Reflections: The First Year of Early Retirement

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It has been one year since I handed in my laptop, office keys, and work badge for the last time and walked onto an elevator for a 27 floor ride down. It is surreal to think about being one year past exiting that career. The first year away from work has been the opposite of “time flies”, instead it feels like the longest year of my life, but in a great way!.

A friend of mine joked about financial independence being seven Saturdays a week. Well, every day is almost a Saturday….except for Sunday, because I can’t get Chick Fil A. It’s a little more complicated than that….the boat ramps are also emptier Monday through Friday.

What Did We Accomplish in the First Year?

When I think through everything we accomplished in our first year, it feels like it would have taken a decade of “other” activities to complete everything on the list while working full time:

Sold a house
Took nine trips plus a three few related to the move
Took and was subsequently laid off from a side hustle (pink slip in retirement!)
Spent a *lot* of time fishing and walking the beach.

Speaking of Travel, here’s what it looked like in the first year:

Five different trips to visit friends
Trip to New England to visit family
4x Trips Home
Two College Football Games
Three Weeks in Hawaii
Enjoyed living in a tourist area that’s become a semi-second home for my in laws

The best part about all the travel and freedom is Holidays and family events suddenly weren’t a challenge. Just drive up there with no regard for work.

Many Career Reflections

I thought a lot about my career in the first six months of retirement. I actually couldn’t wipe the smile off my face during the first three months. I was free, free at last! I didn’t realize just how burned out I was. Burnout can come from all these different sources, but my career no longer brought me joy. I no longer enjoyed the hustle, the game, the politics, or the process.

So what caused the burnout? A poor boss (and entire chain of command) combined with massive life changes. I was fortunate to work for two people in my career that helped align my work with a sense of purpose. Once the second boss was promoted and I no longer had that support: It just became this cluster of misdirection that slowly deteriorated the quality of work and quality of people that would tolerate this new culture. Who really wants to spend hours upon hours of getting “political buy-in” to do something that was obviously good for both clients and shareholders?

I also think the burnout came from my goals and “why” of work changing over time. What I valued starting out wasn’t what I valued fifteen years in. Here’s how the progression looked:

The version of me in 2003 when I started my career, the priorities were:
– Money
– Financial Security
– “Career Growth” (Aka: More Money)
– Learning About Business

Mid Career, my goals changed some, but they were still similar:
– Career Growth & Money
– Meaningful Work / Helping Clients
– Leading People and Impacting Positive Change
– Being Valued as an Expert

What I Value Today:
– Flexibility and Control
– The internal reward of completing what I think is meaningful work
– Appreciation for the Contribution
– Monetary Rewards

My career was a great means to an end, but my life priorities changed and along with achieving financial independence, the old career no longer fit into my plans.

I thought my “why” behind financial independence was leaving work/retiring early. That wasn’t actually the “why”. The “why” was control of my time. My life priorities changed over time and now I’m addicted to the flexibility of my new lifestyle. I get to be where I want, when I want, and only answer to one boss (my spouse!). The gig economy work experience has been fun and interesting, I can make a few clicks on an app and commit my time for a maximum of 1.5 hours with *no further on-going commitment*. It doesn’t pay like my old career, but it is so different from my prior jobs that required months and years of investments in one market before the sales results would create significant pay.

I enjoy meaningful work. I had the pleasure of attending Alan Donegan’s popup business school as I was thinking through other ideas I might have. One of the more insightful things I took away was from a one on one conversation I had with Alan: Money is no longer the scorecard. This was something that has been hard programmed for years, especially as someone who worked in finance. Now that I’m financially independent money isn’t the primary scorecard of success.

So is it Early Retirement or Financial Independence?

I started this site around early retirement and to document my thoughts as I approached the last nine to eighteen months of my career. However this really isn’t about early retirement as much as it is about financial independence. For me, financial independence meant leaving a high pay/high control career for the freedom of never working again. I’ve often wondered if I would do the same if I had it to do all over again – financial flexibility came after we saved the first $500,000 , but it was too tempting to continue to earn money at the high rate instead of changing careers or scaling it back. There’s many routes to financial independence, but for me the “why” behind it was regaining control of my time and location.

Speaking of location….

Location Independence is everything I thought it would be!

