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Stepping Off the Map // There’s No Guidebook for the Emotions of Early Retirement

If you’d have told me a few years ago, earlier in our early retirement journey, that six months out from quitting our jobs, it still wouldn’t feel real, I wouldn’t have believed you. Or that four months out, it would suddenly and finally feel real, but the overwhelming emotions would be stress and sadness, not pure elation, I wouldn’t have believed that either. Or that only a month after that — three months out — we could be feeling a strange sense of peace and early percolations of what we suspect is massive joy… you get the idea.

The financial aspects of this years-long run toward the BIG GOAL have been relatively unsurprising. But the emotions? They’ve been nothing like what we would have expected. And a big part of that is this:

Though early retirement is still a niche concept, the principles of it and the steps to take are well covered at this point. But there’s no guidebook for the emotional part of the journey.

There's no emotional guidebook for the journey to early retirement! And that's why we imagined that we'd get happier as we got closer to early retirement, but the real path has been a lot less linear.

The Unexpected Emotional Arc of Financial Independence

That emotional journey is no small thing, as we’ve found along the way. Last year — only a year from retirement! — was one of the hardest years of my life, certainly the hardest work year. Knowing that we were already financially independent didn’t make it any easier, or at least not discernibly so. Months later, and from a much better headspace about it all, I still can’t totally wrap my head around that. It seems so logical that becoming FI would relieve our work stress, right? Because we’d know we don’t need this $#!% anymore, or so the thinking goes.

I’d have guessed going into all of this that the emotional arc would look something like this:

There's no emotional guidebook for the journey to early retirement! And that's why we imagined that we'd get happier as we got closer to early retirement, but the real path has been a lot less linear.

But in reality, it has looked a whole lot more like this:

There's no emotional guidebook for the journey to early retirement! And that's why we imagined that we'd get happier as we got closer to early retirement, but the real path has been a lot less linear.

The narratives we tell ourselves shape how we think, and there are some powerful narratives out there in the financial independence community, especially some oversimplified ones around the relationship between early retirement and happiness. In particular, there’s a common focus on figuring out what makes us happy, stripping away the stuff that doesn’t, and then living in a state of blissful happily ever after.

Which is a lovely idea and all in the abstract, or in the long term. But we’re still humans. As Veronica Sawyer says in my favorite comedy ever, “If you were happy every day of your life you wouldn’t be a human being. You’d be a game show host.” Right on, sister. Right on. 

And while we should all hope that our long-term emotional arc bends toward happiness, that doesn’t mean that the emotions of early retirement are straightforward or simple.

Some of this I’ve said before, that early retirement isn’t a magical cure-all, and that in positioning early retirement as the recipe for happiness, we create the false impression for ourselves that we can’t be happy while working, which isn’t true at all. But there’s still a missing piece beyond recognizing that early retirement — or the journey toward it — won’t itself make us happy. And it’s this:

Recognizing that the emotional journey may not be what we expect, and that’s okay.

The “and that’s okay” part is the most important piece.

Emotions on the Path to Early Retirement

Here are some of the (sometimes unexpected) emotions one or both of us have felt at various points in this journey, including some of them very recently, when we’re in our final approach:

  • Self-doubt
  • Excitement
  • Disappointment
  • Anxiety
  • Elation
  • Grief
  • Trepidation
  • Amusement
  • Sadness

Excitement at the adventures we get to undertake in a few short months. Sadness at having to let down those we respect and care about at work. Elation that it’s actually happening. Self-doubt about whether we’ll really feel fulfilled or worthy without work, as detrimental as it is to our health and happiness. Amusement at watching our numbers grow while we seemingly do nothing. Anxiety about whether we’re about to take a big sequence of returns hit and retire into a recession. And on an on.

I may be one of the more overthinking voices in the FI community, but I don’t believe for a second that we’re the only ones who’ve found the emotional journey to be nonlinear. After all, if having more money made us happy, rich people would all be stress-free and blissed out, and we all know that’s not remotely true. But in those moments of stress or sadness, especially close to early retirement, it’s easy to judge yourself for feeling those things and believe that you’re doing it wrong. (You’re not.)

Giving Ourselves Permission to Feel All the Feels

I know that not everyone reading Our Next Life cares about my precious little feelings, and I absolutely don’t expect you to. But I have a megaphone here, and I think it’s important to talk about some of the aspects of all of this that don’t get a lot of attention elsewhere.

And let’s be honest: a lot of people who talk about financial independence and early retirement sound a little like press secretaries for the movement, talking only about the positives, and slathering it with happy spin. Of course we all want to justify our own life choices, and getting people to agree with us certainly helps that. But even assuming that’s not the motivation for most folks, writing about something on a blog or on social media has a way of making us oversimplify our ideas or present the journey in the most reductive sense.

And while overly simple may be good for talking about money and financial concepts, it’s pretty crappy for talking about feelings. 

Your journey may be and most likely is pretty different from ours. We each have our own set of work and life factors impacting how the process unfolds. We have our own money stresses and wins. We’re working toward different future visions. So my big thesis here isn’t that your happiness arc will look anything like ours. Instead it’s this:

Your emotional arc on the early retirement journey may look exactly like or nothing like you expect. But don’t try to make it one thing, because of what you think you should be feeling. Give yourself permission to feel whatever you actually feel along the way, without judgment. 

Listening to the Feelings, For the Sake of Your Money

For those who still need convincing, here’s an actual financial argument for not trying to ignore or shut down those negative emotions because you believe you should feel something more positive:

Feeling anxious at some point in the journey? That anxiety might be telling you something useful, like that your contingency plans aren’t robust enough, or that your margin of error is a little too small. And if you’re feeling twinges of regret? They might be telling you that you haven’t achieved all you wanted to achieve at work just yet, and you might be happier pursuing semi-retirement in the near term instead, instead of quitting, realizing you’d made a mistake and then having to go back to work at a lower level because of your employment gap. (I have gotten many letters describing this scenario. This happens more than any of us want to believe.)

