Early Retirement is not About Quitting Work


Suppose your favorite hobby is reading. Given the choice, you would love to just sit around all day and read.

Now imagine that you’re required to drive to a building downtown five days each week, sit in a cubicle, and read a book that someone else picked out for you. Twice a week you have to give summary updates about your book to your manager. Also, you have to stop reading randomly throughout the day to go to meetings and listen to other people talk about the books they’re reading. To top it all off, you must have monthly one-on-one meetings with your manager to assess your reading progress and identify areas where your reading could be improved.

If this was the case, would you still love reading?

I doubt it.

This illustrates an important point: even your favorite hobby can be turned into drudgery in a corporate 9-5 work environment. The problem isn’t the reading itself; it’s all the rules, regulations, and restrictions that are inherently tied to a 9-5 job. These are what make reading suddenly seem so awful.

There’s an important distinction to make here: the actual work is the reading, but the actual job is everything else outside of the reading.

It’s easy to make the mistake of thinking “work” and “job” are synonyms.

They’re not.

Work is something we choose to do because we have a strong desire to do it. This is why we write, draw, paint, build, code, and create. Work is driven by our unique interests. A job is simply driven by the fact that we need to earn money to live.

Work has the ability to bring us great joy and fulfillment when done on our terms. Conversely, a job often brings us more stress and dissatisfaction than anything because so much of it is outside of our control.

Of course there are parts of our job that we may like, but it’s unlikely that most of us love everything about our job. The meetings, subtle office politics, deadlines, requirements, dress codes, etc. All these things are simply part of the job; they don’t involve actual work being done.

The modern work environment that most of us dwell in five days a week has made it difficult to distinguish between “work” and “job”. This is the reason so many people claim they would be bored if they retired early. They make the mistake of believing that early retirement means they have to stop working.

Au contraire! You don’t have to quit working, but instead you have the option to do work without having a job.

This means you get to decide what to work on, what projects you want to start, and what ideas you want to put into action. It means you have no set schedule, no daily commute, no set number of hours you must work. You just get to do work you love whenever you feel like it!

If you currently have a job as a computer programmer, it’s likely that you chose this field because you have an interest in computers. The programming itself is the “work” that you might enjoy. Unfortunately with a job, you can’t have all the joy of simply doing the work without the inconveniences of corporate culture. 

But early retirement solves this problem: it gives you full control to do programming on your terms. You decide when to work, you decide what to work on, and you reap all the benefits of a successful project.

And when you wake up some days and aren’t feeling it, guess what? You get to roll over in bed and laugh at everyone else who doesn’t have the freedom to choose whether or not they feel like working today.

This is the beauty of early retirement: You don’t have to quit working. Instead, you have complete freedom to work on your terms.

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4 Replies to “Early Retirement is not About Quitting Work”

  1. Even if it was reading books that I picked out, I still hate the thought of being forced into the 9-5 cubicle world…. that is just sooooo wrong for our mental and physical genes.

    I’m reading “Utopia for Realists” and they make the point of less work and work that is inspirational. However, we also need the dirty jobs like ‘garbage’ men, it just doesn’t have to be full time. As a species, we evolved “working” about 15 hours a week to get food and shelter, and that also included movement, sunshine and nature. So, I personally think that simple, task driven or labor intensive work for only 15 or so hours a week, can actually suit us quite well and then we can create during the reminder of our free time.

    1. That sounds like an interesting book, I’ll have to look into it though. I think most people would prefer to work at least a few hours a week. Not working at all makes us lazy and brings little fulfillment, but overworking is obviously disastrous as well. I think the ‘sweet spot’ for working hours per week is somewhere between 10 and 20. This allows for plenty of free time but also lets us flex our creative muscles and work on projects when we want to.

    1. I also like the term ‘F.I.’ far more than ‘early retirement’ for this exact reason. F.I. emphasizes the fact that you have ultimate freedom to decide how you want to spend your day and what type of work you want to do from day to day – if any at all!

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