Happy new year, friends! I hope your 2019 is off to a roaring start. I’m thrilled to be back here on the blog after a full month off, something I didn’t plan for, but that was necessary and will ultimately make the blog better.
Today’s post is the first in a series recapping our first full year of early retirement, and first up is the heavy-ish one: the big lessons.
Before we get to that, a couple of quick announcements:
Thing one! I’m all kinds of stoked to share that I’ll be one of the presenters at 2019’s Ecuador FI Chautauqua, a full-week retreat way up high in the mountains of Ecuador. I’ve heard nothing but good things from those who’ve attended, and though it’s certainly not free, it’s a pretty incredible deal for an all-inclusive week. The other fab thing is that Vicki Robin, author of Your Money Or Your Life and original FI badass, and Paula Pant, creator of the Afford Anything blog and podcast, are presenting too. It’s going to be an amazing week, and if you’re interested in joining us, you can find all the info here.
Thing two! The Fairer Cents podcast season 3 premiere is this Wednesday, January 9. We’re starting out with a bang with Suze Orman, and the season is stacked with all kinds of incredible money conversations. It’s not a financial independence-focused podcast, but if you’re interested in money, women and society, check it out.
Thing three! Work Optional: Retire Early the Non-Penny-Pinching Way comes out in just five weeks! It helps the book a ton if preorders are strong, because it tells bookstores that they want to stock a bunch of copies of it. (My goal is not financial, but rather to sell enough that I get to write more books. Because I loved the process so much.) So if you’re planning to order the book at some point, here’s a little extra incentive to preorder rather than waiting until the book comes out: Everyone who orders between now and the day before release day (February 11 by midnight Pacific time) will receive a values-based budget planner to accompany the book, and be entered to win one of four one-hour Skype sessions with me, or with me and Mark (your choice), to talk finances, life planning, adventure… whatever you want! Just send some proof of purchase to workoptionalpreorder at gmail dot com. Thanks to everyone who has ordered the book or requested your library get it! (And yes, if you already sent in proof of purchase, you’re entered and you’ll receive the planner. Thanks again!)
Now, without further ado, let’s get to the big lessons.
The first year of retirement taught us a ton, in part because it felt crazy long. The day we embarked upon this wild ride feels so long ago, I almost can’t believe it’s been only a year. We did and saw so much, even in a year dominated by book writing, and while I’ll save that full rundown for the next post in the series, it’s enough to say it was a lot. Which was exactly what we wanted.
Work feels 100% different when it’s no longer mandatory. A big thing we learned this year is how shockingly different it feels to say yes to something that is by any definition “work.” Which is to say, not just sitting at a computer working on something that’s a passion project and happens to pay a little money, but a former client calling you up and asking you to do work you wouldn’t otherwise do for money. I did one small project like that this past year and Mark did a few, and we expected to find ourselves resenting things once work was actually due… but we didn’t. We knew we could have said no (and we said no to way more than we said yes to), but said yes for reasons that felt good to us – because the causes were important and we really like the people. It’s trite to say, but the work barely felt like work.
We’re glad we left work the way we did. That said, we’re still thrilled that we’re no longer working. And looking back, we know we could have given shorter notice or been less clear about what we’d be getting up to, but we’re glad in hindsight that we did it the way we did: each giving a bit over two months’ notice and being totally transparent about our early retirement vision, my health motivations and all the rest.
We don’t miss it. Even though I never doubted whether I really wanted to retire early, a big part of me wondered if I’d make the trade-off of missing the best parts of work, or missing feeling valued for my opinion or missing interacting regularly with the people. And the truth is that I haven’t missed any of it. (Mark hasn’t either, but that was never really in question for him.) Sometimes I’ll go weeks without thinking about my old work life, and then feel almost guilty when I remember it and realize how little I’ve thought about it after spending 16 years with the same company and team. But I think that great transition and how little I’ve thought about it has everything to do with successfully pulling off the chapter overlap approach that I highly recommend, and having a very clear set of passion projects that I devote a lot of time to now rather than floundering to figure out what I’ll do with my time.
We’ve thought about money a lot less than we expected to. We always kind of suspected that we’d retire right into a recession, and while we went much of the year before the markets went bonkers, and we’re not technically in recession (yet), all signs point to a bumpy road ahead. I always expected this to stress me out, even though I know perfectly well how market cycles work. But that hasn’t happened. We think and talk about money remarkably little, and focus on life instead.
