharing your experience! And congrats on retirement round 2! I hope this one sticks, given that it sounds like you’re more prepared this time around. I hope you guys have a wonderful retirement celebration trip! Let us know when that blog is up and running. :-)

  12. At a previous job I was flying a lot and hotel staff knew my name and time for wake up call… When I quit that job, I had no more lounge when traveling for holidays. It did feel good! I was on my way to fun and experiences.

    That being said, last year at an airport we had to wait long to board. Lounge would have been nice for the free drinks and internet… good news: we survived.

    • Hahaha — glad you survived. ;-) I’m pretty sure we will too. My guess is it will take one trip with no perks, I’ll do my mourning, and then I’ll be over it. :-) But getting to weigh in on decisions and collaborate with others — that’s something I’m much more likely to miss for longer!

  13. This is a good point! I currently get zero perks through my job. Since I’m a contractor, I actually get treated like I’m *less* than invisible, so I would actually feel more “important” during retirement. My philosophy is to be nice and treat everyone like they’re important. It’s actually gotten me a few perks before, even though I’m really a nobody. So if you want to be treated like you matter, treat other people like they matter, too. Being nice gets you nice things in return. :)

    It’s funny because my dad used to travel frequently for his job. He transferred because he hated so much travel. Out of the blue, American Airlines called him and asked why he stopped flying. Instead of saying what happened, he told them their charges and customer service sucked. And that’s how he scored free flights to anywhere in the U.S. Sneaky!

    • I was just sitting next to a woman on my flight who had the ultra mega status but was so mean to everyone — the flight attendants, the customer service agent on the phone, even me! And it just made me wonder, as I always do when I witness that: Why??? Do you really think you’re better than other people? There is no downside to treating everyone with kindness and respect, and I try hard to do that in my interactions with everyone. Sometimes I’m stressed out by travel and don’t do my best, but that just strengthens my resolve to be even nicer in the future. And if United calls me one day to ask me the same Q American asked your dad, I’ll be sure to give his answer! ;-)

  14. It’s tough for people with important jobs. They derive a lot of their identity from the work they do and the respect they get from the job. I think that’s a huge mental barrier especially if you’ve worked for 40-50 years. Early retirement is easier in this regard. We’re less indoctrinated and we are young enough to adapt.
    Anyway, I never had any problem with it. I wasn’t important in my old job. :)

    • You said it exactly right! I DO think the transition is tougher for those with jobs that are more consuming, and which force you to wrap your identity up in them. We couldn’t do our jobs if we didn’t let them define us to a large extent, though we know that’s not true of most jobs. Let’s hope we’re more adaptable when we get there, as you say!

  15. I don’t think you have to worry as much about your ego or identity, as you think. I get literal jaw-drops when people ask what I do and I say that I early retired last week. Believe me, this holds a lot more status than when I used to say I was a Corporate Officer at a Fortune 100 MegaCorp. You are doing something almost NO ONE you meet has done – retire in your forties. Time – not money – is the ultimate luxury and you will have that in spades.

    As for air travel – you’ll find that: 1) you won’t be in airports nearly as often anyways; and, 2) you will have time to spare. Really important people never had those perks anyway – they were flying the company jet. I made that adjustment – it’s really not a big deal.

    • Well technically I will be in my 30s. ;-) Hahaha. I’m super glad to hear from you, since you’re ahead of us on this journey and can speak from experience! Though in truth I care far less about impressing people than I do about getting to collaborate and be helpful, so I think I just have to find ways to do that in retirement. (Already have some ideas churning…) And I think losing the travel perks will be a bummer for one trip, and then I’ll be over it. :-)

  16. Interesting post. We crave the anonymity of retirement and no longer having to put on the ‘work face’ for meetings, presentations, appraisals etc.

    • Oh, amen to that! I actually think I’ll go back to be my more naturally extroverted self once I don’t have to be “on” so much for work anymore! I think work has made me more introverted in my free time and I can’t wait to reverse that.

  17. Enjoy the perks while you can.

    You will be asked for your opinion again. It will occur in the FIRE community, on the for-cause boards you will sit on, and in other volunteer roles. Your family and close friends may actually ask for your advice more after you retire.

    When I was a ski bum in my late 20s after working for Big Oil for several years, I did feel like I had to provide a lengthy explanation when I met new folks. I do not feel that way anymore. An outcome of my FIRE journey so far is to see my job as part of me, not define me. Also, I took a lower paying job in the mountains for a higher quality life.

    My attitude on travel has changed dramatically after living in East Africa. I once spent $2.25 for a hotel room and $2.00 for a 3 hour bus ride where I was offered a place to stand and hang on, my travel companion was offered quarter of a seat. I survived both instances and actually got a decent night’s sleep and arrived at destination in one piece. I worry a lot less and take things out of my control as they come.

    Throughout my jobs and careers, the words I use to describe myself and job have changed. I now say that I was trained as a geologist and work towards the vision of everyone having access to safe drinking water. I am thinking of replying “Play in the mountains” to new inquiries into the classic “What do you do?”.

    When you lead the equality on airline revolution, you will be asked for your opinion. Everyone’s knees matter! Everyone’s time is valuable!

