Stop and Spot the Space Invaders, Slowing Down on the Early Retirement Journey, by Tanja Hester, author of Work Optional: Retire Early the Non-Penny-Pinching Way and the Our Next Life financial independence blogwe've learned

Stop and Spot the Space Invaders // Slowing Down on the Journey

Today we’re talking about the importance of slowing down, no matter whether you’re already work optional or on your way there, but first…

Meetup alert!

PORTLAND, OREGON – Meetup next Wednesday, March 27, 2019, 6-8 PM at Avid Cider, 121 NW 9th Ave. This is a casual hangout with no agenda and no RSVP requirement, just a chance to meet other FIers in the PDX area. I’m happy to sign Work Optional if you have a copy. Watch my Twitter that evening if you have any trouble finding the group.

WASHINGTON, DC – Book event and meetup Thursday, May 23, 6:30-7:30 (book event) and 7:30-9:00ish (meetup nearby). Stay tuned for specifics! (I’m soooooooo excited about this one!)

RENO/TAHOE – Stay tuned for an upcoming event, and if you live in the area or frequently visit, consider joining the Facebook group.

Stop and Spot the Space Invaders, Slowing Down on the Early Retirement Journey, by Tanja Hester, author of Work Optional: Retire Early the Non-Penny-Pinching Way and the Our Next Life financial independence blog

When you travel to a new big city, there’s so much to see and do that it’s easy to get overwhelmed. You simply cannot process all of it, so your brain makes choices about what to focus on and what to tune out. That’s true all over the world. I’ve seen that deer-in-headlights look on countless tourists’ faces in DC and LA when I lived there, and I’ve seen it every time I’ve traveled to New York, Chicago, London, Paris, Berlin and Tokyo. I’ve seen it in the backcountry, too, when there’s simply too much beauty to take in. And while that paralysis by overwhelm may be a natural reaction, it’s borne of trying to do too much or to do things too quickly. To Do. It. All. But if you can instead give yourself time to slow way down and truly look around, it’s amazing what you can see.

For example, in Paris, if you stay above ground instead of riding the Metro, and you walk at a leisurely enough pace to be able to look up at the buildings on street corners, instead of rushing from one tourist attraction to another, concerned you won’t make it before closing time, you may just spot one of these:


“Huh, is that a space invader?” you wonder to yourself, before continuing on, not giving it much thought. But then, a little while later, you notice another:


“Wait, was that the same design as the first one, or was it different? Is this a thing?” Now you’re curious.

And before long, you see more and more. It is a thing. You realize you’re saying pew pew under your breath to yourself.


You go back to your hotel later on, and Google “Paris space invaders” (because free wifi is close to impossible to find in Paris, so this is your first chance to search), and learn that an anonymous artist known as “Invader” has been secretly installing tile mosaics around Paris since 1998, and even around all of France, and has built so much mystique that thieves are now stealing the mosaics.

A day ago, you had no idea any of this existed, but now you’re suddenly in a different world. And this world is filled with illicit art and intrigue. Imagine if you’d spent your whole trip without ever discovering this parallel universe! How much less fun that would be.

And it’s all made possible simply because you took the time to stop and spot the space invaders.


Giving Yourself Permission to Slow Down

Even though we spent nearly all of last November in France, and we focused on a fairly limited portion of the country (mostly Paris and Provence with a few outliers), we still had far more we wanted to do than we had time for. We didn’t get to taste every wine we wanted to try in Beaujolais. We barely scratched the surface of the food scene in Valence. We could have tripled our time in Avignon and been happy. We skipped Nimes altogether. We saw only the old parts of Lyon and not the contemporary sections. We missed out on the dramatic cliffside drives between Nice and the Italian border. The list goes on.

