The many learnings from year one of early “retirement”

ONE YEAR since I left my job? Wow. Particularly given the odd pace of “pandemic time”, I find it hard to believe I’m already at this point. But here I am! Looking back at the countdown calendar that formerly hung on my office wall confirms it. On an afternoon exactly one year ago today, I handed in my employee badge and drove out of the company parking lot, almost certainly bringing my 23-year biotech career to an end. A few weeks later my family moved out of the Bay Area to the Central Coast of California. I wrote my first blog post here several weeks later. Now after twelve months and 43 posts, it’s time for another in my series of milestone articles. Will it be my last? Who knows!

After a year I still generally avoid the term “retirement” or I place it in quotes as I’ve done here. At 47 years old, I still think it unlikely that I’m completely done with all things that could be termed “work”. It is true that I leveraged reaching financial independence to step away from the only career I’ve had – and still have no intentions of going back. But it’s also entirely possible that one of the many ideas I’m exploring could turn into gainful revenue generation. Again, who knows? That flexibility is exactly what I was targeting with my FIRE journey. That said, I can’t imagine myself schedule-bound to an office job at someone else’s company. ? It seems more likely with each day that this will continue to be the case.

I have approached this article differently than my earlier milestone posts. Instead of my usual (rambling) long-form, I will briefly summarize some of they key lessons I have learned and observations I’ve made. That seemed a better method to share a broad range of information without a really long article. I’m hopeful that this bite-sized approach will work out well and perhaps will provoke questions that would be fun to expand upon! So without further ado and in no particular order…

  • It can be very difficult to resist the temptation to fill all your time with “stuff”. Our careers train us in this way and it takes active effort to get comfortable with anything else. But I think that having truly “free time” is vital to allow the creative process to happen!
  • Like any big changes, leaving your career behind is an emotional roller coaster with many highs and lows. You can’t truly prepare for that, short of just being cognizant that the mental churn will happen and is completely normal. It’s really important to reflect on what you’re feeling. Journaling or blogging can help!
  • Talking openly with your partner & family is really important. Sharing the emotions you’re feeling helps everyone. After all, they are going through this huge change with you! Keeping it in will only create tension that helps nothing. Ask them how things are going now that you’re around so much more and see if anything needs to be adjusted.
  • If your identity is tightly wrapped up in your former job as is common, it will be a substantial change when this is removed. Thinking about your purpose and what defines you and is important now, is really useful. What is your next phase of life going to be about?
  • Don’t fear trying things and setting them down. This is the very heart of having the freedom to choose how to spend your time. If like me you have many interests, it’s perfectly OK to try them out only to decide “that’s enough for now” or “I don’t actually want to do this”.
  • Related to the above – it’s important not to pressure yourself to find “the next thing to do”. At least in my case, this created stress in the first few months. Financial independence means that additional income – while nice, is not required. Your time is better spent exploring, from which may spring that next great idea! But don’t rush into anything hastily.
  • It can be really tricky talking about FIRE and early retirement – particularly with people you’re meeting for the first time. I often refer to my increasingly rare consulting gigs as my “job”. Yes, it’s a cop-out, but it works before I get to know someone well. It’s worth thinking through how you will handle this in advance. You’ll get lots of practice, I promise you.
  • The things you miss about the workplace may surprise you. Giving some thought to this before you depart may help you identify other ways to satisfy those needs – but it won’t be perfect. Again, this is just part of the emotional roller coaster that will surely come.
  • Many workplace friendships are just that, and they won’t all persist after your shared work life is no longer there. COVID + moving certainly didn’t help in my case as visiting people wasn’t an option and Zoom meet-ups are only so effective. But I am convinced that many relationships at work are very much tied to the workplace itself. This is perfectly OK!
  • On a related point, it’s easy to under-appreciate how much socialization occurs at work. What will you do during those weekday “working hours” while your friends are busy? Finding appropriate avenues to engage with others is still really important. Clubs, civic groups, volunteering, and other means to find like-minded people is important – particularly if you relocate in retirement, as I did. Pouring wine at a tasting room one day a week is proving to be fun for me and plenty social!
  • Lots of people make bucket lists of big and small things they intend to do once they retire. I have found since leaving the workplace that I continue to generate ideas of things I might like to do. I keep these out of sight in an “idea funnel” that I revisit from time to time. It’s fun to see how my thoughts change about prioritization; there’s also no pressure to feel like it is a “to do list” that I must achieve. This subtle difference feels really good to me.
  • Building skills and “making” things are really effective ways of continuing to challenge yourself, to keep learning, and also to feel productive. They are also great mechanisms to unearth potential business opportunities or at least new hobbies and avenues of personal entertainment. Knocking procrastinated chores off your to-do list only lasts so long!
  • Just because someone is willing to pay (a lot) for your expertise doesn’t mean it’s the right thing to take on. I’m grateful to have been presented many consulting opportunities over the last year. While tempting, I’ve had to be really careful about not over-committing at the peril of being unable to do all the other things I want to do! Be sure to choose wisely.
  • The freedom gained via FIRE has proven to be well worth it! I love being able to choose how to spend my time. I can’t count how many times I’ve woken up with zero plans and at the end of the day realized what a fun day I had, just taking things as they come. My wife is much more spontaneous than me and I’m finally starting to understand the joy in this.
  • On a similar point, I’m really excited to finally get the chance to test out our interest in longer term travel. This summer we’ll take a five-week trip to visit family and friends. Wow! Like most Americans, we’ve never been away more than two weeks on vacation. It’s a little scary, but almost entirely in a good way!
  • There is no “right way” to do this. From talking to others, whether in FIRE or traditional age, retirement is definitely individual. We each have our goals, our interests, and our individual preferences. I think many of the points herein apply broadly. But you will each need to determine what is important to you and how you will spend this next phase of your life.

