Early retirement has surprised me. It taught me that the things I enjoyed as I worked a full-time job are not the same things that I enjoy now – free and clear of those imprisoning shackles. Full-time work has a way of blinding us to the world.
For instance, I loved going to the gym when I worked a full-time job. It gave me something to focus on. It let me zone out of everything and aim my mental energies on some defining purpose. I loved it. I thought that I would love it after I flipped full-time work the bird.
But, I don’t. I mean, I still do enjoy working out, but I don’t love it. I find myself powering through my workouts so I can return home and do other things. Like blog. Or Rockstar Finance stuff. Or any of the other things that fill my life that genuinely give me joy.
Things that I had no idea ever existed before that magical day last December.
Early retirement instantly expands your world
Retiring early from full-time work taught me an important lesson: This world is full of opportunity. Full of beautiful things. Of some seriously powerful and satisfying shit that we never truly realized existed back when our minds operated behind a wall of status reports and performance reviews.
For many of us, our jobs define us. But even when they don’t, jobs provide the stability that we need – at least psychologically, to live a happy-enough life. When we work dependable jobs, our subconscious ignores opportunities. We think that our J.O.B. is THE opportunity that we need to live a fulfilling life. Therefore, our brains instantly attempt to make our world more simple by automatically ignoring other options.
Confirmation bias. It’s compelling beyond comprehension, and many of us don’t even realize what’s going on. I sure as hell didn’t.
But, once I removed the shackles of full-time work from my wrists, my world literally opened up right in front of me. It was like I was released from prison, but not in the United States. In this country, ex-cons are dropped off at a bus stop with a $20 in their pocket and expected to instantly become a productive member of society, not devolve back into the only thing they know – a life of crime.
…but I digress.
I know it sounds like bullshit, but I see things differently now.
My subconscious is back in action, baby!
Instead of ignoring opportunities right in front of me, I notice them. By now, I could be involved with full-time work again if I wanted to – the opportunity is everywhere. Instead, I’m working with J$ over a Rockstar Finance – on my own terms, helping a cause that I deeply believe in.
This is stuff that I never would have considered in my previous life of full-time work. I couldn’t. My mind knew that I couldn’t. I had a full-time job, and it paid the bills. It was good enough, and I was content. I didn’t love the work, but whatever…my subconscious checked out and I was left to wander aimlessly down a dusty road. No real threats from any direction. It was all just…good enough.
But once our full-time jobs are removed from our life, we begin to see everything in a whole new way. Black and white has become color. Everything is more vibrant. I am able to see our world for what it truly is. It’s a world of opportunity. Everywhere we turn.
I still remember the first workday morning after retiring early.
I crawled out of bed as I usually do. My wife left for work. And…there I was, sitting quietly at my desk. Nothing on my to-do list. All I heard were the rhythmic murmurs of breathing. The dogs were asleep.
I stared into my computer monitor, relaxed. I was free. Previously, this was the time that I would check my work email. Consultants asking other consultants for help on a project. New hire announcements. Company “wins” by capturing a new market segment. The boss wants a status report on his project. My customer has a question and needs a call.
Oh, look at that…HR has a new “anti-harassment” policy. Turns out that I can’t play grab-ass with my coworkers in the office. Well damn, who knew? And check that out, we have an All Staff meeting setup this Friday to detail the company’s impressive growth by connecting with market “influencers”. We’re all visionaries who innovate by thinking outside the box. We are pivoting in Germany. Engaging in England. Constantly adding value.
Suddenly, all of that was gone. The crushing burden shouldered by my subconscious mind was no longer there.
no longer to just
get through another day.
Early retirement is the beginning, not the end
It is too easy to view early retirement as the culmination of productivity and “work”. It’s not…well, at least it doesn’t have to be. Ignore the obtuse narrative recited by lifers that retirement is the end.
Early retirement is the reward after completing the accumulation phase of our life. It means that the work requirement has been lifted. We now enjoy the freedom to live our lives the way we see fit – with or without work. Your opportunities for work and productivity don’t stop. And I’m not talking about hobbies, here. I’m referring to legit work. Enjoyable work.
In early retirement, opportunities expand. Without a full-time job monopolizing our precious (and limited) brain power, we’re now able to take note of our environment and make better decisions about what makes us happy. Opportunities are all over the place. For work. For happiness. Whatever. You make the call. The world is your freaking oyster.
You meet people who need help with a part of their business that you happen to know well. Your friend needs a web site designed for his mountain biking club. You had an idea for a service that matches people up with pet hamsters based on its personality that you never pursued working full-time. Genius.
The point is: Early retirement opens our world to opportunity. Those things that our minds never allowed us to consider now become possible. That’s right, start that hamster business.
It’s a wonderful feeling.
Steve is a 38-year-old early retiree who writes about the intersection of happiness and financial independence. Steve is a regular contributor to MarketWatch, CNBC, and The Ladders. He lives full-time in his 30′ Airstream Classic and travels the country with his wife Courtney and two rescued dogs.