Imagine this for a second: You graduate college and begin working your ass off for 10 years and save big – real big.  You devote every penny above and beyond what is required to pay for your most basic needs in life and decide that you’ve had enough of your job.  You give corporate America a big middle finger and quit.

Your Job vs. Your Work - and why the difference mattersYou’re done.  You get to live out the rest of your life doing whatever the hell you want to do, and your stash, accumulated over the past 10 years of your life, will support you forever.

Great, now what?  You’ve always had an interest in building things with your hands.  Like furniture.  Figurines.  One of your biggest achievements is your custom-made mantle above your fireplace, carefully carved out of dark, rich mahogany and holds your favorite family pictures and an old clock given to you as a hand-me-down from your great-great grandfather.

Maybe you decide that after retirement, you’d like to expand your work by making pieces, like this mantle, for your friends and family, at cost.  This is fun for a while, and you love to put smiles on the faces of people whom you know.  Then, something occurs to you.  What if you list some of this custom-made furniture on eBay for sale?  What’s wrong with making a few bucks out of your hobby?

Before long, you’re pulling in a few hundred a month doing something that you love – wood working.  Eventually, it turns into a few thousand.  You pick and choose the work that you do and are careful not to over-burden yourself. Cool, a money-making hobby!

Screech!  Let’s pause right here.  We have a problem. 

The problem is, according to a particular segment of the population, you’re no longer retired.  You see, you’re still doing work.  You’re building stuff.  But more importantly, you’re selling stuff and making a profit.  “That doesn’t sound like retirement to me,” someone might say.

Ladies and gentlemen, the retirement police have reared their ugly heads.

Man head in hand
Retirement police logic does not compute

To the retirement police, you can’t be retired if you’re making money by doing work.  Doing work, after all, is what people do “for a living”, and therefore, if you do something post-retirement that generates cash, you’re not actually retired.  Because you’re still making a living!

Instead, the police-approved way to spend your retirement is scooting around in your golf cart with your grandkids, retrieving your medication from the pharmacy, participating and possibly cheating at a weekly bingo game and, of course, angrily sitting in your wooden rocking chair on your front porch.

What a life!

Your job vs. your work

As most of us in the financial independence and early retirement community know, our lives don’t simply stop post retirement (in many cases, it’s quite the opposite).  We don’t sit and stare out the window.  Many of us still choose to “work” after we’ve quit our jobs.

In fact, the early that one retires, the more likely it is he or she will spend their time doing something productive, even if that generates additional cash.  Retirement means you are no longer beholden to a job to sustain your life.  It doesn’t mean that you’re done being productive.

Work, you see, is what we love.  Jobs, on the other hand, drain our life blood from our souls.

Let’s take a look at a graphic that I so lovingly created to illustrate the difference between our jobs and our work.

The work that we do, we like.  We enjoy the intellectual stimulation of the work we do.  We get genuine personal satisfaction out of every little achievement.  It keeps us focused, determined and goal oriented.  Our work, whether we get paid for it or not, is what keeps us moving in life, keeps us stimulated and on the straight and narrow.

Your job, on the other hand, is the extra life-draining crap that surrounds the work you do before you reach the point of retirement because we have little other choice.  This is the crap that we must deal with during our full time careers in order to do the real work.  This is the stuff that we don’t like to do, even if you are self-employed.  The extraneous crap that we try to get away from.  Jobs are why vacations exist.

For clarity, let’s take a look at a couple of examples:

Work:

  • Solving a complex problem
  • Building something out of nothing
  • Helping our community through volunteering
  • Designing a killer new robot that “thinks” (Skynet, baby!)
  • Writing the next NY Times best-selling novel
  • Building the next popular early retirement blog

Job:

  • Meetings, meetings and more meetings
  • Interviews
  • Time sheets
  • Schedules
  • Deadlines
  • Performance reviews
  • Managers
  • Commutes

This begs the question: what is retirement?

Retirement to me is a way of life that exists once your net worth and passive income can support you and your family for the duration of your lives without holding another job.  Ultimately, that means one can sit and stare out of the window for the next 50 years if they like, literally doing nothing.

In general, the earlier that one retires, the more likely he or she will continue doing some form of work so long as they are physically able.  They don’t have to work, but they do, because they love it.

For me, it will most likely be photography and videography that will keep me focused and goal oriented, and if I ever stumble upon an opportunity to make some additional income while pursuing this hobby, more power to me!  But no, I’m never going to come out of retirement for a job unless I am forced to by a looming financial requirement.

In summary: We’re talking WORK, not a job.  Retirees focus in on solving complex problems, volunteering, writing the next NY Times best-selling novel or anything else they love.  They don’t worry about meetings, arbitrary and unrealistic schedules and deadlines, omni-present managers and money-draining commutes.

Work is important!  Jobs, however, are simply a means to an end.  Once one reaches the point of financial independence, jobs become optional.  But, just because someone chooses to “work” by doing something they love, that does not indicate that they are not retired.  Instead, it means they still have goals, and their goal is to continuing doing what they love – on their terms.

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