Two years ago I bid farewell to the world of full-time work (more on that in a moment), confident my wife and I had planned carefully and well.
You already know the punchline, so I’ll get right to it: my Emperor Palpatine moments (hear now in your head the Emperor’s smug gloat to Darth Vader “Everything is proceeding as I have foreseen”) were fleeting.
Surprises, I’ve had a few. Thinking about it now, though, I should be most surprised by the fact that I was surprised.
Why is that, you ask?
When in my life up to that point had everything gone according to plan? I was working as a corporate lawyer, for heaven’s sake! The job description might as well be “Daily triage of other idiots’ mistakes; that is when you’re not putting out fires of your own making.”
Here are some of the more salient aspects of life so far as an early retiree.* I’ll let you be the judge whether I should have seen them coming.
1. Who are all these people GOOFING OFF?
Nothing, but nothing, has surprised me more than realizing how many people are not working.
We encounter them everywhere. In the grocery store, on the trails, in restaurants, at the theater, in airports, on the highway … everywhere we want to be, people.
Who’s free during the day? Way more people than I ever thought.
When you add up kids, retired people, the substantial portion of the working-age population who are not working, and employed people who’re on vacation, playing hooky, working part-time, or “working from home,” considerably less than half the population is at work at any given point in time.
I never noticed them when I was working because I was, well, working. In an office. I went weeks at a time without ever feeling daylight on my face, arriving in the dark of morning and departing after dusk.
I catch myself now feeling like an idiot for working 12-hour days for the better part of 30 years. Breathe.
Then I remember to be happy for what I have, and I congratulate my fellow citizens for their judicious use of their free time.
2. And where the heck are MY PEOPLE?
If I can graciously accommodate people enjoying their leisure time (at least when they’re not in line in front of me at the gas pump), this next point is a more serious problem.
Very few of these sun-seeking leisure lovers are in my circumstances. It’s my fault for retiring relatively early.
You surely have observed this in your own lives — to have a good social connection with others, you must have at least some common interests. This is much more likely if you are in a similar age group.
Even being off by as little as five years starts to make things awkward. People are at different phases of their lives. Their kids and parents are at different ages, their careers are at different phases, and our activity levels start to differ.
Most retirees are a good ten years older, which has created a common interest gap I wasn’t expecting. The mid-50s crowd is typically still working, paying for their kids’ college. The mid-60s folks I meet are lovely, but most are not interested in a half-marathon training run on any given day.
DISCLAIMER: I know these are generalizations. I am good friends with a mid-50s retiree, and we both just went on a brisk run with a late-60s retiree. Take all of this as observations of averages and large numbers.
3. MONEY: Surprises await the unwary
Having enough money to retire (or thinking that we did) was not the hard part for us. We have always been savers and rode the stock markets to a comfortable nest egg.
I told myself that we had far more money than most people in the world and that if we couldn’t retire comfortably it was because of our spending, not because of our savings.
These were all logical thoughts. Emotions are another thing, though, right?
The hardest part so far has been changing our mindset. To go from aggressive saving to net spending. This has been surprisingly difficult.
Surprising because that’s what we were saving for — to allow us to afford our lifestyle in retirement. Decades of relative frugality are not easy to unwind.
This is particularly so when I pay heed to new expenses we didn’t have while working. Most notably, health care and travel.
- We’re too young and too wealthy to qualify for subsidies. Thus, we need to budget a hefty out-of-pocket amount for health care.
- We’re paying more in travel costs because we want to travel more. Yep. What’s surprising is how easy it is to spend quite a lot of money quickly.
Add it up and we have plenty of money to spend but aren’t comfortable opening the floodgates. I’m sure we’ll get there.
In the meantime, no doubt further money surprises await.
4. At least there’s all that FREE TIME…
Hahaha! It is remarkable how little “leisure time” I have, at least in the sense of lazy hours with nothing to fill them.
I’m not so sure. At least for us, there’s always something effortlessly filling every day. From little chores to daily fitness, to cultural activities.
And so my fears of being bored and wondering what I would do with all that time have most definitely not come to fruition.
5. SERENDIPITY is the flip side of surprise
Lest I leave you with the impression that all surprises are negative, let me dispel the thought forthwith.
Sleeping as long as I want every damn day is so wonderful I eagerly slip between the covers each night.
You know what I do when I wake up and get out of bed? I go make a cup of coffee and get right back in.
Sometimes I work on a story idea. Sometimes I read the paper. Sometimes I just sit and think, while looking out the window. Heaven.
Here’s another wonderful aspect of being the master of my time: I exercise when I want. Cold and dark outside? Where once I would have laced up and gone for my run anyway, now I wait until the sun and the temperature both rise.
Or say it’s raining today but won’t be tomorrow. Hmmm, maybe I’ll shift my long run. Or how about I go to a class at the local YMCA instead? Doesn’t matter if the class is at 10:00 a.m. or 4:00 p.m. I can rearrange my schedule!
Going out to eat whenever we want is another wonderful change. Late breakfast or early lunch, Madam? Why certainly. We can take a leisurely walk to get there, and it doesn’t matter if we are detoured along the way.
Hands down, having a flexible schedule is one of the best things about retirement. We heed no one’s demands but our own, and our schedule is ours to command. If something comes up and we want to do it, we do.
That, my friends, seems worth all those decades of sacrifice.
What’s been your experience with retirement?
Whether you retired early or late, did you anticipate everything perfectly? If not, what were your surprises, both good and bad?
* Early retirement in my case meant I stopped paid work in my early 50s. This blog doesn’t count as paid work, does it?
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