early retirement or meaningful work?

endlich himmelblau

For years I have dreamed of early retirement.
The idea that someday I would be free to pursue leisure, and have time to do what I wanted, haunted me.  It was the driving goal of my investing and saving plan.   That was after I read Rich Dad, Poor Dad (yes, I know, but it gave me a new perspective) – but before I left my last employer to become a consultant.

What I’ve realized since then is that I don’t want early retirement. I don’t want to stop working at all.  What I do want is to find work I enjoy, or at least tolerate.  There are a lot of advantages to work.  I’m not talking about 9-to-5 corporate work, but just work in general; freelancing, public service work, contract consulting, whatever you like.  If  you like 9-to-5 corporate work, fine.

Work gives you a structure and meaning – if it’s good work. Work provides you income, of course, which isn’t a small factor.  Work gives you a sense of self – again, if it’s work that you can identify with.  Work can sometimes provide colleagues, or challenging opportunities.

Work can also drag you down. If you don’t like what you do, early retirement is the best escape.  Getting away as soon as possible is the only exit.  I don’t think this applies just to people who work in white-collar jobs, either.  Some people work at heavy labor or in non-white collar jobs who love it.  My father-in-law is happiest doing manual work, for example – gardening or building things.  I think he would detest a desk job now, although he worked at one for most of his life.  Work doesn’t have to be high-tech or “cool” – just something that makes you happy.

For me, meaningful work is something that you enjoy. I know people who love accounting, for example.  They like the complexity, the challenge of figuring out the interplay of accounts and the theology of GAAP.  I don’t.  I know people who love making things, and corporate politics, and writing, and teaching, and a myriad of occupations.  I also know people who do work they hate, and people who do work they love.  Most of my life I’ve been someone who worked at something I hate while seeking something I love.  I think – but don’t know – I’ve found something I love in writing, but it comes and goes in spurts.  I started writing this blog to practice writing, then morphed into a personal finance blog.  Putting myself in that box has hampered my writing a bit, so I’m going to try to write on a broader range of topics in the future – because I still want to find work that means something to me.

If you can find something that makes sense to you, as a person, early retirement is pointless. I honestly believe that if I ever find my groove as a writer – I haven’t yet – I could be happy writing up until the day I die.  Early retirement would be pointless.  I’m not a good enough writer to earn a living writing yet, so I have to supplement with other work.  I suck as a writer.  I have a long way to go to be – by my own measure – creative, although I tickle my own ego by thinking I’m technically proficient.  But I have realized that my real dream is not early retirement, as I often thought it was.  I dreamed of days of leisure.  I’ve had those days now, as I’ve been unemployed.  I don’t want leisure.  I want work with meaning.  My real dream is finding meaningful work, and it should be everyone’s dream.

photo credit: extranoise