After my posts on ‘Deep Work’ by Cal Newport, I thought that it was time to go back to a book about financial independence and early retirement. The book that I have chosen is ‘Work Optional’, by Tanja Hester. This is partly about how to financially achieve early retirement, but also a lot about shaping your life – a life that you love. There is much less focus on the author’s story than other books that I have read, which I found to be a refreshing change. Instead, it is a step-by-step guide on how to discover what makes you happy in life and work out how you can make that a reality. Tanja also gives two other options apart from total FI/RE, which are semi-retirement, where you work part-time, seasonally or in a lower stress job and a career break.
As regular readers will know, my goal is ‘partial early retirement‘ and so her suggestions fit nicely with my future life plan. Since reading the book, then re-reading it and taking some notes, I have been meaning to work through it to consider what Natalie Bacon would call my ‘future self‘. As a way of introducing you to Tanja Hester’s advice I thought that I would do this here, on ‘A Simple Life’. In that way I can share her ideas with you as well as have a think about how I can put them into practice in my life.
At the moment we all have more time at home and I think that this is a great opportunity to stop and reflect on our lives, something which I don’t think that we do often enough. We are usually on that hamster wheel, not really thinking about where we are going or even where we’d like to be going. We tread the same old path we’ve always followed and inevitably we’ll continue to get the same results, rather than mapping out a new path and starting intentionally on a road to a more fulfilling life.
define your work optional LIFE
I have heard many commentators and bloggers talk about finding a purpose in early retirement. Images of FI/RE often feature tropical beaches with the implication that you’ll be spending most of your time there when you retire. The idea of ‘escaping’ the drudgery of the 9-5 for a sandy beach may seem attractive at first, but eventually you’ll get bored and want something more fulfilling to do.
I certainly know from my own observations of my parents, who are traditionally retired, that my mother seems the happier individual of the two. She has joined many clubs and made new friends since she retired, as opposed to my father who spends much of his day watching television.
For Tanja the idea is that before focusing on the financial side, you need to work out the lifestyle part. Only then do you focus on the finances and calculate how much your ideal life is going to cost you. Once you’ve done that you will have a vision in your mind about what you’re working towards, as opposed to saving and earning just to escape your current situation.
areas to focus on
So how do you do this? Tanja suggests six different areas that you need to consider.
Day to day life
Think about when you are happiest. For me this is when I am outside, especially if the weather is good. It doesn’t matter if that’s in the garden, a walk along the beach or a hike in the mountains. I enjoy feeling the sun on my face and spotting the wildlife.
This area also asks you to consider your hobbies. It’s likely that you currently spend some of your free time doing things that your enjoy, but may get frustrated that work gets in the way. When your life isn’t so focused on earning money you could decide to make time for your hobbies or even take up some new ones. What would they be?
Big picture dreams
For me my dream has always been to live in France. It’s a country that I love and where I have spent many happy holidays over the years. I have been asking myself why I like France. The climate certainly plays a significant part. Being able to spend more time outside and have guaranteed sunshine is definitely a major plus point for me. That is something that cannot be guaranteed in the UK. I have been thinking of more modest ways of indulging my passion for France rather than upping sticks and leaving for the continent. So far my preference is for extended holidays in France.
Mr Simple always points out that by buying a house you limit yourself to just one area of what is a large and diverse country. For me I have always liked the idea of not having to pack to go away. Having a place where I can just turn up and everything I need is there – a whole wardrobe of clothes that I just wear in France. There’s no unpacking, no working out how to turn the cooker on or where the nearest boulangerie is because you know all that already. I can though see what he means. An alternative would be to rent a house for a month or six weeks, which if you don’t work is possible. If I am in a semi-retirement phase only two to three weeks would be doable. That would give me plenty of time to start to feel at home and get to know an area.
Whilst thinking about travel I also realised that in the winter the weather can affect my mood. We live near an airport and many retired people who live in our village take advantage of that by going away during the cold months to the Canary Islands or Cyprus. I’ve realised that I want to be one of them – to have time away, say in November and February every year in order to feel the sun on my face.