Knowing that there was a ton we hoped to see and do, we could have let ourselves feel hurried, but we refused to. Not because we have amazing powers of self-control, but just because we have learned the hard way that when we let ourselves hurried, the trip is invariably worse. We feel stressed and end up focusing on all that we didn’t get to instead of relishing what we did. It’s the same reasoning behind our decision to stop using the word “busy,” and to ban all complaining about work. And, just as importantly as the stress and focus part, when we let ourselves feel hurried, we miss those little details that make a trip special. Like the space invaders.

As we traveled from town to town in France, we had an idea of things we could do in each place, but we took it day by day. Some days we felt like doing a lot of touristy stuff, and other days we felt like doing very little. We missed out on all the museums in Aix-en-Provence because we felt like spending a leisurely afternoon drinking wine and eating snails in the market plaza instead. No regrets. And when we discovered that there were space invaders in Avignon, we spent a few hours wandering the old city, looking for those little mosaics, each one feeling like a special gift to those willing to seek them out. They’re right there in plain sight, so not a secret, but each new one we found felt like it made our trip richer.


Find Your Own Space Invaders

Maybe spotting little tile mockups of 1970s video game creatures doesn’t sound that exciting to you, and that’s cool. The point isn’t to convince you to book a ticket to Paris, but to encourage you to consciously slow down, and to look around to see what you might be missing in your current life. Maybe it’s something in plain sight that you’ve just never stopped to notice before, or maybe it’s a reward waiting to be discovered if you’re willing to dig a little.

Yes, this is exactly the same advice as “stop and smell the roses,” but perhaps going beyond appreciating the mundane aspects of life that are always there. Because chances are good that there’s something not remotely mundane right around you that you’ve just never noticed before. Something put there purely for the delight of it.


Don’t Let Work Stop You

One of the biggest bits of advice I give in Work Optional – advice I wish someone had given me early in my early retirement journey – is not to let your job stop you from living some aspects of your dream life now. If you dream of painting in early retirement, what is stopping you from painting now? If you want to travel the world, can you take shorter trips now? When we see this exciting future right over there, just beyond the horizon, it’s easy to put all the good stuff we aspire to into that future, but the reality is that a lot of it could easily be part of our present if we simply prioritized that dream.

So thinking about your life right now, what could you move from the future column to the present column, and where could you slow down overall, so that you notice more about the present instead of letting it pass you by in the interest of getting to that future as soon as possible?

What are your space invaders, and how can you make more time to spot them?

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28 replies »

    • I love this one too. The space invaders are a clever way to demonstrate the point. We also travel this way, often missing the ‘must-sees’ in order to spend more time in piazzas and walking the city.

  1. I did the same notice-notice-Google on the space invaders when I was in Paris in 2015. We noticed most of them while tracing the path of a river that disappeared under the city as it was built, passing through all kinds of fun and interesting neighborhoods on the way.

  2. This is what we do: we test drI’ve put early retirement as a concept. We want to live in France? We rent a house and live in France (when working). We take “workation” in the Us. We pick-up various side hustles that we can see doing in retirement to choose the ones we would actually enjoy doing (acting is the one hubby rocked- his last movie premiered this weekend and it was surreal to see him on a big screen even in a tiny speaking part).

    Anyway, this is a good advise that will keep you sane in your crunch towards FIRE! 48 months for us!

  3. Boo. Portland is so close and yet so far. I’ll miss seeing you, friend!

    And we were on a weekend trip where there were stuffed bunnies all over town… it was near Easter, so related I’m sure, but we never got a real answer about them and if it was a yearly thing. One of my favorite reasons for taking long walks (both locally and while traveling) is all the things you see that you can’t in vehicle. Amazing how it can be true even in our neighborhood.

  4. My understanding is that if you plot the locations of the space invaders on a map and connect the dots, it would create one big space invader.

  5. My space invaders are sunsets!
    I never took the time to appreciate them before, now that I have learnt to take the time, I notice that each one is so different!

    • Oh sure, I make a post and didn’t read all the comments. Shame on me! Ditto, as you’ll see below.

