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One of the things we get asked a lot is:
“What do you do with all that time in retirement? Isn’t it boring?”
And my response to that is usually pretty straightforward: we travel, we meet new people, we work on passion projects (like the app we’re launching this week), we write books, we blog, and basically work on whatever we feel like working on. Despite having all this time, we sometimes feel like there aren’t enough hours in the day.
But if I take a step back, I realize the real reason behind this question. I realize how terrified people are of having too much freedom. Because once you’ve been indoctrinated into the system, and working 60-80 hour weeks for decades, you get used to the rigid structure, and freedom suddenly seems fucking terrifying.
With so much time on your hands and very little structure, what are you going to do? With infinite directions to choose from you become paralysed with indecision. At least when you were in the rat race, you knew exactly what you were supposed to do. You knew how to allocate each hour, each minute of your day. Sure, most of that time was spent doing things you hated and feeling stressed out of your mind, but at least you had directions. You had a boss telling you what to do. Once you retire, you become your own boss. And for many people, taking the wheel makes them shit a brick.
In fact, research has shown the more choices we have, the less satisfied we become. This is called “the Paradox of Choice”.
Take the famous “Jam Study” for example. A team of researchers set up a table of jam samples in a grocery store. One table had a selection of 24 jams. Another, a selection of 6. As expected, 60% of customers were drawn toward the wide selection, while only 40% towards the small one. As humans, our brains think BIGGER = better, so of course, that wasn’t a surprise.
But the surprising thing is that, 30% of the customers who sampled the 6 jams bought a jar. But only 3% of the customers who sampled the 24 jams bought a jar.
People were 10 times more likely to make a decision if the selection was limited. This absolutely flies in the face of our belief that MORE choices make us happier. Nope. In fact, more choice causes us to go into “analysis paralysis” mode, worried that we’re making a mistake. And even AFTER we make a decision, we start second-guessing ourselves, wondering if we’re missing out on a better option.
So does this mean TOO much freedom can be BAD?
In my opinion. Yes, yes it can.
Just like choosing careers, if you’re given infinite directions to go, you might end up hopping from shitty degree to shitty degree, racking up debt, and not being happy in the long run because you’re not getting any return for your hard work.
Having some sort of constraint (i.e. I want a degree that can provide a good ROI. Or I want a degree that helps others and has good job prospects) is good.
Now, don’t get me wrong. Freedom is not a bad thing. Because I know first hand what it’s like to have very little freedom, working crazy hours and doing what you hate. That’s not good either.
What we need is to find a balance.
You don’t want to be stuck in a stressful job with zero freedom just because you’re afraid of having “too much time on your hands”. That only leads to health problems and a life of regret.
But you also don’t want to spend all your time sitting on a beach or watching TV all day. That will only lead to lack of identity and depression.
Ideally, you’ll want to work on a few passion projects and fit your leisurely hours around it.
For example, we currently have 4 passion projects going:
1) Non-profit app
2) Chautauqua Speech
3) Millennial Revolution
4) Children’s Novel
So we tend to alternate between these projects and sightseeing during the day. We might go out for 2 hours in the morning (to avoid the tourist crowds), come back to eat lunch, work on one of those projects for 2-3 hours in the afternoon, go out again to grab a snack or hike, come back for dinner, then work on a different project until we go to bed. And if we feel like it, we’ll take a whole day off, go sight seeing, and only answer e-mails/comments or draft articles in the evening.
This way we never get bored or complacent because every day is different. And if we ever feel burnt out, we just take a day off.
So what might a day in retirement look like for you? Here are some passion project ideas for you:
Look To Your Childhood
To find out what you’re passionate about, just look to your childhood. What was it that you used to do without caring how much you got paid for it? Do that.
For me, this was writing. When I was a kid, I used to write a ton of shitty horror stories inspired by R.L.Stine’s novels. For some reason the “twist” always involved the victim not actually dying, faking their own death, and somehow disguising themselves as the culprit this whole time. Meh, who needs coherent plots? I eventually got published anyway.
Learn New Shit
Always wanted to learn how to a new language, how to play the guitar, or salsa dance but never had the time or energy? Now’s your chance.
When we were in Mexico recently, we took Spanish lessons. It was a ton of fun and very intellectually simulating. Plus, I finally learned how to say something else other than “Buenos nachos!” (which the store clerk later told me was supposed to be “Buenas noches”)
Impart Your Wisdom/Insanity
If you’ve been working for decades developing a certain skill, why not help others by teaching it to them?
In my case, I became a mentor for Technovation so I could teach girls how to code. Not only was this super fun, my mentee even ended up getting into the semi-finals for the all girl coding contest! She sent me a absolutely heart-melting thank you card and a box of my favourite Belgian chocolates afterwards. Awwww!
Do Stuff For Free
Now, I know people poo poo the idea of volunteering because they think “why would I do anything for free?” And to that I say, first of all, how do you eat with that Darth Vader helmet on, and second of all, volunteering isn’t just about doing stuff for free. You actually end up getting a lot of useful learning experiences as well as connections out of it.
For example, we volunteered to be the web admins for a non-profit and after just a few months, they offered us the opportunity to partner with them to build an app. And not only that, one of the members of the non-profit liked our work on their website so much, she paid us to design two of her author websites and referred us to a bunch of other writers. We ended up getting so much work, we had to turn most of it down because we didn’t have enough time to work on it all.
Build Something Cool
Some of the most rewarding experiences I’ve ever had involved building shit. Like the app, writing Little Miss Evil, or creating this blog. When you create something, you end up giving your brain this euphoric high that keeps going and going. Because not only are you engaging the creative cells in your brain, you are also learning new things, and the reward of seeing other people benefit from the thing you built is priceless. Seriously, space cakes ain’t got nothing on this.
So there you have it. Freedom is a beautiful thing, but as with all things, you CAN have too much of it.
That’s why it makes sense to have passion projects in order for your retirement to be truly fulfilling.
What do you think? What would a day in your retirement look like?