Things I’m learning about semi-retirement

I’m really glad I track my time, because I get to ask questions about long-term patterns. It turns out that I haven’t been as retired as I joke about. It’s been 64 weeks since the week beginning March 3, 2012, which included my first major gig as an independent person. I’ve tracked an average of 43 hours a week doing business-related things (median: 42.2). This is more than my average of 38.3 hours a week from the twelve weeks when I was tracking regular work using my new system, although that was when I was already in the transition-all-my-projects phase. Earlier, I’d been working a little over 40 hours a week.

I think that’s because there was a month or two of independent work where I was doing two large consulting gigs at the same time. If I drop that and look only at the year to date, I get these numbers:

  Percentage Average hours per week
Earn 49% 18.7
Build 29% 11.0
Connect 21% 8.2
Other 1% 0.3
Total   38.1

I like this current balance of working two days a week. My connecting time tends to be about going to events (especially ones that have interesting-sounding presentations) or meeting people for coffee/Skype chats (often to help them with questions). Maybe I’ll swap some of my connecting time for skill-building time instead. I can turn skill-building into connection opportunities through blog posts and products/ideas, so it works out.

Part of the reason why I decided to go on this 5-year semi-retirement experiment was to find out what I can do when I have full control of my schedule. It was easy to respond to people’s requests and work on what people want, but I’m getting better at following my curiosity and carving out time to work on my own projects.

It might be interesting to keep tweaking my comfort zone. Every weekly review, it’s easy for me to plan my work-related tasks and add the occasional relationship/people-related task, but I sometimes forget to plan something in the “life” category. Ongoing personal projects like learning Japanese are starting to help, but I have to get more used to it. =)

For example, one Monday I spent three hours mocking up a box cover for one of the cushions on our sofa. Making a slipcover for the sofa is one of our household projects, so I decided to take the first step towards the task instead of putting it off to one of these weekends. Even though it felt a little weird doing something so small during prime “business” time during the day, it felt good to know that I wasn’t procrastinating the task. It’s technically a relationship-related task, but that’s okay – learning how to use chunks of weekday time for non-work things is important too, and relationship-related tasks are a good place to start because I don’t feel as guilty and self-indulgent. I was worried because my seams were crooked, but it actually turned out all right. I have to give myself permission to do more of these things that might not be part of the “See, I’ve been doing all sorts of market-valued things” story, but are good to do anyway.

Writing is something that I enjoy and something I do for myself. I’ve been giving myself more permission to write (as you can probably tell from my blog), and to try things and learn so that I have more things to write about. Gardening is good, too, and reading. (Even comics!) Maybe I should mentally label Wednesdays to be like weekends – a day for building relationships and life instead of focusing on work.

Drawing is fun, too, and it turns out that I can create interesting things that people find useful.

I guess this is also an experiment in having enough, and that takes surprisingly long to get used to. I think part of why it’s difficult is the lingering fear that I might do the wrong things during this experiment and end up in a situation that’s difficult to move forward from. But if I take a step back and look at the numbers, from time to time I might be able to convince myself that it’s going to be okay, and then use that moment of trust to build new lifestyles or ratchet things up a notch.

There’s that urge to do something that I can justify as productive to other people. I don’t want W- or my parents to think that I’m wasting my time. In the past, I used to stress out about “not reaching my full potential,” especially as I had teachers who believed I could do far more than what I was doing in class. There’s an opportunity cost to everything. Then again, there are many people already exploring the path of “more! more! more!”, so it might be good for me to explore the path of “enough,” and work on the new possibilities that open up.

It also feels weird exploring this while other people who are struggling with much harder problems, so I’m tempted to write less about it because I don’t want to gloat or make people feel bad. But this might be useful to other people too, I guess, sketching out alternative paths beyond what most people have experienced. Maybe eventually it will be like how people read about people exploring different lifestyles—digital nomads, early retirement enthusiasts, people living off the grid… I learn from the possibilities in other people’s lives, and it’s my responsibility to explore the possibilities in mine.

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