The 2021 Early-Retirement Update

I’ve had a difficult time finding a way to create a new entry on a blog that has essentially been dead since 2015.  Yet, I have had a persistent feeling that I owe my readers an update.

Consider this an effort to encapsulate the last five or six years into a single post containing fewer than seven eight nine ten thousand thousand words so you can hopefully finish reading it in under half an hour.

2015

I retired early on a shoestring, something called lean-FIRE as dubbed by the early-retirement geeks: a sub 4% withdrawal rate (appx 30Kish a year spend — renting, no home ownership) taken from a nest egg of approximately 950K.

I followed a plan I’d outlined in previous posts. I had my asset sheet ready.

During the year, I went on a few modest vacations and enjoyed myself.

I decompressed from work, stopped worrying about how productive I was, and more-or-less became accustomed to living out my days while not worrying too much about status.  Or getting ahead. Or anything at all, really.

Despite the mental challenges, I was overwhelmingly happy for the duration.

2016

My blogging alter-ego, Dr. Doom, looks like this when he is happy.  Kind of frightening, I know.

What can I say?  It was a great year.

More vacations and travel. A trip to Hawaii. Another to Portugal and France, taken together, two straight months out of the country.  My wife has family in Portugal close to Lisbon, where we stayed for free, treating them to meals out and paying for the cost of various leisure activities for them in return for lodging — a fantastic trade.

I sucked down an awful lot of media — movies, video games, books. Way, way too much to document here. A day would often consist of exercising for an hour or two, spending some time my partner, and weaving reading/movie/videogames/tv stuff and/or listening to new music and/or playing guitar throughout the rest of it.  A favorite activity was just laying on the couch with my wife, both of us reading for hours, facing each other while leaning on opposite arms of the sofa, with our legs intertwined.

I also continued to spend a lot of time with family — my aging mother, my wife’s nieces and nephews and parents, talking on the phone with folks. I saw old friends, getting together with them usually during a lunch hour where they’d stolen away from their own employer for a while just to see me and grab Thai food or something.

Toward the end of the year, I decided I wanted to pursue writing in a more serious way.

During this year I was overwhelmingly very, very happy. I think it was the best year of my entire life. I’d decompressed from work during the previous year and so this year I sort of let it all hang out. My wife and I were excited about the changes we’d made and felt closer than ever.  Fantastic.

2017

Uh, we’re still friends, right?

A lot of writing and reading. The majority of my day, most days.  It’s terrific.

At the same time, I have a growing sense of disconnect from some of my old friends.

Time spent with family continues to be, you know, family time. Fine. Sometimes boring, sometimes dramatic, sometimes painful — particularly when a family member is having difficulty with something in their life and I can’t help.  That kind of thing is just hard. But most of the time it’s awesome.  Laughing and reminiscing and sharing meals and watching dumb comedies together and feeling close and happy.

But peers — people my age that are still working that I’ve been friends with for decades.  That situation is another matter entirely. I find this year that I am losing a sense of intimacy with some of them. They work a lot — I do not. We are starting to lose some common interests and activities that helped to create our friendships in the first place.  Some of the threads that bound us together for 20 plus years were perhaps unravelling.  

Not going to lie.  These developments bothered me.  The first couple of years it didn’t seem to matter, the differences in our lives.  Here in the third year, they do. I speculate that initially they viewed my change of lifestyle as temporary, but after a while, it stuck — they realized that I would not be working again and I am therefore, ahem, officially and forever different.  (This is no temporary thing.)  I feel sure that some of them also felt that they were, you know, continuing to move and shake and improve their lives whereas, from their perspective, I’d sort of given up — my life appeared to be a static thing, unchanging, and therefore pretty fucking boring.

I should point out that this (the growing feeling of disconnection) wasn’t true of all of my friends.  With some of them I felt as close as ever.  For example with my three best friends there have been very few changes to our relationship dynamics.  They are the kind of people that don’t care whether or not you have recently updated your kitchen, if you catch my drift.  But virtually everyone else — my more casual, normal-type friends — these are the people that I have more trouble relating to as time passes.  

At any rate, I didn’t realize that this happened to so many people:  Once they have been established in their careers for a decade or more, they 1) feel secure in their job 2) have accumulated some money and 3) feel compelled to start spending.   And once everyone in your peer group is spending more money — well, then everyone is looking over their shoulder at everyone else’s spending and this is really how the whole Keeping Up game begins.  This tendency overtook even people I would not have suspected to be vulnerable to the treadmill — one of my old friends from college for example, who grew up poor and didn’t spend much back in the day, now has a summer home in New Hampshire and a 4000 sq foot McMansion and all the trimmings.  There is no going back.  It’s strange to watch your own friends change their spending and living patterns right in front of your eyes as you get older.  It fills in some of the blanks that you had when you were younger, looking up at the older generation, wondering how people and families turned into what they were. 

Also throughout this year, my partner and I perhaps felt less close to one another.  She was restless and according to my journal entries for the year I suspected she was growing depressed but trying to hide it from me.  Late in the year, I confronted her on my observations and she didn’t deny it — she was having trouble with the new lifestyle.  She also indicated that maybe she wanted to go back to work. This year we are mostly doing well, particularly in the first half.  But there is a gradual and ominous shift to something else, something not so great, and we can both feel it.

During the year, I try to support her:  I encourage her to either find employment again or look for something that might make her happier but she refuses both options.  She said this despite telling me that she felt she was happier back when she was working.  (She said this in Oct of 2017).  A large part of our relationship in the final quarter of this year is examining things that might make her feel better, because she is not doing great anymore.  (She rejected the idea of seeing a therapist to help her think things through.)

More travel: Multiple Canadian cities, Niagra Falls, Austin TX, a ton of little 1-off trips to drive-able cities that I’d never before been to: Portland Maine, Rockland Maine for the annual Lobster Fest, Albany NY. We saw at least 20 museums this year, too many to list.  We walked outside for an hour and a half nearly every day, smack in the middle of it, when normal people were at work.  And there are just a bazillion little fun things that we did that would take too much space to document.  This year we took full advantage of our freedom.

I am still fairly happy this year although toward the last couple of months I can see that things are perhaps beginning to move in the wrong direction.

2018

My blogging alter ego, Victor Von Doom, at his desk writing crappy fiction:  “It was a Dark and Batman-y Knight.  Plus, Stormy, because Storm was summoning a typhoon.”   This is how cringey Marvel-DC Universe fan fiction crossovers begin.

The writing stalls.

In 2017, it was fun and I did it for its own sake.  Here in 2018, the practice is still enjoyable but I have more difficulty completing stories. Or feeling like I am making measurable progress toward any definite milestones or goals.  I suddenly feel like it’s important to get some kind of external validation for my work:  I submit completed work to publications and am rejected.  Most of the time I feel as though I’m adrift at sea with this ancient fantasy of mine — the fantasy that I might be a writer.  I start to think: I’m not good enough.  I’m too old.  I will never achieve mastery, and even if I do, no one will notice. My brain tells me it’s over — that my window of opportunity has passed — with that familiar subjective (and often wrong) complete certainty that your internal voice loves to provide.

I am perfectly aware that it took most established writers years and years and years of practice before anything significant happened – a published story, finding a publicist that believed in them, readers who clamored for more.  And I know that most people who want to be writers wind up writing a lot and never going anywhere.  Further, I also know that many writers who are Quite Fucking Good go completely unnoticed throughout their lives.  As is the case with virtually everything in the arts, it’s not exactly an easy thing to do — to be externally successful.

So this year I’m frequently wondering if I have the stamina to make it through this phase, the middle-territory, where I’m reasonably competent but not good enough to do anything other than amateur hour shit that lives in a file on my computer.

I start to understand I need new friends — people that am into what I’m into.  I sign up for Creative Writing evening classes at a local state college and make it through the semester just fine and my professor loves me but I’m underwhelmed by the whole experience and don’t make friends.  (I have a lot to say about this but won’t unpack it here because I’m trying to keep this post at a high-level-summary for the most part.)

My partner and I are doing well overall, particularly in the first half of the year.  She’s still struggling to be happier, but on balance our relationship continues to be pretty awesome.  We continue to spend a lot of time together, taking trips, laughing about dumb shit, going on daily walks, sexy times, cuddling, all of the good stuff that makes relationships great.

Toward the end of 2018 though, in December, we had an argument that still haunts me.  She said she wasn’t “kind of sort of” unhappy anymore.  Nope.  Now it was official.  Unhappy with a capital U.  

She revealed that she felt like she wasn’t “going anywhere.” And when we were both working and getting richer, she felt like we were secretly getting ahead — making forward progress of sorts — even though nobody else could see it because we weren’t broadcasting our early retirement goals and corresponding asset sheet. (See: Stealth Wealth.) The sharp yearly increases in account balances we experienced during our working years gave her life some sense of momentum that had been since lost since we stopped receiving paychecks.  She also said that she now felt her friends’ lives were better than ours. This was her phrasing. I disagreed:  They’re working, we are not.  I said that I personally love the hell out of this, that we’ve stopped performing activities which so frequently made us miserable.  I see our current lives as better.  Theirs appear to be a constant struggle most of the time.

It didn’t matter. Her comments were telling. She felt like she was ‘falling behind’ and this sense made her anxious and uncomfortable — it contributed to feelings of worthlessness, and she felt like she was doing something wrong with her life.  Another phrase, similar to the first one but turned on its head: ‘We should be further along in our lives.’   

In other words, she still felt pressure to keep up with the mythical Joneses.  She was no longer on the treadmill of work.  She was instead standing still on the sidelines, watching all her friends.  They moved their legs on the exercise machines and money came out of the side of them.  They moved a little more and new hardwood flooring appeared in their bedroom at home.  More yet and they’re rewarded with a brand new sunroom.  

To me, these people on their exercise machines were standing still — nothing was happening in their lives.  But to her, they appeared to be going somewhere.  Because: Instagram and Facebook and posts about their Very Awesome Timeshares and summer homes and expensive vacations and whatever else they were blowing money on.  Their acquisitions signaled progress to her in a way that they simply did not for me. 

I suppose this is is a testament to the different reactions one can have to the same experience — the experience of watching your friends work away at through their jobs while they spend money on <stuff>.

Something else that I’ve come to believe is this:  She felt that her friends were jumping upward in class.  It wasn’t just about the material stuff — and it also wasn’t about the fancy vacations per se.  It was the fact that upper-middle and lower-upper class people talk a lot about these things — the homes, the upgrades, the travel.  It’s their language.  Then they weave the material stuff into a narrative about how they’ve earned it, how their life is a struggle and they’ve done incredibly well to pull off this level of comfort, and it all somehow has to do with how incredible they are as people.  There’s a self-satisfaction in the conversational rituals that she was missing out on.   Perhaps by extension, she was lower class by not being able to participate directly in these spending patterns and conversational games.

This is no longer as simple as FOMO.  This is feeling estranged and lost — excluded and isolated.  I wrote about this sort of problem way back in this ancient post.