There are a looooot of hours in the day to succumb to temptation. That said, don’t buy the hype that your spending automatically goes down in retirement. Sure, you may ditch the commute, but retirement gives you a lot of time to “happen to” click around on online shopping sites, to find incredible looking trips you could take and to generally find yourself tempted by ways to spend. You have to make sure you’re clear on your spending vision and consciously stick to it, or it’s easy to sink the budget.
More time together doesn’t make for instant harmony. One of the things Mark and I were most excited about in early retirement was having more time to focus on each other and the relationship instead of constantly being in self-preservation-work-panic mode. And we assumed that more time to do that would be all we’d need to reach marriage perfection. And sadly, that’s not true. (Don’t worry – we’re doing great.) We both saw for ourselves and heard from several early retired friends willing to tell the truth that the first year of retirement can be pretty tough on a partnership. Which isn’t a comment on the relationship itself, but just the fact that retirement is a big freaking deal, and it’s stressful on several levels even when it’s totally by choice and positive. That stress is bound to have an impact on the relationship, and it did on ours and was something we had to work through. There are also just little things you have to figure out as a couple that are in that place where the rubber meets the road. Mark and I had always said we wanted to be able to do whatever we wanted each day, and in my head, that meant we’d wake up in the morning and say to each other, “Hey, what do you want to do today?” Meanwhile in Mark’s head, it apparently meant something closer to deciding the day before. We each started acting on our vision, and that resulted in him going out and doing lots of the stuff we wanted to be doing… with other friends. It took some reorientation on both of our parts to figure out what “do whatever we want each day” actually looks and feels like for us. The larger point is that early retirement doesn’t instantly cure anything that ails your relationship, but rather it gives you time to work through the string of challenges that it creates – but you have to commit to work through them.
Three to four weeks is our travel sweet spot. Much more on travel in the next post, but we took trips of nearly every length this year, and concluded that for us, three to four weeks is perfect. This is totally an individual thing, but two weeks leaves us wanting way more, and five weeks leaves us unenthusiastic and wishing we were home already. So in the future, we’ll be planning more of our trips in the three to four weeks range.
Early retirement doesn’t guarantee happiness. One of the biggest things that I absolutely know to be true after the last year, and that I wish more bloggers would admit, is that you aren’t automatically happy just because you don’t have to go to work every day or think about money anymore. You might be instantly happy about those things. But true happiness or sadness isn’t really about anything. Our brains are complicated, messy things, and life is complicated and messy, too, and that doesn’t stop being true just because you’ve retired. Something I never expected to say is that I increased my antidepressant dose after retiring early, and I’m glad I did. Even though I remain stoked to have moved into the next phase of life and have had nothing but amazing things happen this year, big life transitions come with stress, and that’s real. It’s important to me to share this because I suspect there are others who’ve made big life transitions they’re excited to make, and they know how lucky and fortunate they are, and yet they find themselves sad. You’re not alone. Some of our brains just work that way. And now I’m on the other side of it all and feel nothing but thrilled for 2019, so my hope is that it’s just the transition that’s rough. But stay tuned – I’ll report back.
What it looks or feels like has everything to do with you. As I shared in more detail with the e-newsletter list last week, a big learning of early retirement is that it doesn’t look or feel any particular way. Instead, what your early retirement looks like is really a reflection of you. Perhaps what your early retirement looks like is the truest expression of you. I’m a person who’s passionate about too many things and loves throwing myself into projects… and therefore my early retirement looks jam-packed with stuff. That’s just who I am as a person, and if my experience was any different than that, I wouldn’t be true to myself.
You still can’t do everything. And womp womp for the all the “Do all the things!” folks out there, but sadly, you still can’t do everything you dream of doing because there is only so much time, and every yes is a no to something else. My list of things I didn’t get to this past year is long, but zero regrets, because what I did get to do is so incredible. Same for Mark.
If you need lunch in most of France at 2:30, you’re out of luck. Finally, a lesson we took too long to learn, but if you need to eat in France outside of Paris, you must eat at lunchtime. That means seated by 1:30 of you’re not getting food until dinnertime, which may not start until 8 PM. You’ve been warned. ;-)
What lessons have you learned lately that you’re game to share with all of us? What lessons I shared are surprising? Unsurprising? For those who’ve already retired, what lessons did you learn that surprised you? Let’s chat in the comments!
Categories: we retired early