Our high school rule for work in early retirement // Deciding what work we'd happily choose to do for free, and not let money be a factorwe retired early

Our “High School Rule” for Work in Early Retirement

I remember back in the days before my life was ruled by work, when I could hear about some activity or club or place you could visit, and think, “Yeah! I wanna do that!” And then I could spend hours doing that thing, maybe for weeks or months on end, and it would never occur to me that maybe people get paid for doing it.

Like, I know I’m a dork, but editing the school paper and taking photos for yearbook seemed fun. Not like work at all. Interning at my local public radio station felt like something I should be paying for, not the other way around, because it felt so freaking cool. Ditto for being an assistant counselor at sleepaway camp, and teaching preteens about the great outdoors.

I know my experience was not universal, and lots of people did not have the freedom of that kind of time in high school (my dad valued education above everything and made clear that my job was school, and all the things that go along with that), so having those years when money wasn’t a ruling force in my life is something I’ll always be grateful for.

Because those years taught me an important lesson:

There are things you would never choose to do, things you’d choose to do if paid enough, things you’d happily do for pay, and things you’d happily do for free.

Most of us live our adult lives in those middle two zones: the things we do by choice because we get paid to, and – if we’re lucky – things we get paid to do but are happy to do under those circumstances.

That fourth zone, though – things we’d happily do for free – are typically the domain of the young and the old, or at least the lucky ones among them. The ones who don’t need to be breadwinners for a family or themselves, or at least not anymore.

And when I think about the things I’d happily do for free, I always think back to high school, and those days when I could take something on merely because it seemed fun, interesting or both. Not because it paid well. Not because it was a “good opportunity.” Not because it might lead to something bigger or better. Just because there was some voice inside of me that said, “Hell yes.”

All of which is nothing new to folks who retired early or are aspiring to do so. That’s exactly why most of us go through the years of focused saving, to be able to eliminate the things in life that we only do because we’re getting paid for it. To get back to the tasks that feel essential to our souls.

But let’s talk about work.

Related post: Our Big Epiphany: We Will Earn Money in Retirement

Our high school rule for work in early retirement // Deciding what work we'd happily choose to do for free, and not let money be a factor

Deciding When to Work in Early Retirement

When we first envisioned our early retirement, we wanted the exact opposite of the life we were living at the time, which was stressful and consumed by work. The opposite of that was no work. So that’s what we strove for.

But as we got closer to our end date, we realized that we couldn’t actually imagine a life with no work. Not because we lack imagination, but because there’s some work that we actually like. And we realized we’d been asking the wrong question.

Instead of asking, “How can we eliminate work from our lives?” we needed to be asking, “How can we do only the work we’d happily do for free and eliminate all the rest?”

Related post: What Is “Work”? // Creating Our Own Definitions and More for the Retirement Police

Which is like mentally going back to my teenage years. When I didn’t have to worry about keeping a roof over my head (because my dad paid the mortgage then, and now our house is paid off). When I didn’t have to worry about career advancement (that was yet to come then, and now it’s in our past). I could just follow my heart or gut.

And that’s when I dubbed my early retirement work philosophy the “high school rule.”

Meaning: If there’s something I could do that looks like work, I’ll do it if I would have happily done it for free in high school. If not, then it’s a hard pass.

Work That Meets the High School Rule Standard

That’s how I know I’ll keep this blog going: because writing is something I’ve always done, usually for free. That’s how I know that podcasts will be a part of my life for a long time: because I did lots of unpaid public radio internships and have loved the form for decades. That’s why it’s easy to say yes to speaking requests, because I did forensics and debate and mock trial and pretty much every form of talking they’d let me sign up for.

I know those three things are my “work” priorities in early retirement, and I feel thankful for that every day. What an incredible privilege to be able to focus my work time on projects wholly of my choosing, exactly the things I’d do even if no one was listening or paying.

As for other work projects, they have to clear a high bar. If they involve writing or speaking but also lots of busy work that I wouldn’t choose to do? Pass. If they involve early morning conference calls or lots of sitting in traffic or things I wouldn’t have chosen to do at any age? Pass.

Related post: The No-Income Work Experiment // Testing Our Commitment to the Principle

The Benefit of a Rule with a Name

Calling it the high school rule has helped make the line clearer. There are some opportunities that have come along that have sounded cool on the surface, and I’ve been tempted to say yes, while knowing that there might be some annoying aspects, too. But high school me is much clearer on what sounds fun and interesting, and she’s better at saying, “Nah.”

