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Purpose in life after early retirement: A five-year plan update.

We are now 40 months away from cutting ties with our work life and beginning a new phase of our adventure aboard our boat. Our plan is still mostly intact; thankfully, it survived the 2020 chaos by just getting pushed back six months. In May of 2024, we will fly to Antigua on a one-way ticket and begin the slow process of getting our boat ready for a circumnavigation. 

We are now entering the phase where the departure date is soon enough that we have to take real actions in our work and house planning. 

In my (Nestor) department, they keep a 5-year plan for teaching allocation and graduate student admissions. The spaces beyond 2024 simply read “on leave,” and co-workers are beginning to ask, “what do you mean you will be on leave after 2024?”  

Most of Yolanda’s weekend job/hospital co-workers know because she has talked about it for years in defense of why she is always there, lol. She has been progressively working more and more overtime over the last decade, and it seems a bit odd to work so much without a good reason. However, not all of her regular weekday co-workers know yet, and neither does her boss. How early do you turn in your two weeks? We think maybe a two-year heads up would be appropriate. This is different than an actual 2-week notice where you will still work, but just somewhere else, this is a retirement announcement. It seems that a little countdown would be prudent. 

To get the house ready for its future Airbnb life, we have renovations and changes in mind, but we only have three more summers to do all the work. Time to prioritize, budget and get going. 

It is all becoming too real. 

And recently, we have been talking about our fears. Leaving our jobs at the peak of our careers is terrifying. This is not a case of two people saying goodbye to the 9-5 because we hate what we do. We actually love what we do. Our jobs give us purpose. And leaving our jobs will be incredibly hard. In truth, it’s what we fear the most in this whole adventure. 

The scary part of the process is not about future financial stability, or the fear of living on a boat, or the risks of sailing around the world. What scares us most is the idea of not having “purpose.”  

We have been living extremely busy, purpose-driven lives. Our sense of self comes from what we do every day. We are fortunate to be in careers where we see the impact of our work on others on a daily basis. 

And it is terrifying to let that go.

“We want to fulfill our dreams of truly seeing and experiencing this amazing, beautiful world before we die. And not just in 2-week vacations. We want to do it permanently. Slowly. Savoring it. At 6 miles per hour. On a sailboat.”

– US

Yet, we fear the idea of finding ourselves living on the boat and questioning our purpose. We look around to other sailors who are cruising full time and often wonder where they find it. We suspect some find purpose in telling their story through video. Others may find it fixing their boat and sharing the knowledge of how to do so. Some have skills that they use to help people, such as providing veterinarian or dental care to remote islands. And a few probably make the mistake of thinking that just being busy will keep their lives fulfilled; they are probably the ones who quit and return to land to look for meaning in a more traditional, structured life.

We have thought about how we can use our skills while we travel. What can a child psychologist and a physical therapist do to help others from a moving sailboat? Do we have other skills that we can use to reinvent ourselves? 

Or maybe the mistake is thinking that purpose can only come from what we do today. Maybe the mistake is not truly letting go of who we are now and embracing a new phase with new goals, new skills, and new purpose. Maybe our fear is based on attachment to a life that feels comfortable and already figured out. 

But everything is impermanent. Whether in 40 months or 20 years, this cycle will end, and we will need to find purpose in the next. 

So maybe we are overthinking it. Maybe we have to return to the basics of what motivates us to get up and get moving in the morning and feel comfortable that we will find it. 

“Our prime purpose of life is to help others.  And if you can’t help them, at least don’t hurt them.”

– Dalai Lama

The purpose of life is not to be busy. It is to be useful to others. We should be able to do that from anywhere and in many different ways. We have our health, wealth, some skills, and a desire to live a purpose-driven life. 

So, as we keep getting ready for that new phase, we remind ourselves that we will be fine. We should find comfort in knowing that finding purpose will be critical to a fulfilling next cycle. We can plan for it, and we will find our way. We know that just being busy with boat projects and planning the next passage will not be enough. 

One of my favorite course closing quotes is relevant here: 

“For me, I am driven by two main philosophies: know more today about the world than I knew yesterday and lessen the suffering of others. You’d be surprised how far that gets you.”

– Neil deGrasse Tyson

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