I've had an early retirement surprise or two. The only real regret I have after retiring early is that I didn't do it sooner. This freedom is amazing. But I would be lying if I said that everything's working out exactly as I had anticipated. It is not. In fact, I've learned quite a bit about myself since calling it quits.
For example, I am not nearly as tired throughout the day as I used to be. Truthfully, I'm more frightened by this realization than surprised. Full-time work not only drained me of my time but also my mental energy. My motivation to DO. I have found that I just don't need to nap nearly as often as I had anticipated because the relentless monopolizing draw on my energy is no longer there.
Now, I am in control. I choose what to do with my time. I prioritize the things I enjoy and eliminate things I don't – well, except grocery shopping. I hate grocery shopping, but I did it anyway as my wife finished up her job. Me … trying my best to be helpful!
But yes, back to what surprised me the most about early retirement. Quite simply, it has been the realization that the things I thought I enjoyed were nothing more than an escape from full-time work. I had no idea I was creating an alternate reality away from my full-time job.
Before I quit, I remember walking out of the gym most days thinking to myself how much more time I'll have to work out after I quit. I could spend two hours at the gym if I wanted. Burn some serious calories. But alas, I couldn't at the time …
"I would stay longer if I didn't have that damn telecon to join."
Or take blogging. How many more blog posts could I churn out in a given week without the full-time job time sink?
"I could write a post every day if I wanted to, or maybe get several months ahead!"
In my head, these dots were simple enough to connect. The job steals eight to 10 hours a day from me. Without the job, I get those hours back to use as I see fit. And that part is true. I do have those hours back. I am in control.
But I don't enjoy working out nearly as much as I thought I did. Early retirement surprise, indeed!
I still go to the gym. I enjoy it enough to still do it, but things are different. I'm not hell-bent on spending two hours at the gym like I had anticipated. In fact, that thought is horrifying to me now. My focus is getting my workout done so I can get out and do other things. Like my own projects.
Hell, how about just lounging in the campground's hot tub or pool without a care in the world?
I keep myself so busy that I cannot rationalize spending two hours a day at the gym. I am also not reading blogs nearly as much as I thought I would. Or writing blog posts. I just don't have the time (or motivation). It doesn't have the same appeal as it once had.
I am too focused on other things. Like getting out with my camera or editing video. Working on projects that I believe in.
You know what I did yesterday after lunch? I washed the entire Airstream and truck. Why? Because I wanted to. I wanted it done and I had the time to do it. Before I quit, you could bet that I would have used the "JOB" excuse to avoid the task. But now, it's fun … meditative.
And I take my time doing these things. Even grocery shopping. I relax and enjoy the moment as much as I can. And trust me, with the sheer volume of hate I have for grocery shopping, relaxing during that ungodly experience isn't easy.
A full-time job is like this sticky, pervasive sauce that touches everything. It gets everywhere, and it's tough to avoid. We can add or remove elements to and from our lives to help improve the texture, but the sauce is still there. Everything we do – whether we realize it or not, is influenced by this sticky, unwanted element.
I knew my full-time job was a drain on my freedom, but I hadn't realized just how big of a role it played in … everything.
It is remarkable, and somewhat sad, how influential our full-time jobs are in our lives. The things that we do – things we think we enjoy – are nothing more than an excuse to focus on something else – something other than full-time work. Of course, I gained very little satisfaction out of the work I did for a living so that certainly doesn't help.
If you enjoy your job, it might be different. But even if you do, life is more than time spent working for someone else.
At least it should be.
I don't do those things that I had anticipated doing nearly as much … but the things that I do do, I do with a hell of a lot more satisfaction. Purpose. I keep reminding myself that there is no real need to hurry. I'm retired now. I can take as much time as I need. There isn't a telecon to get back to. No status reports. No performance reviews. No client meeting.
It's just us and our two rescued dogs. And Charlie, our Airstream. And the whole rest of our lives.
Steve Adcock retired from full-time work in his mid-30s and writes about personal finance and financial independence. Steve can be reached on his website at ThinkSaveRetire.com and Twitter at @ThinkSaveRetire.
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