My hypothesis in that post:  Certain people are just wired to be like everyone else.  To move with the pack, stay with the herd socially and so on.  Others don’t feel as constrained and aren’t as bothered when they find themselves fifty yards away from where everyone else is.  These tendencies and preferences are part of our core personality makeup.

I have to say — my spouse’s behavior was on-track with everything I wrote in that post.  She’s a Rational and a Guardian rolled into one.  I tried my best to convert her — to make her more comfortable being different and pursuing her own path, but in the end, she had too much Guardian in her.  Instead she wanted to follow the trail that was blazed by so many of our peers.  She needed to stay with them and not be so different.

If you want to read some details of our conversations, you can. I don’t want to clutter this supposedly brief summary with too much of the nitty gritty. 

 

2019

backbreak

Batman is experiencing some serious Back Bain.

ED Diagnosis

It’s not the ED you are thinking of — I’m not going to get gross in this blog, relax.

In February of this year, I blew my back out.  Normally when someone fucks up their back it gets better in a couple of weeks.  Mine did not.

I go through the health-care rigmarole to try to figure out what is wrong.  Appointments with a lot of different doctors, who are all having trouble understanding what’s wrong.  It’s terrifying to be honest:  At times I feel like I will never be OK again.

In April, after a couple of months of diagnostics, I have a genetic test for the connective tissue disorder Ehlers-Danlos-Syndrome.  ED, or EDS to be more complete.  Confirmed.  My tissues and joints are loose, everywhere.  I’ve known my whole life that I was flexible and had more discomfort than most people in certain parts of my body but always chalked it up to being double jointed and it didn’t seem to seriously impact my life until this particular physical trauma.

My actual hands.

My actual hands. I feel zero discomfort doing this.  Yeah I know it’s not natural and therefore gross and a lot of people have strong reactions to this sort of thing but I wanted to show, with a single picture, what this thing, Ehlers-Danlos, really is.

So look, it’s a rough start to the year. I spend a lot of time doing physical therapy, building up my muscles so I can reduce stress on my joints, which don’t hold themselves together as well on me as they do on normal people — my tendons are too long, my skin is too elastic.  It can be a struggle to get through days.  I have a lot of appointments with doctors.  My life basically sucks during this period.

So around late May of 2019, I’m finally on my feet again.  (My core is amazing at this point, btw, I basically built it up so that there’s a lot less stress on my spine and hips.)  I feel more or less all right.  I still have to do close to an hour a day of exercises to keep my body stable so I don’t fall apart again.  I don’t care.  It’s a small price to pay for being able to have a normal life.

The Breakup

During this time of physical rehabilitation, while I was struggling with the physical issues, my partner finally figured out what would make her happier.  It was a relationship with another man.  Disgusted and disappointed <a million unwritten feelings and descriptions go here> I take steps to end our relationship — this is June of 2019.

For anyone who thinks that we could have worked it out, I must say that I’m one of those people who won’t get past infidelity because it is a core trust issue.  After that detail came to light, I lost all interest in trying to reconcile.  And she wasn’t trying that hard anyway, because she had acquired, somehow, New Life Dreams, which had to do with Conspicuous Consumption and Keeping Up and being Visibly Awesome — dreams which are at odds with my own.  Her (updated) definition of best life and my own definition of best life were irreconcilable — the disconnect was real.  On top of it all, she decided I was going to be crippled the rest of my life, and couldn’t stomach the thought of being a caretaker.  (I am not crippled, I look pretty good at 5’10 155lbs, and am healthy, still muscular, totally functional, and do not need anyone to care for me.  I just have to do an enormous amount of daily physical maintenance in order to stay this way.)  Anyway, I’ll stop there, I don’t want this to turn into bitching about my failed long-term relationship.  The bottom line is that by August of 2019, we were done.  (The 2021 update on her is that she moved out of state to be with that guy for a year and then dumped him just a month ago.)

I lost my running group.  I was an avid runner for decades but I can’t do this form of activity anymore.  Running was a major source of release for me — a social outlet, a way to burn energy, be outdoors, and feel good about life in general.  Gone.

After the breakup — this is late summer 2019 — I find myself to also be Officially Unhappy, with the capital U and everything.  I felt isolated and alone.  I questioned everything. Early retirement. The whole financial independence (FI) goal. They say that if you aren’t thinking about happiness then you are probably happy. This, the end of 2019, is the first year since retiring that I think about my happiness — or lack thereof — an awful fucking lot.  So there you go.

I consider how much luck plays into all of this. My Early Retirement idols — MMM, ERE — never ran into a life changing health problem. Me?

My own genetic gods were not so kind.

The New Job

In other news, my previously calculated FI math suddenly no longer works because I am single and it’s more expensive generally to be single than part of a couple with shared expenses.  Plus I’m spending more — quite a bit more actually — because of the health issues.

Toward the end of the year I began working again in an attempt to fix this problem.  I was on my own.

Not-So-Fun Fact: My relationship status and ED altered the Early Retirement Math. I had to confront this head-on and make some changes. I was still quite well-off but I wasn’t in great shape to go the rest of my life without adding a bit to my nest egg.

Conclusion: I needed income again. Luckily, the job market was hot and as such my time away from the workforce wasn’t a deterrent for employers. At the end of the year, I get a job consulting in my old field — Information Technology, Software, Infrastructure-as-a-Service, DevOps for those in the know.

The job isn’t bad — I don’t have a manager to directly report to, I work from home 4 out of 5 days a week, (5/5 now due to Covid) there’s no travel, the pay is good, the people are all right. Very occasionally I have a stressful day or two when I can’t figure something out or someone is leaning on me and I sweat things. Overall, though, I find I’m mostly okay with working again, especially because I suddenly need and value the money. Back in 2015, when I first quit, I had trouble understanding why I was bothering to earn money, since we had “enough” to retire on, given our spending as a couple. This is no longer the case — I, as a single entity, suddenly needed and valued the income and health-care benefits.  I also should point out that working helped to reduce my feelings of isolation and loneliness — it gave me something concrete to do, people to interact with, that kind of thing. It provided problems and situations to keep my brain busy in the wake of the split up so I couldn’t ruminate/obsess on it endlessly.  This might sound like I’m trying to hard to find positives about working again but holy shit I am not.  Staying busy helped me to get through this period of my life.

I don’t view this — going back to work — as a “give-up” move. It was pragmatic and necessary. I also valued the low-deductible health care — I continue to have physical therapy and checkpoints with specialists for the Ehlers-Danlos condition.  For example, I will continue to need MRIs a couple of times a year which cost 2-3K a pop.

All that being said — all of the positives and so on — work still sucks.  I am good at what I do and I sometimes feel good about accomplishing stuff but I don’t particularly enjoy it in and of itself.  It’s great in the sense that it passes time and gives me some social interactions and feelings of accomplishment — plus money of course — but I still do not have any sort of sense that this is my calling.  I would certainly not do this for free.

Also:  The CV-19 driven zoom meeting craze in 2020 can go fuck itself.  

Attempts to Reach Out

In the second half of this year I decided to, for the second time since leaving work in 2015, take classes in writing at a (different) local state college and the experience was again overwhelmingly negative for surprisingly similar reasons to the first attempt.  My thought was that maybe the socialization and structure would help to jump-start my brain, getting me back in the mindset to be more productive with the pen again.  Maybe it’d even inspire me.  But it didn’t work out.

I also decided to see a therapist again, for the first time in about seven years, and the guy I selected turned out to be close to useless. After five sessions I realized he’s rather unimaginative and cannot comprehend the sort of challenges I have in my own life, which are: I am returning to work unexpectedly after years off (unusual for a previously high earning dude), I am single and lonely, I am kind of mentally shot and discouraged about my newfound physical problems, I’m extremely disappointed in both myself and my ex for complicated reasons, and I am having major issues with the sort of “what is the point of my life exactly, again?” kind of questions that of course periodically plague us all but are, at this particular point in this particular year, not even close to periodic, they’re absolutely unending — so I dump him after just a month. I call around and find another therapist and the exercise is almost exactly the same. (This is not good. I start to think that I’m just massively damaged and can’t relate to anyone anymore.  Even professionals.)

Living A FI

I start to have disturbing Thoughts about This Blog

Specifically, a lot of shame. I barely thought about this thing in 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018 when I was relatively happy. But here in late 2019, I begin to think:

Holy shit, maybe I’m steering people in the wrong direction. There’s so much left of life, so much that will change, so much that will deviate from peoples’ original plans.  Most folks think they’re going to live and love without major hurdles or changes.  Maybe the vast majority of them won’t.  But surely some of them will have similar challenges.  Am I giving folks terrible advice?  Telling people to just say fuck it and quit because their financial numbers “work” based on their current situation? 

I looked at other FI bloggers who quit work and retired.  They all appeared to be blissful. Stoic.  Confident and without reservations.  Since I ran into problems myself, I started to feel like I was defective.  Like something was wrong with me and that’s why it didn’t work so well.  Maybe it has to do with my personality (a nerdy introvert).  Or it could be because I’m not trying to sell product and make money off of my choices, like almost everyone else who blogs about FI seems to.  Maybe I needed to feel like reaching FI itself was going to help me to continue to make money or socialize  — maybe publicizing it and earning some dough as a result and getting together with groups of people who shared my goal would have helped me to retain a sense of progression and momentum in life, along with more connection.  I’m not negatively judging those other bloggers — I know it sounds like I am but I’m not.  I was exploring why they seemed to be doing better and I think there’s something to these ideas.

But instead I was anonymous.  Just a random dude with a blog who quit working.  I wasn’t holding conferences with disciples.  I wasn’t trying to turn this shit into a hustle.  Becoming financially independent — it was just something I did, as a life choice.  I didn’t consider it to be who I was.  It wasn’t a new kind of career or something.   It wasn’t and isn’t something I’m trying to push on people.  Maybe that was my mistake.  Maybe I should have embraced this thing as my identity instead of just being my regular ‘ol self.  

I can barely stand to think about it. Specifically what I can’t stand to think about is this idea: I retired on a sort of “lean-FIRE” budget, confidently told the world I’d be just fine, and five years or so later, I’m a wreck, I’d lost my partner, and I had to make sizable changes.  I kept feeling that I’d failed somehow.  Like I’d done something wrong — I felt guilty.

Nerd Rapper MF Doom:  Just since some people, wear a mask — Don’t mean they did something (RIP)

I thought I’d be fine forever after I quit.  And I wasn’t.

Still, I don’t think that I am example of a stereotypical “Early Retirement Fail” exactly. There are threads in certain internet forums (MMM for example) where this topic is discussed and the focus seems to be on financial ruin.  This is not me.

Look, I need to be clear about a couple of things:

Nothing terrible happened to me financially. My relationship went south and the numbers no longer worked so I found employment again. I can’t consider this a failure of the whole financial independence goal. It was instead a result of my unexpectedly changing life, plain and simple. And that failure forced me to re-examine the overall plan. I’m in good shape generally, but I’ll be in better shape if I continue to work and save for a few more years.

