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

  • http://www.savebuylive.com/cgi-sys/suspendedpage.cgi SaveBuyLive

    When I think about retirement (it's a long way off unless I fall into a big pile of money) I come up with something similar to what you've written. I'd like to work but with a looser schedule so that I can more travel.

    The whole meaningful work thing is proving difficult to find. I don't like my current 9-5 and even the jobs I'm trying to get into just don't strike me as things that I'll be madly passionate about. But they do strike me as having the potential to be tolerable, occasionally fun and better paying. Hence my desire for transition.

    My hope that that by the time I've retired I'll have figured out what a meaningful career is for me.

  • Chris

    Here, here!!

    That is where I'm at this moment. I am working in a job I absolutely HATE and it is affecting every part of my life in a negative way, mental health, physical health, financial health, etc., etc., etc…

    I am contemplating a complete change in vocation and looking to buy a bar and grill. People turn their nose up at retail, but I think that is my niche.

    I am so tired of wearing a costume. I wore a costume (uniform) in the Navy for 10 years. Now I wear a costume (suit) to make people think I'm pretty smart, important, and trustworthy. I am all those things (well, maybe not THAT important), but I have found most people in suits are NOT.

    No more corporate political posturing for me.

    No more suits.

    No more!

    • zhang qi

      Work is enjoy our life ,best wishes for you,I am an chinese,sorry my english is poor .I can not express many about your says ,

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  • https://www.budgetpulse.com/ craig

    I think a lot of people would like to have the ability to work part time doing something they enjoy and having more time for hobbies than a full time job that is exhausting. More people today would like today even if retired would like some type of part time thing to keep them occupied.

  • http://www.corporatebarbarian.com Enrique S

    I can't see myself retiring, either. I need somewhere to be, doing productive work. Plus, I'd miss the interaction with my coworkers. Perhaps I'll transition to part-time or volunteer work.

  • http://firstgenerationwhitecollar.com/blog/ Moneymonk

    RDPD has been criticized so much but this book has also impacted me, it teaches you to think outside the box and be apart of your own plan and not someone else's

  • http://hunternuttall.com Hunter Nuttall

    If someone's work is meaningless, they look forward to retirement so they can do what they want. But if they're already doing what they want, why would they want to stop?

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  • TStrump

    I too have dreamed of retiring early … but this is because I hate what I do right now.
    I have a colleague that teaches voice – he told me that he wants to do it until the day he drops dead.
    Early retirement isn't a factor for him.

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  • http://amoderngal.com ElizabethG

    Steve, well written post. I left the corporate world 7 years ago, meandered for 5 years before shifting to full-time work with a non-profit that is doing highly meaningful work. I'm now calling it career 2.0. I think one of the challenges if you are in a work environment that you don't particularly like (as I was in the corporate world), it is hard to think of what you would really enjoy.

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  • http://www.successful-consultants.com Rob

    Great post Steve!

    Many people that I talk to who don't enjoy their jobs tend to dream of retirement, simply because they don't have to suffer the job any longer.

    Then there are people who love their work and I notice that the majority of these are self employed. They don't seem to aim for retirement and at worse, they think of working just 20 hrs a week when they get to that age.

    My father is 70 and became bored when my mother persuaded him to hire someone to run his business for him. So he's now jumped back into the business for 3 days a week.

    It's not for everyone as it can be hard going, but being an independent consultant can be one of the most wonderful things you can do.

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  • https://accounts.google.com/ServiceLogin?service=blogger&hl=en&passive=86400&continue=http://www.blogger.com/blogin.g?blogspotURL%3Dhttp://meinmillions.blogspot.com/%26zx%3D1823dny6nik83&a meinmillions

    I'm dreaming of early retirement right now, but you made some great points. I think I would be bored if I didn't have something meaningful to do every day. Maybe I just need early retirement with a part time job that I love… hmmm….

    And RDPD was one of the first financial books I ever read. It really helped to change the way I thought about personal finance.

