The Depressing Truth About Early Retirement

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Excerpted from the interesting Early Retirement page of Philip Greenspun, a fellow who says he retired at age 37.

Ask a wage slave what he’d like to accomplish. Chances are the response will be something like “I’d start every day at the gym and work out for two hours until I was as buff as Brad Pitt. Then I’d practice the piano for three hours. I’d become fluent in Mandarin so that I could be prepared to understand the largest transformation of our time. I’d really learn how to handle a polo pony. I’d learn to fly a helicopter. I’d finish the screenplay that I’ve been writing and direct a production of it in HDTV.”

Why hasn’t he accomplished all of those things? “Because I’m chained to this desk 50 hours per week at this horrible [insurance|programming|government|administrative|whatever] job.

So he has no doubt that he would get all these things done if he didn’t have to work? “Absolutely none. If I didn’t have the job, I would be out there living the dream.”

Suppose that the guy cashes in his investments and does retire. What do we find? He is waking up at 9:30 am, surfing the Web, sorting out the cable TV bill, watching DVDs, talking about going to the gym, eating Doritos, and maybe accomplishing one of his stated goals.

Retirement forces you to stop thinking that it is your job that holds you back. For most people the depressing truth is that they aren’t that organized, disciplined, or motivated.

Could this be me? Nah, my goal is to be a beach bum and do nothing. 😉

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  1. My goal in retirement is to do more of the things I enjoy now. And to be more organized about it. We’ll see about the latter. 😉

    I think having a job really does sap your energy (I include freelancers in this). So the key, IMO, is to approach your dreams slowly. Maybe he could start studying Mandarin or go to the gym 3 times a week. Once he’s learned Mandarin, he could go on to the screenplay.

  2. Alien TYC says

    The Full-time job is always 1 of the many excuses why people claim that is the bottleneck to their dreams. I guess this is human nature…
    I have to be frank that I sometimes use that as a excuse which I know deep down by heart, there are other ways to achieve the dream step by step

  3. Yeah that is just an excuse not to do the things you dream of. It is simple enough to start learning a new language with just 20 30 mins a day or even exercising. It just takes extra effort to overcome our mind telling us not to do these things right now.

  4. haha…oh man, this is so true. it’s all about knowing yourself when it comes down to it. i know very well that if i retired tomorrow, i won’t use those 9 hours efficiently, UNLESS i am forced to start the day early doing something.

    so i’d work at Starbucks, or a bank, first thing in the morning for only like 3 hours, then i’d be “in work mode” for the rest of the day to do whatever i damn well please 😉 it’s really the only way i’d get up to do something…unless it’s to blog.

  5. budgetsaresexy’s comment about maintaining a part-time job is a good one. Being a volunteer or WalMart greeter may be just the thing you need to prevent atrophy of discipline, even though you technically don’t need a job. I know it’s easy for me to completely waste a free day doing nothing significant, but sometimes that’s gratifying in it’s own way.

    I love your comment at the end. The way to solve this problem is to make it the solution and embrace the life of a beach bum.

  6. Yeah, sleeping in and watching tv sounds awful. I’d MUCH rather go to work. 😉

  7. I wouldn’t say we are saving for retirement to “do whatever we want.” I would say we are saving to ensure we can make some career changes if we decided too, or do not decided too. I believe age discrimination in my business is rampant, and we need to prepare for that. Also, my husband has a “pre-existing” condition so we are preparing for the increases in medical costs.

    I agree with you though, during layoff times when we were looking for jobs it is amazing how quickly one can become unmotivated. Especially when you last job made it quite clear how replaceable you are.

  8. Being a beach bum and doing nothing is my goal too!

  9. Eating doritos all day isnt terrible.
    My father in law just retired… he is so busy he isnt sure how he ever had time to work. He thought he would get a part-time job, instead, he is enjoying life at 55. I think its a matter of how you approach it – I know plenty of retirees in this same boat… and plenty who stopped working, then stopped living… literally.