Yeah, without my former partner, I became depressed and anxious and again struggled with one of the great questions that terrorizes us all:  Purpose.  But let’s characterize the failure.  I didn’t have difficulty filling my days with stuff to do.  I didn’t start drinking or smoking a lot of weed or fall out of shape or gain a bunch of weight.  What did happen was that I realized I needed more out of life.  The discomfort — that growing sense of unhappiness, the creeping edges of depression just out of my direct line of sight as though it’s hiding in the periphery at all times — well.  That discomfort did exactly what it was supposed to do.  It prompted me to make some major changes that moved me in the right direction.

As far as failures go, it was a good one.

Trying Again

Despite all of my issues and some amount of depression, in November of 2019, I found the energy to mess around with dating apps, the Tinders and the Bumbles and the eHarmonys. (Special thanks to my good friend Testosterone for the motivation.  You’re my homey, 4ever.)

After a number of horrific experiences, going out on first dates over and over again with women that I knew instantly were the wrong match for me, people I would never be comfortable with (this is women who are heavily invested in social media and status, broadcasting a lot of details about their life and so on, which is fine for a lot of men, but simply not a good fit for me due to my personality), early in 2020, I finally met a wonderful, kind, grounded person: A reader, a writer, a nerd, a librarian. 

Barbara Gordon was a librarian.  Just sayin’.

 

We hit it off. (Thank fucking god..) 

And life gradually starts feeling better. 

2020

The year of Covid-19.

This year my net worth starts climbing crazily, despite the bomb-out in March of 2020.

I manage to hold on without selling.  Barely. Watching the totals drop is wrenching, a total gut-check. It reminded me a lot of 2008 meltdown that I wrote about in this post, except the drop was more sudden. I was tempted to sell constantly — every day, every hour! — but I didn’t.  I had to re-read John Bogle’s Common Sense on Mutual Funds to help me stay the course.  

During this tumultuous period, I find myself being incredibly grateful that I have a job that allows me to work remotely so I can continue to earn income and have access to the health care benefits that I need.

When things start climbing again with the US DOM S&P 500, I can hardly believe it. First back up to break even, then upward and onward and what the fuck is happening type-shit.

Note: This is why you just stay in the market. You don’t know what is going to happen and nobody does. Stick to your Stock/Bond asset allocation and keep dumping money in and tune out the financial chatter and let it go. You will do OK.  (Probably.  According to history, anyway.)

I continue to spend a lot of time this year with my new partner. Our relationship flourishes.  Despite CV-19, we spend many weekends embarking on short trips, often after taking a covid test, which are free in our state and help set us at ease.  I am painting a little bit again. I start writing again as well.  I do my physical therapy and submit a bunch of good work for my employer.  I also take care of my mother when she needs it — she is in my Covid bubble.

I persist in doing the things that I enjoy, despite all the bullshit in the world. I read more books this year than I can remember reading in any year in my entire life. I expand to new authors.  I read books that my new partner recommends, things I might have never been exposed to otherwise, Shirley Jackson and May Sarton and Margaret Atwood and Rachel Cusk.   

In the middle of the year I try again to find a therapist and this time I find someone that is much better.  It’s hard to express why but we clicked and I felt she understood me in ways the previous two did not.  She puts me on an antidepressant. (I have a family history of depression.  Bet you didn’t see that coming </sarcasm>)  This is the first time that a therapist firmly told me to take medication.  I agreed because I wanted to feel better and was willing to try things. It helps — I feel as though it’s prompting me somehow to get unstuck, to some extent.

Despite CV-19 and political unrest and a lot of economic uncertainty, despite my continuing health problems and slowly grinding myself out of the fog of what was clearly, in hindsight, depression, it’s a good year all things considered, and a year that gets steadily better as it goes.  By the end of it, I realize it had been terrific overall, if you want to know the full truth.  I feel a little bad having such a wonderful year when so many are suffering but that’s how it ended up.

The most important cog in the machinery of my personal happiness turned out to be a simple one:  Having a wonderful partner.  This will sound like a dumb 90s pop song written by a boy band but whatever, I’m head over heels for her and that makes everything better, despite my physical issues, despite CV-19, despite fucking everything. 

I have meaning and love in my life — daily meaning, meaning that’s easy to define and pays off constantly — and it has nothing to do with employment and money.  

It’s been said a billion times that money doesn’t make you happy. People do. Connections and relationships do. Purpose helps, too.

This year makes me a believer in all of the above. 100%.  If that’s cheesy, so be it — I’m the Mayor of Cheese.

Odds and Ends

  The White Space Issue

I admit, all that white doesn’t look like much, but it’s everything.

The English author Martin Amis once wrote:  Happiness writes white.

We all sort of instinctively know this.  If this post consisted of all of the joy I took from not working for several years – the food in France, the mansions in Newport RI, the lazy mornings, the walks around ponds with adorable ducklings following me around hoping for breadcrumbs, the billion details I can’t even remember myself — it’d frankly be intolerable to read. 

It’s not nearly as fun or interesting to read about someone’s satisfactions than someone’s struggles. 

So please consider this:  The fact I had almost nothing to say about 2015, 2016, 2017, and most of 2018 is a tremendous indication that I was quite happy overall, and simply didn’t want to share the specifics.  I was happier during these years than I was in the years prior when I was working, easily, not-even-close, full stop.

Besides, we don’t learn a hell of a lot from other peoples’ happiness very often, do we?

 Changes

Holy shit do things change.

The best laid plans, right?

I thought I had everything set. I had a financial drawdown schematic in place. I knew what my yearly spend rate was. My partner was on-board and excited. I absolutely had plans — lots and lots of plans — for how to spend my time.

I got older. My long-time lover and partner-in-crime and I split at the end of summer in 2019 — I mean we’d been together for two decades. Who isn’t going to get down about a relationship of that length ending, regardless of the circumstances?

Plus, my monthly expenses went up somewhat as a result. I was diagnosed with a health condition that requires constant care and feeding (and cash). I met a new person that I feel certain I am going to spend the rest of my life with.  (We’re currently engaged — awesome!)  I went back to work because circumstances indicated this was the right move to make, for the time being.

Is this an early-retirement fail? I don’t think so. I was met with challenges and I adapted to them. I’m generally happy now.

I just had no idea what sorts of things might happen after I retired.

The bottom line is that I made a financial plan that would have worked out just fine had I not had a crushing relationship termination plus the discovery of a permanent and expensive health condition.

The initial plan itself was fine.

But the plot twisted: My life decided it didn’t want to conform to the plan.

If you are yourself working on becoming FI and you have any specific takeaway from this post, let it be this:  You are making future plans based on what your current life looks like. Your current job, your current income, your current partner, your current percentage of savings, your expected market return, your housing costs, your location and so-on. You’re assuming large parts of your life will remain static over the next X years, where, for many early-retiree hopefuls, X is 30+ years, perhaps even fifty.

They may not be static.  It might be a mistake to think that things will be as smooth as you believe they will be. The ability to recover from changes and disruptions — to be adaptable and resilient in the face of adversity — will show itself to be perhaps the most critical Early Retirement skill of them all.  I hope sincerely that nothing changes for everyone on this path — that your happiness meter goes up to max and stays there.  But for some percentage of us, like myself — well.  We will hit bumps in the road, potholes, areas of the street that are flooded out where you need to slow down or even turn around and find another route.  And we will all need to be flexible enough to deal with it.  

I now view my personal setbacks as a net-positive, no doubt.  I mean, I found a new partner who is a much closer match to my values.  Her idea of a nice car, for example, is the Ecto-1.  The Lego version, specifically.

The original Ghostbusters is in the top 10 of 80s movies, easily. Still holds up in 2021, too.

She doesn’t care about peacocking and keeping up people and looking great on Facebook or any of that shit whatsoever.  (I know because we talk about this sort of thing a lot — our level of communication is honestly much better than between myself and my ex.)  She just wants us to be happy together.  And she doesn’t think that the path to happiness is buying stuff and/or taking expensive vacations and bragging about it on social media platforms. 

Mostly, she says, she just wants to be comfy in a nice hobbit-hole with me and some friends and family around us.  We’re also almost certain to buy a house and have a kid together, too, and this is something I couldn’t do with my ex for <reasons>. 

 I find all of this to be incredibly exciting and amazing.

Bilbo’s place, at perhaps 1300 sq feet, would be priced at 1.6 Mil in my area, because it’s in a Good Neighborhood.  (I’m in an extremely high COLA.)

 

Extremely Rough Financials

I retired early 2015 with about 950 in assets.  60K of this was cash.  I spent about 30K a year.  (My spouse also spent 30k, making our combined total 60k /yr — but the focus of this section is how my own net worth fared over the last 6 years, so we need to focus on that 30K number.)

Had things gone exactly according to plan, I would have spent about 180K over the duration as a result (6 years at my planned 30K/yr withdrawal amount).  But truth be told, I spent a bunch over that due to problems I’d listed above in this post.  So I came in at closer to 240K — 40k annually — 33% higher, a 10k/yr difference.

Of that 890K that wasn’t cash, I had a 70/30 stock bond split as per my investment policy statement.

Very long story short, I spent an average of 40k a year, I rebalanced yearly to retain my 70/30 allocation, and I would up with about 1.3 million.

This seems like a ton of money but keep in mind that 1.300K in 2021 dollars equals approximately 1.150K in 2015 when I retired.

So we can say that inflation adjusted, my net worth has gone up by about 20%.  There’s some rounding and fudging here as I don’t care to crunch everything exactly for the purposes of this blog but it’s a good enough percentage to ballpark it for the readers that care (and yeah, I know some do.  Full disclosure, I didn’t even bother to run these numbers until writing this blog post — my personal give-a-shit meter on this topic wasn’t high enough.)

You read that right.  My net worth has gone up despite not working for nearly 5 years.  I can’t quite believe it myself.  And I thought I was retiring at a market peak and had virtually no hope of getting this kind of performance over the next  5-6 years.

It just goes to show:  You just never know how things are going to go.

Regrets

Only one.  At the time I quit working in 2015, I had to leave my job for a shit-ton of reasons that are well-documented in the historical pages of this blog.  Mostly I was just tired of continually working.  I’d been working 48 out of 52 weeks a year or more for 18 straight years.  Make no mistake about it:  People aren’t meant to work like this.  It’s totally absurd.

So I don’t regret going for something along the lines of lean-FIRE and I don’t regret trying to live a life where I wasn’t spending much money and I don’t think that being frugal had any impact on my happiness overall.  I don’t regret quitting when I did, and I don’t regret taking time off from work.  Quite the opposite.  I needed the break, the change of pace, the new experiences and the perspective.

I am sorry that things didn’t work out between my (ex) wife and I and sometimes I wonder if I could have done some things differently that might have held us together. (Almost definitely I could have.)

But in the end I know that I am a kind and caring person — a person who tried to communicate with her, to support and help her to be happy, no matter what she felt she needed.  She said earnestly, hundreds of times, that she wanted to take this journey with me, and she changed her mind a few years in.  Then, before we could work it out, there was that little adultery thing I’d mentioned before, at which point we really had no path forward together — she closed off any possibility of sharing a future with me.  I’m upset about all of this, of course.  But I’m not sure I have any regrets.  I tried my best.  I believe that.  

