I think a lot of people wonder if they will miss work in retirement. When you spend a large part of your waking time at something, regardless of whether you love it or hate it – it’s going to leave a gap in your life when you give it up, hopefully willingly.
I was no different in that although early retirement was something we’d been working hard towards for a good few years, I was still curious as to what if anything I would or wouldn’t miss about work if I gave it up. Even though I always knew it wasn’t my main goal I’d put a lot of effort into my career and was proud of what I’d managed to achieve. I was also acutely aware it was pretty much a “once out & you’re done” move.
So in the spirit of helping others who may be wondering the same thing, I figured it would be useful to share what I’ve found so far now that it’s just over two years since I left work and retired early at 43.
Friends, Colleagues & The Rest..
Ah, the ubiquitous coffee machine, home to many a hushed chat or quick witty remark..
Along with a few awkward shuffles to get away cleanly..
One of the biggest areas I was curious about what it was going to be like after leaving work was around social interaction, for lack of a better term. I really enjoyed the wide-range of people you get to meet when you are part of a large global organisation. All kinds of backgrounds, cultures, interests, personalities. I was very aware that retiring to life in Norfolk was not going to offer the same depth and breadth of people to meet and get to know.
In the same vein, when you spend 15 years in the same company, it is (for me certainly) impossible not to end up with more than a few people that I considered really good friends. After all, I spent a lot of time with some of these people and I knew them as well as if not more than some of my non-work friends. I knew once I was no longer in London regularly it would become harder to stay in touch.
On the other hand, there were also plenty of people I was looking forwards to not having to deal with again. It’s not easy to be professionally polite to someone you think is an…ahem…let’s just say less than nice person shall we? I think a large office is like any community – there’s always the ones you either just know or soon learn are not the kind of people you want in your life.
Am I Lonely?
So overall I’d had a positive experience at work and it was a big source of social interaction for me that I wasn’t sure how much I would miss. What I’ve learned in the two years since leaving is that I have managed to stay in touch with most people that I wanted to, all be it not as frequently as I would like – but that’s really on me since I have the free time to make the effort.
One surprise has been how well travel helps – we’ve managed to do a lot in the two years since leaving and it’s meant I’ve still been able to meet people from all kinds of different cultures and backgrounds, more than filling any gap left from work. Funnily enough my recent venture onto Twitter has much the same impact for me, giving me the ability to connect with people across the globe, something I still love doing.
So although I thought this would be something I did miss from work, I’ve not yet found it to be the case. I think you do have to recognise you need to put the effort in, just like starting over at a new work place, to build new friends and ways to connect in your new life. But it’s more than possible – and comes with a huge upside of you don’t have to put up with any of those you perhaps don’t enjoy quite so much 😉
A Sense Of Achievement? Purpose?
Work could often feel like a giant game of chess what with all the manoeuvering for the good roles and promotions…..
You just hoped you weren’t the lonely looking sacrificial pawn being sent out first…..
Work means a lot of different things to people. For some, it’s literally a way to pay the bills and get by. But for most, it ends up as a substantial part of your life – and you want it to mean something, to show something for all the time invested.
Personally finding meaning in my work was an area I struggled with at work. I didn’t have much natural interest in making an already incredibly huge company any richer but that’s where the money lay. It was always a compromise solution to enable a faster FIRE timeline.
However, I did get a lot of challenge through work, which was always immensely satisfying to achieve something I didn’t think I could do beforehand. Business trips abroad, large presentations, delivering large projects, managing people & teams, setting strategy – all kinds of things that the junior analyst me never thought I could or would do.
Typically my last job was actually also one where I finally felt I was truly making a difference, helping to put together a strategy to move towards a greener, cleaner future. Something I believe in strongly and am actually very passionate about. It was something I could have been tempted to stay at for sure.
On the flip side, like pretty much any big organisation I think, there was just a ton of bureaucracy. So many wasted hours, useless meetings, pointless conversations. A plethora of initiatives and new ways of working would regularly be introduced. Always with the best intentions but once you’ve been there a while and seen the same thing tried over under many different names, it was hard not to get jaded.
Have I Lost My Edge?
I’ve always loved challenge and the mental stimulation from solving problems as a way of growing and I was again curious how I’d find it outside work. How hard would it be to get that same buzz of achievement – would I even need it still?
And I have to admit – it’s turned out well. It’s actually been hugely refreshing to start entirely new challenges – not relying on 20 years of knowledge, experience and networks to achieve things but to start from scratch. Learning was fun again – even starting this blog was a huge challenge to me. Everything was new, I loved it. It was so refreshing.
Travel again delivered way above expectations, with challenging situations pulling me far out of my comfort zone at times. There really is nothing like it if you can take the time to venture off the well-beaten track.
I had time to get into volunteering online and helping others, something which has always given me a far greater sense of purpose than making money. Definitely an area I will continue to grow and contribute more to.
Literally the only thing I’ve not been able to replace or exceed is that helping the environment angle the last job gave me – so that’s one for me to think about how I can do more on that front as that’s an area that remains important to me
Who Am I Without Work?
It’s always hard not to be amused at times reading how ex-colleagues describe their jobs when you know the inside story…
I mean, I knew we had a problem with over-management but still…
Something I read a lot about when approaching my FIRE date was retired people’s concern on losing their identity. After 40 years of being a dentist (random example!) , do you suddenly stop being a dentist? How do you answer that “And what do you do” question – one I was especially interested in given I was retiring so young compared to most people.
