Early retirement won't magically make you a different person
If there's one thing that I've learned in early retirement, it's that quitting your job doesn't change who you are. Like, at all.
As most of you know, I gave my technology career the middle finger in December of 2016, and since then, I've truly had the time of my life.
That said, I'm not going to blow smoke up your butt by telling you life is one big vacation. It's not. Things still go wrong. It happens. But, the freedom to control my own time really has been a dream come true.
It's everything I thought it could be. And in my case, it's been one of the most educational experiences of my life.
And, one of the biggest things I've learned is that the sudden elimination of our full-time jobs will not change who we are.
Trust me, it won't.
Our jobs are easy scapegoats for whatever happens to ail us. We blame the job because it's easy to blame. It's there and we don't like it. And thus, it's the thing getting blamed. In theory, it makes sense to blame the job.
However, that's just not the whole story.
Early retirement is about YOU, not just the absense of a job
Here's a fact: If you were highly energetic and motivated before leaving your job, you'll most likely be highly energetic and motivated after leaving your job.
- If you were constantly depressed when you had a job, you'll most likely find yourself depressed after leaving your job
- If you were a "busybody" with a job, you'll be a busybody after leaving your job
- If you always saw the positive/negative side of things with a job, you'll continue to see the positive/negative side of things after
In other words, don't kid yourself into believing that quitting your job will automatically make you a different person. It won't.
This isn't like flipping a switch.
For most of us, the truth looks something like this:
After we initially quit our jobs, we instantly feel better. After all, our mission has been accomplished, finally. Once and for all, we can call ourselves retired.
No more of those damn performance reviews or late nights with meaningless deadlines. No more bosses droning on about mission statements and stupid meetings. In other words, no more corporate America.
Yup, it feels good to retire.
But you're feeling this, at least in part, because it's still new. For a while, you're floating through life in the retirement honeymoon period. Life is good, and we're enjoying our newfound freedom.
Unfortunately, here's the dreadful reality:
The honeymoon doesn't last forever
Eventually, our new routine begins to set in. The newfound freedom that we felt before just becomes our new way of life. Our appreciation of that freedom begins to normalize and we settle into our new lives.
And, we fall right back into the person we were before we quit.
We didn't really change after all. We're still the same person. Our surroundings changed. Our lifestyle is way different. Our routine got turned on its head.
And in theory, all those changes are "good".
But, we're still the very same people that we were, and with time, most of us early retirees slowly begin to realize that fact.
In Tanja's latest email blast, she wrote something remarkable:
"Feeling like I'm always in a hurry? That's just me. Having too much on my plate at all times? Me again. For years I blamed work for making me into this person who was always rushed and always had too long a to do list, but now, in the absence of a job, I see how misplaced that blame was. And really, how silly it was to assign blame at all, with all its negative connotations, instead of just accepting that that's who I am. Because following my passions, saying yes to things, being eager to do as much as I can -- those all make me me."
We tend to blame the easy thing that we're trying to escape from (for those who want to retire early, that's usually our jobs).
And, to some degree, our jobs represent a part of the problem.
However, the absence of the job doesn't magically transform us into somebody different. We don't suddenly become smarter people. Or better at time management. Or turn into more supportive partners.
Don't kid yourself.
You are who you are. For better or worse, you're sorta stuck with yourself. That doesn't mean that we can't improve. We can.
Jobs, though, won't automatically do that like we're tearing off a band-aid.
Early retirement won't magically fix everything
First and foremost, it won't fix a lack of purpose.
There’s no way in hell that the absence of a full-time job will ever truly cure you of your lack of purpose. It won’t happen. If you quit your job without something else in your life to keep you busy with a genuine sense of accomplishment, you WILL go back to work or you’ll feel dreadfully hollow in early retirement.
Before I quit at 35, I made sure that I had a sense of purpose outside of my job. You know, things to do. Things I enjoyed. It was easier for me because I didn’t especially enjoy what I did for a living. I gained very little satisfaction out of my job, so I found it relatively easy to discover more creative pursuits that very quickly became my purpose and passion in life sans full-time job.
Next, your health.
Spending more time doing the things you want will not fix your health – at least magically. It’s true that early retirement CAN relieve the stress that you felt at the office. And, that stress probably contributed to adding to your waistline and general health nastiness. That part IS true.
But, it also won’t prevent you from dying young or contracting a debilitating illness. It’s not some invisible barrier to anything and everything that could harm you.
In fact, early retirement has a way of adding stress. Every day, early retirees make conscious decisions about how to spend their time. Working a full-time job, those decisions were largely made by an external entity. We all have routines when we work jobs, and those routines take the guesswork out of our day-to-day tasks – for the most part. We gotta be at the office. We need to answer emails. We must get such-and-such task done. Same shit, different day.
Your stressful life.
Stress will not suddenly disappear. Work-related stress at your particular job might, but remember, early retirement is still life. You’ll still have chores to do. Errands to run. Bills to pay. Early retirement is not some vacation where every one of your needs is instantly provided for by staff (unless you’re filthy rich, of course). Real life still happens.
Your husband/wife will still piss you off (more on that below). Family members still die. You still have a bunch of shit that you probably don’t want to do. None of that magically disappears after giving your boss the finger notice. If you are prone to stress, the absence of a job might not magically fix that organic problem.
Early retirement could very well make your relationship with your spouse worse. If you’re home all the time – and they are too, then you’ve suddenly found yourself spending significantly more time around each other. If you’re going into early retirement with relationship trouble, early retirement is not likely to fix that.
Your purpose is the best way to smooth out your transition to early retirement
Late last year, I wrote about quitting your last remaining lifeline to a consistent paycheck without first understanding what in the hell you're doing.
It's a one-way street to disaster.
But, having a purpose is the key. I haven't met a single unhappy person, in my 37 years of living on this planet, who also had a clearly-defined purpose.
Not a single one.
For the record, what's my purpose?
For most of my career, I enjoyed information technology and the work that I did. But, I didn’t enjoy doing that work for a company.
My passion is the work, but the job was like this annoying little squirrel nibbling away at the bottom of my shoes until, one day, that vermin devours the whole damn thing, and I was walking on bare pavement.
For me, early retirement was the solution to a very specific problem: I hate jobs. I hate everything about jobs. I hate unrealistic schedules. I hate meetings for the sake of meetings. I hate performance reviews and pretending to care about mission statements and B.S. company priorities.
For me, early retirement is a solution to a problem that I’m well aware of and understand clearly enough to explain in 15 seconds or less. The things I’m doing now have become my life’s purpose.
- Traveling the country in our 200 square foot Airstream
- Writing hundreds of thousands of words for this blog
- Filming, editing and uploading adventure videos to YouTube
- Designing in-depth online courses, like this one about trip planning
What early retirement can fix
Okay Steve, what good is early retirement if it won't fix anything?
No job gives us the time to fix ourselves. When we wake up in the morning with the entire day at our disposal, it truly does transform our lives.
It gives us the potential to do amazing things...things that we never could have accomplished back when eight to 10 hours of our day was taken from us.
It's kinda like earning a high income. The potential to save is greater when we earn more money, but earning more doesn't necessarily mean that we'll actually save it. In fact, there are a lot of pitfalls to high salaries.
Just like there are a lot of pitfalls to early retirement.
Now, we're in charge of our time. The buck stops with us.
Are you ready for that buck to stop with you?