This weekend was a special anniversary for me. It marked two years since I left my last full-time job. I thought it a good time to share some reflections on those past two years.
What is retirement anyway?
Retirement is a pejorative term. I’ve encountered that hostility enough to realise not to say “I’m retired” to most people I meet. These days I usually say I’m “semi-retired”, a “freelancer”, a “house husband” or a “lady who lunches” (the latter two particularly useful when meeting someone with a, let’s say, ‘traditional’ worldview).
The weirdest thing is when people tell me I’m not FI/most handsome man in London. It’s kinda like saying Dinosaurs didn’t exist because you call them giant reptiles instead. I’m still not sure why people get so upset about what a random guy on the internet says. Anyway, I digress.
So what is early retirement like?
It is great to be free to do what you want. Even if what you want to do is nothing. It’s liberating to not follow orders or have to bend to others’ will. There is a joy in being free to think and reflect in a way, and at a time, that suits you.
2. Going against the flow is great
It feels like everyone else is in such a rush. When you are retired it’s like you are in reverse bullet time. Everyone else is whizzing around you whilst you stroll about. One of the most joyful things is being in a train station and observing people stressfully scurry to and fro whilst you calmly plan your journey. What once was an immensely stress-filled environment is now invigorating.
Once my least favourite place in the world, now an oasis of calm
You become detached from the rush. You go the opposite way. As people rush home, you are heading out. As people beaver away in their offices, you pound the pavements. You start to live in your own time-zone. One designed for your life. Not one forced upon you.
3. You realise most people don’t work ‘9 to 5’
Most people don’t do the standard full-time office job. In fact, less than 50% of the UK population works at all and only about 35% work full-time. Trapped in an office you forget about the world that most people inhabit. One of schoolchildren, retirees, mothers and fathers. You lose sight of the people who work in a different, hidden way that keep the lights on for us all. I’ve come to greatly appreciate those people.
4. You have more time for the important things
Both in the sense of time and physically and mentally. I had too little time to spend with loved ones. I was too physically and mentally tired to be much fun. Now I’m less tired, less worn down. When I’m there, I’m actually there. Not some shadow of my true self.
5 There’s beauty in doing nothing
I’m not a big plans kind of guy. I don’t want to rule the world or be important. I no longer feel the burning pressure to ‘be the best I can be’ (I think that’s a deliberate ploy by employers to make you feel insecure). I can let my mind wander and escape into my own thoughts. It’s beautiful and precious. I’ve been able to discard many things I used to think because I no longer hide in a self-imposed ignorance. The world of ‘knowledge work’ (perhaps an oxymoron) eats away at your mental creativity. You’re bombarded by information, news. Being retired you can step away from that.
6 You will be alone with your thoughts
UN experts now consider solitary confinement to be torture. If you take full-time work out of your schedule, then a big gap appears where there used to be (forced?) social interaction.
Retirement won’t magically stop you from being a worrier. It won’t suddenly make you get less bored. You will be left alone with your thoughts. Sometimes for long periods. Some people, myself included, have a, let’s say, slightly dysfunctional relationship with their brain (think a bickering couple). Be prepared to deal with that on a daily basis.
7 The thing I miss the most
Without any irony the thing I miss the most is work. Not the people, as you might expect. That’s because I try to speak to them and meet up with them regularly. That, I think is vital, as social isolation is an incredibly damaging thing.
The real thing I miss is the work I did. I miss valuing companies, reading financial statements, thinking about complex problems and trying to explain those to a layperson. Even writing about those kinds of things (like Patisserie Valerie or about the Pensions Lifetime Allowance or the Annual Allowance) isn’t quite the same. Least of all I don’t get paid to do them! (Do, however, get in touch if you’d like to give me lots of money to do so.)
I also notice I’m not as ‘sharp’ as I was when I was working full-time (despite no longer suffering from the same levels of sleep deprivation). It’s why I continue to push myself mentally and professionally. And thus my, what appear, random, deep posts I torture readers with.
From time to time I’ve looked at somehow trying to do the ‘work’ without the ‘job’. But it seems like the bullsh*t stuff is inextricably linked to just doing the work. The annual appraisals, the compliance regimes and network and marketing ‘to grow the business’ (i.e. make more money for very wealthy people that you won’t see a penny of). Perhaps I’m too much of an idealist on these things. Luckily, I’ve found a few gigs that aren’t like that. I’m trusted to do some work and deliver it – nothing else.
A few tips
If you’d indulge me, I’ll share a few tips for those thinking about retiring:
- Have a structure: Both short-run and long-run. On a short-run basis, I usually go into Central London around twice a week to meet people or go to events. I’ll spend around a day a week writing, a day studying and a day or two doing housework and running errands. This gives me a regular flow of life. Long-term, I want to help our world get better at personal finance, particularly saving for retirement. I want to invest more into my family and friends. The first long-term goals in my first year were to learn to ride a bike and learn some new professional qualifications.
- Learn to embrace waiting: Delays and waiting are part of life. In the stressful work-world, these are painful. But they needn’t be when retired. You choose how you feel. You can still value your time, but learn not to get upset by things going wrong or things outside your control.
- Keep meeting people: Don’t socially isolate yourself. Keep meeting people. It might seem crazy for me to spend a two-hour round trip just to meet someone for a half-hour coffee or lunch. But it is 100% worth it. I am so much happier when I do. This is not some kind of extrovert thing. I am definitely towards the introvert end of the scale. There is much joy in chatting with friends and meeting new people
- Enjoy the little things: Now I didn’t know what this meant when people kept saying it. In fact, I still think it’s a bit vague, but I’ve used it for the title here. Enjoy things that used to fly past you during the day or were perhaps even misery-inducing. For example, I used to hate train stations. They are busy, dirty, noisy. They were a barrier between where I was and where I needed to be. Now, I can have this immense smugness knowing that I’m in a pretty unpleasant place that is no longer unpleasant for me. Sure, train stations still suck, but they suck so much less. I can harness joy from that. I can watch the cleaners, attendants and the security staff quietly going about their job, helping thousands of people each day without any thanks or recognition. That is a beautiful thing.
- Retirement isn’t a salve: You won’t become a better person. You won’t become fitter and stronger. You won’t become happier. The path to those things comes from within. Retirement is a tool to help you with those things. A wrench on its own will not fix your leaking pipes – you still have to put the effort in.
All the best,
Young FI Guy