Let’s say you reached financial independence and left your job tomorrow. To celebrate this new milestone in your life, you take some time to just relax and decompress. You spend a few months just waking up late and enjoying your days. You travel (once it’s safe). You spend some social-distanced time with your family and friends. You explore your local area and check off a few local bucket list items you’ve always wanted to do.
But at some point you become restless. You’re having fun, but something is missing. You’re antsy to flex your creative muscles and do something new. What do you do next?
This is the question for retirement. What do you decide to focus your time and energy on if you were no longer working for money? The answer to that question is what you’ll do in retirement.
Everything else – waking up later, traveling, spending time with friends and family – are all givens. You’ll do them in some form whether you’re working or not.
After talking with dozens (or maybe even hundreds) of people about this topic, answers vary drastically. Answers range from “I’d be bored” to “There’s more I want to do than I could in a lifetime”.
What is it that some people have figured out? Why are some people afraid of boredom? Let’s take a look and find out.
What Causes Boredom?
I have a theory on why people think they’ll be bored if they retire. It all comes down to a somewhat dark realization that I made about myself when I was still working:
Work is their hobby.
You don’t have to enjoy every second of a hobby. Even unfulfilling jobs can scratch an itch. There can be a sense of community, of productivity, and of a shared vision. When you go home at the end of the day you can unplug from work (well, some people can at least). You can learn new things, face new challenges, and celebrate successes. You can improve your ability to talk to other people, to plan ahead, and to even create a vision.
I believe most people’s biggest creative efforts happen at work.
Imagine for a second if that same energy was able to be transferred into some other passion? That’s what I believe Vicki Robin’s means with this quote:
The world needs you to show up and follow your dreams.Vicki Robin, Your Money Or Your Life
That’s easier said than done. When you come home at the end of a stressful day of meetings and deadlines, the last thing you may want to do is flex your creative muscles to write, draw, code, or play an instrument.
Doubly so if you have responsibilities you can’t ignore at home. I’m in awe of anyone who has kids right now trying to navigate homeschooling on top of financial stress and everything else happening in 2020.
All that to say boredom is a luxury. Many people dream of being bored. Yet a recent study of 1,000 people found that 54% of future retirees plan to continue working in some form after they retire. The top reason? Their mental well-being.
Boredom is scary, but it’s also an opportunity! It’s a void of earned time that you can fill with whatever you want – if you have things in mind.
Hobby, Job, Career or Vocation?
To fill that time there’s a confusing line between work and play. Elizabeth Gilbert, the author of Eat, Pray Love, distinguishes the difference between a hobby, a job, a career, and a vocation.
At just under 10 minutes it’s a good watch. The tl;dr of the video comes down to these 4 categories of how you spend your time:
A hobby is something you do purely for pleasure. You do it to prove you’re not an automaton. The stakes are zero. They don’t matter. You don’t have to make money. It doesn’t need to bring you fame. Do it because it’s fun. Do it because you love it. You don’t do it to share it on social media. Even hobbies have hard parts. You can have many hobbies or none at all.
A job is how you make money. It’s how you take care of yourself financially. It’s what you’re in control of that allows you to provide for yourself and your family. It doesn’t have to be awesome. It doesn’t have to fulfill you. Your job doesn’t have to be your whole life.
A career is a job you’re passionate about and that you love. Not everyone has, or needs, a career. It’s what you believe in. It’s what you nourish and grow. If you’re in a career you hate, that’s terrible. You should quit your career and get a job instead. You should love your career or not have one.
A vocation is a calling. It’s something you can’t imagine not doing. It’s what you wake up in the morning dreaming about. No one can give you a vocation or take it away. Someone can take your job or your career away, but not your vocation. It doesn’t matter what comes from it. You don’t need to make money from a vocation. You don’t need it to become a job or a career.
When you think about these four categories – do you have a distinct answer for each of these? Is there any overlap? Do some activities fall into multiple categories?
My 4 Categories
When I look at the above 4 categories, I think back to my working years and realize how intertwined they were.
For years I worked in tech as a software engineer. My hobby was programming. My job was coding websites and managing other software developers. My career was teaching people how to code. My vocation was enlivening coding education. I was ALL IN on it.
In finance terms, I was not at all diversified. In programming terms, my life was very highly-coupled. There was a clear line between each of these categories and every other category. My work-life balance looked something like this:
Is that really a bad thing? On paper, it looks exactly like what we teach people to want out of life. “Do what you love and you’ll never work a day in your life” and all that.
I’ll be honest: I actually loved this. I loved being able to focus on one general area and have it positively impact all areas of my life. What I did as a hobby increased my earning potential. What I did in my career made my hobby more fun. One area fed the others.
