On February 4, 2019, I quit my job. February 19 was my last day at work, and February 20 was my first day of freedom. On this one year anniversary, I’d like to look back at what happened the year that I retired at 35.
I read another blogger’s early retirement post and he could quantify a great deal of accomplishments. And I guess I can rattle off things I’ve done, but that seems like running a different kind of rat race.
I kept busy on my time off. I’ve traveled a bit – to L.A., New York, San Francisco, Redmond, Capetown, Johannesburg (South Africa), Lisbon, Porto, and Sintra (Portugal). This is what I would say if people asked me what I had done with the year. Travel seems to be the only “real” accomplishment worth noting when you’re retired. And to be fair, South Africa was eye-opening, especially after listening to Born a Crime: Stories from a South African Childhood. But to me, the really interesting changes were when I was home.
What I’m focusing on in this post is not necessarily my choices during the year, but the repercussions. I often would made one choice that led to another choice and all those choices led to a different trajectory. It’s like when I started this blog, then I started Twitter to promote it, then I met friends, and two of those friends were the duo that started Chain of Wealth, who will figure significantly in some of these adventures. You just never know where things are going to take you. And the oddest part of any journey may be where you end up.
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Reading Turns to Action
I’ll start off as I always do – by being a big-honking nerd. I read over 100 books during my year off. What I love about books is that they’re optimistic and they motivate you to change – your mind, your life, your house, your relationships. Here are a few that changed my life in measurable ways:
==> After reading I’m Sorry I’m Late, I Didn’t Want to Come, I signed up for improv classes (I start in March – they were really popular!).
==> After reading The Divide: American Injustice in the Age of the Wealth Gap, I researched court monitoring and other ways to improve our legal system. I also started some legal pro bono work.
==> After reading Where to Begin: A Small Book About Your Power to Create Big Change in Our Crazy World and 101 Ways to Go Zero Waste, I researched ways to get more involved in bettering my community. I joined an environmentally conscious political group. I started composting.
==> After reading Alienated America: Why Some Places Thrive While Others Collapse, A Man Called Ove: A Novel, The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion and Them: Why We Hate Each Other–and How to Heal [it’s perhaps unsurprising that I read so many books about polarization when I live in DC], I had a lot more compassion for people with differing opinions. And I decided to get more involved in church. I’ve volunteered at the homeless ministry at my church for several years (prepping food on Thursday nights), but had never volunteered at the part that involved serving food, because it happened on Friday mornings. But when I volunteered on Fridays, I met a whole host of other volunteers, whom I bumped into recently at a coffee house (it’s a small world, DC). I also got to know my Thursday night volunteers better because I came more regularly. They’re all pretty incredible people, spending their crazy busy time volunteering.
==> After reading Quench: Beat Fatigue, Drop Weight, and Heal Your Body Through the New Science of Optimum Hydration and The Self-Care Solution: A Year of Becoming Happier, Healthier, and Fitter–One Month at a Time I started doing more stretching and drank more water. I also eat ground chia seeds for more optimum hydration.
==> After reading Turned On: Science, Sex and Robots (Bloomsbury Sigma), I started writing a short story about sex robots. =P To be continued!
==> After reading Overdressed: The Shockingly High Cost of Cheap Fashion and Making Space, Clutter Free: The Last Book on Decluttering You’ll Ever Need, I finally cleared out all the stuff I’ve been meaning to donate and have been very picky about buying anything new. I never had that much stuff – I live in a one-bedroom apartment after all – but I still cleared out hundreds of items from office supplies, unused gifts, unread books, expired and unloved personal care products, old towels, etc. My apartment is so much lighter now. And I have a lot less to clean.
From Hobby to Job
I’d tried rock climbing over 10 years ago, but was discouraged because the “friend” who had taken us, berated my siblings and myself for how terrible we were as beginners. But it had been on my mind after I moved close to a rock climbing gym a few years ago and a new friend had encouraged me to try again.
I actually joined the rock climbing gym in late January, a week before quitting. They were running a promotion waiving the initiation fee and I figured I would try it out for a month and see how it went. If I had stayed in my job, I likely would have quit. I didn’t have the time. Plus I find the rock climbing gym to be incredibly intimidating filled with big muscle-y men during the after-work hours. However, after I quit my job, I had so much free time during the day, which is when the gym is a ghost town. I was able to get familiar with the gym while it was empty and learned to love it.
==>I now have a part-time job at this gym.
==>I’m so much stronger.