Adult me lives in gray areas and nuance, but high school me knows what she wants to do and what she doesn’t, so I have put her back in charge.

If I hadn’t named the rule, and was just following the fun, I’m positive I’d be taking on some stuff right now that I wouldn’t ultimately be happy about. Stuff that was a little bit fun and a large bit annoying. Stuff that goes counter to the whole idea of early retirement.

So, for me, that’s the power of having a rule and naming it.

What’s Your Work Rule?

I’m always curious how people evolve in their journeys, like how we moved from never wanting to work again to wanting to do work we’d choose with money as no object. Have you experienced something similar? Or evolved in other ways in your journey?

And do you have a rule like our high school rule for work? Or other thoughts on what separates the yes answers from the no answers when opportunities come along? Or see no need for a rule and just listen to your gut in each moment? Let’s chat in the comments about how that decision-making process goes for you, or how you imagine it will go when you get to your early retirement!

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101 replies »

  1. Love the term “high school rule”. Similar to you guys, I’m also happy to get myself involved with activities other people would think of “work” (watch out for the early retirement police!) if those activities are adding value, are enjoyable and are aligned with my passions and help me and others to grow. FIRE or FIRO simply provides the FIRE-power to choose those activities yourself; you can now be selective about how, with whom and where you spend your time and efforts.

  2. That’s great that you have found a rule that helps!

    For us we are trying to optimize both our family finances and family time. We are looking into the the 80/20 rule: 20% of clients take 80% of time.

    So we just got rid of the least profitable yet more demanding clients: So far we have ended 2 contracts and replaced them with 1 that’s going to be more profitable, with less work and less pressure!

    • My past working self is so envious of you for managing to do that! It is always the least profitable projects that are the biggest pain — there’s some kind of rule about that, right? ;-) Good for you guys for having the courage to end some contracts — I’m sure that was a big decision!

  3. “There are things you would never choose to do, things you’d choose to do if paid enough, things you’d happily do for pay, and things you’d happily do for free.”

    I love these categories. I would add an addendum on the second and say “things you’d choose to do for a while if paid enough”. As a white-collar computer desk jockey who sits all day and strengthens up his mouse finger, I’d often sit at my desk, look out the window, and dream of digging ditches.

    I know, weird. But I love exercise and doing hard physical labor is great. For a while. So after a bad week at work I’d always tell my friends that I need to just get a job digging holes in the ground, or splitting wood all day with an axe. I seriously would do it if the pay was right. But of course I’d get sick of it real fast and long for the desk job again.

    Maybe I need to start a temp agency of ditch diggers and wood-splitters :)

    • I did this… I literally “worked for food” at a CSA. It was amazing. Once every week or two for about 4 hours and I got fresh vegetables.

      I was in graduate school at the time and nothing was working, lots of dead ends…so it was so fulfilling to go to the farm and weed and look behind me and see a neat weeded row, proof that something had been accomplished!

      • That’s awesome! We’ve heard of folks in our area staffing farmers market booths for free produce, and we want to look into that. Different from the hard work you’re talking about (we’d have to drive an hour each way to do that, which kind of negates the benefit), but it must be satisfying to work for your food and receive instant payment!

    • I like your addition, though I’d also say that any of us can change our minds at any time about what fits into what category. You might happily do something for free but then tire of it and require pay to keep doing it. Or might be willing to do something for a while, as you said. So funny how the grass is always greener — Mark would say stuff like that, too, about wanting to do manual labor instead of desk work. But then after a weekend doing the hardest kinds of yard work, he’d be happy to be on the couch with a laptop. ;-) So yeah, maybe that temp agency is your million dollar idea! ;-)

  4. I really like Derek Siver’s rule of “No or Hell Yeah” – it’s about as simple as it sounds – if it’s a Hell Yeah level of excitement and anticipation then it’s a yes. Otherwise, it’s a no.

    That said, it’s also OK to realize that you will settle into knowing what is a yes or no under your High School Rule. There are plenty of things that will be borderline and when you’ve lived your life doing plenty of “things you’d choose to do if paid enough” and “things you’d happily do for pay,” it’s easy to lose calibration. It’ll take time to get that back and that’s ok! :)

    • I’m certainly familiar with No or Hell Yeah, and I’ve found that it’s not always as straightforward as that. Something that’s hell yeah today might be “Umm sure” tomorrow, or vice versa. So having a clearer gauge that has meaning in my life works better for me, but that’s just me. ;-) Maybe, as you say, that’s a calibration question, and we’ll get better at discerning the answer intuitively, but we’re not there yet!

