I've been shortlisted for the UK Blog Awards 2019. Vote here!

{ in·deed·a·bly }

adverb: to competently express interest, surprise, disbelief, or contempt

Lessons from retirement

Last week the wind changed. 

To me, each year this marks the end of the summer… and what a truly glorious summer it has been!

The first day the breeze carries a distinct chill.

The first day I wish that I had brought a jumper or a coat.

The first day I start thinking about switching on the central heating.

Joanne Harris’ book Chocolate beautifully captures this notion of the wind indicating that it is time for a change.

A change in the wind

In years past the change in the wind has indicated it was time to dust off my suit and choose a client with both a tricky problem to solve, and a nice warm office in which to hibernate over the cold wet London winters.

I adopted a semi-retired working pattern a few years ago, after a confronting reassessment of how I invested my time.

all the time in the world… until you don’t

My father chose to postpone much of the enjoyment in his own life until retirement. He bought into the rat race, sought to climb the career ladder faster than his peers. First to arrive. Last to leave. Be seen to be putting in the hard yards. Measure value in time served rather than accomplishment.

Game of Thrones. Image credit: Game of Thrones Wikia.

The office politics version of Game of Thrones. Image credit: Game of Thrones Wikia.

He “retired” early. Actually, he was pushed out after backing the wrong horse in his office’s version of Game of Thrones.

It was humbling, a wound to his ego that would never fully heal.

He had grand plans for his retirement. Buy a caravan and join the migratory herd of grey nomads.

And he did. For a little while. Until cancer clipped his wings, before eventually kicking his ass.

Around the same time I had my own brush with mortality, fortunately surviving to tell the tale.

These experiences gave me a newfound appreciation that I didn’t have “all the time in the world”.

Nobody does.

I didn’t have all the time in the world. Nobody does.

Introspection and epiphany

That led me to re-evaluate how I invested my time.

Like many people, I spent the majority of my daylight hours earning a living, while looking forward to the weekend for a chance to recharge my batteries before doing it all again. It was well paid, but unfulfilling the much of the time.

My prioritisation approach towards time allocation was flawed.

I had long been triaging tasks based on the financial value of my time. Those that paid the best, or couldn’t be ignored, received the attention.

Now it occurred to me that while this approach may have been logical back when I had no money, it became increasingly less sensible the more my net worth grew.

Once I escaped from the hospital, I ran my numbers through a new scenario.

Changing the game

My traditional focus had been watching my net worth increase. The usual story: spend less than I earned, invest the difference wisely, and wait.

What if I looked at them through a different lens? How much of my time could the free cash flows generated by my investment portfolio afford to buy back, without compromising my lifestyle?

This would require a few tweaks to my forecasting and analysis approach:

  • Withdraw dividends rather than reinvesting them.
  • Instead of channelling free cash flows from investment properties into overpaying mortgages, use them to pay for groceries and utility bills.
  • Reduce money spent on work-related costs: commuting, sandwich shop lunches, dry cleaning, gym membership and corporate entertainment.
  • Eliminate the need for school breakfast clubs and full-time school holiday childcare.

The results astounded me.

Semi-retirement was already possible

Without compromising my lifestyle at all, the free cash flow generated by my investment portfolio could comfortably fund my living costs for 8 months of the year!

Unicorn. Image credit: Bro666.

Part time jobs, like unicorns, are the stuff of myth and legend. Image credit: Bro666.

To translate that into terms used by the FIRE community faithful, I would be living within the “yield shield”. That would be roughly the equivalent of running a 2.5% “safe” withdrawal rate, if selling down capital to pay the bills is your thing.

Initially I sought out part-time engagements that would require only a few hours per week. My theory was that regularly working a little would be preferable to sporadically working a lot.

It turned out that, in my game at least, those types of engagements simply do not exist.

I decided to test out this new working pattern, and give semi-retirement a try.

