Retiring Young

On the 37Signals blog, David Heinemeier Hansson posts about why he thinks the desire to retire young is misplaced. If that’s the case, then I have the same misplaced desire. When I was laid off from my job in 2001 I made a deal with myself that I would be retired no later than 20 years from that point, which would put me at age 53. (Admittedly, that’s not really retiring young. If I could feasibly retire at 45, I’d do it then.) My main reasoning is that when I get into my 50s, I don’t want to be in the position of having to find new jobs in a panic if I get laid off or decide I can’t bear the one I’m at. I’ve long thought and still think this is quite a sensible goal.

I run into reactions like DHH’s with people when I mention this desire. I think it comes from the over-interpretation of the word “retirement.” I’d like to be retired at age 50 or sooner but that doesn’t mean my desire is that all activity ceases. When my bills are paid regardless what I do, that frees me up to do things I want to do that may not be marketable enough to pay for themselves. This could include more podcasting, blogging, open source development or any number of things that seem fun but have to fight for resources with the rest of the activities of life. Regardless, suppose my idea of retirement is sitting on the couch watching QVC everyday. What’s it to you?

There is some sort of Puritan work ethic implicit in the retirement pushback. DHH has to stuff the strawman with statements like “work isn’t evil” and the like. There seems to be a romanticization of the act of spending your days doing things for some external organization that pays you. I like what I do, I like the job I have but I’d rather not be doing it 20 years from now. It has more to do with freedom and directing my own time, not that I think “work is evil.” I don’t think getting paid by someone else automatically makes your actions more morally correct than living off your savings. Simmer down, you retirement haters.

You can keep showing up at the office until you get too old to make it in but that’s not the kind of choice I’m making for myself. I think it’s a perfectly fine choice and that I don’t owe anyone my time indefinitely nor any apology for my outlook. There are plenty of ways to approach a life and I’m going to do this one my way, thanks.

6 Replies to “Retiring Young”

  1. Right on, Dave. Heck, I was just listening to Phil Windley’s interview of Doug Kaye for ITC’s 5th birthday, and Phil pointed out that Doug was in semi-retirement when he started ITC. (admittedly, Doug did well in some dotcom boom stuff. I’d love to be 1/5 as impactful in my retirement years. PLUS watch a lot of QVC. Win-win!

  2. Do note that I wasn’t talking about keeping your current job, if that’s one that you’d rather not do. I was talking about finding a job that you actually like enough to be passionate about doing it. Then you don’t have to wait 20 years to do what you really like.

  3. David,

    You aren’t following me. I like my career a whole lot, and I like my current job. However, despite liking them I don’t plan on having to show up at the job for the next 20 years. You may not think retiring is a worthwhile goal but I sure do.

  4. Retirement means doing what you want to do, when you want to do it. not because you need a paycheck. What we do for love is more important than what we do for money. I waited 40 years for this time of my life and I’m loving every single minute.

  5. I’m 33 and effectively retired. I didn’t win the lottery or have a 6-figure a year job before. I just saved, planned and wanted something different. Now I’m sailing the world and loving my life.

    Some people get turned on by travel, some by writing software or novels, some by raising kids. Sometimes you can get paid for doing that thing, some times you can’t.

    The important thing is to figure out what turns you on, and try to find a way to do *that*. For a lot of people, they have to wait until they can afford to not have to get paid for it to do it. But, worrying about what other people think is the right thing to do just gets in the way of the goal, whatever that might be.

  6. According to several researchers into human longevity, having a purpose, regular work that you HAVE to do, is one of the factors common among the longest-lived humans. People who just check-out and read books, lie on the beach, or spend their days garage-puttering, golfing, or recreational fishing (as opposed to subsistence fishing) aren’t apparently driven by the sense of purpose required.

    I don’t expect to ever retire. (Partially because I never happened upon that right-place/right-time luck that made so many IT-industry folks into members of the rich-and-heinous class.) But that’s OK, because when I do start to feel useless, old-and-in-the-way, I don’t want to be around anyway.

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