Deciding to retire early isn't easy. It might sound good to not have to go to work, but we worry about the finances of early retirement, wonder what we'll do, will we be bored or maybe lonely? There are also aspects of our jobs that are good, what's early retirement life going to be like without them?
I knew that, beyond the pay check, my job rewarded me in other ways. Things like the social side of working with colleagues, a sense of purpose, recognition, an identity, and simply keeping me busy from seven in the morning until six at night. Early retirement meant giving these up, which was a little scary.
In the end, I decided to take a leap, backing myself to find alternative ways to get the benefits that came with work. My approach was simple - identify those things I'd lose by quitting my job and figure out a way to replace them where I felt it necessary. Hey, why make things more complicated than they need to be! Four years down the line, this is what I've found:
Work gives us a pay cheque (obviously!)
This might be at the top of many peoples' concerns, but it probably shouldn't be. Yes, we have to make assumptions on how much we'll spend and what our investments will return, and we worry our calculations won't be correct. I was worried that my costs would increase in retirement but I actually found that they reduced.
What helped me was to rationalise that even if I got my sums wrong, the reality was that they wouldn't be that far out. I figured there's always a cost that can be cut back or, if I really needed, I could find another job for a day or two a week to top up the finances. Most likely, neither would be needed, and it didn't seem worth putting my early retirement on hold because of the possibility of a maybe of something that probably wouldn't happen.
Work gives us social contact
My last company had around 450 employees from 30 different nationalities and I loved working with such a diverse group. Plus, I often preferred to talk through issues in person rather than always over email - old fashioned, I know! Realistically, there was no way I could replicate that in early retirement. Instead, I focused on what I could do:
Join a club. My running club met three times a week which gave me lots of social contact.
I cycled with friends twice a week.
I found out that a number of people I already knew didn't work 9 to 5 and were around during the day to meet for a chat, a coffee or an exercise. I also enjoyed meeting up with ex-colleagues for coffee or lunch now and again.
Spending more time by yourself is actually OK and can be learned - something I found out when I worked away from home a lot.
On the odd occasion that I craved social contact and nobody was available, I'd visit my favourite coffee shop and simply be in a place with other people. It works.
Work keeps us busy during the day
This might have been the thing that had me most concerned. What would I do? Four years later, it hasn't been an issue. I'm not saying there's never been a time when I've been at a loose end or a little bored, but they have been few and far between and, let's not forget, we had those moments in our job too.
I read recently that happy early retirees have an average of 3.5 core pursuits/activities. That seems doable and can be a big part of the new nine to five routine. I seem to have two particularly core pursuits, exercise and my blog, and a bunch of other things that still take time but perhaps slot into a still important sub-core level. It works for me - I previously posted about how I spend my time in my what I do and am I bored? posts in November 2017 again in April 2019.
Another thing I'm learning is that life doesn't have to be lived at 100 miles (or kilometres) an hour. In fact, it's nice when it's not. Having time to sit, stare into space and think is one of my favourite early retirement luxuries.
Work involves doing some interesting stuff (hopefully)
Even though I was an accountant, I found my work interesting😲. OK, interesting is a relative term, and it wasn't interesting all of the time, but what job is?
There were a few occasions during my career where I kept a detailed diary of what I did each day. When I looked at it, there were quite a lot of dull and repetitive things, yet I still found my overall job interesting. It told me that I didn't have to fill my days with action packed adventures to get to the same level of "doing some interesting stuff" that I got from work.
I have faith that we are all capable of designing interesting things in our early retired life - we don't need to rely on a job or an employer to do that for us. I find lots of things in my current life interesting: managing our finances and investments; my camper conversion project idea; my blog; spending time talking with other people; planning or going on trips; trying to understand new things that I never had time to to think about before; or simply challenging myself to ensure I enjoy my early retirement. I honestly think I do more interesting stuff in early retirement than when I worked.
Work gives us a sense of purpose (they say)
I get confused about the "purpose" thing. I'm not denying it's somehow important but, at the same time, I'm not convinced I know what it is. When I worked in finance, was my purpose to add up a bunch of figures and hope they balanced (surely there's more to it than that), or maybe it was to be a small cog in a big wheel that was building airports, hotels, office blocks etc, which also sounds a bit...meh? Perhaps my purpose was to provide an income to support my family - yeah, I kind of get that.
Well, now I'm early retired, my family is still being supported, so that's no different from when I worked. I have my blog, started with the aim that if it helps just one person with their thoughts about financial independence and early retirement, then that would be a success. Since retiring, I think more about some of the issues in our world and have made some changes in my lifestyle and charity efforts to try to improve my contribution. I could probably add something about my exercising and investments too. I'd argue that, assuming purpose is important, I have as much a sense of purpose, and maybe more, than I did when I worked.
Work gives us recognition
There's no denying that it feels good when someone gives us a pat on the back or tells us we've done well. Unless we're always screwing up, hopefully we get this from work, at least sometimes. One thing I noticed was that the higher up the corporate ladder, the less "well done" words seems to come your way (or maybe that's because I started screwing up more then!).
Can we get the same recognition in early retirement? Maybe this is more difficult. I'm not sure that I find it so important, but I can't deny that it feels good when people comment on one my blog posts, or if I get a new personal best on a Strava segment. Maybe these aren't quite the same thing, but they kind of work a bit. At the end of the day, I don't find that I miss the work recognition too much...well, maybe the end of year bonus was sometimes nice, I wouldn't say no to another
one of them!
Work makes it easy to identify ourselves
This baffles me, but it's true that having a job is helpful when meeting people. How often do we meet people and one of the first questions is "what do you do?". Replying that I'm an accountant might have been a bit boring, but it was straightforward and the conversation moved on, "oh, who for"..."do you know so and so, she works for them too". Now if I say that I'm retired, it often seems to result in confusion, the other person doesn't quite know how to take that or what to say next. I don't understand why it's so difficult, but experience tells me that it often is. I'm still searching for the answer to this one.
Work can challenge us and take us out of our comfort zone
I thought it was healthy that my job took me out of my comfort zone at times. There were some situations or tasks where I had to overcome my nerves or lack of belief or confidence to get the job done. I think that's good, without it, we can stagnate, and I don't think that helps us thrive.
I deliberately incorporate things into my early retirement life that take me out of my comfort zone. Our four months of travels in 2018 and three months in 2019 did that - I'd been used to business class flights and business type hotels, so transitioning to backpacking and hostels was certainly outside my comfort zone. Doing this blog takes me out of my comfort zone too, for example, when I published that I was going to aim for a sub 3 hour marathon at Boston 2018 (I missed by 40 seconds!😬). So, yes, I found work was good at challenging me, but I know it's something that we can also design for ourselves in early retirement.
A short time after I started my early retirement, I was listening to a radio phone-in show. It was about early retirement and I thought I could learn something useful. I didn't. Instead, I heard a lot of people saying they'd never stop working because, "what would they do?". I get that work should be enjoyable, and continuing with a job can be a perfectly good choice, but it seemed that many of the callers didn't seem to believe they could have a fulfilling life after work, they appeared to lack the imagination or confidence to do so. It seemed a bit sad to me. It's natural to worry about quitting a job, but I've found that many of the benefits of our jobs can readily be translated into an early retirement life.