I quit my job about a year ago.
My last day was April 17th, 2015, to be exact.
At this point I’ve got close to twelve full months of my new life under my belt. That’s plenty of data, if you ask me.
And it’s become clear that, beyond the shadow of a doubt, the dream of early retirement more closely resembles a nightmare.
The Experts are Lying to You
We all know about Early-Retirement gurus like Mr. Money Mustache and that supposedly nice young couple at GoCurryCracker. They tell us to spend less and save a lot of money, which will ultimately enable us to retire super early if we want.
This advice is given with the assumption that retiring is a good thing.
Then they proceed to post photos of their lives, smiling images of them relaxing outside or chopping wood on a weekday or whatever. Who the hell cares.
MMM goes so far as to say he’s trying to help save the planet by convincing people to reduce consumption.
The horrible truth is that these bloggers are all just hustling you. They want you to think that quitting your job to pursue your own interests exclusively is a great thing. They want to think this is best for you, when in fact, it’s best for them.
And whatever, they’re all miserable in real life. Their blogs are basically glorified facebook pages, constructed with the sole purpose of making you jealous. In reality, they’re as unhappy as I am. And trust me, I’m in a position to know, since I no longer report for duty in an office, just like them.
Unfortunately, most of us don’t see through the act. All they really want to do is put a carrot in front of you — a carrot that will keep you coming back. They want you to continually visit their sites. They want you to click affiliate links so they can stay in business. They’re selling product, and that product is early retirement.
I bought into this lie, just like thousands of others. I bought into it so hard that I sacrificed years of my life in order to make it happen.
Now I have nothing but regrets, because that product is a lemon.
Adjusting to A Life of Suck
Before I quit, I had a great thing going on.
I’d wake up at 6:30 every day and drive to work just like everyone else, happy as hell to be freezing my ass off in a car for twenty minutes or so instead of sleeping in a warm bed.
Upon arrival to my building, I’d feel the beginnings of sadness stirring. Eight hours until my next commute! How would I ever make it?
Luckily I’d feel a million times better the moment I opened the door leading into my office complex. And it didn’t stop there. Those happy feelings only increased as the day went on, because I’d be on my computer, saving the world from the comfort of my desk, one fulfilling task at a time. Who wouldn’t love that?
I did, I must confess. I really, really did, and I’m sick of lying to all of you folks out there on the internet.
Sorry for getting all emotional. It’s just that I miss it so much, you know? So very much. It’s hard to live a life without work.
It’s difficult to delve into the specifics because it hurts to remember the good ‘ol days, but I’ll do it because I want to help other people. I want to prevent anyone else from making the same mistake I did. Don’t quit your job, no matter how much money you have.
I miss a lot of things, but close to the top is my cube. I loved the uniform shade of gray that bordered my vision on all sides. The bland consistency made it easier for me to focus on my monitor. That’s where the real action in life is.
If I had windows, I’d probably find myself looking outside, getting all distracted by the sky and the sun and the clouds or whatever. Thank god no one ever forced a view to the outside world on me. It’s scary out there! Give me nice, nonthreatening walls every day of the week.
I spent so much time in that little area that I grew to love it like a family member. Maybe even more because it never talked back to me.
I still remember the ketchup stain on the carpet about two inches away from my filing cabinet like it was yesterday. I wonder how you are doing nowadays, my dear ketchup stain. I hope you are okay. I wish there was some way for me to check up on you.
But I can’t, because I quit and then some bad men took away my building access card.
Life has been so consistently wretched without a cube that I finally caved in and decided to install one in my apartment. First I called a supply company but apparently you can’t order just ONE small cube , you have to order a minimum of four, and I was like: That’s going to break my retirement budget! Thanks a lot Mr. Money Mustache, I can’t spend money on things I NEED anymore because I followed your advice and retired! You lousy prick!
Anyway, I did the only thing a super rational person like myself can do when faced with this kind of insane situation: I decided to make my own cube.
