Surprising Finds About Retirement

By | January 3, 2017

I plunged into my retirement with so many lists mapping out experiments and thoughts; future ablaze with potential different lives. Everything looked fun and I wanted it all and I wanted it RIGHT NOW. Predictably, my greedy paws picked up too many shiny ideas at once and now I don’t have enough time to play with all of them. I overstretched. Overreached. My arms aren’t that long to begin with, so I’m not sure what I was thinking.

That’s not a real fire hydrant. It’s an “animal relief station” in the airport.

Each day consists of only two strolls around the clock and no more. My “duh realization” – you can do anything you want, but you can’t do everything you want. Opportunity costs exist. We only have a blink of time. One blink.

Surprising find (#1): I still feel busy even though I’m retired. I’m not sure how I found the time to work when there is SO MUCH I want to do during my blink. Seriously, how do you guys find time to go to your jobs?

I read my old journal entries and laugh at myself bitterly. The incessant worry that I’d waste the rest of my days sitting on my couch and yelling at kids to get off my lawn permeated all my ruminations on retirement. I was so afraid I would waste my life, consuming mindless entertainment and spilling all over myself.

The delightfully surprising truth (#2) is that I watch less TV now than I ever have in my life. In fact, the only time I feel antsy is when I’m staring at that tube. A couple of lifetimes ago, I could pass entire weekends binge-watching something. I’d turn on the Netflix as soon as I collapsed through the door at the end of the night. We were buddies. Unwinding buddies.

Post-retirement, I don’t recharge that way anymore. My brain doesn’t need the time off or the distraction from reality. There’s so much out there and it’s all so exciting. I don’t WANT to sit here and watch this. Let’s go do something else.

Oh, you can’t do something with me because it’s Tuesday morning and you’re at work? Right. Surprising find (#3): The days of the week mean nothing to me anymore. I’m as excited about Tuesday mornings as I am about Saturday nights.

A turtle. Google tells me I took this picture in Greece.

The only time the day of the week means anything to me is because of you; the existence of other humans. I can deduce it’s a weekend if I see many bunches of people when I’m getting in my daily 10,000 steps. Fewer bunches of people means it’s probably a weekday.

My time is my own and I don’t have to dole out portions according to the normal schedule. I can make my own normal.

And my version of normal is writing until the wee hours of the morning. Not really that surprising of a find for me personally, but I’m counting it as (#4): Controlling your sleep is the single greatest luxury in the entire world. I will knife fight you if you challenge me on this. I’m a night owl, so I love staying up late, setting my alarm for a reasonable time (9 or 10 am) and then shutting it off while I cackle in delight and go back to sleep. You already know this. I’m quite proud of it and brag about it frequently.

When I remember all the time I spent laying in bed unable to fall asleep or contemplate how many of my waking hours were suboptimal because I didn’t get enough hours of REM the night before, I cackle again. I love acknowledging how far I’ve come and the cackle prevents me from acclimating.

That’s my definition of success. I go to bed when I’m sleepy. If it’s the middle of the night and I can’t fall asleep, I wake up and do something until I’m tired. If I’m fatigued during the day, I nap. Such power.

Alas, this power doesn’t solve everything. Surprising find (#5): I still have bad days. Sometimes I get so exasperated that I am capable of forgetting the fact that I’m living the life that I’ve always dreamed of living. I have to yell at myself to stop moping and start jumping for joy, dammit. Shut your stupid, ugly face, Precious.

Escalator to nowhere.

Sadly, financially independence doesn’t magically create this perfect existence. It just makes you a more raw version of yourself. Exposes the fissures. You can’t blame your lack of something on your job. It’s all you.

Not only does FI not solve all your old problems, but surprisingly annoying find (#6): you’ll have ridiculous new problems to deal with. My latest hindrance to happiness is the feeling of isolation that sometimes sneaks up and pats me on my bottom. I find it hard to relate to people still out in the real world. I’m lonely.

So, please, everyone hurry up and join me here in retirement land. It’s awesome, but I bet it would be more awesome with you.

You can do this if you want and you can do it on your own terms chasing your own dream. Money is one tiny part of life that can be either an incredible advantage or a crushing obligation. Don’t take the path of least resistance. Try a bunch of different paths to see which view you like the best.

Sorry, I’m trying to tone down my preachy rants.

