Our Next Life // What do you want to be when you grow up? That's what financial independence is all about. // Early retirement lets us answer that question, which is a way better question to focus on than "What do you do?"we've learned

What Do You Want to Be When You Grow Up? That’s What Financial Independence Is All About

I don’t know what went through your head, but when I was growing up, dreaming of my future adult life, money never crossed my mind. Abstractly I knew I would have some amount of money that would let me make my own purchasing decisions, but mostly my child brain just thought of that as being able to go to McDonald’s more than once a month. When I dreamed of the professions I might go into, their earnings potential never occurred to me, even for a moment.

But that burning question was always there: What do I want to be when I grow up?

I don’t know if you thought about money as a kid, but I do know you asked yourself that question, maybe often.

Fast forward a few decades, and I know very few people who are doing as adults what they imagined as kids they’d be doing. And even surprisingly few who are doing what they went to college for. There are plenty of people — including Mark and me — who just sort of fell into our careers and kept going, and never actually made an affirmative choice to do some job that calls to us. We happened to get lucky and find accidental careers that have suited us and been fulfilling on a lot of levels, but neither of us would describe that work as a calling.

Now, though, everything changes. In just under three weeks, when we pull that ripcord, we get the incredible privilege of focusing in a big way on that question: What do we want to be when we grow up? 

And really, isn’t that what financial independence is all about?

Our Next Life // What do you want to be when you grow up? That's what financial independence is all about. // Early retirement lets us answer that question, which is a way better question to focus on than

This is a conversation I’ve had a few dozen times now over the past six weeks:

Tanja: So have you heard our news? 

Person: Yeah! Wow! That’s amazing. So what are you going to do? 

Tanja: Travel a lot, spend more time outdoors actually enjoying the place where we live instead of traveling all the time for work, write more, read more. And figure out what we want to be when we grow up. 

I might be imagining it, but sometimes the look I get from folks is a little suspicious, or worried or confused until I get to that last part. But as soon as I say we want to figure out The Big Question, people understand. Because don’t we all want to find what we feel called to do, whether or not it resembles “work” in any way?

Almost none of the people I admire most worked a traditional career path. One of my greatest heroes, Julia Child, was constrained by social norms of the day that said married women mostly didn’t work, especially when hopping around the globe with a Foreign Service husband. And she didn’t even learn to cook until her 40s. She found her true passion by being bored in strange places, and having the time to dabble in different hobbies until she found the thing that grabbed ahold of her and wouldn’t let go. Would she have gotten that chance to explore if she’d worked a 9-5 job in one place for 40 years?

Don’t Fear Boredom — Embrace It

It’s not the most appealing way to put it, but we’re eager to be bored in strange places. Boredom is what forces us to look around and get creative. Boredom is what requires us to think differently. I don’t actually think we’re going to be bored very often, because we’re curious people whose list of interests overfloweth, but we need to stop talking about the possibility of being bored in early retirement as automatically a bad thing.

For many of history’s greatest thinkers, boredom was the greatest gift. There’s even a growing school of thought that kids must be allowed to be bored when they’re growing up, so that they learn how to think creatively.

So the next time someone asks me, “But won’t you get bored?” My answer will be: “I hope so!”

A Broader Definition of “Be”

Another interesting trend lately has been the major uptick in comments and emails from folks who are concerned about us, and worry that we’ll regret no longer being “productive members of society.” Which is striking for two reasons:

1. The assumption that we’re never going to do anything ever again that looks like work just doesn’t make much sense (and shows that they can’t actually have read much of this blog), and

2. The idea that being a “productive member of society” can only happen by working full-time for someone else is a notion we all need to kick to the curb right now.

(There’s also a heavy dose of retirement police thinking in there, too, that “retirement” means you are confined to a rocking chair or a beach chair permanently. Even though you’d never accuse a 70-year-old working on a part-time second act of being “not really retired.” But that’s all not even worth going into, because it’s not new or interesting.)

This, to me, signals that these folks — out of good intentions, no doubt — are thinking far too small. On a basic level, they are confusing “do” and “be.”

If you meet a stranger, and they ask, “What do you do?” what they really mean is, “How do you earn a living and pay the mortgage?” If you were to answer, “I geek out over space and aviation, write a blog, spend as much time as I can in the mountains, and am on the constant search for the best gluten free products out there,” you’d certainly get a weird look back in return. (I, erm, don’t know this from experience or anything.) Or if you answered, “I’m passionate about equality and improving things for the planet and those less fortunate than me, and am absolutely bonkers for the the Sierra,” they’d probably walk away thinking, “Oh yeah, you’re bonkers alright.”

