I have the ultimate First World Problem. In my forties (okay, I admit, I am 49), I find myself to be rich and no longer needing to work. I don’t need a full-time job, and I don’t even need a part-time job — that is what I mean by “rich.” I own a small but nice home; my family has two cars and an RV. We have no personal debt. We eat out when we feel like it and have great vacations — mostly here in Australia, but overseas probably every second year.
I have achieved what 21-year-old me, entering the workforce reluctantly and with not a clue what to do with that wonderful degree in Russian Studies and Anthropology, had dreamt of — I have financial independence and the freedom to do what I want. I should be happy. Should.
I am now that woman on Facebook, Instagram, etc. posting that she is off to yoga, the gym, swimming, or having lunches with friends. These things, plus caring for my family, are now my “job.” I guess I am a stay-at-home mom, but with an increasingly independent 16-year-old as my only child, this doesn’t feel like a full-time role. So my job now is “self-care” and I do need some — the years of juggling work and family and my particularly stressful last job have left me fat, unfit, and often anxious.
I come from a family that always struggled financially, where no one had a full-time job due to health problems, and a single parent household. My mom was good with the money she got from welfare payments and cash-in-hand cleaning and babysitting, and we had a roof over our heads in a decent three-bedroom suburban home and did not go hungry. But we had no holidays, and clothes were of the cheap and cheerful variety, and I changed out of my “good” clothes as soon as I got home every day to make sure they lasted as long as possible. I worked casual jobs from the age of 12 — paper delivery, retail, babysitting, etc. Thanks to the Australian system of free healthcare and almost free education even through University, I was able to set myself up for a better future.
I worked, married, started a family, then worked part time for many years, changed careers, and did a few full-time years teaching. Then I got burnt out and quit because I could afford to. My husband and I had invested sensibly, lived fairly simply (with our splurges being travel), and we have the money to not work. Either of us, ever again, even if we live to be 90. We can travel enough to satisfy my wanderlust, as long as we keep it simple. As long as we keep our lives simple and stick to the “less is more” mantra for material goods that I signed up for about 10 years ago. As a couple, we made all the right financial decisions — worked hard, invested, lived frugally, and we have now “made it” as young(ish) retirees.
I “have it all,” and I know my life looks like a dream to others, and my 21-year-old self would be patting me on the back — 49 and no longer needs to work!!! But I feel too young to retire, so I’ve taken on some post-grad studies. It is existential angst I guess — what is the purpose of my life? When you can do “anything”…what do you actually DO with your time?
Part of me sees my angst as an overdeveloped work ethic. I feel the need to justify my existence on this planet. I embrace the idea of being a volunteer, and maybe that role will develop in time, but part of me resists the loss of status that I feel comes with not being a “proper” employee, valued enough to be paid.
I know I am rich, especially compared to most people on this planet — compared, in fact, to most of my friends. So I am grateful, and most of the time I am happy, but I have realized that my identity was more wrapped up in my professional life than I thought. We worked hard to retire early, and the chase for financial independence was somehow important to me…and now that it is over, I feel, frankly, a little lost. And I think I feel guilty that I have all this, and yet am still not 100% happy, 100% of the time.
My message to everyone chasing the dream of financial independence, wealth, being “rich,” or however you think about it, is this: yes, do chase these things, but remember why you are chasing them. I seem to have forgotten.
Annie is officially a teacher, “parental,” and wife, but is really a time-waster, oxford comma denier, and social media layabout, spending too much time planning her next trip either at home in Australia in her RV or overseas. She lives in fear that she won’t get to see the entire world and won’t lose the baby weight. As the “baby” is now 16 and Annie is officially middle-aged, this is entirely possible.
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