Over the week I scoured websites, read the Trinity Study a couple of times, discovered the Roth Pipeline idea (thanks, Mad Fientist, for the timely article), and created a skeletal plan.
During my research, I also read an awful lot of forum posts on early-retirement.org. As a general observation, it seemed to me that a whole lot of people who make the leap to ER over-save. I realized that I’d also over-saved, but not to a completely ridiculous extent. Many people decide to target 2% withdrawal rates, etc, which is patently absurd. I figured I was currently around 3.5% or a bit higher which I felt fairly comfortable with.
Note: I personally believe if you’re angling for something lower than 3%, money is not the issue preventing you from retiring. It’s not logical to want to spend less than this amount — you must have some emotional hangup that is preventing you from leaving your job. But I digress.
Look. Most people in the FI/RE crowd tend to be achievers. We’re good at postponing things. We want the ultimate payoff: Self actualization — without fear of having to suddenly have to de-self-actualize, i.e. go back to work on anything other than our own terms.
The issue is that if you wait too long, you may not have as much left in the tank. You might lack the same sense of energy and drive you had when you were younger. Perhaps you’ve forgotten your dreams — your sense of possibility has been reduced. Along the way, you may also have begun to confuse the pursuit of money with the pursuit of happiness, because you’ve been at it too long. By then, if you try to self-actualize, there may not be much left of the self to actualize, making it more difficult to find genuine contentment.
But now I’m talking like Dr. Katz. I’ll get back to primary narrative.
Back and Forth
In my next session, I immediately informed Dr. Katz that I’d done most of my homework. Only a few details remained to sort out.
I didn’t go into the specifics, figuring he wouldn’t be interested. But I told him I worked things out and had a framework to follow — a framework that I could fully flesh out over the coming months.
Bottom line: I’m well on my way to addressing Problem #8, Finances.
But now he wants to talk about the other issues. Specifically, he returns to the idea that I’m obsessing on early retirement.
Depression, he says, frequently comes about because people feel a lack of progress in their own lives. They feel powerless to move things forward. They ruminate on their current situation instead of finding a way to power themselves forward. This accurately describes my mindset at the time.
He tells me that I need to continue to keep my thoughts focused on moving ahead toward the ultimate goal to escape the rumination. I must continue to make progress on these outstanding issues. Ultimately I’ll be able to finalize the transition plans which will allow me to stop delaying gratification and pull the plug.
I’m incredulous. To my surprise, I find myself growing irrationally hostile: I tell him that he’s full of it.
I did what you wanted already. I have the financial picture partially clarified. It’s progress, like you said.
Yes, it seems that you do. But is it clarified for your wife? Does she agree? You mentioned your wife is not completely sold on these plans. And there are many other pending issues: you seem to have myriad blockers. We talked about this last week.
Why can’t I keep working on the financial picture? There’s still more work to be done there.
Yes, there is. But I’m confident you’ll work that out, now that you’ve gotten started. Looking at my notes, I see there are at least five problems remaining.
Maybe so, but I think the finances are the most important and want to completely finish that item first.
Breathe. I know that this is the hardest part, especially for guys like you. The money stuff is ‘safe’ for you to deal with. You can lock yourself in a room and make plans with numbers. The other items are emotional and may involve other people, so there’s potential for conflict there.
Guys “like me?” What the fuck is that supposed to mean?
Don’t take offense, it wasn’t meant that way. My observation is that most people striving to retire focus too heavily on the finances and neglect to acknowledge and fix other items which are just as important. And it’s those other problems that have made you depressed, in my opinion.
My flash of irritation is starting to subside as I see his point.
Let’s talk about the “what comes next” problem, instead.
I’ve counseled dozens of office laborers as they’ve made the transition between working and retirement. They all have the same concern. What will I do? A small percentage of them know exactly how they’ll spend their time. But most don’t. They just want to get away from working.
Makes sense. I’m basically in that boat.
What I’ve found is that it isn’t necessary to find the answers prior to retiring. It might even be impossible.
The thing is, when you are working, most of your life is devoted to thinking about obligations to the job, and your scant free time is then spent navigating the logistics surrounding fulfilling your requirements as an adult – paying bills, child rearing, cleaning, landscaping, home and auto maintenance, maintaining family ties, and so on.
Yes, that sounds about right.
The only way to find accurate answers for yourself is to actually stop working. You can of course create your own answers right now, but chances are good that once you stop working, these will not prove to be relevant. In other words, self-created answers at this point may well be fantasy. It’s only in the absence of constant obligation that you will discover what it is that you want to be doing. If you want to be doing anything at all.
What do you mean by that? Surely everyone wants to do something — has some major goal outside of working.
You might be surprised. A lot of people are okay letting time pass, not that there’s anything wrong with that. And in my experience, it takes about six months away from work to decide what it is that you really want to do, if anything at all. People either fall into retirement and are happy — or they’re not, and they need to go back to work.
Wait, so some people don’t like retirement?
Absolutely. The idleness is too much for a certain type of person. They want to go back to routines they’re familiar with. They discover that working provided a sense of purpose that is lacking once they quit work.
Shit. That sounds nuts.
Not at all. There are a wide variety of personalities out there. I should know.
But the bottom line is that it’s OK to retire without having a clearly defined agenda. It takes time to decompress, detox, and determine how you feel about the new surroundings.
And I can say that the majority of people, at least that I’ve coached through this phase, discover new things to keep them engaged and interested in life. They end up happier than they were when they were working.
Well, that’s good to hear.
What I’m really saying is that it’s OK for you to quit without figuring it all out in advance.
I wasn’t aware I was asking for permission.
That’s funny. Because it’s clear to me that you need it.