  • http://cashmoneylife.com Patrick

    As always I find golden nuggets of truth in your articles. Steve, you are a better writer than you give yourself credit for. The elements that separate your writing from many others is that you think</em before your write, which makes your readers think. Your commentary and observations set your blog apart from many others, which is why I always come back for more.

    As for today's article – I've been struggling with the same thing. I don't enjoy going to work every day, but I am well compensated and I enjoy the compensation and security I receive for trading in the best of my waking hours every day. But I would get incredibly bored and would be dissatisfied without having a gainful means of employment or other activity to work toward. My websites offer that when I get home, which makes it easier to go to work each day. Maybe they would be enough to satisfy my needs if I gathered the courage to leave my day job, I don't know? But I think it would be better than going into work every day to an unsatisfying job.

  • http://cashmoneylife.com Patrick

    As always I find golden nuggets of truth in your articles. Steve, you are a better writer than you give yourself credit for. The elements that separate your writing from many others is that you think before your write, which makes your readers think. Your commentary and observations set your blog apart from many others, which is why I always come back for more.

    As for today's article – I've been struggling with the same thing. I don't enjoy going to work every day, but I am well compensated and I enjoy the compensation and security I receive for trading in the best of my waking hours every day. But I would get incredibly bored and would be dissatisfied without having a gainful means of employment or other activity to work toward. My websites offer that when I get home, which makes it easier to go to work each day. Maybe they would be enough to satisfy my needs if I gathered the courage to leave my day job, I don't know? But I think it would be better than going into work every day to an unsatisfying job.

  • https://accounts.google.com/ServiceLogin?service=blogger&hl=en&passive=86400&continue=http://www.blogger.com/blogin.g?blogspotURL%3Dhttp://meinmillions.blogspot.com/%26zx%3D1823dny6nik83&a meinmillions

    I'm dreaming of early retirement right now, but you made some great points. I think I would be bored if I didn't have something meaningful to do every day. Maybe I just need early retirement with a part time job that I love… hmmm….

    And RDPD was one of the first financial books I ever read. It really helped to change the way I thought about personal finance.

  • http://cashmoneylife.com Patrick

    As always I find golden nuggets of truth in your articles. Steve, you are a better writer than you give yourself credit for. The elements that separate your writing from many others is that you think before your write, which makes your readers think. Your commentary and observations set your blog apart from many others, which is why I always come back for more.

    As for today's article – I've been struggling with the same thing. I don't enjoy going to work every day, but I am well compensated and I enjoy the compensation and security I receive for trading in the best of my waking hours every day. But I would get incredibly bored and would be dissatisfied without having a gainful means of employment or other activity to work toward. My websites offer that when I get home, which makes it easier to go to work each day. Maybe they would be enough to satisfy my needs if I gathered the courage to leave my day job, I don't know? But I think it would be better than going into work every day to an unsatisfying job.

  • bolaz

    Hi! First let me tell you, we are exactly on the same shoes. Though I am still employed as Finance Manager here in one of the Philippines' largest insurance brokers, my job sucks. I have been in the field of finance for almost 26 years now and only 3 months ago I realized that this f#ckin job sucks my life out of me. I have been surfing the net to read something similar to what i have been experiencing now. In fact, I have spent 2 weeks surfing the net without working on my real chore (oops my report deadline is near)..anyways, you enlightened my life boy, and you made me realized that there is a silver lining out there and grass is greener on the other side.. How i wish we can have a bottle of beer to celebrate. I have done a little networking already and still waiting for a positive result.. By the way, I plan to continue my passion on body building and at the same thime work as a consultant like you without having to dread on Sunday evening and working 8-5. Thank you very much for touching my life and surely, i would continuously subscribe to all of your articles..Please do write some more..godbless and best regards..(I can be a good blog writer huh??only now i realized after writing this comment!!!)

  • Sophie Lee

    That is why we should all have a General Power of Attorney in place. So that if ever we are unavailable or incapacitated to perform personal business or in case we want to pursue early, or natural retirement, we will be confident that we're in the right track.