I’m writing this post in mid-October 2020. At this point, Katie and I have been financially independent for a couple of years, meaning we don’t need any more money to maintain our lifestyle. Over the last couple of years, our financial focus has gradually turned to giving well, creating legacy, and not letting our money ruin our lives and those of our children. Yes, we still earn, save, invest, spend, pay taxes, and budget, but most of those processes have been on autopilot for years and now require little time or mental effort.
Over the last six weeks or so, I have had a pretty good opportunity to try out early retirement. I squeezed in my eight shifts in September, but have not yet worked a shift in October. I recorded a few podcasts, but haven’t written a blog post in a couple of months. Most of my Fall speaking gigs were canceled, and those that were not were made virtual. So I worked, but it was really a fairly minimal amount of work compared to previous time periods. So what have I been doing the last six weeks? I’ve pretty much been retired. Check it out:
- Sep 4th-8th: Lake Powell camping trip with the family
- Sep 13th-19th: Canyoneering trip with friends
- Sep 26th-October 2nd: Floating the Middle Fork of the Salmon River with friends
- October 5th-9th: Couples trip to Lake Powell with Katie
- October 15th-18th: Fall Break canyoneering trip with the family
If you add one day before and after each of these trips to prepare, outfit, pack, plan, unpack, take care of equipment etc., you can readily see that over a 47 day period, I spent 38 days (81% of my time) going on trips.
Now, these trips were all thoroughly enjoyable, allowed easy social distancing, were relatively inexpensive, and allowed me to spend time with people I really enjoy spending time with in places that are absolutely stunning. By the end, however, it reminded me of a lesson I first learned as an MS2. In that summer between my first year of medical school and my second year of medical school, I had a month completely off. We didn’t have much money and Katie was busy, so there were no big exciting trips we could take, so I mostly just played. I played quite a bit of golf ($32 provided an all summer, all you could play pass at the University course), went rock climbing, played some video games, etc. By the end of that month, going to the golf course felt like going to work. Without work, recreation had lost its rejuvenating effects.
Now twenty years later, I had repeated the experience. After six weeks of doing the most fun things I could come up with in our current COVID-impacted world, I was no longer having anywhere near as much fun as I should be having. So, how can someone prepare for finding purpose in retirement?
Brigham Young once famously said that a day should be composed of eight hours of work, eight hours of recreation, and eight hours of sleep. This results in a balanced, purposeful life. And when it gets out of balance, one becomes less productive, tired, burnt out, unhealthy, and/or unhappy. I think there is a great deal of wisdom to be found in that formula.
Clearly, I’m not yet ready to retire. The Physician on FIRE famously opined that while he actually enjoyed his job as an anesthesiologist, he enjoyed his days off more. That is certainly also true for me. But without the workdays, the days off are not as good as they could be. A great meal tastes better when you’re hungry.
So, as I “go back to work” after this recreational binge, I wanted to pass along a few suggestions to those of you who are not yet financially independent.
3 Tips for Finding Purpose (Happiness) in Your Retirement
# 1 Balance Your Life
Doctors are far more likely to be found on the “working too much and playing/sleeping too little” side of the spectrum than the opposite. See if you cannot make a few changes in your work and family life to allow you to get closer to the ideal of 8 hours of work, 8 hours of recreation, and 8 hours of sleep. It will likely make you happier.
# 2 Try It Out
If you have been sitting around fantasizing about a life with no work, I would encourage you to go try it out in some way. Take a long trip or a short sabbatical. Cut back on your call. Take Wednesdays off. I bet most of you will discover what I have—that work plays a meaningful purpose in my life. Removing it completely eliminates a great deal of joy, purpose, and happiness. Religious leader David O. Mckay said:
Let us realize that: the privilege to work is a gift, the power to work is a blessing, the love of work is success!
That doesn’t mean that the work has to be paid work, just that there should still be some work.
# 3 Go Overboard
If you are financially independent now, I would encourage you to go overboard. Like the Frank-Starling Curve, there is a point where too much of a good thing becomes, well, too much of a good thing. A lot of people talk about wanting to retire so they can travel. Go travel. A lot. Get it out of your system. Go do those things you may not be able to do when you’re older. Do so much of it that you are sick of traveling. Cross that line between not enough and too much travel and play. But don’t be surprised when you eventually realize that indeed, you have crossed the line. Now come on home and do some work, whether paid or volunteer. It will make your recreation that much sweeter.
Now, if ever there were a first world problem, this is it. But this blog is all about first world problems and I hope this is one that most of my readers will eventually have to deal with themselves. As you do, I would encourage you to take that immense dedication, work ethic, intelligence, and privilege that have allowed you to be in this position and redirect it to improve the lives of those around you. At least until your next trip.
How are you finding purpose in retirement? Why does work matter in your life? What is the best way to find balance between work and play for you? How will that change in retirement? Comment below!