Anticipation: the realities of looking forward and backward

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Introduction

Everyone experiences the full spectrum of anticipation on a regular basis: for matters from wonderful to terrible, and from the minuscule to the monumental. These are the times when we either think or know that something is going to happen, and we experience a broad mix of emotions leading up to it. Very often our focus is on what will be new with the particular change (or looking forward), though we may also be thinking about what we might lose, or other matters regarding what was “old” and won’t be the same anymore (looking backward). Both are of course important!

I found myself thinking about this topic earlier today, as I worked on the new project I’ve cagily referenced a few times before. The idea is now months old so there’s been lots of time for me to think about it. However, my project partner and I are finally ready to show the first glimpses of what we’ve been working on, so the anticipation for me is now huge! In this situation there is nothing to look back on with concern or sadness. Our project is not a “change” if you will, but rather just a new creative endeavor. Nothing will be “given up” to bring it to life short of our time spent on it. This isn’t always the case with the many changes we experience in life, right? You’ll need to wait until my next post to see just what we have been cooking up! I’ll post it shortly so you won’t have to expend too much anticipation before you get to see it ?

FIRE is the ultimate anticipation builder

Even if you’re not someone considering early retirement (yet!), perhaps you’ve met someone who is. Spend a few minutes with them, or view any of the popular online forums, Reddit, or blogs, and you’ll readily see just how much time those on the FIRE path think / dream / anticipate their desired outcome. People spend years thinking about their goal to leave the workforce earlier than the average, so they can start their next phase of life. This anticipation can certainly be very motivating. Like anything, if you’re not careful, it can also become all-consuming!

I decided very early in my career that FIRE was my path – even though I didn’t have a catchy name for my goal until more recently. However, I didn’t spend tons of time anticipating that transition in the early days of making that decision. I guess it just seemed too far off at that point. That really started to change around 7-8 years ago, which is the point where I got much more deliberate about it the execution of this idea. I sought financial advice, ramped up my savings rate even more, and started to more explicitly plan my runway to early retirement. Any decision of importance that I made was very much influenced by this overarching FIRE goal. Fast forward to about two years ago, which is when I set the date. That was when the anticipation really started to ramp up!

Looking forward

Like most people, my initial focus was on what came next, and how to get there with confidence. I’m definitely a “measure twice (or ten times), cut once” kind of person. So this meant a variety of planning. Lorri and I started to think a lot more about what our retirement budget might look like. I began looking more seriously into what our options would be for healthcare in retirement. That’s also right about the time where we started the process of deciding where we would live after I stopped working. We had some huge decisions ahead and it was really exciting to start thinking about them in earnest. When times were tough at work, daydreaming a bit on these matters was a welcome departure – particularly about what it would “feel like” to be retired. We had worked hard to get to this point and it was very motivating to imagine what it would like like once we finally made this big change.

For certain, these emotions were overwhelmingly positive – why consider this path otherwise, right? I was certain of my path forward. I loved what I did for work and truly enjoyed working with my colleagues, but I was so looking forward to moving on to “whatever came next” – even if I didn’t know quite what it was. I really craved a schedule-free life: one where I set the priorities, chose when and to where I traveled, not to mention all those interests I wanted to pursue! Most importantly, I would get to define “what I did” from here forward – not merely as an extension of a career I fell into 23 years prior. Rather, it could be whatever I wanted to pursue within my means. I certainly didn’t know the answers to all the questions I had in hand, but my time was absolutely spent anticipating a ton of positive changes in my life. Contemplating all of the possibilities that could follow was definitely motivational!

Looking backward

Does that mean I didn’t spend any time thinking about what I was leaving behind? Of course not. In some ways it was always part of the conversation, particularly when it came to the impact on our daughter, who would be changing schools with our relocation. Looking back just wasn’t the majority of where our energy and thoughts were expended – particularly as it pertained to my job. That eventually changed, and very much so in the year prior to my leaving work. That really escalated once I gave my official notice that I’d be leaving. At that point I really started to reflect on the larger picture picture of what this huge change would mean.

I’d spent 23 years building a career in biotech. Over that nearly quarter century, the majority of my waking hours were at work, as with most of us. My career path took me to a variety of companies in several industries, and as such I had built a large network of contacts via colleagues and customers. Not just that of course, since most of my friends were those I’d met at work too. After I made this change, I’d no longer see those people daily – or even frequently, given my move. I also realized that I wouldn’t have that sense of fulfillment gained from working in human healthcare, and wasn’t sure quite what would fill that void. I was certain I would miss many things about working, even if there was a lot I was eager to leave behind! In hindsight, I was surprised how much time I spent thinking about this in those final months at work.

Outside of work-related matters, I also started thinking about many of the big picture aspects of this huge change. What if retirement – even if I wasn’t always sure that was the right term – wasn’t all I thought it would be? Did I truly have a sufficient number of interests with which to fill my time? How would I really adapt to the many changes that were sure to come? Would I be able to reverse course if I thought that was the right next step? Lorri was of tremendous help to me whenever my normally eager anticipation tilted towards concern and doubt. She helped me remember just how few things in life were irreversible. Surely I would be able to return to the workplace if I really decided that was appropriate – as unlikely as I thought that outcome might be.

Thankfully, reality doesn’t bite

Now it’s been more than seven months since I left the workplace. Anticipation of my forthcoming change transitioned to the reality of it long ago at this point. Of course there were things I hadn’t planned for (the impact of COVID-19 first and foremost), and I’m certain that is always the case. Importantly, the positive things to which I have looked forward to for so long were proven valid. I love the freedom to spend my time how I choose. It’s been wonderful to have so much time to devote to the things I want to do and learn, and prioritize them as I see fit. I wake up each day excited about what I have planned – or sometimes, don’t have planned! Whether it’s the lighter side of my interests, like cooking, or the many hours I have now spent learning app development, I feel I have grown a lot in a relatively short time.

How about work and the concerns I had at times about leaving it all behind? Thankfully, those have proven to be without foundation. I have done a little consulting, and while fun and interesting, it has reinforced that I made the right decision to leave the workplace. While I miss the people, I don’t miss the work. It’s hard for me to imagine reporting to the workplace – real or virtual, on a regular schedule each day. I find it very interesting how quickly that change in me took hold. I’m open to the idea that my thoughts may change, but I don’t foresee that presently.

Is every day perfect and wonderful? Certainly not. Life is still life, and early retirement is not Shangri La. My emotions run the full spectrum just like with anyone, despite the very fortunate situation in which I find myself. That’s totally normal! I’m still very much adapting to this tremendous change. I don’t want to be an echo chamber for every other retirement blogger, but there is so much truth to the descriptions of one’s continuously changing emotions once you leave the workplace. I enjoy looking back at my milestones posts to see what each time point has felt like. I am learning to appreciate and even enjoy this occasional internal chaos, as I know I emerge stronger and perhaps wiser from it. I also know that presently I have a somewhat reduced set of outlets for down days given pandemic restrictions. It’s then that I remind myself that it won’t always be the case.

Conclusion

The anticipation I felt leading up pulling that “final” trigger on my FIRE journey was certainly exciting – largely positive, with increasingly realistic doses of questioning and doubt. The reality of things after leaving the workplace has also been overwhelmingly positive. I’m so excited and grateful to have this opportunity for which I worked hard to achieve, and I look forward to all that will come! What do you anticipate most about your own retirement, early or otherwise? I’d love to hear from you!

image credit: https://kssunews.wordpress.com/2017/12/02/almost-there/

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