Can you stop working

Can you really stop working // Success and validation in the job

Reading time: 9 minutes

At 45, I want to have saved and invested enough money to quit my job. I already have some plans for this time after FIRE (Financially independent, retired early). But I am sure that I will not get bored! I could well imagine studying again. I am very interested in geography, for example. The subject was even one of my high school exams.

More than a pastime and a source of income

But of course for me my job is more than just a pastime against boredom, with which I can finance my life at the same time. In contrast to many frugalists, I do not see my work as a burden or a famous “hamster wheel”. I enjoy my job a lot, especially my new role since October. In my job I can be creative, identify and solve problems, interact and communicate with other people, argue and convince. For some, the job is just a corset of routines that offer hold and support in everyday life. Perhaps that applies to classic "clerks". I have almost no routines or recurring tasks in my job.

Contacts and team spirit

At the moment I work almost exclusively in the home office. Due to my role, I have no direct colleagues or a team, but am in contact with many different people in the organization on a project basis. This current situation reminds me - as a relatively extroverted person - that the job has a strong social function in addition to the financial one. For most of them, the interaction with other people in the workplace goes beyond the technical, content-related exchange. Often colleagues become friends. If you change the company or the task, new contacts come in again.

If you leave your professional life, on the other hand, you have to make a little more effort to get to know new people. However, I am convinced that FIRE doesn’t make you lonely. In most offices it is not the case that new friendships for life are continuously created. Many colleagues are more likely to be “companions in life” or, as many German employees would say with a half wink, “fellow sufferers” rather than real friends. In my opinion, the fact that the workplace is no longer a source of contact can be easily compensated for.

A sense of achievement

One of my tasks at work is to identify problems and solve them if possible. If I manage to do that, I have a lot of little successes over the course of a week.

I also spend a large part of my time collecting information from various sources, combining them logically and generating new knowledge in order to then process and present them in an understandable manner. If better decisions can be made as a result or I am able to convince others of my views and plans, these are again additional small successes that I experience through my job.

With FIRE, such small and large successes in the job are eliminated. I personally think that it is important to bring such everyday successes into life in other ways. This can be voluntary work. Or success in learning new skills.

Challenges

I think the latter in particular is extremely important in order to stay mentally fit. The brain is automatically challenged by the constantly changing demands of the world of work. Be it through new software, new processes and workflows, other people and projects. In the RE time you have to set your own challenges. How about juggling or learning to ride a unicycle? Polish up school French again? Build a raised bed or do some pottery?

Personally, I think it's one of the most difficult aspects of FIRE: setting yourself challenges in order to stay fit and happy in your head. It probably suits my character best when I consciously come up with "challenges", e.g. annual, monthly and weekly challenges. I'm not a particularly competitive person when it comes to competitions with others. But I hate to lose to myself. Games in which you have to unlock new levels based on successes motivate me more than games in which you try to beat the high scores of other players.

My current challenges against myself

I also use challenges against myself on topics where I have lacked discipline in the past. For example, I have set myself a “shoe challenge”: I am only allowed to buy a new pair of shoes if I have sorted out an old pair at the same time. Otherwise things might get out of hand with the shoes and - as with my last move - suddenly I am back with 60+ couples.

But I also use challenges for topics that give me pleasure to stay on the ball. So at the beginning of 2020 I made the resolution to read at least one book every month. After 15 books in 2019, most of which I had read through during the vacation weeks, I wanted to integrate reading more into my everyday life again. With this self-imposed challenge, I managed to do this very well! I have just started my 16th book and will probably have around 20 books by the end of the year. Between the years there is always a lot of time for extensive browsing.

With a little discipline in planning my challenges, I can create the discipline for myself that I need in order not to become a boring couch potato after FIRE. It is very important to me that I stay mentally fit into old age. Therefore, I will pay particular attention to adequately replacing or even surpassing my job in this regard.

Validation and praise

In Germany, the rule is usually "not being scolded is praised enough". But even if I am not always explicitly praised, there are still many moments in the job that make me proud of myself or otherwise happy. This has something to do with the success stories described above, but goes beyond that. When I can help someone or realize that I could teach someone something useful, then these are very positive feelings. Continuing to experience this regularly is also possible outside of gainful employment, e.g. in the case of voluntary work. I would even go so far that there is a lot more positive feedback and gratitude for volunteer work.

But it's not just praise and thanks from others that makes you happy. For me personally, it is very fulfilling when I know that I have been able to use my skills and strengths. Repainting a room in a children's home is certainly a great volunteer work that shows a lot of gratitude. However, this activity does not use my strengths at all. In such a case, I could still be proud of myself that I managed such a challenge. But it would be even better if I can be successful and use my strengths to make this easy for me.

