A while ago, I took a leap of faith. I decided to stop working for a year and use the time off to travel around the world.
Working for so long had taken its toll. I felt weary and wanted time, albeit temporarily, off the hamster wheel. I needed a break to ponder, reflect and decide on my life.
In the end, I didn’t travel around the world. But I went to UK to celebrate a wedding, Thailand to meditate, Penang for coffee, HK to eat my favorite roast, Japan to smell the sakura, USA to visit a friend and Canada for the Niagara Falls. Adding to the list was a 3 months backpacking trip to Europe too.
Mostly, I was occupied. I learned to live life slower, made new friends and tried out retirement.
This period also meant no salary, no company benefits and to some perhaps, no security. I cut down on expenses and lived frugally on my passive income. In the year, I began to understand what life away from active work is really like.
There was freedom to wake up fresh, to choose my program each day, and be accountable only to myself. But it also meant being disciplined, getting active and staying engaged.
I am now back at work. But I count myself fortunate to have the experience. And here, I am sharing 8 lessons that I learned from my year of “retirement”:
1. “You don’t work? Why? How?”
When meeting people, very often they will ask what I do for a living. Most people seem to define me by what job I do. When I tell that I am not working, the responses are always somewhat similar: surprise, disbelief, then envy.
To many, it seemed like bliss not to work for a while. They will express envy, and the hope to do the same some day.
Most people cannot fathom early retirement. After all, Singapore is an expensive city to live. They worry about bills and how to afford living when they stop working.
But many don’t think of retirement when buying the latest gadgets, branded goods or eating at expensive restaurants. It is often a “enjoy first, worry later” attitude.
Maybe that is why many people let their work define them. They think of themselves as a chef, an engineer, a technician etc, while in fact these are just jobs that pay the bills.
Lesson learnt: I want to define myself by what I want to achieve in life, not by my occupation. My work on earth is exploring new experiences and having meaningful relationships. And for a while, I exchange my time at a job for money.
2. Many people ignore the markets
I monitored my stocks closely, for the dividends pays for my livelihood. And when my fortune depended on the markets, every big movement gripped me. Naturally, I expected others to be similarly affected.
But I found that many people actually don’t care. They carry on their lives, regardless of what happens to STI (Straits Time Index). Most do not invest, or have superficial knowledge of market movements.
The reasons are varied: lack of knowledge or money, an unpleasant prior experience, or just plain not keen. Singaporeans generally prefer property. That gets their interest.
And when I try to tell people that retirement is possible with passive income from stocks, they will always ask if I am a broker trying to sell them something.
Lesson learnt: many people do not invest or know how to invest. They are busy working, and hoping for the best when they retire. Yet a solution can be found from the stock markets, which has a historical 8% long term annual yield. But people ignore this, or outsource their retirement to financial planners, who may not have their best interest at heart.
3. I needed a lot lesser than I thought
I was careful with expenses as I did not have a regular paycheck. I did miss the salary initially but soon got over it, making do with what I have.
But I realized I spent a lot lesser too. I sold my car, ate at cheaper places and stopped spending unnecessarily. I was not stressed by work, and had no need for retail therapy.
Lesson learnt: don’t be scared by the financial advertisements. They often say I will need millions before I can retire. To save so much as an employee, I will have sacrificed something far more precious: my youth. And this loss is irreversible. We really can live with less, and retire earlier.
4. Boredom is the greatest threat
It is actually quite ironic. I save and invest diligently, so that I could stop work and have more time, and when I had the time, I got bored without working.
Initially, I was excited with having every day for myself. But after a while, I found myself wondering what to do. There is only so much traveling I can do, and being on the road often, I did also miss home.
And most of my friends are still working. There is only so much “catching up” that I can do over lunch.
So I indulged in my favorite hobby: playing badminton. It takes up a few hours each time, is inexpensive and allows me to meet new people. Plus I get tired from the games, and sleep better.
Lesson learnt: find a meaningful activity to use up the energy, that allows me to stay in touch with the wider community. No man is an island, and it is good to meet new friends. It is also better to retire with a loved one. This goal is tougher, but it is more meaningful and less lonesome, to retire with good company.
….to be continued in Post 2….