Coming to terms with an alternative lifestyle

Even after I had decided that not working at a job was an option for me, it took months to transition to my alternative lifestyle. The hardest part of this was the mental shift required. I’ve had to deal with all sorts of issues and insecurities that came up. I wasn’t expecting to encounter these during what is normally considered to be an agreeable life transition. Many ‘retirees’ (early or otherwise) face the same issues, and many of them never deal with them effectively.

Why do people with lots of money continue to work, often very hard? I suspect that some of them are doing it for the best reason (that they love their work), but many (perhaps most) are doing so for less authentic reasons (e.g. fear or jealousy). I’ve faced visceral issues such as, “Will I go hungry in my old age?” and “Who will look after me when I’m old?” and more esoteric ones such as, “What if I fall behind my friends?”, “What will people think of me?”, and “Is how I spend my time worthy?”

Although each of these took (or is taking) some time to address, we decided to proceed despite our uneasiness. Live boldly! Some of these are issues of risk that can be quantified and assessed. It is possible to evaluate them objectively. The others are insecurities that can be tackled.

Worrying was the fact that one’s 40’s and 50’s are typically one’s most important earning years, when people pay off their mortgage and make serious headway towards their retirement savings. Each additional year worked usually has the concurrent financial benefits of increasing retirement assets or benefits, while lowering the remaining years of cost and life by one. Although financially advantageous, it’s the last item that can be problematic. Life is short enough already. Additionally, both retirement income and expenses are variable. Rates of return, taxation, reliability of pensions, health and other factors all contribute to the uncertainty.

Offsetting the ample incentives to work longer are the facts that life expectancy and quality of life are uncertain. My parents both worked long and hard to subsequently enjoy short and health-challenged retirements, having giving most of their precious time to their employers and leaving the bulk of their largest assets, their pension plans, unexploited. Even if one lives to the statistical average for their demographic (the best guess for most people), research shows that spending drops considerably as people age, even when controlling for health.  People can only spend so much money as they get older. Having more than this may be unnecessary and you can’t take it with you. So, working longer doesn’t add much value after a certain critical threshold has been reached.

In the end, all the financial issues come down to the question of “how much is enough”. Most financial planning books begin with an assumption about one’s income requirements in retirement, when this is by no means given. Retirees are less likely to have the sedate lifestyle once touted by society. They are more apt to travel and enjoy the fruits of life. Given this, deciding how much is enough can be, or should be, a much more considered process.

As for my issues of insecurity (e.g. image, jealously), these can be addressed also. It does not matter what the opinions of others are as long as what I know that what I am doing is right, and then I am impervious to criticism. I will run my own race and what other people think of me is none of my business. Taking these principles to heart however, takes both time and practice. Ultimately, like everything, how I live my life is a choice. I will try to live the lifestyle that is optimal for me, regardless of societal conventions. This means coming to terms with my own issues and insecurities, and not focusing on the perceptions of others.

Are you living an ‘alternative lifestyle’? If so, how are you dealing with the issues and insecurities that you face?

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2 Responses to Coming to terms with an alternative lifestyle

  1. Annette says:

    Your comment “This means coming to terms with my own issues and insecurities, and not focusing on the perceptions of others.” is a very wise decision. We cannot control the opinions of others (nor should we) but we can choose to live our lives the way we desire. If we are not hurting others while we live our lives then who should sit in judgment?

    I am not living an “alternative lifestyle” but am fascinated by others that do and can share what they have learned with others.

  2. […] my thoughts.  I have definitely written about some topics that I was trying to process (e.g. Coming to terms with an alternative lifestyle, My Struggle with Stuff, Dachau, No Good Deed Goes Unpunished, Parting is Such Sweet Sorrow), or […]

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