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A friend of mine recently went back to work after retiring, because he found retirement boring, lonely, and lacking purpose. He’s not the biggest fan of his job, but according to him “it still beats sitting around all day with your thoughts.”
Another FI blogger/author, Anita, a lawyer who retired in her 30s, also recently wrote about her bouts of depression and the difficult time she’s having in retirement. Having gone through anxiety and depression myself back when I was working, my heart goes out to her. This year has been retirement/travelling/life on hard mode, but for some it’s been harder than others.
After hearing about and reading these stories, it did make me wonder: is FIRE for everyone?
Sure, in our situation, FIRE was life changing and I don’t regret quitting my job for a second. But are we the norm or the exception? Is it because you need a spouse in retirement to avoid loneliness? Or are some personalities simply not suited to early retirement?
Recently, I read a book called “Resilient: How to Grow an Unshakeable Core of Calm, Strength, and Happiness” and it talks about the 3 things you need to be happy (after your basic needs are met):
In this case 1) is fulfilled nicely by FI. By having enough to never work again, you don’t have to worry about getting laid off, or running out of money for food and shelter.
#2 and #3 is a bit more complicated and goes beyond the math. When you have a job, #2 and #3 are naturally built in. In my case, since I became an engineer solely for the money, I didn’t get #2 from my work. I had to go build my dreams by becoming a published author and public speaker after retirement. I had a circle of friends at work, but they were mostly work friends and we rarely hang out after work hours. My work friends also had vastly differently values from me, so I never really felt like I fit in. It wasn’t until I found the FIRE and digital nomad community through travelling and writing that I finally felt like someone understood me and accepted me for who I am. That’s a big part of the social bit. Even if you’re surrounded by people, if you don’t “get” each other and they’re not “your people”, you can still feel incredibly lonely.
But that’s just my story. For those of you who are wondering whether early retirement is right for you, if you don’t already get satisfaction and a social circle from work, how do you build #2 and #3?
Let’s tackle them one at a time.
A Chautauquan once asked me “What if I don’t have a passion?” He was okay with his job selling insurance, but it wasn’t his passion. But when asked what he would want to build as his passion project in retirement, he was lost.
“You’ve had this love for writing ever since you were a kid,” he said. “I just don’t feel that way about anything.”
Here’s the thing. Trying to “find” your passion—the singular thing that makes life satisfying—is like waiting for the perfect partner to show up at your door. Do you expect to meet your spouse with no rejection or effort? Without going out there, meeting people, putting in the hard work of getting to know someone, and for them to just fall into your lap? If that’s not the case, why would you expect the same with your passion?
You don’t FIND your passion. You BUILD it.
Do you have a hobby? An interest? There. You have the beginnings of a passion project. Work on that and build it until you are good enough to use that skill to help others. The better you get at the skill, the more impact you’ll get from it, and the more you want to do it. Don’t give up if it’s hard in the beginning. Anything that is worth doing has obstacles.
There is no perfect passion. Everything you work on will involve failing. That’s how you grow. We failed for 7 years and got 200 rejections before we published our first children’s novel. I don’t regret it for a second because we learned a ton along the way.
If you’re stuck trying to decide what to do, because you want to maximize and find the one that will succeed without trying, stop. Just pick one and go.
Here’s an exercise to help you out:
What do you do when you don’t know if you’ll like a drink? You take a sip first right? You don’t gulp the whole thing down.
So, what happens if you don’t know which interest to pick first? Use the “SIP” method:
Take out a piece of paper and write these 3 columns:
- Problems to solve/People you want to Help
In the “Skills” column, write down all the skills you have.
In the “Interests” column, write down things you’re interested in, like hobbies, passions,
In the “Problems to solve” column, write down problems you want to solve or people you want to help.
Once you’re done, step back and look to see how you can use your skills to solve a problem in an area of your interest.
For example, if you wrote “public speaking”, “Personal Finance”, “Lack of financial education in schools”, you may want to work towards becoming a public speaker and speaking at high schools to teach teens about investing and budgeting. Or if you wrote “cooking”, “food”, “lack of easy-to-follow recipes for authentic Chinese food”, you could try creating a cookbook or YouTube channel to teach people how to make authentic Sichuan food in a simple way. This is what the “Chinese Food Demystified” Channel did and to this day and I love them so much I’m a happy Patreon subscriber.
Don’t get too attached to the “type of solution” at this point. You are brainstorming at this point to get all your ideas out on paper first. You can get more detailed about the solution later.
Alternatively, to make this more fun, you could do it with a group of friends using post-it notes. Since most people tend to be pretty humble about their skills, your friends and family might be able to help you identify your skills better.
We did this recently with a group of Chautauquan friends, and it worked out great:
Just like the passion project, your “people” won’t just show up at your door. You have to work on finding and building your relationships too. And not just one time of reaching out on the internet, you need to do this consistently, and be giving and helpful. Become the kind of person people want to be friends with.
Just attending a conference isn’t enough. You need to continue building those friendships long afterwards through frequent Skype chats, Zoom calls, or meetups in your local area. Consistency is key.
Since I was introverted growing up and my parents taught me that ambition is more important than relationships, I was pretty inept in this area, until recently. I learned that making friends is hard work but worth it.
And just like everything else in life, creating long-lasting friendships comes with a healthy dose of rejection. You need to push through rejection to find your BFFs. I’ve read that it takes 50 hours to go from acquaintance to “casual friend”. 90 Hours to deepen that to “good friend” and over 200 hours to graduate to “best friend” status.
I know I’m guilty of wasting that much time binging Game of Thrones, so I could’ve easily used that time to build a lifelong friendship instead.
That said, I’m grateful that I’ve invested the time to deepen my friendships from Chautauqua. Because if it weren’t for this group of friends, I never would’ve found the strength to forgive my mother, and the “50 hour” statistic explains why spending a week “with cool people in cool places” creates much deeper, longer-lasting friendships than 2-day conferences.
In order to find “your people” in retirement, come to Chautauqua, join a local ChooseFI meetup, or go to a Digital Nomad Summit conference. Meet like-minded people and then deepen those relationships by having experiences together. Don’t give up if you don’t find your people right away. It takes time to find and grow your social circle, but the effort will be worth it in the long run.
You can also join interest groups like photography clubs, book clubs, swimming teams, etc. And don’t forget about volunteering. We volunteered for WeNeedDiverseBooks when we first retired, and that’s where we found a wonderful group of diverse authors who shared the same mission as us.
So, there you have it. In order to be happy in retirement, you need security, satisfaction, and a social circle. You need to put in the work and push through obstacles and rejection to build your purpose and grow your social circle, but it’s worth it.
If you don’t want to do the work of building satisfaction and a social circle, that’s OK, but you’re probably better off continuing to work.
What do you think? Do you think certain personalities are more suited to early retirement? What would you do to build satisfaction and relationships into your retirement?
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