Are You Interested in Early Retirement? (Issue #7)
You could live the experience of it sooner than you think
I’m not a fan of opening gifts early. My youngest brother used to beg my parents to open his presents the day before his actual birthday. They would always give in, and it drove me crazy.
I like surprises. The anticipation is something I enjoy. I think that’s as much of the experience as the actual gift itself. Sometimes it’s even better.
But there is one gift you’ve been waiting to open your entire adult life. You’re putting it off because there is so much to do before you feel you are ready to open it.
You’ve watched others wait, and wait, and you’ve been told that you must wait as well. Why? Because everyone does, and that’s how it’s done. That’s why.
Well, I went ahead and opened that gift early, and now I wonder why I waited so long. It’s better than I expected, and the only regret I feel is that I didn’t open it sooner.
Ok, I’m done being coy about what this gift is:
It’s when you decide it’s time to spend the rest of your life exactly the way you envisioned it could be.
It’s that thing you’ve promised yourself that you will do with the rest of your life once you reach that mythical finish line of retirement. However, you don’t think that you can do it yet because:
You don’t believe you’re old enough to retire.
You haven’t saved enough money.
Your retirement plan isn’t growing fast enough.
You can barely keep up with your debt and expenses.
You’ve always thought of retirement as a full stop. No more working at all.
You’re not alone. Many people feel this way and that’s why they're delaying their retirement, too.
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People are putting off retirement
More Americans are retiring later, and there are myriad reasons they feel like they have to push out that date.
The state of the economy
Inadequate finances or can’t afford to retire
A change in their employment situation
Needing to pay for health care costs
Lack of faith in Social Security or government
Higher-than-expected cost of living
Wanting to make sure they have enough money to retire comfortably
Given all of this, the average age for retirement has climbed in the last three decades, from 57 to 63 years old. Now, most people say that they won’t retire until after 65. Most Americans plan to work past retirement age (myself included).
Some people aren’t saying that they want to retire later. They’re saying that they must retire later. They can’t afford it.
They can’t afford to save more for retirement because of their cost of living.
Their retirement savings plan will provide less than they expected.
They grossly underestimated the amount of savings they will need to retire comfortably.
For years, I’ve been questioning the concept of “retirement” anyway, and now I’m confident that it is a flawed life strategy. We may still be in denial, but I don’t think most of us can afford to retire or should retire.
I know that all of us would benefit more from not fully retiring. But that doesn’t mean we are eternally trapped in our 9–5 grind until they wheel us out.
What if you find out that retirement sucks?
An older friend was recently visiting, and we started talking about his retirement. He retired years ago, and until now, he seemed happy about that decision. He plays golf, visits family, and decides how he wants to spend his days. During this trip, he finally admitted that retirement sucks (not exactly his words, but that was the sentiment). He is bored to tears.
I’ve always been suspicious of the traditional ideal vision of retirement. It didn’t look that great to me. The discussion confirmed my suspicions. Retirement is not only boring, but I’ve also discovered that it’s terrible for your wellbeing.
Growing up, I heard that retiring was good for your health, since work is stressful, and now you can relax and enjoy life. Wrong. Research has found that early retirement does not have a positive effect on your health.
“Early retirement may be a risk factor for mortality and prolonged working life may provide survival benefits among US adults”
In other words, if you retire early, you may die earlier. Retiring just a year later reduces your mortality risk by 11% if you are healthy. Even unhealthy people have a lowered mortality risk if they work longer. The cognitive, emotional, psychological, and financial benefits of work reduce anxiety and depression, which also reduces health risks.
Why retire at all?
I’ve concluded that I don’t want to retire, ever. Now, I know that immediately causes an adverse reaction in most people who hear me say that.
However, I think that’s because they are imagining a dreadful commute every morning and evening, and working for the rest of their lives in the job they currently have. No wonder they tense up!
