What do you do when you don’t have to do anything?

From Reddit’s FIRE forum comes this question:1

I was very fortunate and FIREd early, before 30 years old. It seems so ridiculous, but I’m in a rut. I don’t want to sit in front of a screen all day until I die. I don’t want to travel. I pick up hobbies but feel no interest in them. Instruments, pottery, puzzles, sports (golfing, shooting, tennis), going to local plays and restaurants. Nothing is sticking or consistent.

I feel insane, immature, and ungrateful. There’s little motivation to do anything if there’s nothing to work towards. Those of you with a lot of time on your hands, what do you fill your day with? What do you look forward to?

I replied:

This kind of question hits me hard because I’ve been FIREd for going on 15 years and the issue has caused me a lot of personal struggle, including feelings of restlessness and guilt and self-reproach. The philosophy I’ve come to might be half-baked and it might not fully apply to your situation, but it works for me and I hope something in it might work for you too.

You sound bored. But what you’re going through is completely OK and in fact is a necessary component of the painful self-examination that’s required to become a “better person.”

Sad but true: it’s the norm in our culture to define ourselves by our professions, meaning that when you kill your career you’re also killing a big chunk of your ego. But the ego doesn’t enjoy being killed, which causes the relief you imagined you’d feel upon retiring to be short-lived and soon replaced by existential angst. “I used to be an accountant…who the hell am I NOW?” So you cast about looking for an externality around which you can crystallize a new identity (insert a shit-ton of Buddhist cautions to the contrary here.)

When you say:

>nothing is sticking or consistent.

Why does something have to stick or be consistent? Without knowing you better, it sounds to me like you have a passion for learning rather than a passion for one particular field/discipline/etc. The phrase “a mile wide and an inch deep” is usually meant to be insulting, but fuck that…to my mind it’s the equivalent of being well-educated and/or well-rounded. You don’t have to have a PhD in everything, or even one thing at all.

Took me a long time to realize this.

I have a brother who found his passion in his mid-teens–a popular adventure sport in which he became a professional athlete. He now makes his living as a photographer in the industry surrounding it. He’s not famous famous, but he’s very well-known in his field and there’s a decent chance you might’ve seen his work. He’s won international prizes and he’s gotten an Emmy nomination.

I always envied him for his single-minded purpose, and felt guilty and beat myself up because I couldn’t find it in me to make that kind of commitment to one and only one…what, endeavor? Nothing seemed to draw me in like that. Made me feel like a failure. I’m a naturally curious person and enjoy investigating things that interest me and learning about them up to the limits of my interest–which may be a matter of days or months or years–and then moving on to a new subject. I lack “sticktuitiveness,” which I was culturally conditioned to perceive as a character flaw.

Then it finally hit me that loving to learn and gratifying one’s curiosity can, in fact, be a passion. And as soon as I realized that, my envy of my brother’s dedication to a single pursuit simply vanished.

Sounds weird, but I’ve gotten very good at being curious. Like: a little over a year ago I discovered Brazilian jujitsu. BJJ’s my thing right now, but when I was in grad school back in the day I was a disc jockey at a couple of different radio stations, and for the last couple of weeks I’ve been seriously considering going back to school part-time for a communications degree so I can get back into broadcasting. The field has changed a lot and I’d like to reconnect with it.

But whereas I once would’ve beaten myself up for failing to fully commit to BJJ, I’m now very much looking forward to being back on a college campus. No restlessness or guilt or self-reproach whatsoever. It was an easy mindshift, and I feel a lot better about myself these days as a result.

I hope you will too. Good luck.

Edit: you don’t play PUBG on Xbox by any chance, do you? If so, hit me up. Always looking for new people to squad up with.


  1. Edited for space.

Author: ER Dude

Sick of your job? After a thirteen-year career, Early Retirement Dude fled corporate America for good. You can do it too! Visit http://EarlyRetirementDude.com or email EarlyRetirementDude@gmail.com.

One thought

  1. Thanks for the insight, I am still looking forward to exiting the rat race and have some of this “Have nothing to do” that you are talking about.

    I have been called “jack of all trades master of none” I like to think of that as a compliment, I think it is better to be well rounded and adaptable.

    With YouTube and the Internet it is so easy to research and gain knowledge that being able to learn and apply that knowledge practically is a more useful skill. Of course I don’t think I will be preforming open heart surgery or building a molten salt reactor anytime soon although they did look interesting watching how it was done.

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