I hope you’ve found this post useful. I remain incredibly grateful to be in the position I am, something I reflect upon often. It is my earnest hope that in sharing my experiences I can assist others in their own journeys. Decisions relating to retirement are among the biggest we make in our adult lives. There are many paths to arrive at that goal and so many decisions to be taken along the way. And yet as has been well documented, few people feel well informed on the topic by the time they are deciding when and how to retire – or worse when others have decided that timing for them. I aspire to change that however I can.

Above all, I wish you all the best in your own journeys! If there are any questions that this post has prompted or areas in which you’d like me to dig in further, please comment below or on social media. I’ve learned much from the interactions I’ve had with readers and some of my favorite posts have comes from conversations with you. I just want more of them!

If you’re not yet following my Two Sides of FI YouTube channel (or the audio podcast version: Apple, Spotify, or search your provider of choice!), please consider it! My co-host, Eric, does a really great job of challenging me and asks thought-provoking, and sometimes difficult questions that I’m not always willing to put to myself. And I think you’ll find his perspective as one approaching FI incredibly valuable. Mahalo! ?

Mothers won’t agree, but nine months sure flies by!

a clock with wings - time flies

Retirement is full of changes, and after nine months that isn’t any different. Nine months or around 40 weeks is regarded as the average length of a full term pregnancy for humans. From my own family’s experience, I wouldn’t say that those months sail by unnoticed. Expecting moms experience a seemingly never-ending series of changes, many of which are unpleasant or uncomfortable. A new addition to the family is of course a happy outcome and that makes it all well worth it!

This week marks nine months since I left the workplace and my career of 23 years. In most respects, it is hard for me to believe that it has already been that long! I believe that feeling would be even more so were it not for the existence of the COVID-19 pandemic and the lifestyle changes it has manifested for us all. But even in the atmosphere of lockdowns, reduced travel, and limited social interactions, I would say that time has passed quickly. Has there been a “birth” of some project or new venture that will define my next phase of life? Not yet, but as we’ll discuss, that isn’t a problem in the least!

What is the same and what’s changed after nine months?

As I did at the six month milestone, I thought it would be useful to review how things have been going across an array of categories. But I’ll try a new article format in the interest of keeping things fresh!

