The second year of early retirement has been a lot different from the first year. 2018 was relatively jam-packed with things to do: three international trips, the tasks of selling and then writing Work Optional, the work of creating the first women’s financial independence retreat, Cents Positive, lots of volunteering and, of course, learning how to be retired, or at least how not to have a job.
I went into early retirement a proponent of what I dubbed “chapter overlap,” and I’m so glad I approached things that way. Much of what I have done in early retirement is what I started while working, creating a feeling of cohesiveness between that old life and this next one. I never had that feeling others have talked about of waking up one day after leaving work and thinking, “What the hell do I do now?” There was always plenty to do, and not just in a “keep busy” kind of way, which I have always bristled at, as though life is just a thing to be gotten through, and not something we can approach with passion and purpose. There were things to do that felt directional, like they added up to something.
But this year, 2019, has been more of a blank slate.
I spend the first few months of the year releasing and promoting Work Optional, hosting several TV crews at the house for filming, which meant there were weeks when I felt like my job was as a professional house cleaner. There have been other tasks, too, but they’re all things I’ve done before and am not having to learn: continuing The Fairer Cents podcast, blogging here, doing my local volunteer positions. But overall, things feel like they’ve quieted down, and for the first time in ages, I have no big future project looming. There is no impending work project, no impending book, not even an impending early retirement because we’re already there. There is just open road.
I’ve always imagined that if I had all the free time in the world, I’d do all these things. I’d read my whole backlog of books. I’d get in American Ninja Warrior shape. I’d visit every country, learn every language. I’d climb every mountain, master fine cooking, adopt every shelter dog, end homelessness, stop global warning, and buy the world a Coke.
Turns out, at least for now, that’s not how I want to use my time.
So here we are, nearing the end of the second year of early retirement, and I’m finally having that reckoning about what I want to be doing that others might have had shortly after leaving work.
But before we get into that…
We’re just about a month away from this year’s two Cents Positive financial independence retreats for women, being held October 11-13 in Seattle and October 18-20 in Chicago. Kiersten Saunders of Rich and Regular and “Penny” of She Picks Up Pennies are speaking in Chicago, and Kara Perez of Bravely (and my cohost on The Fairer Cents) is speaking in Chicago – all awesome women who I admire a ton and whose stories are super inspiring. There’s still space in both, so come join us if you’d like to be in a judgment-free community of women who talk about money and all the aspects of financial independence and early retirement that aren’t strictly financial. (By “women” I mean cis, trans, nonbinary… anyone who relates to the female experience is welcome.) I make no money off the event, and do it just to provide the space for women to have these conversations – and because it’s all kinds of fun. The hotel room blocks close this week, so be sure to grab your space! MORE INFO HERE
I’m so grateful to everyone who submitted a nomination or voted in the Plutus Awards, the highest awards in the financial media community. This year I took home three trophies, none for this blog (as it should be! Our Next Life has been amply recognized and it’s time to recognize newer FIRE bloggers), but for different things that all mean a ton to me:
- Work Optional received “Best New Personal Finance Book.”
- The Fairer Cents won “Best Personal Finance Podcast for Women.”
- I received the “Community Builder” award for contributions within the personal finance blogging community.
My goal for next year’s FinCon is to win zero awards, because there are so many awesome people doing so many rad things. ;-) But I’m super thankful for these!
Most people throughout the course of history have not really had the luxury of being able to ask questions like, What do I want my life to add up to? Day-to-day life has been primarily about survival, and the amount of work required to stay alive was all-consuming. In more modern times, as we’ve freed up leisure time, more people have been able to take up hobbies, or spend time traveling, but the bulk of our time has still gone into working for money. Just 100 years ago, the number of people who could actually expect to retire was a tiny fraction of those in the workforce. But now we live longer, and most of us can expect to reach traditional retirement age, at which point we may be faced with the question:
What am I doing with my life?
(That question may come at other times, too, of course: When kids leave home and the nest is empty, when beating a serious illness or injury and gaining a new appreciation for life, etc.)
I recognize what a privilege it is to be faced with that question, knowing that most humans who came before me never had the chance to ask it, and even now, I’m asking it a whole lot younger than most people ever will. But that doesn’t change the fact that facing this question is uncomfortable.
These days, when I find myself wondering, What do I want to do today? I notice my mind drifting to the larger question: What am I actually doing with all of these days? What do they add up to?
If you read my book, and if you’ve read much of this blog, you know none of these questions are a surprise to me. I’ve been asking them of myself for a long time, and encouraging readers to do the same. If you just plan out the numbers of early retirement and don’t actually think seriously and in detail about your life plan, you’re doing it wrong. You’re bound to have a rockier go of it than if you anticipate some of these big questions, because you will ask them of yourself at some point, and it’s far better if you’ve given them some real thought before they lead you into a full-on existential crisis.