Semi-retirement was to my liking, though the re-entry challenges I faced when returning to the working world were brutal! After six months away, it was very hard to get excited about status update meetings, cat herding of offshore resources, endless conference calls, and handholding indecisive stakeholders.

I repeated the exercise again the next year. It was even harder to return to work.

The change in the wind tells me I should really be getting ready to suit up once again, after having greatly enjoyed my third semi-retirement stint.

But not today.

Lessons from retirement

Instead here are some observations about “retirement” based upon my experiences:

Decompression takes longer than you think

Running in the rat race is habit-forming. It takes months to undo things like:

  • the irrational dread of Mondays
  • the waking up early in anticipation of the alarm
  • the poor sleep patterns
  • the carrying around vast knots in your neck and shoulder muscles.
  • the grinding teeth, tension headaches, and acidy stomach

You will be judged

The notion that somebody could afford to cease working in their 30s or 40s, without a large inheritance or a lottery win, simply does not compute for the majority of the population.

I very quickly learned to avoid the awkward conversions that inevitably follow any mention of retirement when asked the dreaded “what do you do?” question.

The response was usually a mixture of anger, disbelief, incredulity, and jealousy. Plus it is really hard not to come off sounding like a boastful asshole.

I adopted the “Stay-At-Home-Dad” label until my youngest child started school.

Since then I’ve gone with unemployed. It may not be how I think of myself, but it is technically true!

Worriers are going to worry

Some folks are prone to stressing about things.

Retirement doesn’t magically change who we are or how we think.

For those folks retirement just sees the office politics and asshole bosses substituted for something equivalent like their apartment building’s body corporate committee and their child’s sports coach.

You spend less than you expect

I had expected my outgoings to increase when I stopped working.

A full-time job occupies our minds for most of the working week. I had expected the activities and distractions that fill up a week of retirement to cost a lot.

They certainly cost a bit, but it turned out to be less than the work related costs of commuting, dry cleaning, and buying lunch every day.

You will mentally slow down

There is a certain Darwinism to corporate life. Your livelihood, and therefore your family’s lifestyle, depends upon your ability to successfully navigate the cut and thrust of office politics. The weak and the wounded are sacrificed for the greater good of the herd, it is survival of the fittest.

When the daily need for this “flight or fight” survival instinct is removed, people seem to slow down. They relax. They drop their guard. They lose their edge. They become road kill.

Use it, or lose it” is a cliché for a reason.

Anybody who has experienced the retirement of their parents will know what I mean. There are many people who commence retirement as vigorous middle-aged folks… yet quickly succumb to becoming muddle headed senior citizens who struggle to keep their Wifi working or use contactless payments at the grocery store.

Use it, or lose it” is a cliché for a reason

Eat better, but snack more

Having the time to shop for fresh food, and experiment with cooking new meals has improved my diet considerably. It has been nice to have time to do more than just whip together a quick stir-fry after work, before putting the kids to bed.

At the office the only thing I ate between breakfast and dinner was a quick sandwich at my desk. At home I probably walk through the kitchen dozens of times a day, which lends itself to snacking.

In the end I had to make sure I didn’t have any snacks in the house, or I’d inevitably eat them!

No more beer o’clock

Before kids I would often go out for drinks or dinner with friends and colleagues.

After kids my social life scaled back considerably.

I developed a bad habit of having a beer or a glass of wine when I got home from work each day. It was a quick way to unwind, mentally change gears from “work mode” (frustration, stress, spending half the day surrounded by idiots who suffer from backpfeifengesicht) to “home mode” where I needed the patience to enjoy reading bedtime stories and listen when my kids downloaded about their day.

backpfeifengesicht: German for ‘a face in need of a fist‘ or ‘a face that is begging for a slap

Retirement meant there was no more “after work”, and tomorrow wasn’t a work day either.

If the sun was shining outside, and I didn’t have anything immediately demanding my attention, why not sit outside with a good book and a nice glass of wine? So what if it is only 11am on a Tuesday morning?!

