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Achieving Financial Independence Through Corporate Employment

Communicating an Early Retirement

I created an interesting social experiment this past Monday at work. I went and disclosed to my boss on Friday that I would be quitting on Monday and not only quitting, but turning in a retirement notice. He’s only a few years older than me and we debated if we should or should not use the term retirement. Some people would appreciate it while others may not. I had debated this earlier and even posted the following poll on Twitter.

65% said don’t use the term retirement!

We discussed this again on Sunday and agreed to publicly use the term retirement. I had saved enough to never work, I worked at a professional level for nearly sixteen years, and didn’t have the typical flashy expenses. It should be apparent to enough people that this is possible and even inspirational to some. This meant I was going to own the word retirement in the formal letter I submitted, the announcement to the small team, and in an email to our division of 400 or so people. I have been with the same company and moved around, so this email was surely going to be forwarded around!

So how did it play out?

We announced it to the team and in person everyone was congratulatory. Some where shocked and congratulatory, most were okay, then two of the younger employees were really excited. This was a preview of later in the day! The announcement was made by my boss to the leadership team around mid-day then the formal email was sent late in the afternoon.

The social experiment began. People’s reaction were almost entirely based on their age:

The Employees in their 20s: Excitement!

I think I just became the hero to every employee in the office 30 and under. There have been some rumblings from this group about “can he really be retiring and not going somewhere else”? After they talk to me or someone who knows me, they are inspired and excited. Some have shared with me friends of theirs who have found work/life balance making $40k/year in a resort town and how they think about that path instead of sitting under florescent lights. This must be what it feels like to be a celebrity! Most of my conversations and resources will be going into mentoring all of these people’s questions. Its been fun directing them to all the personal finance sites I know and figuring out what might fit them based on personality.

The Employees that are 40+: General Avoidance

I am being avoided by people in their 40s. I have plenty of coworkers who I talk to on a daily basis and I’m being outright avoided. This employee group has been in the industry for 5-15 years more than me and if most of that was in my line of business, their cumulative earnings are at least a million more than mine. I am making every effort to be respectful to this group, but the reaction has been less than supportive.

I’m starting to get feedback on the conversations happening when I’m not around. The most humorous one so far has been the reaction of “does not compute, does not compute”. Its as if the brain is short circuiting that this is just not possible! Its amazing to me considering I work in the business of money.

The Employees in their 30s: Mixed

I’ve had mixed reactions from my age peers. Most who know me are generally supportive with an occasional “does not compute” response from a high income upper 30 something. The most common response is “Well I have kids” and its not my place to argue. I’ve politely said something along the lines of “the average family of four lives a nice life here in the US on $60,000 or so and we are fortunate to make multiples of that” and turn the response to how we’re living really well on much less than that. That usually sets in and we each go about our way. The more thoughtful responses have been “I can’t quite do it as fast as you, but I plan on being independent by 45”.

Two people disclosed to me that they had seven figures saved, but loved the work-life balance of a six figure job with an expense account for client entertainment. They struggled with the idea of giving that up regardless of how much money saved. More respect to that decision, financial independence is about having options. I get how its tough to part with a job that’s not too difficult and comes with a high salary and nice perks.

One coworker told me “you know, we were considering spending a lot of money on a kitchen renovation and my wife and I talked about your retirement. I think we’d be better off putting the annual bonus and stock against the house and having a lot more flexibility in four years”. #proudmoment

There were two other groups that have given me the most thoughtful and supportive responses: The attempted retiree and the entrepreneur.

The Attempted Retiree: Pointed Advice

There were a couple of people who attempted retirement and told me their story (which consistently said “I hope this lasts longer than mine did”). One gentlemen was a burned out physician who thought he was going to train full time for marathons, travel, and spend time with family. He injured himself three weeks in over training and realized he was always wired to lead people. The itch was gone and he redesigned his career to a leadership role in medicine instead of a practicing internal medicine physician.

Another attempted early retiree told me he didn’t have the right plan going in about what to do from 8-5 every day and it caused his plan to fail. He kept telling me to know what I want to do. The third had sold his business, took six months off, then took a couple of quasi-volunteer positions to figure out what was next. He ultimately found his purpose in retirement as the business manager for a small not for profit. The advice from all three was consistent: Have a plan!

The Entrepreneur: Excitement

My job involves interacting with entrepreneurs. This group was far and away the most excited of anyone I told. I could tell they interact with a lot of people who talk about leaving their corporate job, but not many that actually take the risk and do it like they did. Many immediately assume I’ll be doing something entrepreneurial immediately. They were beyond complimentary and one wanted me to find a business so he could invest in it and me as an operator.