    • I’m thankful that we live in a mountain town now, where no one gives a flip what we do. Saying “blogger” is just as good as any, and probably easier for our friends to understand than what we do now! ;-) On the travel stuff, I for sure don’t NEED any of the travel perks (except maybe the legroom — equality for knees!), so will totally be able to accept the end of that (or we can always cash in miles for upgrades). It’s all the stuff you mention — and you make a great case for ways we’ll naturally stay relevant. And another good reason to keep blogging, though quitting this was never on the table. ;-)

  18. Very interesting! Man, I’m dying to know what you both do for work. XD

    I’ve got a different perspective – right now I’m just another technical contributor. I can be easily replaced. My leadership and coworkers like me, and have no complaints on my work, but I could not be considered critical or even special in many ways. Don’t get me wrong, I know I have strengths and talents that others don’t – it’s just that I’ve not had enough experience putting them to work to shine brighter than all the other engineers. ;)

    To me, “early retirement” is probably going to be my ego boost. Tons of people can do my job, but most don’t retire by 30! Plus, with extra free time, I could write a novel or the next new app. I could learn random skills like merit badges (and probably will, most likely…). I could even travel hack more and get some of those travel perks you speak of. :D

    • Your comment makes me super happy for you because that’s the ideal way it should work out. Going from being stuck in a career to having total freedom shouldn’t force us to go through an identity crisis, but the more “successful” you are, the harder the transition has the potential to be. So I love that you are expecting to get more ego validation from retirement. Wohoo!!

  19. This wasn’t something we thought a lot about before we quit. We had never wrapped much of our identity into our 9-5. We would still be volunteering, and involved in the same causes/communities as before, so I thought the transition would be easier. And for us, it was easy. For everyone else. Not so much. I have a few friends who are 100% their job. In a job=identity=value kind of way. They have had a really hard time with the fact that we pivoted away from that meaningful/important work to things that fit our life better. Like we are “wasting” our time/life and abandoning the work. I suspected it would be hard for people for the first month or so, but in some cases, people seem more confused now. I’ve had to have more grace and patience with people. Like, “it’s ok if you are your job, but I never really was.”

    • I’m glad you aren’t trying to explain yourself to people who judge others based on their jobs. We don’t really care about that piece, either, and whether other people think we’re valuable in the work sense. But we do want to be valued as people, and for so long that’s all been wrapped up in work for us, and so it will be an interesting transition!

  20. I’m so curious about your current job and looking forward to learning more specifics after you retire.

    As far as perks go, I can definitely relate to that duality in your experiences in and out of work. Dressed up in a suit and receiving special treatment in public places, it’s hard not to notice others noticing you. However, on the weekends, I’m in Walmart with a messy bun, comfy pants, and chasing around kids. Although it’s hard to predict the future with complete certainty, I tend to think that I will enjoy being able to blend in all the time, once we reach financial semi-independence. I’m an introvert and have changed a lot in the past few years, so that status symbols and impressing others really doesn’t matter much at all anymore.

    The other comments are probably accurate – people will ask you about your prior occupation and your journey to FIRE. You will be an inspiration and others will still want your advice.

    • I promise I’ll share what we do! :-) I’m totally with you on the status symbols, but do sometimes wish that I could get a salesperson’s attention when I’m not in a work setting! It’s really just the basic stuff that I wonder about, not that I need to be bowed down to, like, ever. ;-)

  21. Although I have no idea what your currently do, I’m sure the better story is I retired early.

    I’d be much more interested in hearing about that accomplishment, than any free perks you got while working a corporate gig.

  22. For myself, I didn’t do it as long as you have, only about five years of somewhat preferential treatment but I always told myself that I was a tourist so enjoy it while it lasts but I’ll be going home to my casual, frugal, non-high flier life at some point so there’s no point in making that my new normal. For my friend whose situation is much closer to yours: 20 years of working alongside very wealthy people, routinely being pampered because of the perceived importance of her job, it was very interesting that she was able to downshift early into a very different existence also for health reasons. She got through her crisis, and settled very comfortably in an early retirement made possible by that high flying job and its salary, keeping herself busy by continuing to do what she did best: applying her professional skills to support youth and volunteer organizations. She’s the reason that several of those still exist and are thriving today. To my knowledge, she never had a moment of identity crisis because she knew what was important: the skills and capabilities that stay with her, and not the outward trappings.

    She and I often talk about how the Designer Lifestyle was her norm because it was the expectation in her previous life, but how her preferred life has no place for it. It may also have been easier because she, like me, grew up quite poor and so she’s always remembered what life on the other side of the tracks felt like. We know even a downgraded version of a retired life is still quit luxurious!

    I don’t think you will struggle near as much as some people who lack the capacity for introspection :)

    • I’m like both your story and your friend’s: I go home to my non-high-flyer life, but I also get treated a certain way at work, by clients and especially by the travel companies. Let’s hope I can transition as seamlessly as your friend did! It sounds like her intentions are super similar to mine, and I look forward to being able to use my skills to help those who can’t afford expensive consultants! And thanks for your note on introspection — as you know, I do not struggle with that. Sometimes I struggle with NOT introspecting! Hahaha.