My strengths form a cornerstone of my identity, the person I think I am. And using these strengths - and thus being able to develop them further - is an important, in my view often underestimated, function of gainful employment. Professional success - especially on a small, everyday basis - enables the validation of one's own strengths and thus one's self-image. It's not about promotions or a great career (which for some is also part of their self-image), but about normal daily interactions and projects at work.

There are many volunteer tasks in general, but finding a task that also uses and promotes your own strengths is not that easy. Above all, if you - like me - "Create PowerPoint slides“One of his strengths is 😉 Fun aside, of course there are skills behind that that you can do without Microsoft Powerpoint can use: structured thinking, concise formulation, being able to immerse yourself in the listener / reader, etc.

Finding good locations for my strengths will be an exciting challenge when entering the RE period. Maybe I can also discover or build up new strengths?

Profession or vocation?

To come back to the aspect of identity. Many people define themselves very strongly through their profession. From my point of view, this has always been the case. But there is also the view that the increasingly blurring boundaries between work and leisure - under the guise of a better work-life balance - are increasingly becoming an identity-creating feature. The well-intentioned advice stubbornly persists to turn the vocation into a profession. So you don't have to work a day of your life - if you believe the visually beautifully prepared calendar sayings of the 21st century.

I don't get much out of this mantra. Instead, I observe the opposite: the belief that the job must also be one's own, almost spiritual calling drives many people into despair or unhappiness. Because they absolutely do not know what their calling is. This aimlessness mainly benefits coaches who promise advice seekers help with self-discovery with their webinars, courses and books. Researchers have found that job satisfaction is higher when you recognize the purpose of your job. No surprise I would say. But that doesn't mean that you have to find the one job that also counts as a calling and not just as a profession. It is sufficient to recognize that the job makes sense for colleagues, the company or the customers.

Profession as a creator of identity?

Those who build their identity on their job will find it twice as difficult to give up. Regardless of whether it is about FIRE or normal retirement. If someone asks me at a party (it's been a long time ...): "And what are you up to?“I usually try to change the subject after a short answer. At the moment I can't even say exactly what I'm doing. "I work at an insurance"Is honestly not the best way to start small talk - unless you have a proven Stromberg fan in front of you.

A few years ago, on the 30th birthday of a friend, on whom I didn't know anyone except for a fellow student of ours, I set myself a little challenge not to speak a word about my job the whole evening. There are so many other exciting topics, including complete strangers! For me, the evening was filled with great conversations about food, cities, lifelong dreams and business ideas. I don't think anyone missed knowing what I was doing.

What I will not miss in my job ...

There is a lot of research and jokes about the effect of retirement on the psyche. Loriot's classic on the subject, Pappa ante portas, is one of my favorite films to this day. The topic must be taken seriously: Depression is the most common mental illness in the 60+ age group, even if not all cases can be directly attributed to leaving the profession. The (new) feeling of powerlessness and insignificance is often cited as one of the causes. Anyone who was used to enjoying a lot of decision-making freedom in their job, possibly even in a higher position, and in a certain way “being needed”, sometimes painfully misses this when they retire.

For me personally, I do not see any danger from FIRE in this aspect. To be able to make decisions is neither a burden nor a joy for me. Of course, like almost all employees, I like working independently. "Follow instructions only“In the long run, this is certainly only the description of their dream job for a few people. But the creative possibilities my job offers me do not fill me with particular happiness. When someone gives me a decision or asks me for advice because I hold a certain position of power and not because the person is convinced that I can honestly contribute, I find it more strange than good. So I don't think I will miss this part of my job. I don't define myself by status or hierarchy and therefore won't miss these aspects either.

... and what else

As already described, after FIRE I will try to find a way to use my strengths, preferably for the benefit of others. Here I see the greatest potential for otherwise missing this aspect of working life.

Due to small challenges and my desire to learn new things over and over again, from my point of view I will have no problems with being able to continue to generate enough challenges and success stories to compensate for this aspect of the job. I don't see the lack of social contacts or the everyday structure dictated by the job as a problem. There are so many new opportunities here that are not available today through full-time work. Overall, I am very relaxed about the future. I'm looking forward to FIRE.

What is particularly important to you about your job - besides the purely financial one? What tasks and functions does your work fulfill for you? In your opinion, which of them are difficult to replace? Are you looking forward to retirement? Or are you more afraid of the changes?

Posted in Early Retirement