What I Learned From Retired People About Freedom

What I learned from retired people about freedom

Imagine that tomorrow, you don’t have to go to work. You can sleep as long as you want, you can do whatever you want, you are completely free. You are financially secure for the rest of your life. You are not crazy rich, but you have enough to live a comfortable life.

How will you feel?

What will you do?

Having the freedom to do anything seems to be one of the best things about retirement (as mentioned by a couple of people during the interviews).

Even if…

When I talked to retired people, some of them transitioned via early retirement. You know that slightly shocking, unplanned freedom that happens when you leave your job without having anything else in the pipeline. After the adrenalin is over, you might feel relieved (or sad), but then real life starts.

What do I do now? Where do I invest my time and energy?

You have total freedom to do what you want, but I’ve learned from talking to retired people that you might not be always giving yourself total freedom.

Some people shared that they put themselves under pressure to go quickly to the next obvious thing. Typically to continue in the same field as before, but as consultants. Even if it looked like the most obvious thing, it was not necessarily the easiest thing to accomplish. Either they had really good contacts, and they landed interesting consulting jobs pretty quickly. But sometimes they had to spend weeks or months networking, pitching themselves without seeing the expected level of results. Moving from a corporate job to a freelancing world is not so straightforward. It requires a different skill set, attitude, and mindset. Unless you are naturally very entrepreneurial, have a great level of self-motivation, self-management, sales, and marketing skills.

But when you are financially secure, when you are free to do anything and things get hard, you can’t just help yourself to ask one big question:

“Is it worth all the hustle?”

Which can easily lead to another question:

“Is it something I really want to do?”

Having the freedom to do anything can be overwhelming and sometimes we start with wrong questions: “What would be the best thing to do now? What shall I do now?”

Instead of: “I have freedom to do anything, what do I really want to do now? What would make me feel happy, fulfilled, excited about my life? Where do I want to invest my time and energy? What would make sense to me?”

And when you start asking these questions, you might not really find any good answers. At least not so quickly.

Having the freedom to do anything can be the most confusing thing ever. There might be so many things to do and you can’t decide which one would be the best one. Or you know exactly what you want to do, but you talk yourself out of it. You just don’t seem to find the right way to get things going. It feels like your mind is playing tricks on you: Deep inside you know what you want to do, but you procrastinate on it. Sometimes you even start, but you don’t feel so happy doing it. In some other cases, you just keep overthinking it, seeing problems rather than solutions.

Real freedom seems to require a high amount of inner freedom.

The former general manager of an IT firm mentioned that in his third period of life he was striving for freedom in making decisions based on what he wanted to do rather than what he should do. Another person talked about mental freedom (not having to be always busy and finding peace of mind and clarity on the next twenty, thirty years of his life).

What can you do when you have freedom to do anything you desire and you want to strive for the inner freedom or mental freedom as people called it?

  1. Giving yourself the freedom to slow down and close one cycle. You don’t need to rush to something else. Any important life transition may require closing a previous cycle. And sometimes you just need to take a good rest. You don’t need to put yourself under pressure. You don’t need to feel guilty that you are not fast enough and that you are “wasting” your time. You can use the time to take stock of what happened in the past. It’s ok to take the time to understand your feelings and thoughts, learn and only then move on. You can give yourself a couple of months to figure out your next move.
  2. Giving yourself the freedom to experiment, try out different things, share your knowledge, use your gifts and talents to create something new. Without needing any validation that this is going to be successful, seen, liked, or admired by many people. Doing things just for your own pleasure is ok! Sharing things, you do is ok! Giving example to your kids and grandkids to follow their passion and dreams is ok!
  3. Shifting your mindset from “I SHOULD” to “I WANT to”. Have you ever noticed your own self-talk? “I should do this”, “I should behave like that”, “I should be this kind of person” (focusing on obligations, standards, norms, putting yourself under pressure, or letting other people put you under pressure). Consciously focusing on what you really want to do, seems to be the most liberating thing ever. “I really want to do this, it’s important to me and I want to commit to doing it.” “I want to go slow and steady.” “I want to find my own unique way that truly fits me and makes me happy. And “I want to trust that whatever I want to do is good for me and for the others.”
  4. Feeling free and living your life fully despite any external constraints. We have been living it partially in the times of COVID-19. But many great people gave us examples in the past:  Psychologist Viktor Frankl who went through a concentration camp gained the respect of his prisoners. Dr. Frankl managed to cope with hardship and suffering by finding meaning and purpose in every moment of living.  Nelson Mandela not resigning on his life and his beliefs even after 27 years in prison. Stephen Hawking by providing exceptional contributions to physics despite his severe physical condition.

When I was talking to people at retirement age and looking back at my own experience, I felt that reaching this mental freedom was the ultimate mastery of life. Something we all should strive for at any age and under any circumstances.

What about you?

Have you been in a situation when you were free to do anything, but you were putting yourself under pressure? Have you experienced the feeling of total inner freedom? Did you take your freedom even if you faced many constraints?

In case you want to find more inner freedom, find out what is really important to you at the moment and where you want to truly invest your time and energy, you can check out my tutorial Find Your Priorities and Set Your GoalsIt will help you get going in the right direction without putting yourself under pressure. It will help you move from the unconscious “I should” to conscious “I want to”.