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.
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.