That impulse took me by surprise. I can see how some people end up having beer with their cornflakes.

I can see how some people end up having beer with their cornflakes.

You won’t get fit or lose weight

As with stress, retirement doesn’t magically provide you with the additional motivation.

If you couldn’t summon up the motivation to go for a run, or eat a salad instead of a plate of hot chips, before retirement then chances are pretty good you won’t do it after retirement either.

There is a big difference between excuses and reasons.

There is a big difference between excuses and reasons.

You may get bored, depressed and lonely

Bob the Builder and Dora the Explorer. Image credit: Bob the Builder Wikia and Dora the Explorer Wikia.

We are identified by the role we play. Image credit: Bob the Builder Wikia and Dora the Explorer Wikia.

A big part of our identity is what we do for a living. “Bob the builder” and “Dora the explorer” are great examples of this.

When you retire you lose that part of your identity. If you no longer have that professional qualifer, then who are you?

The daily grind of work imposed a structure, and forced interaction with a social group. For many people this acts as a crutch, particularly if they don’t have lots of friends or neighbours living nearby.

Retirement removes that crutch, which makes it easy to go for days at a time without talking to anyone outside your immediate family unless you make the conscious effort to seek out social interaction. One for the introverts to be mindful of.

This conscious effort is also required to replace work with other fulfilling pursuits. Without it you could easily find yourself sat on the couch, still in your pyjamas, wasting days at a time watching unemployment television.

You will become your family’s shock absorber

Whether justified or not, the value of a retiree’s time does not compare to that of a salary earner.

They have a finite amount of annual leave. Bosses to appease. Stakeholders to manage. Staff to supervise, and so on.

You have nothing but time.

Time to wait around for tradesmen who never turn up.

Time to receive deliveries.

Time to pick up whatever shopping items the rest of the family desperately needs, but failed to procure themselves.

You will get curious… and then grumpy

Now that you don’t have to subject yourself to the daily grind, you have the luxury of taking deep dives into subject areas that catch your interest.

You have the time to read the study behind all those newspaper headlines.

You can invest the time to validate the conclusions an “expert” has reached.

You quickly become disheartened by how inaccurate just about everything the media reports actually is.

The “letters to the editor” section of the newspaper is full of commentary by people just like you!

Retirement won’t fix you

Retirement can’t cure what ails you in life.

Retirement can’t make you happy, content or fulfilled.

Retirement can free up your time however, so that you have the opportunity figure out what will.

But only if you choose to take it.

There are very few things you want to do in retirement, that you couldn’t already be doing in some form today.


Featured by
--- Tell your friends ---
RSS

Next Post

Previous Post

21 Comments

  1. SavingNinja 1 October 2018

    Awesome read. This is what I’m worried about the most; becoming bored. A lot of RE pursuers think that it’s going to all fall into place and be great once they retire, but like you’ve summed up perfectly in this article; it doesn’t work like that.

    I’d love to be able to pack up and leave. Go on some soul searching to different countries and cultures and hopefully come back with a new found purpose in life. A lot of people are shackled to where they live though, whether that’s due to kids, parents, friends or partners. It’s just difficult. Kind of morbid really :)) You’re doing it right by semi-retiring first, testing the waters, instead of plunging right in!

    • {in·deed·a·bly} 1 October 2018 — Post author

      Thanks SavingNinja.

      On reflection I don’t think I have been bored yet, but there have been times that I have noticed a certain lack of intellectual stimulation. At work there is an ever present opportunity to talk in detail with an already assembled collection of (sometimes smart) like minded people, about issues and topics related to whatever we do for a living. To find the equivalent in retirement you really have to go out of your way to seek it out. It is worth the effort, but isn’t easy.

      Those “real life” ties are certainly ever present. When I’m on a semi-retirement I am free to travel as far and wide as my heart desires… providing I can reliably get there and back within the school day!