The best part of this is I’m starting to get stories from this group, many now disclosing deeper details I never knew about: One attempted retirement and ultimately founded his company a year out from retirement. Another quit the corporate world and built and sold their first company joint with his brother at 38. After the sale of the first company, he and his brother’s goals diverged. He founded company number two which is his new version of fun (they have a lot of fun at this company!). His brother bought a 5th wheel trailer, went to Alaska, and hasn’t done more than hobby work for the last ten years. Two others have told me stories about being in corporate sales and tiring of enriching others with a lack of control.

The consensus from this group was that once I did this, I shouldn’t rule out work, but once I see this freedom I would never have a corporate job again. Most of these entrepreneurs are already financially independent and have found productive work in making a difference in other people’s lives while going in and playing a game that they’re very good at.

What is the lesson in all of this for communicating how to retire early? Know your audience! If you work in an environment with a younger demographic and generally supportive, share away! If you want to avoid the shunning from older peers, you may be better off quietly calling it a career break or indefinite absence. Ultimately I’m proud this went out as a retirement notice and have enjoyed the mixed reactions I’ve received from everyone.

* My boss was someone that was my peer for 3.5 years and that may have created an easier situation than others. He’s a couple years older than me, but already had the experience of trying to not work when he was in a professional sports career and was out a year due to injury. The financial independence side of FIRE appeals to him, but not the retire early portion. I appreciate his support and encouragement of owning the retirement as a proud moment for both of our careers. I think he got personal joy of sending the message out that someone was opting out of a stodgy industry and hoping it can inspire others to know there are choices.

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8 Comments

  1. This makes complete sense. Although I can’t ‘retire’ I am choosing to change careers into financial advising out of fundraising/philanthropy. I work in higher ed with many that are disgruntled, despite excellent benefits and more than competitive wages. I thought I might have more interest or at least questions about my thoughts on how people can save more or perhaps investment philosophies or something…but it’s mostly been people that are shy, sheepish or downright embarrassed at their financial situation. When you put in notice folks open up and I’ve heard some real doosies! Everything from hiding money from spouses to complete overspending b/c something will work out eventually or they’ll die with debt.
    Fascinating experiment that you’ve stumbled upon! Congrats and best wishes in your next stage of life!

    • The overspending to attempt to find happiness is rampant in my profession. There are a lot of Range Rovers and Country Club memberships that cost years of someone’s working life.

  2. It never occurred to me that reactions would vary by age group, but I suppose it makes sense. Though I’d expect the younger set to be more puzzled by retiring early, since they haven’t had as much of a chance to get burned out as the rest. I guess maybe they’re just more in tune with stuff like the FIRE movement?

    Congrats on finally getting to make your announcement!

    • Thanks for the congratulations! I think the employees under 30 still have a fond memory of how fun they had in college or shortly after before they started working in cubes. Usually they also have friends who are out traveling and haven’t settled in on that first professional job that send them daydreaming. It’s been an awesome experience walking around the office and having the folks asking me questions.

  3. I had quite similar responses from the people I shared my journey with. Having a plan is fubdamental to a successful retirement. As I enjoyed my corporate career however I tried not to irritate the relatively older crowd +40s. I didn’t know if my retirement would be permanent when I pulled the plug to test a new life. Two years down the FIRE path I did decide to go back to work. I will do do sometime this year. I realised living on 40k a year is not quite enough to do everything I dream of in the style I‘d love, namely having kids in a HCOL and significantly growing my nest egg (it makes me feel safer to see it grow). Dreams change as one changes. Having said all that I absolutely love being out of the office and more in touch with nature. I am constantly low on time to do all the things l love to do…

  4. First off, Congrats. What a great post and a nice take on examining from the various age groups. I’m in my 40s and less than a year in and I can relate to the reaction from folks in their 40s and entrepreneurs. Most of the 40s are a) incredulous b) envious or c) somewhere in between. The Enreprenuers are all hung ho. In fact, I’ve actually started 3 businesses in the initial 6 months. Not necessarily to make zillions, but to explore and have fun. Hope you enjoy early retirement as much as most of us have.

  5. Techdiva

    Well done! I wish I had met someone like you in my early 20’s…maybe I would be retired by now. One comment on the kid thing, the expenses are real especially if you do not have free childcare and both of you earn average salaries. I considered delaying for FI but the risk of i fertility was too great for me. I am the woman in a hetero relationship and I now earn 2/3 of our income. It was equal when our first was born but due to a debilitating illness, my dh’s income stagnated. husband has no desire to stay home with kids and so we have spent hundred’s of thousands on childcare. I cant complain because I have seen women have to return to work after 10 days due to lack of paid leave so in the bigger scheme of things I am super lucky to have had 3 months off which each kid and still be on the path to retire by 45.

  6. Totally makes sense that different audiences would make for different reactions. I also can see how parents would react differently than singles, since these two groups butt heads about a lot of things other than FIRE. I assume reactions would be different by race, culture and even gender. So agree 100% with your reminder to know your audience. Congrats on FIRE!

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