It’s just that, I’m so very much in favor of early retirement because surprising find (#7), a shocking percentage of the time, I’m happy. So bloody happy. Most of the time. A higher than normal percentage of the time. A much higher percentage that I’ve been able to claim historically.

When I can dodge the creepy hands of isolation, I pretty much own contentment.

49 thoughts on “Surprising Finds About Retirement

  1. David Jarvi (@davidjarvi)

    great insights… all resonate…. but more than anything I cackle and cackle.. I’m going to live at least 3 yrs longer than I otherwise would… simply because I cackle in delight EVERY morning. those extra 15 mins of sleep are SOOOOOOOOOOOOO Awesome.

    1. Thriftygal Post author

      Thank you! I regularly google “what do people mean when they say I write well” because I have no idea how I do it and I just hope it doesn’t go away. 🙂

  2. Michael Crosby

    I get the loneliness part too. But then I realize, I like being alone. I do have friends, but my doggies are my best buds.

  3. TheTeaMan

    Great article Anita! In 10 months time I’ll be able to join you in retirement land at the respectable age of 36, woohoo!

  4. Steve

    I didn’t realize how much stress at work until I retired and was asked if I now dye my hair (I don’t). I’ve also lost 20 pounds – I walk or run 6 miles (or more) every day and am training for the L.A. marathon.

  5. KruidigMeisje

    I am wondering how you keep focus and satisfaction. You mention that you are lonely. My husband is unemployed, and we’re wondering whether we’ll go FIRE now (on a pretty tight budget) or not. My job brings in about another year of FIRE luxury budget (or 2). So it is tempting to keep working for me (I like my job btw).
    It is noticable how time flies for hubby, but focus and satisfaction stays away. So life doesnt feel very fulfilling or free yet. Any tips?

    1. Thriftygal Post author

      If you like your job, by all means, keep doing it! I think the focus and satisfaction part stems from finding something that you like doing. That’s also the hard part. How the hell am I supposed to know what I like? For me, it’s writing. For your husband….well, I don’t know him, so I don’t know. Maybe tumbling?

  6. Mike Geers

    The greatest form of liberation is not always in the liberation itself. I am FI and yet, choose an endeavor to create something that helps people (and get paid for it). I bond with people, I’m part of a fun tribe, I choose my hours (sleep in if I want), and I belong to a vocation that is making the world better. I could (and I have gone on long jaunts of exploring and wandering/traveling) not be part of something that has a goal beyond my own happiness and “retire” but I found my goal is not to “retire”. I don’t want to “retire” my worth on this planet but to rather “aspire”. I’m not lonely and choose to be alone when I want. Studies on those who have lived the longest are those who have felt part of a community and had friends they worked with on worthwhile goals. The fact that we can all (with varying levels of difficulty) opt out of the 9-5 is increasingly possible but not probable for the reasons above. This fact is changing how “work” is defined. Wear what you want, embrace your own path, explore a unified goal from where you want and get paid. I could walk away from it but I don’t want to. And that is the MOST liberated I have thus far felt and I get to share it with my friends. The best. Now…I’m going to go back to sleep.

  7. TJ

    So much inspiration here. I’m glad to hear that you are keeping busy and not running out of things to do.

    Sometimes I feel like I would just chill on the couch – I mean, that’s mostly what I did in college after finishing homework – but maybe I wouldn’t.

    Not that there’s anything wrong with chilling on the couch.

    1. Thriftygal Post author

      Yeah, that was my biggest fear. Chilling on the couch smoking ganja. I hate the couch and want to go go go. It’s awesome.

      1. Vicki@MakeSmarterDecisions

        Great read! I think I’ll be in the go go go camp too! I had a touch of early retirement and then got one more year syndrome (and an offer I couldn’t refuse) – but I’ll be there with you next year!