  2. Dick Warner 2 October 2018

    After several years now, I still struggle with the ‘What do you do” question. Without a good answer it quickly becomes a conversation ending statement. I try to use ‘Investment Analysis.’ It’s factually accurate and sometimes opens the conversation to my unique path and how they might pursue it too.

  3. Frogdancer Jones 2 October 2018

    My best friend retired a year ago. I’m about 4 years away from pulling the pin.
    She says that it took her about 8 months to decompress from the working life. But now? She’s filling her days with so many things that she never had time for before.

    • {in·deed·a·bly} 2 October 2018 — Post author

      Thanks Frogdancer.

      There have certainly been times where I have wondered how I managed to get everything done with a day job, retirement can get hectic.

      Those time management and prioritisation decisions are just as important after retirement as they were during working life.

  4. thefirestartercouk 22 October 2018

    Love this!

    Having flirted with semi retirement myself by the loosest of definitions, working about 75% of full time hours, and getting it off in chunks weeks at a time, I can certainly recognise some of these, although definitely not all. There is no time for me to decompress for example so I just don’t know what that feels like (unfortunately!).

    The snacking one… oh yea! The biscuit shelf gets destroyed when I’m hanging about the house 🙂
    I also tend to do more exercise when I’m at work as well as it’s an easy thing to do in my lunch break, whereas at home I am looking after TFS Jr. I suppose it might be different when starts going to school or nursery (which will be soon!) but then if we have another the cycle will all start again.
    Anyway my main worry if I did full retirement or 6 months of the year off would definitely be just being a lazy, snacking loafer and getting really unfit! Hah!

    • {in·deed·a·bly} 23 October 2018 — Post author

      Thanks for reading TFS.

      The one thing I thought would greatly improve was my Xbox skills. According to my kids I’m just as rubbish now as I was years ago!

  5. Flint 22 October 2018

    Wow really awesome read Indeedably, a really great attitude to take and a great plan if ever there were one. Sounds like you made a good choice, why wait when you can have 8 months off a year.

    • {in·deed·a·bly} 23 October 2018 — Post author

      Thanks for the kind words Flint.

      The seasonal work pattern probably wouldn’t work for everyone, but I’m enjoying it.

      I must admit the toughest part is suiting up and returning to the daily grind. Making myself do that gets harder and harder each year!

  6. Mr. RIP 30 October 2018

    What a great post!
    First, congrats for your semi-retirement. It’s one of the possible futures on mine.
    Second: why did your social life scale back? I imagine myself much more socially active once Semi/Fully Retired.
    Third: One should always be curious. Time for curiosity should be first priority. And just don’t read the news, never. News industry is clickbait driven, rewarded by your outrage and fear. Just don’t.

    • {in·deed·a·bly} 30 October 2018 — Post author

      Thanks for visiting Mr RIP, I welcome your unique perspective on life!

      To answer your questions in order:

      1) Semi-retirement in a seasonal work pattern is awesome… until the time to return to work, then it is brutal. More so each year.

      2) I have children. They don’t understand hangovers, and take no prisoners at breakfast time!

      Pre-retirement: After work you can have a sneaky pint (or several) with colleagues, then slink home via a bag full of McDonald’s cheeseburgers.

      Post-retirement: You are already at home, with no colleagues, and no convenient pubs to fall into. On the plus side, there are also no McDonald’s.

      3) Curiosity is grand. However academia and “thought leaders” are often found wanting (and suspiciously trying to sell their latest book/course/residential retreat).

  7. That Guy, Nick @ TotalBalance.blog 7 November 2018

    Great insights!

    Perpaps I missed it somewhere, but for how long do you plan to keep doing the seasonal grind?

