What did people who retired early do differently to people who didn’t?
The chance to retire early is a dream to many especially nowadays when people are on average working longer and longer. But it’s a dream some people achieve – and not just the bankers and lawyers of this world. You don’t have to be rich to retire early, despite what you might think. Early retirement isn’t just something sports stars, technology moguls, and business leaders can do. So what did people who retired early do differently to people who didn’t?
1. People who retired early didn’t let ambition rule them
Ambition is one of those unusual traits it can be both good and bad. There’s nothing wrong with being ambitious but if you let ambition rule your life you’ll never be happy, and you certainly won’t be thinking about an early retirement.
Ambition is a powerful driving force, but it can also blind you to more important things. One early retiree, we can look to for inspiration is Patrick Pichette, the former Google CFO. While he held that position for seven years it still made headlines when he announced his retirement.
The memo he sent to announce his early retirement really encompasses his reasoning and showcases why you shouldn’t let ambition rule your life.
In a nutshell, his wife asked him on holiday in Africa why they didn’t just keep going and see the world. At the time he cited his busy job and responsibilities but the question niggled away at him until he realised that with his children grown up and 30 years of intense work behind him (and one assumes with no shortage of funds) there was no reason why he and his wife couldn’t take time for themselves and create memories.
The point is, sometimes you have to wake up and smell the roses. Successful people have to want to stop work and have a powerful motivation to do something else instead.
Read the full memo below:
After nearly 7 years as CFO, I will be retiring from Google to spend more time with my family. Yeah, I know you’ve heard that line before. We give a lot to our jobs. I certainly did. And while I am not looking for sympathy, I want to share my thought process because so many people struggle to strike the right balance between work and personal life.
This story starts last fall. A very early morning last September, after a whole night of climbing, looking at the sunrise on top of Africa – Mt Kilimanjaro. Tamar (my wife) and I were not only enjoying the summit, but on such a clear day, we could see in the distance, the vast plain of the Serengeti at our feet, and with it the calling of all the potential adventures Africa has to offer. (see exhibit #1 – Tamar and I on Kili).
And Tamar out of the blue said “Hey, why don’t we just keep on going”. Let’s explore Africa, and then turn east to make our way to India, it’s just next door, and we’re here already. Then, we keep going; the Himalayas, Everest, go to Bali, the Great Barrier Reef… Antarctica, let’s go see Antarctica!?” Little did she know, she was tempting fate.
I remember telling Tamar a typical prudent CFO type response- I would love to keep going, but we have to go back. It’s not time yet, There is still so much to do at Google, with my career, so many people counting on me/us – Boards, Non Profits, etc
But then she asked the killer question: So when is it going to be time? Our time? My time? The questions just hung there in the cold morning African air.
A few weeks later, I was happy back at work, but could not shake away THE question: When is it time for us to just keep going? And so began a reflection on my/our life. Through numerous hours of cycling last fall (my introvert happy place) I concluded on a few simple and self-evident truths:
First, The kids are gone. Two are in college, one graduated and in a start-up in Africa. Beautiful young adults we are very proud of. Tamar honestly deserves most of the credit here. She has done a marvelous job. Simply marvelous. But the reality is that for Tamar and I, there will be no more Cheerios encrusted minivan, night watch because of ear infections, ice hockey rinks at 6:00am. Nobody is waiting for us/needing us.
Second, I am completing this summer 25-30 years of nearly non-stop work (depending on how you wish to cut the data). And being member of FWIO, the noble Fraternity of Worldwide Insecure Over-achievers, it has been a whirlwind of truly amazing experiences. But as I count it now, it has also been a frenetic pace for about 1500 weeks now. Always on – even when I was not supposed to be. Especially when I was not supposed to be. And am guilty as charged – I love my job (still do), my colleagues, my friends, the opportunities to lead and change the world.
Third, this summer, Tamar and I will be celebrating our 25th anniversary. When our kids are asked by their friends about the success of the longevity of our marriage, they simply joke that Tamar and I have spent so little time together that “it’s really too early to tell” if our marriage will in fact succeed.
If they could only know how many great memories we already have together. How many will you say? How long do you have? But one thing is for sure, I want more. And she deserves more. Lots more.
Allow me to spare you the rest of the truths. But the short answer is simply that I could not find a good argument to tell Tamar we should wait any longer for us to grab our backpacks and hit the road – celebrate our last 25 years together by turning the page and enjoy a perfectly fine mid life crisis full of bliss and beauty, and leave the door open to serendipity for our next leadership opportunities, once our long list of travels and adventures is exhausted.
