A few weeks ago, I met another early retiree while attending the financial blogger conference in Denver. I found I had a lot in common with this guy, from our shared former career to our optimism about life in general. Darrow Kirkpatrick retired at age 50 and told me he is finding life to be more fulfilling, and oddly at least as busy, as it was when he was employed.
Since he has a few years on me, I asked if he’d be willing to share his own perspective on what the transition has been like, and here’s what he came up with, to share with you:
Why You’ll Become Busier After Retirement
I reached financial independence and retired from my software engineering career at age 50 last year. My wife Caroline and I were hard-wired for frugality and saving, from the start. We avoided debt, lived in the same modest house for the past 16 years, minimized commuting — I worked from a home office, saved a third or more of my salary, and invested in stocks, bonds, and bicycles instead of fancy German vehicles.
Recently I was asked: “Why did you retire early?“ That threw me. Doesn’t everybody want financial freedom, so they can do exactly what they want in life? Even if you love your work, wouldn’t it be nice to do it exactly as you please, a little or a lot, on your own schedule?
The first answer that jumped into my mind still seems the truest: even though I had a rewarding career and was passionate about my work at times, I simply liked other things better. Being outdoors, for example. I’ve always loved hiking, rock climbing, and mountain biking. I did some of the best climbs in the country with some of the best climbers of my generation. And I’ve ridden for days across Moab backcountry with my teenage son. Those were the peak experiences of my life.
So freedom was way more important to me than stuff or status. There was never any doubt in my mind that I would retire as soon as I was able. I wasn’t going to be one of those fat cat business guys who kept working because he didn’t have a life….
But the reality of early retirement has surprised me a bit. Of course, I never bought into the stereotypes: morning on the golf links, afternoon at the beach, evening in the hot tub. But I did expect to have more space in my life after I retired. Actually, I got busier.
I could have more space, if I wanted. But, I don’t want to. Once there are no longer any obstacles to pursuing your dreams, life changes. You take on new interests, and deepen old ones….
My biggest new interest is what you’re seeing right here. I’ve always loved to write, so I learned some new tools, and began blogging about saving, investing, and retiring early. I found I had a lot to say about the transition to retirement, and that people were interested in reading about it.
Research and writing is the backbone of my new weekly routine. I still keep a fairly standard work schedule, but it’s by choice now, and that feels totally different! Plus blogging lets me produce something creative that’s valued by others — a product that I’m proud of every single day. Perhaps most importantly, it’s plugged me into a network of savvy, interesting people who are making a difference in the world.
As part of writing a blog I continue to grow my understanding of personal finance, especially the issues around retirement income, and living off a distribution portfolio. I also spend time managing our own portfolio. I generally do nothing — I’m a passive index investor — but occasionally I need to take income or harvest gains to fund our living expenses.
But it’s not all about personal finance now. Travel, always an interest, went into overdrive after I left my job. We spent a week on one of the less developed islands in the Bahamas, visiting old friends. It wasn’t your typical beach resort vacation. Other than air fare, it was free, because we were living with locals. We hiked, caved, snorkeled, deep-sea fished, and boated around some of the most pristine and untraveled oceanfront scenery in the world. I generally hate beaches, but I fell in love with the place.
After the Bahamas, we spent a couple weeks climbing and mountain biking in New England and Acadia National Park, Maine. More recently we spent 6 weeks living cheaply out of our camper van, traveling in the Northeast and Rockies. We saw cool national parks like Dinosaur and Mesa Verde, scouted mid-sized Western cities for possible relocation, and climbed and mountain biked everywhere we could.
I’ve been a serious rock climber since my teens. But in later years my passion for climbing leveled off and other interests competed. After I retired, I started climbing regularly again, going to the climbing gym during the week and out to the rocks on weekends with friends. I updated my climbing rack and rope and started leading routes, something I hadn’t done much in recent years. I don’t climb as hard as I once did, but it’s still fun!
On the home front, I’ve ramped up my cooking skills. While I was never a dysfunctional male in the kitchen, I wasn’t perfectly at home there either. Now I do all the grocery shopping, and cook on the days that Caroline works. (She stayed at home for years while raising our son, and now — as a public school teacher — she’s working a little longer so we can get retirement health benefits.) I can assemble a tasty, healthy meal from a menu of cheap possibilities without half thinking. It’s not quite gourmet, but the true cook in the house seems satisfied.
Yes, you’ll get busier once you’re financially independent, but it isn’t just about more activity. I try not to neglect the inner life either. I keep up a long-time reading interest in psychology and spirituality, and I’ve attended two retreats in the past year. Enlightenment seems as far off as ever, but today is good enough!
So I’ve been plenty busy in my “retirement.” And I’ve heard the same from others who’ve become financially independent or retired early. Most of us who leave the modern 9-5 working world don’t slip into a life of permanent leisure. Sure, we may take a little time off for rest and relaxation. But eventually life fills up with other productive activities.
There are several reasons why life becomes fuller even after so-called full-time work has ended:
- All the projects, goals, and activities that were not possible when you were working, now become possible. If you’re like most of us, you’ll have a backlog of things you couldn’t do before. But now your dreams are accessible. You have the time and resources to do what you want. You no longer have any excuses.
- You break out of old patterns and are exposed to new people, places, and things. You move away from old work-related contacts and activities and enter into a new orbit. You gain new experiences and become more interesting to others. It’s a self-reinforcing cycle.
- Lastly you realize you are in a later stage of your life, and it won’t last forever. I don’t know if this is true for Mustachians who retire in their 30’s. But in my 50’s it is crystal clear that I’m not getting another shot. I’m currently blessed with the time, money, and freedom to do what I choose. So it’s now or never!
Just because your full-time working years have ended, doesn’t mean the rest of your days will be spent sleeping in late, sunning on the beach, or sitting in the park. Oh sure, you can do those things if you want. You should do those things. Just be forewarned, you’ll probably be just as busy as you were at any other time in your life!
You can sleep when you’re dead.
Darrow Kirkpatrick is an author, software engineer, and investor who retired at age 50. He is an experienced rock climber and enthusiastic mountain biker, and writes regularly about saving, investing, and retiring at Can I Retire Yet? He is married to a schoolteacher and has one son — an amazing artist, engineer, and climber.