So far I don’t regret going back to work in my old field/industry although I don’t love it and I am aware of the irony given how much I have complained about work in the pages of this blog and insisted I would never go back.

It’s also worth pointing out that all of my saving and investing in my 20s and 30s has positioned me to do whatever I want, more or less.  It has given me freedom to make choices, exactly as I’d hoped it would all along. 

I still have an amazing stash of money.  I mean, I was able to take close to five straight years off work and still have more than I started with, inflation-adjusted.  How many people get to take this amount of time off work when they’re 40?  As of this writing, after a year and a half or so of additional work, I now have about 20% more, inflation adjusted, than when I initially quit.  This stash still gives me options and freedom that most people don’t have.  I could, for example, leave the country, go to a cheaper place, and live out the rest of my days there comfortably with virtually no financial concerns.

It just so happens that I’d rather stay in Massachusetts (US) with my new partner.  I want to make a life together here, surrounded by our families and friends and familiar roads and shops and communities, without worrying too much about money.  The stash still absolutely allows me to do this and I’m grateful for this every single day — still grateful for the actions that I took when I was younger that allowed the current version of me, at age 43 here in 2021, to be as free and confident as I am now.

So what was that one regret?  It’s that I didn’t take my partner’s initial unhappiness more seriously.  I encouraged her to explore her own life and find activities and goals that would help her feel better.  I suggested therapy and offered to go with her.  I was clear that if she wanted to go back to work I was eager to support her in this.  I wanted her to do anything that might help.  But my suggestions and support weren’t enough — I never could figure out what she wanted or how I could help — from my perspective it seemed as though she rejected most of my attempts to talk about this.  But I still have this sense that I could have and should have done better here.

Bottom line:  We didn’t communicate effectively in this area, and of course that’s at least 50% my fault.  I wish I knew what I could have done differently here but it’s clear to me that I didn’t do enough.  By the time I understood what a huge problem this was for her – the lack of direction/progress/purpose in her life – that she just wasn’t excited about anything anymore — it was too late. 

I’ll never have full closure on the relationship but I no longer care.  Part of being a healthy adult is sometimes accepting the behavior of people without understanding all of the reasons behind their actions.  Closure is great, of course, but we don’t always get it.  

 

 

  Looking Ahead

It’s sort of exhausting to think about coming up with a new plan to quit work and retire again.  

But it will happen at some point, for sure.  I’m currently working on finding a place to live with my partner.  We may get married.  We may have a kid together.  These things — the house, a possible child — they will surely change the retirement math yet again.

My fiancé is a librarian and she doesn’t make a ton of money.  This drastically changes the early-retirement numbers for the two of us.  My ex had a lot of scratch — a roughly similar asset sheet to my own.  However, although my fiancé is frugal and debt free, she does not have a large nest egg nor an enormous earning potential — she frankly needs some help in order to do this thing with me.  And says she doesn’t want to stop working, regardless .  She actually — honestly and truly — loves her job.  (She helps individual people on a day to day basis and this is instantly gratifying and awesome for her — it sort of continually fills her daily energy meter, if I can do a video game analogy.  In contrast, the societal benefits of my own work are so heavily abstracted as to be basically unrecognizable and unmeasurable — I sure as hell don’t see the results myself.  If there are any, at all.)

Anyway — bottom line is that my own asset sheet funds the lion’s share of our future together.  (I don’t care in the slightest, I’m just stating facts.  And I did not plan for this, or expect this.  It’s just the way it is, now.)

Additionally, I’m spending more than that 30K/yr I had estimated back in 2015.  I’m at 40K now and we’ll be at 55K together I think, once we consolidate assets and buy a home.  It’s also possible that I might spend more in the future, too.  Not ridiculous amounts.  Not on cars or excessive housing or anything stupid.  I enjoy being fairly minimalist, not just because it saves me money, but also because it reduces my negative impact on the world (less energy consumption and waste, etc.)

But I really want to travel some with her — at least a couple of substantial international trips a year.  And my window to visit other countries — to experience life and be out-and-about, walking and sightseeing and behaving like a normal person, may be closing a lot sooner than I previously thought, due to the whole ED condition.  I might not be fully mobile in a decade.  (I should be — I hope to be!  — But I don’t know for sure.) 

Travel isn’t free.  While we won’t be taking luxury vacations, neither do I want to blink if we want to, say, eat at a cute café or take a ferry to an island or pay money to get into any and all museums or whatever.  I want to go and do the things we want to do instead of agonizing over relatively small dollar amounts.  I want to be present in the moment and not restrict our activities out of some desire to not spend as much.  And I don’t want to talk or think about money all that much while traveling, either.  We will think about money while we do the planning, absolutely — set a budget, spending targets and so on — but once we’re out and about, no thank you.  I feel like if you are so paranoid about being cheap while you are on vacation that you forget to enjoy yourself, you’ve missed the point.

Anyway.  The bottom line is that I won’t quit my current gig at least until we’ve gotten to a place where I feel we’re stable.  The housing thing in particular — it’s a huge variable.  At current mortgage interest rates (3%) I have decided it’s better to carry housing debt than pay off a residence.  But it’s much easier to get a mortgage if you have a job with the accompanying paystubs.  So I’m sure I will at least carry my job until we find a house together and the mortgage/finances are accounted for — this will help me to project our future together and create a financial plan that works for our family. 

Aside:  COVID and low interest rates have really made housing prices in suburbs of major cities spike to absurd levels, which is where we’re looking, and it is a problem.  The home I sold in mid 2015 for example for 850K just sold again in 2020 for a whopping 1.150 Million.  A 35% increase in 5 years.  Raise your hand if your salary went up 35% during that time.  I didn’t think so.

Another Aside:  When I was younger, I often read on financial forums that so-called comfort spending would probably go up as I became older — that it’s hard to maintain the same level of vigilance with regard to being frugal as the years pass.  You get tired.  And at the same time, your your asset sheet (probably) increases.  You want to spend a little more in order to have a few more pleasures here and there.  I brushed this shit off at the time.  I thought comfort spending was silly and dumb.  And yet here I am, at 43, with slightly higher year-over-year spending than I projected.  I must admit, this is a direct result of comfort spending.  I turn the heat slightly higher, especially if my partner is uncomfortable, despite my thoughts about both the money and the increased CO2 emissions we’re producing.  (I am a huge climate change nerd, I just don’t write about it much because it’s so polarizing).  I don’t worry as much about going out to eat once in a while, particularly if we are both exhausted.   Part of me hates myself even as I make these decisions, because I know I could be doing better — I could be more efficient!  I could have a lighter impact on the planet! — but despite the awareness, I find myself making the easier choices more and more.  I feel embarrassed to admit this but at the same time I wanted to get these facts about my life out there, in the interest of full disclosure.  I mean this is a blog in which I admitted my partner cheated on me — could I possibly reveal anything worse?  A meth addiction?  I’m not sure…  At any rate, the years have changed me somewhat.  I’m not a different person exactly — but my edges have become more rounded and smooth.  I view this as a positive development.

On another note, at this point, time is my enemy, much more so than money.  Luckily, because of my role at my current company, I can take weeks off (unpaid) between projects, and this time will allow me to do the things I want to do with my significant other.  I should be able to balance things together in a way that allows me to be free and live my life my own way.

So you want a date as to when I’ll quit and retire again?

Look, I do too.  But looking forward to a life without work isn’t as important to me as it used to be.   It helps now that I know what it’s like.  (It also helps that I’m not burnt out anymore.)

Not working is awesome, for sure — I was able to do whatever I wanted with my time, and I didn’t miss work at all.  (I know a lot of people who retire wind up missing work but honestly, this just never happened for me.  Sure, other life-type problems cropped up that I had to deal with but I never once thought for example I really wish I was broadcasting my recent corporate achievements to a manager in a fake-hierarchy instead of  pursuing my own interests during the 4.75 years without employment.  I just… didn’t.  Didn’t miss the job, didn’t miss the function, didn’t miss working.)

Still, I learned that having freedom in and of itself didn’t automatically bring me happiness.  Happiness is more complicated than that.

So in the short term, it’s easier to get a check and work the job and focus on my life with my partner instead of the future. I simply no longer see working as a huge impediment to my overall happiness.

And by extension, I no longer see quitting my job and retiring early as the most direct path to bliss.  It was five years ago, but now? 

Happiness is not thinking too carefully about the finances. 

Happiness is spending as much time as I possibly can with my partner.  

Happiness is thinking about growth and joy and changes in the days to come.

Happiness is a mix of thinking about now and ten or twenty years from now — pleasure in the moment, satisfaction through the week, and some sense that you have a lot to look forward to as the world continues to turn.

There’s no point to Early Retirement if you haven’t properly positioned yourself toward the light of future happiness.

So people might say: 

Retire again.  Retire now livingafi.  You have the money.  Do it.  You’ve said in the past that you hated work.  And you said yourself that you have a bit more money now than you did five years ago.  You know what you want to retire TO.  You want to be a a reader, a writer, a husband, a family-man.  You can do it right now.  Quit again.

And so I could.  But I’m not so much worried about a life without work as I am a life without meaning or purpose or love.

So I will work until I am sure that all of these things can exist in harmony, and without a ton of financial stress.

It is going to be a couple more years, given the abundance of unknowns.

 

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404 Responses to The 2021 Early-Retirement Update

  1. Piektdienis says:

    Hello. I just stumbled across your page accidentally following a link in my acquaintance’s blog.

    It was a quite a read! Thank you for sharing and for condensing the overview of several years into a a very thoughtful and interesting summary.

    Since most of your post is about how you were doing prior to the current situation, I would like to comment more on things related to that history. Please bear with me, if I sound condescending. I have worked through somewhat similar problems of my own, and what I say about your experiences is basically saying the same about myself.

    So, essentially you have wandered around, pursued your goals, got FI, hit several setbacks, and then stumbled upon the facts that psychologists and anthropologists have known and told us about for quite some decades or even more. 🙂

    It is not lack of money (unless we are talking about poverty) that in long-term makes a person miserable. It is lack of happiness and meaningfulness.

    And psychologists have identified a number of base things that makes us all feel happy and that our lives have meaning. You can check this all out, if you haven’t already, there is plenty of research available.

    – Lack of stress about survival. Now, FI is spot on for this, as money is the key thing for survival in modern society! However, it turns out that there are other components that are important and maybe even more important. Such as:

    – Sense of belonging. People generally need to have a feeling that they are part of some personal community, with other people who know them much more intimately than passing acquaintances, and accept them as members of their group. Without that, they tend to feel alienated, depressed and, well, alone. A partner is the most important person in this sense of belonging, but most of us need more. Including that partner.

    – Sense of purpose. For many people, living adrift with no goals to, well, work for in near or even far future is very aggravating. They don’t know what to do with their time. And even if they find things to occupy them every day, they have a vague feeling that they are not doing something they should. Doing something with their life that will change it to the better. [this is closely related to meaning, but about that a bit further on]

    Lack of money they want in this respect allows people to structure a lot of their life around getting more of money, and also around spending it, thus occupying their goals sense [cf. see the intro chapter of classic Eric Berne, “Games People Play”. It is mostly related to various psychological games, but in the intro there is a short discussion of what people do in general and why]. I would argue that’s why the acquaintances you mentioned seemed bent to “keeping up”.

