Old dogs can learn new tricks. Preconceived notions are not reality or facts.
Several years ago life was going fine for me. Business was good, the sky was sunny and I thought I had a firm grasp on how the world worked. An avid reader, I chanced across a blog that pulled me in deeper than any before. Normally I read several blogs with no blog standing out from the crowd. I digest what I can and move on. Then along came Mr. Money Mustache.
Some blogs are better than others. Quality is frequently an issue, but personal taste is too. To make matters worse, this Mustache guy had a serious following. High quality suited to my tastes with a massive audience started me questioning some of those preconceived notions.
Most issues I was in complete agreement with. There was one stand-out: retirement and what the word meant. At first I had an identity crisis. Was I really retired all along and didn’t know it? Is it wrong to have gainful employment?
The only way to figure this thing out was to attend personal finance conferences with like-minded people. That was two years ago. In the beginning it made the confusion worse and the crisis more acute. Then I developed my own definition of retirement to suit my needs. Finally, last weekend, I made what I feel is the final leap in my evolution toward a retirement definition I can use in my personal life.
Four Letter Words
First impressions are everything. Work is a four-letter word and certain demographics are quick to point this fact out. If you enjoy your work, too bad! The goal always seemed to be about quitting your current gainful employment as soon as possible. But I like my job!
Work is a four letter word, but not a four-letter word if you get my meaning. There is nothing wrong with work! Work, force times distance as defined by scientists, is good for the body. Sitting all day is the bane of good health and happiness. An oxymoron of life is most people sit on their tail all day doing work. And we are overweight and unhealthy. Might I suggest a walk? Walking is “real” work.
There is an animal called the FIRE community. It stands for Financial Independence/Retire Early, as if they two go hand in hand. They don’t. It’s a misnomer.
Financial Independence means you have enough money to pursue your dreams and still pay the bills. FI means your investments throw off enough income to cover your lifestyle. Your spending level determines your investments needs to reach FI.
Retire Early is complete BS! Anybody can retire at any age. Sometimes people are forced to retire early due to corporate downsizing. Amazing how these people yearning for early retirement lament the fact when it is forced upon them. Do they discover something you and I don’t know about this retirement thing?
According to the dictionary retirement is defined as something that is used up or worthless. Use the correct terminology (Hey, buddy! Can’t wait to see you become worthless so you get the hell outta here!) and you’re liable to get your beak busted. The only explanation for the heavy use of the word retire without a proportionate level of busted beaks must have something to do with terminology.
Early retirement is possible without financial independence! There is no connection between the two situations. None. Having enough money to do what you want is totally unrelated to being “used up, worthless”. In fact, early retirement has more to do with laziness than FI.
When in Rome, they say. So I joined this FIRE community totally aware I was a fraud. The FI part was nailed down decades ago, but the RE part wasn’t even in my vocabulary. Retire, I asked? Retire from what?
It took a while to find a reference in my life. Waaaaay back in the beginning (when God was creating the heavens and the Earth (not that far back)) I had a job working for someone else. It was the only time in my life I worked for someone not a family member or in my own business. When I met Mrs. Accountant things got steamy fast. What can I say? She’s hot! Well, a year after we met we were headed down the aisle. Before the preacher would marry us we needed to attend some classes with the preacher. During this process it was noted I was living the early retirement lifestyle sitting at home and reading all day. This would not do. The church needed a custodian (read, janitor) for the attached school and I was available. So I was a janitor. For a year.
The people at the parochial school were awesome! It was a pleasure to work with them daily. Except I felt empty. My temperament didn’t allow me a life swilling toilets and mopping floors. A year after I started I quit. Call it retired, if you will. I was used up, all right! It was the only time in my life I felt what many people seem to feel about their job. I was FI and now I exerted my RE part of the equation.
A New Life Lesson
Fast forward thirty years and life was ready to smack me up beside the puss again. I adopted my new family in the FIRE community and started using their language as I felt they were using it. As soon as you were FI and quit your job you were also RE, even if you started your own business.
This confused me. I had my own business and enjoy the work. Why are they FI/RE and not me? It wasn’t them; it was me!
