Are You on Track for Early Retirement?

You may be able to give yourself that gift sooner - Issue #16

I’m not a fan of opening presents early. My baby 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. I enjoy the anticipation. I think that’s as much of the experience as the actual gift itself. Sometimes it’s even better.

But, there is one gift that you have been waiting to open your entire life. You’re putting it off because there is so much to do before you feel that 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 cheated and opened my 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 is when you decide that it’s time to spend the rest of your life exactly the way you envisioned it could be.

It is 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 are 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.

People are putting off retirement

If you feel this way, you are not alone. More Americans are retiring later, and there are myriad reasons they feel like they have to push out that date.

  • The weak economy — 25%

  • Inadequate finances or can’t afford to retire — 18%

  • A change in their employment situation — 17%

  • Needing to pay for health care costs — 12%

  • Lack of faith in Social Security or government — 9%

  • Higher-than-expected cost of living — 9%

  • Wanting to make sure they have enough money to retire comfortably — 8%

Source: Gallup

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. 74% of Americans plan to work past retirement age

People aren’t necessarily saying that they want to retire later. They are saying that they must retire later. They can’t afford it. 53% say they can’t afford to save more for retirement due to their cost of living. 27% say that their retirement savings plan will provide less than they expected. 46% have 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 fatally flawed strategy. We may still be in denial, but I don’t think the majority 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 that 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 know that 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 we know increases 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. But, 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 my old 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 nine 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 commute.
No cramped cubicle.
No fluorescent lights.
No endless meetings.
No boss.

What semi-retirement looks like for me

I’m sure that your vision of “retirement” is different than mine. Heck, my old view of retirement was very different than how I think of it now, and what I’ve planned to do for the next 20 years. I challenge you to rethink what you would want to do with the rest of your life if you could leave your 9–5 job behind.

What semi-retirement meant for me is only intended to give you some ideas. Please don’t buy the house next to me and move in.

  • More time with my children before they grew up and moved away

  • More time with my wife, instead of working nights and weekends

  • Eating dinner with my family every night (imagine that)

  • More time for regular workouts to improve my health and fitness

  • Working flexible hours that would free me from the tyranny of a rush-hour commute

  • Reduced cost of living so that I didn’t feel like I had to keep working myself to death

  • Living somewhere where I could 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) were dying. I had already experienced death before and losing people I loved. But, they weren’t close to my age.

It’s a mortality wakeup 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 in the hell wants to die at work or during a miserable commute? Who wants to die before you have had a chance to enjoy everything you thought you would, once you escaped that 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 that I snapped, after being stuck in horrible traffic — as usual. I decided that 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.”

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 fear. 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.

What I’ve been reading and creating

  • Speaking of getting older, I read this HBR article with “5 Ways to Respond to Ageism in a Job Interview.” According to a recent AARP study, nearly two out of three workers age 45 and older say they have experienced age discrimination. Some of the most useful advice is to adopt a “consulting mindset,” demonstrate humility, and reframe any inappropriate comments or questions.

  • I created and launched a new course called, “Finding Your Purpose and Calling.” It is possible to plan a career that leverages your talents, skills, knowledge, and experience to tap into a passion that enables you to find purpose in your work. This course helps you discover how to align your calling with making a living.

  • I launched my new Invincible Career publication on Medium. I’ve been inviting new writers to join the publication to provide our readers with a variety of voices and experiences. Here are the submission guidelines.