  23. I suspect that the more important you feel in your career, the more easily your career becomes a part of your identity, and often ego. I’ve definitely met my fair share of “that guy” who brags about his/her career many years after they’ve left it, or people who brag about all the miles they’ve accumulated through work that allows them to get a huge discount on a family vacation. Both cases are generally off-putting to me, and as I get older, I notice now that most of those people are white males who received more opportunities and privileges than others, but do not recognize it.

    I wonder if the early retirees who left jobs that they didn’t have much self-worth tied up in still had a difficult time adjusting to not having identity or ego coming from a job. I currently lean towards thinking I won’t have as much difficulty with that because I don’t feel that important in my current job anyway, although it is nice to be able to say what I “do” when people ask. When I first began my working life, I wanted so badly to have a career that I could identify strongly with and be proud of. But after a series of bad experiences in the work force (a layoff, a hostile takeover on Wall Street of our parent company, working for a workaholic good ol’ boys’ club company…) I’ve become a bit jaded and have let go of that desire. I would like to rediscover who I am, separate from my job, and identify with what I do, independent of employment.

    • This! “I suspect that the more important you feel in your career, the more easily your career becomes a part of your identity, and often ego.” I should have asked you to write the post for me! This is exactly right. Though I do think, on some level, I was always a person who WANTED to be defined by my contribution to the world, not just by whatever else a woman might be judged on (looks, ability to keep a nice home, whatever else). I just happened to get lucky and not have the bad experiences you had. (Sorry all of that happened in your career!) But I love your goal now: rediscovering who you are, separate from work. More power to you!

  24. When I was unemployed, I felt invisible. I’dmeet new people who’d immediately ask “what do you do?” and I had no answer. Whenever I’d socialize, everyone would talk about how work was going, and I had nothing to contribute to the conversation. It was already hard enough being unemployed and having no income. This feeling made it worse.

    I think that in this situation, being retired wouldn’t have the same negative impact. People would probably be excited for you!

    • I think people underestimate what you felt when they plan for ER, and it’s so important to acknowledge that some part of that could still happen, even if people are excited for us. At the very least, we’ll be less current and relevant, and that’s not nothing. That’s not itself a good enough reason to keep working, but it’s worth thinking about in advance. Thanks for sharing your experience — so sorry you felt so invisible!

  25. I used to think being retired would be depressing, because it would mean that I didn’t matter. But when my large federal Department was forced to downsize, and I had a chance to take an early departure package, with an education option, I jumped at the chance to go back to school to learn how to teach English to adults. My program was intense, but I resolved to get through it by focusing on learning, not grades. After teaching one difficult class, and for one poorly managed school, I found a great school, and many great students, whom I’m happy to interact with, and help. I realized there was meaning in my work, and my students enjoyed me. There was a lot of validation in that for me.

    • I’m so glad to know you found meaning and fulfillment in your second act! How wonderful that things worked out so well for you. I wonder for us, because we don’t plan to jump right into the next thing (or maybe ever jump into it), what that transition will be like.

      • Thank you. You’re right – I did jump in! Being on my own, I felt I had to, for my own mental health. I hear you about wondering about your transition. The small bit of advice I’d give is not to leave it too open-ended. Perhaps plan to try something new every few months – a trip, a new workout program, a course? Most of the more content people I knew did that. I wish you the best.

      • Thanks for the well wishes! And we’re absolutely following your advice. We area already planning our first big post-retirement trip, and focusing on learning two new languages. (We might be slightly crazy on that one!) Plus we have lots of big plans for evolving the blog. So we’ll still have plenty on our plates. :-)

  26. I can’t say that this will be a real issue for me, considering this is technically my 3rd career. Plus, if I died today, literally nothing would slow down stop or change in my current role, or any of my previous roles. We’ve had 3 Sr. level “important” people die unexpectedly since I’ve been here and minus the announcement meeting, everything continues on like they never worked here. Sure, I’m a geologist, but I’ve worked in restaurants for almost as long as “Big Oil”, and I worked at my geotechnical engineering company gig for just over 6 years. I don’t have a lot of identity tied into any of these other than the “me” part of it.

    My FIL had a hard time adjusting though and it took him about a year or two to settle into his retired life and identity. Like the other commentor above mentioned, the emotional acceptance and transition can be tough I guess.

    I got some perks at the megacorp, but they were pretty fleeting and happened maybe once a year. My current company doesn’t have too many perks, so nothing to lose there either. Except the cash for fitbit steps/activity. To be honest I’ll love getting to toss that damn thing in the trash the day I quit. Good riddance pocket litter!

    I can’t relate other than echoing what most above have said. Saying you’re retired and not being 60-65 yrs old would be way more interesting to hear about than whatever it is you currently do.

    • Oh my gosh — 3 people at your company have died somewhat recently?!?! Please hurry up and get out of there ASAP! That reminds me of the Japanese idea of dying at work. Ugh. I know you’re not as wrapped up in the work as plenty of folks around you, but still. Escape with your health while you can! (Only sort of joking.) ;-)

      You know I don’t really care about the perks. Those are nice, but whatever… we’ll still get to go see the world if we’re crammed in the back of the plane and treated like cattle. But thinking about all that was still helpful to realize that one of my important elements in life is to feel valued for my contributions — so I just have to find non-work ways to achieve that! (And, of course, keep blogging!)

