Essential Skills For Early Retirement: Self Motivation

Have you ever read a job description that describes a perfect candidate as, “A self-motivated go-getter with a can-do attitude…”  (Or something to that effect)?

I bet you have.  The phrase is so ridiculously common that it can be found on every single job description in the world (if my quick informal survey is to be trusted).

I’m sure every single one of those jobs wants that mythical unicorn “go-getter”, but most of those “go-getters” are only motivated to do well at work.  

Most of those “go getters” will go home every night, sit on the couch and watch several hours of TV.  That’s not my idea of self motivation.

 The great irony is that truly self-motivated individuals don’t stay in a single job for very long.  Either they’ll advance quickly, change jobs when they get bored, start their own company, or maybe even decide to retire early.

In this continuing series on early retirement, we’re looking at the essential skills for success in early retirement.  We try to answer the question, “What skills are necessary to make a success of a financially independent life?”

In part 1 of the series, we discussed a way for early retirees to “maintain peak performance”.

In part 2, we covered how early retirees might deal with adversity that arises from this unusual lifestyle.  A sharp stick is probably a smart idea.

In part 3, we talked about managing money and all those financial vampires.  Again, sharp sticks are useful here.   A little holy water, and garlic wouldn’t hurt either.

Now, in part 4 we’re going to discuss how human motivation changes once you reach those pearly gates of financial independence.

Yes, today we’re talking about self-motivation!

Once you finally pull-the-plug on gainful employment, there’s no longer a boss riding your ass like some kind of crazed-angry cowboy with a bullwhip.  

Instead, personal motivation must rise from the depths to drive your life forward.

Are you ready?


Don’t Starve

When I was just starting out in life, everything was about survival.  Make enough money to pay the bills, and buy groceries.  If there was any money left-over, I’d save it for a not-so-sunny day… because in my life, there have been plenty of rainy days.

I never had a social safety-net like the “Bank of Mom and Dad” to help out when things went awry.  If I ever ran out of money, I’d find myself living on the street.  You learn to plan ahead for disaster when presented with incredible life-options like this.

My motivation was simply to “not starve” when the lean times came.  

Eventually, life did get better though.  I managed to pay off my loans, and started putting away real money every month.  At that point, my motivation in life became:  Do well at work, and build wealth.  

Maslows Hierarchy
Consider Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs — I started out life on the bottom of the pyramid and worked my way up. Is Financial Independence really just Self actualization? I like to think so.

Building wealth set the stage for the next 15 years of my life.

I focused on learning in my spare time.  I went to night-school and eventually got a Master’s degree.  I literally read hundreds of business and investing books over the course of several years — all in an effort to improve my financial life.

Some of those books were actually life changing, and continue to improve my life to this day.

The financial results turned-out pretty incredible.  Eventually I got to say “I quit” to working a normal job.

So what motivates me now?


Post-FIRE Motivation

When you no longer have a job, suddenly time becomes yours again.    

Instead of pandering to that boss at work, you can now anything you want.  Want to stay in bed all day eating ice cream and watching Netflix?  Yep, you can do that.

Thinking about traveling the world and seeing planet Earth?  That’s a real possibility.  How about starting new hobbies and building new skills?  Those are great ideas too!

But they aren’t going to happen unless you drive-it.  Instead of a boss cracking the whip over your head to get work done, personal motivation has to take-over and drive life forward.

Earning financial independence means escape from the crack of the bosses whip.  No more fear of bad reviews or getting fired.  After years of living like that, can you still motivate yourself?

Are you ready to take the wheel of that insane-clown car and do something interesting with your life?

Without a purpose, you could finally get through that entire Netflix queue … but I won’t recommend it.

Eventually you’ll get sick of watching TV, your body will grow weak, your arteries will harden, and your brain will turn to mush.

This is why many retirees often say you should retire to something, not from something.  To be successful, you need to have a plan, goals to accomplish, and a purpose to drive life forward.

