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Early retirement - losing direction, purpose and motivation

It's fair to say that I have a positive view of early retirement. I'm in my seventh year of it and haven't regretted it for a second.


That's not to say there aren't occasional challenges. For example, I'm still trying to find the right balance between the early retirement that I want and the life that my wife wants to lead - I'd assumed our wants for the next stage of our lives would automatically align, but that was an incorrect assumption. Another, perhaps simpler, challenge is how to deal with the times when I feel a lack of direction, purpose or motivation.


That's the case today - I don't feel that I have the same sense of drive that I normally have. This has happened before. I often have a similar feeling at the start of January, I suspect a result of abandoning my normal routines over Christmas, and it then taking a while to get back into my early retirement stride.


On the basis that I'm writing this in August, it's difficult to blame Christmas! But I guess it is possible that my current malaise is a result of a change in routine - over the past month, I've hiked the Tour du Mont Blanc with friends and also had visitors to stay, all a lot of fun, but also different from my routine. However, this isn't the first time I've taken time out to do something, and we often have visitors, and these things don't automatically lead to a problem, so I think there's something else.


Early retirement challenges
Ouch...not part of this year's early retirment plan!

That something else is that I've fractured a bone in my ankle. It's only a little fracture, and only on a small bone (the round sticky-out bone on the outside of your ankle, the lateral malleolus), but enough for the doctor to prescribe no sport for six weeks, so no running and no cycling (well, maybe I can cycle after four weeks). I don't count myself as a fitness fanatic, but it is something I normally do four or five times a week, and taking this away has certainly affected my routine and perhaps also my sense of direction or purpose.


Why am I writing about this? It's to recognise that not every early retirement day is perfect. But then, to also say that if there is a part of early retirement that isn't feeling as good as it could, there's usually something quite easy that can be done to make things better. I'm a believer that we have a lot of control over our own destiny.


In my case, I like routine, and injuring my ankle means that a chunk of my normal routine is temporarily off limits. I can sulk about the lack of direction, purpose or motivation that I'm feeling, or I can try to do something about it - unsurprisingly, I'll choose the latter.


So, what to do? While not exactly exciting, my targets for this year include trying to understand French capital gains tax and inheritance tax (there's also a property wealth tax to think about), so I can use the time that I would have been running or cycling to investigate these topics. While doing that, I've realised that our wills need updating, so I'm spending some time to fix that too. There are also some other things on my to do list that I can pay a little more attention to.


As I said, these aren't the most exciting of activities, but they will help get me back on track in terms of giving me a little more direction, motivation and purpose. Plus, I can also choose some more exciting activities to address, for example, we're thinking of taking a holiday in November, so some planning for that can tick the more exciting box.


In terms of some tasks being less exciting, it's worth remembering that in my pre-retirement job as an accountant, not every day was exhilarating (to put it mildly!), so it's okay to have a few quieter early retirement days too.


In the seven years of my early retirement so far, I've vacillated on whether "purpose" is important. On balance, I come down on the side of saying that it is, but that purpose doesn't have to be the big, and perhaps altruistic, thing that I once thought. I've found that a combination of smaller things can work well to give me sufficient direction and motivation.


Of course, if I follow the doctors' orders, it won't be too long before my ankle is fixed, and I can be out running and cycling again, and presumably complaining about how unfit I've become. Added to that, I'll hopefully have checked off my understanding French capital gains and inheritance tax target, updated our wills, and planned a holiday for November. I already feel that I have more focus. Positive thinking!


As I said, the idea behind this post is to recognise that not every early retirement day is perfect, and that's quite normal and absolutely fine. Hopefully, the takeaway is that these moments are usually temporary and, with a little thought and effort, easily fixed. When I wrote a similar post back in 2019, I ended it by saying "I think this has been a slightly weird post...thanks for listening". That same message seems to be an appropriate closing this time round too😀

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michelle
michelle
Aug 21, 2023

Hey David. Sorry about the ankle - it's a right pain (pun intended) to get thrown out of your routine like that. I have to admit, I get a bit 'itchy' when I can't get outside and exercise so I get the feeling you mean. Though I have to say sometimes it's good practice not to want to always 'achieve' something for a day to feel worthwhile. Look forward to hearing about the November adventure plans, whatever they end up being. Can thoroughly recommend rural Spain and Portugal if Morocco doesn't pan out!

