Modern man has an endless fascination with productivity. There is always something that could be done faster or more effective. Productivity is not a natural state though. You do not see an animal trying to be more productive. It simply does its thing, takes what it needs and no more. Not humans, they always take more than they need or do more than they have to.

Does this derive from competitiveness with productivity leading to promotion? If so, it is a tragedy of the commons. The reason is that productivity methods are soon copied by the competition and once that happens you have to work even harder to gain an edge. If you MUST stay employed, your productivity is compared on a scale relative to others, not relative to what you need.

If you’re retired and somehow managed to ditch the ugly notion of measuring your self-worth in terms of how much you spend, productivity becomes absolute. There is, then, a concept such as “good enough” as that is perfectly alright.

I am slowly discovering this. It took me half a year. Realize that I rarely do, or at least did, something I considered useless. Now I do things, like sailing, which can be considered useless just because I can.

In a sense this a form of wealth. Wealth is another word for “having more than you want”. Once this is the case, you can use the surplus on unproductive pursuits. With this changing perspective, all the talk about productivity suddenly takes on a different light. In such a case a fascination with productivity is associated with a world of poverty. A world where there is never quite enough to satisfy. Such a world is a stressful world, that is, a source of continuous low level stress.

Changing one’s frame of mind—and apparently it took me 6 months of retirement to jump a level—is a form of personal growth. I remember reading something similar in Emergency (Neil Strauss): Having learned some serious survival techniques, like tracking and living off the land, it suddenly becomes much less important whether one’s clothing is color coordinated or whether to use antique astroparch paper or glossy lasercopies for one’s resume.

Priorities are changed. A former edge becomes unimportant.

Now, what’s important here is that once abundance has been achieved, edges transform from being relative to being absolute. Consider another “edge”, the edge of being remarkable. This is the celebrity edge of simply being known. Again, this edge is being used to stand out from the competition rather than as an absolute. The relative situation creates a continuous low stress environment compared to the absolute world. In an absolute world, striving to do things to be known becomes irrelevant; you will be sufficiently known regardless of what you do. (This is the situation that family members are in. You probably remember your family members from the 1980s but do you remember the popular stars of the 1980s).

Early retirement apparently works slowly to transform one’s mental frame towards a more absolute level, a world of abundance rather than a world of competition. Perhaps there are other ways but early retirement is one of them.

On an anecdotal note, I vastly prefer less stress to the low level stress that is present in most modern life. The stress I feel now is the “original” stress of a boat about to crash. Not the continuous stress of not being able to meet deadline after deadline.

Originally posted 2009-09-29 00:01:22.