      • I agree Tanja. There are very few things in life that remain “hell yeah” forever. People change, circumstances change, priorities change and interests change as we age, our family grows and even as our net worth changes with time. I am always amazed at young people who seem so confident in declaring what they want “forever”. What I wanted in my 20’s – half of that remained in my 30’s, and whatever I wanted in my 30’s has very low overlap with my wants in 40’s. My friends and even my parents called these changes as “maturity” but whatever you may call it, I have learned not to think of my present interests as “absolutes” in life.

      • Oh my gosh, YES! There is so much absolute thinking in life, in the world, and in BLOGS. (I’ll spare you the rant, but let’s embrace the gray area, folks!) I get that it’s easier to decide on something and then avoid thinking about it again, but what a way to limit your potential in life. Evolving and shifting priorities is a good thing! ;-)

    • I like both of these rules! Either way it is encouraging you to pursue something you are excited about. If it pays to do it, all the better!

      I’ve loved writing for my site, and plan to keep doing it. Seems like ideas will never run out. It’s just a fun experience that will allow me to help others on the way. If it pays to do it, I think the High Schooler in me would say “Hell Yeah!” (Combining those rules seems fun, too!)

      • Whatever rule or rule combo works for you, great! For me, “Hell Yeah or No” isn’t specific enough, and it would be easy to put things in one category or the other based on rationalizing aspects of them. But high school me is much clearer on her priorities, so I think listening to her will be a good thing. ;-) Awesome that you love writing your blog! To me the good test of whether it’s worthwhile is whether you’d keep doing it on the same schedule for the foreseeable future even if you knew you were never going to make a cent on it. That’s the blog version of hell yes. ;-)

  5. I’m like Jim. I have the HELL YES rule. If I don’t immediately say HELL YES (in capital letters), I’m out. I’ve been saved from many events with this rule. Funnily enough, working my W-2 job doesn’t elicit that HELL YES, which is why I’m quitting to do things that do! Like stained glass and writing!

  6. I like how you name your rules but at first I wondered if it was another post about gold stars and grades. :) I’m another one for the Hell Yes or Hell No rule, although sometimes I struggle with the implementation of it. (Working on the yearbook and taking photos was fun!)

    • Hahaha — that’s a fair assumption to think it’d be about gold stars with me! ;-) I’m like you — I struggle a bit with hell yes or no, and also that rule sometimes feels a bit selfish. Like I don’t necessarily love every task I’m asked to do when volunteering, but I see the value and am willing to do them. Not sure where that fits on the Hell Yes vs. No scale, but it fits into my high school rule just fine.

  7. Here I thought this was going to be about only working 18 hours max during the week, and never past 7pm :p But I love this rule more haha

    My main rule is: If it’s something local (or that I need to go into an office for), only do work that has a deadline. Aka, consult on project-based work for 1-6 months, limited to probably 24 hours in a week. Must be something I initially find at least somewhat interesting.

    Who knows if something will pan out with those limits, but I figure that at that point I won’t (shouldn’t) NEED the money – so I’m not going to sacrifice more of my precious hours to do something I’m not pumped about. By sticking to shorter contracts, I can bail if it’s not my cup of tea. By keeping the hours commitment down, I can still do other things with my time.

    I would like to keep consulting because I find some of the challenges businesses face fascinating, and having some extra money would be helpful. Target rate is 100/hr, 24 hrs a week, maybe 16 weeks a year is an extra $38k or so which would be a huge boon. But I might have to do some tax planning and make sure it’s not overkill to do rollovers and such :)

    • Ha. And no work if I can’t maintain a C average? ;-) I’m with you on deadlines, but more as an end date. I don’t want work where I have to show up to a bunch of conference calls or meetings, or have a lot of intermediate deadlines. I’ve already had too many client deadlines in my life to take on more. I like the limits you’ve set, though think you could probably up your hourly rate and decrease your total number of hours. ;-)

  8. Very good topic. As an early retiree of 2.5 years, I’m still taking the time to figure out about my next chapter. I got some routine set up right after retiring, like reading, writing, learning Spanish, playing musical instrument, working out, visiting parks, etc. In terms of work, I still keep the options open, try, see and feel. Thank you for sharing.

