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The challenge of slowing down

It’s truly feeling like classic mid-summer: sunny, hot, lazy. This time of year makes me feel carefree – or rather, that I’d like to be carefree. These days conjure up images of myself wandering through my days in bare feet, shorts, and a tank top, with a cool drink and a book in hand, and a hammock to lounge in. An idealistic and rare bonus: a dock to sit on and a lake to swim in. Perfection. Generally, I get a handful of these kinds of days a year – days when nothing matters, when jobs and chores can wait, and days when it’s okay if no one gets their daily recommended servings of fruits and vegetables. Lots of things get in the way having more of these days: work, kids, money, and most of all, myself.

Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about downtime. I’ve been reading about the emotional challenges people have when they retire – a University of Michigan study estimates that 28% of retirees experience depression, substantially higher than the overall adult population. There are many things that can cause people to feel or be depressed after they stop working, things like the loss of a social network, the loss of a social role, and the loss of income. The issue is complex with many inter-related factors including physical health, lifestyle and lack of access to helpful resources, but retirement definitely plays a big role.

Have you heard about the FIRE movement -Financial Independence, Retire Early? It’s exactly what it sounds like: saving enough to stop working at a young age. Despite its appeal, some FIRE achievers, after enjoying a few months of leisure time and going on adventures, have found themselves bored, uninspired, and lacking in enthusiasm for much of anything. Some go back to work or start a business.

Despite longing for carefree days and more free time, making a transition to a slower life can be hard. July and August are slow months for financial planners and coaches like me. Most people prefer to put aside the money-stuff over the summer and come back to it in the fall or in January. As such, over the past couple of weeks I’ve found myself with more free time than I’ve had since I was 15. I’ve worked for as long as I can remember: part-time jobs in high school, summer jobs in university, and then the career-building jobs that started at 23. For many years, I had just two weeks’ vacation. Then three. It never felt like enough, even when I jumped to a luxurious five weeks by the time I finished my bank career. I longed for more free time, especially on summer days when I gazed out of the giant windows on the 33rd floor of the overly-air conditioned building I worked in, watching sailboats on Lake Ontario, wondering who is sailing at 2pm on a Tuesday.

Now I find myself with some of that freedom. Yes, I have work to do and financial planning course assignments to complete, but I can also choose the hammock in my backyard more often. Without the structure of a regular work day and few deadlines, I am a little directionless sometimes. Despite the fact that in February I told myself that all of the hard work I was doing would allow me to take more time off when the weather got better, I have a hard time adapting now that it’s here. I feel that I should be “doing something” most of the time, a hard-to-break habit from the years I operated at 98% capacity. This has given me a peek into the mind of a new retiree who struggles to adapt to having a lot of free time or the FIRE achievers who find that freedom isn’t as freeing as they thought it would be.

If you’re in the throes of a busy life, juggling work, family and house, or if you’re just kind of getting tired of the routine and demands of a full-time job, you might be dreaming of retirement. Or semi-retirement. Or just more flexibility. It’s great to be able to look ahead and envision a time when you can work less. I believe that having things to look forward to is crucial to our happiness. (And planning for them makes it even better!) But don’t wish so hard that you forget to enjoy the things that are good about working and realize that the greener pasture has cow patties hiding from view.

I’ve always loved Labour Day – rolling up my sleeves and getting back into serious work after a summer of pushing off the big assignments. I’m looking forward to it again, when people are ready to dive into their finances after taking a summer break. Until then, I’m going to do my best to be barefoot and carefree.


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