    It is true that people tend to concentrate on money goals and forget about other important things.

    But if you say: Now, I have earned X amount, I will retire and not have to work at any point in future (even assuming it is true), you have both set hard limits for your future, and hard limits for… well, what you can DO with your life. If you know you have 30K a year to spend, and have set a limit that you won’t be earning more, there is only so much you can do with that. True, it is a decent amount of money, but it sets the hard limits. And people tend to be unhappy about hard limits to their lives. They can start feeling as if they are in prison. That their life from now on is a predictable protracted ride into the sunset. And without sense of belonging and other feelings that their life is OK, it can feel quite bad.

    – Sense of meaning. People generally need to feel that what they do, is *meaningful*. And meaningfulness is feeling that what you do matters. It changes something for better. But it turns out that it is different from simply changing your *own* situation for better. It is strongly indicated that meaningfulness lies in influencing for better the lives of *others*! Now, this is something that seems to be less universal, but still for majority of us it appears to be true. It is no wonder that many health care professionals are dedicated, and many of them are accepting work for smaller salaries than other sectors (I am not in the US, but at least down here, nurses and others are not the top paid professions). The sense of meaning you can get as a nurse or doctor is tremendous, as you quite literally help people to HAVE a life at all.

    Another major source of sense of meaning, apart from doing things for others, is having children. For me, beside other feelings generally one has when you have children, it provides a sense of continuity, of slotting into place, of linking of generations. I will not go on, but my children will. They are not me, but they are related to me, and they will be able to use what I build — a house, a garden. This provides more meaning to what I do, and in some weird sense grants a sort of sense of immortality that is very satisfying.

    Sense of meaning usually goes together with recognition. The fact that their work is recognized and valued is immensely important to, again, most people. It provides external validation of the sense of meaning.

    In this sense the contrast you provide between the work lives of your current partner and your own is striking. Part of why she is happy because she can see every day that what she does is helpful to others. You say that your own work is much more abstracted, and you sometimes don’t feel as if your work is meaningful. There is a ton of research that supports the idea that people can develop serious problems living lives in which they don’t get a sense of meaning.

    I myself was a CTO for a government organization in my country for almost a decade. The responsibility got me a lot of meaning to my work initially. But as time went on I discovered that nobody in the organization really cared about my work. It was important to have the technology work as needed, but nobody (in particular, management) cared for, was interested in, and recognized the work that went into this. I became quite depressed and disinterested, and when I finally quit, it felt like I am out of prison, where I could do whatever I wanted (and continue to get money), provided I didn’t care about meaningfulness of all this.

    Reading about your experiences, I am glad that you have stumbled upon people who seem to be able to help you satisfy, what I would call the actual human needs, and that you have reflected and seem to have identified them. As such, my comment is, of course, quite redundant, but I hope it might be of use, if only for comparison.

    Cheers.

    • livafi says:

      Thanks for the extensive comment.

      I have read many happiness studies. Perfectly aware of things like Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs and the basic things that make us happy like purpose, love, friends, health, children — the “pillars” you describe. (religion and marriage are often on the lists as well)

      I had most of my needs met when I quit working and these needs continued to be met during the first 3-4 years of not working — met quite easily. I think many readers are completely ignoring the part of my post where I discuss how happy and satisfied I was with my non-working life.

      One way to interpret my post is that you can do all the research you want — you can be perfectly aware of what makes people happy and quit working and have your needs met and, along the way, begin to unexpectedly experience these needs going unmet. Or you may have changing needs as you continue to develop as a person. These things can happen even if you are “smart” and “prepared.”

      When I hit the point of unhappiness I realized it — that I suddenly missed critical needs — so I took steps to address the problems.

      Re: 30k spend and static life possibilities.
      Sure I see your point and it is a good one. A lot of people don’t consider how this static point might influence their happiness down the road and might feel like its own prison — I completely agree that this point is not discussed enough in the community especially for people who are on the leaner side of FIRE — and also especially for people who retire early because the earlier you retire the more likely you are to see your peers continue to increase their standard of living as you all get older.

      But I will counter that if the cost of that increased material freedom is spending time doing stuff they don’t feel is valuable… well this may be a good trade to make. It is all subjective and circumstantial. Either choice brings its own limitations and restrictions. Cost-Benefit analysis is necessary and the end result may be different for each individual in a partnership.

      As you could clearly see, as time went on, my ex and I grew to feel quite differently about this and it was a problem. Her CBA conclusion: Work more, I will be happier. My CBA conclusion: My needs are met and working/earning more won’t improve my life.

      I also think people are ignoring or underrating or discounting the initial years of happiness and instead just focusing on the divorce.

      There are spots in reddit where this post is discussed and my entire experience is reduced to: “Friendless man didn’t spend enough, pissed off wife, divorced, confused about why he is unhappy (What a moron!)”

      I have to wonder about their reading comprehension skills. It just wasn’t that simple. We think we all know everything and we have all the answers until we suddenly don’t. It is at these moments that we are tested and must find ways to push forward and persevere. Life has a way of humbling us all at times.

      I was never confused about why I was unhappy, I lost two huge support beams that held up my personal house — my love and my health. I made extensive efforts to reach out — to professionals to help with my physical and mental health — and to friends who provided a great deal of social support and encouragement. It all helped me to rebuild and I am immensely grateful for all of the assistance people gave to me.

      People have a driving need to trivialize hardships of others so they can think: that won’t happen to me, I have accounted for that, I am smarter, I “get” the things they didn’t get. My plans are safe.

      But no mater what you think, bad things can and will still happen to you. Pillars can crumble. You must be continually on the lookout for cracks.

      The good news is that they can be repaired and rebuilt. You might even swap out one pillar for another completely different one. As long as there are enough to hold the fort up, you’ll be all right.

      Thanks for the detailed comment, it is sure to help some people.

      • I think this comment is even better than the original post.

        There are so many intangibles in life that cannot be measured or vent to our will. We must exist in the shades of grey.

        Contentedness and happiness are never permanent whether retired or not. If you feel mostly good most of the time you are doing tremendously.

        Genuine and sincere congratulations on living your life, and all that comes with it. Also for being honest and self-aware, both rare qualities.

      • Phil says:

        At the end of the day, many in the FI community are in touch with all the variables you and the commenter discuss. But their partners are not completely – their partners get seduced by the “not working” part, but haven’t taken a hard look at their core values to see if they are OK with trading off “lifestyle” for freedom. These partners tend to be insecure people with a greater need for “sense of belonging” (as opposed to a true belief in their values that allows them to go against the societal conformity pressures). There is a parallel outside the FI community, where one can see a large contingent of bitter, divorced spouses that lost their princess/prince status when the wage earning spouse meets some financial calamity. I suspect your ex represents this fact pattern.

    • Very intelligent summary of why FIRE (at least FIRE too early in life) can be a recipe for disaster – even if everything works out financially. I don’t “need” to work for the money, but can’t imagine a life without productivity, meaning, and growth.

      • livafi says:

        The alarming part of my experiences was that I had, from my perspective, “productivity, meaning and growth.” Throughout. No question. Maybe it’s a failing of my writing that this didn’t shine through but none of these things were a problem for me. (Yes, some of them were a problem for my ex. And that’s my fault in a lot of ways, I’m sure.)

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  3. Scott says:

    This is really interesting to me given that I hop to retire “early” in a few years (I’m a little older than you are).

    Thinking back to the conversation with your friend who wanted to talk about the big bonus, I wonder how much of his judging of you was mainly playing out in your own head. It sounds like he was a little too stuck on himself in that moment, but I wonder if he was truly judging you and your lack of income, or if he was really just excited about his success and wasn’t picking up on your lack of interest.

    • livafi says:

      >>, I wonder how much of his judging of you was mainly playing out in your own head. It sounds like he was a little too stuck on himself in that moment, but I wonder if he was truly judging you and your lack of income, or if he was really just excited about his success and wasn’t picking up on your lack of interest.

      Excellent point. Always a lot of guessing when you are interacting with people. It’s worth noting this friend had a history of bragging — and was not particularly close to me either. With my closest friends, we share a lot of interests, so there’s not much need to talk about money – we’re too busy doing other things. Either way I made a mistake in how I handled myself in that conversation, I was rude and there’s really no excuse for it.

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  5. Patrick says:

    Thank you so much for posting this, it’s so important you shared this. I have a long way to go to FIRE, my problem is I know that FIRE isn’t the answer….but I don’t know what is!

    Is your best answer to work still to just get highly compensated and get out as soon as you can?

    I’ve been stuck on the meaning/purpose elements for far too long, have any recommended reading or feel like you’ve found suitable answers for yourself for current times?

    • livafi says:

      Books:
      A quick internet search returns results like The Bible, and stuff written by the Dalai Lama and so on. These work for a hell of a lot of people, and that’s great — but they don’t work so much for me.

      My sister, who is pretty liberal and resembles a character from the television show Portlandia, likes the Celestine Prophecy. This is also a miss for me — I read it and it’s still too spiritual.

      I enjoyed The Artist’s Way myself. And also The Happiness Trap, because it can make you comfortable with the idea that you’re not supposed to be happy all the time — none of us are, it’s a ridiculous myth. You can see from the comments on this blog post that many readers find happiness and fulfillment from volunteering. I read Wide-Open World which covers some of the ideas around volunteering — it’s a fascinating read, but frankly the author possesses courage I don’t. Maybe you do.

      Also Man’s Search for Meaning. One of the very best. I probably should have led with that one.

      Mark Manson’s stuff is fun too. He talks a lot about how to motivate yourself to actually DO the things you think you want to do, but don’t. Hint: It involves changes to your self-talk routines.

      On to the other part of your question:

      I think if you despise your job you have to leave regardless of how much money it’s making you. Maybe not tomorrow, maybe not even in a year, but definitely sooner rather than later. You cannot stay in a job you despise for a significant length of time. The personal cost is too great. You will grow bitter, resent things and people, change in negative ways. I regret not leaving the jobs I hated most sooner.

      I think if you are happy in your job you should also never quit even if you are FI. This would be like looking for a new partner when you’re still in love. Lunacy. The exception to this might be if you have a seriously burning desire to spend your time doing something else and you just can’t make this activity co-exist along with the constraints of work. This is rare.

      If you’re in the middle range — you are OK with your job overall, some good, some bad — I think it’s crucially important to have something to retire to. And not be worried about the money. And not be too lean on spend either. And have your partner/family on board and excited.

      It’s also crucially important to not make work the centerpiece of your life especially if you are planning on leaving it at some point. Find activities you really value and you know will provide positive feedback and satisfaction outside of the office. Try to find fulfillment. You may fail, over and over again, but eventually some activities should stick. I should know: I found a few hobbies that stuck. (Writing and guitar.)

      Some people don’t need hobbies and activities — some people are OK with just doing absolutely nothing. I have an old stoner friend who really (REALLY!) would not be bothered by this, indefinitely. I seem to have more ambition than that, and being that you read this blog, my guess is that you do, too.

