Reframing My Early Retirement Fears

Draw a circle,” the leader instructed.

She had an aura of someone who would embrace the label of “the cool aunt” and would totally have your back if Uncle Ed had anything to say about your unladylike unshaven legs at the Thanksgiving table, even if she herself always followed gender norms.

With a ruffle of paper and faint smell of Sharpie, we did as we were told.

circle on a sheet of paper

My circle was smack dab in the middle.

My first thought was wondering if this was some sort of weird confidence test, as it was almost comical how many circle sizes were present. Some women seemed to anticipate an eventual venn diagram, as theirs were only on one side of the page, and other circles were so tiny that two dozen could fit on the page without any sides touching.

“Am I winning Leadership Class?” I thought, which was immediately replaced with, “or am I just going to look pompous with my big circle?”

Think of a risk in your life, and inside the circle, I want you to write down everything you associate with your status quo,” she continued, after everyone got a few seconds to rubberneck all the other circles.

The biggest risk I could think of was our plans of early retirement. Unless the market tanked, we’d be financially independent by the end of the year and would theoretically never have to work again. Seeing how joining the ranks of the Financially Independent, Retiring Early (FIRE) crowd is not something generally seen as a positive thing to brag about at work, this risk became “taking a year off to travel.”

Thoughts on staying safe and working

What would it mean to just quit work and travel?

Would it surprise anyone that “$$$” was my first addition? Continuing working and not taking the risk of travel meant security. It also meant a whole lot of FOMO.

Now, outside of your circles, outside of your comfort zones, I want you to write down what it would mean to take that risk.”

the risk of travel means freedom

Not working would free up my time for many more puppy cuddles

So far, so good. I could at least follow this exercise, which is more than I could say at last month’s “communication” session.

I want you write out what the next steps would be to take this risk, or how you could prepare for the risk.

That sounded like a list to me, so I list I wrote. Started out strong, and finishing strong. Until she spoke again.

Next steps for travel risk mean planning

I like lists

Now, find the fear. What is stopping you from taking this risk, and how can you reframe the risk?

This confused me. We were always planning on this. We just haven’t actually done it yet, since we haven’t reached our goal yet.

After it became clear I wasn’t going to come up with anything on my own, I flagged down the instructor.

It’s just, I can’t think of anything stopping me. It’s something we’re planning for, and something we’ve saved for,” I started.

Does the thought of taking the risk make you nervous?” she asked.

“I mean, yeah? The thought of not having a steady stream of income makes me nervous, but even then we could likely go back to work or make some amount of money some other way, and we’ve saved up a lot —,” I said, before she cut me off.

That’s logic. Fear comes from emotions,” she said.

“But I like logic,” I feebly joked. She wasn’t letting me off the hook, that much was clear.

What about taking a year off is frightening?” she asked.

After more awkward seconds than I would have liked, I responded, “That I’ll fail. That I’ll have all this time to write or work on hobbies and won’t have accomplished anything, and I’ll have no excuse and nobody to blame,” I said.

But then you’d learn something,” she said, “and you won’t have to wonder. That’s your reframe.

“Failing at retirement” is weirdly enough not a new concept. On FIRE blogs, there are plenty of commenter trolls that will yelp and scream at anything that hints of paid employment of any fashion, insisting that the blogger is “not really retired.”

This was not my fear. If I ended up getting paid for something I’d love to do anyway, I’d see that as a very good thing.

My fear was that at the end of my first year not working, I’ll have nothing to show for it. Be it Netflix, starting (but nowhere near finishing) a bunch of projects, or being the first human to successfully hibernate, I’d feel awful.

It’s not an unfounded fear. This is my first post on this blog for months, and I’ve been meaning to write it for weeks. Entire days on the weekend have passed with literally nothing accomplished, and my mom would be appalled by the state of cleanliness and tidiness in the apartment.

While I hope part of the reason I’ve been unproductive has to do with a vitamin D deficiency I’ve since started correcting, I know how my brain works. Structure and rules are good for me. Complete freedom brings out my inner puppy dog that just wants noms and attention.

Reframing My Early Retirement Fears

It does not matter if I fail and my first stab at early retirement doesn’t work for me, because every failure is a chance to learn.

  • I can take it day-by-day and week-by-week.
  • I can change my own rules, whenever I want
  • I can volunteer or otherwise schedule structure into my life
  • I can even go back to work
  • I could even work part of the year or part-time
My fear is that I will fail, but the reframe is a chance to learn

Failure just means a learning opportunity

There is no way I will have a perfect routine from day one, but as long as I’m self-aware and flexible, I can learn and slowly optimize my life.