Our less positive feelings along the way have absolutely led us to make helpful changes to either our plan or to our approach. They’ve helped us beef up our contingencies and explore things like umbrella insurance. They’ve made us super intentional about when and how we give notice at work. They’ve helped us realize that, duh, of course we’ll earn some income in retirement, which will help take some pressure off our portfolio. They’ve helped us think about the aspects of work that we’ll miss and that we should try to replicate in our post-retirement projects. They’ve made us slow down this year and appreciate the positives of work in a bigger way, like nostalgia in the present moment, which has also made our work better and may improve our bottom line at year end.

The Emotions of the Home Stretch

So how will we feel in a week or a month? Your guess is as good as mine. We’re trying to just go along for the ride at this point, and stay open to whatever feelings come up.

Mr. ONL gives notice next week (%&@#$!!!!?!?!?!?!!!!!), and I give notice two weeks later, so this is prime time for the big feelings. We’ve been with our companies a long freaking time, and this isn’t the same as quitting jobs we’d been in for a few years. I suspect we’ll feel a lot more of that impending joy after the news is out there and we can stop living the double life, but I’ve been wrong about so many aspects of this emotional journey that being wrong about that won’t surprise me. Either way, I’ll share it here.

Feeeeeeelings. Let’s talk feelings.

Now some questions for you guys: Have you found yourself surprised by what you were feeling at any point in your journey, good or bad? Any feelings catch you totally off-guard? Have you let any of those feelings guide you in adjusting your financial or life plan to be more robust? (Or realizing you probably should do that?) Or, conversely, have you found your emotional arc to be more like that linear path I expected? (Also, are you robot?) ;-) I’d love to chat more about all of this with you guys in the comments, so lay it on all of us!

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104 replies »

  1. Thanks for sharing this. I am around 16 months away from giving my notice and have been increasingly going through the range of emotions discussed. Even contradicting emotions simultaneously, which is amusing at times (and occasionally maddening!). And I don’t feel remotely as tied to my work as you both do. But the self questioning aspect comes in waves. Technically I’m FI now but will push through my original timeline partially because of similar concerns expressed around timing. Which is kind of emotionally logical, but not necessarily numbers logical. My math already incorporates cushion to handle sequence of returns risk. But the lizard brain is deeply imbedded and pretending it’s not is just denying part of being human. So I allow some of those deep seated anxieties to roam on a tight leash with a modest measure of tolerance. I imagine that only in hindsight can we truly appreciate what emotions were temporary and what were long term constants in our psyche. It likely morphs over time as well. I guess we all get to find out!

    • Oh dude, I feel you on the contradictory emotions! That’s a whole other subject, but just acknowledging that we’re capable of feeling multiple things at once is a big deal! ;-) And I don’t think you have to actively rein in the lizard brain thoughts — just don’t let them throw you off your path!

  2. I think it’s so important to talk about the emotional component of making these life changes. Our emotional lives are a very real part of our lives and it’s silly that we so often minimise or even apologise for that. I love that you don’t do that!

    The non-linear path is so real. I find that my awareness and perception of time plays a big part in my feelings. When I think about the distance between where I am, and where “my number” is, off in the distance, it can feel overwhelming. But I’m working on appreciating the present moment more and not being consumed by the monthly, or even yearly, movement of the numbers.

    Congrats on being under 90 days!

    • Thanks, Grace! I agree — we need to talk about this stuff more and acknowledge that some emotional upheaval is probably likely in anyone who isn’t actively suppressing their negative emotions! ;-) And thanks for the congrats! It feels even shorter than 90 days given that we give notice in 5 and 19 days respectfully! Eeeek!

  3. Next week (and two weeks for you)! Awesome!

    Agree that we have been up and down emotionally more in the past 3-4 years than the first decade of our adult lives and also introduced more stress into our marriage than I could have ever imagined. Overall in the long term am 100% positive that we are doing the right thing and making positive changes, but it is definitely stressful during the process. There is something to be said for ignorance being bliss. Just don’t recommend being quite as financially ignorant as we were!

    • I know! It’s crazy!!! :-D I can relate 100% to everything you said, and I’m grateful we recognize that it’s ER-related stress causing our dumb fights lately, so we can at least say, “This isn’t a real fight. We’re just both super stressed by the transition.” But I think that’s not obvious or discussed enough, and we as a community should be better preparing folks for what feels like a counterintuitive reaction to achieving a massive goal.

  4. Things that make you go hmmmmmm?

    I admit for myself (2 months from giving notice) that the emotions associated with early retirement are starting to surface more as the day gets closer – though because of our FI plan they are not money related, they are what will I do next (lots of choices), will being home all the time ruin my 30 year relationship with my wife, and why do I feel like I am letting the people at work down?

    The last one is easy – I know I am not. I prepared silently for this in terms of my projects and staff and they will all be ok. I realized on my way past the office hall of fame…… Wait that doesn’t exist, that once I leave (aside from the residual traffic jam that lasts a while after the car accident), in a few weeks it will be like I never existed there. There will be no shrine, marble bust or annual day off to celebrate my memory and contributions. We should all realize that companies don’t love you and won’t miss you, they are designed not to. I do realize I will miss many a close personal friend and I have resolved to stay in touch personally with those I am close to. I will finally join Facebook!

    So as I have rationalized all my feelings and realized that I will never have to worry about money it has allowed me to focus on the short term transition issues with my wife and family (who are the only ones who know) and to start laying the tracks for what’s next. While I am not there yet (first day of retirement) I have game played it over and over.

    What I have concluded is that for the first month I will not wake up each day trying to fill it with activity like my over booked work schedule. Yes I know it sounds like a cold turkey approach which usually has a rough re-entry associated with it but my master plan is that between my notice period and last day that I will already have started the descent so those first days into retirement are like taxiing to the gate and that first month is like unloading and reloading the passengers for the next flight.

    There has to be a transition so from my point of view it needs to be part of the plan. This isn’t a pivot (most over used work word / BS Bingo of the last 18 months) to retirement, it’s a smooth landing and a transition. For the type A’s I strongly suggest you build this in, work can drive you hard and fast and make your days seem short, a pivot approach may frustrate you because in speaking with dozens of people who retired almost none moved to jam packed days with schedules and deliverables. Glide in don’t crash land into retirement.