Legacy and Purpose
This is about your contribution to society. What do you want to be remembered for? Mr Simple and I have become boarders for ‘Guide Dogs for the Blind’, which means that dogs who are in training live with us for a few weeks or months. This works well if you have a job, as the dogs are taken out in the daytime to train. On a few occasions we have been asked to look after dogs who are having a break from training and this has not always been possible due to our work pattern. If we both worked less we may not have to say no in the future. There is also an option to have a puppy, which you do for a year, but I’m not sure how that would fit in with my plans for more travel. And I am sure that I would really struggle to say goodbye to the dog after he or she was part of our family for a whole year.
Many of us define ourselves by our professions and once we retire this is no longer an option. Isn’t it always one of the first questions people always ask when you meet them, ‘What do you do?’, but which we know they mean, ‘What job do you do?’ I was listening to an episode of ‘The Life Coach School’ podcast about visualising your future self when the world is so uncertain due to Covid19. Brooke Castillo suggests focusing on your personal qualities such as creativity. Whatever the world throws at you these personality traits will remain. So what will make you feel good about yourself when work is no longer your main focus?
Tanja recommends thinking about what you feel best at in your work. Are there parts of your job that you could continue doing, saying in a voluntary capacity? Think transferrable skills. Think as well about what makes you feel good about yourself outside of work. My profession is social work, which involves interacting with people from all walks of life and trying to help them sort out their problems. If I didn’t work any more I am sure that I could do some volunteer work which embodies these basic principles.
Over the past few months I have developed an interest in life coaching. This has some overlap with social work, although the families that I meet through my job tend to be in quite dire situations. Those seeking life coaching usually have more middle-class backgrounds. The common factor is one of problem-solving i.e. helping people improve the quality of their lives. Without necessarily meaning to do so I have begun to use some of the principles that I have learnt from life coaching when working with families. I also find myself quoting Natalie Bacon when talking to friends or Mr Simple. How it all translates into occupying myself during semi-retirement I’m not yet sure, but it’s an area that I plan to continue to develop.
Do you have a significant other who will be sharing your ‘Work Optional’ life with you? For me that is Mr Simple, and although I talk about working part-time and planning how that will look, he is not interested in doing this with me. He believes that action is the key, whereas I like to spend more time thinking about things before I get on to the doing part.
As well as your partner, think about other people in your life who you would like to spend more time with. Once work is not such a big part of your life you should be able to make more space for them. If they live far away maybe finally you’ll have the time to go and stay with them. I’ve mentioned this a few times before, but friendships is an area where I struggle to find like-minded individuals. I know people, but the honest truth is that many of them are acquaintances rather than friends. If any of you have suggestions about how I can work on this area I would love to hear them.
Finally within this area there is your community. I live in a lovely village and have daily contact with my neighbours. Even during this period of lockdown due to the coronavirus there are frequent Whataspp messages exchanged between our group of neighbours and everyone is supportive of each other. We don’t plan to move from here and so this will continue and maybe even become a greater part of my life when I have more time to get involved in the activities that they arrange.
Think about where you want to wake up every day. For me I am happy for it to be in our current home despite wishing the sun shone here a little bit more. Our current goal is to finish renovating the house so that we can spend more time enjoying it. Do you plan to stay where you are or are you planning to travel the world once you are retired?
So where are we? What is my semi-retirement life going to look like? After considering each of the six areas Tanja suggests that you consider the themes that emerge across the different categories of your life. For me I think that this is the outdoors, sunshine and animals.
So now hopefully you have an idea of what is important to you and the outline of a life vision that you can work towards. You may even want to write this out or create a vision board which you can stick up or have as your screensaver. Somewhere that you will look at it every day.
Next time we’ll look at creating your money mission statement, but that’s it for now. Until next time, take care, Sam.