Imagine a life where you could make your living doing anything you wanted to do. A world where you don’t necessarily have enough money to travel the world by private jet, but where your investments sufficiently cover all of life’s essentials along with some luxuries along the way. Each day you could wake up, and decide on a whim how you’d spend your day. One day, you might wake up early with a muse to write, and so you write 10,000 words for your future self-published novel. The next day, you sleep in and wake with peace in your mind, cook a slow healthy breakfast for your family, then head out for a serene day of mountain biking on new unexplored trails. The following day, you rise from bed motivated to work on your new passion project that may or may not ever make any money, and that’s OK too.
This is the life I’ve created for myself and my family. I like to think of it as being Warren Buffet’s child:
“I want to give my kids just enough so that they would feel that they could do anything, but not so much that they would feel like doing nothing.” – Warren Buffet
Is This Early Retirement?
On some of the more popular “early retirement” blogs like MMM and ERE, I sometimes see hateful comments from people that say things like “You’re not really retired! You still blog, and garden, and build things, and blah blah blah!” The clever response to this cynicism was the coining of the term “Internet Retirement Police,” used to describe people that have self appointed themselves to decide who is and isn’t retired, as well as being the sole authority on the definition of “retirement.” I’ve been lucky not to attract these haters for the most part. This is the benefit of being less popular. Which is fine with me, I have no patience or room for cynicism in my life.
If the haters ever do come, I’ll freely advise them to take their definition of retirement and go home (or back to their cubicle, whatever’s more appropriate). It’s not important to me. Official “retirement” is for people who follow societal rules. And if you could ask anyone that knows me in real life, you’d learn that I don’t follow rules. Generally, I just do what makes sense to me. Sometimes, and I’ll admit this is a weakness, I’ll specifically break rules just because someone bothered to make a rule where one wasn’t needed. I suppose there’s still a little junior high school in me…
Rather than worry about “work” and “retirement”, I prefer to look at things like this:
Make sure you click on the image above. The rest of this post won’t make any sense if you don’t read it!
My first “life,” as the comic describes it, was from 22-28. I was an electrical engineer. And true to the idea that it takes 7 years to master something, that’s exactly how long it took me. At 22, I was a clueless and impractical noob, but anxious and willing to learn. By 28, I was at the top of my game. I’ve grown very little in technical expertise in the 7 years since then.
From 29-35, I was an investor. I continued as an engineer, but on auto-pilot since I’d already long since mastered the tiny spectrum of knowledge necessary to be a successful electrical engineer in my hyper-specialized world of design. During my life as an investor, I’ve learned how to assess the value of a company’s stock, how to allocate my portfolio for my particular needs and financial goals, and how to invest in real estate and various other assets in order to make my money turn into more money. I’m still not an expert investor, mainly because I didn’t treat it like a real job, but I know enough to fit my needs. Recently I’ve had a noticeably reduced desire to learn much more about investing, which should be seen as a tell-tale sign that it’s time to move on to my next “life.”
My 36th birthday is this week, marking the commencement of my 3rd adult life (age 36-42). And with that, it’s time for something new. My first task will be to quit my engineering job, since I lack the time and desire to continue with that.
I’m currently on vacation this week, so I can’t quit quite yet. I also have an additional week and a half of paid vacation accrued, so I’ll be using that up in the coming month or so (I may not need the money, but I’m also not so well off that I’d just throw away that week of paid time off since I’ve already earned it).
Further complicating the situation, my small team is already understaffed by 2 engineers. Because I’d be the third hole to fill (leaving 3 people to do the work of 6), I do intend to offer to work part time temporarily while they try to backfill these open positions. I don’t know if they’ll take me up on my offer, but their alternative will be to accept my 2 weeks notice of resignation. Either way is fine with me. If they accept the offer, I’ll still have enough time to get started on my new “life,” while still earning a little extra money to fund the start of this life – all the better. If they decline my offer, that’s fine too.
I’ve pondered this question for awhile now. What am I going to do next?
For awhile, this was a scary question. Everyday, I can check this website’s analytics and see that a LOT of people come to my site after googling “bored in retirement,” “what to do after retiring early” and other similar queries. After awhile, it’s hard not to wonder if I could become a victim of the same fate.
But after much quiet contemplation and discussions with my wife, I had an epiphany while riding my bike and listening to an investment podcast. The podcast ends each segment with a song by Calloway called “I Wanna Be Rich” and I realized that the words to that song, along with a common theme in that podcast, don’t apply to me. Sure, I appreciate the safety net of having a large reserve of cash and investments that pay my bills independent of work, but I truly have no desire for the rich luxuries that the advertisements tell me I should want. This isn’t a fad, and it isn’t just another example of me rebelling against the norm. I truly and deeply have no desire to be “rich,” a desire that’s a disease afflicting so many people resulting in depression, anxiety, and general unhappiness.
Instead, I want to take the time and money I’ve been provided and use it to return to simplicity and nature. And so that’s where I intend to focus my third “life.” Here are the things I plan to focus on:
1. Sustainable Living
I’ve spent the past several years creating a life circumstance where I can be frugal and achieve financial independence, but still live a normal suburban on-grid lifestyle. In other words, I wanted to prove that you could achieve financial independence in your 30’s without going off-grid, giving up health insurance, postponing a family, eating ramen noodles, or sacrificing basic joys of life. I’m by no means the first to do this, but still I’m happy to say that I’ve accomplished the goal.
Now I want to raise the bar and try to create a household that is as efficient and as self-sustained as possible – while still staying on grid and living a normal suburban US life*. This will involve, but will not be limited to, things like a more energy efficient house, DIY alternative energies, aquaponics, and other homesteading type activities. I’m still researching other areas of sustainable living as well – but I have 7 years to master this so there’s no rush.
I’ll just say it. I hate my writing. I want to become a better writer and I’m finally taking it a bit more seriously. I’ve tried to learn as I go, but I want to become a real writer in this next 7-year life by studying the art. One writing book I’m reading said it well, “No one listens to a classical pianist and asks themselves ‘why can’t I play like that?’ having never studied or practiced. And yet people do this all the time after reading something beautiful.”
3. Move Investing To Auto-pilot
Just as I’ve sorta put my engineering on auto-pilot during my “second life,” I’d like to move my investing into more of an auto-pilot mode in my third life so I can focus on new things of higher priority. This shouldn’t be too difficult, since most of my investments are long-term. I only review them once or twice a year, and reallocate annually. And since I won’t have nearly as much excessive income, I won’t be burdened with trying to find new ways to invest them.
(*) I would be perfectly happy living a not-so-normal non-suburban life as well, but this doesn’t jive with my wife’s priorities. But this just adds to the challenge and makes this journey all the more fun, so Im grateful for this.
Interestingly, items #1 and #2 above are unlikely to make much money, but either one of them could potentially add to my already sufficient income. If done right, the energy efficient projects and aquaponics will not only reduce our family’s food and energy expenses, but possibly even return an income by selling excess renewable energy and organic food back to the community. Aquaponics is especially interesting to me, and could be an opportunity for some charitable work since it’s becoming a popular way to provide for food shelters domestically, and for draught stricken areas internationally. Writing could also make an income, although most struggling writers will laugh at that. Fortunately, even a few bucks here and there is a success for me!