We can rationalize early retirement all we want (modern work is unnaturally demanding! we have other things we can do that better align to our purpose!), but the truth is something much more elemental, something that, deep down, we all know:
Going to work every day is way less fun than not going to work every day.
And beneath that is an even bigger, deeper truth:
Being a grown-up is way less fun than being not a grown-up.
Anyone want to argue with that? Of course not. It’s why “Youth is wasted on the young” is a famous quote (and also an incorrect one, traced back indirectly to George Bernard Shaw). Or, my favorite, “I’m not young enough to know everything,” from a play by J.M. Barrie, author of Peter Pan, a reference that will keep coming up in this post.
Autonomy and spending power are all lovely features of adulthood, but I’m pretty sure we mention those things only so we don’t lament how much we miss the freedom and sheer joy of childhood. (I understand that not everyone had a great childhood, so I’m speaking in the abstract here, or of an idealized growing up period. Certainly not everyone would wish to repeat their specific childhood, but it’s interesting to note that many folks who had a rough upbringing talk about their “lost youth” — so we all long for it one way or another, either our actual childhood or the childhood we feel we missed out on.)
No point yearning for something we can’t get back, right? Except:
Early retirement is in many ways a chance to turn back the clock. To reclaim big aspects of that childhood that may have felt long behind us.
Which is why we believe: We’re in the crazy lucky position to be able to escape much of the adult world and live like the Peter Pans we’ve always aspired to be.
Early retirement — for us, anyway — is ultimately about going back to being kids in as many ways as possible.
So while I still have to figure out the party line when I give notice in a few months, and Mr. ONL does too, the truth couldn’t be simpler:
It’s more fun not to go to work every day than it is going to work.
We’ve been able to save enough to not need the work.
So we’re gonna do the more fun thing instead and go back to being kids from now on.
Why overcomplicate this argument?
Because, of course, only ever doing the fun thing instead of the responsible thing is not the recipe for being able to live like a kid on summer break forever. To live this life of the best possible form of arrested development, we actually had to grow up fast, and act like total adults way before lots of people figure things out. Which is a weird paradox.
To live like kids forever, we made ourselves into the adultiest adults possible.
Today, we’ll explore that paradox.
The Most Grown-Up Grown-Ups
Depending what context you meet us in, you could come away with a very different sense of who we are and what we’re into. One of my first bosses likes to tell me that I was the adult in her life when I was her very junior underling. But then we have friends who can’t believe that we have the titles we have at work because they don’t see us in that context at all. But I don’t think it would surprise anyone to know that we have our $#!% together, especially when it comes to our finances.
It wasn’t always this way, of course, especially for me. Mr. ONL started maxing his 401(k) early on and was less dumb about debt than I was, but we’ve both had plenty of idiotic money moments. I have always had the problem of wanting to say yes to things — you know, like a kid — even if I couldn’t actually afford to do those things. And that put me in some bad places with spending and credit cards.
But what finally put me in the right head space about money was the realization that getting my act together would let me spend less time in the adult world, with its early alarm clocks, endless meetings and uncomfortable shoes, and more time in the kid world. Of course, I was also the person who wrote my first will and got life insurance at 23, so on some level I was always willing to go full-on adult. That was a good start.
Ever since that realization that we could work shorter careers and have more time with minimal responsibilities, we’ve adulted the hell out of our lives, and it’s all gone to plan so far. That’s meant getting super duper ultra real about our finances, our spending, our views on marriage and money, our estate plans, all of it. And it’s meant working with total commitment, no matter how many all-nighters or exhausting trips come with that.
The Most Child-Like Children
I recently came to the realization that blogging about early retirement makes you talk or write so much about it that you start developing scripts for things. Here’s my “what we’re doing to do after we retire” narrative, and our “how we’ll fulfill our purpose” message points. When the truth is that we really just want to do all of this because it’s more fun than any other alternative we can envision.
And why isn’t that enough of an explanation? Why do we feel such a need to rationalize things to people when this isn’t an entirely rational aspiration? This is about thinking that our lives were better in many ways before we started working, and we have this magical, amazing opportunity to combine the best parts of childhood (free time, ability to follow the fun) with the best parts of adulthood (autonomy, financial resources). Why would we not grab a hold of that opportunity and never let go?!
While it’s true that I’m concerned the months or years could drift by without us noticing if we don’t have some kind of plan or structure for ourselves, I am also crazy excited to be able to follow our curiosity each day, to be completely and wackily spontaneous, or even to waste whole days just because we can. Maybe one day we’ll wake up and have a strong feeling that we need to play 72 holes of Wii golf, and who are we to ignore that feeling? Another day we might feel the need to recreate the tamer parts of Fear & Loathing in Las Vegas (because I have a mild Hunter S. Thompson obsession), and hit the road for Vegas, and we’ll do it, whether or not it makes for a good Instagram story.
I had a great childhood. I got to do tons of rad stuff, travel to interesting places, and learn so, so much that has made me a deeply curious human. But I also overscheduled the crap out of myself from as young an age as I could, and it thrills me to think that, very soon, I get to live a very different kind of childhood: the unscheduled kind, the kind not concerned about how something will look on a future college application, the kind totally concerned with fun above all else.
I’m sure other people have dreamed bigger dreams, and reached greater heights in their lives, but I can’t imagine any goal I’d be more excited to achieve.
The Paradox Of Growing Up to Avoid Growing Up
So I think our interests are clear. We have some noble goals in retirement, but we’re not ultimately doing this for noble reasons. We’re doing this for the entirely selfish, self-absorbed and self-agrandizing reason that we want to put fun first and go back to being kids.
Of course, to make that possible, we had to embrace our adultiest inner adults, and have succeeded at adulting at a high level. If we’d tried to act like kids all through our 20s, none of this would be possible. If we’d refused to stand on our own two feet, or to take responsibility for our finances, or to truly commit ourselves to work, we wouldn’t be blogging to you today about how we’re going to retire in a few months, before I turn 40, and only a smidge after Mr. ONL hit it.
The irony is that those who take their time embracing adulthood often have to remain in that world longer. But by hurrying up and achieving peak adulthood earlier, you give yourself as much time as possible in the kid-again world. It’s the same idea as ski bumming: if you do it when you’re young, you might be at your athletic peak, but you’ll end up having to work longer than you would if you went straight to work, saved up, and became a self-sponsored athlete, as we soon plan to be.
None of this matters in reality, of course. It’s just interesting to observe. And it could make for some interesting reactions when we give notice in a few months. We’ll certainly have some colleagues who might understand innately the value of early retirement, but who can’t see us doing it, because we’re just so into working. Or maybe we’re more transparent than we think we are. Peter Pan never was so good at hiding.
Who Else Is With Us?
I can’t believe we are the only ones straddling this paradox. Surely others of you have had similar motivations and similar means to the end. Who else out there became your most excellent adulting self in pursuit of returning to your most perfect childhood? Raise your hand, friends, because you’re not alone! You’re safe to share your secret here. :-)
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Categories: we've learned