  8. Cynic

    OK, I’m afraid I am a bit cynical. I don’t begrudge you or anyone trying to eke out a bit of happiness out of life. On the other hand, you seem to be promoting your approach as a general path to happiness, and I don’t think the system can withstand everyone doing what you do. How do we get the things that we need to survive? Someone has to provide them to us. Someone that is working,usually pretty hard. So if you are eating a delicious piece of bread there was someone a few days before harvesting the grain that made it. A thousand miles away there is a man on an offshore oil platform drilling for the oil that ran the combine harvester that harvested the grain. If you are living in a shelter of some sort, someone built it with their hands. They got up in the morning and headed to the job site. Did they want to? No, they wanted to sleep in. But they had a job to do. And they couldn’t just show up when they felt like it, because in order to build the house, the whole crew has to be there at the same time. And because they did their job, and did it well, you have a shelter to live in. Now, the fact that you are able to acquire these things for minimal work on your part is a quirk, a bit of luck based on where and when you live. If you live in the US, you make far more money for your labor than you do in the 3rd world. So if you go to the 3rd world, you can stretch your dollars more. Why is that? Who knows…maybe some economist can explain this. Now I am fully in favor of a non-materialistic life. People get strung out on acquisitions that have no meaning and give no happiness. Reducing these burdens is a sensible way to reduce stress in your life. I agree. And I am happy that you have figured out a way to do what you want to do, when you want to do it. Just realize that if _everyone_ did that, the things that you require to survive wouldn’t be waiting for you to use at the moment you needed them. “I’m sorry about your appendicitis. The surgeon may be in next week, depending on his mood”

    1. Thriftygal Post author

      Believe me, I am the queen of cynicism as well. But my readership is tiny (wonderful, but tiny!), so I have no worries that the world will stop functioning if you all listen to me. 🙂

  9. Ally

    I’m glad you wrote about both things, ThriftyGal – the loneliness and the filled time. I retired early for about 5 years in my 40s, and I really missed spending time during the week with my working compatriots. Also, I was bored. Apparently, I’m not adult enough to accomplish anything unless someone needs me to. So I took classes and then volunteered the class skill and then took a job where I was volunteering because gas money and health insurance waiting for ACA to go through, and next thing you know, I have a jobbbb. You and Mr Money Mustache have travel and house building. Me, I need some mission, apparently .

    1. Thriftygal Post author

      I’ll share a secret with you. I’m getting a little tired of traveling and think I’ll settle down sooner rather than later. When that happens, I’ll have to figure out a new mission. Probably writing.

      1. walter

        who are you and what have you done with Anita?? tired of traveling? settle down? are you WUI (writing under the influence)? perhaps settling down just might be the solution to the loneliness thing.

        1. Thriftygal Post author

          I’m currently in the Middle East where alcohol isn’t really a thing, so…no writing under the influence. Just thinking about how to find a mate. 🙂

  10. tt

    Re: isolation

    The little greek turtle highlights the path. Tis not a 0/1 decision… In the shell for awhile (less than precious, no?), out & about and rushing forward at your discretion.

    And now… freedom! By & large, no schedule or brain chemistry to order you back into the dark. (Chicago commuting? to and fro in the dark? Ugh!)

    Wonder of wonders- more energy & contentment than ever before. 🙂

    Additional note: artificial intelligence, robotics, etc., will drive more people towards activities of interest and substance. Hang on!

    Additional note (2) re: cackling… time to consider a podcast? Share the sound effects?!?

  11. Andrew

    Your observation on TV reminds me of me. I gave so much time away to that thing mentally downloading from work. Now that I’ve cut the cord I find myself spending time on more worthwhile pursuits like learning how to make more friends and how to RE.

    Thanks for the insight on your first year. Really enjoyed your recent podcast. We have that stuff in Canada too…just not legally…YET.

  12. Brad

    I’m so bloody happy for you! I can’t wait to kick my heels up and shout when the sweet nectar of early retirement life has been achieved! Rock on with your bad self!

  13. Biglaw Investor

    Sounds like you’re having a grand time. Does this mean you’re less likely to come back to work as a lawyer? I seem to remember from one podcast or interview you thought you might make your way back to the legal field at some point. You could still cackle on conference calls when somebody made an unreasonable demand.

    I like that you kept journal entries during your “working years” and are now referring back to them. The mind plays such tricks on us when it comes to remembering the past and imagining the future. It always gets both wrong!

    1. Thriftygal Post author

      I’m terrible at predicting the future, so I’m not going to say for sure I won’t go back to working as a lawyer ever, but I for sure won’t go back to working as a lawyer.

  14. Nautilus

    Imagine Goethe would have spent his time in an office, rather than writing beautiful poems. Or if Alexander von Humboldt didn’t had the courage to buy a boat, hire a crew and become one of the greatest naturalist and geographers.

    Well it didn’t only take them courage to follow their passion. What many people don’t know is that both of them were inherently rich and financially independent.

    Thanks to civilisation and the incredible power of compound stock returns, we don’t need to rely anymore on our parents to pass on a fortune. Financial independence can be achieved within ones life by acquiring knowledge to get a high paying job and frugality.

