Every year, I task myself with something new. Something to learn, keep me sharp. I never know what it will be, as it is usually something random I hear on the news or through friends.
One year I got into coding, and another year I was into blogging. However, a couple years ago, I stumbled upon personal finance, and in particular the FIRE movement.
FIRE stands for Financial Independence Retire Early.
Retire early. Retire early. How cool would that be? Not only retire early, but live in Costa Rica? Where do I sign up?
And so it began. Spreadsheets, budgeting, side hustles, money hacks, I was all into it, and I couldn’t wait for the day it would become a reality. Everything was on track until stay at home orders were announced.
With my work (international travel) being paused for the foreseeable future, there was little to work on. While shocking, it gave me an opportunity to try out this “early retirement” to see what it would be like.
It gave me a more balanced perspective of what I would want retirement to be, and from that perspective, I realized I’ve been more or less FIRE’d since I moved to Costa Rica.
The first few weeks of the pandemic shutdown were great. My alarm clock was shut off, and my days started on my body’s schedule. I got caught up on things around the house, did some yard work and even ripped through a 1,000 piece puzzle.
I was getting plenty of exercise and spending all my time with my wife and dogs. I wasn’t even stressed about being at home every day. As long as I could walk my dogs and go to the grocery store as needed, I didn’t have a reason to be out, nor did I care to be out.
After that initial buzz, the new normal set in. Things that had been so cool no longer stirred me.
There’s only so much Netflix to watch, push-ups to do and grass to cut. Not leaving the house led to more time on social media, which I think leads one to have a poorer, more decisive outlook on the world, pandemic or not. That’s a story for another day, but I started having feelings of hopelessness, frustration and, most of all, a lack of personal and professional direction.
One morning, I came in to wake up my wife at almost 8:30 a.m., assuming she had overslept. She was not happy being woken. I was perplexed. I couldn’t understand why she would want to sleep later.
It was then I remembered volunteering on the Caribbean coast my first time in Costa Rica at a really remote turtle nesting beach.
During that time, I would take a boat up a canal to get there and have my food rationed as food deliveries were only made twice a week. I got to know some of the locals, and it surprised me that they would sleep till 10 a.m. despite sunrise at 5:30 a.m. and much cooler temperatures.
I asked them why they didn’t get up earlier, and they said that if they did then the day would be a lot longer. They were so remote and so bored, sleeping was their hobby!
Oh man, that’s the trajectory I felt I might be on. A couple more weeks and I might be sleeping my life away.
Less active, more sleep, lower brain activity, more procrastinating… that doesn’t sound like the retirement commercials they sell you on, and it would seem to shorten one’s life expectancy. I worried if this would be the outcome of an early retirement.
Recently, I got back into teaching English online, which is what I did when I first arrived to Costa Rica. It has provided structure to my day and a financial incentive.
There are still moments, though, where I think I should be more productive than having all my activity solely through Zoom.
Thankfully, I was prepared for the pandemic, and now this feels like a full blown simulation of what my retirement might be like, other than the community social interactions, volunteering and religious gatherings I’d be having.
When that day arrives, there will be adjustments. I don’t think I will go for a hard stop, but rather a slower wind down to balance free and purpose driven time.
I still have my youth and my urge to be active and productive, and you won’t see me competitive sleeping anytime soon. Well, at least not until they rig up the contraptions from “Inception.”