A few weeks ago, I read a post about the feels of early retirement and how strange they’ve turned out to be. The closer you get to retirement, the more anxious you become. More nervous. More fearful. Not, as you might expect, more excited.
The gist? Our emotional state leading to quitting the rat race early is not some linear graph that slowly ticks upward as we seemingly get happier and happier that our days working full-time jobs are numbered and nearly over.
Instead, it more closely resembles a drunk graph. A graph after a night of insane drinking and table dancing. It’s sorta bipolar, like this:
In other words, it’s a mixture of emotions. We’re happy and excited some of the time, but we’re also worried and ask ourselves what the hell we’re doing other times. The graph looks like a sharp series of mountains knifing their way into the clouds. Ups and downs. Peaks and valleys.
Yeah, basically the graph resembles the Tetons.
It’s weird, isn’t it? We should be super excited about this next phase of our lives. When I was gearing up to call it quits, I had a mixture of emotions as well. I was anxious. I wanted to just get it over with so I could move on with my life and start doing those things my wife and I set out to achieve.
Some people have it worse. The “Holy shit! What am I doing?” phenomenon is common, especially as we get closer and closer to giving notice to our company. Our anxiety level builds the closer we get. Are we doing the right thing? Will this truly work out? Am I letting my boss/team down?
Am I completely insane, or just a little bit?
Nervousness subsided after I gave notice for early retirement
I thought back to the days and weeks before giving my company notice.
I found that nervousness climbed the closer I got to giving notice because I still had a way out. I could change my mind and go back to business as usual – then, nobody’s the wiser. I keep working. My employer doesn’t have a clue that I was days or weeks from giving them notice.
All is good.
Your mind knows this. It knows that you have a way out. But once notice is given, the cat is out of the bag. It’s done. Even if you were to change your mind after giving notice, you can only stuff that cat back into the bag so far. You might be able to keep your job, but it probably won’t be the same. Your employer knows that you really don’t want to be there. You nearly bailed.
But once notice is given, your anxiety level will probably drop back down to its typical level of comfort (aka: shit-giving). The notice is the peak.
Nervousness is at its highest point that day but then begins a swift decline once that little bombshell is off your chest. Then, we can begin working out our remaining days without any pretext that you’ll be there forever – or some such thing. The cat’s out of the bag and running around the office, pouncing on keyboards and awkwardly licking itself on a video conference.
And in a strange way, your mind knows that you’ve just boxed it in. It doesn’t have the same out. You’ve removed the easy fallback and are now more committed to making that crazy idea of retiring early work.
Well shit, I’m really doing it, aren’t I?
Strangely enough, removing the easy way out had a way of relaxing me in the days following my notice. I felt more at ease. I felt more committed than ever. It was committed. I was doing it, and I knew everything would be okay.
My anxiety level declined.
For you chart lovers out there, consider the following. Notice the wicked exponential upturn to the curve as we get closer and closer to the “It’s Time” (aka “giving notice”) date – usually around the two-week mark.
After notice is given, man, you feel hella better. In a week or so, you’re more or less back to normal. Secret’s out. Everybody knows. We all move on.
Being nervous is good
I believe that being nervous or fearful is a good thing. It’s a primal feeling that has kept us strange little humans relatively safe since the beginning of time. You know that weird feeling you get when you see someone that you don’t know walk up your driveway toward your front door?
That’s a good feeling. It keeps you focused and constantly seeking confirmations in your environment that everything is okay. That the shit hasn’t hit the fan, at least yet. Fear enables us to see that shit flying toward those fan blades, giving us time to dive out of the way before we get sprayed.
Fear makes us cautiously open the door for folks we don’t know rather than swinging it wide open and inviting them inside. To not approach a cute little baby grizzly bear. To not jump out of a perfectly good airplane and skydive, for your very first time, without a trained and qualified instructor.
Fear is good. It keeps us from doing stupid stuff (though it isn’t full-proof!).
While I do believe that many of us overthink the business of quitting work early, it’s unnatural not to feel at least a little uneasy at the thought of spending the rest of your life jobless. Or, at least without a full-time job.
We’re going way the heck against convention, after all.
Hell, even I felt a little uneasy, and I was probably the most excited and confident person to retire early in the history of the world. It just couldn’t happen fast enough for me. I wanted out, and bad. Really damn bad.
After all, I do not like another entity controlling so much of my time. My productive working hours. Even worse, my productive working life!
But I don’t care how bad you want it, feeling nervous means you’re human.
And luckily, that feeling subsides – at least it did for me. The day that I gave my notice, everything went back to normal. The closer I got to the final day of work, the more excited I became – not nervous, but excited. It was a thrill ride. You begin thinking more and more about everything you can (and will) do instead of sitting on that conference call, or writing your latest status report or listening to “eight different bosses drone on about mission statements” (score the Office Space reference, please!).
It’s a ride that I will never forget.
How many early retirees out there felt at least a little nervous in the lead-up to retiring early? Did you feel more at ease after you gave your company notice of your looming departure? Or if you haven’t given notice yet, think you’ll get some butterflies (bees?) in the pit of your stomach on that special day?
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.