One of the common things wannabe early retirees and those around them seem to worry about is what are they going to do all day. It always struck me as the most bizarre thing to fret about, but it appears that many people define themselves by work, and the answer to ‘what do you do for a living’. If you do that, then yes, the question is valid, although perhaps you might want to take a step back and ask yourself how it came to be that you define yourself by what you do rather than what you are. There is even a small constituency of folk who define themselves by the level of their spending, these should never retire 😉 At least not until they have read Erich Fromm’s “To Have or To Be“.
It’s part of the class of issues generally going with ‘what others think’. Most people are actually too busy worrying about what others think of them, it’s part of the human condition. Jim has summarised the issues well
What will your response be if you overhear your other half talking about you “lazing around”, “putting on your pipe and slippers” or “knitting cardigans”, while they continue to bring home the bacon? Did you note a tone of pity in their voice as they try to explain why you couldn’t sustain the pace of the working life any longer? Were you really so unhappy in your job that you just couldn’t take it any more? Or were you fired? Made redundant?
to which I confess I initially though “Eh? Meh” but it’s clearly an issue for some. What I do all day as a retiree is fantastically more diverse and varied than what I did at work. It’s not that surprising – you tend to specialise at work, and specialisation trends towards knowing more and more about less and less, particularly in a globalised world.
Now at work you are constrained to do that because you optimise your ability to earn money, albeit at the expense of making your career more brittle due to its specialisation, and this tends to get worse as you get older. But if you lift that constraint, then I’m with Heinlein’s Lazarus Long
“A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly. Specialization is for insects.”— Robert Heinlein, Time Enough for Love
So which of these have I done since leaving work. I’ve designed buildings, balanced accounts, taken and given orders, acted alone and cooperated, solved equations, analyzed new problems galore, build compost and measured its heat profile, programmed computers, and microcontrollers. I’ve dug trenches and laid irrigation, climbed hills and walked many more miles that I would have while working.
Among others I’ve surveyed birds, built instruments, learned all sorts of stuff, gone for drinks with friends, explored places, got lost, found my way again. I’ve helped two groups raise more than £100k via crowdfunding. The invading and fighting and dying I’ve passed on, and diapers were never something I wanted to wrangle, but each to their own. The point is that there is a richness to experience as an early retiree relative to the working me for the simple reason that I have far more freedom of action, which goes along with the independence part of financial independence. For sure, you could just as well use the time to stare at the wall, watch endless runs of daytime TV or potter in the allotment. There’s nothing wrong in that if it’s the sort of thing that lights your fire. Independence is the independence to, perhaps more than the independence from after a while.
I was going to try and break it down more but fortunately Root of Good has done the job perfectly with the Early Retiree’s Weekly Schedule, and lives a more structured life so it makes more sense[ref]I am tracking this in Outlook to see what it looks like for me, but it’s much more bitty and broken up.[/ref]
I don’t have the structure RoG has with the school run, nor the penchant for games and Netflix but it shows the freedom they have, and particularly the great comparison with the ghastly strictures of the work schedule later in their post. As they say, that schedule has way too much red, and was only 9 to 5 and didn’t include commuting.
As a retiree there is also the greater flexibility – a couple of days ago I was able to fit in a meetup with a friend from Denmark over on a short work visit to Felixstowe where he had a space because of a delay to his meeting. Once again, freedom to take up opportunities.
There is a joy in being a generalist again, to keep learning for the hell of it and the curiosity, indeed some of the exploration of a child but with the power of an adult mind rather than the simplistic incomprehension of a child. Of course learning some things are harder – it would have been easier for me to have learned Morse code as a teenager, or foreign languages as a child, and new motor skills in general. But nearly everything else is easier after a lifetime of learning how to learn, and resources to learn are far easier and cheaper now.
There’s no shortage of interest in the world – and it’s more interesting because of its variety, when you have the independence of choice. You don’t always have to do what you’re best at – I am going out this afternoon to shoot video for someone. I’m no Spielberg, but I have learned some of the rudiments of storytelling over the years, so I can do this to help someone tell their story, and get other people on board with their project. I get to do something different for a while, it helps the common weal a little bit and I get a little bit better at storytelling. It isn’t my greatest area of expertise, but then you don’t stop growing until they shovel the dirt in. Specialisation is for insects, and for work.