      • Pretty much all 3 were heart attacks with older, unhealthy, overweight guys… Not that I can’t have a heart attack, but it’s not necessarily the work causing the issues. I’m not roughnecking on a rig in danger of falling pipes, blowouts, etc… Office work and the sedentary lifestyle can be just as deadly if not more so, because you get so complacent.

      • Most of the unhealthiest people I’ve ever met have high-stress office jobs. While jobs on oil rigs might be more immediately dangerous, extended work stress takes a toll on everyone. But you seem to let a lot of it roll right off your back, which I completely admire! Maybe I’ll get good at it… just in time to quit! ;-)

      • Just remember to keep perspective. A lot of the stuff I see people get worked up over isn’t even their job repsonsibility. My most often used line at work, “Not my circus, not my monkeys”. Meaning, I’ll focus on that when needed to but right now I don’t need to enter the fray, I’ve got other work to do. :) Good luck!

  27. It’s a good idea you’re spending so much thought on the transition. That should make it easier when it arrives, although it will still be a big change that will take time to get used to. I’m in a similar situation with an “important” job but I don’t think my positional importance is what I’ll miss. Maybe being an introvert helps a lot in that respect since I’ve never cared much about awards and titles.

    Like you, I think I’ll miss people wanting my opinion and help (although this is based on my position, not me……I doubt they will be calling me at home after I’m gone). I appreciate all the other “special” treatment like nice hotels, assistants to make travel arrangements, and fancy meals but I’m much happier with simple things like playing with my kids, cooking, backpacking, climbing, etc. Those are the things I dream of when I’m in a 5 star hotel halfway around the world.

    When I’m home for a while, I have the urge for some outdoor adventure trip. When I’m gone for a while I want to go home. But I can’t say I ever wished I was in a hotel or conference room when I was doing either of those things. Would you give a different answer here?

    • The last part of your comment reminds me of something I said in my Mad Fientist podcast interview (coming out soon!): When we lived in the city, we spent our vacations in the mountains. Now that we live in the mountains, we spend our vacations in the city. I think we all crave that balance one way or another. The only different answer I would give is that I actually love presenting and speaking in fronting of folks, so that’s the only part of the conference room thing I’ll miss. But we’re scheming about how we can work that into our retirement. ;-)

  28. I totally understand missing the ego boost of providing valuable contributions at work (and all the little travel perks that serve as a constant, if phony, reminder of “importance”). There’s something nice about feeling like an expert and a mentor to others. It felt good to get phone calls from colleagues after I quit with questions about various things, though those dwindled quickly. It’s amazing how rapidly you become irrelevant, even after leaving a meaningful role.

    Whatever ego boost I got from those things, though, has been replaced for now with the joy of sharing our semi-retirement and travel story — and people tend to be much more curious to hear about that than the work we used to do. These days, I only bring up my career if someone asks.

    When the travel story wears out, there will still be plenty of ways to use our knowledge and experience productively, whether that’s through writing, volunteering, or side projects. Much as we enjoy traveling, I’m also looking forward to more of those opportunities!

    • If I get any calls at all like that after we quit, I’ll be surprised. But if they do come at all, I expect they’ll dwindle quickly like yours did. I expect to be fully irrelevant in no time flat. :-) It’s good to know that folks have been interested in your story and travels — that doesn’t surprise me, and I’m sure they’re all the more interested because you guys are even freakishly young by FIRE blog standards. ;-) Can’t wait to to hear what you do next!

  29. Haha this is such a strange world I know nothing of! I can definitely imagine that going back to flying like the rest of us will be an adjustment.

    I feel like I went through a small identity crisis professionally when I changed careers and left journalism. The nature of the work means it’s a defining part of who we are generally. Giving that up and the contacts I had started to build gave me pause. It’s a bit of a shift but I have no regrets now, if anything I wonder if I should have leaped earlier.

    • I know I’ll get over the flying thing quickly, so I’m not *really* worried about that. Plus I do once in a while have to fly in the regular economy seats… it’s not like I’m up in first class all the time! :-) But it sounds like you can totally relate on the career side — similar to journalism, we do work that is by definition pretty defining, and giving that up will be weird. Worth it, but weird!

  30. I used to be a “big shot” as well and it does take some getting used to when the treatment and perks you once had are no longer there.

    But the freedom you get from leaving work is 100% TOTALLY worth it!!!

  31. “I don’t need to matter to companies, but I still want to matter to people.”

    Well as long as this blog exists I don’t think you need to worry about that. You clearly make a difference in the lives of your faithful long-time readers.

    I do understand your concern though. The thing that I worry about the most is missing the feeling of respect, the feeling of having people look up to me. I wonder what it will feel like to not be able to take that for granted any more. I keep telling myself that my life will change in ways that I can’t possibly predict, and that there will always be new things to fill the void left by the old. Nature abhors a vacuum.

    • Thanks for that. :-) The blog will exist a long time, maybe longer than people want to read it. Haha. And yeah, I think the adjustment will be hard for a lot of us! And there might be things we’ll miss that we can’t anticipate in advance. But as you say, there will be new things that come along!

