The thing that surprised me the most about early retirement

Published April 3, 2017   Posted in In Retirement

The only real regret I have after retiring early is that I didn’t do it sooner. This freedom is amazing. But, I would be lying if I said that everything’s working out exactly as I had anticipated. It has not. In fact, I’ve learned quite a bit about myself since calling it quits.

For example, I am not nearly as tired throughout the day as I used to be. Truthfully, I’m more frightened by this realization than surprised. Full-time work not only drained me of my time, but also my mental energy. My motivation to DO. I have found that I just don’t need to nap nearly as often as I had anticipated because the relentless and monopolizing draw on my energy is no longer there.

Now, I am in control. I choose what to do with my time. I prioritize the things I enjoy and eliminate things I don’t – well, except grocery shopping. I HATE grocery shopping, but I did it anyway as my wife finished up her job. Me…trying my best to be helpful!

But yes, back to what surprised me the most about early retirement. Quite simply, it has been the realization that the things I thought that I enjoyed were nothing more than an escape from full-time work. I had no idea.

The need to escape full-time work

Go home Pink Panther, you’re drunk

Before I quit, I remember walking out of the gym most days thinking to myself how much more time I’ll have to work out after I quit. I could spend two hours at the gym if I wanted. Burn some serious calories. But alas, I couldn’t at the time…

I would stay longer if I didn’t have that damn telecon to join.

Or, take blogging. How many more blog posts could I churn out in a given week without the full-time job time sink?

I could write a post everyday if I wanted to, or maybe get several months ahead!”

In my head, these dots were simple enough to connect. The job steals eight to 10 hours a day from me. Without the job, I get those hours back to use as I see fit. And, that part is true. I do have those hours back. I am in control.

But, I don’t enjoy working out nearly as much as I thought I did.

I still go to the gym. I enjoy it enough to still do it, but things are different. I’m not hell-bent on spending two hours at the gym like I had anticipated. In fact, that thought is horrifying to me now. My focus is getting my workout done so I can get out and do other things. Like my own projects. Like my work with Rockstar Finance. Or writing a book. Or walking the dogs.

Hell, how about just lounging in the campground’s hot tub or pool without a care in the world?

I keep myself so busy that I cannot rationalize spending two hours a day at the gym. I am also not reading blogs nearly as much as I thought I would. Or writing blog posts. In fact, I’m so damn busy that I’ve all but eliminated my Wednesday posts. I just don’t have the time (or motivation) to write that weekly post any longer. It doesn’t have the same appeal as it once had.

To summarize:

  • I don’t go to the gym as much as I once had
  • I am not blogging more than usual; in fact, I’m blogging less
  • I don’t read (or comment on) blogs like I thought I would
  • I have no real need to take naps during the day

I am too focused on other things. Like getting out with my camera or editing video. Working on projects that I believe in.

You know what I did yesterday after lunch? I washed the entire Airstream and truck. Why? Because I wanted to. I wanted it done and I had the time to do it. Before I quit, you could bet that I would have used the “JOB” excuse to avoid the task. But now, it’s fun…meditative.

And I take my time doing these things. Even grocery shopping. I relax and enjoy the moment as much as I can. And trust me, with the sheer volume of hate I have for grocery shopping, relaxing during that ungodly experience isn’t easy.

A full-time job is like this sticky, pervasive sauce that touches everything. It gets everywhere, and it’s tough to avoid. We can add or remove elements to and from our lives to help improve the texture, but the sauce is still there. Everything we do – whether we realize it or not, is influenced by this sticky, unwanted element.

I knew my full-time job was a drain on my freedom, but I hadn’t realized just how big of a role it played in…everything.

Early retirement is amazing

My wife and I in Baja California, Mexico

It is remarkable, and somewhat sad, how influential our full-time jobs are in our lives. The things that we do – things we think we enjoy – are nothing more than an excuse to focus on something else – something other than full-time work. Of course, I gained very little satisfaction out of the work I did for a living, so that certainly doesn’t help.

If you enjoy your job, it might be different. But even if you do, life is more than time spent working for someone else.

At least…it should be.

