I’m pretty excited about today’s post, and not just because it’s one I didn’t have to write myself while my eyes are all glazed over in the home stretch of book-writing.
Today, for the first time ever, Mark — Mr. ONL — is here to share his perspective on a bunch of different aspects of early retirement, both planning for it for years, and living in it now. Enjoy Mark’s thoughts, and leave any other questions you have for him in the comments — he’ll be the one responding! (Oh hey Mark, by the way, you’re on the hook for comment responses today. Maybe I forgot to mention that.)
after 3+ years and 347 (!!!) thoughtful, thought-provoking posts from tanja, mr. onl (aka mark) is finally pitching in with a post that i promise will be neither thoughtful nor thought-provoking. [Tanja note: This is Mark writing about himself in the third person. Like Bob Dole.] a big THANK YOU to everyone who sent in questions and potential topics. as the non-creative one in the family, it’s a heckuva lot easier for me to answer questions than to come up with my own idea for a post. honestly, i don’t know how tanja does it every week, never mind twice a week. so without further adieu, here are the answers to all your burning questions, along with a few I made up…
q: why are you writing today’s post?
a: tanja is currently sequestered in an undisclosed location so she can finish up the first draft of her upcoming book, work optional, without being distracted by her yappy dogs or yappy husband.
q: what took you so long?
a: tanja has always had a natural creative drive, both in writing and visual arts, which is a gene i was born without. i’m also descended from upper midwestern lutherans, a group that believes opinions are meant to be kept to oneself, not shared (on the internet or irl), so i tend to doubt that anyone would care to read what i have to say. i also suspect this post will prove me right.
q: what’s up with the lowercase?
a: it’s a throwback to the early days of ournextlife, when tanja thought it would be fun and quirky to write the blog in all lowercase. in fact, some eagle-eyed, long-time readers might recognize the “hiya, internet” greeting at the top of this post as an homage to tanja’s very first post, waaaaay back in January 2015. but tbh, typing in all lowercase is confusing and exhausting, what with having to constantly overrule the grammar check, so like tanja, i’m switching to normal sentence case starting now.
Q: I miss Tanja already!
A: That’s really more of a statement than a question, but me too! #metoo (Ed note: Mark has been on a news blackout since retiring and doesn’t realize how inappropriate that hashtag is in this context, but the sentiment is sweet so I’m leaving it in.) [Tanja note: That ed note was not written by me.]
Q: Does the extra time together with your spouse help or hurt the relationship? I’ve heard of traditional retirees that hate their spouse once they spend time with them. (@BackNColo)
A: Excellent, albeit potentially dangerous, question. The jury is still out on this one, simply because I don’t think either of us really feel or are truly retired yet. We’re only 5 ½ months in, Tanja has been working hard on her book, podcast, and blog, and I’ve been consulting on a few projects for former clients as well as serving as president of a local nonprofit, which was fairly time-consuming through the winter. So the truth is we haven’t actually had that much more time together since the start of the year. I’m pretty sure having more time together will help, and the stars should be aligning to allow that to start very soon, so we’ll have to get back to you when we actually know the answer. But this reminds me of something that Tanja has written before – “retired you is still you” – because simply jettisoning our old careers didn’t automatically create more time together as you (or we) might expect. Spending more time truly together might be something we have to make a conscious choice to do, otherwise we’ll each revert to our ingrained habits and fill our time with individual pursuits and projects.
Q: How [awesome] does it feel to be retired? (Literally everyone we talk to)
A: See previous answer. I’m still waiting and reeeeeaaaaaly looking forward to the first day where I wake up and truly feel retired. Maybe I won’t know what that feels like until it happens, but what I envision is waking up with nothing planned and nothing on my to-do list. The latter part has been the catch thus far, because even on days where I haven’t actually accomplished anything, and there have been several, I’ve still had consulting or nonprofit work that I felt like I should have been doing. In this hypothetical “retired” day, I envision waking up fairly early, without an alarm but well-rested, going on an impromptu adventure around Tahoe, enjoying some afternoon delight followed by a nap, trying out a new recipe that is healthy and delicious, then reading or watching Netflix until we fall asleep on the couch, all without the nagging feeling that there was something on our to-do list that we should have been doing instead. [Tanja note: Way to make that awkward, babe.]
Just because that perfect day hasn’t happened yet, that doesn’t mean we haven’t had a lot of really wonderful days. Our trip to Taiwan was awesome, and it was the first vacation in 15 years where I wasn’t working or checking email morning and night, or stressing about not checking email when I was unplugged. I’ve scheduled work calls around outdoor activities, and gone skiing on powder days even when it meant putting off work – something I almost never did the past few years of work, even though Tanja and I were telecommuting and probably could have gotten away with it.