Last weekend I attended Camp Mustache in Seattle. You can read about it here. I attended all but the first Camp. A husband/wife team there retired a year or so ago to travel the world. They are young whippersnappers, barely tipping the scale past age 30. They did this all on teacher’s salaries! I was lucky to be there the last years to see this whole thing unfold. Social media allowed me to see the world through their eyes as they traveled.
This year at Camp they were back home, so to speak. Instead of the world, they now traveled North America in an RV. The husband also started a business.
I kept indicating he was still retired. It took my thick skull two days to understand he is NOT retired anymore! (He must have discovered he wasn’t as “used up” as he thought he was.) His words, “As of three weeks ago I am no longer retired.”
Hallelujah!!! Finally, I found someone who worked his own business and still fit in with the FIRE crowd. I felt a tear welling. I am normal after all!
Of course, reality wiped the tear from my eye quickly. Joe, the husband of our husband/wife team, ran his business a bit different than mine. Soon the advice was flowing on how other uber-successful people ran their business. Yours truly didn’t do it that way.
As a business owner I am very hands on. I meet with clients, review practically all tax returns before they leave the office and spend serious time plying my trade. The worst part is I am an integral part of the firm. If something happens to me it could kill the company. How stupid is that?
Multiple stories were told of business owners who found the right balance between work and personal life. This post isn’t long enough to dig into those individual stories.
Once again this highly intelligent group of successful people educated this country accountant. My desire to “do it all” limited my reach and puts the company (and the employees and clients) at risk should my health give way or I meet my demise.
Life is a series of unending lessons and I just picked up a big one. The new information is now getting pressed into action. Changes are happening at the Wealthy Accountant headquarters to protect the company should I not be available. And it all started with a couple of 30 year old kids living the dream of early retirement to see the light.
They say the teacher will appear when the student is ready. This is wrong. The teacher was there all time. It took the student all this time to open her eyes and see the teacher next to her waiting to teach. That is the life lesson learned by your favorite accountant this past week.
Teachers are usually disguised. Thirty year old kids (teachers in a past life, I might add) taught me a lesson I wasn’t ready to hear a year or so ago. I never thought much about military personnel in the past, but a retired military guy has plowed an endless stream of wisdom my way since we met. I now call him friend.
I am not retired and I am proud of it. My index fund is bursting at the seams so I proudly proclaim financial independence. None of that matters. What matters are the friends I have gained and the teachers I have found. My eyes are opening for the first time. Like a newborn child, my vision is blurry. But I can see. I can see! And teachers are everywhere, willing to take my hand into the brave new world I have discovered.
Old dogs can learn new tricks.
Over the years I have retired many times. So have you.
The demographic of this blog leans heavily toward early retirement. This has always bothered me. I always feel like I have to be an apologist for all the folks enjoying their work. Life would be less bright for me and my brethren if we were forced to do what we enjoy most, less. Why is this? What is the hang-up with this retirement thing?
Zig Ziglar, God rest his soul, pointed out to me 30 years ago what retirement really means. I only met Zig once and it was enough. We talked and shook hands. In that short meeting I confessed to Zig I was going to cash it in and sit around reading all day. Now Zig is a good guy. He didn’t say nasty things to me, but for the smallest fraction of a second his face had a tell. I knew Zig was going to tell me something profound.
He told me to go home and verify what he was about to say. He said, “Look up the definition of retirement in the dictionary. It means used up, worthless, ready for replacement.” Worthless! I am not used up or worthless!
I did go home and check the dictionary and Zig was right. This whole retirement thing was a BS story. Years later, when it was cool to retire early, I came across the FIRE (financial independence, retire early) crowd. I love the concept of simple living and frugality. It was frugality that led me to the community, not the early retirement thing. Now CNBC and the Yahoo newsfeed have a story of somebody who retired at 12 while working through middle school on a regular basis. I’m still not buying it.
Retirement is a stupid goal. Sorry. But it really is. Who works hard, saves and invests, only to reach a goal of worthlessness? An idiot, that’s who. I’m NOT used up! And neither are you. You retire (or is that expire) when you take your last breath. We need a different meaning for retirement.