  10. I “retired” in 1999 at age 52. Since then I’ve done some part-time work (in my profession), but I’ve let that dwindle from 15 hours/week in the early years to almost nothing today. Nontheless, my day is full of interesting stuff. Yes, I surf the web quite a bit, but I don’t eat Doritos in front of the tube. I volunteer (a city government commission; the AARP tax preparation program; helping homeowners avoid foreclosure), study (auditing a college course each quarter at the local university), walk, swim, cook for my wife and me, and manage a book group. Over the last year, we did a major home remodel, so that took lots of time and energy, which I had available.

    Not working also leaves time to just do what I feel like: a long, slow walk on a spring afternoon; lingering over the newspaper with a cup of coffee; brunch with friend fighting cancer; reading for pleasure. And my evenings are free to spend with my (working) wife.

    I think retirement is what you make of it: Even when I was working I was inquisitive, with lots of non-work interests. That’s still me.

  11. I will say this…………..

    MY dad ——–> Can’t stand not working. Can afford to retire, but just can’t stand being home doing nothing even though he’s living in the dream house he built for himself, got the dog, the ATV, the boat, the little fruit orchard on his property, etc. etc. etc. He’s just stir crazy.

    MY dad-in-law ———> I asked him the other day how he felt about being retired and if he has had time to start missing work yet. As he sat down with a glass of cheap red wine, he looked at me and said…….”There is NOTHING I *MISS* about work!!!”

    So there ya’ go.

  12. I’d probably be a lazy bum. I’m already lazy and I have a regular 9-5. On weekends I stay in bed until 12pm sometimes to 2pm, then I get up and do nothing. My day STARTS at 5pm on a Saturday so I can imagine retirement would be more of the same except I’d like to take trips though and maybe spend a few minutes a day on the treadmill to stay healthy.

  13. My goal is also to be a bum when I retire. I love doing nothing.

  14. This reminds me of an article I read in The Economist from December 2006:

    “In America, when the working week has shortened, the gap has been filled by assiduous TV-watching.”

    Depressing, but sounds about right. Here’s a copy of the full article someone posted on her blog:

  15. I really think an easy, gradual transition will work best for me. I’ve noticed that whenever I abruptly stop doing anything, I lose my mind.

    Whenever I used to end the semester in college (especially after being all hyped up taking finals and writing papers), I would do crazy stuff like stay up till 5:00 a.m. writing unnecessary programs, for amusement (insane!). I even had a part time job then, but it wasn’t enough to fill my newly found time, so I would end up going out too much, feeling sick and going crazy. Then about 2 weeks afterwards, everything would finally calm down.

    Anyway, to circumvent this kind of meltdown, I plan to retire gradually and never completely stop working, if possible. I definitely need a little structure. But the beach does sound wonderful right now …

  16. I don’t think I could completely stop working either, but I would definitely rather be a consultant than an employee.

  17. The idea of having an agenda during retirement/free time is too much like work. Spontaneity is sexier.

  18. My goal for retirement is to visit the library daily and mumble under my breath about what’s in the newspaper. Also, I will explain to those no good kids that they should keep it down.

  19. Joshua Katt says

    This book is a great quick read about really early early retirement.

    Tongue in cheek but does explore the financial aspects retirement too.

    I really enjoyed it – from a 45yo CPA in the northeast

  20. I like your goal, Kevin. I think that I will be pretty lazy when I retire as well, at least at first. What I have realized is that while I enjoy relaxing and not having any responsibilities, it can get old pretty quickly. I had that problem not too long ago. So now what I do is go to the gym in my free time and look on craigslist for activities going on in my area. It is a great way to try new things and to meet people with similar interests.

  21. Yeah, when I retire, I want to be at least ABLE to vegetate
    if I want to (and being a beach bum sounds reasonable for at
    least some of my time in retirement)

  22. It’s funny to hear everyone say that they want to be bums.

    I just moved to the US with 5 co-workers and “the wives”. They don’t have work visas, so they actually can’t work. So it’s basically become a mini-retirement for them (we’re all here for at least a year).

    I can tell you that being a beach bum or watching TV all day becomes old pretty fast. Most people I’ve met could honestly do with a few months of such activity, but to quote Jessica: “What I have realized is that while I enjoy relaxing and not having any responsibilities, it can get old pretty quickly.”

    This is why I regularly bring up the question of what you want to do when you retire? If you can’t envision anything beyond work and vegetating you will end up in working until you die or working until you vegetate (not much different from death really).

