Post of the Day
February 16, 2000

Board Name:
Retire Early Home Page

Posts selected for this feature rarely stand alone. They are usually a part of an ongoing thread, and are out of context when presented here. The material should be read in that light.

Subject:  Re: Must There be a "Purpose" after ER
Author:  hocus

If I have heard it once, I have heard it a thousand times that I must have some "purpose" for my ER. Today, I was informed that I need to wake up and have a "purpose" outlined for the day ahead. If I don't I might die young.

In "The Tightwad Gazette," Amy Dacyzen (spelling?) recounts the story of a vacation she took to a beach town. About 3 days into the week, she was so bored sitting in the sun that she returned home and went to work painting the barn. At the end of the day painting, she was happier than she had been on "vacation." I like beaches, so I don't take the moral of the story to be that one should avoid beach vacations. But I do agree with the thrust of the point she was making.

In my experience, engaging in hedonistic activities has a place. But the enjoyment of such activities is not always the same. If I have just finished work on some important project, I usually enjoy the beach (or in your case, golf) a great deal. It's a change of scenery and a de-stressor. It allows one to exercise muscles that haven't been exercised for some time. For example, I might lie on the beach and think about future plans. Or I might go for long runs after having being stuck at a desk for weeks. This is what it means to recreate, in my view--to "re-create" one's normal view of the world by balancing one set of activities (work to accomplish something) with a set of counter activities (pure rest, or sport, or goofing off).

"But it just doesn't follow to say that because someone will pay you a lot of money to do something, that the something is an activity of value to the world."

On occasion, though, I have been frustrated by trying to re-experience an enjoyable hedonistic experience and finding it to fall flat. One can't force fun. If you try too hard to enjoy yourself, you end up miserable. Amy Dacyzen is right that sometimes the most fun thing one can do is exert oneself, even in an activity that on the surface does not seem to promise much enjoyment. I can remember feeling very good after completing an exam that required weeks of non-fun preparation.

So my answer to your question, "Must There Be a Purpose After Early Retirement?," is "Yes." That said, I think you are too quick to accept the premise of your accusor's attack. It's not clear to me that you lack a purpose. Nor is it clear that your accusor has one.

Many who work at corporate or government jobs are accomplishing nothing of value with their lives. I'm not criticizing them; they have to pay the bills, and they are not hurting anyone. But it just doesn't follow to say that because someone will pay you a lot of money to do something, that the something is an activity of value to the world. Sometimes it is, sometimes it isn't.

If your accusor also questions all those with corporate and government jobs as to their purpose, then he is at least consistent (and probably not the most popular banana in the bunch!). I doubt that this is the case. So the real question on the table here is this--why is he picking on you?

My guess is that he is defensive about the purposes to which he is devoting his own life energy. You might like to think that your decision to not work in a corporate job is your decision alone, and none of his business. But we live in communities, and what you have done makes a statement to that community. The statement is bold: Hey, people, maybe you don't need to be engaged in the tiresome and pointless tasks that are consuming most of your time. There's another route to be considered.

Some people will respond to that statement with curiosity. "What do you mean there is another route? Tell me about it; tell me all the details, and fast." Others, though, for a variety of reasons, are able to calculate in their heads that this alternative route is not open in their own particular case. Perhaps they have not saved enough. Or they are too attached to the status of their corporate lives. Or their families or friends would disapprove of the idea of financial independence. Perhaps they are more trapped than you ever were, having grown so accustomed to the routine practiced for decades that they can't imagine what they would do with their time if not for a boss telling them.

"Your accusor is likely voicing pain as much as he is voicing criticism."

So I would try not to take it personal. Your accusor is likely voicing pain as much as he is voicing criticism. That said, there may be cases where criticism of the type you describe may carry some truth with it, and it would be a shame to waste the opportunity to hear it when that is so. After all, for some of us, hearing the message of the possibility of early financial independence was a stroke of luck; that should teach us to keep our ears open to unexpected messages, even when they come in packages not so appealing.

So in what respect could your accusor be saying something true? If he is putting a finger on something that already bothers you about yourself. Do you ever worry about needing more of a purpose in your life? If yes, take advantage of his complaint to do something about it. If not, don't let his message ruin your golf game.

Each of us has to decide for himself or herself how much "work" must be incorporated into the day to give a life purpose. I think that there must be some exertion of effort (some aspect of one's life that is not hedonistic) for one to achieve a sense of real well-being.

A lot of thought is required, though, before one classifies an activity as purpose-directed or not. Golfing on Maui may be a great purpose for you at the time being. It may help you recover from some non-golf days in your past. And it may over time lead you to new purposes from new friends you make golfing or from ideas that occur to you while golfing that never would have crossed your mind when you were chained to a desk.

My advice is to regularly mull over in your mind the issue of how much purpose you need in your life, just as you mulled over the possibility of early retirement for some time before taking the plunge. To the extent that you become more confident that golf is the right purpose, perhaps the accusations (which won't go away so long as you continue to think for yourself) will become less irritating. To the extent you direct a bit of your energies into new directions, you will have your accusor to thank for the change, even if his intent was more to protect his own mind from troubling questions than to stimulate enriching questions in your own.

Go To This Post |  This Board |  Post a Reply

Liked this post?
Read more posts by this author.

More Recommended Posts Get past Posts of the Day in the Archives