When I was 7 my Gran taught me how to knit. I still remember the wool she used. It was bright red. Gran’s hands moved effortlessly as she showed me what to do, while mine wrestled incompetently with the wool and the needles. We were in the dining nook, she was to the left of me, while Mum was in the kitchen, where she could keep an eye on what was going on without being in the way.
My brother and sister weren’t interested in learning, but for some reason it stuck with me and I’ve been knitting ever since.
Years later, long after Gran died, Mum and I were talking about her, and Mum said something that I’ve never forgotten.
“Mum said to me, when I left work to have you, that I needed to learn a skill,” she said. “Something that I could point to at the end of the day and say, ‘That’s how I spent some time today’. Something that will LAST. When you’re a young Mum at home with kids, so much of your time is spent on work that will need to be done again tomorrow, and the next day, and the next. It’s disheartening. You need something you can hold in your hand and know that it’s not going to go away any time soon. You need something for YOU.”
Gran’s ‘tangible thing’ was knitting. Mum’s was sewing. Many’s the time I’d hear her swearing at the sewing machine when I was a kid. She made our clothes, but she also made aprons and other things for sale. She sewed the curtains for our family room and dabbled with embroidery as well.
These women from the past were motivated in part by frugality – back then it was cheaper to handmade clothes, not like today! – but they were also satisfying that innate human urge to create.
Maybe this is why so many people in the FIRE movement are drawn to blogging? Many jobs are essentially the same as being at home with children. Every day the kids need feeding. You can’t cook the perfect meal and say, “Nailed it! I never have to do this again! Behold my perfect meal!”
Or you vacuum and dust the lounge room and it looks terrific. “Hooray! I never have to clean this room again!” said no-one ever. It always has to be done again.
It’s the same with our jobs. We pitch the perfect proposal/write the most wonderful report/teach an amazing lesson and we feel great… but it all has to be done again tomorrow. And the next day. And the next day. There are few jobs, particularly in office environments, where the work you do today is still around years from now.
No wonder people get burned out.
So much of the advice about retiring early revolves around the money, but there’s also that recurring advice of “You already know what you’re retiring FROM. Work out what you’re retiring TO.”
I don’t think it’s a coincidence that many early retirees find that they’re drawn to work that they do with their hands. Creativity is deep within the human psyche and making something appear that would never have been there without you is deeply satisfying. Once people free up the hours each day that were once spent commuting and working, it’s not surprising that many are drawn to scratching that creative itch that was left neglected for so long.
So here’s the crazy idea – what if you built in some time before you leave work to develop these skills you’re drawn to?
Surely it’s got to make the time we spend between finding out about FIRE and finally being able to pull the pin on the job a little more pleasant. Learning how to work with your hands, or practising a skill like songwriting or sketching doesn’t have a time limit on it. It won’t matter if you take a year of weekend/after work time to master a basic skill, or 2 years or 10. Who cares? You’re doing it for YOU. There’s no ‘Skillz Boss’ looking over your shoulder.
I’m guessing most people would already know what they’d spend creative time doing, but some people may not. Sometimes it takes thinking outside the box a little.
For example – what if you really love cooking? Each meal or dessert you make gets eaten and enjoyed, but you might feel there’s nothing tangible left for YOU. What about putting a book of ‘Family Favourite’ recipes together? Or maybe a collection of ‘Incredible Dessert’ recipes or ‘Excellent M
What if you enjoy playing an instrument, but you have zero interest in songwriting? I live with musicians and I know for a fact that it’s never been easier to record yourself and create a video or (if you want to delight your Mum) make a CD of you playing your favourite songs. You don’t have to write your own songs to be able to create beautiful music that makes people feel good.
Me? Obviously, I have my blogs, but I also knit small, deliciously soft cowls and hats for people, made from skeins of Peruvian alpaca wool hand-dyed by virgins in large kettles over open fires. (If you believe the advertising.) I have a queen-sized quilt on the go for Tom27. The squares are 2.5 inches each, so he’ll probably be known as Tom58 by the time he gets it. I write the (very) occasional poem. I garden.
It’s too easy to get lost in spreadsheets and projections with
hideous Maths and numerals when we’re racing towards FI/RE. Every one of us needs to nurture that little creative spark within us, so that when we reach FIRE and we can choose to spend our time in whichever ways we want – we actually have a few clear desires to follow.
No one wants to be that
Let’s find out what we enjoy and get going on actually enjoying it. Could be fun…