    Ms ONL thanks for bringing up the topic, I think this is way more important than all the tactics it takes to get to FIRE, if not addressed or thought out up front I imagine a lot of folks when they enter early retirement will be frustrated, anxious and second guessing their decision to the point the thing they want most (freedom, joy and happiness) all suffer. Good luck everyone I will let you know in the coming months how it goes for me.

    • Please do let us know how it goes! And as you rightly note, the non-money feelings are the way more complex and important ones. And they’re based on really tough questions, like what retiring will do to our relationships, identity, purpose, meaning, etc. I’m a huge believer that we should try to do at least one activity both before and after retirement, to give us some continuity at an otherwise anchorless time, which I think is a lot like your point about gliding in.

  5. The FI journey is long and like your Heather’s quote (it’s been far too long since I’ve seen that movie), it’s impossible to be happy all the time. Life is much more than money. It’s been my experience that when money worries start to fade there’s a Parkinson’s Law of other ones that creep in… but maybe that’s just my life ;-).

    After reading this, I’m trying to focus on “money feelings” and I think those have been mostly linear in the happy direction, except when there’s a surprise condo assessment bill or something big like that. It seems to me that many of the feelings you are expressing could be tied to any such big life change and not really about money. I know I’ve got that list of emotions in moving across the country a couple of times as just one example.

    • DROP EVERYTHING AND GO WATCH HEATHERS ON NETFLIX NOW. ;-) I like how you separated money feelings from other feelings, and that graph would look different for us, mostly trending happier except for maybe all the disbelief that this is real. ;-) But yeah, it’s the other life feelings that are more varied and sometimes unexpected, which is probably what we all should expect given the bigness of this life transition.

      • Heathers is on Netflix? I have given up finding any movie that I actually want to watch on Netflix. I think I’ll be up late working tonight (Sat), so I might put it on in the background.

      • It is! It is! (At least for now. Anyone reading this months from now, I can’t guarantee it won’t have cycled out.)

  6. Human beings are wired o view things relative to other things. Without the troughs the highs would not feel as good. As such it’s both a good thing and not a surprise. I have days I love work and days I want to quit on the spot. Same with blogging. The key is if the ups outweigh the downs your on the right path.

    • I could not agree more! We wonder if life will feel flat without the yin-yang of work, especially because we are more “thrive under pressure” people than we’d like to admit! But we’re willing to take the leap and find out. ;-) And bravo to you for the same willingness!

  7. It’s okay to feel. Whatever you are feeling. For me, the first couple of months felt like vacation – rush, rush, rush, get things done because I have to finish this thing (I have to do lists even on vacation – doesn’t everyone?), then get back to work. Then it sets in – I don’t have to go back to work! Then life slows down to what used to be a normal pace. You finally start to decompress. Then, finally, your new normal. My process took about a year, but I’ve heard others say even longer. It depends on how stressed you were before you left. So I hope your putting limits on work this last year speeds up your transition. BTW, life after decompression is great. And you will wonder why you thought work was soooo important. Besides benefits of course.

    • I’ve heard different amounts of time, too, to make the full adjustment. A year seems to be most common, but I’ve heard longer and shorter times a lot as well. I’m so curious to know how long our decompression will take — we’ve been extra compressed, so I suspect we’ll need a bit longer! ;-)

  8. Yeah… Having moved to a dream destination and with my perfect “pre retirement” remote work job, I’ve been surprised to find myself in the grips of a mid life crisis for most of the year.

    Like, if I can do anything I want, what DO I want, actually? It wasn’t a question when I was just grinding away in the earlier stages but the openness of the choices now are messing with my head. Do I want kids? Travel? Meaningful work? What does that look like? Makes me glad I didn’t just switch from work to non work all at once!

    • I think it’s SUPER smart that you didn’t dive right into not working, because you’re so right — these are BIG questions! And I’ve heard from enough people who really struggled with the transition to know that it helps to tackle as many of these questions as you can before you make the leap. I know the emotions are tough, but I think you’re doing it the right way. :-)

  9. Thanks for this. Very little out there in the emotional aspects of retirement. I’m almost 6 months into early retirement and have been enjoying a trip each month and starting some new hobbies, but some days are boring. I guess that’s the opposite of stress!

    • I felt the same way about how little is out there on the emotions of this stuff, which is what compelled me to write this. (Another thing that’s boring is rehashing what everyone else is saying! ;-) ) And wow, a trip every month! That sounds pretty fantastic, even if there are some moments of boredom in between.

  10. I think these issues arise whenever there are major life changes. We are, as a culture, defined by our life’s work. Seeking to redefine yourself is hard emotional work that brings up many inner conflicts and results in the rollercoaster of feelings not a glide path. We are fully into this transition for my spouse, who is ending a 40 year career as a business owner. In less than 9 months he will be fully “retired”. It is a scary place emotionally for both of us, but we are taking it one step at a time. We both have so much of our lives and identity tied up in our work that I expect a transition period to be challenging to us personally and relationally. Your story inspires and energizes me and I hope you continue your writing.

    • So true! Big transitions come with big feelings, often ones we don’t expect. Sending you guys good wishes for your big transition! And not to worry — I can’t imagine a retired life that doesn’t include writing here, so I’ll continue as long as people want to read what I have to say. ;-)

  11. I FIREd over 5 years ago, but I know what it felt like right after.

    Remember when you got out of school for the summer and you wake up the first morning of summer vacation? And you realize you have no school and no homework you have to do? And you have the whole day ahead of you to do whatever the hell you feel like? It feels like that. Like an extra long honeymoon.

    I did feel strange telling people that I’m “retired”. Some people would say “You look to young to retire.” I would just say “I was fortunate to be able to retire early.” What surprised my the most was that very few people asked the logical follow up question of “How did you do it?” Other people would look at me kind of funny – like maybe I’m just out of work and don’t want to admit it.