It’s a bit different in a corporate world to a lot of places – especially in the London Finance bubble. I’ve seen many people chase job titles – sometimes at the expense of actual influence/interest. It works on the middle generation best from what I’ve seen, after the often rapid initial career growth when you hit the middle management layer and can spend a lot of time going sideways.
Personally, I had a strange balance here. I always knew my career was not the most important thing to me. I had zero ambition to be the CEO, CFO or whatever other top title was popular at the time. But I was obviously aware that better roles meant better pay – which meant a quicker FIRE date.
I won’t lie, it was occasionally fun to be able to tell people I had a great senior management role in a large company – especially as often it was assumed as a woman that wasn’t the case. I enjoyed – and still do – standing up as an example for younger females of how you could play with the guys and win.
Do I Miss Having A 'Role'?
After 20 years in career type roles, it was a big change to be suddenly without a “title”. Without an easy way to answer people when they asked what I did.
It came up often when travelling, as we were obviously away for far longer than any sane company would give as annual allowance. The first time I managed to say “actually, I’m retired” was a weird combination of pride and embarrassment. It needs explaining – which is actually pretty cool and often ends up in some really interesting conversations with people. But it does take a bit of getting used to.
I’m not too surprised that I don’t miss the status associated with that type of career – I was never in it for that so it didn’t matter to me then and it doesn’t matter to me now that I no longer have it. I’m doing what I believe is right for me and I think that just shines through instead.
Do I Miss Work In Retirement To Fill My Time?
Blue sky is one of my favourite things..
Both because it means the sun is out..
..And unlimited options…
..Not everybodies favourite though..
One of the other big things I often see people worrying about is what they will do with their time if they give up work. To the extreme, I’ve seen people stay in a job they aren’t enjoying , simply because they don’t know what else they would do.
For me, it was always the complete opposite. Freedom had long been the motivation behind our drive for FIRE – there were so many other things we wanted to do. Work combined with a ridiculously long commute had long been using way too much of my time.
Boredom seemed unlikely to me but I can understand why people may find the idea of filling in the many hours spent working or commuting a little scary if they’ve not thought about how they would actually like to use them. I was looking forwards to finding out how I’d deal with it.
Was I Bored Then?
Short answer – no! In fact I’ve turned into one of those irritating people who now doesn’t understand how I ever found the time to work.
I think two things helped big time here. First was just having spent so much time thinking about what we’d do once FIRE’d, trying things out where we could. It just wasn’t such a big shock to then start doing the things we loved more – without the interruptions of an alarm clock or deadlines.
The second was going part-time early on in my career. Again, it just meant that retiring was more like tipping the balance towards my new life – rather than a completely new thing from scratch. Especially since I was lucky enough to work a large part of the last few months from home – it really eased the transition of being used to owning my own time.
With travel having been a big part of our first two years, maybe it will be different if the pandemic continues to make travel a little more difficult and unpredictable than usual. Will let you know after another two years!
Money! Money! Money!
At the heart of it, work is exchanging your time for money…
..Some like the exchange better than others..
Fortunately I was paid more than 10 Euros for my job to make it worth it!
It’s funny – I almost didn’t remember to have a ‘Money’ section on this post. Which when you think about it is kind of entertaining since for pretty much all people it’s a driving force of work in one way or another.
A lot of people, quite reasonably, can be concerned at losing the comfort of that regular monthly bank credit. It’s reassuring that every month sees more money in, reliably, seamlessly. Well, hopefully anyway since that’s one of the main perks of working if you aren’t doing it for love!
So giving up the regular paycheck meant getting used to relying on our investments to do their job, working out if and when we needed to use them and how best to do so tax efficiently. All the planning and assumptions become real.
Do I Miss A Regular Paycheck?
I suppose the answer to this should be yes. I mean, after all, who doesn’t like large sums of money regularly turning up in your bank account.
It’s a little strange to turn from avid saver into someone using those savings for what they are intended for – living. It’s one of the surprising things about life after FIRE that old habits die hard. It is a little odd to not see your savings growing quite so rapidly, now that you no longer have so much money coming in.
It’s been especially interesting doing so during the particularly volatile markets that we’ve had over the pandemic crisis. Much easier to ride out a large dip when you still have that paycheck coming in. Fortunately we’d always planned on a large contingency in our annual budget and so have had no need to cash out anything at a loss just to raise funds to live on.
Bizarrely though, I don’t miss the security of the regular paycheck. I guess you could argue it’s because no job is ever 100% safe and at least this way we’ve spread our risk as you should across many different investments. I do think it’s harder than a lot of people imagine to make the switch to using your investments though. When the saving habit is as ingrained in you as it is in most FIRE savers, it takes a while to think differently.
So - Do I Miss Work After Early Retirement?
It’s been interesting for me to go through this exercise as it’s not been something I’ve given much thought to as yet. Which I suppose answers the question by itself to be honest?!
There are bits and pieces I occasionally miss, the swift adhoc pint after work to catch up with friends, achieving something I didn’t think I could do, the pleasure of a large pay-rise and recognition of hard work. But people aside, those things were often fleeting.
So no, I don’t miss work after early retirement but it’s in large part down to putting in a lot of thinking as to what I wanted life to be like afterwards and then making the effort to make those things happen. I think it could be very different if you aren’t that way inclined or prepared.
So I hope this has helped those of you on your own journey still and would love to know what you think you will or won’t miss about work when you retire?