Recently I chatted with an old work friend, and shared the update that we quit our jobs last year and are now retired. After the usual “Wow!” and “So jealous!” reactions, the friend asked, in all seriousness:
But what are you actually going to do? You don’t know how to be retired.
This is a common sentiment, one that most of us who’ve talked about early retirement to non-FIRE folks know well. It usually goes along with “But won’t you be bored?!” and other similar questions that bloggers often dismiss out of hand. And I hear it especially often from people who’ve known me in a work capacity, who know that my interest in nearly everything and eagerness to get my hands dirty usually results in saying yes to too much.
But the question raised something else for me:
The idea that not knowing how to be retired is somehow bad.
Why would we ever expect to be instantly good at something, despite not having ever done it before? Isn’t it okay not to know how to do something at first?
Maybe, despite how much we might look forward to it or dream of it, we actually have to learn how to be good at retirement. Or at least some of us do, those of us who have always willingly chosen the faster paced life path. Occasionally when I’ve written posts about things like acknowledging what you like about work and trying to replicate that in retirement, I’ll get a naysayer comment along the lines of, “You’re doomed. If you like work stuff, you’ll never last in retirement!” And without reopening the debate about whether retirement can include work (spoiler: it can and often does), those comments strike me as not just wrong and bizarrely mean, but also incredibly short-sighted. Because:
Anything that we can master instantly probably isn’t that worthwhile anyway.
The things that feel best in life are those we have to earn, and early retirement is earned not just in saving up for it, but by learning how to be good at early retirement itself.
Obviously we’re not there yet. We’re still catching up on sleep. (I know! Still.) We’re still figuring out how to not keep forgetting to put the trash out on garbage day, because what are days of the week again? We’re still very much in the “one day at a time” phase of things where we aren’t planning too much because we don’t know whether we’ll want to be home or traveling over the summer, or next week, or tomorrow.
But we’re game to learn. We’re highly motivated to get good at early retirement, which we define as successfully living out our purpose while still feeling relaxed and free to do whatever we wish on a given day. We’ve got the relaxed part down pretty well and the free to do whatever part is coming along. But those things alone would get hollow fast if we weren’t also living with purpose.
(If you haven’t already figured out what your purpose is, I recommend doing this exercise. Mark and I are lucky that ours overlap so solidly, though he’s definitely heavier on the adventure side, and I’m heavier on creative stuff.)
And one thing that we aspire to get better at in this purpose-filled life we’re working toward is living slowly. Peeling away all those bad habits from a life lived constantly on the go. Those habits took time to form, they were with us for many years and it turns out they’re hard to break.
Or, maybe it isn’t about habits as much as we just don’t know how to live slowly.
So that’s what we’re focusing on now. Learning how to live differently. More deliberately. Learning how not to be in a hurry, a feeling that has become unfortunately foreign to me over the last decade.
Not just embracing the idea of a slow life, but building the skills to really live it.
A few weeks back, I wrote about simple living, or what we really think of as simpler living. Just being able to streamline a few decisions, rather than seeking some endpoint of perfection, is already helping us feel more grounded and rooted in our new life. Simpler living and slower living are closely related, but to me they feel slightly different. Simpler living is about the choices we make, and attempting to keep our lives less cluttered, both physically and metaphorically. Slower living feels much more a feeling and a mindset, and achieving it will require us to rewire our brains a bit.
At this point in my life, after years of gold star seeking and commitment to do whatever is necessary for the job, I’m wired to hurry. So many things have been so urgent for so long that that feeling of urgency just transcended everything. I’d rush down the airport concourse, even if I was super early for my flight. I’d feel impatient at the grocery checkout even when I had plenty of time. Hurrying became my mental script, and it was hard to shut it off.
Of course, I caught myself doing these things, and I’d slow down, for a moment anyway. But as soon as my attention was elsewhere, the force of habit took back over. And so that’s where I am now, trying hard to break that impulse to walk faster than necessary, to feel urgency for no reason, to constantly wonder what deadline I’m forgetting about. I’m sure this description makes me sound neurotic, but it’s not that. It’s just how my brain coped with having an on-call-at-all-hours client-serving job. And now I’m unlearning all of that and being intentional about the way I want my brain wired.
This post is definitely not a how-to, by the way. I’m brand new to this slower life thing, and I fully expect to need some time to get this new wiring in place. So consider the post fifty percent sharing what I and we have been doing so far, and fifty percent call for ideas, because I believe in the wisdom of the crowd, or at least the wisdom of this crowd. ;-) So please chime in in the comments and share what works for you to help you mentally slow down, or what you could imagine yourself doing when you’re ready to live more slowly.