    Imagine a world with a rising number of financial independent people. People who can truly follow their passion and leave something truly meaningful to society.

    What a beautiful world. What a powerful future.

  15. Heidi

    I actually want to FIRE partly because I find working isolating! I have a desk job where I don’t interact with people much. When I FIRE I’d like to get involved with more interactive activities/volunteering rather than having to sit staring at a screen all day.
    One thing I do find though is that the FIRE mindset is mentally isolating. It’s hard to talk about it with friends because people don’t seem to understand or seem envious, and then I start to feel a sense of distance from them. I try not to talk about it too much but it’s hard because it’s on my mind so much!

  16. glorifytheworld

    I love your writing style! I LOL’d when I read you’ll knife fight anyone on your point about controlling your sleep! I totally agree with you and will join your knife gang 😉

  17. Cindy

    Hello! I just listened to your interview on Zero to Travel and am enjoying your blog. Your writing style reminds me very much of Elizabeth Gilbert’s Facebook posts, which I love. And as you might know, she’s done okay with her writing. 😉 So definitely pursue that Bucket List item…!

  18. Eliza

    Preach Sister! I am well on my path to joining you in early retirement utopia, hopefully by the ripe old age of 32 (just two more years). I actually have a great interesting job, but the allure of absolute freedom, travel, leisure and doing an even more atriustic work beckons… I have several anxieties, but the greatest one I fear is that my partner and I will be travelling the world, having great adventures in early retirement bliss, while our friends and family are still on the treadmill, and can’t share the ride with us. I guess if that day comes, I’ll just have to track down you and MMM, so we can conspire to show the rest of the world the path to early retirement, and hopefully saving the world.

  19. Emily Madapusi Pera

    Hi, I have been following your blog for a while now, both prior to my early retirement (in Oct 2016, woot!) and now. I did ten years in the salt mines of corporate strategy and consulting; now I have been able to put away my tiny violin of first-world problems, and try to live up to my values in a much more intentional way.

    I’m also in my early thirties, and am pursuing my passion for writing, baking, yoga-ing, and just living! I am with you on the “financial independence is amazing, but sometimes the days can get lonely” point. Jobs are babysitting for adults, so we got used to having other people around and having our social needs gratified immediately. And it’s amazing how jobs justify themselves, in terms of having friends w/ jobs and who then put all life choices in terms of those very jobs (e.g. “have to cancel dinner; late night at the office”; “it’s so hard to meet people when I’m working 80 hours a week”; “have to put off doing what I love, because of this ole jobby job”.) I oversimplify, but you know what I mean… jobs can be a raison d’etre for people even when they dislike them. Perhaps especially so.

    Let’s get a support group of awesome FI folks together 🙂 life is long, but also short and we have to maximize every day. Let them be filled with wonderful and supportive people.

    1. Thriftygal Post author

      Excellent comment. I love the idea of the support group. There are FI meetups on I also like the idea of a little commune of FI people all hanging out together.

    2. dollardominatrix

      Shall we do Google Hangouts together or something? I’ve been thinking about starting a brain trust anyway, so I’d be happy to host. Been FI since THIS MONTH. 🙂

    3. Karen

      “Jobs are babysitting for adults” – thank you for making me laugh! I have spent years using my profession as an excuse for living a life of exhaustion, unfulfillment and oh, just a wee bit of bitterness and cynicism. Yes, I have great colleagues but every social outing revolves around complaining about one thing…our jobs! Any attempt to steer the conversation into productive ways to change our path is met with great confusion (“why would we do THAt?!!”).

      So cheers to thinking outside the box. In the end, it is our ultimate JOB to figure out who we really are and what unique gifts we can offer the world.

  20. Sanj

    Going soft in N. Cali, dreaming about FIRE. I’m a little late to the party at 42, but getting closer to retirement through residual income from real estate investments. Been visiting islands on cruises the last 5 years to get a taste of what’s to come, but it’s hard to focus on work when returning from a short 10-15 day vacation. There are so many beautiful people, places and experiences out there. Soon! Thanks for the inspiration, Anita. I’m sure i’ll get very little done at work today and it’s only 9am. I should be in Goa or Thailand learning how to fish. 🙂

    I don’t know if anyone will read, but i will also blog one day @islanddigest . . I reserved the names years ago. 🙂


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