So I’ve Retired Early – Now What? Part 1 of 5: The Paradox of FIRE

Lit match with billowing smoke

I’ve decided to dedicate the month of April to writing about post-retirement and some of the interesting lessons we’ve learned venturing into this chapter of our lives.

While early retirement is definitely the cat’s meow – like everything in life, it comes with its own unique demands and challenges. We’ll delve into some of those in the coming posts, and hopefully give other Freedom Seekers a heads up about some of the more avoidable post-retirement pitfalls.

We’ll kick off the month talking about how you can do a better job of preparing for the transition than we did, dive into some of the less openly discussed impacts of retirement, and round out the month with some fun scienc-ey stuff about how we can make our retired years last even longer.

Here’s what it’s going to look like:

  • Week 1: Shifting your mindset – the”right” questions to be asking before you even reach early retirement. HINT: They look a lot different than the “right” questions it takes to achieve it.
  • Week 2: Finding your routine, and your anti-routine. The benefits of incorporating both.
  • Week 3: The Social Impact. Your relationships will change – how to be ready for it.
  • Week 4: Make it last. If you haven’t already started, how to enjoy the fruits of your labor for as long as possible.
  • Week 5: Can you find the mythical fountain of youth?

So here we go!

There’s one thing that’s worth stating right off the hop. Retirement is not a magic happy pill.  As we’ll talk about in this post, it can actually present some major difficulties for people in terms of day to day fulfillment.

I’ve seen many people pull the retirement trigger, only to be back in the work force within months because they never took the time to find their happy place in life. Investing all their time in work, neglecting; family, hobbies, socializing, you name it.

That’s a difficult switch to flip just because you’re suddenly retired.

So if you’re grinding through life and your pursuit of FIRE thinking that retirement will change everything, I’m going to suggest that you change course immediately.

Find what brings you contentment NOW, don’t wait until retirement to do that.

Although this is most definitely cliche, life is about finding pleasure in the journey, and if you treat retirement like an end goal that you just need to “get to”, where you expect suddenly “everything will be awesome” (yah, like from the lego movie, try and get that out of your head), you are setting yourself up for disappointment.

Retirement is a massively impactful life event. When you really take some time to analyze it, the ripple effect of leaving your job can be right up there with the birth of a child, the death of a loved one, divorce, a substantial re-location etc.

Particularly if you’ve built a career (and your identity) around that job.

That might sound dramatic, but if you break it down, retirement directly impacts some pretty key areas of our lives; finances, family, social, and psychological.

Not only that, but it can put a pretty big chink in 3 of the 4 pillars to a meaningful life; our sense of belonging, sense of purpose, and our storytelling (the reflection on experiences that also helps to shape our identity).

All of which to say, even a little in flight turbulence when you are making such a significant transition can have far reaching and long lasting impacts.

Mike and I spent a decent amount of time talking about what we wanted our post-FF life to look like. We painted pretty broad strokes, and in hindsight, I wish we had been a bit more specific.

I think where we really went wrong was that we spent ZERO time taking stock of what our jobs offered us in a non-financial capacity, that we didn’t get elsewhere in our lives.

Some of those benefits were pretty darn obvious, but some were also very nuanced.

The absence of those benefits, and the obvious holes they left in our retired lives, motivated me to take a hard look at the retirement literature out there. The more I read, the more the rather ironic paradox of FIRE/FF became apparent.

In past studies of retiree’s, a number of personality traits have been identified that correlate with people who are more likely to have difficulty in their transition to retirement.

They include people who are; goal oriented, high performers, achievement addicts, perfectionists, systematizers, willing to set the bar high in order to challenge themselves and beat the odds…..the list goes on, but are any of these traits sounding familiar?.

My thoughts exactly.

While not always the case, the constellation of traits that are frequently associated to people who experience difficulty retiring also happen to be synonymous with a high percentage of people drawn to the FIRE community.

Mike and I both happen to possess essentially all of those “qualities“, and what I find even more ironic, is that by achieving the very goal of Financial Freedom, and subsequently retiring early, we simultaneously knocked out the bulk of our sources for satisfying those very traits.

Oops.

We really enjoyed the pursuit of FF. The constant progress and positive feedback of seeing our debts decline and savings skyrocket, the challenge of finding new and innovative ways to make those numbers move. Even the fact that we were doing something different from the crowd, and proving many doubters wrong along the way. We THRIVED in that environment.

We also thrived in our work environment. Often to the detriment of other aspects of our lives – and we were also really good at our jobs.

In hindsight, for a “recovering” perfectionist, over achiever, high performer, etc, psychologically I got a lot of what I needed from my job AND from pursuing FF.

In retirement, suddenly I didn’t have that same sense of daily achievement, clarity of goals, structure, feedback, or the mental security of a defined, financially necessary and therefore logical, purpose.

If I’m being honest – retirement threw me for a bit of a loop. It still is – I haven’t quite settled into this new life yet.

While I definitely don’t miss the alarm clock, the commute, the office politics, or some of the more mundane tasks of my day to day job, there are absolutely times when I miss the adrenalin rush of running large scale projects, of being in charge of a team, and of making high stakes, real time decisions.

But on the flip side, there are also occasions when I miss the structure my alarm clock offered, the guilt free implied permission to zone out for 30 minutes or so during my commute, the dramatic goings on of the office environment, and the mindless busy work, while being extremely thankful to no longer experience the deadlines of large projects, the responsibility of being in charge, or the stress of the potential fallout of owning big decisions.

All that to say, nearly all aspects of our jobs have hidden rewards that, dependent on our personality and perspective, greatly enrich our lives. We just don’t always notice them.

