Working through Work Optional: Part 1

Our Next Life was one of the FIRE blogs that actually made me seriously consider early retirement.  The attitude of some other big names in that sphere wasn’t much different from the frugality-as-morality blogs that frustrated me so much when I started my own blog in 2008. ONL was the first blog that took a more measured approach to the whole thing.

So of course I pre-ordered Tanja’s book.  And although some of the financial information in the book was old hat to me, the thought exercises were worth the cost of the book and more.  I took notes as I went through, but they were SO LONG I’ve split them into 3 posts:

  • Ideal work-optional life
  • Spending
  • Money Mission Statement


Part 1: Your Ideal Work Optional Life

Day In The Life

Question: When are you happiest?

  • Solving a hard problem at work, or giving an amazing presentation.
  • Nailing a new pose in yoga, or finishing a sweaty workout (not during, ha!)
  • Helping one of the kids accomplish something – maybe a high climb at the playground, or reading a big new word, etc. – or getting a big belly laugh out of them
  • Weekend mornings before everyone else is awake, just me + coffee + a book
  • Cooking a healthy, tasty dinner…. and the kids actually eat it!
  • A clean house, maybe with a candle burning on the counter

Question: What do you want to make time for?

  • Yoga or hiking or some other exercise
  • Time spent outside
  • Reading
  • Writing or bullet journaling or something else creative
  • Playing board games with / reading to / doing crafts with the kids
  • TV or other quality time with Chad
  • Volunteering – preferably something to do with DOGS

Big Picture & Legacy / Purpose

Question: What did you dream of doing as a kid?

  • I always wanted to be an astronaut.  Later I expanded the range of possibilities, but generally wanted something that paid a lot of money & that only people who were very smart could do. In my head, that meant lawyer or doctor.

Question: What would you like to accomplish?

  • As I’ve gotten older / more jaded, I figure it’s less likely that I’ll do anything truly meaningful in my career.  I’ve certainly done things that were impressive, but I’ve now realized that money & intelligence are not goals in and of themselves.
  • I’d like to raise my kids to be good human beings.  In an ideal world, they’d find lives of happiness and meaning. Assuming global warming doesn’t destroy the planet.
  • I’d like to donate money (and eventually time) to causes I believe in.  Since having kids, I struggle with images of children starving and suffering more than ever.  On a smaller scale, I’d like to work in an animal shelter or dog rescue.
  • Travel is not very important to me, but I would like to take the kids on trips to other parts of the US and the world.
  • I wish we lived closer to family.  There is a definite tradeoff between this desire and career due to the geographic locations of my industry.

Question: How would you like to be remembered?

  • As a good mother
  • As someone who was funny & kind
  • As someone who had a cool career
  • As someone who took on meaningful charitable work
  • As a dog lover

Self Worth

Question: Do you feel like you are living up to others expectations?

  • Sort of?  It’s less about living up to expectations and more enjoy the status of being a high earner / rocket scientist.

Question: What do you feel best at in your work?

  • I’m a good teacher / trainer.  I am generally non-threatening and can break down and simplify complex topics.
  • I am good at being gently honest about technical problems (just please don’t ever ask me to criticize a person!)
  • I’m nice to people.  This is a real skill in engineering!
  • I’m comfortable giving presentations, and I’m generally a good writer.

Question: Does the thought of not doing all of the above make you sad?

  • YES

Question: What makes you feel best outside of work?

  • Doing small things that make the kids or Chad happy.
  • Trips to see extended family.
  • Yoga – the feeling I get after teaching a class (but not before…. too much anxiety) or helping someone out in class.
  • I’m starting to be one of those people who enjoys cooking.


Question: Who else is part of this vision?

  • Chad and the kids, obviously!
  • My parents, Chad’s parents, my sisters and their families, Chad’s sister’s and their families
  • Further extensions of family… though in smaller doses
  • A DOG

Question: Who do you want to spend more time with?

  • I would like to be able to attend more of our family gatherings without feeling like I am sacrificing all of my weekend chore / relaxation time.
  • I would like our kids to have close relationships with their cousins and grandparents.

Question: What communities would you like to be a part of?

  • I would like a network of moms who take the same relaxed approach to motherhood as me while still wanting careers.  Who meal plan, but sometimes abandon those plans and order Domino’s.  Who want to be stylish but don’t want to be shopping for fun (though I wouldn’t mind playing dress-up with Save. Spend. Splurge). Who want to go to yoga class, but aren’t concerned about mala beads or their gut health. Who will take a hike and split a bottle of wine or grab a beer with me after. Who will go to every t-ball game and practice, but bring store-bought goodies instead of baking at home. I have exactly ONE of these friends, but I want more.