We’re trained to answer the question with what we do for work, and the fact that most conversations with new acquaintances start this way is no accident. It is how our society is wired to think, which is to define our contribution solely in terms of our traditional employment productivity, even though history is littered with examples of people whose contributions were completely outside of “normal” work. The example that gets trotted out most often is that Einstein developed his theory of relatively while working at the patent office, but there are scores of others. And that’s not even the point.

The point is that “do” is a limiting frame, but “be” is limitless. The real question — What do you want to be when you grow up? — purposely uses “be,” not “do.” It’s not solely about a narrow definition of work, with no other possibility of contributing meaningfully to society. It’s about finding your calling or your passion or your many passions — or whatever else “be” means to you.

I think a lot about outdoor athletes, given our interests and where we live. And people like Alex Honnold, Lynn Hill, Conrad Anker, Kit Deslauriers, Apa Sherpa, or Junko Tabei — all accomplished climbers in different forms — have contributed almost nothing to posterity if we think only in terms of economic output. But they’ve contributed enormous sums if we think bigger, and see how they’ve proved that things we thought were impossible are possible after all, or we look at how many people around the world they’ve inspired. That stuff matters. That’s about being something, not just doing something.

And with financial independence, we can be whatever we want, and not stay confined to just doing something.

And the real question is, which of these would you rather answer? What do you do? or What do you want to be? 

I’ll take “be” over “do” any day.

So What Will We Be? What Will You Be?

When I’m writing updates on the blog a year or five or 10 from now, what will I say we’re doing? I have no idea, and that’s exactly how we want it. We might have plenty of things mapped out in detail (mostly on the financial contingency side), but we have relatively little planned for next year. And that’s not going to change. Staying as unscheduled as possible is essential in our minds to having time and space to explore the thoughts that arise for us, and to notice what we feel tugging at us. So we’ll see where all of that leads, and keep reporting back.

As for you, time to discuss all of this. ;-) How do you think about “be” vs. “do”? (Or do you think of things that way at all?) Do you already know what you want to be when you grow up/retire early? Or are you like us, and eager to find out? Any ideas you have for how you’ll go about finding out, or just plan to stay as unstructured as possible in your post-FI life? We always love to hear from you and to chat in the comments, so let’s dive in!

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100 replies »

  1. Heh. I want to be a frugal, hippie weirdo living in the woods and growing most of our own food, sharing liberally with friends who are obviously so awesome that they share in return (after ability)! Ideally, several of our friends will live with us or close by. We’ll drink lots of tea, talk lots of politics, cook lots of food and release very little pollution (offsetting it by the trees and plants we nurture). It’ll be absolutely fab and it has been my dream for so long!

  2. We have a few projects we are going to be working on but other than that we don’t have a clue what our day to day life would be. We don’t even know how many more kids we will have by then, their age, education,…

    Will we move to another country/continent? Will slow travel the world?…We have no clue. We have options and that’s a good place to be.

  3. I definitely have a mix of ideas! I want there to be plenty of discovery and finding what I am passionate about, but I also have some idea of the direction I will head in. I hope to pursue outdoor athletics as a youth/high school coach. Running, mountain biking, and skiing are my top targets for coaching. I also hope to move to a more self-sustained lifestyle by growing food, cooking more, and using our land for other production. It is certainly fun to dream and start to pursue all of this now!

  4. I think it’s hard for people to fathom “not working,” since it dominates so much of everyone’s time (both actively when you’re work and passively when you’re just thinking about it, stressing, decompressing, transitioning to non-active work). There’s a sense that retirement = no more work. It actually just means more time for all the things you wanted to do but were too tired, too busy, too whatever.

    The “find value in you” aspect of lowered economic output is important and a hard transition. My wife and I have both made this transition (to varying degrees) and if someone else is having challenges, a book that was helpful is Designing Your Life by Bill Burnett (Stanford). It’s not instructive in terms of how to find value but discusses the a process you use to discover it. It was very helpful for us (each independently).

  5. I plan to stay very unstructured and am already trying to do that in semi-retirement, but it’s a bit of a struggle. The voice that says “you’re not being productive!” is a constant annoyance. Must. Be. Tamed…..

    As a climber, I love your comment about top climbers and their perceived contributions to society. Some of those very climbers say it themselves, usually in reflection after one of their friends tragically dies or gets hurt – “climbing is an inherently selfish activity, why are we doing this?”. Well, as you said, they’re achieving things, they’re inspiring people!