    Yes, from the perspective of a 20-something or 30-something, it would be easy to say that you just want to retire to a beach somewhere. But that’s just a cop-out. “The wives” are hitting the 6-month marker and most of them are feeling the itch to “do something” (we all have very clean houses at least 🙂

  23. rubin pham says

    this is the reason why i will never retire.
    i will work until the day i die.

  24. Joan Ferreira says

    I plan to Retire at my late 40s early 50s; but is true, I see retirement as the opportunity to travel for 5 months and then come back home and get a seasonal/part time job or volunteer opportunity that will still help you get up early in the morning.

    I think I will do peace corps in like three different locations and in between I will just work on volunteer work. Hopefully the money in the bank stops acting crazy and makes me some money by then.

  25. I used to have the same kind of attitude about weight loss….. Wouldn’t it be great if I could take 6 months or more off (say by winning the lotto) and focus on nothing but losing weight / enjoying life? Of course I knew the first time I thought it that it was a bunch of crap. If I wanted to lose weight all I had to do is do it and stop making excuses. It took a while but I finally stopped making excuses and made it happen (I have lost 34 pounds in the last six months and still taking weight off).

    It works for like in general too. If you want to do or learn something just do it and quit making excuses!

  26. My goal of having enough to ‘retire’ is a little different. For me, I see it as being able to work on whatever I want to work on regardless of what the short-term financial compensation may be and the ability to change it when I decide that there’s something else more interesting.

    Basically, my goal is to remove money (i.e. gotta work to pay the bills) from the equation when I decide ‘what do I want to do with my life?’

  27. Tyrone Biggums says

    This is why I don’t have a strong desire for early retirement. I’m in my early 30s right now. What do I do when I have a day off from work? Watch TV/movies, play video games, go to the gym, sleep, or shop. Other than the gym and maybe movies, I probably won’t have these same interests in my 50’s/60’s. So what am I going to do sitting around the house all day?

    Travel would be an excellent option, but taking a lot of vacations quickly drains your savings.

  28. Interesting discussion since I have been relatively happily retired for two years now (semi-retired for four years) when my work is “in demand” and so it would be possible to continue working “until death.”

    There are occaisional challenges to keeping oneself on that “dream project” or finishing my proect. My first project in retirement was to finish a dream novel that I had been working on a bit prior to retirement. It has become a project I do one month when living in my “writing location.” Then I take a break and return to the city to sort out personal matters and yes, go to the movies, watch dvds, read two or three books at a time, and then going either jogging or swimming daily (5 of 7 days per week). Yes, I do enjoy waking up whenever I want, staying up late, and doing nothing too… during my non-work project month.

    I read this blog because retirement does take work and discipline and reading your comments has helped me to better understand those challenges.

    Money is no problem and yes, though I had a dream opportunity to work in an exotic country for one month recently I was not disappointed when it was postponed until after the Bhutan winter. Do I really want to go back to work again? Judging from my relief at the postponement…the answer is no! I would rather work for myself and be in control of my life and do the work that I want to do…which right now is finishing and publishing my book which I admit is not easy and takes some intense willpower…next project not sure right now…but it will be what I want to do.

  29. I think the desire to retire young is connected to your current job dissatisfaction. I was a trailing military spouse who had to take whatever job was available every time we moved. Constantly starting at the bottom and competing with a large pool of desperate military spouses, I worked jobs I never thought I’d work. Even when I thought I had a decent job, I’d end up with co-workers who couldn’t stand my joy and did everything to kill it. My point is, working is not the reason I’d seek early retirement. Putting up with impossible people would be my reason. I was shocked at how nasty people can be.
    On a slightly different note, we were stationed overseas when government jobs were being cut. I had a Bachelors Degree and a Reserve Army Commission. My two job options were to work a Human Resources position for minimum wage, which barely covered my work clothes and gas costs or work as a Custodian. I took the Custodian job because it allowed me to drive in early with my spouse, get off early and paid 50% more than minimum wage. I was left alone to do my job. To this day, I have no idea who my boss was. My guess is, he or she signed my time card and was happy with how I did my job, thus leaving me be. No phones. No co-workers who I had to pick up the slack for. Now, we are settled in one place. I am considering seeking that same kind of employment.

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