How do I identify my passion before retiring early?

Published: May 10, 2022 at 6:00 am

A reader writes, “I work only for money and have not identified my passion yet. I am not sure if I can identify it. I would also blame my character as I seek change quite too often. If I plan to achieve FIRE (financial independence and early retirement) by the age of 45, I don’t know what to do next! Is there a way to identify our passion?”

How do you define a passion? Especially when one says, “I don’t know what is mine”. All my life I have cringed whenever I heard people say “science is my passion” or “financial literacy is my passion”(yuck!). I have no idea what my passion areas are. Is it physics? Is it personal finance? I have no clue.

I think ultimately we need something to pass the time with until we conk off. When our net worth is low, it is matter of survival and we don’t stop and ask, “what is my purpose in life?”; “What is my calling?”.  We are busy trying to make ends meet.

With some effort, prudence and a dash of luck if we find ourselves financially comfortable, then we can afford some leisure. We cannot sleep and party and watch movies all day (although we long for just that when we are trying to survive). We need some fodder for our huge brains (in size, that is).

If we have gone through life without ever stopping to think what effort would make us happy and satisfied (= “passion” = “calling”), now is the time to do so. Considering the way we are told to approach school and college education without taking “risks”, it is hardly surprising many of us never stop to think about our “passions” let alone pursue them.

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That said, I think it is perfectly normal for someone to say, “I don’t have a passion” or “I don’t know what my passion is”. It is no law of nature that we “should” have a passion.

If I were to ask myself “what would make me truly happy?” Thinking and doing something creatively does it for me. It can be pedagogy, physics or finance or history or movies or comics. The area does not matter. Only the activity does.

I was lucky to have a great English teacher in my 11th and 12th std who indirectly told me “teaching” or “communication” will make me happy. Once I had the opportunity to communicate (after 5 years), I realised “getting to the crux of any issue” as quickly and as directly as possible is the way to elegant communication.

The topic of communication is secondary. I am extremely fortunate  to make a living while doing things I love: communication and creativity. The point is, I feel we must think about “what action” will make us happy instead of “what area” will make us happy. The area does not matter much.

Is there a formula to find this? I don’t know.  I would recommend the following though:

1) Imagine you are burdened by some worry. What kind of activity would make you forget your troubles at least as long as you are engaged in it?

  • In my case it is writing code (related to physics experimentation) or making calculators or speaking (although I will struggle to prepare for a talk or class if I am burdened with worry)

2) How will this work be useful to others? This may not be obvious immediately. It can start as a quest for personal improvement. Freefincal was (and to some extent still is) all about answering questions that I have. At some point I realised others too would have the same questions and started sharing my work.

3) Can this work solve a problem for others? Again it need not be obvious. The self-exploratory journey can answer this.

If we can answer these questions gradually, we would head closer to being “happy in our work” – à la Colonel Saito in Bridge on the river Kwai.

Maybe, just maybe we can have some clarity on how to spend time productively after early or normal retirement. In fact, planning for post-retirement activity is just as important as building a robust retirement corpus. We recommend that those who have achieved financial independence not quit their job until and unless they have a solid activity schedule. See for example: Is it wise to retire early in my 40s if my portfolio is sufficient?

Hard work is the best distraction and therapy to stay away from the devil’s workshop.

“It has been my experience that one cannot, in any shape or form, depend on human relations for lasting reward. It is only work that truly satisfies.” – Bette Davis

Assuming you have a port-retirement plan or are working on one and assuming your corpus is robust and sufficient, here are some retirement planning case studies.

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About The Author

Pattabiraman editor freefincalDr M. Pattabiraman(PhD) is the founder, managing editor and primary author of freefincal. He is an associate professor at the Indian Institute of Technology, Madras. He has over ten years of experience publishing news analysis, research and financial product development. Connect with him via Twitter(X), Linkedin, or YouTube. Pattabiraman has co-authored three print books: (1) You can be rich too with goal-based investing (CNBC TV18) for DIY investors. (2) Gamechanger for young earners. (3) Chinchu Gets a Superpower! for kids. He has also written seven other free e-books on various money management topics. He is a patron and co-founder of “Fee-only India,” an organisation promoting unbiased, commission-free investment advice.
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