  32. We are “retired” in our early 50’s. I’m still uncomfortable telling people that I don’t work. My husband works by choice so we still get a lot of perks. He changed careers after he retired so I think that has helped disconnect from that former persona (25 years worth). His current position has been part of the career detox. I actually think it will be easy for him when he exits for good.

    • I often wonder if there’s some gender bias in there, and I do think it’s harder for women. A man who says he’s retired is assumed to have earned that on his own. A woman who is “retired” might be assumed to have always stayed home, or to really just be unemployed but “kept” by a working or wealthy husband. Heaven forbid we may have actually earned our own retirement! Not saying that’s what’s going on for you, but I do think about that. ;-) And here’s hoping the transition out of part-time work is easy for your husband!

  33. How interesting! Thanks for sharing this thoughtful post. I’ve had similar struggles at two junctions in my life, when major personal events disrupted my professional life and I felt, my trajectory to the top. Funnily enough, I’ve gained more ground personally and professionally by taking these plunges, but not without some indigestion. And as I get further ahead in my career, and my personal adventures get bigger, the stakes feel a little bigger too. This is a helpful post for reflection.

    • Of course we can only know in hindsight whether something helped us or hurt us, but I can see how those personal events could have felt professionally frustrating at the time — and how wonderful that you think they’ve ultimately helped you in your career! But boy can we relate to that idea of your career getting further along AND your adventures getting bigger. ;-)

  34. I’m right there with you… and I’m also not. The people who know me at work treat me very well–the same way I try to treat them–but most people who don’t know me think I’m a tech and treat me quite poorly.
    When I’m not at work, I’m just a typical nobody who can’t get an employee’s attention at REI or a car dealership to save my life.
    I wish you a smooth transition as you become one of the masses, and I think it’ll be easier than you think. You might not be as ‘important’ in the sense of your career, but when your friends and family know that you have more free time, they’ll want to see you and get your opinion more. Right now, I’ll bet that many don’t want to bother you.

    • Sounds like you can relate a lot! Same here all around — recently a client I was about to meet didn’t realize it was ME and asked me to go get everyone coffee. Which I did, and her jaw nearly hit the floor when I came back with the coffee and then introduced myself as her lead counsel. Hahahaha. (That totally made my day, by the way!) And I suspect/hope you’re right about people not wanting to bother us now, because we definitely get fewer invitations to things now than we’d like… but we also know we couldn’t go to most of them anyway. Here’s to things changing very soon!

  35. Having talked to plenty of retired folks, I’ll take a conversation about what you used to do any day over your last doctor visit or what you saw on daytime TV yesterday. The folks I’ve known who don’t talk much about an old job are those still excited to chase dreams and learn new things and have more to do and look forward to than look back on. As for me, I started answering the what do I do question with a hobby, my volunteer activities, a book I read, a future plan or that I’m looking for a new adventure and ask what they recommend. I’m still part-time employed but started dreading strangers asking for free professional advice. I find in my volunteer circles the question rarely comes up because it is assumed I am not working since I can be there during the business day.

    • Oh, amen to the daytime TV conversation. I absolutely NEVER want to be that guy! ;-) I think it’s more about your second example: I don’t want to talk endlessly about what I used to do because I want to be focused on some new thing I’m passionate about, and talk about that! Like the book I’m writing or the trip we’re planning, or whatever other adventures we can’t imagine yet. Which, it sounds like, is a lot like what you do now!

  36. For the last 6 or so years that I was working I never really had any work perks to feed my ego and make me feel important.

    So when it all disappeared (after I early retired), I didn’t really feel any loss. It was just more “stuff” that kept me tied to the job.

    • I hope when you say you didn’t have perks the last 6 years, you really just mean the frivolous perks like flight upgrades, the stuff that’s meaningless. Not that you weren’t recognized for bringing value to your work, which is the far better way to feel important. But either way, I can see how not having those things would make it much easier to cut the cord!

  37. Such a great, thoughtful post. I think about this sometimes in airport lounges! I think what you’re hitting on is the difference between meaning and accomplishment – the former is so much better, but the latter is far more recognized in our society.

    • Thanks, Cath! And I love how you put it — I do think that’s true. Like getting into the airport lounge is an accomplishment, albeit a relatively meaningless one, but adding real value at work or in passion projects is where the meaning comes from. And I care very little about losing the accomplishments, but care a great deal about losing the meaning!

  38. Great post, ONL.

    I agree with your points and it’s interesting to see how sometimes upgrades and perks can change people. For example, some of my coworkers would complain that they didn’t get upgraded to a suite or even first class because they “deserved” it. I don’t really view these upgrades the same way that they do and would usually just consider them as a nice to have.

    I think it’ll be a fairly easy transition when I retire, but that’s like 7 to 10 years away!

    • Thank you! Just don’t get attached to those upgrades, and I bet you’ll be fine. :-) I suspect the nicer travel will take only one or two trips to get over, but losing the sense of providing value at work could be a much tougher transition!

  39. I am proud of the transparency and vulnerability you showed in your thoughts in this post. I myself in my career have played a part in “mattering” as well as volunteering for boards in some role or another. Is it because I need to feel important and fear just simply cruising along the sidelines. What will I do as just me and not have my career? You have sparked an internal dialogue I need to have with myself and thank you for that.

