If you’re reading this blog, or even just skimming the post titles, you might accuse me of living in a fantasy land of post-retirement dreams. Let me tell you why I think that’s a good thing.
We Need to Retire to Something
When I have to describe myself in a job interview or some other professional setting, I almost always use the words “result oriented.” Early in my career it might have just been something I said because I thought it sounded good, but the more I reflect on it, the more I realize that it is actually a big part of who I am. Every difficult undertaking will encounter unforeseen problems, setbacks, and complications. If we allow ourselves to focus only on the problems of today, and forget to fix our sights on the goal, it would be easy to become frustrated and run out of steam. Address the impasses as they come, but never let them take your focus off of what’s important.
Other personal finance blogs tend to cover the nuts-and-bolts of personal finance and FIRE almost exclusively. I love that kind of article, and I absorb pretty much everything Mad Fientist, JL Collins, and Mr. Money Mustache write with genuine enthusiasm. In the end, though there are countless optimizations possible, early retirement comes down to just a couple of overall steps: Avoid debt, cut your expenses, and invest the remainder wisely.
If you’re pursuing early retirement, you owe it to yourself to start thinking about what you’ll do with the time on your hands. I have a lot of very concrete ideas of what it’s going to look like. If I hit the lottery (which would require playing the lottery) tomorrow, I could retire the next day and have a full schedule ready to go.
Why is that important? Because it’s not enough to simply hate having to work.
Business Insider recently published an article about how Markus “Notch” Perssen, creator of Minecraft (who sold his independent video game studio to Microsoft for $2.5 billion dollars), is deeply unhappy with his life after becoming fabulously wealthy. Here is one of the 1500 richest people on the entire planet, and he feels less fulfilled now than he did going to work every day.
There are probably a lot of factors at play here, but early retirement is not the cause of his unhappiness. Mr. Perssen seems to be discovering that a seemingly-infinite supply of wealth doesn’t translate to an infinite supply of happiness. Of course, we all say that money can’t buy happiness, but in this case I mean that material luxury beyond a basic level has a steep drop-off in emotional satisfaction. If money is only a tool to buy you more stuff, and you’re expecting a huge emotional payoff corresponding to a huge financial payoff, you’re going to be profoundly disappointed.
Now, if we see money as the key to freedom, and we have a plan for what to do with that freedom, then a sudden windfall stands to make us very fulfilled. If you look at people like Elon Musk, who Persson cites as someone he doesn’t want to be like because it “exposes him to the same kind of assholes that made him sell Minecraft,” it was financial independence that allowed him to blossom as an individual. He chose not to stop working, and leveraged his freedom to fulfill his dreams– and he was dreaming big.
If you don’t have a technicolor, high-definition goal in mind before you reach financial independence, I can see how you would be filled with a sudden, empty feeling of “what now?” For that reason, I think it’s critically important to have a plan.
Exercises to Develop a Plan
Here are some ideas of mental exercises you can do, right now, to help you develop a retirement plan that will keep you motivated, and ultimately fill your retirement with satisfaction.
- Write yourself a weekly schedule for retirement.
- Write a business plan for a business you truly believe in. Don’t worry about profitability.
- Pick one discipline you’d like to become an expert in. Write yourself a curriculum to teach yourself.
- Your job is to save the world singlehandedly. Write a plan to do so, focusing on having the maximum effect at minimum expense, but with infinite time available.
- Pick a remote place that you’ve always wanted to visit. What skills could you develop before going that would make the experience more rewarding?
These are just a few exercises to help you articulate concrete retirement goals. Once you start thinking about it, it will be hard to stop!
How do you plan for retirement? How will you fill the void that work used to occupy? Are you worried that you will be bored in retirement, and if so, why?