Retirement isn’t like a long weekend, or a long vacation

Something I’ve discovered is that many people who have been working for some time find it hard to imagine what life is without work, and occasionally fear the void. I’m not talking about someone who has found their vocation and genuinely enjoyed most of it. I observe that most often in the self-employed at the entrepreneurial end of things, be that in DW at The Oak Tree Farm, or the driven creative entrepreneur, or hell, even Diamond Geezer Bob ex of Barclays ;). That’s fine – but some of the rest of us wage slaves occasionally look at our lives, look at the bits that aren’t work (weekends, vacations) and subtract work to think ‘is that all there is’? with a little shiver down the spine at an imagine life of long weekends and extended vacations. For some, it seems to lack meaning and purpose.

It isn’t how it will be, but it’s an understandable mistake. When you have retired, life is not like one long weekend, or even a long vacation. Yes, the weekends are less different to the working week, obviously, but therein lies the clue. For people working 5 days a week, the two-day weekend is a brief respite, a chance to recharge the batteries, to take a break. You don’t need to do that when you have control of your own time, so your weekends are different! it still staggers me how I became almost zombified as energy drained, whole swathes of weeks merged into grey blocks of time compared to the kaleidoscope of variety. Don’t get me wrong, there was much more busyness then, but the ancient Greeks identified the problem with their concepts of Kairos and Chronos. You must live time, not just watch the hands sweep over the face of the clock. That means paying attention and doing things with respect.

Retirees still have to take some regard of the weekends, of course, because meeting up with others who are working is usually easier. Just as steam gives way to sail you need to respect other people’s time pressures. Nevertheless, life retired isn’t one long weekend, because there’s no need to decompress from the stress of work or to pack all the stuff into the two days that you couldn’t do in the other five days. It’s hard to say exactly how that is different, but it is – it is much more relaxed and more fun. Your weekends are no longer the bassline to the strident demands of work, they are part of a greater harmony.

It’s not one long vacation, either. Unless you’re very rich 😉 Even if you are, ask yourself whether an endless vacation isn’t perhaps the grown-up version of the kid who only wants to eat ice cream all the time. A life well lived has dynamic contrast, moving between different poles. A lot of your vacations while working are expensive because you are packing in a lot of stuff to make it as different from work as you can. You are usually time-constrained, too. I can’t really put this much better than GOP from this comment:

One change since I retired relates to travel. I used to go on far-flung holidays ranging from Bolivia to Bhutan which I thoroughly enjoyed but which also satisfied a need to get as far away from work as possible in every sense. Since retiring, although I can still afford to do it and my partner would be happy to let me, the need has somehow gone and I’m content with more local travel which, preferably, does not involve flying.

Now I am somewhat constrained at the moment in that I have no income, so I’m not going to spend large amounts on travel right now, but that won’t last forever. I still feel similarly to GOP – I travelled reasonably well with work when I was a single man and had a penchant for trying to take longer but travelling overland. Most of the time I love my fellow humans but that doesn’t extend to seeing them milling around in airports, or pretty much anywhere where a whole load of people have to line up all in one place. MMM may have put his finger on the problem with a Peak life is lived Off-Peak.

One of the key Principles of Mustachianism is that any and all lineups, queues, and other sardine-like collections of humans must be viewed with the squinty eyes of skepticism. Because if so many people simultaneously decide to do something that they are forced to stand or drive in a queue to do it, there’s a good chance it is something that is not worth doing.

He’s got a point. Don’t travel at the same times as the rest of humanity if you can. Sometimes that means don’t travel at all 😉 Often it’s as simple as travelling midweek, sometimes it means travelling at night. Similarly if you have to queue to buy something, it’s probably a carefully orchestrated shortage (think anything made by Apple, Christmas toys where the supply, marketing and demand are carefully managed to engineer a shortage and pester power that keeps sales up well after Christmas).

Food. Overpriced and aspiration next to overpriced and junky. I'll pass on that, thanks all the same
Food. Aspirational but dearer than if you made it at home and brought it to work

Your life will change post-retirement. When you’re working more than half your time is owned by someone else, and in a hard twist that means you often have to pay other people to do things for you because you don’t have the time, be that Starbucks to get you coffee, some deli in London because you didn’t make sandwiches or calling in a plumber because you don’t have the time to fix the problem yourself or understand and learn what needs doing.

The other thing, for which I have to thank GOP for introducing me to, is Herbert Marcuse, and his critique of capitalism, which is even more true now than when he wrote it :

The people recognize themselves in their commodities; they find their soul in their automobile, hi-fi set, split-level home, kitchen equipment,” meaning that under capitalism (in consumer society) humans become extensions of the commodities that they buy, thus making commodities extensions of people’s minds and bodies.

You are not what you buy or use. Your soul is to be found in the space between your ears, in the web of life with other sentient beings, in your love of life, and of others. It has no barcode; there is none other like it. Never lose sight of that in the mesmerising maelstrom of marketing messages. Thoreau had some point when he said

“A man is rich in proportion to the number of things which he can afford to let alone.”

For a more direct dissection Jacob ERE gives it to us straight between the eyes with both barrels.

