You’ve been dreaming about it for months. In meetings, you find yourself not giving a crap about TPS reports, the latest quarterly results, or whatever bullshit people-who-are-not-you care about. You constantly stare out the window, thinking about all the amazing places you’re going to travel to, all the books you’re FINALLY going to have time to read, that long lost hobby you’re going to work on. You count down the hours at work.
Then quitting day finally comes. Your heart is pounding out of your chest. You think “this is it. It’s now or never.” You pull the trigger and give your notice.
Your co-workers and boss all think you’ve lost your damn mind. They’ve even gone out and bought a pillow for when you come crawling back on your knees in a year, broke, sad, and desperate to get your job back.
You ignore them. You go home, celebrate by breaking open the champagne and feel on top of the world!
The next day, your first full day in retirement you start to realize WOW there are SO many hours in the day! Why didn’t I notice this before?
You feel like you’re 18-years-old again and the world is yours! You can do ANYTHING!
You read that “I Am Malala” book you’ve been putting off reading forever. You finally pull out the box of paints from under your bed and blow the dust off the lid. You create your masterpiece, clean the entire house, make lunch AND dinner for yourself and your spouse, and somehow there’s STILL time left over.
Fast forward a month.
You’re still happy and relaxed. You’re feeling the satisfaction from getting everything on your after retirement To Do list done. You’ve never had this much free time before. Life is grand.
Fast forward 6 months.
Now that you’ve done everything you’d been putting off while you were working, you’re not quite sure what do with yourself. All your friends and family are out working and it’s getting just a bit too quiet for comfort. Most days you’re happy and every now and then you feel a bit anxious. Is this what retirement is supposed to be like? Aren’t you supposed to be doing something bigger? Making some sort of contribution to the world? You feel the first twinge of sadness and regret creeping in. You also start wondering what it is that you’re supposed to do with your life now. You start contemplating big questions like “What’s the meaning of life”, “When does time start, when does it end”, or “What’s my purpose on this earth?”
You used to be a [insert your previous occupation], but now you’re a…what exactly?
Somehow your retirement dream has turned into a nightmare. What do you do now? What’s the real meaning of life? How am I going to do this for the next 50 or more years?
From talking to other early retirees, this is a scenario that’s happened before. But because we saw this coming and did a ton of prep-work (including getting published, volunteering for a non-profit, etc.) to answer the question “What do we do after we pull the trigger?” this didn’t happen for us personally, but it has happened to other people. Mad Fientist wrote about it here.
So today, instead of talking about all the crazy awesome things that you get to do in retirement, I’m going to play devil’s advocate and explore all the scary parts of retirement that most people don’t talk about.
Most people think going into retirement will be easy-peasy. After all, you’re sick of your job and never having any free time. Now you have all the time in the world.
In reality, early retirement is actually a transition. For some it’s the death of an existing identity and the birth of a new one. And just like getting used to death, there are stages. So may I present (my totally scientific) “Five Stages of Retirement” to help you transition from full time work to having all the time in the world
Stage 1: The Count Down (1-2 years before early retirement)
You’re so close to the finish line, you can almost taste it!
You cut costs for everything—you can live without new clothes, eating out, or buying anything for a year, no biggy. Even vacations aren’t safe from your tornado of efficiency to get to the finish line. Besides, pretty soon your whole life’s going to be a vacation!
You start detaching from work, and you find yourself spacing out and taking longer and longer breaks. (this was Wanderer. I regularly found him wandering around in a park near his office whenever I called). For those who want to work on passion projects or part-time in retirement, this is when you should start making contacts.
Everyone around you may start noticing and wondering why you’re so happy all the time.
You start scaling “The Wall of Fear”, thinking about everything that could go wrong in early retirement, but a bigger part of you is desperate to get out to see what will happen.
Stage 2: Honeymoon (0 – 6 months after retirement)
You’re free! FREEEEE! Muahahaha. What are you going to do first? Eat an entire jar of peanut butter? (I tried, but I only got ½ way through ) Dance around like an idiot to Baby Got Back in your underwear? Go to a movie theatre at 2pm just because you can? HELL YEAH! Nothing can stop you. You’re on top of the world!
You tick off your post retirement to do list, one by one, giggling like a maniac. Your neighbours wonder why you’re so happy all the time and why you’re always home. You ignore them and party on.
Stage 3: Identity Crisis (7 months – 1.5 years after retirement)
The honeymoon’s worn off and you’ve done everything on your to do list. Now what?
You find yourself obsessing over who you used to be. You start wondering what your co-workers are going to think of you moping around all day.
Some days you feel a bit anxious. I mean, how are you supposed to get used to all this free time if you all you did was work for the past 10-20 years of your life. You feel almost guilty for having all this extra time.
You start obsessing over your spreadsheets and Personal Capital account. Sometimes you wonder how reliable the 4% rule is and whether you could run out of money.
You try out new projects—like volunteering, writing, and building things. Now that you’ve tried out your hobbies and read all the books you’ve wanted to read, it’s time to get productive again.
If you started building passion projects or part-time work before quitting, you can skip this step and move onto step 4.
Stage 4: The New You (1-2 years after retirement)
Trying out your new identity feels a bit weird at first—like trying on your Dad’s shirt. It’s just a bit too long in the sleeves and hangs loosely off your shoulders. But you know you’ll grow into it.
You start to relax and not feel anxious about not having a job anymore.
You start making new friends in your new community (from volunteering, hobbies, or online friends), and don’t miss your old friends and co-workers as much. You start having more in common with your new community because of your new shared experiences.
You start to realize you like this new you.
Stage 5: Smooth Sailing (2+ years after retirement)
The longer you stay retired, the more confident you become. The haters who say things like “you’re selfish for retiring”, “you’ll run out of money in retirement”, “you going to be desperate to get back to the workforce in a few years” no longer bother you at all. Not only do you know that this is complete bullshit and says more about them than it does about you, you feel super lucky to have discovered this new way of life that a couple years ago you were terrified of.
The unknown is no longer an unknown. You’re humming along nicely and you wonder why you were so afraid in the first place.
So there you have it, the 5 stages of retirement.
What we’ve found is that in early retirement, you essentially go through the same stages as regular retirement, except a lot faster. And If you’ve already planned out your projects before you retire, you can actually skip over Step 3 completely.
Whether you are happy in retirement or so bored you become desperate to go back to work depends on a) the type of person you are b) how well you plan out your time and activities before you quit.
If you’re someone who needs a lot of structure and can’t stand figuring things out as you go, retirement will probably be a lot harder than you think. In this case, it helps to set a routine so you can follow it on a daily basis.
If you’ve planned out your passion projects, writing projects, etc, before you quit, the transition and change in your identity will be a lot more seamless, like it was for us. I’d say it helps to have at least one project going, before giving your notice. That will help you step from one role into another without freaking out.
What do you think? Will you be bored in retirement? What will you do?
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