      I am now committed to boundaries: Working when I’m working, and living life fully outside of the office otherwise. I don’t work more than 35 hours a week and I don’t do on-call anymore and I rarely think about work outside of the time that I’m working — I’m much better at compartmentalizing it and moving on to other activities after the day is done. If someone sends me email after 4:45 P on a weekday, I ignore it until 9 A the next day. This helps a lot. I log off and write (as I am doing now) or play guitar or talk for hours with my fiancé.

      I don’t think ER itself is the problem. If the internet is to believed (and I think certain corners of it can,) ER works out for an awful lot of people, family, and couples. And I may try again at some point. Just not particularly soon. I’m focused on my fiance, work, my health, and finding a house right now, in that order. That is currently enough for happiness. If you removed work I would write more and that would be enough too (if I had unlimited financial resources, of course).

      • GC says:

        First off, I discovered this blog for the first time when someone sent me a link to your final post – was so captivated with your post, I went back to the beginning and am reading the rest of your older ones.

        I do have 1 question if it’s not too intrusive – your response above re: finding activities that clicked reminded me of it. Why didn’t those college writing classes work out? You had briefly mentioned you signed up twice, to meet people and maybe get motivated, but both times, you were disappointed. It seemed like you didn’t click with anyone there – would you mind sharing why?

        (I keep hearing advice to take classes and I’ll meet people who could become friends, be a lifelong learner, etc, but in reality, I rarely meet anyone in those kinds of situations, since I’m such an introvert.)

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  7. Impersonal Finances says:

    Holy crap what a read. Main takeaway is that what we think we want at the time might change, and to be flexible. Glad you’re on the road to happiness.

  8. Como says:

    Thanks for a insider’s view of the FI-lights of the last few years. It’s been interesting watching the blog and I trail along on a similar path a decade earlier.

    Sorry that things have been rough, but thanks for sharing both the good and the bad, all the additional human experience knowledge is much harder to come by than the straight numbers that are freely shared in every FI forum.

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  10. John says:

    I found your post after it was discussed on the Animal Spirits podcast week. Excellent work – thanks for sharing as it can’t have been easy to put this out there so candidly.

    I think it’s probably inevitable that a lot of the discussion will center around readers projecting their themselves on your story and saying “this just confirms what I’ve thought this whole time” about FIRE, etc. I think that’s what you’re seeing when people breeze right past the bit about you being happily early retired for a few years. I suspect there is nothing you could have written to avoid this.

    I think you’ve really *contributed* something useful to the discussion here, not just about FIRE, but also about being willing to learn and grow over time rather than “sticking to our guns” in the face of new evidence and changing circumstances.

    • livafi says:

      >> I think that’s what you’re seeing when people breeze right past the bit about you being happily early retired for a few years.
      Yes, I think you’re right. It’s been a few weeks since the post/update which allows us to view the community reaction with some actual data. Fact: Most of the sites that link to my article frame it as “This guy failed.” Even though I don’t consider it a failure. It’s because of the D, of course. And the subsequent decision to get a regular job again, at least for a few years. I tried to highlight the good years with the “white space” blurb toward the end and that didn’t matter either.
      Thanks for the comment.

      • GC says:

        People only remember what they want and skim through the rest. You questioned reading comprehension earlier when mentioning a reddit thread and honestly, it IS very poor. Thanks to social media, few have the attention span or thought process to read and absorb a full length article – they can only handle headlines and a couple hundred characters tops.

        Your early ER happiness came through loud and clear for me – and I’m sure for quite a few readers (not skimmers lol)

      • D says:

        I read and followed your blog back when you were writing. Thanks for the follow-up to let us know what’s going on in your life. I hope you decide to continue writing (on whatever subject matter, FIRE or otherwise).

        Regarding success/fail, I think everyone will decide differently. It doesn’t really matter. I will tell you that your blog was so very helpful to me, more than any of the others. I think it’s because you are so introspective, so open and honest with your thoughts and feelings. In terms of your contribution to the FIRE community, you have undoubtedly been a HUGE SUCCESS!!

  11. This blog post was so incredibly valuable and reassuring to read. My partner is set on FIRE as his ‘happiness unlock’ and I to a point am working toward it as well but it isn’t as important to me. Reading your story aligned with how I feel about FIRE; I was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis in 2018 at the age of 24, before that I worked non stop full time at a company and on my side hustles, had bought a house and was with my ex partner. My assets, earning potential and financial position were pretty solid at a young age, but the diagnosis made me rethink my focus on finances and FIRE and so much of my life changed after that. It is true that you just never know what could happen in your life and with your partner. Shortly after I split with my partner, sold the house and established a work rule of only 4 days or less so I could enjoy a break each week. I like the idea of choosing to work, though I do generally enjoy being an entrepreneur and working in the IT industry. What really stood out the most to me in this blog was that there is a level of acceptance and flexibility you need to have with FIRE, and similar to life, it is always going to be a changing journey. You can plan and aim for foundations and fundamentals, but you need to realise and accept life changes and therefore your plans will likely change too. There’s a quote somewhere that states the tighter you hold onto something, the more likely you’ll lose your grip. I think that is true for any plan in life, and it’s really great to read that you have really grown and taken the punches as they have come. Thank you so much for sharing, it has made a measurable impact on my current state of mind.

    • livafi says:

      I suppose the good news about your MS diagnosis is that it allowed you to see more clearly what you wanted out of life. These events and discoveries have a way of shaking things out. And congratulations on choosing to work. Knowing that it’s your decision makes a world of difference in how you feel about it — it’s empowering. Or at least, that’s my own feeling.
      The internet reports a slew of quotes that start with “The tighter you hold onto something…” One of them is “The more likely it will fall apart in your hands.” Sounds about right.
      Thanks for the comment and being vulnerable with sharing part of your own life story here.

  12. Robyn DAVIES says:

    Agree with other comments. Thank you for the frank sharing. One of the best FI blog posts I’ve read. Very useful reflections. All the best from someone on a late slow FIRE journey in Australia.

  13. Rick Mayor says:

    Wow, so great to see you back online again! I use to follow you many years ago and loved your writing (and I see you haven’t lost your touch either ). This was such an interesting post on so many levels – thank you for taking to time to write it and post it.

    – I started reading Margaret Atwood’s MaddAdam series (finished the first book and loved it, will be starting the second book soon). So I appreciate your reading selections !

    – as for your writing endeavors, not sure if you’ve ever heard of Steven Pressfield but he is truly inspiring for some wannabe writers. His book “The War of Art” was really good. Here is a link to a recent podcast he did with Tim Ferriss that you might enjoy: https://tim.blog/2021/02/26/steven-pressfield/

    Anyway, look forward to reading your future posts (I signed up for your blogposts).
    Thanks, Rick

    • livafi says:

      I think another reader recommended Pressfield, too. I’ll check it out, thank you.

      • Rick Mayor says:

        Just reread my comment and want to apologize for the use of “wannabe” writers – I was mentally thinking to say “aspiring” writers and the “flow” of writing in the moment it came out wrong (didn’t mean wannabe in a pejorative way – no offence intended).

        LAF edit and addition: No offense taken, I knew exactly what you meant and it’s all good — my skin isn’t that thin 🙂 Thanks for the comment once again.

  14. Chelsea says:

    I have EDS, too! I think FIRE often ignores that health problems can derail financial plans. I make 6 figures. I have nonetheless had to get financial help from my parents (which fortunately was an option for me). My EDS got so bad that I had to move. It has made working much harder. It took me so long to get help that I have to see an expensive doctor and an expensive PT who don’t take insurance. I have medications for associated conditions (MCAS, POTS, etc.). Definite possibility I will need fusion surgery on my neck. I will have to save for a house so that I can control my environment and not get sick.

    I recently had to purchase a $3,000 mobility scooter (insurance doesn’t cover wheelchairs if you can get around your own home, or if your own home isn’t 100% accessible. My shoulders are completely unstable and I can’t walk very far. I couldn’t get away with a manual wheelchair). This kind of thing is what money is for. I think everyone who pursues FIRE should try to stay employable and add padding to budgets because bad things can happen.

    While your story has some ups and downs, on the long run, I would argue this is a success story. Retiring early is completely impossible for most of the world. When things changed, you were able to get a job and pay for the things you needed to be healthy.

    One thing anyone can do to help their communities and possibly their future selves (I suspect the vast majority of people who live into their 70s will develop some sort of disability) is to find one accessibility issue in a public space (examples include broken sidewalks, electrical poles in sidewalks, missing curb cuts, government videos with no captions, etc. There are many kinds of disabilities and thus many possible accessibility issues) and report it to your local government and/or the federal civil rights division. This is an easy thing you can do with big returns because it often takes months to years for these things to be corrected.

    Side note: the usual abbreviation for Ehlers Danlos Syndrome is EDS.

    • livafi says:

      Sorry about your EDS. Totally understand some of the expenses. God, I hope the surgery goes OK for you, that sounds really frightening.
      >>I think everyone who pursues FIRE should try to stay employable and add padding to budgets because bad things can happen.
      Yes, I think this is good advice. I’m actually grateful I got the EDS diagnosis when I did — rather than not knowing for a few more years and perhaps becoming unemployable.
      Thanks for sharing your story, it’s very helpful. I wish you all the best in continuing to manage the condition and I admire your optimism in the face of these challenges.

  15. Erin Weed says:

    Thank you for this post – I appreciate both the transparency and authenticity of how you shared your experience.

    When I sold my first company back in 2013, I felt pretty lost. I mean, after you “make it” – what happens now?? It led me to create a method for unearthing one’s purpose, and aligning one’s life and work with it. It’s been the most fulfilling years of my life and I will never stop working (even though my current company is financially successful, and growing).

    I’m part of the awesome MMM community in Colorado and I’ve spoken to many people there about the intersection of purpose and FIRE. This seems to be a hot topic – if we aren’t connected to the bigger reason for FIRE, then actually achieving it can feel empty and lonely.

    I love your book recommendations, and tactical suggestions for re-connecting with one’s purpose. I’d also invite people to consider that maybe it’s not exactly WHAT you’re doing (working, volunteering, family, etc) but more about WHY you’re doing it (to be free? to heal? to evolve? to create? they all have a very different vibe). In the past 8 years growing The Dig method into a real company, I’ve learned that this one-word guiding principle doesn’t seem to change…so we may as well embrace it.

    Thank you again, and I wish you all much health, wealth and happiness.

    • livafi says:

      >> but more about WHY you’re doing it (to be free? to heal? to evolve? to create? they all have a very different vibe).
      Right, this is an important distinction and makes sense. I don’t know if you watch The Simpsons at all, but there’s an episode where Homer is really struggling with his job at the Nuclear plant. In the end he affixes pictures of his daughter Maggie to the walls of his office to help him associate the job with the underlying purpose: His family’s well being and growth. His way of reminding himself about the WHY, as you say. It makes all the difference.
      Thanks for the comment.