    Climbers tend to get picked on because when they die it makes news and the general population says “ah, they deserved it, to do something so dangerous is stupid”. But what about running a marathon? On the surface that contributes ZERO to society. However, if you’ve ever run one yourself and been a part of that tribe, or simply been at the finish line when a guy or gal in their 60’s or even 70’s finishes a marathon, you can’t help but be overwhelmed with inspiration.

    So my answer between “do” and “be” I guess is that people should DO what drives them so they can BE an inspiration to others.

    • I have super mixed feelings on the outdoor adventurers who take big risks, to be honest. Less so with climbers and more so with folks like BASE jumpers, the level of risk just feels SO far beyond what could possibly be acceptable in exchange for the experience. Too much ego in it, perhaps. But more generally speaking, I absolutely agree there is so much value in doing things that may inspire others!

  6. I love that confused look from others, when I experience it it tells me what their perception of beliefs are of “everything”. I find myself cringing now whenever I overhear someone asking “What do you do”, at some point I’m going to respond with what I do, then ask someone “what are you passionate about”. I will see how it goes.

    That’s an awesome list of idols, my step-dad moved to Yesemite and worked maintenance in the 70s and made watch the El Capitan climbing documentary of a few years ago. He said most of those guys were fun to hang out with and used his park cabin, but generally just drank all his beer, then remarked what a badass a teenage Lynn Hill was, could out climb them all.

    The big question, do you still want McDonalds once a month or more ??

    • Definitely ask folks what they are passionate about! I do that on planes a lot, and have gotten some unbelievable answers. :-D That’s so cool that your dad was in Yosemite in the 70s! He must have so many stories. And yeah, notsomuch anymore with the McDonald’s cravings. ;-)

  7. I appreciate your acceptance of boredom and being unstructured in retirement (at least at first). I read and hear a lot that we have to have plans in retirement and we have to have projects we know we will do so that we don’t get bored or waste our time. Right now, being ~6 years out, all we can think of is catching up on time together, getting fresh air and reading the list of books that keeps adding up! Understanding that from that, passions will arise, opportunities will make themselves clear and new ideas will formulate is a really helpful lesson to remember as we inch closer and closer! (First post after reading for a while!)

    • Hi Emily! Thanks for reading and for commenting! :-) My guess will be that you’ll have more plans in place by the time you hit your goal. We started in a very similar place — just wanting the opposite of work, so focused on relaxing and healing ourselves — but gradually started focusing more on what we DO want, not just what we want to opt out of. So I think it’s about striking a balance — having enough structure so you don’t go into ER and feel aimless, but not so much structure that you can’t get to know yourself again and discover new passions. But a little boredom? No one should be afraid of that. Only a LOT of boredom is of any concern.

  8. There are many times that I thought I knew what I wanted to be, but I discovered that I was wrong. We are pretty bad at predicting what we will find fulfilling, which I feel is a strong argument for keeping all options open as long as possible. The flexibility available through financial independence is perhaps its most appealing aspect to me.

    PS: Only tangentially on-topic…Einstein worked in the Swiss patent office.

    • I updated the Einstein reference — thank you! :-) It’s interesting because if I go back to what I thought I wanted to do for the longest (write and do radio), that really IS what makes me happiest. So now I get to blog and podcast and it feels almost magical. ;-) So don’t totally write off the possibility that some of those old ideas might resurface!

  9. Some of those questions are a wee bit concern-trollish, though, aren’t they? Like: “Oh I’m suuuuuuper happy for you and everything, but have you given any thought at all to what you’ll *do* all day?” Sometimes, a small, petty part of me wants to respond in a small, petty way, but then I realise that people are just being people, and doing unusual things is unusual.

    I still don’t think I have a satisfactory answer for them, though, so they’re probably gonna have to go ahead and stay concerned. 🤗

    • I mean, worriers are gonna worry, right? ;-) I don’t know.. I think a lot of folks are just stuck in their own ways of thinking, and I’m always game to try to show them a friendly path into a new way of thinking, so try to avoid the snark, at least at first. ;-) (Unless they go full on troll, in which case, gloves are off. Hahaha.)

  10. I love that you’ve realized you no longer want to work in the corporate world and are ready to move on. When I grow up, I want to travel, work with financial stuff/enjoy the finance industry, read a lot, work on my house, and live somewhere tropical. Oh wait, already on it ;-) it’s so important to be doing what you love.

  11. I love this!

    Like you I want to be unstructured at least for a period of time – I enjoy unstructured time and the joy of it in early retirement is that it doesn’t matter really. Now I can be semi-unstructured for two days and then boom back to reality. It puts pressure on making those two unstructured weekend days actually structured – what either happens, then, is that I give them structure (wake up, run errands, clean the house, etc.) or I feel like they’re wasted and it inconveniences my other structured time (oh crap now we have to do all of that on Monday instead after work?!)