  9. This is the best description I’ve read of what reaching FI feels like! It’s not that I want to “retire” from work. Instead, I want to work at things that are fun, interesting, and keep me in touch with other people that are fun to be with.

  10. I love that you’ve named it – I’m a lot like you in that I love to say yes and bite off way more than I can chew and then get stressed about it down the line. As someone who worked as a park ranger as a second job for YEARS longer than i should have, even thing your high school you would have said yes to can be too much if you’re saying yes to too many of them. I may go back to being a park ranger/naturalist someday, but for now, even an awesome second job was one job too many.

    • Yes! Exactly! You and I are clearly people who like to say yes, who are interested in too many things. So that’s another flaw in the Hell Yes or No idea — what if there are too many Hell Yes’s?! I do think the high school rule is helpful for that, though, because it would rule out anything that sounds awesome but has annoying tasks attached. That might be a hell yes for adult me, but not for high school me. ;-) So that helps. But you’re right that we have to keep working on those boundaries, probably always!

  11. you can always change your mind to the no’s and the yes’s so long as it’s not habitually fickle. don’t want to burn up any personal relationships.

    • True, but I’d rather not take something on in the first place and let people down if I know I won’t ultimately enjoy it. So having this bar is a way of avoiding some of that in advance. ;-)

  12. After chasing money for so long and being “selectively hardcore” to save money, it’s hard to pass on earning opportunities you would have jumped at before. Making decisions based on if you would have done them for free in high school is a great mindset. It probably would not work for me though. I was super lazy in high school. Thankfully, I’ve evolved a bit.

    • hahahaahah — I love that self-awareness. So, let’s amend it: “The high school rule, unless you were lazy in high school.” ;-) Maybe high school isn’t the right time anchor for you, but I still bet you would have jumped at something that was extraordinarily cool even then. Maybe your bar is just higher. ;-)

  13. Hah, I don’t know, high school me was pretty damn busy chasing “good opportunities” that would look good for college applications, spending LOTS of time both in the dance studio and being a chorus nerd, and at occasional soccer practices. Oh and also I was way too busy being a perfectionist about grades and homework, so I had lots of late nights trying to get all my assignments done. So I don’t know that I’d trust high school me to make good choices about what I want to do in early retirement!

    I’ve got plenty of time to figure out what my rule will be though ;)

    • hahaha — I can relate to that, but a lot of that stuff was the stuff I felt I *had* to do, and my rule is more based on the stuff I wanted to do. So maybe think of another time you can anchor your rule to… let’s hope it doesn’t go back as far as preschool! ;-)

  14. I call my rule the “Feels good” rule. If I wouldn’t feel good delivering an article to someone I love to help them make a financial decision, I don’t accept the assignment. Which is probably why all my travel credit card articles start with something along the lines of, “You don’t have to optimize points!” and entire sections covering “Why interest rates matter more than sign up bonuses.”

    • I like that! Though I think I’d need more specificity than that only because something can feel good in one way but bad in another. Like eating all the donuts… feels great in the moment, but terrible later. ;-) Unless your feels good rule is “feels good at every stage,” in which case I love it. :-)

  15. First, my wife and I want to thank you for the effort you have put into Our Next Life as it has been an important part of the final phase of our professional/grown-up work life. At times the last couple of years have been a bit of a grind and we found motivation in your words. For us, ‘Our Next Life’ looks similar to the one you and Mark constructed with the exception that we have oriented our lives around Big Sky, Montana, which is an incredible mountain community.

    This post resonated with us as we have moved into positions that we would do for free. My post retirement career as a professional ski patroller also has a close connection with the time of my life that I affectionately refer to as “my wildly misspent youth”. I worked my way through college and part of graduate school as a smokejumper for the US Forest Service. Smokejumpers are the fools that parachute into Forest Fires in the Western US and Alaska. I was a smokejumper for six years and absolutely loved the camaraderie and teamwork. However, I knew that I couldn’t do that forever and I needed to go into the ‘real world’ to make my way. The journey into the real world resulted in a 20+ year academic and business career, which consumed our lives. While it was all consuming and stressful, it was a good decision for many reasons including the fact that it provided the foundation to pursue a comfortable somewhat early retirement (age 52). My wife was able to semi-retire a few years ahead of me as it made sense for me to remain in my position until we were ready to pull the plug. Her support along with blogs like yours were crucial during that time.