I don’t do those things that I had anticipated doing nearly as much…but, the things that I do do (hehe, “do do”), I do with a hell of a lot more satisfaction. Purpose. I keep reminding myself that there is no real need to hurry. I’m retired now. I can take as much time as I need. There isn’t a telecon to get back to. No status reports. No performance reviews. No client meeting.

It’s just us and our two rescued dogs. And Charlie, our Airstream. And, the whole rest of our lives…

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62 responses to “The thing that surprised me the most about early retirement”

  1. Interesting perspective Steve. So is there anything particular you still plan to increase time doing going forward? I remember washing cars being quite therapeutic, though as noted I haven’t had time to do so in decades.

    • Steve says:

      Good question, FTF. I’m just not sure, yet. Once I get into this lifestyle a bit more, I may have a better understanding of that.

  2. Matt @ Optimize Your Life says:

    On the one hand, this is a great read and really interesting. On the other hand, pretty sad for those of us still in the working world to read on a sleepy Monday morning. Gives us something to work towards, though. 🙂 Thanks!

  3. TheRetirementManifesto says:

    Do Do and Sticky Sauce, I fear what retirement has done to your brilliant mind.

    Great post, and personally fascinating. The transition to retirement is one of the things I think about most these days. Yours is one of the better posts I’ve read on the reality of your transition.

    Enjoy the freedom, let it lead wherever it leads!

    • Steve says:

      Ha! What hasn’t retirement done to this once-brilliant mind? 😉

      Thanks for your kind words. We are definitely enjoying the freedom!

  4. Arrgo says:

    You’re right there should be more to life than devoting so much time to working for someone else. I dont mind working to a point, but the problem I have is it ultimately takes up so much of your life. Staying late, commuting, plus the mental energy. How do I get that promotion or bonus? The game gets old. And devoting so much of your time for some corporation that doesnt give a shit about you isnt worth it. After my layoff last year, I’ve only done my side hustle gig and have been enjoying control of my time and my freedom. I’ve still got a ton a personal things I want and need to get done. I thought about going back to something “serious” full time for a while but after doing the grind for almost 19 years I dont know if I could stand it. Ultimately, having your freedom is where its at. Things change and more people should focus on FIRE to give themselves the option to get out if they want or need to.

    • Steve says:

      Thanks Arrgo. I’m right there with you, Arrgo – I never minded a lot of the work, but it was the “jobbiness” of it all that I just couldn’t stand. Like you said, having your freedom is where it’s at.

  5. Mrs Groovy says:

    It’s quite profound how you realized the things you believed you enjoyed were serving as an escape route. Something for those still working to think deeply about.

    I Ike what you said about having no need to rush. If I wasn’t rushing to keep to a schedule when I worked, I was fearing the volume of email that would await me upon my return. There’s no clock in retirement.

    • Steve says:

      Thanks Mrs. Groovy! You’re so right, there is definitely no clock in retirement. At least…there *shouldn’t* be a clock. After all, that’s why we retire, right? 😉

  6. Things like cleaning and doing yard work is very relaxing to me. I love getting in the zone and not stopping for anyone or anything.

    Unfortunately, I don’t think people have that work ethic like that anymore. People do “their” dish and not the rest of the families, or leaves out their stuff in the living room and don’t think to help others. It’s unfortunate.

    • Steve says:

      I can see that, Erik – sometimes, chores like that can be pretty relaxing. It’s strange. But yeah, I agree that it’s unfortunate that people are so self-centered (which is different than just being “selfish”).

  7. Hahaha, no surprise there with having more energy. You can stay busier during early retirement, but I don’t think you feel as tired since you’re focusing on things that matter to you, not your boss or shareholders.

    • Steve says:

      Thanks Mrs. Picky Pincher! It’s interesting how much less napping I do now because the things I focus on are actually…enjoyable to me. It’s not as draining. It’s truly wonderful!

  8. Thanks for sharing Steve. It’s hard to predict how things will go after a major life change. Being open to things not going according to “plan” definitely make the transition smoother, I’m sure. What worries me is the working out part. I love the gym! Will I not love it when it doesn’t serve as an escape from working for the man? Only time will tell I guess.

