Is There Life on Mars?

Two things over the weekend caused me to think about retirement. The first was an opinion piece by the excellent Luke Johnson in The Sunday Times, who always writes well about business and finance. This week he was having a swing about how retirement is bad for your health and how anyone over fifty would be nuts to put their feet up. What they should be doing instead, he advocates, is thinking about a second career phase, or relaunching themselves in an entrepreneurial role that will see them through the next twenty or even thirty years. What’s the alternative, he asks? Stagnation and death? (I’ve reprinted it here). 

The second was the movie “The Martian” where one of the challenges that is poised over space travel to Mars is the actual amount of time it takes to get there. I think a one way journey was something like a year, and one of the biggest challenges (I thought) would be to keep the astronauts occupied over that time. Sure, there’d be a gym on the spacecraft, and books, videos, a canteen…..but I’m sure NASA would ensure that there would also be plenty of work to do. Otherwise the astronauts would completely stagnate, physically and mentally. The best way to guard against this would be to make them work. They can then fit (and would be motivated to fit) leisure activities around their work, such as reading, watching videos, having a coffee with their fellow travellers….

I often reflect on the non-financial benefits of work and how leisure time is so much more appreciated when thrown into relief against the backdrop of a working day or week. When you’ve all day and every day to pursue what you once would have classed as your own leisure activities, they become your norm. I wouldn’t say they become less enjoyable or fulfilling, but they do lose some of the shine they once had. That twenty mile bike ride that I used to take early on a Saturday morning that cleared my head and so unwound me from the working week, well, I can do that every day now. And it’s not the same.  (I’m worried that it if I did do it every day, it might begin to feel like work!)

I’ve written before about the challenges of doing nothing all day and having all day to do it, which must stick in the craw of people stuck in jobs they don’t like. Of course, the solution for me is to go back to being employed. In the time I’ve had off, I’ve considered quite a few options to enable this, including setting up my own business, franchising, voluntary work, going part time and returning to industry I came from. To name but a few. I could probably write a blog entry on each of these options and what I’ve discovered in trying to pursue them, and I probably will at some point. One thing is for sure though, it can be quite irritating reading opinions such as Luke Johnson’s who insinuate that you just wake up one day and say, “Well that’s me, I’m bored with this retirement lark, I think I’ll now become an entrepreneur.” If only it was that simple! One of the biggest challenges of the lot is the fact that you might not HAVE to do it – I feel that the biggest thing that prevented me from throwing myself into setting up my own business was trying to work out what my objective for doing so actually was. If not the money. And, actually, it still IS the money because if the business is going to be something significant then you’re probably going to have to risk some capital. Yes, it’s rather annoying to congratulate yourself on the one hand for saving enough so that you don’t have to work for money, only to find that the risk of losing some of that money might prevent you from doing some work! When Luke Johnson talks about being an entrepreneur and “building something worthwhile”, I don’t think he’s thinking about setting up a dog walking business. If you want to “build something worthwhile” you’re probably going to have to put some skin in the game.

When I left work, I was given access to an employment consultant, or development coach, to help me work out what I wanted to do next. In our initial interview, when I outlined my personal situation to her, she frowned, bit her lip and said, “The most challenging candidates I have to deal with are those that have decided they don’t want or need to work for money any more.” I hadn’t realised that this was how I was coming across, but my Early Retirement Dreams had pretty much brought me to the point that I was in that position. I really hadn’t given much thought to “What’s next?” other than “To enjoy myself”. Fair enough, but I do agree with a lot of what Luke Johnson is saying – you can get a lot of enjoyment from work, providing you’re still up for the challenge. The initial challenge, however, is deciding what that enjoyable work is going to be!

16 thoughts on “Is There Life on Mars?

  1. To be fair, Luke couches his argument purely in terms of entrepreneurs, which you’ve miss-summarised as “anyone over fifty would be nuts to put their feet up”. There are many more plodders around that would be delighted not to have to work around. My father spent 30 happy years reading, doing crosswords and gardening and watching sport, with no community interaction at all. I’m a little uncomfortable about spending 40 years doing the same, minus sport, plus travel, but I’m sure the guilt will pass.

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    • To be fair, yes, Luke is talking about those with an entrepreneurial bent. However, this is in the business section of the paper, so I think it’s also aimed at a wider audience, although plodders probably wouldn’t pick this section up anyway. Due apologies to plodders.

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  2. Nice work if you can get it, is what I think! Of course, there’s more to work than the money, and if you are enjoying it, why stop? And if you can find an encore career, why not? Most of us who are contemplating ‘retirement’ are doing so because work is not giving us what we need, or at least not enough of it. Your posts do give me pause for thought though, and I do think that we don’t always realise or appreciate some of the positives about work, until they are no longer there. I guess it’s about knowing yourself, and realising that there are gains and losses from any path…

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    • I was lucky because I did, by and large, enjoy my working life. I have to remind myself that not everybody does and some actively hate their jobs. In that latter case, I’d like to think I’d walk out and damn the torpedoes! Which is easy to say if you’re at FI, possibly one of the best reasons to work toward it.