    Now that my wife and I are free to pursue whatever we would like without having to think about the financial implications, we have chosen to return to activities that would have captured our interest in earlier parts of our lives. My wife now volunteers as a Mountain Host at Big Sky, which means she gives ski tours to visitors to the resort and skis around the mountain answering questions for those new to the resort. Through hard work, and some luck, I secured a full time position as a Professional Ski Patroller at Big Sky, which, in the ski patrol world, is considered the big leagues. Big Sky is a massive and complex resort to ski patrol in and I get paid to do really cool (and sometimes very dangerous) stuff with an outstanding group of highly trained people. So, in our own way, we have followed the High School Work Rule! Thanks again, for your words as they often helped me with motivation when I needed it. Below I have included the note I sent to my colleagues when I announced my retirement. I considered posting something on your blog at that time, but didn’t think anyone would find it to be of interest. However, I now realize that my words and actions might provide a small boost to someone who is grinding away and needs a little motivation.

    Thank you,
    C and K

    Sent to colleagues on October 30, 2017
    I have decided to retire from ******* at the conclusion of the 2017-2018 academic year. In 1998 I was given the opportunity to teach at the university level. At the time I thought I would simply teach for a year or two and then continue on with opportunities at Cisco and Microsoft. However, the opportunity to teach quantitative analysis to college sophomores fundamentally altered the trajectory of my life. I will be forever grateful for that opportunity as well as the many more that opened to me. As I reflect back I am struck by how little I knew about the craft and challenges of university level teaching. As I prepare to walk out of my last college classroom as a professor in 2018 I would like to think that I figured a few things out over the last 20 years, which had the effect of making ****** and my academic field a little better than when I found it. In my retirement I plan to be an active member of the university community and I might be open to teach an occasional undergrad or graduate class. All of you, as well as the thousands of students I taught over the years, have made me a better person, teacher and scholar than I could have ever achieved on my own. Please know that I am leaving with profound gratitude, respect and love for all of you as well as the ********.

    Your friend,

    • Dear C — Thank you for this wonderful note. I’m sitting here with goosebumps on our plane back from Taiwan. :-) It’s the best thing ever to know that the documentation of our journey has been helpful to you, and I just love hearing from folks whose interests so closely match our own. (Though, SHHHH!! Don’t tell Mark you’re a ski patroller! He wants to do that, and I don’t want him to do work that’s already so dangerous. He’s already president of the avalanche center and spends enough time in avi terrain. But seriously awesome that you got that gig!) Thanks also for sharing your goodbye note — it’s so lovely, and a testament to the value of work. We like to talk a lot here and in this community about escaping from work, but work has made many of us far better people. I know my career did!

  16. “Hell Yes, or No”, the “Feel Good Rule”, the “High School Rule” – No matter what you name it, the ability to decide for yourself what to make of the day is what makes the Encore Voyage the very best! But be careful – As hubs says, “Free work is easy to get!” Sometimes we find ourselves so wrapped up in volunteer type activities, that it seems as if we are busier than when we were employed! ~ Lynn

  17. I think I was a lot like you in high school… And university for that matter… But I haven’t really stopped… I’m still involved in a bunch of committees and organizations, and if I were to retire early (still working on the plan for that), I would definitely keep doing all that stuff.

    • It’s great that you know that! There’s so much talk about simplicity and slow living that it’s easy to feel like you MUST have this existence in early retirement with few commitments and enough time to spend two hours each day having breakfast. But if you love doing all that stuff, then do all that stuff! I am totally the same and will always live a life that looks busy to other people. :-)

  18. As I read your post, I realized something: Work that you’d happily do for free in high school becomes work that people will happily pay you to do in ER. Why? Because you are usually good at it. (And I don’t even mean the same work, just the type of work that you enjoy doing, you tend to do expertly — because passion — and experts are few and far between).

    • Such a great point! So true that we tend to be happiest doing work we are best at. Though I’m hopeful we might have an opportunity here or there to try something totally new and different. ;-)

  19. So, from the photo of mojito-prepped glasses, you’re going to become a bartender? I could see that being fun for a while. I’ve considered it myself.

  20. Thanks so much for this post! I’m planning to retire next year. I keep finding myself thinking of professional contacts that I’ll need to maintain, skills that I’ll need to keep updated, etc. I read your post and thought: Why?? Why would I do that? Would I ever have done any of this work for free? Hell, no!!! 😆 Thanks for putting that into perspective for me.