Working at Google is a privilege, nothing less. I have worked with the best of the best, and know that I am leaving Google in great hands. I have made so many friends at Google it’s not funny. Larry, Sergey, Eric, thank you for friendship. I am forever grateful for letting me be me, for your trust, your warmth, your support, and for so much laughter through good and not so good times.
To be clear, I am still here. I wish to transition over the coming months but only after we have found a new Googley CFO and help him/her through an orderly transition, which will take some time.
In the end, life is wonderful, but nonetheless a series of trade offs, especially between business/professional endeavours and family/community. And thankfully, I feel I’m at a point in my life where I no longer have to have to make such tough choices anymore. And for that I am truly grateful. Carpe Diem.
2. People who retired early realised they could do things their own way
Life is a journey with a lot of different routes you can travel down.
But let’s be honest there are a lot of similar patterns aren’t there? You go to school, then high school, then college or university and finally you get a job.
But aside from differing jobs, lots of people follow the same pattern. Work til mid to late 60’s, retire, play golf and watch your health slowly pack up.
But it doesn’t have to be Paul Terhorst is one such man who decided to do things his own way.
He worked as an accountant but both he and his wife decided they want to focus on having fun and enjoying themselves. They retired at just 35 years old in 1984! In their own words, they wanted to focus on “having a good life rather than a good job”.
They moved to Thailand to enjoy a lower cost of living and made some smart investments along the way as well some side businesses like blogging and writing. But they did it and that’s pretty inspiring and they’re still enjoying their retirement today over 30 years later.
“The biggest difference between being 65 and 35 for us is that we no longer get incomprehensible stares,” says Paul. “When we were 35 or 40 and told people we were retired, they looked at us like we just arrived from the moon. Now we’re old and gray.”
His advice to anyone thinking about retiring early (especially those thinking about travelling full time):
First, be sure you can swing it financially. Next, “look at the moral value of your life.” By that he means: Determine whether your identity is your job; if it is, an early, vagabond retirement won’t be a good match. Finally, he says, decide what you’ll do with yourself. Says Paul: “You don’t need to be able to plan every day, just have a general idea. Will you travel? Look at birds, which is one of my hobbies? Paint? Take up target practice?”
3. People who retired early realised they needed to save and embrace simplicity
If you really want to retire early, then one of the best ways is to just save your money! It sounds simple and in theory, it is but resisting temptation isn’t easy. However, plenty of people have done it, Joe and Ali Olson are two such people. They saved up money from their teaching jobs, invested a bit in real estate and then quit their jobs and started travelling aged 29.
“I’m 30 and Joe’s 31 [as of this writing], and since August 2015, we’ve been traveling, enjoying a very early retirement, and starting a family. Annabelle was born in January 2016. Since we’d already started our adventures, she gets to claim Istanbul, Turkey as her birthplace. Pretty cool stuff, right there.”
Jeremy Jacobson and his wife did the same thing and retired in their late thirties in the same way. They saved 70% of their income for 10 years and now travel, living off a comfortable $4000 per month.
“Many assume that you have to work 40 or more years to retire, or that long term international travel is only for college drop-outs and dirty hippies living on rice and beans,” they write. “It doesn’t require winning the lottery, inheriting a windfall, or getting lucky on some penny stocks. There is really only one thing that determines how quickly you could join us on the road: savings rate.”
4. People who retired early set up a side business
If you want to retire early then setting up a side business is a brilliant way to do it. Thanks to the internet there are a lot of ways you can make money. Blogging, crafts, photography, editing and much more are all skills in demand and setting yourself up as a freelancer isn’t as hard as you might think.
One example of this is Jon Dulin and his wife who haven’t retired yet but are certainly on track to retire early thanks to their side businesses. They run a finance blog and do life coaching and put any money they make towards their personal savings.
So, think about your skill set and then start marketing your skills to others, freelance sites like Upwork and Peopleperhour are a great place to start. You might be surprised by just how much you can make.
So, that’s a look at four important lessons we can learn from people who have either retired early or are on track to. Yes, it means a lot of hard work and in some cases, a little luck but plenty of people have done it and no matter how unrealistic it seems you can do it as well.
How do you plan to retire early (if you do)? Do let me know – I’d love to hear your inspiring plans!