    • I’d love to know more about your thought process in actually calling yourself retired, since there seems to be a lot of resistance to using that label publicly among FI people. What made you decide to use that label instead of others? (I ask as a person who plans to use the label, so I’m just personally curious!) ;-)

    • Mr Freaky Frugal, that was a really good description on how it might feel; thank you for sharing that! Same question as Mrs ONL. I’ll be RE’ing soon (unlike the ONL’s, I’ll be timing my departure with one of my company’s many lay-offs), and I feel odd telling people that I’ve retired. I’m 43. Yet, if I don’t, I’m nervous I’ll have a bunch of “friends” pushing jobs my way (and I definitely need some decompression but am not opposed to possibly consulting – very part time). I’m curious to hear your thoughts on this!

      • That’s so interesting that you’ll be able to time your retirement around a layoff cycle. Are those scheduled in advance??

  12. Looks like you’ve got aaaall the feeeeeels. :P And you have the right to feel however you want about early retirement. There are unknowns with any kind of big decision, but you’re ready for it, so take the plunge. :) Maybe it’ll be easier to process once you actually are feeling the first hit of retirement. :)

    • You have the right to feel however you want — and you also have the right to accept that you’ll probably have plenty of moments when you don’t get to feel how you want but you feel that way anyway. ;-)

  13. Hmmmm now I think I want to go ask my husband’s godfather this question (he retired at 56) as I’ve never gotten an inkling of negative emotions from him regarding early retirement. Though I wonder if the closer you are to traditional retirement age the less volatile your emotions? Or maybe it’s just that he’s a really easygoing kind of guy.

    • It could be either of those, or what I’ve observed among male baby boomers especially, that there can sometimes be more resistance to acknowledging or verbalizing negative emotions. He could be super chill or just self editing. ;-)

  14. I left the traditional career path associated with my degree pretty early on and I felt great about it for about a year, and then afterward had feelings of guilt and doubt about my choice. I really did not expect that as I felt very at peace about the decision when I made it. However, I think some of the guilt and doubt has been based on false narratives I’ve let myself believe. The feelings helped me realize I needed to work through those and find the truth, so it was helpful even if sometimes unpleasant! I know that’s not the same as early retirement but I agree that what we feel is often not what we expected to feel, and that’s okay!

    So excited for you two and looking forward to hearing about how giving notice goes.

    • Thanks for sharing that, Kalie! I love your point that the emotional journey is often worthwhile even if it’s not always fun — maybe especially then! I so appreciate your continued support, and for sharing in our excitement! :-D

  15. I do enjoy reading about your journey! On the linear chart, I don’t at all believe happiness goes up as retirement draws nearer. Especially if the progress toward early retirement is primarily financial. As you have found out, the financial part is the easy part. The financial part (looking back) is really quite simple … it just takes time. The more difficult part is the non-financial. On the happiness side, it is about community, activities that provide purpose, etc. The best resource I’ve found on that were Ernie Zelinski (The Joy of Not Working & How to Retire Happy, Wild & Free). The later one being better IMO. As I’ve said before, the sabbatical approach (I’ve taken 5 … or is it 6?) has been a great way for us to dial in many parts of the story moving forward. Looking forward to the great reveal and then how things evolve.

    • Agree with every word you wrote here. :-) I find Ernie’s stuff goofily inspiring, but I bet it’s helpful for those who can’t envision what the next thing is. (That has never been my problem! My problem is envisioning too much.) And I’m envious of your mini retirements — that’s a great way to go if your field allows it!

  16. I am happy that you truly love your job and that you both get great satisfaction from it, that most likely makes it harder for you to leave. My work just didn’t feel right anymore and the energy was not something I wanted to be immersed in any longer. I was great at what I did but that shouldn’t be a reason to prolong things. Fortunately I had a great co-worker/manager that worked hard with me to make the transition to leave easier (I basically went on 3 months holidays to burn banked time etc off)

    I questioned myself the whole time why would I leave a significant income? Why would I leave the security of it all? Nobody in my family has retired or left work and not a soul I know left at 40 something. I do enjoy the time now but so many questions mixed with excitement and determination followed by self doubt only to ratchet to the top of the roller coaster again :)

    Now I find myself feeling odd without having the path to FIRE to chase and document, watch the savings grow, optimize this or that. I feel like I need a challenge again rather than just watching my budget and not spending my savings. I also look to my retirement stash and keep worrying that I need to find work and side hustle income to preserve what I have…I don’t want to touch the money as that puts me dollar by dollar less to having enough maybe.

    Then at the end I kick myself in the ass and remember that I’ll focus on today, I will smile and will have faith in knowing that I have made it through every challenge that I have been faced with in my life. I will be ok and I for certain know you guys will be ok…. Big hugs and love from the North :)

    • Hugs back at ya! I wonder about this happening for us, too, and it’s part of why I’ve been so focused on mapping out the “next life” part in advance, so that it’s not a rocky, aimless transition. Mr. ONL has less stuff mapped out, so it will be interesting to see if he feels like he’s missing a clear path. I appreciate you sharing that struggle here, and we will for sure keep writing about the journey, whatever path it takes! :-)

  17. I identify with all the emotions you describe. While I’m already FI, I am giving myself a couple more years before I pull the trigger just to be safe. (Although some weeks after reading your blog, I want to head down to HR for a chat!) I run the numbers, I vacillate back and forth, why wait I ask? I think it is comes down to what you mentioned around emotions (mostly fear). Fear of not being right, fear of understanding that “retiring” is just of the start of the next life, and fear of not knowing what that life may be. I have worked much longer than you so the emotional deficit I think I would feel is much greater. I also think it is in the male gene to be the family financial caretakers and not make totally crazy and life-altering decisions. And then there are those bonuses missed and other things that keep me hanging on longer than necessary. I find it interesting that the bait that resulted in becoming FI is the same thing the prevents my from leaving. Oh the insanity!

    Oh, and those mornings when you wake up and think your blogging efforts are not worth the coffee, I have two children who are now following ONL. While they are both a long way from being FI, they have the one thing I can’t buy – time. And time is everything!

    Thank you for writing this blog and for candidly sharing your journey with the rest of us. It is truly inspiring!