Later in my career, location independence was a major driver of financial independence. One year in, this has been everything I thought it would be. Living near the ocean hasn’t gotten old. I’m not tired of catching the same looking fish. Having a long spring and fall is awesome, especially when it includes a beach and fishing. I was fishing on a warm day on December 27th and got back out on March 13th! We could take trips to our hometown via car flexible dates on arriving / leaving. The same for visiting friends and taking our winter getaway to Hawaii. The change of many jobs going to work-remote will be fascinating to watch over the next few years.

Investments went for a wild ride!

It’s amazing the kind of ride that the investment portfolio has taken since retiring. There was a nice run up between September and February, only to see that come falling down in March to a level that got me nervous before starting to settle out by late April. I wrote down a long list of lessons that I’ll take away from this experience and will publish them soon, but I didn’t have “man eats bat in China causing global pandemic” as one of my potential investment risks.

The most important takeaway for me though is to to separate out the funds I’ll tinker with vs. funds that need broad based diversification. I’m always going to do some level of tinkering, but there’s a limit on how much to risk when the consequence of a significant and permanent capital loss is me going back to work. Sometimes not doing anything is the toughest part of investing – experience from this crash will be the best teacher.

I do my writing on the beach:

You might have noticed fewer posts lately. It occurred to me I do my best writing sitting by the water. Due to our media’s obsessions with beach closures (which seems ironic given the unsanitized subway system ran for nearly two months in the biggest outbreak spot with minimal notice but sitting on an empty beach mid-week got plenty of notice), I have been writing less. The ability to connect google documents with my phone was revolutionary for me writing down ideas. That plus the random opportunities that pop up to make money shopping at Costco (who said you can’t be paid to do your dream?). I’ll figure out what the long term pace is for writing on the blog, but I don’t intend on taking long hiatuses and continue to write about life after financial independence.

So What’s Up Next?

We have a lot of traveling we still want to do. This pause is just creating more demand for us in the future. The timing works well to win a few more bonuses from travel hacking and the newfound side income will help fund the additional trips. Visiting friends will be high on the priority list as we go places.

We’re also starting to look around at housing. The market should soften in our area, more than 10% of the population is newly unemployed and I expect that to slow down the pace of housing inflation. However, I’m also bullish on real estate in areas with a better quality of life due to this work from home trend, so who knows what will happen in this market. I’m not dying to become an owner again, but I think we’ll experience some inflation in the future and having at least one (if not 3-4) rental properties will be a nice long-term hedge against inflation and diversify our investments. It’s the one asset that worked during the 1970s stagflation event and would be a nice addition to our portfolio. We’re not ready to call the location we live in the forever home, but we like it enough to know we’ll stay for a few years.

Finally, we’re enjoying taking things one day at a time. We’re in the middle of a pandemic and have been adjusting life to the new normal. I don’t know if things will be over in two months or if it’ll take another year. Until then, I’m going to enjoy freedom each day. I worked, saved, and invested for sixteen years to enjoy freedom for the next fifty or more years. One year is in the books with many more to go!

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5 Replies to “Reflections: The First Year of Early Retirement”

  1. Great post!
    Have you written before about the unwinding of your burnout? Or maybe thought about it? I’m intrigued to learn more about the 3/6months you spoke about above where it was apparent how burned you were.

    Also good luck with the future travels and property moves. Interesting point on the idea of bullish lifestyle and potentially bearish city centre living?

    1. I’ve not written a lot about the unwinding of the burnout. The most interesting part is when something triggers the burnout, usually involving being on hold with some help line and remembering just how much someone else controlled my time during my career. I occasionally get inquiries about work that I think “that would be neat”, then I remember what it felt like to be in an abusive work culture.

  2. Its been five years since I did the same thing. They’ve flown by for us. We love to fish and it is so much better to do it on weekdays when the lakes are relatively empty of other fishermen. Except lately, here in the rural south fishing is completely socially distancing compatible if you fish alone or with family as I do with my wife. And I’ve never seen so many people on the lakes on weekdays! I’m ready for everyone to get back to their work places so I can have the lakes back for retired people.

  3. It sounds like you enjoyed your first year. That’s great.
    Where do you live now? It sounds nice.
    We’re in Portland for at least 10 more years. It’s okay, but I would love to move someplace warmer and closer to the water.

    1. Thanks Joe!

      I’m near Charleston, SC. I’m a fan. Both here and the east coast of central Florida are great spots. Pros and cons with either, but both are relatively affordable and large enough cities for us.

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