Burning Desire For FIRE

Financial-Independence-Retire-Early(er) in Australia from the female perspective.

The scary sound of silence.

It’s been over a week since my last post. If there’s a gap like this, it can only mean one of three things:

  • I’m dead.
  • I’m travelling in a place with no internet, like I was last year in North Korea.
  • I’m mulling over something.

It’s number 3. I’m mentally chewing over something and it’s either totally irrational or it’s a definite thing to be wary of. Turns out, this whole getting ready for retirement thing is a bit of a struggle in some unexpected ways. Who knew?

Ironic really, because in financial terms it seems that I’m pretty much here. I could crack the sads at something, walk out the door and the likelihood is that I wouldn’t end up eating cat food in an indigent old age. I should be singing my way into work every day, laughing like a loon with the kids and smiling my way through all the meetings.

Instead…

well, I have to say that going into work each day is a real struggle. Of course, it doesn’t help that it’s winter. This morning Melbourne is being buffeted by 130km/hr winds straight off Antarctica. When I woke up at 5:30 and went out to sit on the couch with my dogs and my coffee, I could hear the wind and rain. I wanted nothing more than to turn on the central heating and have a pyjama day.

Ok, so it’s understandable that I’d want to stay home on a day like this, when we’re all walking around wearing puffer jackets to class. But this reluctance to turn up to work is happening nearly every day. On Sundays, I’m experiencing a feeling of dread when I think about Monday. I’ve heard about it happening with other people, but I’ve never felt like this before and I don’t like it.

When I actually turn up to work I’m pretty happy to be here. The kids are still funny and engaging and I love the people in my staff room. I like my job and I’m good at it. I like the fact that after every period, I can think “that’s $50 in my wallet.” (Or thereabouts – you know how bad my Maths Skillz are.)

But there’s a change. I’m starting to get resentful about the number of meetings we have. Ok, some of them are necessary but it’s surprising how many aren’t. At this time of the year, being the middle of winter, I get back just as dusk is falling. When you leave home in the dark and get home in the dark, it really brings home to you that a HUGE chunk of your day has been spent totally out of your control. The timetabler has dictated to me how busy my day has been, not me.

So far, anyone reading this would be thinking, “So why not quit?” Or, if they’ve been reading the blog for a little while, they’d think, “But you’re going part-time next year. What’s the big deal? Suck it up, Princess.” And they’d be right.

However, there’s something that’s been gnawing away in my mind at the thought of totally retiring; something that sounds perfectly wonderful but might just come to bite me as time goes on.

How will I cope with the silence?

I’m an extroverted introvert. This means that I can love being the centre of attention and I soak it up. I teach Theatre, for goodness sakes, as well as English. This means that every 48 minutes I have a new “audience” to perform to. It’s great. The extrovert part of me is very well-nourished by my work.

I teach at a school with 2,300 kids and over 200 teachers. There’s noise around me constantly. There are people around me constantly. Even in my free periods when I’m working at my desk, there’s always the hum of voices and activity nearby. When I walk from class to class there’s a stream of kids along the way who greet me as we walk past each other – the constant interaction is everywhere.

When I come home my inner introvert is tired. She needs to replenish. I revel in the quiet. I don’t switch music on. I walk around the place, talking to the dogs and just doing my thing. I live with adult sons who are also introverts, so when we all get home we’re happy to have a quick debrief before we retreat to our own little pools of quiet to regroup after our days. If I have school holidays coming up and I see there’s little or nothing scheduled – I LOVE IT! Fist-pump in the air when that happens.

So silence is good, right? The answer to this is an emphatic YES. Yes, it is.

But what I’m scared about is what happens when the silence becomes all day every day. When does a good thing become too much of a good thing?

I’m absolutely positive that the first year or two of retirement will be fine. I love my own company – after all, I’m absolutely delightful – and I know I’ll be able to fill in my days easily. The boys will still be here and so I’ll have conversation and company. But what happens after some time has passed and the boys move away? I’ll still have the dogs, but their vocabulary isn’t quite as large as my sons’ ones are.

My situation is a little different from most people who write in the Personal Finance niche, in that I’m single. And when I say ‘single’, I mean LONG TERM. I haven’t lived with another adult (apart from my kids) for 22 years. Most people who are joyfully heading off into retirement have a partner to share their days with. Someone to make idle chit-chat with and build a routine together. Me? I already talk to myself a bit when I’m alone because, let’s face it, I’m such good company. I definitely talk to the dogs. I’m just a bit worried that, after a while, the silence around us might make me think that the dogs are starting to reply…

(That last paragraph definitely doesn’t mean that I want to have a partner. Frankly, after 22 years of having everything in the house my own way, I can’t see what I’d do with someone being around all the time, cluttering up the place. I like the independence I have in my life and I treasure it deeply. So I won’t be ‘swiping right’ any time soon.)