    • Oh, I think a lot of us can relate to this! (And it made me smile — and feel bad! — to know that I sometimes inspire you to want to leave ASAP.) ;-) For what it’s worth, I think the “financial caretaker” thing is a socialized trait, not a genetic one, and I know plenty of women who feel it too. I say that because I think most traits that are learned can be unlearned, or at least coped with. :-) And thank you for that incredibly nice note at the end. It makes me crazy happy to know your kids are now reading (and that you felt inspired to share the blog in the first place!). Thanks for making my day! :-D

  18. Wow, congratulations! The time has finally arrived. Great post!

    I, for one, am eager for the change, but it’s much easier to leave your job and love life in my field. We’ll see how I feel once we’re close, but I would guess it’ll be the same.

    It really helps, too, to have your next thing/goal set out. We already have ours, which makes it easier to focus on what’s next and enjoy the journey.

    As for feelings, I’ve been disappointed so far: we have a long way to go, and progress has been slow. But I’m about to post some charts and metrics to show progress, which should lighten the mood. We’re also about to take some larger leaps which should increase progress.

    • Thank you! And I know… we can still hardly believe it. Five days til Mr. ONL gives notice! :::insert Home Alone face slap and scream here:::

      Totally agree that it helps SO much to have the next thing figured out. That’s part of what inspired this blog’s name — thinking about the next life and not just focusing on the escape itself. And as for that feeling of slow progress, that is completely normal. But then you hit a tipping point where all of a sudden the progress seems crazy fast. So it gets better. ;-)

  19. I agree with what some of others have mentioned – that one can expect these mix of emotions with any big life changes, even (or especially) the totally awesome ones. I recently became aware of a potential opportunity to get out of the very negative atmosphere I’ve been working in and work in a much nicer atmosphere, closer to home, with people I already know I love working for. It’s basically all “pros” and no “cons” and yet as I’ve been trying to process the idea of changing from a job I’ve held for 10 years, there are definitely mixed feelings. More than I would have expected. The new opportunity hasn’t fully come to fruition yet, so I’m in a holding pattern right now, which is simultaneously maddening but also sort of a surprising blessing in disguise, as it’s given me a bit more time and space to process all those emotions. We are truly complex beings and sometimes happiness can feel a little foreign, a little unsettling, even. But if that’s the biggest challenge I have to tackle right now, I’m blessed indeed!

    So… when do us newsletter subscribers get to read the “big reveal”? :)

    • Let me know if you need someone to give you a nudge, because it sounds like you need to take that all-pros-and-no-cons job! (And congrats on having that opportunity!) But yeah, I totally understand that big emotions come along with a decision and change like that. (And if you don’t tell anyone, I can reveal that the newsletter list reveal will be on October 11. Shhhhh!) ;-)

      • Nice! Mums the word. :)

        I’m not on the fence about taking the job despite the mixed emotions, I’m just waiting for it to come to fruition. It’s a job that doesn’t officially exist yet, I just got the inside scoop from a former boss. Once it hits, I’m going for it!

  20. “Feelings, Nothing more than feelings…” Oh wait, you probably don’t know that song. :) If you’ve read any of my last years’ worth of blog posts most are some variation on waffling back and forth on freaking out about leaving the workforce, what to keep us busy, are we picking the right place to live in, is our number really a big enough number, what the F is going on with healthcare, etc… etc…

    Those crazy feelings of happiness and anxiety and all that are ever present around here and I’m still 2 years out. We did just start into the design phase for our Canyon Lake house which is committing a lot of money towards our plan. It makes it seem very real when you start involving loads of $$. So, yep I can only imagine the feelings you’re dealing with being even closer to your date.

    Congrats on that by the way! Only 2 more weeks huh, then the big work reveal? That would be a bit more scary on some levels than anything I’d think. How will they take it, will we be shunned? Will they want to entice us to stay longer with promises of more money and less work time?

    I’m excited to read about it in the future! You will be writing about it, right? ;)

    • Mr SSC

      We started the dream house plans (design, architect, structural drawings, land purchase, start to build) a year out. I am curious (without using numbers) what % of the nest egg went into your project? The building of the house has been an integral part of our glide path – it has made it real, even though we don’t have the intention of the last day of work and the last day of construction occurring at once (will retire 6 to 8 months before it completes) we know that by taking on this major project we were committed to the total package. How has it helped you two?



      • Congrats! That’s pretty awesome to be done with work and start settling in to that life prior to the house being complete. Our plan was to relocate and buy a house once we quit work. That way we wouldn’t be dealing with a mortgage. So our budget for that purchase was ~20% over what we’d need for “retirement”. Building our house instead has increased that number a bit because we had to buy the land, and our builder said the house we want (~2k sq ft, efficient 4br setup) would be doable around that 20% number. It works out to be about 20% ish of our overall nest egg, but that is everything including the homebuilding costs. With that taken out we’ll be around our target number for FIRE. So basically, we hit our target retirement number +20% more to cover the house.

        It’s helped us in a lot of ways. We’ve done more communicating and working on our relationship even more since we’re stepping into the unknown with this whole “planning to leave the workforce early” scheme of ours. We’ve had lots more talks about how the roles will swap and I’ll be default parent vs now, with Mrs. SSC as default parent. We’ve gotten closer, even just reviewing all the hundreds and hundreds of home plans, kitchen layouts, upstairs layouts, garage/workshop layouts, and more. This is all pre-design phase even. You’re right, committing to that sort project definitely brings home the reality that this train is leaving the station and we’re on it. Good luck with your house and retirement!

      • Mr SCC

        Yes the house got bigger than expected once we added the second master suite for an aging parent down the line and an extra garage bay for a workshop. I am convinced the architect and home building fraternity see folks like us as piggy banks……

        I wasn’t planning to have a mortgage but I might given that money is so cheap. Somewhere in the 25% LTV range just so I can keep some assets in the market. How about you?


