Retiring Early – A Final Update

Retiring Early – A Final Update

Last Monday morning I sat in my cubicle as I regularly do, reading through a datasheet for a new high-speed ASIC I’m working with.  Scott, my co-worker, walked up behind me and patted me on the back.  He patted me with a big smile, and held out his hand to shake mine.  I smiled and shook it, then he walked away without a word.

Normally this would be a strange interaction, but not this day. This day was different.

Scott had just heard the news that everyone was hearing that day – that I’d just given notice for my retirement.

Scott’s reaction was one of many that day.  He’s a man of few words, and always honest.  He wouldn’t have smiled and shook my hand if he wasn’t happy for me.  He’s an older guy, and this wasn’t the reaction I expected because from him because he always seemed like an old-fashioned “earn your keep” kinda guy who would frown on the idea of retiring so early.  On top of this, my retirement will likely mean more hours in the office for him – at least until they hire a replacement.  

I was wrong though. Scott was happy for me, and that made me smile.

Jack

My favorite response to my retirement was from my buddy Jack.  Jack’s been a friend of mine since I first moved to Texas in 2000, and he’s the one that recruited me up to Colorado 3 years ago.  He’s in management here, and climbing the ladder quite nicely.  He and I have very different lifestyles, but we’ve always shared a lot in common.

I was sitting at my desk just 15 minutes after telling my manager that I was resigning when I got a Skype message from Jack calling me lots of unflattering names and asking me to stop by his desk when I got a chance.  I came by.

“Dude, WTF?”

“I guess you heard?  That didn’t take long.”

“Man, this sucks.  You suck.  What are you gonna do now?”

“I supposed Brad told you already… I’m just going to get out of engineering. After that, I’ll just see what happens.  I told you this wasn’t a long term thing for me anymore. ”

“Yeah, but I didn’t know you meant, like, this year!  You’re a loser.  You’re a really hard-to-replace loser, but you’re still a loser.”

A few hours later I went to the gym, and got a text from Jack.  ”Hey man, I talked to Bob and he wants to talk to you about your resignation.” Bob is our Executive VP.  We’ve talked 2-3 times in 3 years, so I had to laugh upon learning that he wanted to talk to me now, but then I remembered that this is how corporations work.  I told Jack I’d talk to Bob in the morning because I was at the gym already.

Jack wrote again: “He’s gonna try to talk you out of resigning.  He obviously doesn’t know you very well :)”

And that’s why Jack and I are friends.

Andy

Andy’s an interesting dude.  He’s the motive for several of my previous posts, most notably “The Non-Retirement Generation.

Andy stopped by my desk as soon as he learned that I was quitting.  At first he didn’t believe that I hadn’t lined up another job, or at the very least that I wouldn’t be looking for another one.  Finally, he gave in: “You know, just because it’s you, I almost believe you’re telling the truth about not getting another job.”

I offered to send him pictures of me relaxing at home in my underwear on a tuesday afternoon to prove that I wasn’t working anywhere else, but he said that wasn’t necessary.

Then the conversation turned more serious.  Andy sighed, and stared at my cubicle wall where I’d hung a custom calendar featuring pictures of my kids.  The calendar’s my annual Christmas gift from my wife, and each month there are pictures of my kids from exactly 12 months earlier.  This month, April, featured a picture of my son with a hammer in his hand, swinging at a nail I carefully held for him as he worked on a Saturday morning project.

Andy sighed again.  I stood up. Unlike Scott, Andy is a man of many words – in fact he never shuts up.  So watching him quietly sigh and say nothing was strange.  I waited until he spoke.

“I told you about my dad, right?”  No, he hadn’t told me about his dad.  ”4 years ago he was diagnosed with stage 4 colon cancer.  Fortunately, it was isolated and operable, so they removed about a foot of his colon and he’s been cancer free since.  But it was really scary when it happened.”  He paused again, and I quietly waited.

“He was still working at his job at the time…  Ever since then, he’s been talking to me about his regrets.  He regrets that he didn’t taking me hunting more and fishing more, that he worked such long hours and only spent time with me and my brother on the weekends.”  Andy paused again, then continued.  ”I’m scared to death that I’m doing the same thing with my daughters, and then someday I’ll die in an office.  I mean, what’s the fucking point if I die while I’m working?