    It’ll be nice to know that I can be bored and unstructured and the worst that happens is I can do something tomorrow. In the beginning that’ll be nice.

    But more than anything I want to be someone who helps others. It’s ridiculous that people think just because you aren’t working you aren’t productive. There are many ways to contribute – and honestly even if you aren’t, is that all that horrible either, if you’re happy? idk…I also think people are so taken aback by the idea of not having to work at such a young age that it’s natural to feel that what you’re doing is…not natural. For their entire lives, the narrative has been “Go to school. Get a job. Work for 40-45 years. Become an old fart. Die.” To see someone else living theirs differently is understandably a difficult concept to grasp if it’s never really something they’d thought about before.

    • The idea of “not natural” cracks me up, because NOTHING we do now (only exaggerating slightly) is “natural”). For most of human history, we haven’t lived in houses with climate control, used electronics, gone to college, lived past 60, etc., etc., etc. So that’s about the weakest argument someone could use, in my opinion. ;-)

  12. Very thought provoking post, as always! :) When I mentioned to a couple of acquaintances that we plan to retire early, it was met with 1) genuine concern that we could not possibly have enough money to do it based on our age, and 2) a comment about how bored we would be based on the assumption that “retirement” means nothing more than sitting on the porch sipping coffee. Honestly, just enjoying a slow cup of coffee or even getting a full night’s sleep every night sounds really good right now. But beyond that, the ability to do what we want to do, on our own terms, whatever it may be, is the biggest thing we are looking forward to.

    Strangely, as I get older I seem to be less and less certain about what I want to be when I grow up. As a teenager, I knew I wanted to go to college, what I wanted to study, what kind of job I wanted to have, how many kids I wanted, etc., etc. After accomplishing all of these things, I realized that some of them are not as fulfilling as I thought they would be (the kids ARE awesome, the job – not so much). Mr. ThriftyOnTheLake has had similar revelations. We are pretty sure what we would be retiring FROM, but not what we are retiring TO yet. I am a planner by nature and prefer to have detailed steps laid out for everything, so not knowing exactly what we will do when we grow up has not been sitting well with me. Mr. TOTL and I have talked about growing our own food, serving the community, spending time with aging family members, but nothing too specific. It is great to see your thoughts on how maybe it’s perfectly o.k. to not have a plan for every step of what’s ahead.

    • It seems like your head is in the right place in terms of thinking about all of this. You want to know at least PART of what you’re retiring to, but you don’t need to have it all figured out (and I’d argue there’s no fun in that anyway). Have some of it figured out, leave some of it open ended, and I bet you’ll be thrilled with how it turns out. :-)

  13. Making space for what’s next. That’s my tag line. I’m not a very productive person in the traditional sense these days but I’m very much enjoying the making space part. Also, you said overfloweth… Lol.

    • ;-) I also think you’re still in the detox phase — or at least I still will be when I’m as far into ER as you are now. Will be so curious to know what your patterns are in a year or so!

  14. I think this is really the why behind my “I don’t want to retire early.”

    At my core, my focus is on saving the planet. I love to travel, spend time in nature with my family, and make things, but above all, I want to take care of this rock we all live on.

    Since I work in sustainable building, that’s exactly what I do in the biggest way I can, beyond what I can control in my personal life. It’s what my high school senior project was on, what I went to college for, and what I want to be doing for the rest of my career. Maybe it’s strange I’m so focused on financial independence then, but that security (and ability to change my mind in the future) is very, very important to me.

  15. Wait a minute, did Tanja really just say, “I have no idea, and that’s exactly how we want it”? 😉

    It’s such a thrill to be constantly figuring out what we want to be and what we want to do next. I don’t know that we’ll ever find the one answer — we’ll just keep working on an evolving answer to the question. And that’s perfect, as far as I’m concerned.

    I’ve been answering those “what do you do?” questions with bonkers answers for years now. The range of responses always cracks me up. Some people are totally into it. Others seem to say, “Oh, I didn’t want to learn that you like hiking and the outdoors and travel and street food and camping, things that you really value and consider your calling, I meant what’s the money-earning job that you stumbled into.”

  16. The freedom to explore new life paths is amazing – congratulations on starting this journey.

    We’re not explicitly pursuing FI, so I find it counterproductive to mentally go too far down that path and instead focus more on meaning and joy in the work life I have now. Like you, I find a lot of meaning in my job and really enjoy it. I’d be thrilled to find out what else I would do with unstructured life, but there are things that I want that are incompatible with pursing that aggressively (hopefully kids, and also to allow my husband to pursue his career that he wants to stay in and requires us to be in this particular place).