      • Thanks for sharing this detail with us, Phil! I bet it took some guts to fess up to taking a mortgage on an FI forum! ;-)

      • We’re designing something similar both in terms of a larger downstairs guest room with a full bath accessible, and an extra garage bay…

        We initially weren’t planning for a martgage but are thinking about taking a mortgage at least for the amount we have in equity in our current house. That leaves more in the market now, plus, we may be able to cover more of the initial build without dipping into investments too much. We’ve shifted more savings into a money market account earmarked towards homebuilding rather than put it in the market to only take it out in another year or so. No sense risking it and since it would be short term, it makes us sleep better knowing it won’t lose value, lol.

        I definitely feel like homebuilders and designers see us as piggy banks at times. Especially after meeting with a homebuilder that was on board with our budget until we signed with them and then they were expecting it to be ~$150-$160/sq ft?! Umm, not our house… No thanks! :)

      • Just make sure you both have layouts that will let you live on one floor if you need to, because of injuries or disability later on. ;-) (I know, I know. Thanks, mom. Hahaha.)

      • Hahaha, we actually have a full bath and larger bedroom downstairs on the first floor as a potential spot for her mom to live, and or us if we’re still there when we become ld and feeble. Wait, older, and more feeble, lol. :)

      • Mr. SSC (am I allowed to say your name yet) ;-) — I’m curious. You’re going to sell the big house when the other house is complete, right? How does that factor into your FI number? Erm, sorry, your FFLC number? ;-)

      • It doesn’t really. We haven’t accounted for it as “extra assets” that we have. We’ll probably use the equity from that house to put towards the other house, but otherwise, we would just put it into Vanguard. Since we don’t know what the house will sell for we just estimate a fairly low number based on what we have in it for equity currently. If we get more than that, awesome, if not, yep, that’s real estate… We may take out a mrtgage for the approximate “extra” amount we think we may get out of our current house and then use the sale to finish paying that new house mortgage off. Who knows…

        Funny thing about the name, I hadn’t thought about it since it is out there, I’m sure my name is WAY easier to type than Mr. SSC. No prob on my end if you want to use that.

      • Okay, JAY! ;-) (I feel like I just broke some massive rule. Bad anonymous blogger, using anonymous blogger friends’ names!) Thanks for clarifying that. I’m always intrigued by how people factor homes and real estate into their calculations.

      • GAH!! Using my name?! Whaaa??? kidding, just kidding… We’ve never come out ahead on real estate, so we see it as gambling if we calculated that we may come out ahead at some point on real estate. :)

      • I feel like we’re all watching a reality TV show featuring you guys talking private real estate and feelings! ;-)

    • Dude, I know all the old songs. ;-) Hahaha. And thanks! Mr. ONL gives notice in 6 days, and I’m at 20 as of now. !?#&@!&#*!!! (<--That's mostly happy emotion in there.) ;-) I think everything will be okay when we give the news. I think my folks will be fine. Mr. ONL's are a bit more unpredictable, but I think they'll be fine too. And if they want him to do some contract work next year, we won't complain! You know I'll write about all this stuff for as long as people keep reading! ;-)

      • Ms ONL

        I am back – have been traveling in Asia and have just returned to this thread. Thanks for calling out my courage on a mortgage. The money is essentially free, leverage is a good thing so I do not believe debt to always be 100% evil. If that were the case I know dozens of people with rental home portfolios who would have never owned a property.

        As for the design we have designed the home with “aging in place” in mind. We have zero entry walk in showers in both masters, wider hallways and doors on the first floor and a side door from the driveway that is zero entry as well for wheel chair access if needed. Our architects were given clear instructions on this issue and we are glad with the outcome. I am glad you recognized this as a functional need in any home design at this age.

        Mr SSC we are fortunate to have made money on the Northern California home so we will be renting while we build so while we will have a construction loan we won’t have a mortgage. Now the fun begins!

      • I hope you had a great trip! And it sounds like you’ve been super smart about your home design. That type of thinking needs to be the norm, not the exception!

  21. Emotions can be volatile for sure both internally and externally from social circles. I’ve yet to prepare contacts for my pending withdrawal in 6-8 months. How do you broach without arrogance when FI / investments are not talked about in US culture. We thrive on stereotypes & principles: you can retire at 65 but only if you save with exceptions for companies with pensions or military… People don’t discuss investment situations certainly not amounts or years to go etc. as that would violate this sacred principle of 62-65 yrs old!

    Bam! Just quit my big MBA job with stock options at 42 & what emotions to expect from my social sphere? Are they offended I effectively just threw my success in their face? Are they skeptical? (he couldn’t possibly have FU $ must have had a nervous breakdown.. or was “managed out” etc.) If they know you’re legitimately FI is there potent jealousy as FI can be construed as the ultimate status symbol. Not having to work = escaping the working middle class.

    Ironic the culture fueling these sharp emotions is simultaneously one which celebrates consumption (at least in No Amer). What trips do you have coming up, are you enjoying your city/country club? How was that michelin star bistro you posted? Yet even hinting at FI or investments is taboo? Emotions are sure to run high among soon to be FIRE yet does that come from social influence / dissonance on the big announcement, or…”reveal”? Why is this a “coming out” process complete with heavy drama inside us and from those we know? When will it be okay to be this way / born this way!?

    • I love this rant. ;-) Totally with you. It’s crazy we can’t talk about this stuff — either the money part or the intention to retire early from work. I don’t have any answers for you, but you’re in good company here!

  22. This post hits home for me, I literally started semi-retirement today. After 22 years at my job and 25 years working full-time, I start part-time this week, just 20 hrs a week. And even with this partial retirement I have all kinds of crazy feelings. I was, until this week, a Senior Director of an office at my job, leading over 60 people. I was burnt, the passion was gone. But what I’m finding is that all these years I’ve been convincing myself that status means nothing to me and that I’m not a ladder-climber, but yet I have these strage feelings now that I’ve given up that position. Starting this week I will officially be leading no one, although I get to keep my benfits and hourly pay. Yet a part of me is sad. Have I lied to myslef all these years? Does status really mean something to me? Or is it just the human sentimentality that comes with the end of something (que auld lang syne). Will I find myself at meetings wishing I could introduce myself as “Director of blah blah blah,,,”. I guess I’ll find out. But like you, I’m surprised by the rollercoaster of feelings.