I agreed with Andy.  There wasn’t much more to say, since Andy clearly “got it” even though I knew he’d mindlessly return to his long hours the very next day.  And he did.

Ken

The next person to stop by was Ken.  My conversation with him is a fair representative for most conversations I had that day, since his reaction was similar to most others.

“So,” he began, “I called our friends across the street and they confirmed you weren’t going over there.”  He was referring to a company across the street where several fellow employees had migrated the past year and a half.  I can confirm that he did call them, because I got several text messages from friends over there when they found out I was resigning, and telling me to let them know if I wanted a job (I had already turned down an offer last Spring).

I smiled to Ken, and confirmed once again that I wasn’t getting another job.

“So, you’re taking two weeks off and going to another competitor?” He smiled, but I knew he wasn’t joking.  In fact, several co-workers, management, and customers all asked me the same question.  I once again confirmed that I wasn’t going anywhere, I was just retiring from engineering to spend more time living and being with my family.

“So, like, you’re going to do independent contracting?”  No, I replied.  I was done with any engineering work as far as I could tell.  ”Well, do you have any other skills?” he asked.

“Some, I suppose.  Hopefully I’ll learn a lot more with all this newfound time on my hands.”  This conversation must have happened 10 times last Tuesday, so I have slowly fine-tuned how I responded.  It was difficult being honest but not sounding crazy (to them).

“I live a simple life, you guys all know I don’t even drive a car into work.  I stopped doing this job for the money awhile ago.  So now I’m just going to quit, enjoy life, raise my kids, and see where things go.”

“So what are you gonna DO all day?”  he asked, like so many others.  I grinned, paused for dramatic effect, and responded, “I suppose I’ll figure that out when I get out of bed each morning.”

Thanks

This has been a 3.5 year journey since I first decided to retire early.  It’s been an emotional roller coaster from the joy of becoming a millionaire and having my passive income surpass my expenses, to loneliness when I was scared I was making the wrong move (I didn’t write so much about these more pessimistic feelings).  The truth is, along this journey I had moments where I wished I’d never heard about the idea of early retirement, where I just wanted to go back to living and working mindlessly and forget the whole thing.

But a few people kept me on course, and I’m thankful for that.  So please indulge me just another moment with a few thanks givings.

Jacob Lund Fisker – From the moment I read the free preview of Early Retirement Extreme on my Kindle, I was hooked.  That was 3.5 years ago, and no single book has changed the direction of my life in such a real way as that book did.  Jacob’s book, his blog, and his forum were instrumental in helping me to start this journey.

Mr Money Mustache – I actually started my ERE journey before the MMM blog even existed, which is hard to believe considering how huge it is now.  MMM did for me something that ERE didn’t, it gave me an occasional “punch in the face” when I swayed in my commitment to quitting this engineering gig.  I met the MMM family along with my son for a hike at Garden of the Gods 2 years ago.  It was only a quick get-together, but each time I found myself questioning whether I was making a huge mistake I was reminded of the meet-up.  What I saw in them was a family that was taking advantage of all the good opportunities that this culture gives us, but leaving all the crap out.  This helped me stay the course.

My wife – My wife always liked the obvious benefits of me quitting, but was reluctant about accepting the trade-offs it would require.  Smaller house, one car, less unnecessary travel, less “stuff” – all the crap we’d mindlessly accepted.  But my wife’s a gamer, and she played along.  Eventually she learned to like it.  It’s no surprise that she learned to like this lifestyle, since in hindsight it’s just such an obviously better way to live.  But what I can credit her for is being open-minded enough to try it out. Most people aren’t lucky enough to have a spouse like this.

The week before I finally resigned, I had already made up my mind to quit.  And each day when I came home my wife gave me a look that asked “Did you do it?”  And each day I shook my head, admitting that I hadn’t pulled the trigger yet.  Finally, on the night before I did finally quit, she responded with “You’re just scared.  You should just do it.”

In our 20 years together, and 11 years of marriage, I don’t think she’s ever called me out like that.  So the next morning, I gave my notice of resignation.  I won’t have her calling out my weakness like that!