It was simple enough. I picked up a bunch of totally not rusty rebar at the town dump and then went to the local Goodwill where I found a bunch of gray XXXL athletic sweatshirts ironically designed to be worn by extremely large nonathletic men and then put everything together in my living room, bending the bars to create the basic frame, cutting the fabric of the sweat shirts into pieces to stretch across the gaps. A combination of staples and hot glue held it all together. And I have to say it was a great success: It didn’t look even remotely unprofessional, and I never had even a single thought of getting tetanus from the exposed steel wires.
To finish it off I needed to install a desk in the middle of sweatshirt-ville but initially the used offerings on I found on craigslist were way too big. My work desks were two and a half feet across, tops, so anything larger won’t feel right. It took me a long time to find something small enough to simulate actual office space dimensions but I kept at it until I hit paydirt.
Once I’d gotten the desk home and settled it into position, I tried it out. Amazingly, for the first time in 11 months, I felt almost okay… I was able to calm down a little bit. There was a palpable lowering of anxiety as I settled into my new workspace.
But then I noticed something else that was very, very wrong.
I Miss My Manager
So when I was done re-creating my cube-like environment, I placed an outdated Dell laptop on the desk, sat down, and booted it up.
This allowed me to finally do what I used to do at work: Sit in a cube and check out the latest viral video sensations on youtube. Most of them featured kittens.
I hoped this return to old habits would complete the restoration of my old life — a life in which I felt happy at all times. I hoped that I’d finally feel real again.
But it still didn’t feel right.
Then I started to cry because I finally identified what was missing, and it turns out it’s totally impossible to replace this thing
It’s my old manager. God, I need him back, so, so bad.
It’s not just him, you know. It’s what he represents:
Hierarchy and Command.
Structure and Approval.
Do I need to go on? My life doesn’t make sense without having someone to tell me exactly what to do and what I’m worth as a person. How will I ever measure my performance in life anymore without having an annual review, for example? It’s simply not possible.
The toughest thing about the last year has been thinking for myself and deciding what to do with my own time. I made idiotic decisions like visiting friends in California and New York and hiking a lot and learning how to read sheet music. I spent time with my nephews and my parents and my in-laws. I read fiction books that did absolutely nothing to improve my professional skillset or help me find another job. I would sometimes lay outside for hours at a time without a thought in my head, trying to like slow my mind down and just appreciate life.
These things were THE WORST.
It’s much more pleasant to drift through life reporting to someone else. I mean, don’t we all need to report to someone? Isn’t this something that’s hard-wired into us, part of the human condition?
Of course it is. That’s why I’ve been feeling so awful all year. I tried to hide this fact on my blog but there it is, the naked truth.
It took me a while to figure out how I could feel less free, but here’s what I did in the end. It’s kind of similar to the cube solution, but maybe even… weirder?
Don’t judge though. Until you quit yourself, you absolutely are not allowed to judge me. Don’t you dare. You don’t know what I’ve suffered through over the last year, being able to do whatever I wanted to do whenever I wanted to do it. The agony!
The solution was to create a makeshift manager to complete the work simulation project that’d started with the pseudo-cube. I used an old sock, a tie, and one of the suits I used to wear for FinancialCompany. He sits behind me now, watching, evaluating, keeping me in line.
His name is Bruce.
I’ll admit that it’s still not a perfect situation, though.
Sometimes Bruce goes for long stretches without saying anything and I start to think maybe he’s angry with me for some reason. When this happens, I become very worried and want to drink or pop opiates to help relieve the tension but then I remember that using while on the job is against company policy, so I’m thankfully able to control myself.
That’s great because without work to keep me in line, I’d really been going off the rails. 420’ing 24/7 and whatever. Without the moral authority of work and management, I’ve felt very lost.
But then I finally realized Bruce’s silences actually indicate just what a great manager he really is: He’s trying to give me some space. What a great guy. Always looking out for me. He’s making a concerted effort to avoid micromanaging me.
Each time I have this thought, which is often, because Bruce often doesn’t speak for hours at a time, my sense of gratitude becomes overpowering, which usually prompts me to do something productive as a sign of my loyalty.