    • Thanks, Chris! Glad this post got you thinking. I’m sure you’re like me in never doing anything you’ve done in your career simply so that you’d feel important — but through your hard work and dedication, you’ve proven yourself to be important. I think that’s part of what makes it hard to give that up, not for the ego piece of it, but just because I earned it and don’t want to lose what I’ve earned. But that’s the trade-off, right? I’d still rather spend my days adventuring than sitting at a desk, so that’s the answer. :-)

      • I’ve worked my way up the ladder of experience, respect and knowledge in the same industry for 21 years. I know it inside and out starting from the lowest on the chain to running things. That self worth or feeling of place is tough to give up. Step away from that inward looking self image worry to a world of freedom exploring what really matters, they wild and natural places.

      • I love how you put it: the feeling of place. We’ve been in our jobs for 15 years and 19 years, with the same companies that whole time. So I can relate 100%!

  40. Better that you are important in the lives of people you love than important in the lives of people that pay you. I’ve seen many people confuse this.

    • Hahaha. Well said, my friend! Though if maybe I could stay important to like one person who might pay me for part-time work in retirement, that wouldn’t be the worst thing. ;-)

  41. Oooh, this is a fascinating topic to consider. I’m in a profession that is largely lambasted, but occasionally loved by outsiders. It’s also the type of work that people associate with your core being. As if I will always be the thing I do. It’s weird. I’ve not experienced much prestige by it, because of choices I’ve made to focus my energies in a particular manner. However, people do value my opinion. I don’t know what it would feel like for that to go away. Outside of work right now, folks who are newly activists are looking to me for moral guidance. It is very strange feeling. Especially since some of these folks are significantly older and helped me as an impoverished child. I’m not sure I like it. I want folks to be their own moral compasses, but some haven’t figured out North yet. What if I lead them wrong?

    • I wonder if the folks are looking to you more for tactical guidance than moral guidance? Like you’ve been in the trenches longer, so they want you to teach them how to fight? The fact that they are already there, ready to fight, means they’ve already got the moral piece at least mostly in place… maybe. I don’t know. ;-) And given what you do, I DO think it’s hard for folks to separate your work from you the person, especially because anytime someone goes into a career that pays less and comes with less glory than they could easily get, people assume you’re more noble and committed than others. I totally get that.

  42. I have always been vehemently against confusing who I am with what I do, because I really don’t see them as being the same thing. But I do think that it is encouraged socially to craft your identity around your job- to the point where when you no longer have that job, you aren’t yourself anymore. Thanks for the food for thought!

    • If you’ve been able to maintain that separation, then you get a major high five! I think it varies by field and role, but I do think there are plenty of jobs where it’s nearly impossible to keep those things separate, and we’re now slowly working our way through the disentanglement process. ;-)

  43. When I was in a leadership role at my institution, I was deeply engaged in many “important” projects and organizational decision-making. So much so, in fact, that I devoted 10-14 hours a day to work, and everything else in my life outside of work received less and less of my time. When I gave notice that I would be leaving the position, I knew that my remaining time in the role would involve gradual disengagement as I wrapped up projects, prepared a transition plan, and mentored others into new roles. Even though I knew that my opinions and contributions would become less valued once people knew that I would be leaving, it still was surprisingly painful to live the experience of becoming irrelevant in my role (which I have blogged about).

    A year later, looking back, I do not miss being engaged in the decision-making. I certainly do not miss the long hours or the respect and attention I received because of my “important” role (something I was always a little uncomfortable with anyways). But I do miss the daily structure a bit, and I mostly miss having a strong sense of purpose — the feeling that knowing that what I did mattered.

    I am glad that you are thinking ahead to this process. Perhaps it will not be as hard for you as it was for me as you are planning to have a short notice period (whereas mine was 6 months).

    • Thanks for sharing this! I really am NOT looking forward to having to watch myself become irrelevant, which I expect to happen FAST, like within my month or two of notice. (Still thinking about how much notice to give, and honestly may ask the company what they’d like since it’s not important to me on timing.) I think the sense of purpose is what we will miss most, and I agree with you — people should do some introspection in advance on this to figure out how they will replace that feeling. Maybe not everyone needs it, but for those who do, it’s bound to be a shock, even if it’s a small one.

  44. Liked your thoughtful post and it touched on a lot of interesting topics, many of which seem like they should be posts in their own right. I’m nearly 60, am co-owner of two reasonably successful and very different businesses. Have a degree of ‘important’ in my professional life. I am not clear why people make such arbitrary decisions to retire., but then my work life balance is questionable largely because, like you, I love creative problem solving and kicking new ideas into life. I can’t imagine a full retirement, though I can imagine a change in how I work. On a similar level, I think that personal invisibility is a choice. But then you get into the argument about whether ageing become invisible because society casts us into outer darkness or we mourn the passing of sexual potency and struggle to parley our visibility into a different sphere. For me it’s about what type of energy you bring to any scenario – walking into a retail outlet, strolling through a park — people notice your energy whether you’re important, ‘important’ er self-important. It’s that latter two that are based in negative energy. The former is what continues to make people notice, even occasionally turn heads because it’s based in healthy self-confidence and self-love which is genuinely appealing. That’s a big rant in response to your thoughtful piece, but these are very interesting ideas.

