It’s officially been a year since I quit my desk job as an Operational Risk Manager in the finance industry. You can call it early retirement, taking a sabbatical, being voluntarily unemployed, or being a deadbeat (the last one is a bit rough in my opinion), I’ve basically been living off of investments and savings for one whole year.
For those of you who are new, Dave’s been doing the exact same thing. In fact, he quit his desk job (again in finance) more than a year before I did.
We both handle the non-working life a little different. But I thought I would go over the few things that I’ve learned while being “retired.”
Decompression Time is Ok
Chances are, if you decide to voluntarily take some time off of work (i.e. quit and not actively look for another job), you did so for a reason. It could be health reasons, you may have been overly stressed, maybe your career just wasn’t as rewarding as you had hoped.
No matter what the reason, you’ll probably find yourself taking some time to decompress and relax immediately following your goodbye party. I’ve decided (in all of the vast amount of wisdom I’ve acquired in my paltry 30-some years) that this is normal and healthy.
What surprised me was how much time I ended up taking. My decompression time was around five months. Granted, the week after my final day at work we hosted our wedding at our house, with the majority of the guests visiting from out of town, but that’s really just an excuse.
From July until about mid-November, Dave and I filled our time with mini-vacations, eating out, and just being lazy. We did a few little projects here and there. We built some raised gardens, finished remodeling a bathroom. But we weren’t overly productive like I felt we should be.
This of course, led to a bit of guilt. Don’t feel guilty. It’s ok to take some time for yourself. Just make sure you aren’t taking so much time that you’re completely draining your finances or starting to become a life-long couch potato. And only you can judge that one.
Create Goals and Write Them Down
A great thing to do while enjoying your decompression time is to think about what you ultimately want to do with your life. Whether you’re just taking a break from working or plan on never working for someone else again, you’ll need to figure out what you want to do with the rest of your free time.
Because you’re going to find that you have a lot of it.
Do you want to start a business of your own? Do you want to read a book a week until you find that perfect job you’ve always wanted? Do you want to try to monetize your hobbies? Do you want to volunteer?
Decide on a few goals, then write them down with deadlines. The deadlines are important so you can end your decompression time in a timely manner.
We were pretty glutenous with our time. I didn’t think we would take multiple months to get back to being productive on the house and other hobbies. But eventually we lit a fire under ourselves and are making strides in what we want to accomplish.
Speaking of Hobbies and Volunteering
Finally, we have time for hobbies! But only if you call fixing up the Blue Beast (our house) a hobby. She takes up most of our time. We do still carve out time for fixing up the camper, gardening, tending to chickens and ducks, etc. But it’s mostly fixing up our huge Frankenhouse.
Which brings me to what I’ve learned about hobbies. Eventually, you start to miss talking to people. Yes, even an introvert like myself.
It’s important to have a few hobbies that get you out of the house. Check out classes at your local community center or community college. Join a local club. Try out that MeetUp app.
When you stop going into an office every day, your world shrinks dramatically. There are no more light conversations with Joe in the break room about what ski pass he’s buying this year.
Of course, you still have non-work friends, but they aren’t going to be available for a midweek brewery tour or camping trip. They all still have jobs, remember?
But it’s ok, there’s still volunteering! That will replace the weekly meetings and water-cooler banter.
Right, so the biggest surprise I’ve learned about myself in this process is that I’m lazy. As in, I had hobbies while working, but I always said “I’d volunteer if I didn’t have this 8 to 10 to 12 hour a day job.”
That’s a load. If you aren’t volunteering while you’re working, you probably won’t start volunteering when you’re not.
It’s been a year and I still am not volunteering anywhere. I keep meaning to become a volunteer at a local animal shelter or the Boise Art Museum, but excuses just keep popping up. Just like when I was working.
It’s easy to focus on your “ideal” self. The person that you want to be. You think you’ll work out, volunteer, read, etc when you don’t have a job. But the truth is, if you aren’t doing those things while you have a 9-5, then you probably won’t do them when you have an abundance of free time.
Simply put, you get more done when you have less time, than when you have more time. That’s Murphy’s second and lesser well known law.
You are Responsible for your Own Time
Which brings me to my next lesson. You need to hold yourself accountable when it comes to time and productivity.
I so very greatly miss having a set schedule. I never thought I’d say that. It is all too easy to get up in the morning, make coffee. Then make more coffee. And more coffee. Because you got stuck on stupid.
You end up YouTubing something simple, like how to prune fruit trees. Completely applicable to your life, right?
But then how did you end up watching vegan cooking videos for three hours? You’re not vegan! (No judgement if you are at all, this is just an example.) And all before you’ve taken a shower.
You no longer have someone else holding you accountable for getting things done. It’s all up to you. And at some point, you need to figure out how to hold yourself responsible. I’ll let you know exactly how to do this as soon as I figure it out.
You Will Experience a “Loss of Self”
When you are no longer working, you can experience an odd “loss of self.” The first thing people ask you when you meet them is “What do you do for a living?”
As much as you would think otherwise, it’s not fun to say “I’m retired.” Not because it’s not awesome to be retired. But when you’re young and choosing not to work, trying to explain that to someone who could be up to their ears in debt and living paycheck to paycheck tends to feel like you’re rubbing it in.
So you may downplay it and say that you’re just taking time off of work for a bit. And even that answer is hard to swallow because you worked hard to get to where you were in the career that you quit.
In that first year of your sabbatical (with a TBD ending date) you feel like you’re just kind of hanging out. You feel a little lost. And you’ll be reminded of that every time someone asks you “What do you do for a living?”
Figuring Out What’s Next
But this is a great time to go back to those goals. Why did you quit your job in the first place? What did you dream about doing while pretending to pay attention during that early Monday meeting? (Bueller?)
Figure out what you want to do with the rest of your life. Be brave. Try a ton of ideas out. Fail at a few things. Succeed at a few others. Then pick your favorite.
Create something for yourself that is going to keep you engaged in your life and keep you in the great financial situation that allowed you to quit your career in the first place. Or go get that perfect job, even if it pays pittance but makes you happy.
You only have so much time in life.