On some level, saving for retirement has never totally felt real. As I shared in our post about big numbers seeming kind of, well, fake — like they’re just Monopoly money (RIP thimble and boot) — there’s some aspect of all of this that feels like a game we’re playing long-term, but which we never actually expected to win. Like, sure, we might hit lots of milestones that feel fun in the game, but they are meaningless in reality. The possibility that we might actually beat the game in real life felt more like a daydream than an actual likely event.
But recently it has all started to feel real in a way that’s a little scary. We’re really going to walk away from dream careers, with ample compensation, working for companies we like and respect. We’re really going to walk into the offices of those people we like and respect and tell them we’d be happier without them. And we’re going to do all of this even if the market takes a significant dip, and even if health care is still a gaping abyss. (I will not be surprised if plenty of the people we tell will question our sanity. And they might not be wrong — do delusional people know they are delusional?)
And not only are we going to be retired in nine months or so (yay!), but we actually have to do these uncomfortable things like have tough conversations and kiss our paychecks and employer-provided health care goodbye (boo!).
Our way of dealing with fear and discomfort is to avoid sticking our heads in the sand and to try our best to envision what doing those things will feel like:
How will it feel to tell people we admire, respect and enjoy spending time and working with that we’ve been saving for years to avoid working with them? (I’m exaggerating, but I could understand someone hearing what we say that way.) How will it feel to sign the HR paperwork that tells us when our last paycheck (maybe ever) will be coming? When should we give notice, knowing that more notice will give us relief from the stress of living double lives, but also mean more time to feel awkward at work?
Despite thinking about most of those questions for years now, coming up with real answers to them suddenly feels a lot more urgent, and harder to do, because it’s no longer just conjecture.
But on the flip-side are the more fun questions, those that are easier to answer:
Where will we travel first? Will we even use an alarm clock at all? What creative project will be most fun to tackle first?
Then there are those that are fun to answer, but which warrant a little more thought. And the one we have on our minds right now is:
How will we create a tangible separation between our old, career-dominated lives and our next lives?
This question is especially important to us because we both work from home.
If we wanted to let it happen, we could transition from our working lives into a second act that feels eerily similar. If we get up early every day, check our email and the day’s news in bed first thing, then get up and get straight to work in our offices on blog work or other projects, that could feel exactly like our lives now, minus some conference calls and air travel. Of course, we’re determined not to let that happen.
We want our retired lives to feel markedly and tangibly different.
We don’t just want to subtract our careers from our lives, but to fill that space with activities and projects that excite us, and to establish different routines and habits that make the days feel like a true next life, not just the next chapter of our story.
Lots the Same, Lots Different
Short of picking up and moving somewhere entirely new, or throwing out all of our technology, or joining the witness protection program, there are going to be plenty of things about our lives that stay the same after we make the big leap. Many of our relationships with friends and family will stay the same or (we hope) get stronger, because we’ll be around more of the time. We’ll still frequent the same places, and go to our local farmer’s market every summer (we hope more often). We’ll still hike and bike our neighborhood trails when we want to cram in some quick mileage.
We know that subtracting our work stress will alone make a humongous difference in our state of mind, and we don’t want to underplay that. (Here’s a pretty hilarious illustration of that, for folks who subscribe to Netflix and don’t mind reading subtitles. Watch episode 1.)
So this is not to say that we have to uproot everything in addition to walking away from our careers, but rather that we want to look for opportunities to reinforce good habits, instead of risking falling into the bad old (er, current) ones of working too late, staring at our screens too long, and focusing on work ahead of our own health and well-being, all of which we are guilty of right now.
Reinforcing Better Habits Through Life Tweaks
We have long said that we think retiring will improve our health big time, because we know that work stresses us out, keeps us from exercising enough and forces us to have fewer healthy food options because we’re traveling so much of the time. But there are so many other ways that our current work lives impact our health directly or indirectly, and we’re eager to adopt some new habits that will improve our health while also making our lives feel different in meaningful ways beyond the simple absence of paid employment.
Breaking the tech twitch // Phones and tablets out of the bedroom — I recently installed the Moment app to monitor how much I use my phone every day, and I’m too embarrassed to share my average time. Let’s just say it’s waaaaay beyond what’s good or healthy. Sure, plenty of that time is doing actual work that I would be doing on my computer if I wasn’t on a plane or at an airport, but I still know that I reach for my phone many more times a day than I should. One of my first orders of business in retirement will be to break that bad habit, and to have less screen time generally. And that will start first thing in the morning: if there are no phones or tablets on our bedside tables, we won’t be able to start our days engaging with screens instead of each other. And that combined with a concerted effort to leave our phones behind sometimes, and to reach for them less in general, will undoubtedly make life feel quite different.
Fostering better sleep // Black-out drapes and no alarm clocks — Mr. ONL is a pretty good sleeper, but I’m terrible at it. Always have been. I wake up from even a tiny amount of light, and any sound, which means sleeping with ear plugs and an eye mask in any hotel room. But because those are such big reminders for me of work travel, I have a strong aversion to using them at home. Add to that the fear of sleeping through the alarm and missing something important (for me, that’s usually a flight or an early conference call), and now I’m sleeping even worse. We see two easy solutions to these issues: put blackout drapes on our bedroom windows, and banish alarm clocks. There’s no good reason why we don’t already have blackout drapes, we’ve just never gotten around to hanging some. But we’ll have that time in retirement. Alarm clock-free living is a dream we’ve long had that we can’t wait to live out. (If we do have an early morning flight, we can make a one-time exception and allow a phone back into the room to serve the purpose.)
Creating different office associations // New wall colors and reconfigured desks — When we moved from our city condo with its shared office to our house with separate offices, we deliberately painted the walls in our offices with colors that don’t appear anywhere else in the house, to create a subconscious signal that we’re in a different mode. And to signal when we leave that space that we’re leaving work behind, because when you work at home, you never leave the office. And we think it was a good call to create those color signals. Of course, now our brains so closely associate those colors with work that we will have to change them when we retire. While we currently have bold colors in our offices, we’ll be going with more serene colors after we quit, to signal a different vibe in the space. And we’ll reconfigure our desks to be the bit players in our offices instead of the stars of the show, alloting more space instead to crafts, creative projects and guest space.
Eliminating work cues // Using new systems and apps — Right now we associate work with a set of systems and apps. Outlook for email and calendar, Asana for to do lists and timelines, Evernote for ideas, United and Marriott apps for travel. All of these will get the boot when we pull the plug, switching full-time to Gmail for email and calendar, swapping Asana and Evernote to other equally good to do list apps, deleting travel apps altogether.
Creating healthier habits // Adopting a different schedule — Right now we have schedules that are pretty much the antithesis of health and fulfillment. We spend our best hours every day on the tasks we’d least like to be doing (work!), squeeze exercise into the hours after work when our decision fatigue is high and willpower is in the dumps, and force our passion projects like blogging into the late night hours when we’re at our most tired and creativity is least likely to flow. We can’t wait to flip this script. Instead, we’ll do our outdoorsy exercise early in the day when we feel energized and have willpower to spare, and follow it up with our creative work, when we’ll have the benefit of the exercise energy spike and — how novel! — sunlight. Then our evenings will be ours to do as we please instead of risking writing until the wee hours and stealing away sleep. We might actually even get through a full movie sometimes without passing out!
What Will You Change About Your Routines?
We’d love to hear from you guys — what habits can you not wait to change in FI? How else will you create the feeling of separation from your old working life? Anybody think that just leaving work will itself provide all the tangible separation you need? We’d love to hear from folks at both ends of the spectrum!