In a lot of ways I think that I’m so much better off for being so active in my own finances and early retirement planning. All around me I see people who have not taken control of their financial future – and it devastates them.
They are stuck working at jobs they hate until well into their golden years. They have to miss family engagements. They are under the servitude of others until their health no longer allows them or qualifies them to be.
It’s a sad way to go out, and it’s not something that I will ever allow for myself or my family.
But despite my best intentions to achieve what others feel is unachievable,
Is there a dark side to my obsession with planning for an early retirement?
I ask this question with the sincerest of curiosity because at times I feel like I’m creating a monster. Just like in the story of Doctor Frankenstein, he became so obsessed with the goal to create life that he failed to see through the eyes of others that he had created horrific creature. Sometimes I wonder if I’m beginning to fail to see what my own ambitions are doing to me.
Could the very thing I believe will deliver me into financial freedom also be an unhealthy distraction from the life I’m supposed to lead? Are the things I’m doing now becoming counter-productive and will ultimately bring about the collapse of the very retirement that I’m trying to prepare for?
The Pitfalls of Early Retirement Planning:
Where this all stems from is work.
No – this post isn’t a declaration to quit my job or to whine about whatever work I have to do. It’s not like that.
This post is about something different; something that you don’t find often in personal finance blogs when it comes to career: Ownership of responsibility for the way you feel.
You see the question I’ve been asking myself lately is: If I do achieve an early retirement, how will I feel about the career I achieved? Will I look back with regret at the opportunities I had missed? Will I have spent my last few years in contempt when I should have been reaching higher and higher?
When I was younger and first starting out in my job, I wanted nothing more than to go up the corporate ladder. I was a newly minted professional who wanted to work his way into leading the whole group and making the important decisions.
Like most young people, the reasons why you want to are simple. There’s more money in management. Not only can your salary go up, but so can your chances for bigger bonuses and compensation. Then you add on the power, respect, perks, prestige, and a whole lot of other benefits that comes with working your way up.
But as this story often goes, the higher up you work, the more B.S. you have to put up with as well. And at times that level of crap you have to deal with is not always proportional to your compensation or what you’re getting out of it. Life becomes frustrating, and so the quest the fund an early retirement picks up more and more steam as your plans become more concrete and realistic.
Before long, you want nothing more than to finally cross the finish line and declare to the world that you finally have enough F.U. money to say goodbye to it all. And, hence, this is where early retirement planning could become a killer.
They Will Know:
My first concern to this whole situation is: Won’t people notice? Usually when you’ve decided that you’re ready to move on to another phase of your life, you tend to start ignoring the previous one now that it’s old news. That is a concern to me.
I don’t want to become complacent or unenthusiastic about what I do. First of all, it would reflect in my work. That gold star standard I hold myself to would crumble down to a good-enough benchmark. And that’s not me.
Secondly, if my performance did erode, is it any wonder that my pay-scale or opportunities would also suffer? No one wants to reward someone who’s just doing okay. No one wants the guy who moves at a medium pace to lead this next big thing.
Wouldn’t those actions compromise the very thing we’re trying to do: Create more income and more opportunities for me to save so we can check out faster? What if things got really bad and your raises or bonuses ceased? What if you ultimately lost your job? Now you’ve really thrown a wrench in your retirement planning strategy.
Is It All About the Race or Finishes It First?
This is the part that concerns me the most: What if getting the most out of your career was supposed to be one of the defining experiences of your life?
Some people like to think back to high-school or college or the military or whatever as being one of the greatest phases of their lifetime. I think we could all agree that building a career is also one of those areas. The guy who works in the office next to me is in his 60’s and he is full of thousands of stories all throughout his career. He can tell you all about the different people he’s met (most of which he still talks to), the places he’s been, successes he’s had, big mistakes he’s made, etc.
What if a consequence to early retirement planning is cheating ourselves out of those experiences?
Having worked over 10 years now at my current job, I can assure you that my perspective on what I do is completely different than when I first started. When I meet people, they’re not just a customer or a person from another company. They are potential allies or people I can network with.
When I learn a new skill, it is not so I can just get this thing done that I have to do. I really do want to understand what it is I have learned and why it is important. Do I understand it well enough to show others? If not, then I really don’t understand it as well as I thought.
And finally – what have I done for my colleagues? Have I increased the chances of success for any of my junior staff? Have I given them everything they need to succeed above and beyond where I have? Selflessness can be a very high level of currency for the soul.