In general, if you ask the average consumer what enjoying life is all about, it distills to the following trifecta: buying tickets, going to restaurants, and shopping.

That’s it. Those three things are all there is to enjoying life. The uninformed opinion is that if you don’t have these these three things in your life, your life sucks. I know, because that’s what I used to think. And it’s also what consumers keep bringing up.

Gulp. The Ermine has been known to darken the door of a restaurant occasionally 😉

It is a little over three years since I started this blog. The first real transmission was this one. It’s hard to picture your life retired when working – I found even the financial issues hard to envisage and they are among the more tractable and quantifiable changes. Nobody bangs the drum for things after the change – because nobody has the experience of being retired before they are retired 😉 Looking at that post, it was quite prescient. Illich had a point when he said choose a life of action. I spend more on tools and things to investigate stuff and make things happen. I don’t spend money on DVDs and video games. I’m fiddling about with finding out how to post a graph of the temperature of some chickens, and a polytunnel on Cosm. Because it’s a challenge. The secret to retirement is to be curious. Become like a child, always ask the question why.


I took a rotten shot of some flowers I passed because I’ve seen them before, and I figure it’s time I knew enough about my world to know what they are called. It’s one of the things that the gift of time gives you – you don’t have to live life on autopilot any more. Take joy in the quotidian as well as the unusual. I hear the song of the blackbirds slowly becoming more accomplished as time goes on. I learned about how to use json for data interchange.

It was easier for me to not fear the void, because my work experience had deteriorated, and I was seriously stressed, not by what I was doing but by the stupidity of the system. In life you should generally try to run towards the light rather than away from the darkness. But sometimes it simplifies things. For someone who doesn’t have serious issues at work, there is much to be said for taking some time. I can’t recommend highly enough scaling down your expenditure to match what you expect to retire on, and do that for a year at least. The decision to retire, and if so to retire early, is one that is important, though not urgent. You have to make time to consider it. I was seriously motivated to retire early, but it still took me three years to get to the right point for me. The delay wasn’t for the want of trying to convince myself I could do it earlier.  And you have to be prepared to take some leap of faith, because you have no clear idea of what it will be like. Sometimes in life it is good enough to do the best you can with what you have to hand 😉

It won’t be an endless weekend, or even an extra long vacation. Like sculpting anything, crafting a good life free of ‘work’ is a matter of having a general idea in your mind’s eye, and then taking the first steps. It won’t turn out exactly like the mental picture, and that’s fine. It won’t solve all your problems either, because remember that every place you go, still yourself you see in the mirror, and it is still your shadow that the lamp throws on the wall. Issues that lie within will retire with you. You may have more time to ruminate on how to work on them, but you won’t leave them behind as you hand in your mobile phone, computer and access card. Possibly for the first time you will be in charge of most of your time. Carpe diem – and may it serve you well.

I spent a lot of time thinking about the money aspects of retirement. I overshot somewhat – I don’t spend now as much as I’d get if I drew my pension early right now. Getting the money straight is a prerequisite, and I would urge anybody thinking of retiring early to inform themselves about the financial aspects of retirement as much as they could. But money isn’t the whole story.

Finance is necessary to crafting a decent retirement. But it isn’t sufficient. Your setting is just as important – who you will spend your time with, where you are, who is in your life, what your connections with the wider community is. Early retirees have some extra challenges in this area (most of their current social circle will probably be still at work) but they have other advantages unique to them too. They are younger, and probably more adaptable too. In the end I only retired eight years early, so I am not that unusual, compared to, say, Retirement Investing Today or Mr Money Mustache. There is a big difference in retiring in your early forties compared to early fifties. While the principles are the same – basically spend less than you earn, the scale is very different.




11 thoughts on “Retirement isn’t like a long weekend, or a long vacation”

  1. Hi Ermine. Interesting post as always. The flower is a Chionodoxa forbesii I think.

    You’re in good company, we were at Highgrove this week and Prince Charles obviously likes them too!


  2. Thank you! I have located this now in my wild flowers book but would never have found it without your help 😉 There’s clearly much I have to learn about identifying plants!


  3. Hi Ermine,
    Nice article, enjoyed some of the links, I like the bit about travelling.
    My advice is as your article quoted, most people only think they have been on holiday, if they go abroad. Theres lots to see in the UK.
    We make use of both Travelodge and Premier Inns and tend to travel midweek and go for 6-7 days at a time, If you check 6-8 weeks in advance or watch out for offers? Its cheaper and more comfortable then camping??
    As we are both oldies, we make use of our BP’s whereever we go. You get to see more, plus we visit the Museums, Art Galleries etc and generally look around at leisure.
    You also find that as you grow older, you need less things, but you have got to stop saying, ” I’ll make do with this, it will last me out,” a bit like the actress in a film i saw who said, “I’m that old, i don’t buy green bananas.”
    I’ll finish now, but remember, Financial Planning can be over-rated, saving for your old age is good, but be careful you are not the richest man in the boneyard.
    Bye, Lupulco.