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In truth, I think I have many (maybe even most) days where I don't achieve anything...I'm just good at pretending that that's not the case!🤣

Thanks for the travel tips. In fact, on the subject of pretending, travelling is something I'm not very good at (or at least I'm not good at slow travel), but I'm hoping to get better.

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Did you fracture your ankle on the Mont Blanc hike? I think periods like this are useful. It's a good thing to stop and think about whether what you are doing is what you want to be doing. If you had a job your boss would be telling you what to do- with no regard to your wishes. And even though you are telling yourself what to do now, your wishes change. I've been volunteering at the same place for two years and I still enjoy it, but I'm starting to wonder if it's time to explore something different. Or maybe I just want a break. It's worth pondering

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No not on the Trail du Mont Blanc, it was while trail running about a week after. I rolled my ankle, and most times that would have been it, but on this occasion it made an ominous noise. On the plus side, at least I'm making progress on my tax questions!

As you say, it's good to sometimes take a pause and think about what we're doing and what we want to do. It's so easy to just carry on without much thought which doesn't really make much sense.


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Hi David,

We are rarely able to make plans as you maybe aware from previous comments because of Maureen's health condition, so I generally deal with this by having a range of options available at any point in time ranging from the exciting and enjoyable to the mundane but needs to be done sometime, the latter analogous to understanding the French Tax System or completing a tax return. I find that as long I have a achieved something at the end of the day, I can deal with the disappointment of not getting a day out in the camper or whatever in my mind I may have envisaged as the 'more exciting' option. It is wasting a day completely and…

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I agree, Peter, it is indeed the aimless feeling that frustrates me, in which case even the more mundane items that can be ticked off a list provide some direction and drive. Much of this is a question of mindset, we can sulk and say that we didn't achieve such and such, or pivot our focus and instead pat ourselves on the back for achieving something else. In fact, it can feel quite rewarding to realise when things aren't feeling quite right, and to know that it's within our gift to change that.


I'm feeling positive about the ankle, I think it's improving quite well. I'm supposed to be cycling the Route des Grandes Alpes (2nd time) with some friends…

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tony.oz
tony.oz
Aug 18, 2023

Hi David,


I find that any physical injury that puts me out causes me some level of anxiety and malaise. As we get older it takes longer for the body to heal and definitely much longer to get back to our physical standard before the injury. In retirement exercise, for me, is such a big deal to ensure I am healthy and fit to do all the wonderful things that time affords me. Exercise also forms a big part of my daily routine so if I’m not doing it then there’s a chunk of my day that I need to fill. I do think though that these same feelings were invoked even when I was working, given exercise played quite…

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Thanks Tony, it seems you have had a similar experience. As you say, we take longer to heal as we get older, which is definitely a reason why I'm glad that I've taken early retirement to give me the free time when I'm young enough to make the best of it. I use habits to make sure I turn the doorknob and get out and run, so I guess I'll have to rebuild some of that habit too. I'm hopeful I won't be out for too long though🤞

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Hi David. Do you have a short list for the November holiday? Be interested to know if it will be a long one (a month or more), short or long haul, and whether it will be a dry run for the volunteering project you were thinking about for you and Sally 😀.


On another note. What did your son end up doing in the end when he graduated.., eg is he working in the UK? We have two sons, and the eldest has just graduated and he's going travelling to central and south America in October, and wants to delay the world of work for a while.. Can't say I blame him 😂

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Thanks for the recommendation. I think November would be a good time to visit, nice climate and not too busy.

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