In terms both broad and specific, I know the answer: my purpose is to live a life of adventure, service and creativity, which I mapped out years ago in my tombstone post. And I’ve been living according to that purpose: spending much of my time traveling the world and exploring the mountains, and creating work that helps others while scratching my creative itch (with the trophies to prove it!).
So the reckoning isn’t about whether I’m living according to that purpose or even whether I have a purpose at all. It’s about the details. How am I actually spending my time, not just the big picture, but the days and hours and minutes that actually make up life?
Because it’s not the trophies that ultimately tell us whether we’re doing it or did it right. It’s all those little increments of time and what they add up to.
New Life Rhythms
For the first year of retirement, I fiercely guarded my mornings. My line in the sand was a long, leisurely breakfast. (I wish I could say it was taking time to sip my coffee, but in our cold and dry climate where coffee cools off in an instant, I still gulp my coffee, even with all the time in the world.) Then afternoons were for “work” – writing, podcasting and volunteer stuff. Evenings were for friends and for catching up on the backlog of TV shows and movies we didn’t have time for while working.
But that schedule left little time for the outdoors, so in year two, it’s been more like this: a slow morning with a leisurely breakfast, an afternoon spent doing something outdoors and then a relaxed evening on the couch (not falling asleep by 8 PM!). The only problem is: that schedule allows no time for creative or service work, only adventure. By the time evening rolls around, I don’t want to work, both because my brain is tired and because that’s when I did most of my work during my career, and I don’t want to repeat that pattern.
That new schedule explains in large part why I’ve been blogging so much less, and it’s also been why I’ve generally done less of everything. I don’t feel like I’ve quite nailed the schedule yet, because producing so little doesn’t feel right either, even though I’m glad to have more time outdoors, especially during Tahoe’s nicest summer since we’ve been here.
But I’m making peace with producing less, including blogging less. After being so consistent for so long, it hurts my heart a little bit to watch myself drifting to a less and less frequent blogging schedule, but I’m gradually learning to be okay with following in the footsteps of other bloggers like Mr. Money Mustache and the Mad Fientist who, after retiring early, moved to “whenever I feel like it” posting schedules.
But who knows: perhaps next year, I’ll nail the right schedule down and will post a lot more. Anything is possible.
Accepting the Changing Definitions That Come with Doing Less
An interesting realization has been that there are really two different dynamics at play: There’s the desire to make my small increments of time add up to something, so that purpose isn’t just something I dabble in occasionally, but it’s the thing I engage with every day. But there’s also the desire to cut out the things that I truly resent, even at the risk of making life too easy. To think not just about how I spend my time, but to ensure that there are ways I absolutely don’t spend it.
In other words: year two has also been about deciding what I am and am not okay with. I’ve realized that I was pretty much spot on about what I’d miss about work… and what I wouldn’t miss. And the tasks I don’t like doing now and even resent are things that feel like those things I don’t miss.
I love this blog, but I don’t enjoy having to clean up back-end hosting issues. I don’t enjoy having to respond to a bunch of emails that aren’t relevant to me. (I’ve put a fairly epic autoresponder in place that has helped with a lot of that, answering the FAQs for those seeking some business arrangement with me, which I am almost never interested in. And yet there are those who still send multiple emails.) I love the podcast, but I don’t love scheduling guests or doing the accounting for the show. I love putting on Cents Positive, but I don’t love getting hotel and catering bids and figuring out which ticketing system is the least extortionate.
The farther I get from my old career, the less tolerance I have for the busy work that accompanies doing the projects I love. So sometimes I’m not blogging because I’m doing something – traveling, hiking, volunteering, etc. Other times I’m not blogging because I’m doing nothing, and I just don’t want to do the admin stuff that makes me feel resentful. I’m learning to be okay with all of that. And though I’ve always been a believer in doing things myself, I’m learning to be okay with having help if it actually helps me get things done. I’m hiring a producer to help manage the backend of the podcast, and accepting help for next year’s Cents Positive events. (I’m challenging myself in other ways, to avoid letting life get too easy – not to worry.)
All of which means that some of the ways I define myself have to change: Am I still a blogger if I only blog sometimes? Am I a DIY podcaster if I’m not doing it all myself anymore? Is an event “my” event if I don’t actually set it up? The answers to these questions only matter to me, of course, not to anyone else, but I’m a person who likes having answers to things. And having those answers become less clear is uncomfortable.
I love comparing year one of retirement to year two, and seeing how different they’ve been, because it confirms for me that life will almost certainly continue to evolve. I have no doubt that year three will be different again and that that trend will continue into the future. The whole point of escaping the rat race is to keep life from being monotonous, right? To keep it from being predestined? A constantly evolving life is uncomfortable, but it’s only by throwing ourselves off balance that we learn and grow. I can’t wait to share sometime next year how my schedule and view of time has evolved, and how it’s feeling in the meantime.
Categories: we've learned