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Work is NOT Optional After Retirement

Work is NOT Optional After RetirementWhat do you think about work after retirement? Lots of people hate that idea. After 6+ years of early retirement, I still get emails and comments saying you’re not retired. These people say, “You’re blogging and your wife is working, therefore you’re not retired.” Sure, they’re entitled to their opinion. I’m used to the criticism so I shrug it off and keep on blogging. To me, retirement means retiring from my engineering career. Life improved tremendously after I quit full-time work to become a stay-at-home dad/blogger in 2012. It’s a win and to me, that’s early retirement. As for working after retirement, I have always said it’s optional. If you can work on something you enjoy, why not?

Most, if not all, FIRE bloggers (financial independence, retire early) agree with me. After all, blogging takes up a ton of time. Yes, I admit blogging is work. Oh, the horror! I guess people don’t want to work after retirement because they’ve endured their job for too long. They dream of more leisurely days. It’s a mistake to think this way.

Work is good for you, even after retirement. Work gives you purpose and challenges to overcome. Not working is the real enemy. It’s bad to hang out at the pool and sip margaritas 24/7. There is no growth and you will get bored. I think that’s why so many people have trouble with the retirement transition. They think retirement = not working. That is the wrong approach to retirement.

*Oh, lots of people also say being a stay-at-home dad isn’t retirement. I say it’s pretty darn close. The first few years were tough, but we’re through that phase now. RB40Jr is in school full-time and life is awesome. I have plenty of time to do my own things. I love it. It’s okay if you don’t agree with me. Retire by 40 is just a blog, not a cult in Colorado.

Work after retirement

The real problem with work is that it’s a mix of thing you like and dislike. For example, I loved being an engineer when I was in my 20s. It was fun learning how to build a computer chip. At that time, I did mostly technical work and the job was great. I also didn’t mind working 60-80 hours per week, so the company liked me. However, working became much less enjoyable after 16 years. I had to go to a bunch of meetings, deal with all kind of corporate BS, and by that time, I wanted to spend more time with my family. The pain eclipsed the pleasure and I had to get out. If I could just do the things I enjoyed, I’d probably still be an engineer.

The key to work after retirement is to do something you enjoy. You need to get rid of all the stuff you don’t like and focus on the good parts. Once you do that, it won’t feel like work anymore. That’s why blogging feels like a hobby to me. It’s 90% fun, 10% tedious, and 0% corporate BS.

What is work?

We often associate work with a job. However, work is bigger than that. Working means expending effort to achieve the desired result. We do this at our job, but we also do this in other areas of life. Think of it more as working on something. Here are some examples of work and projects that fit the bill.

  • Taking care of the family and running the household.
  • Fixing up a house.
  • Improving the local community through volunteering and helping others.
  • Writing a book.
  • Earning a Ph.D.
  • Joining a band and playing a few gigs.
  • Running for office.
  • Becoming more engaged with church.
  • Starting a blog and building your brand*.

Many of these aren’t considered jobs. They are projects people work on because they’re interesting and stimulating. All of these are good options for after retirement.

*See my guide –  How to Start a Blog and Why You Should.

The perfect work

While we’re here, let’s think about all the things that make work great. Here are my criteria.

Enjoyment

It has to be something I enjoy. If I didn’t like blogging, I wouldn’t be doing it. Now that I’ve achieved financial independence, money doesn’t matter as much. The work has to be interesting or else, I wouldn’t do it. You can follow your passion after retirement.

Talent

I need to have some talent for the work. It’s no fun to work on something you’re no good at. For example, I like playing my ukuleles. However, I haven’t improved even with lots of practice. So joining a band isn’t going to work. On the other hand, I’m a much better writer than when I first started blogging. You need to see incremental improvement so you can stick with it.

Autonomy

This is a big one for me. I need autonomy on whatever project I work on. At this point in my life, I can’t deal with a boss anymore. That’s why I love blogging. Nobody tells me what to do and I don’t have to boss anyone around. Being my own boss is the best.

Challenge

Work also needs to be challenging, but solvable. If a project is too easy, it won’t be any fun. If it’s too hard, it will be too stressful and discouraging. Work needs to be the right level of challenge. Solving a difficult challenge gives you a ton of satisfaction.

Purpose

This one is tough. The ideal work should give you purpose, a reason to get out of bed every morning. If the work isn’t meaningful, then you won’t like it for long. It’s hard to describe purpose. I guess you’ll know it when you see it.

Flexible

Work should be flexible. Blogging fits the bill pretty well here. Some bloggers publish just once per month and spend the rest of their time on other projects. I keep a more rigid schedule because it works better for me. I still have enough time to do other things, so it’s good. Most regular jobs aren’t very flexible.

Little to no BS

There should be little to no negatives with the ideal work. Whatever you don’t like about your job put it here.

  • Meetings
  • Annual reviews
  • Quotas
  • Coworkers
  • Business trips
  • Office politic
  • Etc…

Improve the world/help others

The ideal work should improve the world or help others in some way.  This ties in to the purpose where your actions are larger than oneself.

Flow

Do you get into flow at work? This means you get lost in the work, in a good way. When you’re in the flow, you’re productive, everything clicks, and time flies by. That’s how you know the work is right for you. Personally, I think you should get in the flow at least once per week. If you don’t, then something is wrong.

Learn about flow, read more from Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi.

I wrote down quite a few things here. Let me know if I miss anything. Who wouldn’t want to work if all these criteria are met with work?

Work is NOT optional after retirement

I used to think work should be optional after retirement, but I changed my mind recently. Now, I think work is necessary after retirement. We all need something to drive us. If you stop working completely and don’t have any project to work on, then it’s not going to turn out well. Work is exercise for your brain. Your muscle will atrophy if you don’t exercise. The same is true for your brain. If you don’t challenge it, you’ll slow down and increase the chance of developing dementia. To have a good retirement, work needs to be an integral part of your life.

Okay, what do you think? Did I convince you that everyone should work after retirement? I’d be bored out of my mind if I stopped working completely. What about you?

Related

Why is it important to continually challenge your brain throughout life?

How I hacked the happiness curve

Image by Mohamed Ajufaan

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