    • You’re so welcome! I had all those same thoughts the last year of work, but since quitting have thought much less about work and the contacts that so recently felt critically important to maintain. ;-)

  21. I remember doing my part-time job in high school from age 16-18, making minimum wage, and it was crappy work, dirty and exhausting…and I stayed for 2 years because I liked it! Low pay, no benefits, but I don’t ever remember worrying about money, and I don’t ever recall feeling absolute resentment that I had to work from 3 – 6 pm on weekdays and then give up all my Saturdays and Sundays. For two years! Nowadays, if anything that doesn’t sound like fun to me requires hours outside of my 8-5 work hours, I get super cranky.. Being in high school and then working my other free time meant that of my waking 112 hours (or so) per week, I was working in some capacity for about 80-85 of those hours. And I didn’t see a problem. At 40 hrs now, I’m stretched too thin.. wth! This post really resonates with me as I reflect back on a time when I was happy working most of my time toward something or another. I remember coming home feeling so proud of what I had done that day (I worked in a car wash). To see where I am now makes me sad, and I really, really like this idea you’ve made me think about.. If my high school self would like it and go for it, then yay! And if not, then no! I hope to be back at that point someday, sooner rather than later. Thank you for this post!

    • You’re so welcome! I loved reading your story about high school work and how much you enjoyed what would seem to many to be menial labor. It IS so interesting how our perceptions of time, work and busyness change over time, and I hope you can get back to a place of doing the fun stuff you would have chosen — though maybe with more free time added in!

  22. My unpaid job for the last 17 years has been as the bookstore manager for my local library. We raise on average $24,000.00 per year which helps buy materials and fund programs for the library. Before I retired, I worked for this library system, so it was an easy transition. I make friends and have lots of fun while volunteering….sort of a paycheck of the best kind.

  23. I am just excited to see that you were a forensicator (I competed in high school, college, and coached for a number of years in college….heck that could be a side hustle for you by coaching for the local school). My work rule would have to be something that keeps me intellectually engaged. That is why I probably will always teach it keeps me young and engaged.

    • Haha, I didn’t know there was a word for it! :-D I think we probably won’t take on stuff for now that limits our ability to travel, but after we get the travel bug out of our systems a little, I could definitely see coaching high school kids being in both of our futures!

  24. While reading this, I couldn’t help but think of that cheesy quote

    “Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive, and go do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.”

    It’s pretty simple, but true! I think the ‘high school rule’ and ‘hell yes’ rule fit right in with this. Being a passionate person is one of the most valuable contributions one can make to society.

    • I love that way of putting it! And yes! If more of us are passionate about more of what we’re doing, no doubt good things will come from that. (Unless what we’re all passionate about is playing video games or something. ;-) Some folks do need to care about the world, but likely that’s what plenty of folks are passionate about.)

  25. I also think that maybe thinking in terms of your first work permit could be a good addition. Sorry, according to the law, I can only work 3 hours on school days and no more than 20 hours a week. Or whatever the law was in your area.

    It also sounds like you want work that you Enthusiastically Consent to, which is great rule for practically all of life.

    Naming things is a form of power. I think you’ve got it down.

    • OMG, I love that. I need to rewrite the post as the enthusiastic consent rule! ;-) (But also I wouldn’t want to trivialize sexual consent and violence, so I’ll leave it as-is.) The work permit limit is a great one, though, and certainly a good set of parameters for those of us who are too inclined to say yes. ;-)

      • I don’t think approaching all of life with an enthusiastically consentful model trivializes anything. I think it responds to the human in us and allows for us to step out into what makes us revel in the glory of life.

        My work against sexual violence has directly led to more joy because it requires me to evaluate if I am responding to others’ consent or lack thereof in all scenarios. It is a way to actively not cause harm while also causing joy. The joy of being seen and acknowledged for what you truly want to be doing is pretty stellar. (And now this tired blogger is probably rambling due to Too Many Things To Do)

  26. Before FIRE, I was always involved in volunteer activities…so now I do it more. For us we don’t always gauge whether we do something based on how much we love or enjoy it. For example I hate renovating. However the opportunity to completely gut and design and install a new kitchen for my parents was an absolute yes because of the joy it brought them. Having the time to do things for other people gives a deep sense of joy and satisfaction.

