When a whole year slips by…..

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This photo does not do justice to the amazing sunsets from our front deck

Hi everyone!  I’m back.  Almost one year later. This time last year, I thought everything was going well.  We were well onto the path to financial independence, I was working part time.  The garden was looking great.

I was about to take a delegation of businesses overseas for work in late September, and I woke up one Saturday morning to go to the gym.  I also bought about $100 worth of groceries and felt tired.  Then I picked up the paper – a usual Saturday ritual with a cup of coffee made by my husband – and found I couldn’t read.  Bam.  Just like that. Burnout.

Of course, looking back – it was really a “bam” kind of moment.  I had noticed that I was having trouble reading work emails – just skimming for the critical points.  I was finding it harder and harder to remember the names of my staff, and the names of things – like chorizo.  I was looking at chorizo, chopping it up and putting it in that night’s dinner, but for the life of me I couldn’t remember the name of it!

So I advised my boss, took some leave and went to my doctor.  I wanted an MRI pronto, to find out immediately what was going on with my brain.  A tumour? Early onset dementia? My doctor calmly and quietly said that I would not be getting an MRI. She also looks after two of my daughters who have quite serious mental health issues, and she told me I’d experienced burnout.  Years of a stressful home life, combined with a stressful work life meant that I’d been living on cortisol and adrenalin and my brain had reduced in size over time.  What? Brain shrinkage? But, she assured me, it would grow back over time.

And she was right.  I lost about 65% of my cognitive ability. And within the space of a year, it’s mostly returned. I need to watch my fatigue levels, but I’m doing ok and getting back into projects.

Thank goodness for income protection insurance – apart from a couple of weeks, I was fully covered between leave, my employer and the income protection insurance agency. They also hooked me up with a great rehabilitation provider, and exercise physiologist and some cognitive brain training.

Financially, because of the income protection insurance we have remained on track. So I look forward to sharing with you the remainder of the year and next year as we count down to early retirement at the end of 2020.

I hope you are all going well on your paths to simplicity and financial freedom.  I’d love to hear how you are going.

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How will you answer “What do you do?” in your post-FIRE life?

I have a tonne of things lined up for our post retirement lifestyle. I started two Google Keep lists months ago on my phone to jot down ideas when I am out and about – all to avoid the fear of being bored in our retirement.

 

I’ve been thinking about this a bit lately, as we get closer to our FIRE date of December 2020. Some of the FIRE folk can get very focused on the goal of FIRE and forget about the living between now and FIRE; as well as the living after FIRE.

I’ve noticed it in myself. When people ask me “what do you do?” I respond with my current job and it gives me a certain level of pride. I work in the public service. I work in the PM’s department, no less. I also noticed this tendency to define myself by my job when I was a lawyer. It came with a certain amount of unspoken kudos. In a way, I didn’t have to prove my intellect – my job title did it for me. To date, my role in the workplace has been doing some pretty heavy lifting, in terms of describing who I am. I’ve let my job title describe me for years.

Even in the two years leading up to our FIRE date, I am going to have to start redefining who I am, as I move to lower levels of responsibility in our transition out of the workforce phase. I won’t be leading a body of work – I will contributing to a body of work, of which someone else is leading. This will be a struggle for me – I’m an out-in-front-energising-the-people kind of a person.

Don’t get me wrong – the work stress combined with raising teenagers has been a bit of an overload, and I will be looking forward to less responsibility in the work place. But it leaves me struggling for words when people in future ask me “what do you do?”

Are we retirees? Feels like it will age us before our time. I will be 48 when we hit our FIRE date. Retirement in Australia is usually 65. When I have used this term lately people say I am too young to retire. Retirement conjures up images of endless afternoon teas, afternoon naps on the couch and the golf course lifestyle of the 65 and over. Are we travellers? We will only travel for a month or two in winter each year because my husband likes the routine of home. Vegetable growers? I guess but we will grow mainly in spring and summer. I guess I could resort to this shopping list style of describing what we do.

I could say I am financially independent – but I don’t think it provides enough detail about what being financially independent means. It could mean I am filthy rich or living on social welfare…

In some ways I would like to be a little bit provocative and challenge the status quo. When people ask me “what do you do?” I could say “well…… I don’t work”. But in a way I don’t want to leave the questioner feeling uncomfortable or inadequate. That kind of statement could shut down any conversation. Equally, it could open up a number of questions about why I don’t work. But as a community, even though FIRE awareness is growing, I think it’s still early days for the individuals and families to think about a post-work life, or even a life that doesn’t focus on getting up and working every day. People who know me know the plan; but for those that don’t, I imagine shutting down the “what do you do?” conversation will find people stumped for a follow up question.

I’m having a hard time settling on what the answer will look like. For now, I think I will say I am pursuing a number of projects like sustainability, travel and veggie gardening; as well as spending quality time with my family.

I think this will be a work in progress. How will you answer this question in your post FIRE life?