Mini-Retirement Experiment

While it’s not officially in the books yet, I’m planning a mini retirement for most of October and November! Coincidentally, we’ll likely be financially independent about a month earlier, so this mini-retirement could feel very real indeed. I have a few trips planned, including three weeks in a cabin in the woods, and am going to try to have some concrete, small goals.

After my mini-retirement, Fergus and I will have a deeper discussion about timeline and logistics, and we may start transitioning to part-time at work.

So many feels on this side of the blog, how are things on your end? If you’re also seeking FIRE, do you have similar fears? Are there any other big risks you’re contemplating in your life? How are you reframing your fears?

7 thoughts on “Reframing My Early Retirement Fears

  1. Awesome post! I want to try this exercise sometime and see how it goes. The fear of having ability but not executing is one that hits close to home for me too. Makes me think it’d be a good idea to define what “success” looks like – maybe a minimum level of success to start.

    That could backfire and become demotivating unfortunately.

    I think my biggest similar fear is going all in on something then not seeing any clear success from it – either in the form of it not helping people or not reaching people. I think that like you I turn back to logic and think “I’m working on that”, but if I were to jump in with both feet “working on that” might have a much different meaning. I’ll have to try the exercise and see what comes up!

    • Thanks so much, Adam!

      It was an interesting exercise. I’m inherently somewhat suspiscious of anything that might come close to being a touchy-feely sort of thing, but this one definitely made me think (or rather, feel?). Let me know how it goes if you walk through it! I know with your recent net worth milestone you could certainly be taking a lot of very exciting risks!

  2. I can relate to the fear you have! We recently hit our FI number and I am in my third week of freedom after leaving my job (officially, I am on a 12-month leave of absence from the company, but I have no idea if I will go back). I went through the whole range of emotions in the month before I left, and fear was definitely one of them! It was a huge leap into the unknown. A big one was fear that I would never want to anything productive again (lie around doing not much of anything, never ever want to work again even if financial circumstances dictate that I need to, not feel motivated to work on personal projects that a part of me wants to). I know that partly this fear is arising because I am super burnt out and do need some relaxation and recuperation time. I basically reframed my fears as follows:

    1. There is no such thing as failure. The reality is that I am taking the step *right now* that feels best and most in tune with my present needs. So as long as each step of the way I am tuning in to what is best for me, it is actually not possible to fail at it.

    2. Since I am burnt out, the best thing I can do is not put pressure or expectations on myself about what I do with my time. I simply have to be patient (easier said than done!) and trust that desires to do things will emerge as I give myself the space I need to actually be in charge of my own time.

    I am really inspired by a book called “I Will Not Die an Unlived Life,” by Dawna Markova, doing daily meditation, and the teachings of meditation teacher Tara Brach.

    I think that we are so conditioned by school and then work to be “productive” with our time, and we internalize this pressure and judge ourselves for doing activities like watching Netflix that feel “unproductive.” I am seeing that what I personally need is to step outside of this viewpoint entirely, and just focus on what I really deep down inside want or need to be doing in a given moment, without making a judgement about whether it is productive. Being able to take this time where I am not working and am in complete control of my time feels like a huge gift.

    • Sarah,

      Thank you so much for your thoughts here! It’s strangely comforting that we share some of the same fears.

      I love, love, love your reframes and am going to unabashedly steal them for my own life. I Will Not Die an Unlived Life and a Tara Brach book are also the latest additions to my Good Reads.

      The valuation on “productive” is so interesting. I can definitely relate to that, and I feel like maybe it makes me more likely to be unproductive. Doing something “unproductive” makes me feel bad, which makes me more likely to self-medicate with something unproductive to feel better, which of course has the opposite effect (which then of course becomes a habit). Mindfulness has definitely helped me be physically healthier lately (more in a future post!), so it would definitely make sense to extend that practice to other parts of my life.

      Let me know if you’d ever like to share some thoughts in a post here or even just chat about how your 12 month leave is going sometime! I’d love to hear more, especially in how your mindset has changed / is changing.

      <3 Felicity

    • You are welcome to my reframes! I’m glad you find them useful 🙂 I think that’s true that the valuation on being productive makes us even more likely to be unproductive! I hadn’t thought about it that way.

      I found your blog from the Tread Lightly, Retire Early post about female FIRE bloggers, and I was excited to find another pair of DINKs who are both engineers! I am a software engineer, and most recently was a manager for a few years. (Though so far three weeks in I do not miss any part of my job or engineering at all! Ha. But I still do love analytical and logical thinking in general, and I’m sure I will come back to programming at some point.) I’m not sure about a guest post (I don’t really want to be that public with my thoughts) but I might be interested in a chat sometime! Maybe in a few more weeks when I’ve had more time to reflect and recover 🙂

      By the way, I’m on goodreads and would be happy to connect there. You should be able to find me by my email address.

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