    I am pretty sure that, even as a kid, I took earning potential, or at least career prestige, into my career aspirations. Maybe not when I was extremely young, but there was a lot of high power careers that I dreamt of. Not sure why that is. Security has long been important to me.

    • I applaud you for focusing on joy NOW — I wish everyone would do that, even those pursuing early retirement! Creating a life of all deferred joy is no way to live. And hey, no shame in aspiring to be secure and high-powered! Still not sure why I didn’t think about that! ;-)

  17. I don’t think I ever knew what I wanted to be when I grew up, even as a young kid, so that’s the million (or maybe-not-quite-million-FI-number) dollar question, isn’t it? ;)

    Given my general love of plans and over-preparation, maybe it looks odd from the outside that I don’t exactly have a plan for what happens after I FIRE but am not actually worried about that lack of plan. It helps that I don’t plan to be single (or potentially even childless) for the rest of my life so I know there’ll be some necessary tweaking of plans anyway as life circumstances change. As it is, right now my plan is to figure it out as I go, since it’s not happening immediately-I’ve got plenty of time to figure things out. I definitely look forward to the opportunity for getting bored in the future, too!

  18. “We are human beings, not human doings” is something I often remind myself.

    As someone who has never had a professional passion or calling, I appreciate your take on figuring what you want to be when you grow up as a grown up. I find the most interesting people tend to dabble and follow their curiosity, it has taken me a long time to embrace this in myself instead of feeling guilty that I don’t have a single passion/calling.

    • YES. Perfectly said. And I am SO with you that the most interesting people dabble a lot. Folks who are singularly focused no doubt have a ton of passion, but that doesn’t always translate into interestingness. (That’s a word, right?) ;-)

  19. You are spot on, Tanja. I crave downtime or boredom more each day, as I’m caught in the multitude of tasks that have to get done, both at work and at home. I hope to be open to life’s experiences and lessons, and recognize the dynamic ability we have as humans to create new paths for ourselves. I think we tend to get jumbled by expectations, fear of the unknown, the drive to “achieve”, and the practical things like supporting kids, managing a household, etc. Financial independence allows for greater flexibility. I struggle with the transition to retirement, as I get a lot of personal satisfaction and validation from my contributions in the workplace. I feel like I’m on the cusp of a whole new future, though, with a blank slate ahead of me. I can’t wait to have time to consider what I like and where I can best use all that I have learned. And that makes me feel like I am 18 again, when the future was open and unknown. It turned out pretty well then, so I look forward to act two. Thanks for another thought provoking post.

  20. My mother has had the hardest time with my planned retirement. I get that retirement is a fairly new concept and that parents never stop worrying about their kids – no matter how old they are. Money and boredom are her two most frequent concerns followed by you have traveled so much for so long do you think your marriage will survive you being home all of the time. The last one is mostly in jest but I do understand that this will be a big transition for me and my lovely wife.

    Scott Burns a syndicated columnist and contributor (maybe more) for assetbuilder.com had the following 4 question quiz to determine if you are wealthy (IMHO could easily substitute FI for wealthy):

    1. Do you make payments on your house or car? If you answered yes, it’s unlikely you are wealthy,

    2. Does your interest income exceed what you pay in interest?

    3. Can you keep what you have without actually working?

    4. You are at a cocktail party and a stranger asks, “What do you do?” If you answer this with any known occupation, you are not wealthy and you’re probably a workaholic. You’re still a working stiff, even if your job is, as Lundberg suggested, “a well-paid securely tenured” one. The only acceptable answer here is to remember your Jane Austen. Give the stranger your best disdainful Darcy look and say, “In the event of what?”

    I have loved the the response to “what do you do?” provided by Scott’s wealth test. I don’t know exactly what I want to do but I have some general ideas and want enough free time to be able to explore several of them in the first 12-18 months. Soon the journey begins and I’m getting more excited every day.

    • Jane Austen FTW. ;-) I so appreciate that Darcy reminder and am totally going to use it! That rundown is interesting. On #1, we know quite a few early retirees who still have mortgages, and while we definitely focused on paying off our house, I get that not everyone looks at the numbers the same way. And #4 feels strangely elitist. Do you agree? Having read the Millionaire Next Door, I often think about the fact that a big share of millionaires own small businesses that are very much in professions people have heard of. And we’ve been wealthy by any measure for some time but have continued to work to take it to the full ER level… so that one just puzzles me!