Life Logistics

Question: What are your preferred surroundings?

  • I like to be home, usually, and preferably this is a place with multiple cozy nooks and lots of windows.  A large backyard with space to play sports, a place to read a book or nap, and potentially a wooded walking path just outside the gate.
  • This house is also close enough to family that we can attend any gathering, or schedule an impromptu weeknight dinner, and still sleep in our own beds that night.
  • As an extreme of wishful thinking, we can walk to a grocery store, a coffee shop, a restaurant that serves beer, and a yoga studio.

Question: What would be your preferred timeline?

  • I mean, I want to live this life now, but in an ideal world, this would happen when the kids are in school but still young – we can take all summer off to travel while being able to attend any school function &/or chaperone school trips

What are the common themes of the above?  Any surprises?

Common themes: still working, spending quality time with Chad and the kids, doing yoga more regularly, getting a dog, seeing extended family more frequently, coffee and books and creative pursuits.

The only thing that’s surprising is that cooking has made it onto a List of Things I Enjoy.  I’ve known for a while that I would struggle with giving up my job (and in fact, it’s why I previously hadn’t gotten too caught up in the Early Retirement movement).

Since I read the book, I have tried to find more opportunities to work those happy-making activities into my day.

  • Taking 15 minutes to read the kids a book, or stopping at the playground on the way home – all despite my long To Do list – is a small tweak that pays huge dividends.
  • I gave up Twitter and Facebook to force myself to read during downtime (but you can wrest Instagram from my cold, dead hands).
  • I take time for a weekly yoga class, and when I don’t have any meetings that conflict, I run down to the gym at work for their free classes (sometimes I even teach them).
  •  I take a few minutes in the evenings to tidy up our main living area and sort papers – it usually takes less than 10 minutes but makes a HUGE difference in how I feel.
  • I’m slowly making tweaks to our house to make it feel more like a refuge.  Not too fast – at heart I’m still a personal finance blogger.
  • I took a less interesting job with less crazy hours.  It’s not quite the part-time schedule I hope to work eventually, but knowing that I’ll get to eat dinner at home every night is a nice change of pace.  The crazy hours and copious overtime I thrived on as a young childless person wore thin after the 100th time I had to call Chad in a panic to see if he could make daycare pick-up because I was stuck at work again.

The next post will be focused on our spending, and I have 12 YEARS of old budgets to sort through!

Have you worked through Work Optional? Did the Chapter 1 questions highlight any surprising life goals? Did they drive you to make changes? Let me know in the comments!

5 Responses

  1. I haven’t read the book, since retiring early isn’t an option for me, but I’m definitely glad she’s asking questions that really make people think about what they want out of life (retired or otherwise). It’s important because I think people charge headlong into “retire early” without considering what their lives will look like. And that’s a huge adjustment to make without really considering what you want out of retired life.

    • I think I would enjoy the heck out of 3-4 weeks of not working, and then I’d suffer from the lack of structure AND the fear of being poor AND the loss of the career identity. The goal will be to get to a part-time schedule, but it’s not common in my field.

  2. I love ONL, but haven’t bought or worked through the book. This is inspiring though – something to do in the future! I’ve hesitated to get too deep in the FI/RE thinking because I know we are far away, and it doesn’t generally serve me to get too focused on something that is far away. And I do like my job (usually). And I feel like I know what I’m doing when it comes to prepping my finances to be FI… But this appears that it could be a useful book, even at this stage.

    Thanks for sharing!

  3. I really enjoyed Work Optional but I’m still working through the questions myself. I do enjoy the questions from a philosophical perspective since I don’t know where we are on our FI path.

    You don’t currently have a dog, do you?

    I would like to be part of your community!! These women sound like fun and relaxed. I don’t want to have to take these child-raising years too seriously. But I would be sort of useless for some of the physical stuff.

    • No dog for me yet, we’re thinking once the youngest turns 3 that she can be trusted. I have seen, many dogs that were willing to take what kids dished out, but that’s not really fair to the dog. So we’re waiting.

      I’m finding that now I’m craving female friendships after generally having had guy friends my whole life. Maybe because I’m not seeing my sisters as often, but probably because there is a growing chasm between my male friends’ and my experiences of life.

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