==>I met a climbing partner, who invited me to join her in Redmond, Oregon. That was the impetus for my Redmond trip.
==>I started going to yoga regularly, which is offered for free at the gym. My hips are so much less tight.
The Best Dog in the World
A lot of my stories start with Katie from Chain of Wealth, who said she wanted a shoutout when I wrote this post. Katie, until recently, was my neighbor. (Sad face) So Katie encouraged me to foster a dog. [Katie forwarded me an application to foster a dog on a Thursday night. I applied on Friday and a volunteer was putting a dog in my car on Sunday morning. It wasn’t a long thought-out decision.] That’s a picture of my perfect dog, Cosmo, below. I didn’t adopt him (someone else snatched him up though), because I figured I wasn’t settled enough into my life to take on another life form. Still, having Cosmo triggered a bunch of changes.
==>Because of Cosmo, I needed to get a car in order to pick him up, return him, and take him to the vet (none of which were accessible by public transit). It turned out that my sister got a new car a few months earlier and my parents took her old car, which was just sitting around at their house. I had been quite happily car-free for three years. But having a car meant that I could rethink my whole routine. Suddenly I could visit my parents or siblings more often and on a whim or hang out with friends who lived farther away. I could have a longer distance relationship, like the one I’m currently in. Having a car has been a game-changer.
==>Having a car means I’ve had to ask for help a lot more. I have this nasty habit of locking myself out. For my apartment it’s not a big deal as I can access spare keys fairly easily, but one time I got locked out an hour from my parents’ home (they have the spare). Then the car died (my bf jumpstarted it). And a month after that it died again and my friend had to come rescue me. Basically, having a car reminds me that I have help if I need it (and I often do!).
==>Because of Cosmo, I always hit my step count, and it has encouraged me to get out more just to walk in fresh air. Also, Cosmo was a very friendly dog so I met a lot of people in my apartment building at the dog park or on walks. It’s been nice to realize how easy it can be to meet new friends.
==> Also because of Cosmo, I had some experience watching dogs and because I missed having a dog around, I started dogsitting on Rover. It’s not a ton of money (though I did earn $1400 in December), but it’s super fun. I would do it for free – in fact, I have done it for free when I fostered.
From Dare to Date
Katie wanted to show off her prowess with online dating. Katie is married but used my Bumble account to message some potential dates. Of course, when I started texting them, they’d all say “You used to be so fun to text. But now….” And well I met my current boyfriend on Bumble shortly afterward (Katie didn’t actually match with him but she got the ball rolling).
And y’know having a boyfriend is really nice because in the few months we’ve been dating he’s jumped my car, fixed my bike’s flat tire, salvaged a free shelf, installed a stereo system, and reorganized my living room furniture and book shelf. It’s basically like having an assistant. =D
Exercise Leads to Injury Leads to Recovery
I learned to swim.
My parents love to swim and my mother swims nearly every day in retirement. But my sister had trouble learning to swim as a child, so my parents decided not to even pay for lessons for their younger two children (my brother and me). Still, it’s something I’ve always wanted to learn.
I signed up for an Adult Beginner Learn to Swim class before. I thought it’d be easier to learn with a group of like-minded beginners, but was greatly intimidated because every single person in that class could already swim laps and one was actually training for a triathlon. (Jerks!) Still, I made great progress getting over my fear of water, but never learned to swim.
I scheduled private swim lessons at 4:30 on weekdays. And though I can’t do laps yet, I can swim at a middle school level (my instructor’s words).
Of course, with the rock climbing and the swimming, my shoulder was on overdrive. It wasn’t long before I busted it. It took months to get better. Who knew your left shoulder could be so important even when you’re right handed?
Afterwards, I’ve tried to do more to take care of my body. I started partner-assisted stretching, which helped ease a lot of pain that accumulated from sitting on my butt for so long. I’ve started using the Moodpath app, and I’ve noticed steadily that my mood has improved. My appetite has come back. It’s not good to get injured but it’s a helpful reminder that we need to take care of ourselves.
Couch Potato-ism Leads to Focus
Unfortunately, I’m a lifelong Knicks fan, so I gave up on watching basketball a long time ago. =P My alma mater is not known for being good at sports but they happened to be in the NCAA championship game last year on a Monday night. I had followed along on their wild ride to the championship – all the games were nailbiters and very exciting. It was wonderful connecting with old alumni while we cheered on our team and it was always a popular topic of conversation.
And I will never forget that while I was watching the championship game, I was actually watching the game. My mind wasn’t consumed with work. I wasn’t thinking about the future or the worries of the past day. I was all in on basketball.
