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.
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Categories: we've learned
It’s awesome that you are taking a step back to really consider what parts of your digital creator life you actually want to continue (and how you want to continue them). It’s probably a much healthier strategy that forcing yourself to stick to your original content schedule, which may have made you resent the work itself (I’ve been there for sure). I hope you find a flow that works best for your retired life for year 2 and beyond!
Funny how life works. I took a new job in January and my blog count for the year is 6. That is down from 3 a week. Part of it is that I do not feel like I have as much to contribute to the sphere currently, the other part is that I am focusing more on education at work, and the third part is that our interests keep changing. While I still am pro-Fire, I am not eagerly chasing it currently and therefore it is not on my mind all the time.
Glad to hear you are still doing fun and Tanja drive things! Will look forward to hearing about travels, plans, etc.
What a great post on the psychology of early retirement and pressures we place upon ourselves. It’s easy to lose sight of the reasons we FIRE in the first place and how forget that we are in control of our time.
This resonates with me:
‘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… I’m learning to be okay with all of that.’
Love the honesty in this post. And I’d bet that year three of early retirement looks even more different than the first two – and that’s great. I bet it will take quite some time to “settle in” to a routine. Or, as my husband’s godfather has found eight years in, the routine might keep changing with time.
Taking a step back is so important, especially in retirement. So glad to hear that you now guard you morning.
Great to get a new episode of “The Adventures of Tanja Hester Across the FIRE Dimension” — after a long period of radio silence. My blog is only a year old, but I also struggle with when and how to fit creative output into my daily regimen (I also write movie and audio theater scripts). I have concluded that a scheduled daily writing routine does not work for me. Instead, I write only in sporadic fevered bursts when the lightning strike of inspiration compels me. In between those periods, I try not to put too much pressure on myself.
Like you, I am reluctant to commit to any projects or activities which feel too similar to the responsibilities of my pre-work optional career.
Great insights, as usual, in your post. Also, congratulations on the Plutus awards!
If that isn’t the whole point of this early retirement thing, what is?! The longer I live (OK, FINE! the older I get), the more I realize that we all crave autonomy over our days. So why shouldn’t you be able to constantly refine what your days look like?!
As for titles, you already know how I feel about that. If you write and want to be called a writer, you’re a writer. If you blog and you want to be called a blogger, DONE. The list goes on.
I have been so inspired by your journey and the confidence of your voice in this space. Thank you for continuing to grapple with a meaningful life and to share your questions and current answers. I’m happy you are finding joy in negotiating the balance of life.
While I will miss reading new content, there’s still a nice backlog for me to get through. And I can keep coming back when I need some little details for whatever topic I want some info on since, you kind of covered it all.
Thanks for the site and all the posts!
Well, I think you are doing things the right way – your chapter overlap productivity amazed me – but I’m glad to see you still feel productive even with a but of a slowdown with the pace (however let me be clear – you are accomplishing so much still!) . It was hard for me to separate all the things I do from who I am and who I want to be and I still find I have my best and happiest days when I have a couple of things to do that give me a bit of structure but still plenty of room to be spontaneous. I don’t feel as guilty on days when I’m less productive now and after 2 years I’ve finally started to enjoy not rushing anymore. I’m chuckling a bit about fast your coffee drinking in your 55 degree house. Do you do the trick of heating your mug up ahead of time in the microwave with water before you put your coffee in there ? Helps mine stay warm in the winter. ;) Of course my winter is a bit different.
Impressed with your energy and achievements!
Congrats on the three trophies! :)
“How am I actually spending my time, not just the big picture, but the days and hours and minutes that actually make up life?”
I ask myself this question a lot even if we’re way out from retirement. I think it’s so very easy to just float along and lose sight of the minutes and hours that add up, and find yourself ten years down the road without having done anything meaningful to oneself. It’s my worry that I’ll just spend decades treading water in our way to (I hope) early retirement because there is so much minutiae going on every day. Asking the question regularly keeps me on my toes.