Become that “self-motivated go-getter” for your life.  Give yourself a larger purpose — Build a post-FIRE plan for life that builds happiness, keeps you active, and challenges you to try new things and make new mistakes.

Of course, that doesn’t mean you can’t have a veg-out day once in awhile.  You can!  

Everybody needs a break sometimes, but it shouldn’t be everyday.



But what about social interaction?  Well, YOU are going to be filling all that spare time.  You ALONE in some cases.  If you’re the kind of person that gets lonely or depressed, this could be a real issue.

I recently wrote about this in my 1-year retrospective — Early retirement can be quiet.  Extremely quiet.  Like zombie-apocalypse quiet (minus the zombies).

It can be very disconcerting for the unprepared.  Everyone else is going to be working.  They won’t have time to go on that hike during the day, or work on that cool project with you.

You’ll most likely be doing most things alone, at least until you build new social connections outside of work.

Don’t expect oodles of social interaction in early retirement.  Most people will be working.  You’ll need to fill that void yourself.

For some, this might sound depressing.  For others, it could sound like heaven-on-earth.  It really depends upon your personality type.

A job comes with built-in social connections.  Once you leave work, you’ll need to build a new social network yourself.

Whatever your personality, I recommend staying extremely busy.  Eventually you will build new social connections, but it does take time. 

This is why self motivation is so important in early retirement — Everything (even your social network) is now entirely up to you.


Final Thoughts

These days my motivation now revolves around a few main pillars — Family, Projects, and Building Wealth.

Taking care of my family is obviously my main priority, but the others aren’t far behind.  Projects like this blog, or building things fill my time that isn’t dedicated to family.  These projects keep me interested, learning and growing as a human being.

What time remains is left for managing our money.  Ideally we want our money to grow faster than inflation, while being DIY investors.

So far, the future looks excellent.  Every day is an exciting adventure with the boys.  There’s always more things to learn, more books to read, and new projects to complete.

Life hasn’t gotten stale in early-retirement.  If anything, I’m more motivated than ever.  I wake-up looking forward to each new day and the opportunity it brings.

That’s motivation enough for me.


[Image Credit: Flickr1, Flickr2, Flickr3, Wikipedia]

12 thoughts on “Essential Skills For Early Retirement: Self Motivation

  • April 19, 2017 at 4:16 AM

    Great post! I like self-motivated people. I consider myself one of them. It pains me to think that I’m wasting my time not doing anything productive. Self-motivation urges us to keep learning and growing.

    Sometimes I do slack off, but it’s mostly about cooking and doing chores. I can’t remember how many times I tell myself and Mr. FAF I will try to cook different dishes, but it rarely happens. When it comes to school or work though, nobody needs to remind me because I just get it done.

  • April 19, 2017 at 4:29 AM

    This is great! Our culture is focused on being motivated at work, but rarely focused on being motivated in our free time. Definitely a great reminder for those planning to FIRE.

    Over the last few years I have built up that motivation for my free time and now I always have more projects going than I have time for! Would love to be able to get more time to do more work on these.

  • April 19, 2017 at 5:40 AM

    I enjoyed the post. It was about two years ago that I started seriously considering retiring (in 15 years). I thought long and hard about what I would do once I stopped policing.

    I came up with two ideas: I would learn the violin and become a writer like I had always dreamed. Then I realized if I waited until then I would suck! Thus the blog & a violin entered my already busy life. On the upside, once I retire and have more time for both, I should already have a decent foundation to build on.

    Thanks for being my advanced scouting party, Mr Tako!

  • April 19, 2017 at 6:51 AM

    This is essential. There are plenty of people who say “I wouldn’t know what to do with myself if I wasn’t working.” And for those people its true, they’re probably better off working and having a manager direct their daily schedule.