And that productivity typically manifests as an effort report because I know Bruce likes paperwork an awful lot. It helps him to keep track of what I’m doing without actually having to ask what I’m doing. I’ll mail a little summary to a yahoo account I made special, just for him.
This is the first of twenty seven I sent out last week.
8-8:15: Ate banana, drank coffee
8:15-8:30: Sat in fake cube, considered doing work, but instead sat as still as possible in attempt to avoid spike-related injury.
8:45-9:00: Another banana.
9:00-9:15: Updated Monday’s effort report to reflect activities performed on Monday morning between eight and nine AM.
9:15-9:20: Formally filed effort report
After I submit a report I’d gently pull on the toe of the sock to make him nod approvingly, and things make sense in my life again.
Nowadays, I even let Bruce hang around even in the evenings, which is great because if my wife is out and about, she can’t thank me for any of the stuff I’m doing around the house. And I’m the kind of guy who needs to be thanked at all times, for the most trivial of tasks. That’s where Bruce steps in to do his job.
For example if I’ve just done the dishes, I can ask him, point blank: Bruce, was that good enough, sir? Were they cleaned to your satisfaction? Be straight with me, I can take your criticism. Perhaps you’d like a report on the number washed along with some details on why it took longer than expected?
Then, without waiting for his response, I’d drop my voice to indicate I’m about to bring him into my confidence and say: You know, I shouldn’t be telling you this, but someone else in the house left a dirty cereal bowl in the sink without soaking it, that’s why it took an extra five minutes. I’m very disappointed in the other member of our group, you know. Not naming names, but we’re talking about my wife here. She’s not always a great team player.
He gets it. We’re making plans to correct the problem. It’ll be noted on her review. Then, finally and most importantly, he thanks me, by which I mean I grab his nose and make him nod again.
Bruce helps me to justify my own existence on the planet for a little while, and for that, I’m grateful.
Because I can’t seem to do it myself, and neither will you.
I thought I was a total hotshot when I came up with this list of things I might do in retirement, like Oh, Boredom will never affect ME!
Well, it did. After a couple of months I just lost interest in everything, you know? I got pretty tired of seeing friends and trying to learn new stuff, instead settling into completely monotonous routines that are much, much worse than being in the office.
In the office at least two or three unexpected and zany things would happen on any given day. My co-worker John might get gum out of the vending machine instead of a Snickers bar like he usually does. One time, the coffee machine stopped working. OMG, so crazy.
But now it’s like: Nothing. Since I stay at home all day every day without exception, there is zero dynamism in my life instead of that completely unpredictable brand of office nuttiness I’d become addicted to. There’s just no replacing it.
I’m bored, plain and simple. All of the things that brought me pleasure for the first 37 years of my life totally stopped being fun after I stopped working. I don’t even try to do them anymore.
All I want to do is go back to work, where things were awesome 110% of the time.
Happiness Studies are Wrong About Everything
Part of the reason I wanted to retire early was so that I could restructure my life.
Specifically I wanted to do more of the things that large-scale happiness studies tell us reliably produce happiness in the majority of humans. Examples include being married, maintaining a high level of commitment to your family and friends, exercising consistently, and spending time out-of-doors.
I followed the recommendations of these studies in my retirement, and it turns out they’re just flat out incorrect.
Work is the only thing that makes us happy.
The Not-So-Great Outdoors
Fact: Nature sucks.
We all know it. There are bugs and it gets wet and you run the risk of stepping in animal droppings and so on. It’s not a good time.
Believe me, I tried it plenty over the last eleven plus months. The science studies told me it’d be great. Friends, too.
So I kept trying to convince myself I was happy, you know, out there, braving the elements. Tried to pretend that being around things that grow is fun.
But after all of that trying, all I really discovered is that I liked my old life better; I liked being online constantly.
My favorite past-time outside of work is to sit glued to my chair with an enormous bag of Fritos while surfing the web with the thermostat set to a perfect 72.