We need a word—don’t wait for me to provide one because I don’t have one that will sell as good as “retire”—which will convey what we mean better. I’d sue CNBC if they ran an article saying I was retired, used up, worthless, ready for the landfill. (Okay, I wouldn’t sue. The additional traffic to this blog would allow me to swallow my pride.) Those smiling faces in pictures in the articles saying these people retired at 32 are really grimaces. To imagine the world looking at me with a headline over my face saying I’m retired, useless, past my prime, would irritate me to no end.
New World Order
If we can’t find a better word, we need a better definition for the word we are using. I recommend we lobby the dictionary industry until they add one more definition to the word retire. Here is my recommendation: Definition #38: A change in career path.
It is simple, easy to understand and captures what is really meant.
I see so many people now in this community doing the retirement thing and with rare exception they are only doing something different. It was only a career change! I met husband and wife teachers a few years back at Camp Mustache as they were in the last throes of gainful employment. Their goal was to travel the world and travel the world they have.
But they still earn money while traveling! She writes romance novels and is making money doing it. Last I checked writing took work. It might be easy pushing nouns up against verbs; the real problem is knowing which nouns and which verbs. Another retirement foiled and I am happy to share it with the world these, ahem, retired teaches are not used up or worthless.
Pete over at Mr. Money Mustache catches hell on a regular basis for being a hypocrite. You call somebody a hypocrite and you’re asking to get your beak busted. The argument against Pete is simple. Hey, buddy, you’re not retired. You write a blog. Pete is a gentleman. Me, I’d send a return message with the international sign language of my middle finger. Christ, people! If anybody embodies the FIRE community it is Pete! He gives us Definition #39 to the word retire: Doing whatever the heck you want with your day.
Pete is not used up, people! He walks a different path, a path where he spends inordinate amounts of time with his wife and son. That is not retirement by the dictionary definition. It’s the exact opposite. A dad raising his own kid? What has the world come to? This is what we call worthless now?
The Real Early Retirement
There is only one real retirement and it is six feet under. Nobody I know of has a goal to reach the finish line in life. (Okay, there was a nut job over in Tupelo back in 38, but I digress.) Life is a journey and we need to stop getting hung up (nice choice of word, huh) on quitting our jobs. Seth Godin wrote a short book on the subject: The Dip: A Little Book That Teaches You When to Quit (and When to Stick). It’s a good book. You should read it.
Life is grainy. We do things for a while until we get sick of it and then go do something else for a couple years. There are been so many phases to our lives.
I grew up on a farm and after a short stint in town returned to where I felt most at home, the countryside. Before long my 10 acres of the world had chickens and steers. The work was hard, yet satisfying. I did it for more than 15 years. Then one day it ended. I had a blog to write and other things I wanted to try in life. I fought back tears as the last of my boys were loaded on the cattle truck. I promised myself I could have steers again someday. We both know the odds of that are long. I retired from farming for good. (Unless you count the 25 chickens running around the place.)
My tax practice evolved over the years. In a way you could say I retired several times from the tax/accounting business. I retired from doing taxes by hand back around 1988. Didn’t fight tears when that one hit the trash can. Go figure. All my verbiage about loving my work and nary a tear for a tried and true method of tax preparation used successfully for millennia. (It worked for the Sumerians it should be good enough for me.)
I played janitor for a year and retired from that one mighty quick. Okay, I guess a guy can get used up in certain cases.
The whole point of this discussion is to convince you, no, impress upon you it is okay to change course in life. Experiencing new things is NOT retirement. Ms. Olson enjoys traveling with her husband and writing novels. Not used up! Pete loves telling his story and spreading the gospel of frugality and responsible resource utilization. Not used up! I found my calling early in life and kept doing it. Not used up!
And you, my good friend, are not used up. You are not retired; just tired. You need a nap. Go take one. You need a change of venue. So change it. You want to experience something else, something new. By all means, experience it.
Stop worrying about retiring young or at any age, for that matter. It’s not about getting used up, or whatever definition you want to apply to the word retire. It’s about living life right, with meaning, with purpose. The truly retired disappear, never to be seen again. You are not retired and never will be until your dying breath. And that is a good thing.
It’s about living the life you choose. And if that is what you meant by retire, then you keep smiling from the news feed. I’ll smile with you.