Since no one looks out for you the way that YOU do, I think it’s important that we ask ourselves the question: How much of this are we sacrificing or compromising in our early retirement planning ambitions? It’s not an easy question to answer, but one that you could possibly be faced with – perhaps after you’ve already crossed the finish line. The very thought of this will remind me that day to day is where the action happens, and what we do now is what’s important. There won’t be any notice of a great event or great opportunity that’s going to occur. It happens when you make it happen. And even if you are plotting your own early escape, remember that there are still plenty of good times ahead and things that are left un-finished. You just have to ask yourself the very personal question of where you think those best opportunities lie and what you honestly think you’ll get out of them.
- How Do You Compare to the Average Retirement Savings of Other Americans?
- There Are No Shortcuts to Early Retirement Planning
- Why You Need to Start Saving for Retirement in Your 30s Today
- How to Make Money on the Side During Retirement
Images courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Green Money Stream says
I enjoyed reading this post. I have similar concerns as you. I worked my way through college, obtained a masters degree, and worked to achieve status in my profession. Won’t I regret leaving it behind? Also, I have a sense of guilt about potentially leaving my employer years earlier than they anticipate that I would. I am still working these concerns out, not exactly sure how it will all play out years from now.
Thanks GMS, and welcome to the site. It seems counter-intuitive to work so hard for a career that you’re potentially walking out on half-way through before its even matured to its fullest and brightest potential, doesn’t it? I have considered consulting for my employer in the post retirement years as a good stepping stone / exit strategy.
[email protected] says
We’re both in our early 30’s and I do think that planning for early retirement messes with our heads. It’s hard to think out that far since it’s still so far away. Plus, our kids are still young so that will probably push out our retirement a little later than if we hadn’t had kids. Only time will tell!
Some days I feel like my wife and I salivate for retirement worse than co-workers who are in their 50’s do. Some people don’t even settle on a career until they are in their 30’s, and here we are ready to cash out the chips!
Kids are a whole aspect to this discussion that I didn’t even bring up. My son should be right smack in the middle of college when my planned retirement would actually happen. That may pose a few more challenges than I’m anticipating ….
Stefanie @ The Broke and Beautiful Life says
I imagine folks looking to retire early as very earnest and hard working. Even if their plan doesn’t involve staying at the company for the longer term, I can’t imagine them slacking off or not feeling invested in the future of the work.
Logic would have you think that way. But sometimes I’ve felt the opposite. Sometimes I’ve felt more pre-occupied with my own priorities whereas I used to more attentive to matters of work.
There’s nothing wrong with planning for an early retirement, but I think it all depends on how early your planning. The earlier the retirement, the more money is needed to sustain all those extra years. A healthy balance is needed, retirement at 45 is still early, but you’ll have more life experience. It all depends on what your other goals in life are. So if you achieve the goal of having the funds to retire at 35 but decide to work till 50, what’s the problem? You can just enjoy your retirement even more. Having the choice of early retirement is probably the biggest bonus as most people don’t get that chance.
Well put. And it is all about the choice; not necessary actually acting on it. I might have a change of heart and want to work until I’m 60. But that still wouldn’t stop me from positioning my finances to retire by 45 if I want to.
Incredibly important is to understand what fulfills us as individuals. Is it our chosen profession, our desire to pursue financial freedom, or something else? I know for me, my desire is achieve a level of financial independence that allows me to freely and passionately pursue the things I desire most. Time with family, time with friends, and other passions are tremendously important, and hold far more value for me than titles or career achievements.
I think you are right is asking yourself what and why are things important in life, and will you live to regret the decisions you are making. As you’ve said, no one looks out for you quite like YOU do. Best of luck as you work through what is important for you, career or otherwise.
Sometimes asking the question is all you need to do. Perhaps you’ll find out you’re not making a mistake at all. But if you had never challenged yourself, you’d never know.
Financial Samurai says
Good question I’ve asked too. Check out my post on Financial Hoarding and The Dark Side of Early Retirement. I write these posts from a pre and current retiree’s perspective.
Thanks for the suggestions Sam. I’ll check them out.
[email protected] says
Excellent points. If I was still working five days a week, I think I would certainly not be giving it may all because my heart would not be in it, but by working 3 days a week, I do feel that I have the energy to be the best I can be. I don’t want my career to define me, but I also don’t want to look like I’m phoning it home. I honestly don’t know if I will ever walk away from eye care completely, but if I can just get to the point where I could if I wanted to, I would know I’m doing it for the right reasons. I’ve also learned over the years that everyone is replaceable. If you’ve devoted your life to your career, you can bet no on appreciates that more than you do. Some people work for 30-40 years to get that pat on the back that never comes. I think my advice would be do your best, but don’t hinge your hopes and dreams on any one job.
So maybe the secret is to find a job with flex-time where you can work 3 days a week? 🙂 I’m sure I’d feel much differently about a lot of things in life if that were the case.
