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“I’m terrified of early retirement. What if I get lazy and lose my edge?”
This is a question a reader asked me when we met at a coffee shop a few months ago. We were supposed to have a quick 30-minute conversation, but by the time I checked my watch, daylight had turned to dusk, the place had emptied out, and the barista was standing at the exit, glaring at us. Somehow a quick chat had turned into a 4-hour marathon. Again. Of course this shouldn’t surprise me. Whenever we meet up with like-minded FI people, this always happens. Not that I minded. I mean, it’s not like my ex co-workers, family, or friends were dying to talk to me about the subject.
“You’re not going to get lazy or lose your edge. If anything, you’ll probably be busier in retirement.” I said.
“So you’re not bored in retirement? You don’t worry about becoming lazy?”
I didn’t blame him for wondering this. I wondered about the same thing before I retired.
Back when I was working, people were constantly competing over how many hours they worked, how few vacations they took, how many blood clots they had. By being inside the rat race, we’ve all been indoctrinated into thinking that working long hours is the norm. That if we worked any less, we’re lazy, or “losing our edge”.
So when we quit and take a breather for the first time after a decade of work, we feel guilty that because we’re no longer killing ourselves over getting the corner office, a bigger title or a raise, we’re now “lazy” and “losing our edge”.
But is that really the case? Does early retirement really make you lazy and lose your edge?
Let’s take a look at these so-called downsides of retirement:
It Makes You Lazy
Many people fear that once you retire, you’ll sleep for 14 hours a day, eat Cheetos and binge watch Netflix in your undies. What’s the point of learning or working on anything when there’s no boss cracking the whip? Why bother doing anything productive when no one’s watching you? If you had the choice of binge watching your favourite shows for days on end until you fall asleep in puddle of your own drool, why wouldn’t you?
Well, considering that I’m writing this in bed in my underwear at 1 AM after binging watching “Designated Survivor” on Netflix for 2 hours, you could be right.
But that’s only after I’d spent most of my day exploring the sprawling gardens of the current city we’re in, eating the best pastries I’ve ever had my life, writing another chapter of our book in a coffee shop, embarrassing myself with my horrible Spanish, and just revelling in the beauty of life.
What people don’t realize is that retirement doesn’t turn you into a different person. If you were lazy before, you’ll be lazy afterwards. If you were diligent before, you’ll be diligent after. You’ll find things to do even if it doesn’t drop into your lap like it did when you were working.
This also leads me to the question of “if you were lazy before retirement, how did you become FI in the first place?”
There was this TV show I used to watch as a kid. It was in Chinese and for the life of me I can’t remember the name anymore, but in it, this Kung Fu master teaches his students how to fight. But he’s also careful to instill discipline, usually in the form of chopping wood, hauling rocks, and carrying buckets of water up and down hills for some reason. Jet Li’s usually involved somewhere.
Anyway, the Master explains that he does this because these martial arts skills are hard to acquire, and take a lot of time, energy, and sacrifice to learn. Without discipline, the students won’t have what it takes to push through the hard parts of the training.
The real reason, as it later turns out, is because martial arts could be used to kill, but by making sure the student learns discipline at the same time, by the time they get to the level where they could kill someone they’ve already acquired the restraint not to use it unwisely.
That’s the same with FI. Becoming Financially Independent is simple but not easy. It takes a lot of time, and it requires focused discipline for years. So like becoming a Kung Fu master, becoming Financially Independent comes with a built-in discipline mechanism. The long journey of getting to FI will make sure that when you achieve it, you won’t be a lazy bum that just sits around all day being useless.
You may not be driven towards earning money anymore, but the odds that you’ll spend the rest of your retirement binge watching Netflix in your undies are next to nil. Once that season of the Walking Dead is over, you’ll totally be on the hunt for the next passion project—whether it is volunteer work, a tech start-up, teaching, travel writing, or whatever floats your boat. Except now you’re choosing to do work that you value, work makes you intrinsically happy, rather than extrinsic rewards like money. In a weird twisted way, I was much lazier when I was working, despite the number of hours I was working. Because back then, I was turning my brain off and doing what I was told to do for a pay check rather than questioning—really QUESTIONING what I wanted to do with my life. Now, that’s lazy.
You Will Lose Your Edge
To me this means “lose your competitive edge”. Which means, you’re no longer trying to beat other people in achieving a goal. You’ve already achieved it—by becoming FI and not having to work anymore. No longer will you be elbowing your co-workers in the face to get the corner office, or throwing them under the bus for a promotion.
And somehow that’s a bad thing? What we found out, in the last 3 years of retirement, is that you don’t exactly lose your edge, you just gain something infinitely better –doing work you’re passionate about, rather than just for money or just to beat your co-workers. Before becoming FI, following your passion was a luxury for me, because it comes at the cost of lower pay, or in terms of novel writing—no pay at all for years! But now that I can choose to work on things I’m passionate about, I no longer have to choose between money or passion.
So sure, I could’ve lost some “edge” in retirement by no longer caring about competitively beating everyone for a higher salary, but I’ve gained so much more. I no longer have to take on jobs I don’t care about just for the money. I don’t have to accept sponsorship posts or affiliates that I don’t believe in. In fact, I’ve lost count of how many sponsorship posts from shitty credit card companies that we’ve turned down because I didn’t think it would benefit any of you. Being able to say exactly what you’re thinking is the best feeling in the world!
I like to think of it this way—if I got hit by a bus tomorrow, would I be full of regret? The answer is “no, no, a thousand times no.” I don’t regret losing my edge and not making more money that I don’t need. But back when I was working, I was terrified of dying, because my whole life would’ve felt like a waste.
So the question really shouldn’t be “Will you be lazy and lose your edge in retirement?” It should be “Will you choose to be lazy in retirement?” and “What’s wrong with losing your edge if you can trade that for your passion?”
If you’re the type of person who can make it to FI, you’re not lazy. And unless you choose to become a whole different person, you have nothing to worry about.
What do you think? Will early retirement make you lazy?
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