  16. Ryan D Tucker says:

    I’ve always loved this blog and your honesty. You have such a great writing style. I thought you were much older. I turn 45 this week, and have a fraction of the assets that you do. What an amazing story to step away from work for several years, and have your net worth grow! I really enjoyed reading this post, and hope you will consider posting occasionally. Best wishes to the next chapter for you.

  17. Shanks says:

    I greatly enjoyed reading your 2021 Retirement Update. Your style and voice was refreshing. Your honesty was also inspiring and the contrast between your account and other FIRE bloggers (who as you indicated are mostly trying to make a buck) was stark. Life, I suspect, is entirely too unpredictable for any of us to plan ahead with much certainty at all. And even when we do get our near-term predictions right, we are often incorrect in our assessment of how they will make us feel. And what clouds all of this even further is our search to find meaning and purpose in our lives. That doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t attempt to plan ahead but we need to be realistic that our futures may well be much different that what we had imagined – sometimes for the better and sometimes for the worse.

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  19. wrktravler says:

    Wow, thank you for such an open and honest update. I also want to say don’t give up on the writing. I am a life long bookworm and your posts pulled me in and made me feel and see what you wrote as if I was living it. I got so sucked in I was up until well after my bedtime several times without even noticing. My Apple Watch even noted my heart rate increases during some of your most stressful work posts. This is not something that just any writer can pull off and on a selfish note I’d love to read more of your work blog post or a book.

    I am so sorry to hear about your health condition. My brother was recently diagnosed with Stickler Syndrome which has some similar connective tissue conditions. I am also incredibly flexible but don’t have any of the other physical traits or symptoms. But facing something like this type of a diagnosis or the threat of it can certainly change your outlook and plans. I wish you the best and hope you continue to improve.

    Thank you again for sharing your story

    • livafi says:

      Sorry to hear about your brother. I also appreciate the warm and detailed remarks about the blog, it’s meaningful and encouraging. Thanks for the comment. I’m not giving up.

  20. Kaitlyn K says:

    Thanks for sharing. I hit FI at 29 and also have Ehlers Danlos Syndrome. I’ve never met anyone in the FIRE world with it. It certainly makes life challenging and impacts the routes we take. I’m glad 1500 Days gave you a should out. Thankfully I live in Canada with free health care and knew about my EDS which pushed me to pursue FI at a young age so I could quit work when my body gives up on me.

    If you need any support or commiseration please reach out.

    • livafi says:

      Hi Kaitlyn – Sorry about the EDS. I hope you are managing it well, and I have to admit I’m just a bit jealous that you were diagnosed so early. It would have been helpful for me to know when I was younger.
      I wasn’t aware of the 1500 Days blog and checked it out, thanks for the recommendation!
      Best –

  21. bill says:

    You have really overcome a lot. I would call it a huge success. You saw and did things that many never do.

    I can offer only one insight. Kids complicate things. I have 3 and being with them is great. Having time with them due to early retirement is wonderful. It makes having free time very meaningful and valuable. But it also makes you want to have a bigger cushion. And getting them education can tie you down, travel wise.
    I wish you the best!

    • livafi says:

      Thanks for the comment / warning. I hear you loud and clear. I feel many people in the FI community glosses over unexpected health conditions and the unexpected costs of children equally. I am taking this advice to heart, and planning for additional costs/cushion if we wind up having children.

  22. Rick says:

    Thank you so much for sharing! Every journey, vacation or life or ?, is different and flexibility is an important key. Good for you for remaining flexible and finding happiness! I am posting to agree with bill above. Having kid(s) is both great and complicating at the same time, and in our case both were good things. The complications became a good thing (that we didn’t understand at first) when we realized parenthood simplified our lives, as so many things that we thought mattered didn’t. Best of luck to you and your partner!!

  23. Thank you for your completely honest and vulnerable insight into early retirement. I’m afraid most bloggers either wax poetic about their experience or stop blogging altogether, as to leave readers hanging as to what happened to their lives after early retirement.

    Personally, I’ve often felt that having a job or profession gives one a purpose in life. Most of our identities are unfortunately tied to our job/profession. For some time now, I have considered abandoning the whole RE portion of FIRE, and just aim for FI instead. I don’t think I will quit my job altogether once I reach my FI number.

    Your decision to get married should make your partner feel more secured financially (as being married has financial consequences and merges your finances into one). That’s pretty important especially when you’re making a decision to quit your jobs for the rest of your lives (if you do decide to pursue early retirement again).

    • livafi says:

      I love this comment. An earlier commenter said something like “Don’t get married! Only stupid people get married!” And to be honest it kind of irritated me. Your comment is the opposite — you trust that my decision to re-couple isn’t something that I’m doing on a whim and we’re a great match for one another. All true assumptions, by the way. I’m happy and pleased that we can combine our assets and earning power to work toward a future together and it doesn’t matter to me in the slightest that I make more than her. To be completely honest, I’m thrilled (and sometimes jealous) that she does something that has such direct rewards to society. Yes, she does feel more secured financially now that she’s paired with me, and that makes me feel good too. I don’t know why anyone would have a problem with this sort of pairing. It works for us, and we both feel great about it.

      >>I don’t think I will quit my job altogether once I reach my FI number.
      I think this is wise. You could consider trying to go part-time and seeing how it feels. Phase it down in steps and gauge how satisfied you are by the results as the days go by.

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  25. Sandra says:

    Darn, I was hoping Chthulhu would make an appearance!
    But seriously man, you’re one sad sack. You have $1.3M and you want to blow it all on a wife, house, kid, international vacations, etc. in your mid-40s. Isn’t this the EXACT SAME THING you see in your peers that you don’t like?
    Why don’t you simply find another woman your age who wants to share a life of leisure?
    Little Miss Card Catalog is going to want all the stops for her first wedding. And she won’t make zilch when baby is born – not that she ever wanted to make any real money anyway. No one does that becomes a librarian. Maybe it was always her plan for a rich guy to take care of those details.
    Your old house in Taxachusetts costs $1.150M. Forget downsizing – you’re going to want to climb back on that housing ladder right where you left off. You need the space. And no mortgage for you – you’re used to EARNING interest so you’re not going to want to PAY it!
    Hope you love working for a living. It’s like you had a lobotomy between posts.
    How long are you going to be able to work and be a decent Dad with liquefying joints? So the librarian gets to take care of the baby and infirm you. When women marry for money they sign up for a lonely life. Say what you will about the ex-wife; she certainly didn’t marry for money.
    You’re throwing everything away, typical of your background. Man works hard, earns bank and blows it all – it’s a story as old as time. Here’s a book that’ll keep you busy – John Fowles’ The Magus. The main character is a long-winded, self-centered naval-gazer just like you. Some people never change.

    • livafi says:

      Bro, you’re the one gazing at my navel.
      You don’t sound happy.. Lotta time obviously went into your comment, complete with personal attacks and wild speculation as to how my future will unfold. I’d fight back a little more but I know better than to feed trolls. All the best.

      • Ty says:

        I really enjoyed the article so much that I’ve been reading through the comments and everyone’s comments have been positive and insightful except for this jerk — forget about him! Read the Man in the Arena quote — that’s you my friend, you’re doing it! I’m proud of you!

    • FIRE says:

      LOL this sounds like it’s your ex wife who is salty as hell now

      • Joey says:

        I was thinking the exact same thing! So malicious and vile. Seems too personal to be a stranger on the internet. What a jerk.

  26. Dan says:

    Amazing and brave summary of your last five years. Your writing on this blog is incredible, and I hope you continue to document your journey. Things do happen to people, no one’s life is perfect and without challenge. I do think your story could prove to be worthwhile perspective to those thinking about early FIRE, helping people through the decision process is purpose.

    I think at your point in life (40s, experienced even with the break) and back at work, you hold all the cards. Find an employer that values what you bring to their organization and then optimize your time. Don’t ever grind. You’ll achieve the balance you’re looking for. Something like being a SWAMI (MMM reference from 2011) or another level of having FU money.

    Thanks for sharing your story!

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  28. Doom,

    Really great seeing you post again! I used to read your posts a few years back and was curious how life was going for you. I too retired, but a few years later than you in early 2018. I totally get the relationship struggles as I ended up divorcing a few years before FI and my life was a whirlwind for some time.

    I’ve been successfully avoiding all things resembling hamster wheels and time clocks for over three years, yet I still sometimes feel like I should at least be stocking groceries for a $10 an hour part time just so I feel a bit more “normal” I totally understand your ex’s perspective about being on the sidelines, but I got over that idea quickly. I like you have jumped into some volunteer work at the Salvation Army and the local Rotary club. I used to wear dockers and a button down shirt early on, but finally said fuck it and wear flip flops and cargo shorts to all the Rotary meetings. Anyone who thinks I’m a bum or lazy or whatever I usually just remind them of 23 years/60 hr weeks and tell them they better work harder if they want to reach my level of sloth.

    Stay strong and keep up the inspiration,

    MDP

  29. fabio says:

    @livafi I’m not sure if this ever came up as a question/answer on your blog, but any reason why you and your ex never had kids? Might sound strange, but could that somehow have helped find purpose/meaning?

    • livafi says:

      Physiological issues. In an alternate universe where this wasn’t an problem, a version of me might have the answer — things might have gone better, things might have gone worse.

  30. Polendival says:

    You kept quiet about your problems until they actually resolved, which makes me wonder how many people in FIRE community doing the same.
    Maybe it’s like lottery winners being very vocal about their “success”, selling and propaganding their product, while unfortunate majority silently hiding in shame – survivorship bias 101.

    The fact that you’re actually a rare deviation from the norm and you didn’t sell out, monetizing your blog, pushing sketchy advertisements and acting like a guru, makes it even more suspicious, since you’re the only one who has no strong financial incentive to lie and coincidentally (?) your experience is drastically different. More so, we probably wouldn’t even hear continuation of your story, if not for your ability to turn your life around.

    I didn’t see anywhere between the lines that you’re actually suspecting that other bloggers might be lying about their wellbeing, but this still makes me feel more pessimistic about the whole idea.
    Thank you for your honesty, pursuing the truth is an act of kindness in itself, you’re doing the great thing and I wish you to be happy in your new life.

    • livafi says:

      >>, which makes me wonder how many people in FIRE community doing the same
      Insightful. I can probably reveal that a few people contacted me privately and said they went through some similar experiences/events… Just sort of making your point.
      Absolutely, I would have had an awfully tough time posting this much earlier than I did. It might have even felt impossible. We are taught to not share weaknesses and failures with others. Even in the animal world, creatures often slink away from the pack to suffer wounds on their own. And so many of the comments are: I’m so glad you’re in a better place. What if I wasn’t? How do you comment on a blog post where there’s no resolution? It’s too dark.

      The only counter I have is that some folks in the community are absolutely doing well with ER, flourishing, growing — I believe that 100%. It’s just… not everybody. Agree there is some winner’s bias here. Hard to know exactly how much — it’s fascinating to think about. I will also add I often see threads in financial forums where one partner is really into it and the other isn’t and the friction is glossed over/ trivialized /downplayed. And I frequently wondered how those relationships turned out.