Now it’s solely up to Mike and I to define what our priorities are. What we value, what is important to pursue, where we want to invest our time.

It’s wonderful, it’s exactly what we wanted, to regain our time and have choice, but as it turns out – unlimited choice and freedom also has this weird way of being a bit…… overwhelming. (There’s a great book about that called The Paradox of Choice by Barry Schwartz. While not a retirement book, the concepts directly apply.)

Unlike traditional retirement, when you retire in your 30’s and 40’s there’s still a strong societal (and internal) expectation that you are going to DO something with yourself.

“So what are you going to do now?” This question inevitably emerges anytime someone discovers that Mike and I are now retired.

It’s very annoying, but that’s probably because I can’t help but ask myself the same question all the time. I still have the same answer, “I don’t know yet”.

It’s kind of like being 18 again, when every adult you encounter asks you what you are going to be, and you’re riddled with the angst and uncertainty of trying to figure out what exactly it is that you are going to do with your life.

Except, you’re not 18 anymore, now you are (supposed to be), older, wiser, and more informed, all of which should equate to the ability to select a fulfilling, admirable, philanthropic, and purposeful new path with your new found freedom.

No pressure though.

The easy and obvious answer for us is that we now invest the bulk of our time into our kids. And no doubt, they take up a lot of our time, but they also provide massive returns in the form of unconditional love, along with a huge sense of pride, joy and gratitude that we get to spend such quality time with them.

But when I give my (now well rehearsed) answer that “we don’t know what we are going to do next, but for now we are taking the opportunity to spend more time with our boys while they are growing up”, people’s responding disappointment (and disinterest) is palpable.

As much as I know this is not the thrilling answer people are expecting of two 30 somethings that just retired, we aren’t 18 anymore, we definitely feel older, hopefully we are at least a smidge wiser, and I have absolutely never known anyone to say that their life’s greatest regret was spending too much time with their kids.

So we’re starting with that and rather than hurriedly throwing darts at the “passion board of life”, this time around we’ll just see where our lives and interests take us.

But, I think we would both be hard pressed to deny that we still feel a little like wandering nomads in this world of retirement. We are figuring it out, and it is definitely a new kind of challenge. One that has demanded some serious introspection, but admittedly would have been easier if we’d had a better idea of what to expect, and put a little more effort into what came AFTER Financial Freedom.

So…..What Can You Do?

If you are pursuing FIRE/Financial Freedom, I challenge you to find the answers to these questions well BEFORE you make the transition to retirement.

  1. What does my job provide me psychologically that gives me a sense of purpose, identity, productivity and value?
  2. What does my job provide me socially that gives me a sense of community, friendship and an overall conversational outlet?
  3. What does my job provide for my family in terms of role definement, daily structure, routine, and identity?

I haven’t included a question about finances, because, well, if you’re an FI/FF seeker, I’m confident that is where almost the entirety of your focus has already been placed!

Don’t answer these questions hastily. Write them down in a journal, memo, where ever, and just mull them over for days, weeks, even months. Dissect the positive impacts that your job, and its accompanying structure and built-in social/psychological rewards, provide. Not only for you, but also for your family.

Compile this list intentionally by being mindful and reflecting daily on the non-monetary benefits your job provides, and remember, even the negatives often have a silver lining that aids in contributing to our overall happiness and well being.

Note* If you are feeling crappy, or annoyed by your current job, this process has the added benefit of highlighting the good stuff, helping us to all be a little more appreciative of what we have in our lives 🙂

Once you have a good start on that list, then move on to identifying what hobbies, interests, pursuits, or day to day routines you plan to have in your retired life that will provide you with similar benefits.

If you thrive when you feel a daily sense of achievement and productivity at work, what can you do in your retired life that would give you similar feedback? Perhaps it’s as simple as having clearly defined chores/roles around the house, maintaining a small side hustle, volunteering, or maybe acting as a mentor/sounding board for others in your former profession? Hey – you could even start a blog!

If the solitariness of your early morning commute and the routine of listening to your favourite podcast keeps your grounded, what hobby could you replace that with? A morning run, hike, kayak?

If your spouse is used to you not being in the house in the morning, and it’s a time when they are ultra-productive and get a ton of stuff done, try and figure out an interest or hobby that will take you AWAY from the home, so you aren’t underfoot and entirely messing with the balance of their routine.

By identifying the gaps and ripple effects that will result when you leave your job, BEFORE YOU LEAVE YOUR JOB, you’ll be able to better hone in on the hobbies, interests and pursuits that will form a day to day routine that net’s you all the positive gains of your former employment while reclaiming your freedom, AND leaving the negative far far behind.

While everyone’s retirement pitfalls will be different, analyzing where they are likely to pop up long before you retire will go a long way in paving the way for a smooth transition.

Oh, and when people ask you what you do for a living, and you don’t want to get into a conversation about what you’re going to do next, your answer absolutely doesn’t need to be “I’m retired”.

I’ve recently decided that my new answer is going to be “I’m a writer, real estate investor, landlord, frequent DIY-er, and a stay-at-home mom, which means I’m also a full time cleaning lady, gardener, chef, seamstress, counsellor, nurse………..actually you can just call me Wonder Woman :)”

If you enjoyed this post, be sure to check back next week for our second part in the series, all about the importance of ROUTINE, oh and anti-routines.  Even better, subscribe below by joining our Freedom Fastrack and you’ll get next week’s post delivered right to your inbox.

Thanks for reading!

4 thoughts on “So I’ve Retired Early – Now What? Part 1 of 5: The Paradox of FIRE

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