Our Slow Life Training Regimen
Perhaps I’ve seen too many of those ads for brain training for folks as we age, but I’ve been thinking about the new things I’m doing as my brain training. And I do feel it working, though I still have some way to go!
Adopt a New Mantra – I went for some yoga inspiration on this one (I taught it for 10 years, after all), and decided to start using a mantra to shift my focus whenever I find myself wanting to rush, or just in moments that make sense. The idea with a mantra is to put your mental focus where you want it, and by doing that, to change some aspect of how you think or how you feel. Or, put another way, you are what you think. The simplest example would be to imagine walking around all day saying to yourself, “Everything sucks.” If that’s what you’re saying to yourself, that becomes like a self-fulfilling prophecy, and you’re going to see things through that negative lens. If, instead, you walk around saying to yourself, “What a beautiful day!” you will surely see and interpret things that you encounter more positively. My new mantra: “I got nowhere to be.” (It’s even grammatically incorrect! See how far I’ve come!) And I will confess: I love saying it. I say it out loud, I say it to myself, and each time I get the thrill of remembering that holy crap, we actually did it. But more importantly, it’s an ongoing reminder that there is no longer any need to hurry.
Keep Most Days Blank – A few days ago, I mentioned our “one appointment per day, max” rule. And I think that’s been a great rule! If I feel like things are coming up, my mind is on the calendar, and thinking about time and schedules is a sure-fire way to get my brain into hurry mode. So I’ve decided that one appointment per day is still too many. I need whole blank days, preferably a few in a row. It doesn’t mean I won’t get anything done those days, but just that there’s nothing scheduled that I must remember not to miss. I’m not putting a number on it, but I have felt most connected to a sense of slowness when I’ve had three appointments or fewer per week, leaving at least four days completely unscheduled.
Think of the To Do List Differently – Similar to having to be at set appointments, Mark and I both feel aware when we have things to do, even if they don’t need doing that day. It’s not stress exactly, but just a small back-of-the-mind reminder that if we go ski powder today or sleep in instead of taking care of that thing, we’re only making things pile up on the to do list. Except that’s just the bad brain wiring, because our to do lists are much more manageable these days, and we truly can put things off a few days with no problem. So instead of writing out lists of tasks by day (or entering them into Asana by day, as I do), we’re writing them by week or even month. This approach might end up making us feel like we’re scrambling at the end of the week or month, but so far it’s given us some relief from the mental list-keeping and allowed days to truly feel open.
Set Big Picture Goals – I’ve realized that one of the reasons I feel hurried is a bit of personal FOMO, like I’m going to spend all my time ticking things off my to do list but not actually doing anything big, anything I’d feel proud of or that would connect to my purpose. So even though it sounds like the antithesis of slow living to spend time thinking about goals, I think they actually go together perfectly. We’ve started taking time to ask each other what we want to accomplish by the end of the winter (the ski season definition, not the technical one), what we want to accomplish this summer and what we want to have done by the end of the year. Actually having a few things set in each category provides some relief and reminds us that it’s all completely manageable and doable, so there’s no need to rush or feel impatient to make any of it happen.
Making Peace with the Phone on the Nightstand — For years I have aspired to get our phones out of the bedroom, and we’re not there yet. And we may never be! Because we’ve both realized that we feel much more comfortable taking the morning slowly when we know what’s going on in the world. That could just be our old work selves still talking, and it could certainly change, but right now I enjoy the feeling of being able to check in on world events and email without having to stand up and go to a device. Some mornings we read news for an hour or more before one of us feels inspired to get up and make coffee, and some days we even go back to sleep after doing a quick scan, something that would be impossible once I’m upright. So, in a plot twist we didn’t see coming, we think the phones in bed are helping us stay out of the hurried mindset. Weird, right?! But hey, go with what works. (And then ignore the phones as much as possible throughout the rest of the day.) ;-)
Help Us Get Better at Slow Living!
Your turn, friends! Please share your best ideas or things you’ve learned in the comments so we can all load up on ideas for slowing down and training our brains to follow. Thanks in advance! :-)
P.S. I’ve updated last week’s post and the resources page to reflect this, but so many of you suggested in response to my affiliate link policy that, instead of removing the affiliate links if that income covers all my blog expenses in a year, I give any overage to charity – and I love that idea. See? Wisdom of crowds! Thank you to everyone who suggested it!
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Categories: post-retirement process