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  3. As someone two weeks away from early retirement / redundancy, I’ve been reading your blog (and lots of other FIRE-related ones) with interest….thank you for your honest appraisals. I have a retirement built around lots of twenty mile cycle rides, so I’m a bit nervous if they begin to lose their shine! However I’m wondering if you make the physical challenges diverse and sufficiently different you can keep the urge to return to work at bay. As ever in life, the key is to have a “plan”…and as soon activities become aimless pursuits the fun goes out of them.

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    • I’m three weeks into early retirement, so this is far from a long-term perspective, but…

      I have found that joining the local leisure centre/gym has been a HUGE source of satisfaction. I’m doing daytime classes in Pilates, yoga and spinning, around six classes a week, adding swimming a mile two or three times a week, and have full use of sauna, steam room, and state-of-the-art gym equipment. All of this at quiet-ish times when everyone else is working, and for a monthly rate that might be considered as a bargain given the amount I can use the facilities. The odd 20-mile bike ride (when weather permits) rounds out the physical side. I’m in far better shape now than I was a decade ago when a salary drone.

      Outside this, learning from MOOCs, cinema and theatre, and a bit of gardening and I’m acceptably busy and anything but unfulfilled. Personally I’ve given no thought to my erstwhile employment, and so far have NO current intention of returning to any form of work.

      If all that makes me a ‘plodder’ then so be it 🙂

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      • Ah, I remember that honeymoon period so well! 😉 The gym is a lifesaver and I’m there maybe five days out of seven, not knocking my pan out but enough to work up a sweat. So at least that’s two hours out my day accounted for…..

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  4. I’m not sure about the dog walking business not being something worth doing. For a start, in the South East it can pay well. Get 3-4 dogs a day regularly and you could be making very useful fun money and getting out the house for a couple of hours, keeping fitter, and still have the other 22 hours for indolence and fun.

    Also, you’d meet the owners and so forth, and over time I’m sure you’d become valuable to them. I bet the regulars would write you a Christmas card. And going by my local park, I think you’d meet other people too.

    All this would address the social isolation issue you’ve spoken about. 🙂

    I’ve debated this with Ermine, too. I think people who lived a 9-5 live really struggle with imagining part-time ad hoc working, or imagining it being useful.

    Of course you may hate dogs, and I realise by “worthwhile” you also mean “it won’t cure cancer” or “it won’t buy me a Ferrari” but just throwing my 2p into the ring FWIW, as this is clearly a subject that’s on your mind. 🙂

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    • I have actually thought about dog walking, but when I visit my old dear and HAVE to walk her dog four days in a row for an hour in the morning and an hour at night, well, it soon loses its sheen! And I’m listening to podcasts, music or something, so I shouldn’t be bored. But.

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  5. Thank you for your courage and honesty in writing about your struggles with FI. I don’t know anyone else who’s admitted it’s not all a bed of roses. (There’s probably a whole community I’ve missed). I’m some way off FIRE myself but am taking careful note. I’m ploughing so much of myself into achieving FI that I suspect I’ll struggle with a sense of purpose too, once I finally make it.

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  6. Thank you for sharing, SHMG. Have you tried talking to someone that’s been through the same process (of successfully figuring out what to do post FI)? I mean a proper conversation in real life…not just in internetland! I benefited from a couple of slightly older guys that I used as mentors.

    All the best, TEA

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  7. This reflects what’s always struck me as a drawback to traditional FIRE that I haven’t seen discussed much.

    In most cases, retiring early (say pre-50) will involve having a reasonably well-paying job. And in the case of most high-paying jobs, it pays well because it makes significant demands on your time and your mental energy.

    Aspiring early retirees are therefore left with little scope for having a side-business, starting a social enterprise, or in any other way laying the groundwork for what your “purpose” is going to be post-retirement. And by and large, after the “honeymoon period” that’s going to leave a bit of a void: most people who’ve been sufficiently disciplined to retire early probably won’t be the sorts to want to just potter for 30+ years.

    I’m coming at it from a different perspective because I’ve always run my own businesses – which tends to give more scope for “cutting back”, changing roles or starting a part-time spin-off without having a specific “right, I’m retired” moment. The downside is that it tends to be so much fun you don’t even think about retiring, which rather takes the shine off the achievement!

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  8. I’m 47 and a couple of months out of the office. A restructuring led to a VR programme and, well, everyone has their price and it turned out that my employer’s pockets were deep enough to match mine. I’m just living off dividends at the moment – “taking home” about 50% of my previous salary.

    I’m wrestling with all the issues you raise in this blog[1]; investment and pension practicalities, relationship dynamics with my (happily working) wife, what to do all day, etc.

    My current mental tangle is simply how to describe myself. I had to fill in some forms recently that asked for “occupation” and found myself chewing on my pencil as I shied away from writing “retired”. It just feels wrong. I realised that I’ve been very coy in conversation about my status; muttering that I’m “taking a break”, “an extended sabbatical”, etc.

    [1] When I have sussed WordPress in a little more detail, I’ll start my own. Consider it a substitute for all the monthly and quarterly reports and forecasts I’ve become used to churning out over the decades.

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    • I know what you mean about what to tell people you’re doing. Perhaps it reflects the fact that we’re not totally committed to the lifestyle yet? Maybe mental peace only comes when you fully do. In the meantime though, you can chew a pencil over it through your blog

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