Recently, I invited the ‘Early Retirement Police’ to come for me by giving semiretirement a try… after previously proclaiming myself to be retired.
It’s no secret that I’ve struggled to find purpose in early retirement. Prior to taking this job last fall, I had frequently wondered if there was some aspect of my accounting career worth salvaging. Some piece of me that still needed work to feel intellectually stimulated or valuable.
So when a friend recruited me for a part-time, remote accounting position at a boutique firm, it seemed like the perfect opportunity to put my theory to the test.
Here’s how my semiretirement experiment went…
My semiretirement experience
Perfect on paper
My part-time, remote accounting job was actually pretty well aligned to its description.
While I was asked to visit clients a few times, most of my work was done at home and on my own schedule.
Overall, I only worked around 300 hours between October and May. Most of this occurred during the months of February and March.
Despite the fact that I was only working ~20 hours per week at the peak, it still felt overwhelming and stressful to me. To their credit, my boss and teammates were not harassing me to get things done faster. Rather, I think this feeling came from my own baggage after working in multiple high pressure roles. Since I didn’t want to be the hold up on anything, I ended up working more nights and weekends than I wanted. Frankly, I’m not sure how I used to put in 65+ hours a week for months on end without batting an eye.
My boss and clients clearly valued my experience and ideas, which was great. I received plenty of the verbal praise I had been craving (and that my 6-year-old rarely gives).
However, the work wasn’t as intellectually stimulating or sophisticated as I expected, especially when compared to the work I did at my previous Big 4 accounting firm. At the end of the day, most of the stuff I did felt like ‘busy work’. It didn’t challenge me or fill me with pride like I’d hoped it would.
What else changed?
In addition to this job not living up to my expectations or providing the solution to my perceived problem, I’ve also changed.
Over the past six-months, I’ve gotten much more involved in my community than I was before. I now hold leadership positions within three non-profit organizations and have begun to see a sense in purpose in the volunteer work I do.
I’ve also been working more on myself. I started lifting heavy (rather than trying to ‘get skinny’), have been teaching myself piano, and regularly hit the pickleball courts.
I’m still very much a work in progress, but I feel like there is more to me now than before.
I don’t think I need work to make me feel validated anymore, which feels like a huge personal triumph.
Never forget that time is your most valuable resource
You’ve heard it a million times: Time is precious.
Yet many of us fail to treat it that way until it’s running out, myself included.
If told that we only had a few weeks or months to live, many of us might choose to stop everything we were doing and spend the little time we had left with family and friends. Perhaps we might even try to knock a couple items off the old bucket list.
But what if you were given 3 – 10 years?
That’s too long to just give up and hug your family until the end. You still have some precious life left, and so do they.
What would you do then?
If it were me. I’d still want to spend more quality time with my loved ones making memories. But we couldn’t spend every minute together.
In my spare time, I could see myself still cooking from scratch in the kitchen for my family most days. If physically able, I’d still take daily walks and enjoy the great outdoors as much as possible. I also think I’d continue to nerd out optimizing our finances, as well as learning piano, singing loudly, and writing for this blog. Heck, I might even keep volunteering in my community and trying to grow new things in my garden (despite my many failures).
But the one thing I wouldn’t do?
I wouldn’t work another day at my semiretirement job… no matter how good it looks on paper. No matter how much doing something that I’m good at strokes my ego, and how much our culture attributes success to earning money.
This decision initially felt like a tough one to make. However, it became a no brainer once I thought about it in this way.
And so, I quit.
Takeaways from my semiretirement experiment
The greatest gift that financial independence has given to me, is the freedom to spend more of my time doing the things that really matter to me. Obviously, this freedom only exists because I also have an incredibly supportive spouse.
We are privileged to have this choice. I know that, and I appreciate it each day.
But because I have the choice, I don’t want to spend any more time doing things that don’t align with my life goals or values.
I wish I could have felt confident about my own self-worth beyond my ability to earn a paycheck or the praise I received at work. But the truth is I needed to live through this experience to convince myself that walking away from my accounting career was the right decision.
Life is full of potential, but I’ll never uncover my true passions if I continue to bury myself in work. It’s time to face the unknown and figure out how to live my best life outside of work.
Early retirement here I come… again!
Is semiretirement something you’re doing today or considering in your future plans?
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Good for you! Both for identifying the need for some kind of purpose & trying modified work, and doubly so for recognizing work isn’t what fulfills that need and building the life that does. Probably because work was so all-consuming for so long it was easy to think that was the source, but I’m glad you discovered other ways to have a rich life. Enjoy the re-retirement! 🙂
Thank you, Allen!
Love it! Thank you for sharing your update! Been waiting to see what you conclude on, and it all makes sense. Happy you found more purpose in nonprofit organizations’ leadership roles. And congratulations on the re-retirement! I definitely have zero desire to work in accounting again, haha. And I can totally see the “busy work” aspect.
Thanks for commenting, Elena!
When I initially left my career, I never thought I’d work in accounting again either. But that lack of confidence and purpose I used to get from my career pushed me back in. Unfortunately, the accounting positions that are interesting and challenging to me are typically also the ones that are high-stress and require a significant time commitment. Perhaps I just needed more patience and time to believe that I could eventually fill that void and find that confidence with other things. This experiment just sped up that process a bit, so it wasn’t a total loss.
Thank you so much for sharing this perspective! It’s so helpful to those of us who are still on the path to FI but considering what to do next (downshift before hitting FI, waiting for full FI and retiring, etc.)
I loved everything you wrote, but especially this: “But because I have the choice, I don’t want to spend any more time doing things that don’t align with my life goals or values.” This is so important on all of our FI journeys, no matter how unique they are! To me, this is the ultimate goal.
Love your content, thanks!
Thank you so much for the kind words! I’m glad to hear that it resonated with you. You’re so right that everyone’s journey is unique. Hopefully, my story will also remind others (like yourself) who are facing similar decisions, that the decisions we make along the journey don’t need to be permanent. It’s okay to try things out and see what feels right.
This is such an amazing article and I’m grateful you did you experiment and wrote about it.
As you allude, there are certainly times in early retirement when the issue of purpose is a real thing. And, frankly, it is not frequently discussed in the FI community. I sometimes ask myself, “What are you doing right now to meaningfully move your life forward?”
That said, sentiments like that are fragments of an old way of thinking. I’ve done a few consulting assignments since being retired and, like you, have had a similar experience. It’s always with friends or cool former bosses so it feels like I’m just assisting someone I like that called for help. However, after each one, I always think “How the F did I do that for 25 years?”
Purpose is important, for sure. So these days I’m quite fine scrubbing cat dishes and doing other non-glamorous work at my local cat sanctuary. And looking after my aging parents. And writing and spending time with friends.
Life is short, so enjoy it while you can.
Again great article!
Thank you, Mr. Fate! Your praise means a lot to me. After three years, I feel like I’m finally breaking away from the reigns that societal norms had placed on me, and it’s a huge relief. We are all so much more than the money we make or the cars we drive. It’s one thing to know this intellectually, but it’s another thing to accept and believe it. Purpose can be found in many aspects of living, and I’m glad to hear that you are finding purpose these days on your own terms as well.
So proud of you Mrs. RFL! If the job was no longer giving you value and just stressing you out, then you made the right decision. I know it’s never easy to quit a job! I hope you have more time to do the things you truly want to do!
Thanks, Tyler! I felt bad leaving the job after such a short period of time, but we all knew it was a trial when I agreed to accept the offer, which helped keep it amicable. At the end of the day, I had to do what’s best for me and my family. No regrets.