Is early retirement as great five years in as it is the first year?
That first few months of FIRE may feel incredibly freeing, but some worry about boredom. Some worry about staying too busy. Fussing over the extremes.
After five years of no 9-5, however, it would seem most folks should have developed a groove, a semblance of a normal rhythm to guide their days, weeks, and months.
The Dragons on FIRE shares in this post what that rhythm looks like for their family.
I’ve reached my fifth year in early retirement! I continue to be incredibly grateful that I discovered the FIRE movement in February 2017 and was able to retire that same year. We’d been saving consistently for almost 20 years of our career, and after we did the math, realized we had enough saved for me to quit in June of 2017. Dragon Guy retired two years later, and he recently celebrated 10 years as a cancer survivor.
I wake up every day with joy and excitement, regardless of what the plan is for the day (if there even is one). Generally, I have the freedom to use my time the way I want, and I spend my days relaxed and content.
Five years has passed by so quickly, and yet it seems like a lifetime ago when I was a full-time teacher.
The Project of the Month
Part of retirement is understanding how I like to use my time. I’ve realized I like to be “project-based.” I don’t always foresee what project I will have in any upcoming month, but I’ve found that for most months, a project will present itself to me even if I don’t actively seek out a project. These projects are a way to focus my energy and keep me occupied when I’m not traveling.
- August/September 2021 – painting the entire house with Dragon Guy
- November/December of 2021 – teaching 2 adult ESL classes on Zoom
- January 2022 – interviewing 8 high school seniors applying to my alma mater
- May/June 2022 – decorating, decluttering, and organizing our home
Certainly, there are months where there was no “project,” and during those months, I focused on decluttering and our YouTube channel (with varying degrees of intensity).
We love to travel, and now we can spend more time in each place we visit. We appreciate being able to travel to these amazing places:
- National Parks in New Mexico, Colorado, Utah, and Arizona – October 2021
- Big Bend, Texas – January 2022
- Florida and San Juan, Puerto Rico – February 2022
- Spain and New Jersey – March/April 2022
- Germany and Iceland- May/June 2022
Dealing with Anxiety
Being early retired doesn’t mean all my negative feelings have gone away. It just means I have more time to deal with them, thankfully.
I dealt with a lot of anxiety this year due to COVID, but ironically, when we did catch COVID in April, I was fairly calm.
Adding to my anxiety are the many issues America is facing — with voter suppression, abortion, gun control, social injustice, economic inequality, climate change, healthcare, LGBTQ rights, education, politics, and prejudice in all its forms — the list goes on and on.
I’m still mulling over how I can individually help address any of these large, systemic issues. I’ve done a lot of volunteer work in the past, but my desire to social distance has hindered some of my in-person volunteerism.
I leaned heavily on Dragon Guy to help with my anxiety, and while he has been amazing, it has had some negative impacts on our relationship. Looking towards my sixth year of early retirement, I am committed to finding other ways to decrease my anxiety.
I have always believed in keeping stress levels low and getting rest, which wasn’t always easy as a teacher. “Being busy” is not something I glamorize or wear as a badge of honor. When I retired, I made it a point to not have a schedule that overwhelmed me.
I like to surf the internet or lounge on the couch and read. I also play a lot of computer games and jigsaw puzzles. Being relaxed is important to me, as I believe it helps with my mental health. And as an introvert, I need a lot of alone time, and these are activities I enjoy.
There are times I wonder if I’m being too lazy. But then I remember that I define my early retirement. I shouldn’t feel pressured to have a certain productivity level.
Nurturing my Interests
Our trip to Spain inspired an interest in history. Before, I never read that many books about history, but I’m realizing that learning about a country’s history is an important part of my travel experience. Because of our ability to spend a long time traveling in each country (and because I’m retired), I can read more about each country when I visit and get a deeper understanding of it.
In my fifth year of retirement, I re-discovered a love for psychology. I majored in it in college and have always been interested in how a person’s mind works. This year I’ve read about hoarding, schizophrenia, and sociopathy, and hope to read much more.
Because of the pandemic, it’s also become abundantly clear that having a strong understanding of science is very important.
There is so much to learn that can enrich my understanding of the world, others, and myself. I try to stay open to new opportunities to improve, and I also reflect on experiences and try to glean lessons from them as well.
- Boundaries – We Dragons had to set some emotional boundaries this year. I was leaning on Dragon Guy too much to help me through my anxiety, and it was very draining on him. So I’m learning how to use other coping mechanisms to support myself through my anxiety. I always like to help others, but sometimes I cross boundaries if I’m not careful. I’m learning to just listen if people share their problems and only help or give feedback if there is a specific ask.
