Your job vs. your work: Retirement police, listen up!

Published August 26, 2015   Posted in How to Retire

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:


  • 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


  • 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.

We track our net worth using Personal Capital


21 responses to “Your job vs. your work: Retirement police, listen up!”

  1. You don’t like doing timesheets?!?!

    All so true. Some of this thinking is even prevalent in our community in the whole FI vs RE debate. It’s all the same! We for sure plan to work, but on our terms, as you said. Work that’s fun and creative with no BS fits the bill. Work with conference calls, not so much!

    • Steve says:

      Absolutely agreed, ONL! A no-BS work environment. I haven’t found that yet within the confines of having to “hold a job”. Shed that particularly disturbing part of working, and you’ve found a perfect way to keep yourself busy, spirits high and maybe even perpetually happy. 🙂

  2. Wow this is perfect. Completely sums up how I think of the two. I love work. I love working on the blog or getting my hands dirty. No better feeling than completing a complex task. But all that other crap that comes with a job is terrible.

    I’ve tried to limit the amount of terrible I allow at my job. My commute is a quick walk. I have positioned myself to work mostly with people that I get along with and have some resemblance of a work/life balance in my firm. But yeah there is no getting rid of time sheets or ridiculous deadlines. I look at FI as a time to work for myself, and do projects that interest me. Maybe if I’m sure they’ll earn my income, I’ll be able to quit the job before FI!

    • Steve says:

      Hey Fervent,

      “I’ve tried to limit the amount of terrible I allow at my job.” – Amen to that. I try my best to do that as well, but some days are definitely easier to deal with than others. For me, last week was particularly difficult to limit the terrible – mainly due to the client. But hey, it happens, and this is why I’m striving so aggressively towards early retirement.

      And you are as well. I’m almost certain you’ll be able to quit before FI, or at the very least, move your FI date up quite a bit!

  3. Steve, where is the new coversheet for the TPS reports in your work list? Do you need me to send the memo to you? 🙂

    I love this statement: “Your job …….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.”

    I too have the same definition of retirement. It is the ability to pursue my own interests (within our budget of course) without the need to receive income for those pursuits. Bottom line, I think it will be a way for me to find my true calling in life. I no longer have the excuse of having the time or money to do things I have deferred. I suspect this pursuit of “my play/work” will manifest in ways I could not have imagined.

    Jumping forward a little over a year in your journey, you and the Mrs. are camping in your Airstream, and some form of moneymaking venture is uncovered. You take it on a challenge and an experiment to test your abilities. Who cares if you need to make money – your freaking retired and FI! 🙂

    • Steve says:

      Bryan – the ability to pursue our own interests independently of money worries or holding a traditional “job” is the ultimate benefit of freedom. I fully expect (and hope) that we’ll have plenty of opportunities to pull in a little cash post-retirement, just to add some padding to our stash. We actually want to do some international travel as well, so anything in addition to what we’ve planned for income might get earmarked for that.

      And all this…without holding a single job. Love it!

  4. Jason says:

    This is certainly an excellent post. And we do need to redefine how we think about retirement. I started late on the FI/ER train. I have only been saving for about six years and only recently got serious about debt so it will be awhile for me. However, I have just come to accept/think that I will be at my career for a while. I love it. I love the writing, the teaching, and I even like meetings with students. My version of ER would be to continue “work” but to be teaching at universities across the country and the world. That would be fun and hopefully will come much sooner.

    • Steve says:

      Hey Jason,

      Six years is definitely a heck of a lot longer than most people in your position, I’m sure. Better late than never, and you’re also in the awesome position of loving what you do, so you might not be in any real hurry to retire anyway. You get to truly enjoy life now while saving, then enjoy like some more after you’re done and independently wealthy.

      You’ve got your balance right on queue! 😉

  5. Mrs SSC says:

    I ignore the retirement police. Its my life anyways! I have about 10 part-time gigs I want to try out when I retire… some volunteer work, some likely minimum wage work – just stuff to do for fun! Photography, work in a bakery decorating cakes, open an Etsy shop for all the crap I like to make, maybe get into woodworking, volunteer in a library, lead nature hikes, teach high school kids about personal finance, maybe even teach at a college! Or get certified to teach yoga! Oh my! The retirement police are gonna hate me!

    • Steve says:

      Amen to that, Mrs. SSC. Retirement police definitely aren’t worth listening to, and in the end, it really doesn’t matter. I’ll let them decide what I’m “really” doing as I’m finding a perfect spot to park our Airstream somewhere in the mountains of Colorado after we finally retire. If I’m still “working” according to them, then it’s the best work I’ve never done! 🙂

      Looks like you’re planning on keeping yourself busy after you’re done with the job. Never anything wrong with days filled with productive and rewarding work, that’s for sure.

      Keep fighting the good fight.

  6. Great Post! I’m in that situation where I will be leaving my professional JOB of almost 10 years early next year. I don’t plan to “retire” but rather WORK on building my jewelry business. It is such a different way of thinking when you create something from scratch and you can call it your own. Luckily, I have Mrs. Budgets that is really pushing me to do this to allow us more free time, slower pace lifestyle and pursue something I love to do. I’m quite nervous to make the jump and Mrs. Budgets doesn’t help with updating the number of days till I quit on the white board!

    • Steve says:

      Good on you, Mr. Budgets. Keeping busy is a wonderful thing to strive for post-retirement. I can’t imagine just sitting there doing nothing for the next 30, 40 or 50 years of your life…depending on when your retirement age will be. Like you, we’re gearing up for retirement next year as well.

      It’s gonna be fuuuuun. 🙂

  7. Stockbeard says:

    Another awesome post, Steve. I just love the graph, so simple yet so accurate. If my Job was only the parts that I like, I’d be super happy to show up every morning!

  8. Maggie says:

    Darn jobs getting in the way of our work! For us, leaving the jobs mean being able to work in something that is fulfilling creatively and emotionally. If something that does that for us also turns a profit, double bonus! Otherwise, we have been fulfilled anyway, so no loss! This is a great description of how we imagine our retirement. All work. No jobs. And also some play. 🙂

  9. Great stuff Steve. I’ve been looking for work for years, but keep finding jobs. 🙁

  10. […] Your job vs. your work (Think Save Retire) […]

  11. […] Your job vs. your work: Retirement police, listen up! by Steve, A great piece about why people want to retire early, and it often involves much less golfing than you would imagine. If it were me, my hobby-turned-profession would be working on classic cars, or writing, or surfing, or any number of other cubicle-less activities. […]

  12. […] many would jump for joy over the notion that work is completely behind them, and what they have to look forward to for the rest of their lives is […]

  13. […] for the rest of your life, or that your most productive years are behind you. Don’t let the retirement police bamboozle […]

  14. […] into a hobby – and love every minute of it. And remember, don’t let the retirement police bamboozle you into thinking that if you make money, you aren’t truly […]

  15. […] the “retirement police” may clumsily believe otherwise, retirement does not mean that you are effectively done […]

Leave a Reply