You bring up such an interesting debate. Is it worth it to invest in a career and garnish respect? Or are you being a fool who will simply get played out by his/her company? So far I’ve seen it go both ways. In my field there are some people who have really made a name for themselves and are well respected for the accomplishments they achieved within our industry. But then what about everyone else? If you’re just a regular working Joe who puts in his 30 years, will anyone cry when you get replaced by a less expensive hot shot college kid? This would make a great topic for a whole other post!!
I would like to see this too. I have been with the same company for 27 years an I am fading in power and respect. I can’t be the only one. If I stay 4 more years my pension will double, so it feels like I’m trapped.
Matt Becker says
To me, the real goal is happiness and fulfillment. Part of that is having the financial strength to have the option to do what I/my family chooses. But “stop working” itself isn’t a goal of mine. In the end I think you simply want to be happy with what you’re doing with your life, whatever that means to you. I doubt you want to reach a point where you’re doing nothing, you just want to reach a point where there’s nothing your FORCED to do. But if you don’t also have something you enjoy that fills up your time, then the point is lost.
True there – I don’t think I could ever do nothing. Even if I was retired I’d still have something else I’d work on to feel fulfilled.
Grayson @ Debt Roundup says
Great question. I can see the problem of not fulfilling your duties because you have moved on and that is one that I think about. While I am not aiming for early retirement, I do want to make sure that I provide my end of the bargain with my employer. I want to constantly provide work at 110% of goal. Anything below is not good enough for me.
Agreed. I cringe to think if I could ever stoop so low as to live by the popular Office Space quote from Peter Gibbons: “That’s my only real motivation is not to be hassled, that and the fear of losing my job. But you know, Bob, that will only make someone work just hard enough not to get fired.
Budget and the Beach says
Well since there is no way I’m retiring early I guess I don’t have to worry. lol! But I think it’s not an easy question to answer. My perspective on work has changed over the years. In my 20’s it was all about getting good jobs, in my 30’s it was all about creature comfort of my job, but now that I’m in my 40’s, I want meaningful work that I can create. Something I’ll be happy with. Your own ideas might change as you grow with your career. I wouldn’t worry too much about it. Just keep at doing what you LIKE doing.
I think as I get older and mature, the act of finding meaning in what you do takes on more and more priority. It feels good to see you plant seeds and watch them grow. No one wants to watch the city they built get destroyed.
Lance @ Money Life and More says
I definitely see how someone can have those concerns, but at the same time, maybe instead of early retirement you could aim for owning your own business? If I retired early, I can’t imagine doing nothing for my whole retirement, I’d probably always have a project I’d be working on and I think a small business is a great project, assuming it won’t draw down your savings.
Brian @ Luke1428 says
I think one could get so obsessed with retiring early, they could miss big opportunities in the present. Their mind is only open to one thing – getting out of the workforce ASAP. That clouds their vision on what else could be before them.
C. the Romanian says
In some cases, it’s best to be a bit selfish. Do what is best for you, your health and your family. If early retirement is an option and that would make you happy, then go for it. For all the other cons, time will solve them 🙂
[email protected] says
Since I don’t have kids yet I don’t mind working a lot. But once I have them I want to cut back my hours which will curtail my career. I’m good with that, but only a reality if I have saved or invested enough.
Done by Forty says
It’s an interesting question. I don’t think I’ll know the answer unfortunately until I actually go through with an early retirement. But I’d like to think that if it turns out to be a poor decision, that I miss fulfillment from work…then I can likely return to some sort of meaningful work again without too much effort. I can always decide, nope, I want to work again. I can’t get back the time though, if I decide to work until 65 and then decide I’d have rather retired decades earlier.
Ben @ The Wealth Gospel says
Great post! I think the main thing I’m afraid of with shooting for an early retirement is the missed opportunities. What if something bad happens to my wife or me? Are we going to regret putting off living? There has to be a balance, but I think each of us has to find our own balance.
Little late on the comment here, but these are definitely good questions to ask! I have been searching for answers to these specific questions for over a year now, and I have found a lot of good advice on these topics. If there was one source i would recommend it would be Timothy Keller’s book “Every Good Endeavor” It is fairly new so there aren’t a lot of used copies floating around (so you will have trouble buying on for less then $15 unless you are ok with a kindle format version for $10). But it is well worth the investment in understanding the role of your work, and abilities in your current profession and outside of it.
I’ve definitely noticed a slow progressive downshifting at work. Thing is though that I feel like the level of effort that I’m putting in now is still markedly above par, and frankly, about the right level of work:life balance that I’m interested in and that I should be putting in. Progress toward FI has actually helped enable a level of work effort that I consider optimal for what I do and the priorities I have