    • Thank you, Frances! I agree that personal invisibility CAN be a choice, and I absolutely take advantage of that sometimes! Like sometimes I truly don’t want to have to talk to anyone and I know exactly what I want to grab and get out of there. But I do think there is something in society that makes certain people invisible more than others, and it varies by the context (like my outdoors store example here — I am by far the bigger gear purchaser in our house, but to walk into a local ski shop, you really would think I don’t exist at all — at REI, though, it’s a different story). I’m all about conveying confidence and positivity (smiling to everyone, saying hello, making eye contact, etc.), and sometimes that makes a difference… but sometimes it doesn’t. It’s all interesting to think about and notice, though!

  45. I’ve never considered the perceived value others have about me. I’ve always preferred to fly under the radar, so starting up a blog under my name where I talk about $$$ was a bit of a strange choice – and I’m not sure how long I will be keeping up with it.

    I’m sure my co-workers would say that I provide more value than I would describe myself providing, but it’s probably a shocker to absolutely nobody that I probably have some self esteem and self confidence issues.

    I think though, that if someone’s perception of me changed based on whether I had a job or not, or based on the specific type of job I had, they probably aren’t someone whose opinion that I should let influence me.

    • I would definitely NOT make the case that everyone needs to get the same things out of life or work that I do, so if being valued for your opinion or input isn’t important to you, great! As long as you know what does give you satisfaction, and you find other ways in your life to get that aside from work, you’ll be in good shape. :-)

  46. “I’m just the person the perks and niceness pass through at this moment…”
    Very insightful viewpoint that I will carry with me for the rest of my days. Also picked up a few tips on how I can modify the layout of my future posts, so double thanks.

  47. Great post on a topic that I have thought way too much about. As a physician I see the problem of ego manifest itself stronger than many other careers. During the long and often emotional and difficult process of becoming a doc, it seems like medicine becomes a part of you. I’m sure this is present to some degree in other fields, but this is the first job where I didn’t completely turn back into myself when I came home. I was still a physician while sitting on the couch at night (whereas earlier in my life when I was waiting tables as soon as I left the restaurants I was no longer a ‘waiter’). I have made the conscious (and initially probably subconscious) decision to try and separate the two. Many docs I know simply cannot, and retirement or job dissatisfaction is rough on them. I have many fragmented ideas on my hard drive written about this topic and have struggles with how to present them. You have done a nice job here starting the discussion.

    • I think that is an important distinction, and there are plenty of professions where you are still that thing when you are off duty — and plenty where that’s not the case. I got my first taste of that while still in college, when I worked as an EMT. Laws in place required me to respond as if I were on duty if I was present when a life-threatening emergency happened, so I was never NOT an EMT, even though I got paid barely anything and it was very much part-time. But it seems I was okay with those kinds of jobs, because that’s all I’ve ever done professionally — work where you’re defined by the work. The transition out of that thinking will be interesting!

  48. My dad is on several volunteer committees / boards since retiring. Between that, and social stuff he & my step mom are possibly busier than when he was working. But it’s a great answer to what do you do? I’m on the x board for y group.
    Other professions have less stigma with retiring… no one seems to comment on a retired teacher (my mom).
    For my goal of FI, it’s to do something that’s fun, and maybe that will be in a volunteer capacity (pour wine at a winery is in my top 3). The last time I was between jobs the identity question came up for me, but I’m a daughter, sister, friend, yogi, chocolate & good food lover, & through experience being a scientist who naturally wants to teach people, those will also be -me- even if it’s not my career/ profession for the next 30 years.

    You are so thoughtful with planning your exit strategy and taking the time to mull this over, you’ve got this!

    • Thanks for the encouragement! I can’t help but mull these questions over, so I’m just surprised people still want to read these musings! Hahaha. I think it’s really true that different professions come with different retirement stigmas. And I think you’re right, too, that we have lots of identities that will transport with us to our new lives post-career, so we’ll still have lots to talk about. ;-)

  49. I recently got” downgraded” after almost 20 years of road warrior status. I am retiring in a few months, so my extensive travel has wound down as of mid-year 2016 (however, currently buttoning up a final project in Singapore – gabbing an extra 30K FF miles as I’m heading out the door is a nice cap).

    I always felt grateful not just for the status, but also for the many, many free trips that my family enjoyed during that time period (some companies claw back the flyer/hotel/car points as a way of controlling travel expenses). In retirement, I will look hard at the newer “premium economy” seats that provide some decent perks, and only consider business class for international long haul stuff. We’ve done some premium economy flights and feel the value proposition is good (priority boarding, front of plane, extra room, checked bag, upgraded snacks, free booze – on Delta anyhow)

    You’ll also have one perk that is irrevocable – expert knowledge of all things travel related. On more than a few occasions, my wife has been awed about my ability to preempt travel hassles (ie, heavy snow at DTW & flights starting to cancel – get online and re-book for following day for free even before flight is officially cancelled; then book hotel before close properties sell out) and generally navigate the world with ease.