    On a funny note, to celebrate my first day off I went mountain biking today, and a crash has now broken my rear derailleur which will cost me about $200 to fix. This semi-retirement might b expensive :)

    • Congrats, Steve! (Though sorry you crashed your mtn bike in your celebrations!) All of the stuff you’re thinking about is stuff that’s been on our mind, albeit we’re looking at it through the lens of a total exit, not part-time transition, and also with a bit shorter careers under us. Good luck navigating all of those big identity, ego and feelings changes — keep up posted! And congrats again!

    • Steve, I went through some similar feelings 18 months ago when I left my senior leadership role but stayed on in the workplace in a reduced capacity. It was disconcerting and painful to go from working intensely 11 hours a day making “important” decisions, to suddenly becoming invisible and irrelevant in the workplace (or so it felt). Now I have been fully retired for 3 months and it is amazingly wonderful. I do not miss my leadership job or the daily grind of the workplace at all. I guess my takeaway is that the pain is temporary and retirement is totally worth it!

      • I appreciate you sharing that. Mr. ONL gives notice tomorrow, and there may be some discussion about him staying on in a very limited role next year. Will be interesting to see how all of that feels!

  23. Love the post, and the candor. Me, personally: I notice that I feel more anxiety as we get closer to FI. I worry if the plan is sound, whether we’re timing a possible ER at the worst possible moment as we’re supposedly going to have crap returns for the next decade, and especially over whether I’ve given enough thought to my post-FI life.

    I suppose the silver lining is that I’m thinking about all these things out of a kind of manufactured event, whereas I could have put off those important questions of my life plan, and what comes next, for decades, if I stuck to a more traditional path.

    But yeah, as the folks at EA tell me, emotions are not good or bad, they just are. It’s important for me to realize that they don’t need to be in my control. And I don’t need to be afraid of them, either.

  24. Yes! Not linear at all for me either. I very much enjoyed the real feel of this post and look forward hopefully to a similar discussion a year or two after your retirement. For me the biggest plunge in happiness was the ants in the pants it’s never gonna get here when progress feels like inching along that I thought would last until I gave notice. But it didn’t-it went mostly away and was replaced with a burst of unexpected happiness once I started doing more of the things I was “saving” for retirement to build a great life now.

    • Thanks for sharing that your experience has been similar! I’ll definitely keep writing on the topic, too. There’s this idea that we retire early and then only walk on clouds from thereafter, and something tells me that’s a bit of an exaggeration. ;-) And totally agree — the ants in the pants went away for me, too, once I decided to stop putting things off, AND once it was clear that it was really going to happen. Then I actually wanted to slow things down, which took me completely by surprise. Hahaha.

  25. Great post! Thanks for sharing such detailed insights. The math and the theory at this point are by for the easy part. We’re only 12 months down the road and have a number of years ahead but already I realize that managing the emotional journey will be key. I look forward to reading the next set of posts on this topic.
    Lastly, a HUGE congrats on getting to this point, good stuff – very inspiring!

    • Glad you enjoyed it! :-) And you’re so right — the emotional journey is really the whole game. The rest is just waiting for numbers to add up. ;-) And thanks for your congrats! Appreciate you cheering us on!

  26. Real talk. I’m still a good ways away, but ya boy can get obsessive at times about the goal, an sometimes it’s just in the background. Can’t even imagine what it’s gonna be like when I’m near the end.

    • I can’t separate the working toward ER from the blogging about ER, because my reality has been blogging about it. But it definitely SEEMS like I’ve thought about it all increasingly more as we’ve gotten closer. I think, though, if I’d known then what I know now, it all would have been easier to cope with. ;-)

  27. The roller coaster of emotions continues in the post-work transition period. Maybe not something you want to hear…but reality.

    I learned in my self-discovery that I tend to be more negative (emotionally). Never thought I was glass-half empty girl… but again, reality! I’ve spent time in my transition to better understand my emotions (journaling, emotional assessment, gratitude lists), which has helped me become more aware & actually more positive. So, my advice is to keep identifying the emotions you feel. It’s OK to feel them, negative or positive.

    Yes, feelings are real and the emotions associated with retirement and early retirement are complicated…one of the most emotional transitions in your life. Seemingly overnight, you lose your identity, your daily structure, your daily connections, your income compensation, and possibly your life purpose. Even with pre-planning and contingencies, those changes will hit you. And if plans go awry, even more (negative) emotions will surface!

    I’ve used the blogging community and blogging in general to help me work through some of the roller coaster downs, and celebrate the roller coaster highs. It’s nice to know sometimes that you are not alone on that roller coaster ride.

    • Thanks for sharing this, Pat! I’m in the camp that does NOT see early retirement as the magical happiness machine, but it’s always helpful to hear personal stories like yours that show that — surprise! — varying emotions are just part of life. I see it as a big positive, though, that you — and soon we — have time to reflect on all of it now, instead of rushing off to the next work thing without having time to analyze what you’re feeling.

  28. Great post! I’m at FI and nearing RE so I’m interested in the full spectrum of the FIRE experience, including the ‘soft stuff’ that no one usually addresses. My husband and I have had a plan to move to the west coast in 2020, but our progress through our checklist seems to be accelerating as we get closer to our goal.

    It’s reassuring to hear that anxiety is part of the experience. Our risk factors are my walking away from a stable, well paying career and leaving a profession that is one of the hardest to attain (education, mandatory internship period, exams). When we move, my husband will also be leaving behind a business clientele that he’s developed over nearly 30 years. Plus, Canadian real estate values seem to be dropping so the logistics of selling our current home carries a measure of risk.

    The point about using anxiety to re-assess one’s retirement stash is a valuable one. However, at some point, you have to stop planning and start the journey. Having safety measures, such as a cash emergency fund, maintaining part-time work, or having other income streams are prudent and hopefully will give us reassurance to make this change in our lives.

    Thanks for all the great info!

    • It cracks me up when people call the feelings behind ER the “soft stuff” — sorry, but they are WAY deeper and harder to deal with than a little simple math. ;-) Hahaha.