  • Schedule:
    • I’m still largely using mornings for a mixture of entertainment consumption, chores, and my daily walk. If I have a busy day ahead, I often cook dinner in the morning as well. For those who don’t know me – yes, I’m still up before dawn! That is seemingly just me and has nothing to do with whether I’m working or not.
    • Afternoons remain largely for skill-building and education that may yield my next project or business venture. Importantly, I’ve increased the overall time I’ve spent on this area!
    • I have a couple of Zoom happy hours each week and these remain an important outlet to stay connected to good friends, family, and former colleagues. I feel like I’m talking to the last group less these days, barring a select few people. I’m a bit sad about that given how many colleagues I enjoyed hanging out with. But from my reading I know this is common. Work tied those relationships together and with that gone and with little travel happening, it makes sense.
  • Skill building and making:
    • I’ve pushed much harder to make progress on my iOS development journey in recent months. I’ve now completed or made significant progress on three courses. I’ve also released a simple app on the Apple Store, and developed several others just for the entertainment of myself and some friends.
    • I’m still cooking a lot! I managed to make all seven of the Oaxacan moles (my recipe database is here), which was an extension of a long-standing bucket list item (make mole negro). But I’ve now moved onto Indian cuisine! I’m really enjoying this change and since we have no Indian restaurants in town, it’s rather self-serving. ?
    • I am learning tons about YouTube, video production, and a host of other things from the Two Sides of FI project that my friend Eric and I have begun. It’s still early days for the channel but I remain excited about the different directions it may go. I have much to learn so this needs to take even more of my time and I’m working on that presently!
  • Giving:
    • I had always planned to do more volunteer work in “retirement”, particularly since my financial giving is way down from when I was working. I’ve recently started volunteering once a week at our local COVID vaccination clinic and am really enjoying the gratification I get from it. I felt needed at work and volunteering is filling that gap!
    • I am also taking more phone calls from friends and former colleagues who are interested in early retirement, have financial planning questions, or related topics. At the core this is just being a good friend. I am happy that I now have the time to devote to such things without concern for what work or tasks are being put off, and I enjoy it.
  • Fun:
    • My family is still enjoying learning about our new home in the Central Coast of CA. We’ve continued to explore area hiking, as well as the many wineries and breweries in our town and close by. We are ever thankful for our temperate climate given the need for outdoor activities during COVID restrictions. Location, location, location!
    • Socialization remains as it has been for most of us – very limited. We have one couple we see occasionally and this has been a vital outlet. Moving away from friends and being geographically distant from family has been tough when combined with our present circumstance – and the opposite of what I’d planned after leaving work.
    • While I had been enjoying getting back into the World of Warcraft game, I haven’t played in a few weeks. First, a good friend with whom I enjoyed playing, has been busy with other things. Second, I’ve been enjoying my other pursuits so much that gaming time wasn’t a priority. Don’t worry: I’m far from being done with gaming, of course!
  • Emotional
    • As at the six month time point, my mental state remains… ever changing! Though I’m happy to report that the variability is now much less so. I still have days where my usual excitement about figuring out “what comes next” turns into concern or is otherwise unpleasant. On the whole those days are much rarer now, which is great!
    • I’m also working on taking time to clear my head and allow for uninterrupted thinking. I’ve realized that I have some bad habits to break, and some easy remedies have included taking my walks in silence and not bringing my phone. This is definitely a development area for me but I know it is one that will pay off many-fold!

So what’s next?

As I wrote above, there is no “birth announcement” about what comes next – YET. At times I find myself feeling like that means I’m somehow behind the curve. But it is at these times that I remind myself of my plan – I now have the freedom to take the time (or not) required to figure out what comes next. Skills building and pure educational time is a central and essential aspect of that! Importantly, there is no pressure to keep to any specific schedule. The hallmark of achieving financial independence is a lack of any requirement to “do something” that will generate income. I’m seeking the “next thing” because I want to, and am excited to create / do / experience something new!

I remain absolutely convinced that one of my many wandering paths will yield the fruit that will manifest as a central element of this next phase in my life. As my good friend Eric reminds me, most often you have to try and “fail” at a variety of things before you land on the one about which you are truly passionate and that will produce what you are seeking. This is so different than what projects in my work life were like, so it’s no surprise that at times I find myself forgetting that is indeed the nature of the beast! But I’m getting better about remembering that. I’ve got a few irons in the fire that could turn out to be that thing – but I’m totally OK if they are not! It’s all learning, growth, and yes – fun.

Once again, I am thankful for all those who are experiencing this journey with me – whether through the blog, the YouTube channel, or just in conversation. Your input and guidance means a lot. Most of all, I am grateful for my family. This is a huge change for all of us still – even nine months later. I am so thankful for the strong support I get even in my most uncertain of moods. I am excited for all that is still to come and know that it will be a great adventure!

image credit: “time flies” by Robert Couse-Baker is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Wow, SIX months already? Inconceivable!

Vizzini from the Princess Bride film

Some days I’m shocked to realize how long it’s been since I left the workplace. Just a few days ago marked six months! This means it’s time for me to write another milestones post and reflect upon how things have gone. I’ve now been “retired” and in this next phase of life twice as long as when I wrote my three month post, and while much is the same, there have indeed been changes…

Many things remain the same as after three months

Largely, my daily routine – as much as one can call it that since it does vary, is unchanged. I wake around the same time, and I tend to do the same chores after my early morning “catch up on all the shows and movies I missed in recent years” session. Once the day gets rolling, things become a bit more variable. I’m still doing the vast majority of cooking for my family, and am enjoying it tremendously. I often prepare dinners in the morning, as I find it a great start to the day. I’m overdue to make another Mexican mole, but you’ll see in my Notion recipe database that I’ve now made six different styles! I also take my daily walk before noon most days, and I’ve kept up my trend of listening to lots of audiobooks. Lately I’ve been filling in the gaps in my Malcolm Gladwell catalog, which I’ve really enjoyed.

