So You Want to Retire

Image by H. Koppdelaney

My favorite things in life don’t cost any money. It’s really clear that the most precious resource we all have is time.
—Steve Jobs

If I were to place a wager, I would bet that most people who read this site, when envisioning life after achieving their financial goals, imagine a secure, comfortable retirement — one that preferably will commence as soon as possible. If this description fits you, I’m going to have to ask you another seemingly silly question:

Why on earth would you want to retire?

Retirement may seem great at first blush, but after about a month of goofing off, I’d personally be bored as heck, and go out hunting for ways to be productive again. Wouldn’t you?

You might also want to consider the fact that early retirees have a nasty habit of dropping dead. Theories abound for why this might be, but I suspect that having responsibilities lends a sense of purpose to your life that keeps your will to live strong and healthy. Perhaps that’s one of the reasons why people with pets live longer as well.

So, just like the folks who are itching to get rich, if you truly are anxious to retire early, I must ask you to examine your motivations. Why do you want to retire?

A Means to an End, or the End Itself?

Let’s be honest with ourselves, and dig a little deeper here. Do you actually want to retire? Or do you just want to quit your job? Are you running toward a permanently idle life, or are you running away from a job that you hate?

If it’s the latter (and it usually is), then I have good news and bad news for you.

Check Yourself Before you Wreck Yourself

First, the bad news — you had best be careful. If you are motivated by dissatisfaction with your life as it is, you may become impatient, and impatience can lead to poor decisions. When it comes to building wealth, nothing will slow you down so much as being in a hurry.

The world is full of hucksters and snake oil salesmen who are out to prey on your impatience with grandiose promises of a quick escape from your dreary circumstances, if only you’ll buy their $37 eBook on how to trade penny stocks, or buy real estate at no money down. If you take the bait, you’ll likely find the supposedly miraculous book to be little more than a thinly veiled upsell for an expensive “course,” or series of seminars.

Anyone who is thinking clearly can see that such schemes are far more likely to lengthen your road to financial freedom than shorten it, but years of drudgery in a miserable job can have a way of dulling your sense of judgment.

Would You Still Want to Retire if You Could Have Any Job You Wanted?

Now for the good news — no matter how much you hate your current job, chances are very good that there’s a job out there that you’d actually love, or a small business you’d love to run. In fact, you may have dreamed about it all your life.

Think it over. I’ll bet a number of ideas come to mind that aren’t extravagant, unrealistic fantasies — jobs where the notion of retiring would never cross your mind, so long as you were making enough to live comfortably. Maybe you’d like to teach kindergarten, or work at an art museum. Maybe you’d like run your own online business, or run a cantina on the beach in South America. Maybe you’d like to write professionally.

What are You Waiting For?

So if there’s a different job out there that would make you happy (or at least happier), why on earth don’t you just quit your current miserable job and do it now? Perhaps you’re afraid you wouldn’t earn enough at it to support your family or your lifestyle. You may well be right. After all, you’ve got bills to pay, right?

Here’s the thing, though. If such a job exists, you don’t need to save up enough to retire all the way, at least not yet. You just need to bridge the gap between your expenses and what you could realistically earn at your dream job.

Let’s say you believe you need $75,000 to live comfortably, while continuing to save for your real retirement. (Mr. Money Mustache may laugh at your extravagance, but let’s go with it for now.) Let’s say you earn that much or more now, but hate your job, and have always dreamed of teaching kindergarten.

If that’s the case, you don’t need to build up $75,000 a year in passive income and retire from your current job before you can live the life you want to live. Kindergarten teachers earn an average of about $52,000 per year. All you really need is to build up a much more manageable $23,000 per year, or better yet, trim back your lifestyle enough to bridge the gap. Then you can tell your boss to stuff it and go do what you really want to do with your life.

It’s not uncommon for people who make this realization to discover that they have enough to “retire” right now. All that’s required is the courage to take the leap.