    • Same. I was recently in Costa Rica and someone tried to make fun of me for watching and taking photos of the sunrise every night. I showed them the pictures and they were shocked they were so different only 24 hours apart. I tried to add ‘sunrises’ to my list as well, but getting up at 5am on vacation was only successful 3 times. It was gorgeous though.

  6. For a while, if the sunset looks good in our city house, instead of lamenting not living on a lake, I just spin the chair around and watch the sunset while reading stuff online. That’s the space invader I have found right now.

  7. I know that “Rue de la Peyrolerie” doesn’t translate as “Payroll Store Street.” But on a personal finance blog it should! :-)

  8. My space invaders are my kids. Everyday moments – hugs, board game nights, outgrown pairs of shoes – are little *ZAPS* to my heart, reminding me to treasure these moments. They grow up so fast!

  9. Well I sure know what I’ll be looking for this September in France. ;)

    I love the advice to ignore the siren call of busy-ness, and to slow down. Our first trip with Baby AF is undoubtedly going to involve seeing fewer sites, going on fewer day trips, but I sure hope that by doing less we end up enjoying the trip more.

    And hell yes to living the life you want now, and not putting things off until FI. No time like today.

  10. This is very good advice and I’m trying to take it while I’m still working. I’m now biking to work when I can and have miraculously avoided getting killed (no thanks to commercial drivers). I’m also getting into much better shape, trying to be a kinder person, etc.

    Maybe it’s just me but I’m finding I can enjoy the fruits of being near?/maybe?/already? FI without being RE. It seems to be a mindset more than anything.

  11. Thanks for this reminder. It’s always a challenge for our family to slow down…not for me as much as for my husband and son. I’ll remember space invaders in Paris and do a little research before traveling to other cities to see if they have something similar to enjoy more casually. Disney has hidden Mickeys…who knows what we’ll find in other cities.

  12. Fantastic post and advice! As a pessimist/fatalist, I’ve always been leery of the “we’ll do that someday!” mentality. Lin-Manuel Miranda has remarked on this: tomorrow isn’t promised. My husband used to say things like “When I’m retired I want to learn to ____” and my response has always been, “If you’re interested in that now, why wait?”

    As for the travel advice, it’s wonderful. We have sometimes tried to cram a lot of sightseeing in, and other times been lazy and relaxed. When I visited Italy with a friend in our 20’s we missed getting to see David in Florence because the Uffizi closed while we were busy sampling gelato and shopping for leather goods. We said Oh Well, just means we’ll have to come back!

    p.s. The Space Invaders are adorable!

  13. So much truth in this post. We have just come back from three weeks in Australia and we managed to get the pace more right on this trip than on previous ones I think. There is, obviously, so much to see on a trip to a new place but getting the balance right between seeing the ‘sights’ and slowing down to spot some detail and take in the feel of a place is so important.

    There are the same Space Invaders in a lot of cities. The artist certainly gets around too.

  14. I thought I was the only weird one who notices stuff like that. What about those stickers and stencils of Andre the Giant with the word “OBEY” anyone else notice those? They are somehow put up everywhere and all over the world. Why?

  15. I’m glad you tied this back to learning to enjoy our everyday lives! My first three years out of college I lived near Boston and when I left I realized I hadn’t really seen a lot of it. I’ve made sure to dig into the cities I call home since then.

    As it happens I live in Portland, but I’ll miss the meetup as I’ll be experiencing 24 hours in LA for work. I’m already figuring out what I can easily do while I’m there. I might check out the Broad, if I get off in time, and I’ll likeky hit the library and Grand Central Market. I’m open to suggestions in that part of town!

  16. This is brilliant, thank you for the reminder to take it slow. I remember a few years ago I went to Paris for a week and I crammed it with all the ‘must-see’ items because there was an expectation from family and friends that if I didn’t see those things I didn’t experience Paris… But my memories from that trip are clouded by how rushed and stressed I felt! We are a long way from hitting FI but we do try to prioritise travel and enjoy our ‘dream life’ now :)

  17. I definitely need this reminder for applying this to working years. I’m trying to get back on track with that. I used to be so much better at it!