After lunch tends to be when I focus on personal development and self-improvement. As in previous months, that largely involves improving my coding skills, specifically Swift for iOS apps. I’m still not sure to what this will lead, but I’m enjoying it and it always feels productive for me when I get a couple of hours in. I also spend one afternoon a week writing this blog. To be honest, sometimes it feels more like a chore to get started. I’m no longer working so I don’t really want to feel scheduled, right? However, once I get going and particularly once I’m done, it’s really fulfilling. I really do get a lot out of processing what I’m feeling and capturing it in writing. It’s the main self-improvement activity I undertake presently.

Unfortunately, one thing that also remains the same is the way the COVID-19 pandemic necessarily restrains me and the family from undertaking travel and other fun pursuits. Since we moved just over five months ago, that means we still don’t really know many people other than our immediate neighbors. As a result, our ability to socialize, even outdoors and at a distance, is quite limited. We’ve made a couple of friends via wineries, and that’s really great. But otherwise my primary outlet for human contact outside of my family is via social media and Zoom happy hours. The latter remain really important to me, and those two evenings each week are times I really enjoy. I know this circumstance is not permanent, and that we are of course all going through it, but it is certainly an odd thing in combination with leaving the workplace. It can feel pretty lonely at times, for sure.

So what’s new? There are always new surprises to uncover

On the lighter side, I’ve been really surprised how until recently, I haven’t spent tons of time playing video games. Gaming has always been important to me, and I often commented about how I’d use retirement to catch up on titles I’d missed or to replay favorites. All that changed after the latest World of Warcraft expansion launched a few weeks ago. Now I really enjoy some game time each day – particularly late evening when I get really tired watching TV. On the flipside, it was also unexpected that I haven’t been playing more tabletop/board games since leaving the workplace. Lorri and I really enjoy them, and I’d assumed we’d get back in the habit once I had much more free time. While I know this will change – we’re going to set aside time each week – it was unexpected to be sure.

A much bigger surprise for me has been that I would have any interest in something even remotely related to my former work. Don’t worry, I’m not pining to get back into a corporate job! Rather, I’ve enjoying taking a few consulting calls each month. These are largely just an hour commitment each time, so not something that competes with my other pursuits. However, I’ve found it fulfilling to act in an advisory role, and the income it produces with little effort is certainly appreciated. I don’t feel at all compelled to expand the amount of time I spend on this, but I am enjoying the few hours I take on. It’s nice to use my brain in a comfortable way and in addition feel like I’m helping others. This may well change once I’m able to do in-person volunteer work after things improve. That’s something I’d definitely planned to do that hasn’t really been possible to date.

On an emotional level, much remains as before – and by that I mean highly variable though on the whole very positive. That said, at times I feel like I’ve struggled with adapting to my new “retired” life. I’ve realized how important the positive validation I used to get from work was, and how its absence makes me feel. At times I’ve felt under-appreciated despite my efforts to contribute, and that has led me to be a bit short with my family. That’s definitely not something I anticipated and certainly not something I am happy about. I’ve learned that I need to be more open about what I’m feeling and work to understand the root cause and how to deal with it appropriately. Of course, any big change can provoke strong emotions, and leaving the workplace certainly qualifies. I believe working through these feelings will make me a stronger and better person for it! Therefore I am grateful for these emotions, even though they are challenging at times.

In conclusion

These are just a few of the things I’ve noted to be the same or different since my last milestone post. I hope you have found this to be informative. So much is written about how to FIRE, and as such tends to be very focused on financial matters. As I’ve tried to do since the start, my aim here is to make things more personal.

Even with all the twists and turns that come with massive life changes – particularly the trifecta of a pandemic, moving to a new area, and leaving the workplace – I remain really excited and appreciative of my post-FIRE existence. Despite the changes since my last milestone post, one critical thing that remains the same is my certainty that I’ve made the right choice. I am thrilled to have the freedom to spend my time as I want, and to not be on someone else’s schedule, operating against their priorities. At times that huge opportunity can still feel overwhelming, but on the whole it is less so than it was early on.

I look forward to all that is to come and that means the great times as well as the challenges! I am so fortunate to have the wonderful and supportive family I have and to be on this journey with them. I am also grateful for you, my readers, for your continued support and your feedback. I wish you all the very best of good health, well being, and happiness.


PS – I hope most of you got and appreciated The Princess Bride reference in the post title and the associated image. Wallace Shawn’s portrayal of Vizzini is a favorite of mine and I’m sure of many of you as well. I’m overdue for a rewatch! If only Lorri enjoyed it as well…

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