Replacing work benefits

In the lead up to your decision to stop work, it’s natural to spend a lot of thought on money – how you will replace that monthly income, and will it be sufficient to sustain your preferred lifestyle.

This is indeed important, and a lot of posts in this blog are about that topic. However, there are many other hidden benefits that being in work has that also need replacing:

  • Structure
  • Purpose
  • Identity

Because they are hidden, they are easy to overlook when planning the transition away from work. But, even if you have a solid financial plan, your post work life will quickly become miserable without these three things.

You don’t necessarily have to know in advance what is going to give you these things. The first six months after stopping work are just going to be a decompress anyway. As you progress further though, and work memory is receding in the rear view mirror, you’ll start to pay more attention to them.

I’ll give a bit more detail below on how I tackle these things. At the time of writing, I stopped five years ago, and it took a number of years to figure them out. They are not independent – any two of them feed the third, so consciously working on all three together is the best approach.

Structure

Most people who work have a daily, weekly or monthly routine that is determined by the nature of the job. You know where you will be, when you need to be there, and what you will be doing.

You don’t have a lot of control over this – the structure is determined by others – your boss, colleagues and customers. Although, at times, you may resent the relentlessness of it all, it turns out to be a huge, huge benefit to have this time framework mapped out for you, and all you need to do is turn up.

Once you stop work, this structure collapses completely and immediately. It’s very disconcerting to not have any idea where you’ll be, or what you will be doing tomorrow, next week, next month.

The upside though, is that you can allocate time exactly how you choose. This also includes time to do absolutely nothing (an important part of well being).

After a lifetime of work, you may not have had much experience of allocating your own time. Evenings, weekends and holidays are about the extent. So you package neat activities that fit into those available time slots – doing chores, visiting family, watching sport, socialising and so on.

But that doesn’t really prepare you for the vast wall of time that you now have in front of you. You can create some structure with tasks – walk the dog, meet friends, do the garden etc. But this doesn’t naturally lead to identity and purpose.

The search for structure is what ultimately led to my identity and purpose, but in the beginning, I was simply looking for something to do. A couple of months after stopping work, I knew that I needed to find something outdoors to do, otherwise I’d spend the rest of my life in front of my computer.

So, completely randomly, I chanced upon the glorious grasslands project whose purpose is to create 50ha of new wildflower meadow in the Cotswold every year. And they were looking for volunteers. I didn’t have any interest, or knowledge of conservation at that time, but I thought it looked interesting and gave it a go.

As it happens, it was the start of many related projects that I do now. But it could have easily been something else. The point is to use your freedom to allocate your own time and experiment with lots of different options until you find a passion that works for you.

Fast forward to today, and my calendar is filled quite a few months in advance. Some projects have email lists where they inform the dates of upcoming activities. Others have set days and times when they occur.

But I also have stretches of two or three days with nothing scheduled (like today, for example). I cherish these strips of completely free time. I catch up on admin, work on computer projects, walk in the surrounding hills or just read on the sofa.

Purpose

Whether you like it or not, work also gives you a purpose. You are broadly committed to having a particular impact on the world through the activities you are tasked with.

Unlike structure, which you notice straight away when it is removed, a lack of purpose may not immediately manifest itself. In fact, you may quite enjoy the aimless freedom suddenly bestowed on you.

But after a while, you may find it increasingly difficult to motivate yourself to do even basic tasks, putting them off for no reason. You may also start to question why you need to do anything at all.

Finding a purpose is a way to justify to yourself why you do what you do, and encourages you to seek new things. Someone asked me recently to sum up my purpose in one line.

He was in work, and that is a very “worky” question to ask. I hadn’t ever articulated it before, although I was sure what it was. So it was a useful exercise to lay out.

After thinking for about 30 seconds, I said that my purpose was to help improve the environment and community around me. That pretty much covers all the activities I do.

Identity

Identity is a sense of belonging. Most social situations with new people involve some variant of the question “what do you do?”. Of course, work provides that ready made identity for you to trot out (enthusiastically or not).

Your identity may differ between different relationship networks (friends, work colleagues, customers). Work related networks disappear quite quickly after you stop. You may try and hold on to them for a while, and you may even be politely tolerated in that. But after a while, you realise that you do not belong to those networks any more. You may suffer a lack of identity as a result.

However, if you have structure and purpose, you quickly cultivate new networks, and your identity becomes cemented into those relationships. Your structure and purpose generates a new sense of belonging.

Read more on this topic . . .