Confession time: I LOVE Grey’s Anatomy. I lose a week of my life every time a new series is available, binge-watching the entire thing start to finish. More than the characters (yes they are my friends!) and the drama of the show, for me it’s about people doing good in the world.
My family roll their eyes and sigh when Grey’s season comes around, knowing exactly what I’m going to say when the credits roll.
“I don’t save any lives. I don’t help anybody. I don’t make anybody’s life better”.
I am incapable of watching an episode without feeling inadequate. I know it’s just a TV show, but I can’t shake the feeling that I was supposed to do something else with my life, something more meaningful than my current occupation.
A Day in the Life
I make profit out of people. I work in a consulting organisation whose people are the product. I measure their productivity. I control a budget in order to reach a profit target set by an ivory tower so high in the clouds they can’t see the worker ants on the ground.
I measure year-on-year performance and gap to plan. I mean – who cares? If I get the numbers wrong, nobody dies. It’s negligible whether anyone would even notice.
My day to day feels meaningless. I still have some reserves of professional pride and try to do my best but some days I really struggle to care when asked to explain why our performance this quarter is less linear than last.
And then these long periods of apathy are punctuated by short walks of shame.
I have managed large scale redundancy “projects” where we were instructed to lose a percentage of the organisation – not because we were overstaffed (we can barely keep up with demand) but because globally costs were running “a little hot”.
I lost a small part of myself every time. I knew what I was doing was morally wrong. Yet my own performance was measured on my ability to be ruthless, care not about the lives being affected and focus on the bottom line.
I know I am not alone in feeling that there is something hollow in the work that I do. One of the biggest drivers for me to reach financial independence and early retirement has been this lack of fulfilment. It’s a big wide world – there must be something more meaningful out there for me. And so I have been thinking about some of the things I can do when I no longer need to work for money.
Help People with their Money
Imposter syndrome rules in most areas of my life but one thing I am happy to say out loud – I’m good with money. I know I can use this ability to help people. I’m not thinking about any form of paid service but rather to explore options with charities that help with debt and money problems. There are lots of these charities around which signifies there are many people struggling with their finances. I know I can be an asset here.
Become a Magistrate
This is not limited to those with a legal background – people from all walks of life can apply to become a magistrate. It is a volunteer position in the UK.
It is not a pleasant job, often dealing with difficult people in difficult circumstances and needs mentally strong individuals. Maybe something to revisit a few years into retirement.
Volunteer in a library
Until last week I wasn’t even sure that such positions exist but I’ve since found a few volunteer roles advertised on my local council website. Not too onerous – they range from a couple of hours to half a day a week, from shelf stacking to delivering books to the housebound. I’ve always wanted the experience of working in a library and I’d be willing to do it for free. Unusually for me this one is as much about connecting with people as anything else. Books and money are the two things I can talk about until the cows come home.
Be Useful to Friends and Neighbours
No woman is an island and surviving and thriving as a working single parent over the years has meant leaning at times on supportive people around me. Having someone nearby who can watch the children for an hour on short notice while I ran an errand or who could offer a coffee and an ear when things seemed hard, made all the difference to me. We lead increasingly isolated lives – community needs to be fostered, but it needs people with time to foster it. I haven’t given back anywhere near as much as I have taken on this score – time to make amends.
Be a Full Time Parent
I was fortunate to have been at home for several years when the children were young but since I went back to full-time work I have rarely been around when they come home from school. That first half an hour when they fling their bags down and unwind is priceless and I always found that’s when the best conversations happen. Yes it may take the smell of home cooked cake to keep them talking in the kitchen but I’m not opposed to that level of bribery 🙂
I was there full-time for the first few years of their childhood and I want to be there for the last. I’ll never get this time back – it’s a one time opportunity. Miss it and it’s gone.
Writing is creatively fulfilling and high on my priority list whether anybody were to read my books or not. With the exception of a few blockbusters, there’s little financial gain to be made. As to whether it would add anything to society – I read this on Twitter this week which I think says it all.
Finding Fulfilment in Life
One of the things we hear thrown around is that people who retire early are no longer useful to society. As if being in a paid occupation is the only thing that counts. For some of us, the opposite is true. Being freed of the day job is what will allow us to become more useful and at the same time find a sense of fulfilment with life.
For many years my contributions have been purely financial in the form of high taxes. I’m looking forward to paying my dues in a completely different way. Less soul destroying, more character repairing. There’s a lot of work to be done.