    • You raise a great point, which is that the joy doesn’t have to be immediate, which is the shortcoming to me of the hell yes vs. no thinking. It makes it seem like you should love every part of something at every stage to say yes to it, when sometimes you say yes because you know it will be worth it in the end.

  27. First time commenting, I just finished binge reading the blog from start to finish! Congrats on reaching early retirement! It’s been so great to follow along with the journey (I was on pins and needles when I was reading about how telling your employers went!) and I can’t wait to read more about your adventures in your next life.

    I’m really grateful to have found this blog and that there are people out there adding a different voice to the FIRE community. Having someone affirm that there’s no one right way to do Early Retirement (like I’m not a horrible person if I don’t bike everywhere or that it’s ok to stay living in Vancouver despite high cost of living) is so refreshing and encouraging. Also had to tell you that I love your writing style – entertaining and approachable, yet incredibly thoughtful and intelligent. Keep up the awesome work!

    • You’ve earned the virtual gold medal! I’m touched you read all of it — what a big undertaking! :-) And thank you for the super nice note. I’m so glad to know that the blog has encouraged you in your planning and has made you feel welcome in the FIRE community. You absolutely belong here, and only you get to decide what kind of life you want to plan for and what you’re willing to do to get there. :-)

  28. Hmmmmm
    Not sure if I will get paid for
    – eating pizza
    – being a slacker
    – watching movies
    LOL in all seriousness though nice mindset to keep yourself on track. This past year I have done way too much for others and honestly it stressed me out. I am learning to say No and step back from so much volunteer work and groups, non-profits etc. I haven’t taken any time to just relax and figure out what I enjoy the most.

    • They don’t pay for those things?!?! WHAT?!?! My whole plan is shot. ;-) I’m definitely aware that it would take about five seconds for me to fall into the same trap of taking on too much for others, so this is all about giving myself more ways to say no. For those of us who like to say yes, that’s so important!

  29. Thank you, Tanja (and Mark) for the ideas in this post. The “high school rule” will now be useful for me as I consider what new adventures to jump into. I recently retired from corporate work at age 57. While I am not quite ready to declare early retirement – emotional reasons, not financial ones – I do know that any future work I take on must be meaningful for me. Like you, I have been fortunate to have worked in jobs and organizations that were so satisfying, I would have done that work for free. I am glad I got paid though since my family requires food, shelter and clothing. Now that I am not working, I have the time to watch my kids prepare to their next chapters (and help them as needed). I also now have more time to devote to things I am passionate about.

    I may follow a similar path to that of my wife. She left the corporate world 7 years ago, spent some time trying to figure out what would be meaningful for her, discovered that she liked teaching. She retooled herself and is now teaching mathematics in one of our high schools. She has a background in math both academically and professionally. She enjoys math and found a different way to leverage it, one that provides great personal satisfaction. True, not retirement per se, but doing what she wants to do. Now, I get to start another chapter. Quite exciting.

    Lastly, thank you for the blog. I have been following your journey for months and am glad that you continue to write. A with other blogs I follow, your postings are enjoyable to read and many contain things for me to ponder.

    • Hi Jeff! You’re so welcome for the post and for the blog. I’m glad both are useful to you, and enjoyable! You have the best possible “problem” now. ;-) Whatever you do, it’ll be something you GET to do, not something you HAVE to do, and that’s a wonderful thing. Not that that makes the choosing easier, necessarily! ;-) I admire your wife as well for funneling her knowledge and interests into a new teaching career, especially because it must mean getting up so early to keep up high school hours! (That’s one part of the high school part of life I have NO interest in repeating.) ;-)

  30. I love the post, thank you. I had a client (and now a mentor) I met at 26, he was one of the first early retirees I ever met. Left Banking at 33 from being frugal and a nice run of stock options in the 90s and I eventually became a big vendor to his second company. He said “I no longer work, this is a game and money is just a scorecard. I built this business with great people around me I get to come in and see every day, these are my friends and I’m developing their human capital. If I help make 20 otherwise average people millionaires and enjoy the journey, I’ve been successful”. It took a while for that to sink in, but I understand it now. Money after retirement is just a game, its the scorecard for how you provided value doing things you enjoy.

    • Thank you! And wow, what a cool story! I love that he had that attitude — that he COULD have that attitude — and that he was so personally dedicated to taking others along for the ride. I hate when I see wealthy people hoarding it all for themselves, but admire the “share the wealth” types so much!