    The “time to decompress” really struck me. I feel like I need to decompress!
    I’ve just started a new job, and I already kind of hate it…It’s not the jobs fault really, it’s just the fact that I’m tired of that grind that you describe so vividly yourself 😉
    I could take a couple of months leave, but I fear that I would struggle even more to return to the grind after that…
    I should have just become a mail-man, then I wouldn’t have the (luxury) problem of having to look for a new (well-paying) job, whenever I got tired of the current one 😛

    • {in·deed·a·bly} 7 November 2018 — Post author

      Thanks Nick, glad you found them useful.

      The seasonal thing works for now (though Brexit has made things “unseasonally” quiet in my professional niche this year). At this stage I plan to keep doing it until my kids no longer need looking after during the school holidays, which is a few more years yet.

      Sounds like you should take a little time to reassess how you are investing your time. The financial imperative may require you to sell your time, but if successive similar jobs aren’t helping you to find your happy then perhaps it is worth looking into doing something else for a living? Just a thought.

      Speaking as a former mail-man (actually a paper boy, same duties but the pay wasn’t as good!), the simple stress free nature of the job was nice… but it was working outdoors in the rain/hail/freezing cold that taught me the allure of hibernating in a nice warm office without any need for heavy lifting!

      Also getting chased by dogs and swooped by magpies made things exciting on occasion.

      • That Guy, Nick @ TotalBalance.blog 7 November 2018

        I hear you! 😛

        The problem that I have (like many others), is that I’ve spend a decade getting used to earning good money – and thus I (and my family) has gotten used to a certain lifestyle aswell. We’re not living a life of luxury or anything, but had I made a career in a lower paying job, I would have more options to switch career paths. That’s my logic at least. I realize that it’s probably just an excuse for not taking the plunge. I keep asking myself what I really want to do (for a living), and I’ve unfortunately yet to find the answer. All I know is, I can’t keep doing what I do for the next 10-15 years. I just don’t have the office-IT job motivation anymore…

        Being a dane, there’s no such thing as bad weather! Only wrong clothing 😛

        • {in·deed·a·bly} 7 November 2018 — Post author

          Over the years I have learned that I tend to be only as constrained as I choose to be. Challenging my premise, reframing the question, and looking at problems through a different lens often helps uncover previously overlooked options or approaches.

          For example I have seen programmers successfully move across into training or technical writing. I have taught reporting analysts to become business analysts. There are often many different roles that depend upon heavily overlapping skillsets. Changing direction slightly may not need to be as dramatic (or financially impactful) as going back to school, but may provide more challenge or fulfilment to your working day.

          I like that outlook on the weather. My problem wasn’t my getting wet so much as the mail being delivered getting wet… then soggy… then becoming difficult to deliver.

  8. Jim 10 November 2018

    A really great and timely article.

    I recently left work and am trying to decompress before starting my next role. I have savings so can comfortably sit it out for 6 months or much longer if I needed to.

    I was really looking forward to this break but it has not turned out to be as enjoyable as I had hoped.

    My day is defined by my kids school run drop off and pick up times. I have found myself going to the gym everyday, working out to business audiobooks then spending my afternoon watching Netflix or playing computer games.

    I seem to have constant guilt about the amount of time I have and the fact I am not working. My motivation levels are low. When I tell people I know that am currently not working, they look at me with pity, probably the same look my face shows when I see folks with expensive lease cars on their drives.

    Ideally I would like to do a bit of travel and get some winter sun, but my wife informs me that isn’t normal either…. and no one elses husband does that.

    At some point I will need to start thinking about getting another role, but that feels like am leaving the party early.

    Be good to understand how others got over these same challenges.

    Are there any midday FIRE meetups in London for those of us who can’t do the evening events?

    • {in·deed·a·bly} 10 November 2018 — Post author

      Thanks for the kind words Jim.

      Sorry to hear you are struggling to find fulfilment in your current lifestyle.

      I’m no expert, but you sound a bit depressed. Lonely, underwhelmed, unmotivated, perhaps even a bit bored? Might be worth speaking to someone, a counsellor or a (non-judgemental) friend about how you are feeling.