  21. My wife and I both have teaching degrees. She began as a 5th grade teacher. After an 8 year gap when we started our family, she’s now very happy teaching kindergarten. I on the other hand never made it into teaching, and instead, have been working in Quality Engineering for the past 20+ years. While most days actually aren’t that bad (it’s amazing what a difference a good company and even better boss can make), this is not what I want to be when I grow up. Having been downsized twice with 6 months off each time, I can definitely say that I do NOT want to retire if my wife isn’t ready to retire with me. We have 3 boys in high school this year, which means that in 3 ½ years, we’ll be empty(ish) nesters… but who’s counting. We’ve got a lot saved already, but out of pocket college costs is still a big unknown. Once we’re comfortable that we’ve got enough saved, hopefully around the time the last one graduates from high school, my plan is to semi-retire to my wife’s schedule. Maybe become a school bus driver… 3 hours in the morning, 2 hour break, 3 hours in the afternoon… with winter break, spring break and the summers off. With 3 in college and still in our early 50s, staying under my wife’s health insurance plan just seem prudent. And while we most likely will have reached our magic number by this point, letting it grow a few extra years before tapping it buys us peace of mind. In our time off together, we plan to tent camp, kayak and hike. Two summers ago we took a 3 week, 7,000 mile road trip out west with our boys and visited, camped and hiked 13 national parks. Can’t wait to do more. We just saw the movie “Wild”. So interested now in hiking the 2,650 mile PCT (Pacific Crest Trail)… perhaps just the 211 mile John Muir stretch of it to start with. A few years of semi-retirement should make the transition into full retirement easier… and we can do even more “growing up”. Prayers to all for good health… it’s priceless… and it’s the key to seeing all our plans to fruition.

    • Do you already live at elevation? If not, I’d suggest not starting with just the JMT section of the PCT — it’s tough as is because you have to carry such heavy packs to make up for the lack of resupply, but especially for flatlanders. Of course, if you guys are super athletic and strong, then never mind! ;-) I think your plan overall makes total sense. And I especially appreciate you saying you have no interest in you guys retiring at different times. We agree!

  22. Time for a mind to wander is so important. I have a career and a business I love, but I am not 100% convinced that I will remain in it for my entire career. Burnout is real and other things can strike my fancy. Maybe I’ll discover a secret passion and talent that I must do. If my money allows me, why not?!

    I hate that this is the first question for so many folks. I often try to change it on folks. Most reactions are negative, but the people who appreciate non-work conversation often end up being very interesting.

    • I’ve never thought about it that way before, but I love it: answering the question in non-work terms to weed out the interesting people from the boring ones. ;-) (When I lived in DC, if I said “political consultant,” people were always interested, but if I said, “yoga teacher,” they quickly walked away. In LA, it was just the opposite! Ha.)

  23. This is so great. My husband and I discuss this often. I know what I want to be (a full time novelist) when we hit FIRE, but my husband has yet to find his passion. I told him that I expected that he would tinker for 6 months and then stumble on a project that he would love. I’ll be interested to see if this prediction holds true when we finally take the plunge. Thank you for sharing!

      • Yes, having no cable isn’t just for the sake of our budget, it gives me all the nerdy novel writing time I want. My latest one was an “FI” focused plot. Writing is still just a passion as it isn’t covering the bills… yet. I think the hubby will find his passion in numbers so we will be a good left brain/right brain duo once we hit FIRE.

  24. I’ve never liked the question of “What do you do?” because like you said, the question isn’t really asking what you think it’s asking. People really want to know how you pay your bills rather than what you actually do to fill your days. I always ask “So what’s keeping you busy these days?” it feels better.

    Love the post!

    • Thanks, Colin! I think the question itself isn’t so terrible — it’s really just trying to help us relate to each other. But we’re so trained to answer it a certain way and expect a certain type of answer back, and that’s the problem!

  25. Awesome post! I’m always amazed at people’s inability to experience boredom. That is where the magic happens! Plus its hard to be bored with the Sierra in your backyard. Growing up surfing, and now spending time in the mountains, I have always found that moments of solitude and quiet keep me balanced and progressing. It is difficult to make changes or have focus without time to reflect. Good luck heading into retirement sounds like you are on an exciting path of discovering the next chapter. I am convinced that people who spend time pursuing passions and seeking their best selves (like the climbers you mentioned) are vital to society. They are what we can all aspire to be. Plus, every once in a while one of those dirtbags comes along and founds a company like Patagonia that improves the world in ways many can’t begin to comprehend. By the way, if you do get “bored” in retirement, and if you have not already read it, I highly recommend Yvonnes book “Let My People Go Surfing.” Oh and also check out some of Laird Hamilton’s stuff. A little outside of the climbing/mountaineering world, but the parallels between those who commit themselves to the mountains and those who commit themselves to the ocean make him easily relatable (plus he basically sirfs mountains). Okay, I am done rambling. Hope you guys are enjoying the snow we have been getting this last week!