It’s not hard to have a free hour, but when you’re so frenzied, it’s hard to have a free mind. I had actually gone to sensory deprivation tanks to dull my mind from the constant string of thoughts. After reading The Ruthless Elimination of Hurry: How to Stay Emotionally Healthy and Spiritually Alive in the Chaos of the Modern World, I’ve been working on keeping the Sabbath or, more secularly, to take a day off in the week. I know it sounds silly for someone who isn’t working to have a day off, but it’s actually very easy to be consumed by hurry.
When you’re not working, you get asked a lot what you’ve been up to. And that question provides its own sense of worry. Though I know people were just interested or watching out for me, I felt judged. Better make this year worth it! Better show that I’m being productive even though I’m not working. If anything, without a job, you’re hurriedly and worriedly trying to create a life where you’re not seen as a lazy loser. It’s easy to have your mind spinning without a job. In fact, your mind might spin more.
Lesson Learned: I Would Have Quit Differently
When I quit my job, I had intended on putting in two weeks’ notice but was convinced to stay for three weeks in order to help transition the team. My last day was the Tuesday after a 3-day weekend. I worked in the office every day that weekend. On my last day, I stayed til 6pm, working every minute to finish all my final assignments.
February 20 was my last day, and on February 21, I got texts and emails and a phone call, asking for advice and guidance. Nothing was requested of me that couldn’t have been resolved without me. It was just that my team was so used to turning to me for advice that they were abusing the fact that I gave them my personal phone number and email address.
If I were going to do it again, I would have told them I was leaving the office and immediately boarding a flight to a foreign destination without any cell service. That would have urged them to get their act together and realize that I was actually leaving. Or I could have just ignored the calls/emails/texts. Eventually I stopped responding, but only after I was asked to be on a half hour conference call a month after quitting…
Lesson Learned: You Have to Find a Tribe
I need a fair amount of alone time, but I don’t want to be alone all the time. Going to work provides a certain amount of socialization, and I knew I would miss that immediately. On my first day of freedom, I joined a meetup group for remote workers. I also have a friend who works part-time, and one who works a week on and a week off – I hang out with both regularly.
Also contributing to my social capital, I have a slew of old coworkers and friends with whom I can grab lunch. My brother started working remotely, my sister is a stay-at-home mom, and my parents are retired, so there was plenty of family in case I needed a pick-me-up. Then I traveled to visit some friends, some friends traveled to visit me, I threw a few parties to get people together, and some of my friends reached out to me when they had time off. Also, dog sitting or fostering requires you to get out of your house quite often. Without these discrete groups, I could have gone full-on hermit.
Lesson Learned: My Net Worth Increased
This wasn’t something I was expecting, and couldn’t have happened without a huge bull run in the stock market. But despite not reducing my spending, and not taking a full-time job, my net worth increased by 10% from when I left. Granted, my net worth would have increased even more if I had been working, but I don’t miss the money one bit. What good is the money if you don’t have the time to spend it?
I’m not trying to say that this will work out for the rest of my life. I’m not testing the FIRE hypothesis – just taking a year off. But it does give me hope that it’s possible to retire early.
Lesson Learned: There Are Other Options
Pretty soon after I quit my job, I interviewed at a few jobs similar to me paying even more than what I was making with very reasonable hours. I had figured that my next job would be a huge step down in pay, but now I realize that I don’t have to assume that.
Lesson Learned: I Don’t Know What My Identity Is Without My Job
I’m still a lawyer, because I’m still barred. And when people ask me what I do, I still refer to my old job. It’s a bit of a bummer to talk about my nonprofit job, because it’s very important work, but kind of a bummer. Also it’s just easier – when I talk about my old job, usually the conversation switches to another topic. I wasn’t exactly a lion tamer and most people would prefer to talk about drying paint than what I did for a living. This saved me from a lot of awkward conversations. But if I do something exciting with my next job, maybe I’ll just have to learn to talk about it.
Conclusion: What Happened when I Retired for a Year at 35
A lot of stuff happened, but what was more interesting to me was my mind. Even after retiring, I am terrified of wasting my time, or being seen as a waster of time. I guess I’m still trying to shed the type-A ness in me. Still, I’m fortunate to have this time to spend with friends and family, to be introspective and creative and adventurous, and I wouldn’t have traded it for
the world another year of working.
I’m now job-hunting and figuring out the next direction for my life. I feel ready to work again and I think it has a lot to do with taking the time to finally learn how to rest.