Last night there was an argument in the Twitter personal finance community. I don’t suppose that is particularly unusual, but it’s the first time I’ve watched one play out. I wasn’t involved in this discussion, but I read from the side lines feeling increasingly uncomfortable as the tweets rolled in.
The Limitations of Being an Introvert
My on-line persona mirrors my real life – I prefer to think I am conversing one-on-one or in a small group of friends rather than shouting to make myself heard amongst the crowd. But recently I have been tentatively dipping my toe in the water of Twitter. I’m not even sure why except that I take a lot from the FIRE community by reading about other people’s experiences and opinions and sometimes I might have something valid to add. But this type of communication doesn’t come naturally to me and the idea that I could inadvertently say something that triggered a backlash is really off-putting.
Anyway, it started me thinking about my personality and its limitations and whether it’s something I need to be worried about moving forward.
What’s going to happen when I reach financial independence and early retirement?
When I’m not forced to interact in a work environment, will I become even more removed from people? Am I ever going to see anybody other than my closest family and friends? Will I ever want to? And if I don’t – is that a bad thing?
I have mentioned before, I am at the extreme end of the introvert scale or that’s what it feels like to me. I can turn on the work persona when needed, but it exhausts me. The quarterly management meetings where the senior team gather in a conference room for three days are hard enough. But the evenings out socially that go with them? They are the killer. I will do anything to get out of the social side of things and I always have an excuse for why I can’t stay.
The end of quarter celebrations after work? That’s a definite NO thank you and I haven’t been to an office Christmas party for years. In fact, that night is one of my favourites of the year – when everyone else is obsessing about what they are going to wear or what they are doing with their hair I am smiling to myself, knowing I’m going home to snuggle up in a blanket on my sofa with a glass of wine and a Christmas film.
I read this week that there is to be a meet-up for the FIRE community in London soon. I don’t live far from London so there is no logistical barrier to me attending and there will be people there whose blogs I read or who I may have interacted with online. Slowly, I’m getting more involved in the online community. I read more FIRE blogs than I ever have before and having been lurking in the comments for the last few years, I finally plucked up courage recently and started joining a discussion or two. I’m enjoying the interaction. But there is no way on earth I could attend that meet-up. Turn up at a bar and join real conversations? Introduce myself and integrate into the evening? I’m coming out in hives just thinking about it 😂
I recognise that once we leave the work force it is more important and valuable than ever to have social connections and friends with common interests and I want that too. But for us introverts, it’s just not that easy.
Thinking About Our Emotional Well-Being in Early Retirement
I’m working hard to achieve Financial Independence. I’m counting down the days until I can hand in my notice and walk away from all that forced interaction. I’ve always been hard working – this is not about being lazy, but I am just done with so many things about working life.
But having worked so hard to achieve the freedom that financial independence brings, I want a long and happy life to enjoy it and thinking about our emotional well-being is an important part of our overall retirement planning which is often over-looked.
In a recent Harvard Health Letter Dr. Robert Waldinger suggests that social connections appear to be good for health and longevity:
“People who are more socially connected to family, friends, and community are happier, healthier, and live longer than people who are less well connected.”
Well, I have a tick in that box – a close family and some key friendships that have endured many life stages and will survive this one.
He also comments:
“People who are more isolated than they want to be are less happy, their health declines earlier in midlife, their brain function declines sooner, and they live shorter lives than people who are not lonely.”
You could read that sentence and worry about our early retirement. But the introverts will have picked up on the key words…… “more isolated than they want to be…..”. In other words, if we want social interaction and we don’t have it, there is a negative effect. But if we are comfortable with our level of sociability, we’ll be just fine in our caves.
Do Extroverts Have An Easier Life?
I think most introverts go through life thinking the extroverts have it easy. Social situations, speaking up in work meetings, public speaking, client entertaining – there are so many times I have wished these things came more easily to me. And I know for sure that my introversion has held me back in my career – I’ve reached my level in spite of my personality, not because of it.
But in early retirement, the tables may actually be turned. Now I wonder if it’s harder for extroverts. When faced with so much more free time and inevitably (at least at first) so many less people to interact with, those people who are energised by social interaction and drained by solitude are going to struggle to adapt far more than those of us whose favourite companions are ourselves.
Tanja (Our Next Life) recently posted about the hustle to find friends in early retirement. She speaks honestly about how it feels to want those connections and to struggle to find them and as always on her blog, there are some interesting perspectives in the comments which are well worth reading.
Let’s Keep it on the Radar
Introverts are not social pariahs. On a one-to-one basis we can be lively and confident and fun people to have around. We’re also happy with our own company and don’t need to be around others to feel energised. When we are no longer working, we probably won’t seek out large gatherings, but we’ll maintain our close friendships and bonds. There is always the danger that we become a bit too isolated, liking our own company the way we do. But being aware of this and making an effort with our social connections can keep it at bay and allow us to maintain a healthy balance.
We should also spare a thought for our extrovert friends. Throughout our working years we relied on them to lead the conversations, organise the events, be the life and soul and allow us introverts to exist at the edges. Their exuberance masked our inabilities and allowed us to hide. Early retirement is a time where they may be less sure of themselves. For once, we may seem to be the more capable ones; the ones that have to make less effort to settle into our new lives. The least we can do at that point is to be there for them, open to new friendships and connections (in small doses of course) 😊
Join the Discussion
What do you think? Are there more introverts seeking FIRE than extroverts? Do you think we focus too much on the numbers and not enough on the other aspects of early retirement? How social do you think you will be when you are no longer working?