retirementSince I have the flu and feel like I might die, please enjoy this post from personal finance blogger Harry Campbell.  Harry started blogging about personal finance on his main site Your PF Pro a few years ago and enjoyed it so much that he started a second site dedicated to finding the perfect work-life balance at The Four Hour Work Day.  When Harry is not blogging, he works full time as an aerospace engineer and enjoys surfing and playing beach volleyball.  (Although Harry is my friend, I had NO IDEA that he was an aerospace engineer!!!)

When you break it down into its fundamental parts, personal finance often ends up revolving around one of two things: people either want to know how to get out of debt, or they want to know how to save and invest to grow wealth. It’s only natural that these two themes should be the ones that dominate the blogosphere. After all, if you’re in debt, your number-one priority should be to get out as fast as possible. And if you’re not in debt, your number-one priority is ensuring that your future is as financially secure as your current money situation is.

When you get further into the save-and-invest side of personal finance blogs, you’ll find a few key terms pop up over and over again: early retirement and financial independence. These two ideas are wildly popular, and for good reason – who doesn’t want the ability to have investments that generate more income than you need to cover your annual expenses? Who doesn’t daydream about telling their boss they can.. well, you know, and then walk right out the door?

Is Early Retirement a Good Goal?

Early retirement sounds like some sort of utopian dream for current members of the workforce who have no choice but to be a part of the rat race day in and day out. But that’s just it: it sounds too good to be true, and in many ways it is.

Think about it. Most of us find fulfillment and happiness in some part through our work. No, we may not enjoy working on someone else’s schedule or for our boss’ bottom line instead of our own. But producing something, providing value to others, and being productive in general are keys to feeling happy. Not to mention, there’s a very special kind of satisfaction that comes from being able to see a direct correlation between our hard work and the income that our work can generate. When people lack direction, focus, and purpose, they become listless, depressed, and even more stressed than regular work can cause.

Keep it in Perspective

It’s for these reasons that a balanced solution is best, and aiming for something like a four hour workday would be better for most people that have spent years on a set schedule with a routine complete with periodic challenges. Having some sort of work that takes up a few hours of your day is far better than lacking purpose and passion. People need new goals, challenges, and tasks to complete. A bit of work (as opposed to absolutely no work) would fulfill these kinds of needs.

Additionally, having some sort of part-time work or work that doesn’t require too much of your attention each day means building a great safety net into your financial plan. Complete early retirement means not having to work, sure – but it also means a complete end to regular income. If you have enough saved and invested, this should be okay. But when “should be” isn’t good enough, it would be nice to have something to fall back on. This is where side jobs and mostly-passive income streams that you set up before you started phasing out of the workforce could come in extremely handy.

Your four hour workday could consist of anything that you enjoy doing and can monetize. If that means working a few hours a week at a local shop, go for it. If that means starting and managing your own side business, that’s awesome too. It doesn’t matter what the work is – what matters is that you find it fulfilling, interesting, and in some way, fun. The point isn’t to work for four hours per day on stuff you find draining or on tasks you hate. The purpose is to keep you productive, engaged, and active rather than finding yourself sitting in early retirement and feeling completely directionless and useless.

Calling it quits when you’re in your 30s and 40s may sound nice now, when all you’ve ever done is work something like a 9 to 5 for someone else. But early retirement has some hidden pitfalls current workers often underestimate. Consider the better plan of slowly phasing yourself out of work and income from sources beyond investments, and choose to aim for a four hour workday instead. Use the opportunity to focus on really great work you love, or to make a passion project into a little side business that provides some extra income.

Don’t let the siren song of early retirement lull you into a situation where you’re sitting around twiddling your thumbs all day. Have the best of both worlds by pursuing work that allows you vast amounts of personal freedom and keeps you thinking and purposeful – and therefore fulfilled.

How does a four-hour workday sound to you?  Or, are you aiming for early retirement instead?