Keep Your Perspective

Take a moment to read and reflect on The Parable of the Mexican Fisherman. You may find it a bit treacly, but its message is important, and easy to forget.

While it’s entirely possible to retire “for real” in 10 years or less, even 1 year is too long to spend at a job that drains all the joy out of your life. Get to where you have a satisfying life that includes productive work that you actually enjoy. You can worry about actually retiring once you get there, although you may well find you no longer want to!

Next up: The Ideal Vision.


  1. points well made, Sean.

    for me it has always been about having options, not being retired.

    a little better than a year ago I stepped to the sidelines (retired) yet again. this time for good.

    just got back from wandering about South America. while having breakfast with my daughter she commented that it looks to her like I’m bored. that set me back a bit.

    bored? maybe I am…..


    • Sean Owen

      That’s right – if you know you CAN quit any time you feel like it, it’s much easier to enjoy your job, and stress about it less.

      Don’t know if you noticed, by the way, but I put you in my shiny new blogroll. 😉

      • why thank you! and unlike some, your blog roll doesn’t just list every blog you ever visited, so the honor is genuine.

        I had forgotten we once butted heads and as I sit here I can’t remember about what. but I’m sure I was right. 🙂

  2. Jacob

    My problem has never been hating my job. I actually enjoy my job. But only so much as I can enjoy something that ties me down to a specific 8-hour period for 5 specific days per week with pre-specified amounts of vacation time, etc, etc.

    To me, “retirement” means being financially independent so I have time to do the things I love: hike, paraglide, play piano, play video games, take long walks/bike rides, sleep in and stay up late (every day!), woodcarving and carpentry, etc. And if I DO get bored? I know plenty of wonderful charities around here that I can help out at. It’s satisfying, low-stress work that makes me feel both productive and fulfilled. And I can set my own hours 🙂

    • Sean Owen

      We are of one mind, sir.

      It’s just that so many people think they’re stuck in jobs they hate, but there are other options out there. You don’t have to save enough to retire to make a change.

      • Jacob

        Good point. You’re absolutely right about people getting stuck in jobs that make them miserable. Change is scary, but it’s usually just a matter of making a decision to do something and then following through.

  3. Oskar

    Good point, I am at times strugeling with this, I have a job that I do not love but that is pretty OK and pays well. If I keep at it for about 5 more years I can then cover basic living expenses for me an my family from passive income, after that I do not plan to fully retire but rather to look at work differently and maybe try to work less and with more flexibility. For me this seems like a good balance but at times I revisit this as I am thinking that maybe I should make the changes I want now rather than later…

  4. Patrick

    I feel like I am semi-retired at this point.

    I continue to write freelance for an hour each day, and this is covering expenses. Meanwhile, my assets are producing more than my living expenses, but this is due to a nice run in the market this year so far.

    I fully agree with the ideas here….no need to “fully” retire. I am loving this lifestyle so far!

  5. Some pearls of wisdom from Kahil Gibran, “The Prophet”.

    “Work is love made visible. And if you cannot work with love but only with distaste, it is better that you should leave your work and sit at the gate of the temple and take alms of those who work with joy. For if you bake bread with indifference, you bake a bitter bread that feeds but half man’s hunger. And if you grudge the crushing of the grapes, your grudge distils a poison in the wine. And if you sing though as angels, and love not the singing, you muffle man’s ears to the voices of the day and the voices of the night.”

    • Sean Owen

      Very nice. I love that book. Haven’t read it in ages. Perhaps I should dust it off again.

  6. A sober and balanced view of work and retirement. Bravo! Looking for a more fulfilling job is the way to go for most people.

One Trackback

  1. By Home again « jlcollinsnh on August 28, 2012 at 2:52 pm

    […] Renewable Wealth  In his blogroll, in which Sean is kind enough to include jlcollinsnh, he mentions we met over a disagreement on MMM.  I don’t recall that, but I have learned he’s a guy worth reading. […]

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