    • Steve says:

      Only time will tell – that’s right. But that’s the fun part…figuring out what truly makes you tick after your full-time time-sink has been eliminated from your life. 🙂

  9. Basil says:

    Insightful post! I’m glad I’m off on Mondays, because you’ve made me want to get moving on my list! If I was at work, how sad…

  10. Great post Steve! I actually find myself needing naps more often because I’m sooo much more active than before.

    Like you, I learned all kinds of things about myself after FI. It was almost if I finally woke up from a dream. The sleeper finally awoke, and it’s now time to discover real life, instead of just dreaming about it.

    • Steve says:

      Thanks Mr. Tako – I think you’re right. I finally woke up from some…I don’t know, alternate universe or something. Real life is now…finally.

  11. Joe says:

    Things never work out like we thought, right? I thought I’d exercise more after I retired, but it took me 5 years to get into the routine. It was hard to exercise regular in the first few years because our kid was home. Actually, I’m going to write a post this week about this. There are quite a few things that didn’t turn out like I expected. Exercise is just one of them.

  12. Interesting stuff, that sticky sauce analogy sounds about right, congrats on washing it all off. Good to hear you are spending time doing what you want, on the things you believe in.

    • Steve says:

      Thanks Amy! That’s been the most satisfying thing about early retirement…the satisfaction I get from doing things that I actually enjoy. Imagine that!

  13. Brian says:

    Kinda depressing to read on my lunch breaking, knowing I need to go back to work for 4 or 5 more hours today. 🙂 Think of all the peripheral things you do and spend time on for work besides the actual time in office, laundry, ironing, commuting, thinking about work, etc. It’s a big time suck all around.

    • Steve says:

      It really is! Which is why the “Life is too short, spend money now” thing is never something I’ve truly understood. Life is short, retire early and enjoy it…makes a heck of a lot more sense to me and you! 🙂

  14. Mrs. BITA says:

    The sticky sauce analogy is a good one. You don’t even realize that you have a sticky spot way up behind your left elbow until you go for a bath. I can’t wait for my ‘bath’, 45 months from now.

  15. I’m envious of your head start and looking forward to when my wife and I can start our full-time travel. Even though we retired three years ago at age 44, we have a daughter in college who requested that we maintain the house until she graduates. “I don’t want to spend Christmas break in an RV” was her response when we shared the idea with her. Not unreasonable I guess. She graduates next May and I suspect we’ll hit the road shortly after. Meanwhile we’re planning our next week+ RV trip. Just because we aren’t doing it full-time doesn’t mean we can’t do it a LOT. 🙂

    • Steve says:

      Thanks Brad! I completely understand, but I am sure that you are counting down the days…oh, the things that we do for our kids, right? Of course, I’m speaking as someone without kids, but still. 😉

  16. As the saying goes: “We are human beings, not human doings.”

  17. Great. You summed it up perfectly. “It’s just us and the rest of our lives.” We all have to remember that we’re not going to be here forever. Understand what you want out of your time alive, and then go out and get that life with all your heart. We really have nothing to loose. Way to chase your dreams. Peace, brother.

  18. Kristin says:

    It just grows ever more tiresome to keep having to live your life crammed into 2 out of every 7 days.

  19. Jim Wang says:

    It’ll take a bit of time to get used to the freedom and adjust things to how you truly want them, not necessarily how you guess you may want them. I left full time work (however you want to title it) the same way but I did it in 2008 – it’s been 9 years (amazing to even me and I’ve been living it) and I still adjust how I do things very frequently.

    • Steve says:

      I bet that it’s a never-ending process of finding and refining what works for you. I’m sure we’ll find the same sort of thing happening for us, but that’s okay. It’s all a part of the experience. 🙂

  20. But grocery shopping is like a quest! Haha, at least at our grocery store. It’s always so busy, so you have to be very purposeful and focused on the task at hand.

    Awesome to hear about your experiences so far, especially how it’s different than you expected. Your pre-retirement thoughts seem very similar to my own right now, so it’s like peering into my future.