And to be clear, my baseline stress level has definitely been trending downward since we quit (consistently if not steadily), while my baseline stoke level has been rising on a similar trajectory. Some people who ask what it feels like to be retired either imply (or say directly) that waking up the first day must have been utterly transformative – all of the stress and obligations magically evaporating, the sun shining, air sparkling, birds chirping, and unicorns dancing on rainbows.
I secretly hoped but never really expected that would happen, because the reality is that 20 years of work in a fast-paced, high-stress environment doesn’t magically evaporate overnight. Tanja and I both made psychological (and probably physiological) adaptations to thrive in those environments, and some of those habits will simply take time to unlearn. Even though my consulting work has been VERY part-time, and my nonprofit volunteer work is something I enjoy and care about, the two combined still mean there’s always something I should (or at least could) be doing. But in 5.5 months I have already gotten a lot better at saying “no,” or at least “not today,” and that’s very liberating.
[Tanja note: I think I feel a lot more retired than Mark does. And I’ve always suspected he would need longer to unlearn the work mindset. Look at me. I’m so smart.]
Q: Tanja always makes helpful charts and graphs in her posts. Can you please illustrate your previous answer in snazzy chart form?
Q: How are you coping with not being the “provider?” (@Michivegan)
A: Another great question. I’m guessing you’ve listened to The Fairer Cents podcast? So far this hasn’t really been an issue because I’ve been able to earn about as much from my consulting work as Tanja has from her book and other projects. That has kept me from feeling like a total loafer, leeching off of my rockstar wife, and allowed us to avoid drawing down any of our savings and investments this year, which helps us both sleep a little better, even if we’re mostly fairly kinda sure about our math and contingency plans. [Tanja note: I’m sleeping GREAT and not at all worried anymore about whether we saved enough. My vote is for Mark to stop consulting altogether. YOU RETIRED, REMEMBER?!]
Q: What is your favorite part of your day-to-day routine? (ex. getting up late, having time to play with dogs, etc. (@JayPeaceOut)
A: A simple pleasure that I’m still grateful for almost every day is not setting an alarm, and being able to stay up late without worrying about waking up bleary-eyed to said non-existent alarm. I’m naturally a night person (which is too bad because I’m pretty convinced that morning people rule the world; maybe that would explain why I decided to retire early instead of ruling the world), so being based in California and telecommuting to an east coast company always meant fighting my natural rhythm. If I wasn’t online by 7:30 am it would take me until noon just to catch up on email, but I still struggled to go to bed early, so I was tired a lot. Catching up on sleep is nice. That’s the biggest little thing.
The biggest big thing is having more time to finally do all the outdoor things we moved to Tahoe to do. Sadly I didn’t ski 100 days this season, but I did ski more than I ever have, especially in the backcountry, and though we’re just transitioning from winter to spring, I’m off to a pretty good start on the mountain biking / beach volleyball / climbing season.
[Tanja note: See, he is feeling at least a LITTLE BIT retired. Even if he lied to your face about it earlier.]
Q: What do you miss most from work? (@JayPeaceOut)
A: Feeling relevant and involved with major issues and events of the day. A lot of my research focused on political campaigns, but I also had a chance to work on a wide variety of policy issues. Some topics were more interesting than others, but it was fun to learn about and play a role, however slight, on things like electoral politics, labor policy, education, healthcare, energy, environmental protection, urban planning, and even esoteric topics like forced arbitration, which I had worked on for years and is finally starting to get some attention in the context of the Me Too movement. Being involved in so many issues was personally interesting and satisfying, and gave the feeling of having a front-row seat to the news. It also made it easier to meet and talk to new people, because I often knew just enough about other people’s jobs or interests to start a conversation, or at least enough to confidently mansplain something I knew virtually nothing about.
Q: Doesn’t Tanja have very strong feelings about (not) using Oxford commas?
A: She does, but this is my post, so I have free reign to overuse and misuse Oxford commas (parenthetical asides), hyperlinks, and just generally crap all over the rules of grammar, punctuation, and style.
[Tanja note: The book will be filled with serial commas, and I have no say in the matter. This fact may kill me.]
Q: What’s it like being married to such a beautiful, brilliant woman? (anonymous, but pretty sure that one came from @our_nextlife)
A: Amazing. I’m truly blessed and grateful every day that I get to spend my life with an incredible partner like Tanja, who not only is an amazing human being, but who happens to share the same crazy vision of an abnormal life lived on our own terms. And while Tanja may bring looks, intelligence, creativity, passion, humor, and drive to the relationship, I more than make up for all of that in…well…the jury is still out on that too. :-)
[Tanja note: He does the dishes. Like, always. Even when we go to other people’s houses and they tell him not to. Actually, it’s kind of embarrassing. Stop doing other people’s dishes, Mark. But keep being hilarious and awesome. I love that big sexy nerd brain of yours.]
What else do you want to hear from Mark? Jot it down in the comments below. He may answer you directly here, or we’ll include the question in Mark’s Q&A Part 2. Will Part 2 be months from now or as soon as next week? Stay tuned to find out!
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