  31. I love your high school rule! I used to always feel like my hobbies (I love needlework) needed to turn into side jobs. I came across a funny meme that says “Knitting is like sex. If I like you and you appreciate it, it’s free. Other than that you can’t pay me enough.” I stick to that if I am considering spending my precious little free time on anyone else. :)

  32. I love this! I think that people who are still working could use this rule for their volunteer work and other obligations outside of their 9-5s. If it is something that you enjoy doing and would have happily done for free in high school, then go for it. If it is something that feels like work, then pass on it.

  33. Tanja, I’m FIRE’ing in June 2018, and have decided to make my first year “A Year Of No Obligations”, a rule I’ve named to avoid getting myself committed to something until I’ve had time to truly unplug from a career full of obligations, and let my mind settle into my new reality. I’m committing myself to making no obligations for a period of 12 months.

  34. Awesome idea! This mantra goes by many names and no matter what you call it I think it is the best way to live a fulfilling life. People get so focused on reaching retirement that they neglect to think about how they plan to fill that time once they do!

    The only question I have for you is:

    Does calling it the high school rule make you feel young again? (Please say yes!)

  35. It’s a good question, especially as I am working towards never *having* to work for money again – but then I plan to spend all my time doing fun activities, that I don’t call work, but others may classify them as such.

    • How far are you from not needing to work again? It’s funny — we started out thinking we’d never want that, and now that we’re here, we can’t imagine never working again. ;-) But we are sure glad we never HAVE to!

  36. I’m old school, as a guy older than most here and I still subscribe to the idea that you need to work some as a way of feeling relevant. I run a charity foundation board and a college board for no pay and while those do good for a lot of people they don’t fill the part of me that needs to work for some reason. I need to get paid even though I don’t need the money and don’t spend more when I earn more. I might be weird
    but I feel more useful when people pay me than when I do things for free. I only work about two days a week and my rates are pretty high so I’m not a workaholic by any stretch but doing work for pay is part of what makes me content, just a part, but a necessary part.

  37. Before I got my first paid job, I did a lot of volunteer work. I remember thinking how could I ever accept a paycheck since I enjoyed working for free so much? Thankfully I don’t work for free these days, which allows me to pay my bills. I really like the idea of getting paid to do things I would happily do for free, versus the other two options.

  38. I am nowhere close to being able to retire yet, but I have an idea of the type of work/mentality I will have come retirement. A couple years back when I started this journey (around age 22) I began to think of what I actually like to do. This seems like such an easy question to ask yourself, but it actually isn’t! This took me months to actually figure it out, until I broke it down this way…

    I asked myself “what do you spend your free time doing when you aren’t at work?” Then I started writing some things down like I go to the gym, read personal finance books, cook, play with my dog, watch Netflix with my fiancée. I then put this all together and figured out that although there may not be a “job” I may want to do in retirement, I know at least I want the financial freedom to wake up when I want, go to the gym when I want, read when I want, play with my dog when I want, and watch shows with my fiancée when I want!

    I am sure my wants will change over time, but anything that catches my attention, I will continue to put it on my list!

    • Hi Sean — It’s great you’re thinking about this stuff well in advance of reaching early retirement. It’s entirely possible — and even likely — that you will also find some things in your work that you enjoy and wouldn’t mind doing in retirement. If you’d asked me in my early 20s if paid speaking was something I wanted to do, I would have run away laughing, but now I’m super fired up about it, and I only found that out by really investing myself in my job and not putting my focus on our next phase. So take that as you will, but keeping your eyes and mind open will only serve you. ;-)

  39. I think your point(s) about shifting perspective is really key. Financial independence is in many ways about having the freedom to change and adapt to change in your own values. This might be driven by fancy or interest, but it might be driven by external circumstances (like an ill loved one). Freedom is the highest joy in this case, not the specific activities we chose at one time or another.

    I’d also like to mention that there are some things we do for free that would be miserable to do for money. Keep those free! =)

    P.S. There’s a lot more “no or hell yeah” here than I expected!

    • I so agree that financial independence is about letting what you value evolve, and following that instead of being stuck doing something for financial reasons. Also couldn’t agree more that some things you’d do for free lose all the fun when you’re doing them for money — that’s why you’ll notice this blog is dramatically undermonetized. It’s not because I’m dumb. ;-)