    Lastly, my wife went to her home of Seoul Korea last month. I was immensely pleased to cash out a ton of miles and send her home in the first class upper deck of a 747. I did not tell her about the upgrade until we arrived at the airport – needless to say, I attained rock star status with my wing woman and soul mate.

    • I know that day of getting my status downgraded is coming for me too, and I’m not looking forward to it! ;-) But you’re right 100% — that knowledge of how to navigate travel will always stick with me. Being “travel literate” is a seriously useful life skill. And that upgrade surprise for your wife — how wonderful! :-)

  50. After a while, you’ll used to being invisible. And eventually, you’ll start cherishing your anonymity, especially if you continue to grow.

    Perhaps I’m weird, but I like to make myself as small as possible and totally blend in. It’s one of the reasons why I took this low paying ASSISTANT varsity tennis coaching job at a local HS. I feel more alive when I’m at the bottom.

    Underdog mentality?


    • That’s pretty interesting! I tend to like anonymity, but I think that’s different from invisibility. But either way, I think this is one of those things we can only know after we’ve actually lived it. ;-)

  51. I agree. The “niceties” are part of doing business. After we quit our jobs, we could find our sleves standing behind someone who’d be getting the same treatment as we did. And guess what – we’d be thinking and saying to oursleves, ” please savour this …while it lasts”.

  52. Never have been or will be important person, never was career driven. I have a job in the medical field but I do get irritated when they only include nurses for certain promotions, all parts of the heath care team are vital, our local sub shop had a promotion where all got health care professionals got meals that was nice. i agree about sexism exists everywhere just go to home depot, guys and “hot girls’ will definitely be helped first even if you were obviously ahead of them

    • I can’t tell you how many times we’ve gone to Home Depot, I will ask the question, and then they aim the answer at Mr. ONL even though I asked it. (Can we just laugh about that so we don’t cry?) And I will say as a health care-focused person, I completely value you! The team is so big, and there are so many important people who make our care possible. On behalf of all of those who never say it, THANK YOU! :-)

  53. I felt underemployed at my last company, and chafed a bit at feeling unimportant. But seeing how the important people were always running around like Chicken Little while even more overworked than me, decided that being unimportant wasn’t so bad after all. In some ways the nobodies may have it better.

    • Yeah, we’ve definitely had a lot more time to reflect on this question since writing this way back when I wrote this, and we definitely don’t think being “important” means much at all. But being valued for our input and opinion? That we will for sure miss!

  54. Terrific post and equally terrific, thoughtful comments. I retired “early” several years ago and, like many commenters, encountered a few awkward “What do you do?” questions (or maybe the awkwardness was in my own mind because I had to break out of my own multi-year script and find something other to say than “I’m a … “fill in the title.”) Happily, I found that most people were very excited to hear and respond to something like “Well, I’m a major book lover – what is your favorite hobby? or book that you are reading?” That particular “small-talk” experience allowed me to recognize what gave me energy and happiness. When I shared that with others – even newly met people – the positive energy and connections it sparked grew easily. Early retirement allows us the opportunity to rediscover interesting parts of ourselves that may have gotten shuffled off to the side due to time and income responsibilities. An open-ended question about “what do you do… for fun?” can actually turn out to be a wonderful window into that part of ourselves that is only just emerging post-retirement. Maybe it can turn out that we are both larger and much more interesting than we knew ourselves to be when we just followed the social script and replied “I’m a ….title/role.” (PS. Even when fully employed, I could have replied differently but I didn’t recognize that “i’m a …”title.” was a bit too small and limited.)

    • All so well said! I love that approach, too, of talking about your passions instead of your employment because it takes the pressure off of those who feel like their job doesn’t sum them up very well. Way to lead the way!

  55. It’s easier thinking about retirement and what you’ll do [or not] while you are still working. It seems like a wonderful dream not to have to get up and go to work, and all the other things we complain about when we have to work…But…having been retired now for 4 years…it’s not all that great… Weekends and vacations only seem special because it’s a break from work…but what if every day was a weekend…? Some would say “that’s great”, but unless you have alot of money to travel the world and keep your life very busy and interesting, then, believe me- it’s not so great… I was a Nurse for 31 years and loved going to work every day taking care of my patients and feeling like ‘I made a difference’. Each day was new and challenaging and fulfilling…I now am still busy, but as Tanja Hester said, I don’t feel as important, useful, [worthwhile ?]- and I know that my Ego is and was attached to my being a Nurse and how important I felt doing that work and that each day gave me the message: ‘you are important as you are doing good things’. Now, I look for other things to do to ‘feel important’,by volunteering, but it is not the same ‘high’ or feeling that I had when I was recognized as a Nurse [just wearing your scrubs with the stethoscope around your neck -makes you ‘stand out’- and I was proud of this and , yes, it was my Identy and did boost my Ego as it told me and others ‘who I was’. Also, i have worked all my life, raised 2 children by myself [while going to Nursing school] and was used to getting a paycheck -which, not only paid the bills, but getting a paycheck tells you that you ‘are important’…. Retirement is at times very stressful and not knowing what to do with so much time that I never ever had to consider filling before… I still have my Nursing License, and when some of my physical problems heal, I hope to work a couple days a week- as life is better when one is giving to others and feels they have part of their identity back- for me life, will feel more balanced and worthwhile.