    • Shoot me an email and let me know where you live! msonl at ournextlife dot com. I’m definitely with you on all this stuff (and I’ve read Chouinard’s book!). I’m not in the camp of thinking that all outdoor risk is acceptable (whole ‘nother subject!), but society needs boundary pushers. Otherwise, how else will we even know what’s possible?!

  26. During the summers I take time off my regular job (post-production) and work for a non-profit as a field biologist in the Sierra Nevada. I’ll do more of that when we retire. And hike. Finally pick up yoga again. Be a more dedicated mediator. Most of all, spend every moment I can with my husband. We can test the waters to see if it is at all possible to get sick of each other after 25 years. We will go adventuring. I can’t wait!

    • I love your reply. Feel the same. Just one thought… if yoga brings you joy… then do it now… don’t wait. I think in a nutshell, the key word in the answer as to how you want to spend the additional time you’ll have when you achieve FI… whether semi or full retirement… is the word “MORE”. Do more of what you’re already doing. Be more of your best you. If you’re not currently making time for it… if you’re not making it a priorty to do in your working life… then chances are, you may still find excuses to not do those things when you have more time. My wife and I just celebrated the 27th anniversary of our first date… and we’re still crazy about each other. It’s been the joy of our lives raising our 3 boys… but in 3 1/2 years we’ll be empty nesters… and perhaps semi-retired. Can’t wait to spend “MORE” time with her. Can we posibley spend so much time together that we’ll actually get sick of each other?… Challenge Accepted :)

    • Sounds wonderful! Any chance you could resume your yoga practice now, even in small bits? If it’s important to you, it might be worth it to fit it in instead of waiting. Even two minutes of down dog and some good ujjayi are pretty magical. ;-)

  27. I love this.
    I’ve always thought life was about “doing” and started panicking about what that means in retirement.

    I’ve had a shift in my thoughts and now think:

    I want to BE healthy
    I want to BE active
    I want to BE helpful
    I want to BE continuing to learn
    I want to BE more with nature
    I want to BE more spontaneous

    Keep on BEING who you are.

  28. “Fast forward a few decades, and I know very few people who are doing as adults what they imagined as kids they’d be doing. And even surprisingly few who are doing what they went to college for. There are plenty of people — including Mark and me — who just sort of fell into our careers and kept going, and never actually made an affirmative choice to do some job that calls to us. We happened to get lucky and find accidental careers that have suited us and been fulfilling on a lot of levels, but neither of us would describe that work as a calling.”

    Oh, hey, I just confessed to this in my article yesterday.

    I also love the smackdown of the “productive member of society” argument. Part of the reason I save so much is because I think I could be a more productive member of society if I didn’t need a paycheck. There are so many things that I could do to achieve more societal good than what I am doing for work, but I need to balance the meaningfulness of my work with the need for money.

    • You are top of my list for a cram sesh after we quit, my friend! So behind on your blog, but want to catch up! And thanks re: the smackdown. ;-) That line of thinking is so privileged, and is also completely the type of thinking that’s used to guilt people into staying in exploitative jobs. I have no doubt that you have a bigger contribution to make to society, and can’t wait until you’re free to do it.

  29. I’m just starting to figure out the answer to this question.

    I’d like to be an adviser, helping people with their finances. I’d like to do so in a way that my incentives (if any) are perfectly aligned to help whomever I’m advising.

    I’d like to spend a good deal of my time with family and friends thinking, analyzing, debating and/or being outside playing, running, biking, skiing and hiking.

  30. I find myself wanting to be lots of what I was when I was a child. Playful, adventuresome, creative, a learner, coloring outside the lines and such. We get so wrapped up in being ‘successful adults’ that we often forget how to do those things. I’m trying to do more of them now of course but I really look forward to having my own time to be those things in the future.

  31. Oh, man, I’ve always hated the what do you do question. I almost never ask it, to the point that I have friends whose jobs I really don’t know much about. It’s so boring. My job isn’t interesting, why would you ask me about that? I usually say something like, “my job’s pretty boring, but I love to travel…” I’ve also heard that this is a question that is specific to American culture, and Europeans, for example, find it kind of crass. (But then, that’s a whole diffferent “money is taboo” issue.)

