Otium

As with many Latin words, otium has many modern day interpretations. Originating in language used by roman infantry to describe time ‘on leave’, it became to be roughly translated as leisure time, or time away from one’s daily public life (‘public life’ in this sense was typically used to describe active engagements or commitments to further the state). In a broad and perhaps simplistic sense, otium could be described in modern terms as leisure time away from employment.

The best way to carry out this withdrawal from public life was a cause for much debate, and opinions were typically divided into two camps; those who favoured an active life (otium cum dignitate) or a contemplative life. In ancient times, taking your retirement or even having the time to discuss it was reserved for those of the aristocratic class, by virtue of the fact that they were the only ones who could afford to have retired from public life and had the rare option of pursuing a restful life or otherwise. Nowadays anyone with a computer and an internet connection can research the best way to a fulfilling life, and even arm themselves with the knowledge to retire early themselves.

Twenty centuries later, the world has changed in a way that would be out of the realms of thinking for the average Greek or Roman citizen. Even in recent times retirement has been traditionally seen as reserved for the older generations or those who have earned millions in business. The last 20 years or so have changed this thinking and personal finance authors and bloggers have largely lambasted the traditional thinking of retirement and financial advice, resulting in the FI/RE movement (financial independence/retire early).

This movement in turn has spawned myriads of lifestyle blogs, all claiming the ideas that underpin FI/RE fall within the everyday person’s grasp. Although occasionally their prerogatives should be questioned by determining what they stand to gain, there seems to be enough evidence to support this. The numbers add up and although there are some variations, they are all based on the same theme: spend less than you earn, invest the rest. Most of the time however the debate is based around how to best optimise performance, and not on the destination.

Unfortunately this laser focused view on controlling spending and investing can actually divert attention from where it is needed most. In fact occasionally investing in yourself and in quality products can make more of a positive impact to your life than obsessing over spreadsheets and financial statements ever could.

This is not a FI/RE blog per se. You are unlikely to find talk of penny pinching, or tips on how to cycle credit cards to your advantage. Our interest is more foundational; to discuss the humanistic motivations for retirement and to try to understand how to best live out our days with this in mind. We welcome case studies from people who have retired, so as to examine and learn from them. As for whether to persue an active or contemplative life – this will be a core theme of exploration.

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