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Early Retirement - Too Good To Be True?

Let me tell you a story. I go to the gym with a guy I'll call Ted. Ted hates his job. Almost every time I see him he talks about how there's going to be no time today to do his work; he has constant interruptions. He talks about how he has no autonomy. He talks about how he likes the good-old-days when he could have a whole hour for lunch. Ted wishes he could go fishing more than twice per year.


Now let me tell you another story. I have a good friend who I'll call Victor. Victor hates his job. He talks about working long hours. He talks about red tape. He talks about hating his boss. He talks about his boss hating him. He can't keep employees because he has little room in his budget for proper salaries.


Ted and Victor have something in common. They keep working at the same place, and they can't wait to retire.

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What Is Retirement?


Retirement used to be a time when you got to take a few years and relax after working decades at a job. It was the time everyone looked forward to; a time when they didn't have to use that old alarm clock. They could travel more, golf more, and sleep in.


This made a lot of sense when we worked until 62 or 63 and only lived until 65. We are living a lot longer now, but many are still retiring at the same age. This creates a long, long period of leisure.


Downside of Retirement


Not that long ago, there wasn't a lot of research done on the downside of retirement. Retirement oftentimes means more than 30 years of leisure. It represents a loss of that feeling of usefulness. People relied on you at work. You got to interact with your work friends. You put out fires. There is good research now showing that our brains need human interaction and problem-solving - the two things you get at a job. Plus, more and more people are finding that retirement is boring.


Adaptation


As humans, we are very good at getting used to our surroundings. This is where cliches like "the grass is always greener" come from, or the desire to "keep up with the Joneses." Retirement is fun...at first. Then we get used to it. If traveling or playing golf is your most important activity in retirement, then traveling and playing golf becomes your job - and they aren't fun anymore.


Return on Life


Instead of focusing on the return on your investments, I recommend focusing on the return on your life. Move the focus from retirement to now. We only have a set number of trips around the sun; do you want to spend your time, energy, and skill at a job you hate in exchange for money and misery? Trade in the job you hate for a job you love. Don't worry if it doesn't make you as much money; you can always retire later. And you won't mind because you love your job.


Retirement Redefined


I like to define retirement not as that boring period at the end of our crappy jobs, but rather a time when we don't have to work anymore, but we can, and we want to. Retirement is a time when we can take jobs that don't pay very well - even volunteer, but are very satisfying because we can use our time, energy, and skill on helping causes we care about. By focusing on creating a great life we are rewarded with a great life, instead of breaking ourselves for a great few years at the end of our lives.


Live life on purpose. Align your life - your time, your energy, your skill, your money and spending - with what is important to you. It's okay to spend your resources on things you value. Try not to waste your resources on things you don't value.


Final Thought


As with everything else, this might not be right for you, given your unique situation. This is just one opinion. Take what I say and compare it to other points of view you've heard, and come to a conclusion that works for you.

I am a financial therapist and financial behavior specialist. Money Health is a blog and newsletter about personal finance and its relationship to psychology, philosophy, and mindfulness.

You can learn more about me here.

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