It also occurred to me that it’s one thing to enjoy the silence at home when it’s school holidays. Even in the summer holidays, with around 5 weeks off, you know that there’s a definite end to the glorious quiet, and you’ll soon be knee-deep in noise again. But what happens when the glorious quiet stretches on for years?

Me in retirement – like this dog on the beach.

I have an aunt who was widowed when she was quite young. Her son lived with her for about 10 years before he left to get married. She kept his dog with her after he moved, but after he died she never replaced him. (The dog died, I mean. Not the son!) She’s been living in a house on her own for well over 30 years.

(As a side note: I can’t understand how people could bear to live on their own for decades without having a pet or three. I’m scared of the silence, but without the dogs, even with their limited vocabulary, the silence would be crushing.)

Maybe I should go over and ask my aunt how she managed it? I know she has grandchildren and great-grandchildren that she used to look after, but I don’t like the thought of relying on my boys to reproduce just so I can have a little colour and movement in my life when I’m old. (Besides, have you SEEN my boys? They’ll be lucky if anyone wants to pass those genes on to the next generation…)

It’s a weird situation to be in – torn between not wanting my days to be filled with the time-tabler’s directions, but at the same time being slightly nervous about what will be waiting for me when I decide to jump ship and leave.

I’m hoping that next year when I drop back to only working 3 days a week instead of five, I’ll find the perfect balance. If dropping my time fraction works and I can ease my way into the silence instead of plunging headlong into it, then maybe I’ll be able to get used to it. I won’t be filled with resentment at the thought that all of my time is being taken because I’ll have two extra days a week to do whatever I feel like doing. Going to work would become a welcome thing again, instead of a stressor.

I don’t know – am I way overthinking this? Is this something that warrants feeling leery about or am I worrying about something that simply comes with the territory of retiring? This wasn’t an easy post to write, perhaps because I know that if I’m still unhappy with working next year when I’m part-time, I’ll likely pull the pin. So the silence is something that, though it may a few years off, could be something I’ll be dealing with in the near future.

I’ll end with a Dad joke, because this post is a bit of a downer. The Dad joke is part of what being in Ms Frogdancer Jones’ classes means – at the start of every lesson you get at least one Dad joke on the board.

Here it is: I accidentally swallowed a tin of paint. The doctor says I’ll be fine, but I feel like I’ve dyed a little inside.

Didn’t like that one? Here’s another: I have a horse named Mayo. Mayo neighs.

(Cue the sound of crickets as Frogdancer Jones backs quietly out of the room…)

17 Comments

  1. I know what you mean as it was exactly the same when I stopped teaching. I found I missed those hundreds of interactions I had with people each day. Plus, like you, I was a performer in class and you lose your (albeit captive) audience. However, I didn’t miss all the other stuff about teaching – marking, dealing with difficult staff and parents etc., so it balanced out. By then I was no longer commuting a great distance, but when we lived in Berwick and I was getting up at 5:00 and commuting three hours a day, it got pretty exhausting, especially in winter. Anyway, after I stopped teaching…and we moved countries…I really enjoyed the volunteering I did with The National Trust doing education guiding. These days I have my side-hustle which gets me out and about, but I choose when I want to do that and that’s what makes all the difference. I think volunteering in your local community when you retire would give you the connections and interactions you might miss. There will be all sorts of things you can do – working with schools, local charities, theatre groups etc. Plus you can do loads of travel. It’s Time. You won’t look back.

    • Damn you for those last 2 sentences!!!
      I’ll be coming to see you two again, probably in 2021. I have to get my house Retirement Ready, so this year and next year are all about the renovations. Remember… I need to visit Windsor Castle to see Henry VIII’s grave, plus I need to go to Dublin to see James from North Korea. We need to start a new list!
      For anyone reading the comments, Scott is my dear friend who helped me plan my trip to the UK and Europe in 2015. (Well,,, tbh, he planned the whole thing – thank God!!)