      I could not agree more that you can’t let the anxiety drive your journey. You still have to take the leap if you don’t want to spend the rest of your life regretting your inaction. Our risks are not the same as yours, certainly, but they’re of the same magnitude, so I understand! I appreciate a ton that we have our exit dates set, so it’s not a question of whether we do the thing at this point, just of how it feels! ;-) Good luck making your big leap!

  29. I definitely had the roller coaster of emotions in the last few months of work! I couldn’t wait to leave and then I felt terrible because I was leaving. Then I was excited and then I wondered if I was really meant to take over as the leader of the school to move things forward. Non-linear for sure! BUT now that we are into the first few months of ER and we are on the plane home from Colorado – WOW, am I excited about the future! We could have stayed out there for another month and been very happy! I love that you explore the feelings here too :) Our stories matter – not just the numbers.

    • Thanks for sharing that, Vicki! Your ups and downs sound familiar. ;-) And it makes me SUPER happy to hear how well your first few months of ER have been going! So glad you guys had a lovely time in the mountain west! :-D

  30. In my experience, this is like a line graph that, the closer you get to giving notice, the steeper the climb up toward full-on nervousness. Like, “What the F am I doing? Forget it, I’m working for the rest of my life!” kind of nervousness. While we most likely will never get to the very top of that exponential curve, it’s still a force to be reckoned with.

    Once you give notice, that line begins a sharp decrease back down to where your typical level of “no shits given” usually lives.

    I think it’s because at this point, you still have an easy out. Your mind knows that you can decide against this whole early retirement thing if something goes terribly wrong and no one’s the wiser. You keep your job. Hubby keeps his job. All’s good.

    But after giving notice – even if something does go wrong, going back to your employer and saying “Oh hey…yeah, about that whole quitting thing? Never mind.” means that your time there still won’t ever be the same. You can only stuff the damn cat back into the bag so far. It’ll never fit as nicely as it does now.

    This would make anyone nervous. It’s natural. I might have been a bit nervous, too…or, that might have been anxiety rather than nervousness. I just wanted to get the whole thing over with so I can stumble my way through my remaining time at the company without a pretext that I LOVE our clients and LOVE working.

    You’re right, being nervous can certainly signal that you might not have something exactly right. Or that you haven’t thought things through entirely, or whatever. But, it’s also just basic human nature. You’re making a HUGE leap into very uncommon waters. Even if you’re jumping into a nice warm ocean without a shark for a hundred miles, it’s still gonna be a little nerve-racking.

    Ain’t nothing wrong with that. Perfectly natural.

    I’ll see ya at FinCon, and I bet you’ll be one of the most relaxed FI’ers there. I can feel it!

    • I think that’s a really good point about the easy out. But in 5 days that will no longer be true! (Oh my god! And yay! And holy crap what are we doing?! Hahaha.) That definitely matches my thinking pattern. I tend to overthink things (obviously!) ahead of time, but once the decision is made, I never look back. So once we hit that point of no return, I suspect we’ll feel a lot more peace about it all. (We feel the peace now, too… it’s just accompanied by a bunch of other feelings!) ;-) So stoked you changed your mind and decided to come to FinCon. It will be fun! And you can tell me if we seem relaxed or not. ;-)

  31. Jeeeeeezzz this one’s goooooood… Robotically ;) I always appreciate your writings, but this one tugged at the heartstrings. Personally, it’s a huge challenge for me to granulate my feelings… the questions in your post helped me sift out some of them. I’ll try to articulate, but just want to say, thank you! This came at the right time in my journey.

    ***The #1 most “surprising feeling” I’ve encountered along the journey is the ABSENCE of freedom inside me as my financial security and abundance have increased. I wish I could draw a chart like yours above to explain this…

    In your charts, the Y-axis represents “Happiness”, but let’s say that my expectation was “Freedom”. Sometimes I think these might as well be synonymous 😛 anyways! As I’ve moved along the X-axis (I’m presently 30 years old, I bought my first rental property with a downpayment of ~$13K of high-school savings at 19, and then… somehow figured out how to nab 22 units of rental property by age 28…), I think I’d simply say that my X-Axis has evolved, without “leaving behind” anything. I brought my old DNA, got rid of some stuff, but an evolution has definitely occurred. And your “Y-Axis” ups and downs remind me of the way that the additions I’ve made to my X-Axis often resulted in huge jumps in happiness and freedom.

    ***Have I allowed that to guide me? (one of your extremely helpful questions). YES. I’ve allowed that to guide me. It’s guided me INWARD to personal freedom becoming a HUGE emphasis for me, even beyond financial freedom (my own jaw dropped while I wrote this). But I still crave more financial abundance! And I am bringing it along with me. Some of my spending and investing choices have completely gone haywire vs what I would have done 5 years ago.

    I still bring along my desired progress for financial health and abundance, but I realized I needed more companions. I needed deep, deep inner work. (Oh jeez, I STILL need major work!). My mind thought money would provide a comprehensive solution, but when the money came, I found there were more empty seats at the table that needed filling. Personal freedom… in essence.

    Basically, rearranging circumstances on the outside has highlighted the prison cell on the INSIDE of me, that no external circumstantial change can free me from.

    Thank you again and again for writing this! Helped me tremendously to ask myself the questions you posed.

    • Hi Forrest — Thank you for your note! I’m so glad this was helpful and well-timed for you! It sounds like you’ve done the absolutely most important thing, which is to be aware of your own thought patterns that are creating a suboptimal state for you. Most people walk around without acknowledging any of that stuff, so you get lots of applause for being willing to do the hard work of self-analyzing. On the personal freedom/emotional journey, you have to find your own path, of course, but I think your focus on financial independence makes you already well suited to know that it’s a long-term journey you’re embarking on, not a quick-fix situation. Sending you good thoughts as you navigate it all!

  32. For me, this question feels many years off since I’m still in the debt reduction phase. One thing I’m sure I’ve gained since beginning the journey is knowledge about how silly the financial system is and that it is okay to use the system even though it is silly.

    • I’ve never thought of it that way before, but I love it and agree! The system is silly but it’s okay to use it anyway. I can think of a lot of spheres in life where that’s true, unfortunately! :-/