      One taken-for-granted aspect of a full-time job is the sense of routine, structure and social interaction it imposes. Those elements remain important in the absence of a job, without them it would be easy to become a social recluse. YoungFIGuy wrote an excellent post on this recently.

      The author behind the SexMoneyHealthDeath blog shared many similar experiences to what you describe during his year-long attempt at “retirement”. He ultimately returned to the workforce, and sounded much happier for it. It is worth a read.

      If I were in your shoes, I would ask myself a few questions:

      • Why does it matter to me what is “normal” or how others view my decision to take a time out from the workforce? If I were truly comfortable and confident in that decision then it wouldn’t, but the fact that it does suggests there is something worth exploring there.
      • What goals had I hoped to accomplish or achieve, once the time I had previously been investing in working was freed up to do other things? Not everyone wants to save the whales or direct an independent film, but there was hopefully was something more than watching television. What happened to those goals?
      • A holiday provides a nice distraction, but it won’t provide a sustainable solution for the situation you find yourself in. We can’t outrun ourselves! So what is it I feel I need a break from, now that the previous excuse of work can no longer be blamed?

      For me the most interesting observation in your comment was your feeling of “leaving the party early”. If you’re not particularly enjoying the party, why stick around?

  9. MMC1066 10 November 2018

    Good article, thanks. I am fully retired having run my own company and then got pushed out – otherwise I would still be working. I started playing the violin and fiddle – after many, many years break – and also now play the Mandolin. I did Grade 4, then 5 Music theory and lunch with at least 1 friend a week. I have family in various parts of the world so that takes up time (I was in Palma 2 weeks ago & off to Rome next week)- and also visit France for several months a year. I still run a property company. I liked your observation that when the world is rushing about you stand back and go at a more leisurely pace – I avoid going anywhere in rush hour as a result. I walk the dog and see the poor souls sitting on buses or in cars – waiting in rush hour queues – maybe not PC – but I derive satisfaction from knowing that I am not there!

    • {in·deed·a·bly} 10 November 2018 — Post author

      Thanks for the kind words MMC1066.

      I love the sound of your travel schedule! Well done for investing your time in a rewarding pursuit like learning how to play instruments. Do you play in an orchestra? I worked with a guy last year who played in one, he said it was a great way to meet new people, and seemed to involve a bunch of travelling around to perform in concerts.

      • MMC1066 10 November 2018

        I do indeed play in an Orchestra – sometimes play in 2..The Orchestra is ‘Open Access’ meaning anybody can join – otherwise I wouldn’t get in! Does have some very good people as well – ex professional – so it becomes educational and fulfilling. We have special Event days most weeks (in addition to weekly rehearsals) & also have Residentials twice a year – one in the Lake District & the other in Northumberland. This orchestra has groups all over the NE of England – so when we get together on
        Residentials the Orchestra can be really large. (Up till last year we went abroad on one of our Residentials – so I have played in Tuscany -San Gimignano & in Dachau in Germany).
        I also play in a Fiddle group – about 30 players – which has the same ethos (cater for all levels). Playing mostly traditional Northumbrian music. Our Annual Concert is in 12 days. Since taking up Mandolin I play in a Bluegrass band and a Mandolin Orchestra – each having about 30 players. I live near the SAGE Music centre which has a ‘Silver Program’ for those over 50. Both my Mandolin groups are playing at a concert at the Sage at beginning of December.
        I think retirees should follow their interests – and afford themselves time to delve deeper into whatever interests them – hence why I did Theory of Music exams Grade 4 & 5. We have a place in the South of France and I keep a violin there so that I can practise when I go there.
        I dabble in the Stock market – that’s why I came across the link to your blog – I followed a link from Dividend Max – I also run a property company. I was interested to hear how other people spend their retirement. I rarely feel stress now – something which I especially notice as the last few years of my working life was very stressful.

What say you?

© 2018 { in·deed·a·bly }

Privacy policy

Subscribe