    • We’ve definitely met plenty of folks abroad who asked what we do for work, so it’s not strictly an American thing, and I totally see the relational aspect of it, trying to figure out where to begin a conversation. But you point out a major downside, that if someone finds their work really boring, they’ll hate the question!

    • That’s great you’re taking charge of your life! And if you feel like you don’t figure it out now, you still have another chance down the road when you’re ready to stop relying on work for money. ;-)

  32. This is exactly what is going on through my head at the moment. I even wrote a post about it recently on my blog. I am not even close to FI but I am already thinking about what I’d do when I achieve FI. We’ll see where life takes us!

    • It’s good you’re thinking about this! So important to not only have the vision of what you might want to do later, but to give it time to evolve before you actually pull the plug.

  33. I think the phrase “what do I want to be when I grow up” is a continual question that one should ask as they learn, explore and grow. I know myself that the answer to that question has changed many times over the years with varying levels of intensity…. One of which is now and I’m not exactly sure when or where I will cut my next path…

  34. I retired in 2015 at 52 from a 27 year career in medicine. There were aspects I loved and some I hated. I knew myself enough to know I was at task of either repeating past mistakes or overreacting to them as I moved to my next stage.
    So I decided to take a year exploring, trying to say yes to things, embrace novelty, but not too commit myself. To be ok not doing.
    It actually took about two years (I think about a month for every year you’ve been in your pay role is about right).
    Now I have a fairly good filter that helps me to decide between the good thing and the thing that really draws me in.
    On comment I have seen from other FIRE bloggers is they don’t want to retire until they figure out the next stage.
    I’d assert you can’t do that as well until you retire. Maybe there is a new acronym. FREE
    First Retire then Explore Everything.

    • I’m so glad your approach suited you well, Stephen! I don’t think that would work equally well for everyone, though — I’ve heard from MANY folks over the years who ended up feeling bored and aimless with no plan, and ended up going BACK TO WORK. So I think some folks are temperamentally well suited to winging it, as you did, and others need more of a plan. ;-)

  35. I want to not think about going to work tomorrow and spend the day doing whatever my 2.5 year old wants to do. Weekends are always the best as we get to spend so much time together…too bad the best years of our lives with young kids are spent working the hardest. A crazy backwards system for sure.

  36. I’ve been thinking about this same question for awhile now. I’ve actually tried to train myself to stop asking people about what they do for a living because it boxes us into identifying what we do for our day jobs and completely ignores who we really are.

    As I continue to pursue FI I’ve struggled to clearly identify what the purpose of my life is. But like you mention, I want to focus more on the fact that I’m a human being and not a human doing. No one looks at a squirrel and wonders what their purpose is. However, because we see humans as separate or above nature, we have required ourselves to have a higher purpose that often means being a “productive” member of society (i.e., making stuff and/or money).

    I am about to finish up my year-long Sustainably Happy Project, where I spent the month of March thinking about what I wanted to be when I grew up. I still don’t have an answer, but over the past year I’ve embraced the idea of becoming a life designer who enjoys being curious, trying new things, and recognizing that my life is about the journey – not some final set destination (like retirement).

    Therefore, for at least right now I want to be a bread maker, fermenter, writer, bike commuter, reader, forager, homesteader, and otherwise a human being living a slower, more mindful life… who also happens to work as an engineer for a portion of each week (or at least I do when I’m not on a work sabbatical).

    • I think your conclusion sounds wonderful! I always love when I hear people wanting to be many things, because we are all multifaceted, and doing or being just one thing ignores our many angles. ;-)

  37. I love this post! My dad sunk into a depression after his job went south. His whole identity and self worth was wrapped up in it. He eventually committed suicide (when I was 14). I realize that is an extreme example, but that early life lesson has stuck with me and I have never put my identity into my job or career. Effort and diligence, yes; identity, no way. I am still working (for good health insurance), but prefer much more “being” to “doing”. I’m happiest out on a bike ride or a walk just meandering and stopping to take photos of what interests me. I think so many people just cannot even imagine getting off the merry-go-round. But like you, to me it is a very natural, desirable thing.

    • Wow, I’m sorry that you had such a tragic experience that taught you this. But I love how you put it: “effort and diligence, yes; identity no way.” I think that’s a finer distinction than many people are willing to make, but it’s so clear. You can give work your very best effort but still not define yourself with it.

  38. Something that I found super helpful with figuring out what to be when I grew up was the Strong Interest Inventory Test. You can find different jobs that fit your personality and find a career working with people who like the same things you do! I am not sure if they still offer this senior of high school, but if not you should just make the investment in yourself! :)