Retiring at 48 sounds cool and romantic. However, two years into my retirement, I am discovering some unexpected results.
1) Achieving Your Goal is Not Necessarily a Great Thing
We all know that anti-climatic feeling when you achieve that goal. You run the race, you finish the book, you deliver that killer presentation or you nail the deal. You reach the summit after days, weeks, months, or years of work and dedication. Then you feel kind of low and empty. Often, a supreme sense of uneasiness descends and you are left scratching your head and wondering why you feel flat, disorientated, and maybe even a little sad. What the fuck?
In 2002, I competed in my first triathlon, which happened to be an Ironman in France. Most normal people start with shorter distance triathlon and then gradually build their way up to longer races, and then culminate at the ironman distance which is a 3.8km swim, followed by a ball numbing 180km bike ride and then finishing with a soul-destroying 42km marathon. Not only did I choose one of the longest triathlon formats, but I also chose one of the most difficult Ironman races in the world in Gerardmer. If you go and Google "Gerardmer" you will quickly notice that it is a ski resort. Ski resorts are many things, but one thing they are not is flat. A flat ironman is hard - a mountainous one is fucking ludicrous. The bike took us through the hilly Vosges Region and the run took us on a cross-country adventure through the resort. The only flat and easy part of the race was the 3.8km swim. The race was so tough that more than half the people who entered did not finish (they either did not finish or did not even bother to show up at the start line). The race organizers quickly changed the venue of Ironman France to Nice. When I crossed that finish line after 12 hours of “racing”, having lost and most of the toenails and 6 kilograms, I was relieved. It was like hitting your head onto a brick wall - it feels good when you stop. That night, however, reflecting on this awesome physical achievement, I started to become restless as I asked myself, what do I do now? The goal had been achieved, the game was over, and I needed to find a new game.
2) Human Beings are Not Happy in Idleness
We are under the false impression that the human brain will honor the unwritten promise that once you reach your goal, it will be flooded with contentment. The brain can handle periods of idleness for a couple of days and maybe up to a week, depending on how lazy you are. Pretty soon it will resume with its worries, questions and will force you to account for yourself by asking “so what have you been up to?” .
I used to travel frequently to Colombia. A common greeting is “Que has hecho?” which means “What have you done?” Not familiar with Colombian slang, I was often confused by the question – do I need you to give them a brief resume of my entire professional life, or would a quick recap of the last few days suffice? I then realized that this phrase should not be directly translated, and was simply a common greeting of “how are you?”.
The human brain, however, is far more literal in its persistent persecution. It does require you to give an immediate account, and often the honest answer is “well, actually, not that much”. You are then engulfed with feelings of unworthiness – irrational as they may be. We start to believe that no achievement will be enough – not even climbing Mount Everest and that we are doomed for a lapse of despair.
3) Humans Need to be in Motion
We are mobile creatures. I lived for 18 years in Mexico City, one of the biggest cities in the world. Twenty-five million people, living in an old lake, surrounded by two active volcanos. A traffic jam where you do not move an inch in 45 minutes is not uncommon. As humans, this is brutal. Your mind automatically wanders to the worst-case scenario – what happens if we never move and they discover my dead rotting corpse three weeks later in exactly the same location? Humans need to be in movement. We need to set goals and convince ourselves they are important - even if they are not. We need to set tasks.
4) Routines are Powerful Tools
I told a former work colleague that I exercise every day, and she replied by saying that I am a product of an unhappy childhood, to which I told her to fuck off (in my head – I was working in a large multinational that prided itself on political correctness). People think that routines are restrictive and they impede our liberties and freedom.
Freedom is not anarchy – freedom comes through self-control and discipline. You decide to go to the gym every weekday morning at 5am. If you hit every session of the week religiously and set a routine, are you free or a slave? To answer the question, consider how you feel if you decided to hit the snooze button and miss the session. You are racked with self-guilt – you feel like a failure and a piece of shit. Those negative feelings will weigh you down for most of the day. They will hold you back like a ball and chain. Are you free or a slave? The answer is obvious.
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