    For me it’s perfect. I don’t have any trouble filling my schedule and deciding how my time should be spent. As far as the social aspect, we also have a lot more time to host friends. So while I don’t socialize with co-workers on a daily basis, we do have different friends over for dinner at least once a week. It’s nice having more to discuss than just office politics 🙂

  • April 19, 2017 at 7:06 AM

    I always feel like people look at me like I have two heads when I say I want to retire early. They say, “aren’t you afraid you’ll get bored all day?” And I’m like NO!! I’ve never been bored in my life. There are so many things to do and learn, only a tiny fraction of which I can fit in now with a full time work schedule. Those same folks that ask me that always seem to be bored at home, and I always just want to start reading down a list of the hundreds of things I want/need to do to inspire them! To each their own, I suppose.

  • April 19, 2017 at 8:27 AM

    Oooh, that’s a good point. You might need to make some new friends once you achieve FIRE. You can’t stay cooped up in the house all day, after all. But it’s all about being motivated to do the things you love instead of being motivated by what you HAVE to do.

  • April 19, 2017 at 9:49 PM

    My friend today told me he thought I would be bored if I retired early. He is not the only one to say this. It makes me wonder if they really don’t know me. My wife, on the other hand, is confident I will fill in my time without any problem. Plus she knows I like being an introvert and spending plenty of alone time….so loneliness…true but it sounds nice.

    • April 20, 2017 at 6:07 PM

      Ha, I have a great anecdote on this: When I first told my wife early retirement was a possibility, she replied: “I don’t know, don’t you think you’d be bored?”

      I looked at her with huge eyes
      “what?”, she said
      me: “you quit your job 4 years ago when our first kid was born!!! Do you feel bored?”
      her:”well, no, but it’s different. I’m busy with the kids, handling the house, I have no time for myself”
      me: “exactly! That’s the deal! I’d take half of that from you, and you’d have time for all that stuff you’ve wanted to do for a while. Would you feel bored???”
      her:”ah, I guess you’re right”

  • April 20, 2017 at 3:02 AM

    Great read! My husband and I have been growing a passive income business for a few years. We are so happy to have broken away from the traditional 9-5 traffic. Although not quite where we want to be, it has given us time to truly enjoy life together as a family. Knowing what we want, and why we want it, drives us forward despite the challenges. Your articles and the comments from readers are awesome, thank you for sharing!

  • April 20, 2017 at 3:39 AM

    I think self motivation isn’t just an essential skill for early retirement: it’s an essential skill if you want to succeed in anything! In life, there is no one there to push us when the going gets tough. We just have to grind it out on our own. No successful person in the history of the world just sat there and waited for success to hit them on the head passively.
    Troy @ Market History recently posted…The U.S. economy is not on the verge of a recession

  • April 20, 2017 at 8:30 PM

    I friend mentioned being bored, and I realized that I’m usually not. The worst for me is that 5 minutes between finishing something and needing to be somewhere. It’s not enough time to do x or y, so I usually pull up the calculator app and ponder what to do with $1 million, or use the time to see who I haven’t texted back, and respond.
    I’m looking to FI to remove the 9-5 restrictions so I can do more of what I want to do, and doubt I’ll be bored. 🙂

  • April 22, 2017 at 8:21 AM

    Yup. Running away from a hateful job isn’t enough. You have to run towards something better. And most of the time, you have to BUILD that something. It doesn’t just fall out of the sky.

    I think for people who are not as self-driven and need structure, it helps to set their own scheduled at their own pace and follow that schedule. For example, if the person’s dream is to write a novel, they’ll need to set some time aside everyday or every other day, to complete a chapter. And they’ll also need to find a group of writing friends to give them feedback. Once they have published a few pieces of writing or found a literary agent, the schedule is less important, because accountability to others will drive them to write on a consistent basis.

    As for the social network, you can build that too. For people who aren’t motivated to be friends with people, even if they continue to work, that social network won’t be strong either, because their interaction with co-workers will be limited to the bare minimum to get the job done. But if you want to make friends and go out of your way to do it, you will create your own network regardless of whether you are retired or not.

    Glad you are enjoying retirement and haven’t lost your motivation!


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