Why Do We Struggle with What Comes Next?

If you have been reading in the FIRE blogosphere long enough you’ve probably noted that there are topic trends that seem to take root at certain times.  There are several prominent sites that will do articles on a particular topic, or related topics, within a fairly narrow range of time.  I don’t think there is any plot here or any danger of significantly more plagiarism than would be normally found in the type of conversations one finds in a like-minded group like this, but I do find it interesting that the consciousness stream seems often to be on the same wavelength, and it does make me wonder “Are we really all on the same page about this retirement thing?”

Maybe at the root of my question is the fact that my circumstances are different from a lot of the bloggers who are “on the come” to use dice parlance.  A lot of folks are on the path to financial independence and are using their blog to hold themselves publicly accountable, or to be part of the community of like-minded individuals, or find strength in the type of proselytizing we tend to do, or maybe just to hopefully make a buck by writing interesting things that others like to read.  But that’s not me (not that I’d turn down the odd buck or two).  I’m probably already financially independent.  I say “probably” because I choose to continue to work at a job I enjoy so I have not yet been required to live off of my investments so there is some speculation in thinking that I would be successful.  But I do think that I could.  The math seems to support the income/expense calculations.

So I’m coming at the issue from a slightly different point of view.  I’m likely older than you and don’t “need” any more money (though I’m not giving any back either :-), but am also trying to come to terms with what the RE (or in my case, R) looks like (it’s too late for the E).  What is the allure of retirement, at least how we currently think of the term, when you enjoy your working life?  Are there rules to this game, or are we all just making it up as we go along?

A particular confluence of circumstances brought me to this question.  It seems as bloggers in this community work their way closer to their FI, and thus, RE goals, they start to question what comes next.  It is like we become so caught up, so consumed, by the process of wealth accumulation that we don’t know what to do with ourselves when we no longer “need” to accumulate any more money.  I’d been noticing the trend of folks talking about this particular concern for a while when I read Chris Mamula’s article written for Darrow Kirkpatrick’s “Can I Retire Yet” blog.  You likely know Chris better from “Eat The Financial Elephant”, his labor of love. 

Chris talks about redefining “Retirement” by looking at three critical issues, including “what am I going to do with my time”.  The timing of this question was poignant for me.  I have been thinking about the timing of my own “retirement” and thought a good time would be when my daughter goes off to college (5 years, or so), but then we decided to buy a new house  and I thought it prudent to add a few years to my time horizon in order to pay down the impending mortgage.  I won’t lie, when my time horizon went from 4-5 years to 8-9 years, I felt a tangible sense of relief.  It would be longer until I had to answer the question “what am I going to do with my time”. 

I thought back to my father, who, while not necessarily a financial wizard, understood the importance of hard work and raised his kids with that vital understanding.  My dad retired from government service at the age of 60, then at 60 1/2 went back to work and worked pretty much every day until he was 79.  I remember his response when I inquired as to why:  “Son, you’ll find this hard to believe, but retirement is significantly overrated.” 

As I sit here today, I think I understand what he meant.  For him it was not about the money (it was never about the money for my father, who did not die rich, but provided a good life for his family – I hope the same can be said about me – well, maybe not the “did not die rich” part).  The issue that confronted him was the same one that Chris Mamula points out, it’s the same one that still confounds me, namely, what to do with the extra time?

This is not a novel question.  As I said earlier, it is one that seems to be voiced more often as folks get closer to their financial and retirement goals and is one of those topics that seems to run in streaks through the community, as though there were some universal fear we all feel.  It’s even spawned it’s own named phobia.  We’ve all read about “One More Year Syndrome.”  It seems that not everyone is like Pete at MMM who loves to build things (out of wood and concrete, as well as out of ideas), or Steve at TSR who is living out of a travel trailer and seeing the world.  These folks knew where they wanted to spend their time.  For most of us though, it is just not that clear.

I guess, for me, it is about designing the type of life I want to lead now.  (You know, I typed that sentence and thought to myself, “isn’t that what we should be doing all the time anyway?).  How do I want to spend the rest of my time on earth, when accumulation of money is not my driving concern?  This is the “redefinition” that I am seeking.  I’ll be honest with you, I don’t know the answer to that question yet.  But I’m going to use my comfortably extended “retirement” time frame to keep thinking about it, and in the mean time, keep working at a job I really like, saving (because we’re frugal, damn it!), writing about things that interest me, and just basically, being me.     

Until Next Time, FIRE On! – Oldster

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