When I say that I don’t want to retire, I don’t mean that I want to keep chugging along in some 9–5 job forever. I’ll let the cat out of the bag: I already stopped doing that a long time ago. To be exact, that happened over 12 years ago when I left my last corporate job. Since then, I’ve been doing the work that I want, when I want, where I want, and collaborating with amazing people with whom I enjoy spending time.
No cramped cubicle.
No fluorescent lights.
No endless meetings.
What semi-retirement looks like for me
I’m sure that your vision of “retirement” differs from mine. Heck, my old view of retirement differed greatly from how I think of it now, and what I’ve planned to do for the next 20 years.
I challenge you to answer this question:
What you would want to do with the rest of your life if you could leave your 9–5 job behind?
I’m only sharing what semi-retirement means for me to give you some ideas about what it could be like for you. Please don’t buy the house next to me and move in!
Running my own business on my schedule.
Working with people with whom I enjoy spending time.
Working remotely and escaping the tyranny of a rush-hour commute.
More time for daily exercise to improve my health and fitness.
More time with my children before they grow up and move away.
More time with my wife instead of working nights and weekends.
Eating dinner with my family every night (imagine that!).
Reduced cost of living, so I don’t feel like I have to keep working myself to death to make ends meet.
Living somewhere where I can be in nature instead of only visiting it occasionally.
Making that last item happen by moving into the forest near the Sierra Nevada mountains.
Why I did it
I was in my 40s when it started happening. People who were my age (±5 years) were dying. Yes, I had already experienced death before and lost people I loved. But they weren’t close to my age.
It’s a mortality wake-up call when people close to your age die from heart disease, cancer, or even accidents. I also had a personal scare, which is why I take my health and fitness so seriously now.
You become acutely aware that there are no guarantees in life. You may not even make it to retirement. Who wants to die at work or during a miserable commute? Who wants to die before you have enjoyed everything you thought you would once you left your job?
I also became more aware of how quickly my children were growing up and how little time I got to spend with them every day. Sometimes I would leave for work before they were awake. Sometimes I would come home from work, and they were already asleep. I can recall days going by without actually seeing them face-to-face.
I still remember the day I snapped, after being stuck in horrible traffic — as usual.
I decided I didn’t want to keep wasting years of my life like that.
I didn’t want to keep putting off how and where I had always wanted to live since no one knows how much time they have left.
I decided that I wanted a better relationship with my children before they went off to college since you never get those childhood years back.
It took a great deal of planning and preparation and a big dose of faith and courage. But we finally took the leap. I went independent, and we made the move that made the rest of it possible.
We always enjoyed our vacations around Lake Tahoe and talked about being “up there” in the distant future. We finally asked ourselves, “What are we waiting for? We’re not going to live forever, and there are no guarantees in life.”
We moved away from the Bay Area and never looked back. I launched my coaching practice and never went back to a corporate office.
You deserve happiness
I don’t know what you have planned for your life that you’ve been putting off. But the rest of your life can start sooner than you think. It can begin sooner because it doesn’t have to be some mythical retirement where you anxiously watch your retirement savings dwindle as the years go by.
It’s time to stop thinking of retirement as “no longer working.” Instead, it should mean no longer working at a job you no longer enjoy. It can mean that work is doing what you want and the way you want to do it, perhaps for the first time in your life.
You can transition to your second act and let your “anti-retirement plan” help you live life on your terms without financial worries. Decide what is absolutely necessary and vital to you, and where everything fits in your priorities. You get to decide how you want to spend the rest of your life, and you can choose to start doing that now.
Larry Cornett received his Ph.D. in Psychology from Rice University. He spent decades in the Silicon Valley tech industry as a designer, Design leader, Product executive, and startup founder. He eventually left the corporate world to start a coaching practice and now lives in Northern California near Lake Tahoe with his wife and children, and a gigantic Great Dane. He does his best to share advice to help others create their own invincible lives. He’s also on Twitter @cornett.