Congratulations on the Plutus awards! I’m glad you’re still writing about self-discovery even after achieving FIRE. Being comfortable with uncertainty seems like one of those things that helps build resilience whether one is work optional or not. Thanks for continuing to invest your energy into the Fairer Cents and Cents Positive. I’m very grateful for both of those things!
Thanks for the update. It seems like early retirement shouldn’t be the end of the FIRE story, but so many bloggers greatly cut their posting frequency within a few years of retiring it makes me worry that when I fully retire I will run out of interesting ideas, get bored with things I love now, no longer be able to handle the stress of what is now a normal week, discover my ambition has a limited life, or find out the busy pace was what kept my self consciousness and anxiety in check all these years. I look forward to following along with what you learn as you go, whenever you’re ready to share with us, as there’s nothing like learning from someone who has been there done that. Especially when the retirees I know IRL are too busy watching TV…
Huge congrats on the awards—you really earned those. Your blog posts are a must-click-first and I’m looking forward to the next season of the podcast. Also, when are you launching the podcast with Mark?
Thank you so much for sharing the valuable post.
I think a lot of how I am going to handle what you are currently experiencing. I am not retired yet, but plan to do so at an early age. I also have read MrMoneyMoustache and I feel that he has what you are currently going through figured out. He does what he wants when he wants. It seems he finds his happiness in creating things, myself included. That is why he does carpentry work. Because ultimately it’s about being happy, and striking that right balance of not letting life get too easy yet still easy enough to enjoy the freedom that financial independence brings must be a big challenge.
Love the reinforcement to step back and take stock of what life stage you’re in now. We’re in our first year of empty-nesting and getting used to that rhythm. We also are taking advantage of being untethered to one location (where school happens) to be able to move, and there will be adjustment there. Of course, goals and other passion projects also shift over time so continual adjustment there. Always nice to see how other people are managing the different stages — thanks for sharing!
The majority us will be the victim of our own definition of SUCCESS or FAILURE.
Follow this simple golden rule to a fulfill life and avoid the wrath of victimization.
1. Have children
2. Make useful contribution to the world within our own capacity
I still don’t know what to do with myself after two years from leaving work and living the FI life. Reading your post reminds me of much of what I am feeling and is nice to read your perspective. For that auto-responder email and other digital barriers Tim Ferris spoke about this on his podcast appearance with Rich Roll and all the other digital things he does to manage his life. It sounds like you will find that good place but accepting that it will always being changing. All the best ~ Chris
God bless you Tanja. No need to pressure yourself to post. Your contributions are already many and meaningful. Fred
Congrats on your Plutus awards and on being the opening main stage speaker! You absolutely deserve these honors. Considering your initial goal for blogging was to record your journey to early retirement, it makes sense that your blogging schedule would change now that you’ve reached your goal.
I’ve been experiencing a bit of the “what am I supposed to be doing again?” question as my middle kid started school and I have just one kid at home with me now. There’s plenty to do, but it’s an adjustment as I haven’t been in this position for the last 7 years.
You may find making certain days all about podcasting, certain days about writing and writing tasks. I do something similar with certain things I am tasked to do at work. I work from home a couple of days a week to work on specific tasks that require me to have less interruptions than what I would find at the office. Similar to working out, lifting 3 days a week, running 2, biking 2, and swimming 2. You rotate thru the specific parts of the workouts and you will accomplish it all by the end of the week.
Rick, right you are. Just make sure you understand the limitations. They limit the amount you can save, require direct deposit, require a certain number of debit transactions each month. This doesn’t make them bad deals. It’s just important to know the requirements before opening an account.https://coinpress.io
Thanks for the Update
I won’t be attending FinCon
Tanja, thanks for another insightful article. While we all enjoy reading your posts, I am sure I speak for many of your followers when I say it’s fine if you post less. I am sure it will make the articles you do post more meaning and thought out. It will be good to know that when you do create content it is because you feel you have something to say, and not because you felt you needed to post because of some unwritten schedule.
I’m sure it will also give you a chance to recharge, and focus your energy on other things that are of interest now. And that is what ‘not working for a living’ is about, the opportunity to focus on whatever we want on any given day.
Nice article, i love it
thank you for sharing it