  4. Retirement really does seem to be a continuous vacation for some people. Having spent many decades insulated from ‘real life’ in their workplace and on artificial organised holidays, they can imagine no alternative way of spending their time. I think that’s rather sad and I’d consider myself half-dead already if that’s the best retirement I could come up with. Not to mention how I’d pay for it.

    A recent Mr Money Mustache article introduced the “and then?” game. How do you want to live when you get to FI? If you can imagine an alternative to work you can actually start living some of it now. Throw away your television and get investing, fixing, birdwatching, gardening, skydiving, whatever you enjoy. Start to see work as intrusion on your life – you could then start to realise the benefits of retirement even if you quite like your job.

    Thanks again for the continuing motivation!


  5. @Lupulco indeed – Britain has a huge number of natural and historic sights that other people pay good money to come to this sceptre’d isle and gawk at, it has a remarkably varied geology and significant wildife habitats for such a small island whith rather a lot of people on it 😉

    When we get our camper van back from the repairers after some stupid twunt got all bevvied up and sideswiped us a month or so ago I hope to meet up with some of this! I’m not quite in cycling range of the coast but even the surrounding region has decent birdlife on offer, and we may have our very own resident barn owl at the farm!

    @BeatTheSeasons I fear it’s easy to get dulled at work. For me there were days, indeed sometimes weeks that would pass when the best I did for physical exercise was walking from the car to the office and back, and maybe a walk to the pub, and the occasional bike to work in the later stages. I’m happy to say that’s changed. Though I didnt’ get it from him, I think Mike Evan’s 23 1/2 hours that I read at MMM isn’t bad. Unfortunately the dulling of the mind at work can take place over years, and I wasn’t immune 😉

    ERE, as well as the post I linked, has a nice list of “Ways to answer the question of, “But what will I do all day?” with something else than “Whatever I feel like”. Heck, I still want to learn Morse Code. But I still don’t get more thna 24 hours in a day and there’s a lot of other stuff to get in there 😉


  6. I think Mike Evan’s 23 1/2 hours that I read at MMM isn’t bad. I thought it was good.
    As you are into Campervans heres a link you might find interesting.

    I left my camping days a long time ago, prefer the comfort of a bed and a hot bath or shower at the end of the day.


  7. Hi: As usual, you deliver hope. I like that you mentioned Marcuse. His original work, Eros and Civilization, is also worth a read.

    I remember as a student, talking to an older gentleman who was familiar with Marcuse, and he was really angry that I mentioned Marcuse. Maybe it bothered his catholicism, who knows ?

    Thing is, Ermine, I have been thinking like this since I was in my twenties, but life doesn’t give we wage slaves a break. As for the breakdown in work, I believe it’s happening in every profession. I recently went back to teaching in a ” Canadian ” style education system. While it has “improved” a little since the late 90’s, it is still a recipe for graduating illiterates with high grades,thus swamping the university system with scores of people who really shouldn’t be there.

    However, I have resigned and am going back to a better way of earning a living. Having said that I don’t see retirement clearly yet for four or five years more. Only five years short.

    Take care,

    I want OUT !!!


  8. For me, ER works well because I have a loose structure to my week. I never think “what am I going to do today”. Generally, I have the week planned around certain activities: academic writing / breadmaking/ decorating / finance / housework / running / shopping / tutoring etc. Not rigid, but sufficiently structured to give me a sense of calm. Sometimes I have to put things off because I feel too busy.

    An excellent meditation, as usual, ermine, and may I suggest that you have enough material now to write a book on your own experience of making the transition.


  9. Great post – I’ve only just read it, because I’ve been so busy since I ‘retired’…

    For me, it feels as though I have emerged from decades of crawling through a tunnel, and I have to say it is great! I now run every morning (at a great free local authority athletics track near my house) and have a proper sit-down lunch with my other half at a table in the dining room or the garden. It’s a revelation!

    Ironically, I have in fact been working for a day or two a week since ‘retiring’, but it is so different from when I was actually in harness that it doesn’t feel like work and the nifty day rate I am paid certainly comes in handy.

    I’ve been having a great time finally sorting out cupboards that have been bugging me for years (I’m funny like that) and I have been enjoying the novel experience of going to shops when they are quiet and spending as much time as a want to choose my purchases.

    My business suits have gone to Cancer Research, as I was sick of the sight of them and intend never to wear a tailored jacket again! My husband is amazed at the changes in me from just one month of freedom, and says I look 5 years younger – obviously, he is not daft…

    Anyway, busy week next week as I am booked in on a cookery course. Yum. Suffice to say, so far early retirement has been everything I hoped for and more. It’s worth the effort, and I’ve got so much that I plan to do – the only problem will be finding the time for it all.



  10. @Jane – fantastic – I really know what you mean by

    For me, it feels as though I have emerged from decades of crawling through a tunnel

    It’s really uplifting to come to the exit from the tunnel and blink in the unaccustomed sunshine!

    Same here on going for the quiet times. I target the 2.00 pm graveyard shift, where all the office workers are back at work but the mums and kids aren’t anywhere near the school run yet. Queues are so much less likely at that time.

    Good for your husband 😉 The improvement to physical well-being sounds excellent, and I am all for sitting down to eat with respect.


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