The Problem With Going All In
There are a few problems with this setup. What happens if you lose your job? One problem that Gilbert points out is that a job – or even a career – can be taken away from you. If your entire vocation is also wrapped up in the mix that could be devastating. I suspect that’s part of the reason why I turned down double my salary for another job – it would have meant losing my vocation.
Another obvious one is work-life balance. If my “break” from work was to code, was that really a break? After a while, it stopped feeling like one. If I wasn’t learning new things during nights and weekends I’d fall behind in all other areas. When I was especially stressed at work I absolutely would not enjoy programming at home. My work impacted my enjoyment of my hobby.
This is something I hear time and time again from developers. They love to code, but they’re burnt out by their hours at work solving problems. The last thing they want is to spend another 4 hours after dinner getting Docker working for a side project.
Another problem I didn’t realize at the time was that I tended to hire people that behaved an awful lot like me. I chalked it up to looking for people who favored continuous improvement. The problem was that I also favored people who struggled with work-life balance in the same way I did.
What You Can Do About It
The term “work-life balance” gets thrown around a lot. My adjusted idea of work-life balance looks something like this:
In this scenario, you have a job and a career, but they’re separate from your vocation and hobbies. It doesn’t prevent you from having hobbies or a vocation that links back in some way. But they don’t have to all be intertwined.
Here’s a test for you: if you stopped working on your hobbies would your job or your career suffer? If the answer is yes, that’s a sign they’re too interconnected. It’s the reverse of “I’d be bored if I left my job”.
I’m not suggesting you cut ties between these completely – unless you’re unhappy of course. Another solution is to find new hobbies. That allows your current hobbies more time to breath too, which can inspire creativity.
Connections in Early Retirement
When I left my job/career I felt a sudden need to fill that void. I went all-in on trying to turn Minafi into something that would qualify. When I ended up doing was replacing my job/career with a side project that filled those exact same spots.
Being able to work on a side project full-time was (is) a dream come true! I’ve been able to code, write, or focus on whatever I’m currently most passionate about.
I could set up long-term projects and work towards them over months – like Minafi v2, the interactive guide to FIRE, the interactive guide to diversification, and other interactive calculators. It’s been a fun jumping-off point for a ton of creative projects – and have a notebook full of ideas I’m still working on.
There’s even a term for this: an identity bridge.
An identity bridge is a project, hobby, interest, skill, or something else that enables you to continue having a similar sense of self during retirement. It’s about not feeling a sense of loss for a job – or at least the parts of your job that were beneficial.
People who don’t have hobbies need this the most.
If you have a bunch of hobbies that’s even better! You can jump between them and make progress in lots of areas. You can focus on a fitness-related project one day, a creative project another, and then work on a household project. Some days you can just chill.
More than likely you’ll get super into one project and focus on it for a few weeks then completely abandon it. That’s great too!
My Hobbies in Early Retirement
I’ve spent weeks binge-working on Minafi, on a productivity app idea (that I finished, but then abandon), on video games, on a hiking blog idea (interactive with maps that follow along based on this one!), and a half dozen courses I’ve completed parts of.
There have also been weeks I’ve completely lost to reading Reddit, Twitter, and Facebook. But that’s OK! Try a digital declutter and remind yourself of your hobbies.
Mrs. Minafi has been drawing like crazy. It’s been amazing seeing her progress as she’s gone through page after page and tutorial after tutorial. This is beautiful isn’t it?
That doesn’t mean every project needs to be world-changing – or any project for that matter. It just means you that you do things that make you come alive.
Hobbies give you a space to be highly original. You can take greater risks free of constraints and bureaucracy. This can help you create clearer, more focused work.
Here’s what I recommend for you: figure out your hobbies while you’re still working.
Building a hobby takes time! You’ll need to spend time doing something enough to get past the painful parts to where you enjoy it. If I started trying to paint like Mrs. Minafi, our refrigerator would look like a 2nd grader with no color coordination threw up on it.
What could you do for hours a day for months at a time?
Hobbies are rainy day projects. Hobbies involve growth or creativity in some way. Passive consumption isn’t a hobby.
When I left my job it took 3 months to dive into a project. Since then I’ve jumped around – programming one week, writing the next, hiking, cooking and much more. I had so many projects I chipped away at during my nights and weekends while I was working that I could barely make a dent in them.
Finding a new vocation is harder. It’s something I’ve struggled with since leaving my job. I’m passionate about helping people learn how to confidently invest, but I’m not sure if that’s a hobby or a vocation. Time will tell – which I, fortunately, have plenty of.
Whatever your future brings – early retirement or continuing to work – hobbies outside of your job will help with boredom. Time invested in hobbies you love pays off in the moment and in forever after.
Do you think you’d be bored in retirement? If you’re already retired, have you felt bored? Why or why not?