    • Steve says:

      Thanks for the comment, Felicity! Yup, it’s a quest alright! I’m one of those people who can stare directly at something that I need and not mentally realize that’s what I’m looking for. My wife, however, can walk right down the aisle and pick things out almost immediately. 😉

  21. SteveC says:

    “If you enjoy your job, it might be different. But even if you do, life is more than time spent working for someone else.”

    Probably one of the best statements I’ve ever read on FI/ER!!!! Well freaking done Steve!

  22. Miss Mazuma says:

    I am so glad you wrote this post! I have been wondering how much of what you think you will do in retirement actually carries through. My current day dreams revolve around hitting the road with my dog and not coming back until I have taken a peek under every corner of this country. I once thought I would walk across america as Peter Jenkins once did, but I have since decided a car would make more sense…my dog is getting old (I would never admit that it could be me getting old!). 🙂 Enjoy your travels and, as always, keep us posted!! I am living vicariously through you two!

    • Steve says:

      Thanks Miss Mazuma! Yeah, so many things are different about the things I do. I love every minute of our adventure, but in a way, I’m learning about where my natural tendencies bring me during the day. It’s fun!

  23. Pretty great post! I am working on my own plan. Trading time for money! I want the time. Your blog makes me think of my inspiration quote from Bob Dylan – “A man is a success if he gets up in the morning and gets to bed at night, and in between he does what he wants to do.”. About a year ago, I decided to retire ASAP so I can dedicate myself to doing all I like (which does not pay!). I have 635 days, 20.9 months, 1.743 years to go. I might be able to do it a bit sooner! Ready to go!

    • Steve says:

      Amen to that, Ricardo! You made a great decision to begin prioritizing your time over money. Life is so much more fulfilling that way! 🙂

  24. msfrugalasianfinance says:

    Sounds amazing! Glad you guys are having a great time!

  25. It sounds like you’re having a blast! Hey if I was retired in my 30’s, I’d probably follow the sun around the world and just surf in different remote locations all day.

  26. Chris @ Keep Thrifty says:

    Thanks for sharing this with us Steve. We all build these pictures of what life in retirement will be but it’s great to get a reality check.

    It sounds like you’re letting life slow down and to be present in whatever you’re doing – sounds awesome 🙂

    • Steve says:

      You’re most welcome, Chris. Thanks for taking the time to read (and look!). I have found that there is a lot of wisdom in slowing down.

  27. jasonedwards57 says:

    Sounds like a fantastic future. Cheers to slowing it down more. BTW, who is going to take care of the dogs when you all decide to go abroad?

    • Steve says:

      Good question! We’re going to wait until the dogs are no longer with us before we consider international travel. That’ll just make it easier on everybody.

  28. az says:

    Awesome thoughts on your experience. My wife and I were talking about this just yesterday and it is cool to read about shifting priorities!

    • Steve says:

      Thanks az! It’s amazing how much our lifestyle has shifted away from what we had anticipated. It’s kinda fun to experience, actually. 🙂

  29. DadsDollarsDebts says:

    Posting less? I imagine it’s because you are already kicking butt. Washing an airstream sounds like something I would rather do then go to work.

    Steve, I imagine the beauty of retiring early is you really can do just what you want. No more “having to” just “wanting to”. I like the idea of taking more time to do simple things like grocery shopping. Seems like a nice way to enjoy the day, live in the moment, and be mindful.

    • Steve says:

      “I like the idea of taking more time to do simple things like grocery shopping. Seems like a nice way to enjoy the day, live in the moment, and be mindful.”

      Nail, meet head. That’s a perfect summary. Though I don’t like the chore, slowing down and just taking my time really helps me to live in the moment. There’s just no rush. 🙂

  30. Mark Scheckel says:

    Great post Steve! I enjoy the conviction and aunthenticity in your writing style. I find your blog inspiring and enjoy the sense of purpose in which you live your life. Keep the writing flowing and we’ll be happy to participate in the adventure!

    • Steve says:

      Thanks Mark, appreciate your feedback very much! Keeping things as authentic as possible is definitely a motivating factor for us. Glad it comes across! 🙂

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