Navigating early retirement is less about money and more about allowing space and time for your true path to emerge.
In this episode, you’ll learn:
- Why there isn’t a right answer to how much money you need to live.
- Why it’s normal to feel lost when you retire early or quit your job.
- How to find your true identity apart from your job.
- What is the Buddhist mean or fusoku furi and why it’s neccessary for a succesful retirement.
Quote by Thoreau in Walden:
We must learn to reawaken and keep ourselves awake, not by mechanical aids, but by an infinite expectation of the dawn, which does not forsake us in our soundest sleep.
Quote by Josef Pieper in Leisure: The Basis of Culture:
Leisure is not the attitude of mind for those who actively intervene, but of those who are open to everything; not of those who grab and grab hold, but of those who leave the reigns loose and who are free and easy themselves—almost like…falling asleep, for one can fall sleep only by letting oneself go.
How To Navigate Early Retirement
The evening after I told my business partners I was quitting, I recall lying on my hotel bed with a smile on my face thinking, “I can do anything I want with the rest of my life.”
It was a pleasant thought, despite not knowing what I wanted to do.
For sixteen years, I had worked at the same institutional investment advisory firm, starting out as an analyst and rising to managing partner, Chief Investment Strategist and Chief Portfolio Strategist.
For sixteen years, I had used the pronoun “we” when expressing an investment opinion to clients and prospects even though it was my own.
I longed to be able to say “I”. To see what it was like to be a soloist.
Six months after advising my business partners of my departure, I ended my tenure. The very next day I launched an investment newsletter and website under my own name complete with a four-year audited performance track record.
I could now say, publicly, “I think” and “I believe.”
The novelty lasted for less than five weeks. I didn’t regret quitting, but I was still miserable.
There I was with complete freedom to do anything I wanted, and yet I was doing the exact same thing I had done for the previous decade—writing about the economy and markets while managing money—only this time I wasn’t getting paid, and very few people read my work.
I called a friend in London who had left a major ad agency to go out on her own. She gave me this advice, “Slow down. Quitting a job is like getting a divorce. You are too emotionally raw to make major decisions right away. Give it time and your path will slowly reveal itself.”
Quitting and Fishing
I took her counsel and shut down my newsletter—a straightforward process given I had zero subscribers.
I took up fly-fishing and web programming. I continued to invest and found it refreshing to do so without having to explain to anyone my rationale or having my trades pre-approved by a compliance department.
By late fall, seven months after quitting, I started plotting the relaunch of my site. This version would be an automated investment advisory service. I developed the front and back end myself, programming the site throughout the winter and early spring, as I traveled with my family in Asia and Europe.
When I returned to the U.S., I launched the new site, one year after leaving my previous firm.
Quitting and Fishing Again
I lasted three months this time.
Every day I awoke fearful someone would hire me to provide investment advice. I loved designing the site and figuring out the technology, but I realized I no longer wanted the responsibility or the pressure of advising people on what to do with their money.
I shut the site down for second time and went fishing.
I began telling people I was retired just to see how it felt. At 48, it felt premature.
I reflected on my London friend’s advice to slow down and allow time for a new path to emerge. To date, my path had consisted of launching projects and then quitting before they even had time to succeed or fail.
Feeling Lost Is Normal
This week marks my third anniversary since quitting my job and becoming self-employed (or early-retired depending on your definition).
My friend was right. A new path finally emerged. Here’s what I learned:
Only the passage of time allows you to discover your true identity apart from your job.
It is amazing how much of our self-perception, our sense of community and our daily purpose comes from our employment.
It is normal to feel a bit lost after quitting a job or career you have had for a decade or more.
But over time, we discover which elements of our job we miss and which we are glad we no longer have to endure.
In my case, I realized I missed writing and teaching about money, the economy and investing. I didn’t miss the pressure of managing money for others, the constant travel, the conference calls or meetings.
We also discover new activities that we enjoy that we never previously had time to try.
The beauty of self-employment/retirement is the ability to structure a life that includes the activities we enjoy the most.
Planned and Unplanned
I’ve also learned the importance of balancing the planned and the unplanned.
There is pleasure in being able to wake up at the time you naturally awake without being jolted by an alarm clock. At the same time, real joy comes from having something to wake up for—a purpose, a project, a community to serve.
Henry David Thoreau wrote in Walden, “We must learn to reawaken and keep ourselves awake, not by mechanical aids, but by an infinite expectation of the dawn, which does not forsake us in our soundest sleep.”
Yet, we also have to slow down and let things flow. There is a temptation when pursuing activities we enjoy to overindulge. We need to take time for leisure.
Josef Pieper wrote in Leisure: The Basis of Culture,
“Leisure is not the attitude of mind for those who actively intervene, but of those who are open to everything; not of those who grab and grab hold, but of those who leave the reigns loose and who are free and easy themselves—almost like…falling asleep, for one can fall sleep only by letting oneself go.”
Work and leisure. Planned and unplanned. Engaged but relaxed. Awake but calm and peaceful enough to effortlessly fall asleep.
That is the balance I think we should seek whether we are retired, early retired or still working.