    • Joe says:

      Of course there is survivorship bias. I followed quite a few early retirement blogs back in 2005-2007. Just about all of them stopped writing during the Great Recession. I can’t even think of one that’s still around.

      I early retired back in 2007 and have not worked a day since. I don’t even know what to say about early retirement anymore because to me it’s just life. But during the past 14 years, I’ve lived overseas for the first 5 years, did a bunch of slow travel, enjoyed single life for a time, have faced health issues, became a landlord, got married, had a kid, got divorced, purchased 4 homes. Life is totally unpredictable whether early retired or not and all the planning could not have accounted for the changes. I also couldn’t have known that my net worth would triple during that time, nor that my expenses would quadruple.

      • livafi says:

        Congrats on retiring and on living the life you want — ups and downs and everything in between. I resonated with the line about not working just being “life.” That’s a wonderful thing.

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  32. Nick says:

    Really appreciate the update. You have put a lot of my life’s future choices in perspective. I know I shouldn’t let a blog dictate my life, but your story has had a great impact on my life over the years. We are the same age and I went though very similar work experiences in the past. I realize my job is pretty chill now compared to years ago and I have been pushing so hard to the “get me out of this shit” goal for so long it feels like I HAD to retire now that I hit FI. Maybe I should take a step back, avoid burnout, and slow down a bit and try to not take on things at work that burn me out. Several people have pointed out I had a new found “confidence” about me, little did they know that was me hitting my FI number and to be honest, it really improved my work situation. Maybe RE really is not that important, it is the freedom to work on your own terms that matters more.

    • livafi says:

      >>Maybe I should take a step back, avoid burnout, and slow down a bit and try to not take on things at work that burn me out.
      Yep. I highly recommend this approach. Slow it down as much as you can and try to grow your life outside of work.

  33. Stephen says:

    Man, I think this may be the best early-retirement blog post (or just blog post period) I’ve ever read. Thanks for sharing your story. It’s rare to read such thoughtful writing in this area, particularly since most people in this space are, as you say, “trying to sell product and make money off of [their] choices…”

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  35. CK says:

    I add that I think you should not second guess that you did not do enough to save your marriage. Like you said, when communication breaks down it’s a problem equally shared by both parties. To me you acted with support as best you could when discovering your spouse’s unhappiness. I believe your wife changed or at a minimum discovered she wanted a different life. One should support their spouse and want the best for them, but ultimately they alone are responsible for their happiness. IMHO, when infidelity occurs, the offending partner has already chosen to leave a relationship. And the fact that they did not have the courtesy to give closure to a 20-year marriage before they pursued another companion is unforgiveable and most likely the relationship is unsalvageable. This is generalization which I know is shaky ground. Especially since I do not know either party. I had my own, strikingly similar experience with infidelity almost ten years ago (my marriage failure occurred after 22 years). Luckily, I was still working when it occurred (at age 50). My subsequent “new plan” as a single pointed to working until a minimum of age 65. Fortunately, things went better than expected and I plan to quit my full-time job in a year (I will be 59 then).
    Your post was really interesting and gives me much to think about regarding the concept of happiness. I always saw myself, at least in the first decade or so having a part-time job with much lower responsibilities (and of course salary). It is not a financial decision, just a preference. I believe “I am not ready to quit work per se, but want to enjoy the work I do”. Ideally, other than if it is to help others, I really don’t want to do anything I don’t enjoy in “retirement”. I am very fortunate my health remains good. Thank you so much for sharing in such an honest way. I wish you all the happiness life can bring.

  36. WJK says:

    This was a fantastic read. Thank you for sharing so much of yourself and your experiences so freely. You’re remarkably insightful and even handed in your accounts of all of these difficult personal events and tribulations – and you’re an excellent writer to boot! You’ve done a lot of good for a lot of people by writing this – including me!

  37. palmcron says:

    I remember binge reading your blog five or six years ago. Thank you for the update!
    Could you give some insight into how your workout routine to manage your eds looks like?

  38. Pingback: The endless offer – Tipsheet

  39. Will says:

    Thank you so much for an update on your journey. It was truly insightful, especially to a lot of the internal thoughts that one might encounter and we do not discuss enough. I think this is usually one of the largest barriers to success, the own voice inside your head. I am glad you have been able to find your own slice of happiness and seemingly a strong way to move forward.

    Just a quick aside, my SO also has ED. If you ever are looking for someone to bounce things off of around that topic feel free to shoot me an email and I will put you two in touch.

    Best of luck,
    Will

  40. Jim says:

    I really don’t understand all this need for friends. I have no friends whatsoever and no need to have any. It’s a bother if you think deeply. Once I had some but it’s a lot of work and money to keep them so why do you need them? you really don’t !

  41. LazySod says:

    This is one of the best posts about FIRE I have ever seen. Although frugal I never liked the idea of LeanFIRE so I worked a decade more than you. I have kind of FIREd two years ago and I can identify with a lot of things you mentioned… It’s so good to find out I am not alone, sometimes I don’t get why there is so much happiness in some blogs despite of the horrible times we have been living, economically, politically and socially. I hope you can continue posting. This is such an authentic FIRE story ! Thanks for posting and all the best !

  42. Wow! Thanks for sharing your story. I have to say, I’ve always been drawn more to the FI part of FIRE than the RE part. The ability to find meaning at work I enjoy instead of having to ratchet myself up the career ladder working for employers and managers who I despise.

    I also liked the part about too many FIRE advocates selling their life choices. I find that pretty frustrating. I’ll admit I wouldn’t mind making money writing, but I’m also not going to whore myself out like some do.

    Thanks for writing!

  43. edward says:

    Would love to hear more about the creative writing classes

  44. Arrgo says:

    Now I remember reading your blog from a few years ago. Thanks for sharing your story. Enjoy your perspectives. Like you mention, one thing is for sure that things can and do change over time. I dont think its a good idea to rigidly paint yourself into a corner with this is exactly how my life and early retirement are going to be. I got laid off of my long time IT job back in early 2016. Since I’ve basically just done my long time side hustle audio job and taken a break from the full time work life. Similar to you, over the last 5 years my accounts have really grown in a huge way. I’m 52 now and I could say I could really be “retired” but I’ve got plenty of gas in the tank and feel more confident about life when i’ve got some money coming in. Im also working towards some cloud certifications (Oracle, AWS) to see where that takes me. The upside now is if things with any employment gets too stupid, I dont have to tolerate it for the paycheck. At your age, I dont think its a bad thing to do some work if it fits your situation. Making a good paycheck for another 5 or 10 years will really help the math with your savings and investments (plus your future SS check). Also, when you plan to take a break again, hope for a layoff w/ severance and unemployment if possible. No sense in walking away with nothing if you can work it out in some way.

  45. Pingback: Monthly Learning Journal 14 (5/4/2021) – Retire In Progress

  46. Alice Hwang says:

    Re: what you could’ve done in reference to your relationship with your ex-wife. Maybe take some inspiration from what stay-at-home housewives do for meaning and purpose, or whatever they do to fill up their time? Just a thought because these stay-at-home women have pretty established roles in society that don’t deviate from the norm, and emulating them shouldn’t have made her feel like she’s in some new frontier. If she cannot respect you for not working though, I guess it’s a lost cause. Not that it matters, just a thought lol

  47. HBFI says:

    Wow, thank you for writing this. I’ve been a long-time lurker on your site from back when you were writing, but this is my first comment (though I did email the Choose FI guys to try and interview you b/c your blog rocks – in hindsight, I misjudged that one; my bad).

    Anyways, I felt compelled to express my gratitude for your writing and your willingness to share your story. I read most of your posts more than once over the years b/c it resonated with me on so many fronts. While it certainly sounds like you had an excruciating period of time re: your ex, on balance you also had many wonderful years since 2015. How many people can say they did what you did? It’s freaking awesome! You’re in an amazing position now too! There is nothing of “failure” in this and to even hint at it that would be a flawed narrative.

    I’m really glad to hear you met someone and are turning a new page in life. While it doesn’t absolve past pain, I hope your future ends up even brighter than you could have imagined. Fwiw, my wife and I (both now 39) were on the fence about having a child. But we just celebrated our 1 year old little girl’s birthday and I have to say the last year has been absolutely awesome. Challenging, to be sure, but so worth it. We would have been happy with just the two of us and I think that would have been an equally wonderful life path, so I don’t say that in the context of “you must do this”. Quite the contrary, many ways to live a wonderful life and be happy. Having said all that, having a baby is cool path to go down if you’re considering it. I only think people should do that if both partners are fully on board and mentally ready for it ( “oops” notwithstanding haha).

    For my own part, I put off the RE part of FIRE for a couple years in order to ensure we were ready for adding a little person to our team. My wife left work in 2018 (right before we married) and I had planned to join in early 2020, but deferred especially with COVID ongoing (working from home has been nice but about to end). I plan to pull the trigger this year and take a few years away from work. After that? Who knows, hopefully start some part time side gig I enjoy. Shouldn’t need the $, we’ve likely over saved, but as I’ve gotten older. I mentioned all this as I think there was too much emphasis placed on the RE part of FIRE from the community several years+ back. I think it’s shifted to more FI with “work” more short-term and/or enjoyment/hobby focused (where possible). I’ll just say this, I’d rather recharge my battery for several years and then go back to what I was doing than just keep ploughing thru while thinking about “what if…” when it comes to the past. That’s the path of most people in society and the results, on average, haven’t been great. I mean, that’s a big part of why the FIRE community sprung up.

    Sorry to have droned on for so long. Like I said, I’m a huge fan of your writing and wanted to express my gratitude. If I can plant one (potential) idea on your buffet line: a Dr. Doom comic in the vein of Dilbert. Dude, you funny. I used to come for the comics as much as the writing. I’d love to see way more Dr. Doom making his way thru the world of work and everyday life. Do it on your own schedule: once a . I’d bet some real pocket change many others following your writing would subscribe to that newsletter. And if this sounds even remotely interesting, please please please add advertising banners, etc. to monetize it. Dude, we DGAF. I respect the resistance to doing it on the blog, honestly it’s refreshing your approach. But what I’m talking about, different animal my friend.

    Anyway, I’ll shut up now. Thank you for the many years of solid material. I very much hope there is more to come.

  48. Larry Cole says:

    I read your article with a heavy heart at the risks we all take in relying on the stability of our relationships and health while long-term planning. Thank you for sharing. I will take the lessons from your experience and pay more attention to my plan B than I have been doing.

  49. Sophia says:

    I loved this post! Thank you for sharing 🙂

  50. Ian says:

    Thank you for taking the time to write a really excellent blog about the emotional side of FIRE. I’d be interested to know if you know any other blogers that handle this side of it?

    There are only two blogs I’ve taken the time to read the entirety of: Livingafi and MMM. Thank you Monevator for your excellent emails and the link here.

    I’m glad the first few years of RE went well for you and you seem to have have found someone much more suited to you, and for trying RE V2.00 with down the line.

    Your series on your previous work experiences really have helped put my job into perspective and the 5 years left that I have!

    Hope you keep wanting to blog as the web is better for having you on it!

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