I officially retired from corporate life in December 2018 and now enjoy the idyllic, stress-free existence that I had been dreaming of for so long. Conference calls are a thing of the past, as is the feeling of not being in control of my own time and being at the beck and call of of the machine.
But what has the first three months really been like and what have I learned?
The Novelty Has Not Worn Off Yet
I may now have the freedom to choose exactly what I do with my time, but my teenagers don’t. Sleeping in while they have to get up for school feels all sorts of wrong, and a large part of the reason why I retired when I did was to be more present for my youngest.
So the alarm still rings (albeit at a somewhat luxurious 7.15 am) and I’m up and making lunches and locating stray PE kits – a scene replicated in millions of households the world over. I’ve resisted the pleas to drive them the mile and a half to school on the basis that that would be a negative impact of my early retirement on both their health and the environment. And as I usher them out of the door by 8.00am, I can’t help but smile to myself.
Every single day it happens – that smile to myself. The jolt of excitement as I close the front door and remember that the corporate grind is no longer part of my life. Three months in and it still feels new every day 🙂
I won’t say I never make a coffee and go back to read the news in bed – the novelty of that hasn’t worn off yet either 😉
Everything Slows Down But Time Speeds Up
An unexpected consequence of early retirement is how much more patience I seem to have with everyday frustrations. Leaving the workplace is not a magic bullet – I still have to queue at the supermarket checkout or sit in traffic at the roadworks – things that would have had my blood pressure racing a few months ago.
Yet now it doesn’t feel the same. There’s no rush, I have all day and I feel compassion for people that don’t. So in queues of traffic I let people in rather than sitting nose to tail to the car in front. I drive at a modest speed focusing on fuel efficiency instead of racing to the speed limit as fast as possible. I let people with a smaller basket than me go in front at the shops.
It’s amazing the positive impact these things have on my mental well-being. I realise I had accepted as normal the constant low level anxiety of daily life. Trying to fit everything in, be everywhere I needed to be, do everything I needed to do, while constantly monitoring my email, my brain ticking over the latest work issue even as I’m preparing for the next call while standing at the checkout and the person in front is taking soooo long…. that is no way to live.
It’s not that I’ve become self-righteous, patting myself on the back for doing a good deed, it’s just that slowing down, being patient, being kind – that suits me far better.
But while the pace and rhythm of daily life might have slowed, my life itself is flying past at a rate of knots. It’s never been more true that time flies when you are having fun. I honestly don’t know where the days, weeks, months have gone.
We all seem to experience a speeding up of time as we get older and see the years slipping away but mixing in the boring bits like the hours spent at a desk on a sunny day serves to slow the days down. When you are freed of the mundane, there’s nothing to drag out time.
I have become more conscious than ever that time is precious and life short. Having reached the best part of my life so far, I want to hold onto and savour every second and yet it is racing by. If anyone has the answer to that one, I’m all ears 🙂
I’m Far More Relaxed About Money
I spent the last 10 years (at least) tracking my spending, playing with spreadsheets, projecting returns on my funds, tweaking and tweaking and tweaking. I loved it. Every single day, I would check in to my accounts and note the rises and falls. I would take a look at how the markets were faring several times a day.
Believe it or not, it was over 2 months after my last day at work before I checked in on my finances. I didn’t worry about tracking all my spending and reconciling my accounts at the end of each month. I’m not the sort to suddenly start frittering the cash away, so I had nothing to worry about on that score. And I gradually realised that in my previous life I had been diving into the numbers every day as a means of escape.
Sitting at work, dreaming of not sitting at work, it felt urgent to focus on the escape plan and make sure everything was still on track. Not being at work and enjoying my free time, it’s unnecessary. My plan is solid; I have already invested the hours to make sure of that – now is the time to reap the rewards.
This is perhaps the most surprising effect of early retirement to me – if someone had told me 6 months ago I would not know the exact value of my accounts at any point in time, I would have said they did not know me at all. And yet here I am – blissfully ignorant 🙂
As a good housekeeping practice I do intend to take a look once a month, if only because that is far easier than letting things lapse and trying to bring it up to date a few months later. But the obsession with modelling “what-if” scenario after scenario has passed and may it RIP. I have better things to do now.
(For those that have asked, I will write a post about the numbers soon).
Every Minute Does Not Need to be Productive
When time is limited, there is a temptation to fill it with productive tasks. Whenever I wasn’t working, I was reading blogs – looking for potential money making ideas and FIRE hacks – or working on existing ones. While walking the dog or driving to work I was listening to podcasts for the same reason. I gave myself time to read novels but looking back, there was no downtime where my mind was left just to wander.
Since I now have plenty of time to read and listen, I don’t feel compelled to always be striving forward or always learning. I haven’t hidden the fact that I was suffering from depression at the tail end of my career and a large part of that I am sure was due to being constantly switched on.
I credit my recovery largely to long walks – nothing but my dog and my own thoughts for company, allowing my exhausted brain to calm itself and make peace with the world. Whatever you want to call it – mindfulness, meditation, reflection – it is absolutely necessary and healthy that we give ourselves the space to process what is going on in our lives, without the guilt that we could be doing something more worthwhile.
Life Is Good
I know it’s early days, but I don’t think I will ever take for granted this freedom I now have. I am so so grateful; almost in awe of my good fortune I try to suppress the thoughts that nobody gets to be this lucky.
Life is good – let’s enjoy it.