- Communication – Dragon Guy and I have been working very hard on our communication this year, and it has really helped us see the inner workings of ourselves and our marriage. Better communication has been vital since we are spending a lot more time together as early retirees. I’m also trying to introduce myself to strangers more (at the neighborhood pool or at volunteer events) and work on my social skills. I’m an introvert, and while I’m not shy, I do have a tendency to be a wallflower.
- Feedback – I used to be terrible about getting feedback, and I’m much better at receiving it now. Now, I’ve changed my mindset. If someone cares enough about me to give me feedback, then I’m grateful and I’ll listen, even if I don’t totally agree. I used to feel judged if I got feedback because I was such a perfectionist. I’d get angry or cry or be upset for days. But when things don’t go perfectly now, I see it as an opportunity to learn and I process feedback in a more positive manner.
- Processes and Patterns – This year we Dragons are focusing on the “process” of our marriage. We are trying to bring more awareness to our behavior and communication patterns and how they are working (or not working) for us. We try to understand why we act the way we do and how our actions impact each other; we discuss solutions and ideas that we can try to improve our interactions. This has been an important aspect of our relationship this year and has positively impacted our relationship.
- Perspectives – One of my students died this year from ALL. She was only 15. Her brother was her stem cell transplant donor. I taught both of them in elementary school, and their mom was the PTA president. My student passed her 100 days, which is a significant milestone for stem transplant patients. So I was incredibly shocked when she died. I followed her mother’s posts on FB, and she’d weathered many infections. So when she was readmitted to the hospital, I figured she’d weather that too. Her death was a sobering reminder that sometimes we aren’t given another chance and that people can die at any moment. My former colleague was rushed to the emergency room with blurred vision and face numbness. She’s since been diagnosed with brain cancer. My student and friend made me realize it’s always important to have things in perspective. Sometimes, I focus on trivial things, like how it’s too hot or how I didn’t get enough social media likes. Instead of focusing on what’s wrong, I need to focus more on my many good fortunes in life.
Moving forward, I want to take the lessons I learned this year and apply them to my life daily. I don’t want to just grow in my skill set and knowledge; I also want to grow emotionally and be resilient.
Other Fifth Year Memories
Every year is full of memories: good, bad, and everything in between. I don’t just focus on my “highlight reel” in my yearly recaps. It’s important for me to acknowledge all the major events in a year, to see the full scope of my experiences and how they’ve influenced me.
Beyond my “Projects of the Month,” here were some of the other memories of my year:
- Jigsaw puzzling – I work on one puzzle a month
- Getting involved with my local FB Buy Nothing Group
- Mentoring a first-generation college student who is hoping to become a teacher
- Tutoring MHP for her US Citizenship test/interview (She passed!)
- Helping neighbors with cat sitting, rides to the library, and packing and moving
- Decluttering for hoarders – I helped two different hoarders declutter over 3 sessions.
- Starting a new book club with a former colleague
- Enjoying a one-night trip to a nearby lake resort
- Hosting a CML webinar – only 1 person attended. Four other people meeting-bombed us, which was hilarious.
- Attending a few psychodrama workshops
- Road-tripping with my parents
- Interviewing for an in-person tutoring job, but deciding not to take it
- Pumpkinpalooza – getting 30 + free pumpkins from my FB Buy Nothing Group and cooking lots of pumpkin recipes
- Wanting to travel every month – I had a goal of traveling every month this year but realized that schedule was too intense for us. Plus our cats were very mad at us!
- Taking over our “retirement paychecks” – Dragon Guy usually handles all of our finances, but we’re wanting more of a balance, so this year I took over the responsibility of looking at our cash flow and transferring money for our bi-weekly “retirement paychecks.”
- Playing Wordle, Quordle, Duotingle, and other online computer games
- Writing part of a romance novel – Purple from A Purple Life helped me revise and edit. Gracias, Purple! Ultimately, it was rejected, but I had fun writing it!
- Volunteering for my friend’s food service business and for a food security non-profit
- Getting COVID and dealing with long COVID
- Beta reading – one friend’s research proposal and another friend’s tenure application
- Mourning the death of my student LG. She had ALL and went through a stem cell transplant with her brother as the donor. I taught her and her brother in elementary school. She was only 16. I can’t believe she’s gone.
- Considering ways to help a former colleague diagnosed with brain cancer
- Celebrating our “big” wedding anniversary
- Swimming – we added it this year to our weekly exercise routine
- Starting a book club with Dragon Guy to learn more about estate planning
Five years in early retirement feels like a tremendous milestone. I had some epic trips, but I also enjoy the relaxing everyday activities I do while I’m not traveling.
No matter what happens in a year, I’m always thankful that early retirement has given me the opportunity to live at a much slower pace. This means I can savor my life. All of it.
I’m looking forward to my sixth year of early retirement with hope and gratitude.