If that gets old — and believe me, I don’t see that happening anytime soon — my plan is to purchase a 30-pack of Keystone beer, which is the real Key to Life (not to be confused with this stupid nature stuff), and pound it in a single day while sucking down every episode of Family Matters ever produced. That sitcom is hilarious, btw.
Can you do any of these things outside?
Besides, if you really want to see the great outdoors, you can just watch the Discovery Channel from the comfort of your living room instead of having to burn a single calorie by getting up and going somewhere.
So take that, happiness study. That’s what’s called a professional debunking. Your fancy experiments and their large sample sizes have been proven completely wrong by my own experiences and incredible opinions.
Your Family Isn’t Enough
So those happiness studies also suggest that it’s super important to build strong relationships with your family. And over the past year, I’ve also dedicated some amount of time on this blog talking about the importance of tending to those relationships.
It’s time to come clean. Spending time with your family sounds like a wonderful ideal on paper, but in reality? Not so good.
Truth is, most people actually have a hard time putting up with their families. Families consist of people, and people are despicable, cloying creatures who are like always around and they’re also quite needy.
End result: You are suffocated.
When you spend just four or five solid hours a week with your family, you’ll probably be able to delude yourself into thinking that you love them, just like most other working professionals.
But when you are suddenly forced to spend double, triple, or even quadruple that amount of time with them each week, I guarantee you’ll feel differently.
I’ve been able to break down my own personal tolerance levels as follows:
I’ll make it clear: Without work to get in the way of things, I’ve been spending way, way too much time with these people, far over established thresholds. They’re slowly driving me insane.
Then there’s the flip side of things. I really miss being with co-workers, talking about how the local sports team performed yesterday and what kind of SUV they’re planning on leasing this year and of course global warming can’t be real because we got a few inches of snow this winter. We always totally got one another, me and them.
But back to my family. My nephews in particular are difficult to hang out with. They’re just so boring and dumb, totally the opposite of my old work friends.
I tried to get the younger one to commit to learning the programming language Java the other day in a futile attempt to simulate my old office environment by providing cross-training — I’d promised Bruce an update on the initiative by EOD — and he was like “What’s java, is that another type of swimming stroke?” Yeah, right, dude — just because I’ve been teaching you additional methods to propel your body through water at the Y lately, it follows that everything I talk about that you don’t immediately understand must a new stroke. Idiot.
Frankly, I expect more from a 10-year old. The bar is always rising.
My wife overheard this infuriating exchange between the two of us and thought the misunderstanding was adorable. This prompted me to immediately reduce the number of hours I’m making available to her in the future. We just don’t get one another any more.
Speaking of that, here’s another thing Early Retirement is doing: Ruining our relationship.
Look, I think we all know that tending to one’s family isn’t a good enough reason to draw breath every day, don’t we? Life is really all about climbing ladders and earning lots of dough and looking good in front of strangers by engaging in conspicuous consumption and bragging about our recent promotions.
And on that subject, I really wish I could just go back to work again. Have I mentioned that yet?
I feel like maybe I haven’t.
I Am In Desperate Need of Money
I’ve finally monetized the blog, if you haven’t noticed. You see, I accidentally screwed up the financials of my own early retirement.
So refer this blog to all of your friends and click each and every link, if you don’t mind. Create multiple Personal Crapital accounts if you have to. Every $100 referral fee helps. I’ve got mouths to feed.
Do it for Doomie, willya?
I’d go back to work to earn a paycheck but I’m an entire year out of the professional world at this point and there’s absolutely no way anyone will ever consider hiring me anymore.
It’s the most insidious downside of retiring. By the time you realize what a mistake you’ve made, it’s completely impossible to ever get a legitimate job again.
So don’t do what I did — don’t quit. Don’t stop working for someone else. Don’t pursue your dreams. Don’t try anything new.
Take it from me: Freedom isn’t what it’s cracked up to be.
Early Retirement Sucks.
Oh, and Happy April Fool’s Day. Obviously 99% of what I wrote in this post is the exact opposite of what I actually do and believe in real life.
Time to go disassemble Bruce. He’s really freaking me out.