We’re currently on a bucket list trip (skiing in Japan!), and though it’s making me slow at answering comments, the trip is such an incredible affirmation of everything that we’re aiming for — the ability to travel to places way outside our norm, the importance of being courageous in trying new things (like learning to speak a language we can’t read!), and our abiding desire to connect with people whose lives are nothing like ours. (Also, in the best surprise of all, we’ve learned that Japan does not have to be expensive. Many of our meals have been in the $2-3/person range, and the cheapest food is still jaw-droppingly delicious. Been contemplating a trip to Japan? Do it.)
It’s easy to think of financial independence or early retirement as this massive endpoint goal, because it’s something that most of us have to work toward for many years, even those of us who are lucky to be on a compressed timeline. If you’re like us, this might be the biggest goal you’ve ever worked toward, by a long shot. Other than knowing I wanted to earn a full ride for college, I’ve never even had a goal in my mind for anywhere near as long as we’ve worked toward early retirement. But even that long lead-up doesn’t make early retirement an endpoint. (Except maybe for a job you’d rather not do anymore.)
Early retirement is much more a beginning than an ending.
And for those of us who are lucky enough to reach that threshold, and walk through that door, we can’t just go from Big Hairy Audacious Goal to… nothing. And I’m not even talking about the much-discussed idea of retiring to something rather than from something.
We all have things we want to do in retirement (what we want to retire to), but is your next goal as big, as audacious, as bold as what you’re working toward now? Because if you’re working toward early retirement, we already know several things about you:
You embrace delayed gratification
You’re persistent, and able to stick with a goal for a long time
You think outside societal norms, and determine your own definition of happiness
You’re not deterred when things get tough
For people with those qualities, going from a life focused heavily on this BIG GOAL to a life with no big goal is bound to be a shock. I’d even go so far as to say that most people like us (shout out to our people!) NEED big goals.
So today, we’re exploring what comes after the big FIRE goal. And we’d love to hear from you guys — what’s your next BIG GOAL?
Those of us pursuing early retirement are far from a monolithic bunch, and it’s absolutely possible that some of us don’t need a new goal to focus on after we hit the FI or ER milestone. But it all comes down to that ever-present question of what you want from your life.
Which answer feels most like what you want to be able to say when you look back on your life?
A. I retired early! How rad is that?! Then I did some fun stuff after that, but nothing that adds up to one cohesive thing. It’s cool, though, because did I mention I retired early?!
B. I retired early from my first career, and then I shaped this kick-ass second career totally on my own terms. It gave me a ton of satisfaction. Though I was technically retired, I never stopped working because I got to do exactly what I wanted to be doing.
C. I achieved some truly huge things in life, especially the big thing I was able to do after I left my original career, and felt huge fulfillment from that. And oh yeah, that was made possible by retiring early.
There is no right or wrong answer here. Like every question aspiring FIRErs ask ourselves, the answer is more of a guide to how we might think about the future, and then plan accordingly.
If you answered A, congrats! You’re probably not an overthinking gold star seeker like me, and your next life sounds awfully fun and relaxing.
If you answered B or C, you think of early retirement as less of an endpoint, and more an ends to a means. And that’s a pretty good indication that you should be thinking hard, if you haven’t already, about what you plan to do with yourself after you leave work. (Also worth thinking about: 10 questions to answer before you retire early.)
But let’s go one step farther.
More Than Just a Collection of Things
For most of us, the mundane stuff of life consumes most of our time:
And that will probably still be true after we leave our time-consuming careers, much as we might want our time mix to look more like this:
The mundane stuff is the everyday life that might be perfectly pleasant in the moment, but is ultimately forgettable. And the question each of us should ask ourselves is: Is that enough for me?
Maybe it is. Maybe never setting foot in an office again is all future you needs to be perfectly content. And maybe it isn’t.
If you know that you need something more, if you want to live a life that adds up to more than just a collection of things, then it’s time to think about the next bold and audacious goal.
Dreaming Big Like Your Former Kid Self
One of my favorite blog posts from last year was Brandon’s (AKA the Mad Fientist) post about applying to be an astronaut. That’s one of those goals that many of us might contemplate as children, but then we realize that the odds are slim and the climb is steep, and we move on to a more achievable goal. It’s like how I quit figure skating in eighth grade when I realized that I probably wasn’t on an Olympics trajectory.
But in early retirement, we can reawaken those dreams. We can aim — literally — for the moon. And while I am probably not going to be the first 40-something first-time figure skating Olympian, and Brandon is probably not going to be an astronaut (though I’m still keeping my fingers crossed for you, buddy!), there’s absolutely no reason why we can’t remind ourselves of some of the big, whimsical, impractical goals we might have once held as children.
I always loved those guys who worked at record stores* when I was a teenager, and wished I could be as knowledgeable about current music as they were. (To those under 30, a record store was like Spotify in bricks-and-mortar form, except you had to pay for everything.) It’s not a bold goal exactly, but I love that I soon get to spend hours each week listening to new music and discovering bands who are new to me.
On a more audacious level, the childhood dream I am by far most stoked to reawaken is becoming a true explorer — climbing mountains, traveling in remote areas, staying out for weeks or months at a time. That’s a dream that I instinctively knew when I dreamed it that it was impractical on every level. It’s a dream I harbored in secret, never daring to wish for it too fervently, knowing I’d end up heartbroken when my dream couldn’t be realized. So it feels more than a little bit amazing and magical to know that this dream actually has a chance of coming true. But it will still take tremendous focus and hard work — intense training, expedition planning, and a progression from easier peaks to more challenging and remote places. But if we succeed, our actions will absolutely add up to something.
Dreaming Like a Problem Solver
If you’re more like Mr. ONL and your most memorable childhood dream was, and I quote directly, “to be a gumball machine,” (which I can’t even write without laughing) then a more fruitful avenue of exploration might be to think about some big problem in your community or the world that you can solve.
Early retirees are among the lucky few who actually have time to think in big ways, because we don’t have to spend all of our brainpower on everyday work to pay the bills. This ability to think big is almost a super power — how will you use yours?
If you see a problem and you have some inkling of what the solution might look like, maybe the perfect audacious goal for you in retirement is to throw yourself into finding that solution, and then figuring out the puzzle of how to get your solution out there into the world.
Dreaming Like a Dreamer
For the dreamers among us, your bold goal might have nothing to do with your childhood dreams, or with problems in search of solutions. You might have some notion in your head that others think is crazy — and maybe even you think it’s crazy — but you’ll soon have the chance to pour your time and energy into making it a reality. The world needs more dreamers, and early retirement could be the perfect time to escape all the encumbrances of tradition and societal norms and those who say you can’t. Unleash that dream for us all to see.
The Bolder the Better
Whatever inspires your next goal beyond FIRE, make it big. Make it worthy of the an amazing person who has already achieved something huge and rare. (Because contrary to what FIRE blogs would have you believe, achieving anything close to FI is still incredibly rare, and we are all near-unicorns.) So let’s go, unicorns! Don’t stop at one big goal. We can’t wait to hear what’s next for each of us!
Time to Share!
Here we go — let’s talk big goals post-FIRE! What did you once dream of doing that you could bring back as a real goal, not just an old dream? What’s something new you’ve wondered about but haven’t dared to dream for real? Let’s discuss in the comments and cheer each other on!