  2. I know what you mean … I am single single too … and in the category of not having a pet! Mainly because I like to travel and the long hours I work is just not fair on an animal. Maybe when I retire ….
    Right now, coming home from work, I relish the SILENCE – after all day putting out fires at work and ‘fixing things’ …. I get annoyed when my phone rings and I think – why can’t they just text me?
    But travelling these last five and a half weeks (I’m writing this waiting for my flight at Singapore’s Changi airport), I have come to the conclusion that I can’t handle more than 10 days or so of silence, just my own company 24/7. Sure, during those days, I interacted with strangers in the course of travelling but no meaningful interactions in person with friends or family. So …. I need to rethink too about what I want in retirement besides travelling solo.
    But that’s the good part – we can think and review and reset what we want when we retire – nothing is written in stone. Maybe it’s like anything else, with TIME, we can adjust even to SILENCE.

    • I had 9 weeks of travel when I went to Europe and the Uk, but around 3 of those weeks were spent with Scott and another week was spent with 2 people who read my blog and offered to put me up for a few days, so I had company during those times. The rest of the time I was on tours, so I still had people to talk to. The only time I was totally alone was when Scott scheduled 3 days in Bath.
      The 10 days of silence is interesting. I wonder what my limit will be?

  3. a book, a book, and keep growing – I’m not young, but younger than most where I work, and I make it a point to talk to them (because I can sense). I know it’ll come to me as well, and that’ll suck but I guess I’ll follow folks like you and see where you’re headed. All I can say is I hope all your days are filled.

    And write that book, please –

    • Oh, I think all my days will be filled! A world with books, Netflix, yarn, fabric, travel, the internet, gardening, dogs, friends and family is full of things to do. Maybe I’ll just have to do them LOUDLY.

  4. It sounds like you’re feeling a bit low hun and I think going part-time is going to be good for you, time to try out a bit more silence and see how you get on. I can’t imagine you not being busy and/or not finding a group to perform to or companionable silence to craft/write/sew etc.
    I work three days a week and yet still HAVE NO TIME so I’ve started a diploma too (cause that makes perfect sense) 😉
    If you are coming to the UK in a couple of years you should see how many of your UK readers would come to a ‘meet’ to say hi – I reckon it would be good fun!

    • I’ll definitely be coming to the UK in a couple of years. Blogmeets are the BEST fun! Last time I was over there I met Deana from London and Pam from Scotland. Both trips were excellent.

  5. This is a topic close to my heart after several experiences of extreme isolation in my past life as a trailing spouse. As an introvert, I absolutely underestimated how much I do need creative people around me to be fulfilled.

    To me, a fear of the silence is justified and is really about wondering if you have sufficient activity in the long run to stoke your happiness. Social capital is proven to be the major predictor of happiness in old age and it is smart to be thinking about this.

    I think you are going to have a great time experimenting with all this in coming years. FWIW, my mother in law is a rockstar at retirement. She has several groups of friends she meets regularly at the pub or for lunch, she works one day a week (and covers for others on leave), she travels a couple of times a year, supports and enjoys her kids and grandkids, pilates once a week and has several dog-related hobbies. She does other intermittent projects too maybe selling things at a market for a few months, helping friends or volunteering. Fun woman!

    The best possible retirement would surely involve being an awesome blogger though 🙂

  6. You’re planning an overseas trip in 2021? Good luck with that. By all accounts there won’t be a lot of jet fuel around by then and what there is, will make airline travel very expensive.

  7. I think if the 3 days per week isn’t your perfect balance, then full retirement with as little or as much CRT work could be your thing. People contact and extra $ without having to deal with meetings and challenging parents. Plus I think you will naturally find things you gravitate towards (quilting group or book club are 2 of the many possibilities).

  8. I think you might be surprised, FJ. When my dad first retired he wasn’t sure how he’d fill his days either, but he found things to do and eventually said he couldn’t figure out how he ever found time to work!

    I’m also single, and always have been. I’ve lived on my own for 24 years (well, other than the cat), and I’m rarely – if ever – bored; there’s always a good book or blog to read, and plenty on Netflix. If you have good walking/cycling paths nearby then it’s easy to get out of the house when you start feeling the walls closing in on you. (You’re so lucky to be near a beach; I’m quite envious!) The best thing about living alone is the complete freedom that comes with it – I can do what I want, when I want, where I want, and with whomever I want, and still have my peace and quiet at home. Home is my ‘sanctum sanctorum’.

    I think having a good variety of friends who share different interests and hobbies is probably one of the keys to keeping occupied. With your interest in theatre, there are always community theatre groups that you could join. If you can carry a tune, there are also plenty of community choirs around – they’re a proven avenue for being great for social connection and also for keeping the brain in good nick. You don’t really even need to be a particularly good singer in some groups, as they’re big enough that you can just blend into the crowd. You could have a look on Meetup for groups that might suit.

    I do agree that travelling alone can feel a bit isolating; I certainly prefer to travel with others. Something about the shared experience, I think?

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