This is what I hear sometimes when I tell people I want to retire early. There’s the why and the what. Why would you do it? What (on earth) would you do?
I have been thinking about it and asked myself the same questions: ‘What exactly is it that drives me to aim for early retirement? Why do I think I will love a work-free life while many other people couldn’t imagine a life without a job? And yes, what would I do?’A job doesn’t provide just money, but also purpose, friendships, social status, structure and not least a sense of identity and belonging. And that is a good thing. A sense of belonging is a human need, just like the need for food and shelter. And it is well known that a sense of belonging to a greater community improves motivation, happiness and health. It helps us survive and cope with life’s challenges.
You could ask ‘if it is so healthy then why are so many people going down with stress?’ Good point. A job is really a two-edged sword for many. It gives joy, yet the joy can be overshadowed by too much stress. And too much stress is not good, we can all agree on that.
If a sense of belonging is so important and my needs are the same as anyone else’s, then why would I rather stop working today than tomorrow? Am I just plain lazy? Am I ignoring my fundamental needs and about to make my life’s biggest mistake? Some people seem to suggest I will.
Trust me, I know I have the same needs as others. I am just of the opinion that their fulfillment doesn’t have to be connected to my job.
What I like about my job
I like my job. I always have. It’s fun and has allowed me to live the life I am living today. But if I want to know whether I can live without it, I have to be more precise. What exactly do I like about it? And can that something be found outside my job?
After some thinking I came to the conclusion that my personal development – mastering new skills – has been the most rewarding for me. My job has never been an ego-boosting pursuit. And it isn’t the money or the social status that drives me. I absolutely love working with my colleagues, which has kept me going as well, but if I am honest, it is the personal development part that sticks out.
This insight got me thinking: If growth, personal development, mastering skills is what makes me tick, then why not organize my life in such a way that I can pursue more of that?
You might say: ‘Why not stay in your job then? If it is so much fun and you can grow and master new skills, surely you have everything you need?’ Of course I could stay. But we all know that work is mostly comprised of more or less boring routines. And if there is an opportunity to develop new skills, it is typically linked to the business. My boss will think I have gone mad if I were to suggest guitar lessons the next time I discuss career growth with him.
You may argue that I could satisfy the desire for personal development in the evenings and weekends. That’s win-win isn’t it?
But it’s not that easy for me. I’m in a ‘5 days a week 9 to 5’ routine and I usually lack the (mental) energy in the evenings to do anything else than engage in passive activities like watching a show on Netflix. Weekends are a bit different, but often packed with plans and the usual things. You know, shopping, cleaning, quality time (important!). And before you know it Sunday evening is breathing in your neck and whispering it is time to go to bed because you have an important meeting the next morning.
What is it in my personality that makes me want to take another path than the one that says “Get good grades. Get into a decent school. Get a solid desk job. Work until you are 68”?
Thriving outside my comfort zone
I am the kind of person who feels that things become stagnant when falling victim to monotonous routines. It makes me restless. What I do love is leaving my comfort zone. Leaving your comfort zone means new experiences. And every new experience means growth (well within limits obviously, I wouldn’t jump off a high-rise).
After many years doing the same job, it has all become too much part of my own backyard. There is always more to learn of course. I could climb the corporate ladder for example. But that’s not what I want.
I am a creative
I love being creative. To start with an idea, a blueprint, and then turn it into something tangible. It’s tremendously satisfying for me to create something from scratch. Nobody may be interested in what I have created. Or like it. I don’t care. I had an idea and I executed on it. Period.
Quite recently I built a mining rig. For those of you who don’t know what it is, it’s a computer that solves cryptographic puzzles and in the process you are awarded digital currency (like bitcoin).
I had never built one before, but that didn’t stop me (leaving my comfort zone remember). I searched for information in Internet forums and blogs, ordered all the parts and built it. Before I knew it I had a monster computer on my kitchen table mining bitcoins!
My colleagues thought I was (a little) crazy. It definitely didn’t fit their image of what a 50-year old is supposed to do in his spare time. And they didn’t quite understand either why I wanted a mining rig in the first place.
But they were missing the point. It was never about the mining rig. It was about the process of building one, to move outside my comfort zone, to learn something new, master a new skill. It was not about the result, but about the journey. And I want to embark on many more journey’s.
That is me in a nutshell.
I have this thing that I dislike perfect order. I need a little chaos around me. A messy desk and apartment, papers and clothes strewn on the floor. I’ve set my alarm clock for 6:33 am. I don’t like 6:30.
I am flexible, intuitive and I love being spontaneous.
My office, with its rigid schedules, business plans and deadlines makes me feel trapped. I still do things my own way, have my own style, but at the end of the day I am just a free spirit, feeling somewhat caged.
A meaningful life
I think I’ve made my case. The why and the what. Why I want to retire early, why I will enjoy early retirement and what I will do once I get there. I will experience, learn.
But above all, I will lead a life that is meaningful to me. In that sense I am exactly the same as anyone else. We all want to lead meaningful lives.
And there you have it. The answer to the question in the title. Do you have what it takes to retire early? If you can see yourself leading a meaningful work-free life, then early retirement is for you.
In the post 5 Things You Can Afford When You Are Financially Independent I wrote:
Once I reach FIRE (financially independent, retire early), I plan on standing still. Do nothing but reflect.
This is growth and leaving my comfort zone too. What I mean is that a meaningful life isn’t the same as a having a busy, action-packed life or a life dedicated to charity. It can be anything really.
And then again, one thing that makes people really happy as well is acts of kindness. Imagine the possibilities.
Tell me, what are your thoughts?
Do you think you have what it takes to retire early?
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