My last day of full-time corporate employment is April 30th.  I hope you’ll stick around and continue this journey with me.  I think we’re just getting started!

 

The bridge will only take you halfway there

To those mysterious lands you long to see:

Through gypsy camps and swirling Arab fairs

And moonlit woods where unicorns run free.

So come and walk awhile with me and share

The twisting trails and wondrous worlds I’ve known.

But this bridge will only take you halfway there –

The last few steps you have to take alone.

— Shel Silverstein

 

On another note, the fine establishment at bigguymoney.com asked to interview me and I happily obliged.  So feel free to stop by his site to say hello and learn a little more about me (if you haven’t gotten enough).

Escape From The Cubicle Farm

Escape From The Cubicle Farm

Take a stroll through the average office building in the middle of the modern concrete paradise we call an office building complex, and it’s easy not to see what I now see.  What I can’t unsee.

It starts in the parking lot, where hundreds of oversized cars are parked as close to the front door as possible.  I suspect this is to preserve precious energy for a long day of sitting in front of a computer and typing.  If there’s a bike rack, it’s likely empty.  In my parking lot, my bike has been the only bike in the rack for the last 2.5 years (since one of our cycling college interns left).

After entering the building, you’ll see the elevator where overweight sedentary men and women wait for a ride up just one or two flights of stairs. On each side of the elevator sit fake plants.  If you’re lucky there might be real plants watered daily by the staff.  You walk past them, to the stairs* and go up a single flight of steps.

(*) I’m not criticizing the elevators, which should be available for those who are handicapped and unable to use the stairs.  I am, however, criticizing the vast majority who use the elevator for no acceptable reason.

The hallways are well-lit with synthetic lighting.  Muzak plays from hidden speakers.  If you listen to it carefully you’ll realize it’s The Doors “Light My Fire” (at this point, you can’t help but feel sorry for the musician who sadly and reservedly sat down to record this muzak track to make a quick buck).  The short, nylon carpet floors are grey, or beige, or some other dull color that best hides stains.

After swiping a security badge to enter a room that hardly needs such means of security, you can see the mecca of the current office culture.  The Cubicle Farm. Above you, the muzak has stopped and it’s been replaced with white noise machines to deaden other ambient noise. (No joke folks, this is a real thing.  There’s some serious Orwellian stuff going on here).

Each cubicle is identical.  Three full height walls approximately 5 feet tall.  The fourth wall is approximately 3 feet in height, which also acts as the entryway into the “cube.”  Inside sits a dead-eyed employee staring at his email, or an Excel spreadsheet, or perhaps a schematic design.  Audible conversation is rare, you’re much more likely to hear sighs and complaints being muttered under their breath.

Every row or two of cubicles, you’ll find a group of people standing around and talking.  Conversation topics vary, but the most common are:

  1. Serious business talk – where employees talk about serious things like quarterly business reviews, schedules, and operational costs.
  2. Bitching about (a) the job, (b) the boss, (c) bureaucracy, or (d) other employees currently not present.  Often, the conversation covers (e) all of the above.

No one wants to be there.  That’s not to say enoyable jobs don’t exist, just that no one wants to be in a cubicle farm.  If someone tells you that they like the cubicle architecture, they’re lying.  Possibly to themselves, and definitely to you.  Cubicle farms are for saving space and money, nothing else.

Once you see all of this, you cannot unsee it.

Last Friday

Last Thursday, I walked through the cubicles as I do most weekdays, observant as usual to the desperate sadness of the farm.  But something was different this day.  I suppose it’s because I was coming up on my final vacation (which I’m on now) before I finally resign from this unnatural lifestyle.  I looked into cube after cube of lifeless worker, some of whom I consider friends.  But this day all I could see was waste.  Grey-haired men, with live’s wasting away, going along with a system they never questioned, never challenged, never even knew was there enough to reject it.  Puppets to a force they falsely assume is more powerful than them.  I felt sadness, but mostly compassion for all of the potential lost.  And I also felt a shiver of fear, and anger, and betrayal.  I had been one of them, a puppet to this system, and no one looking out for me.  Not my family, and not my friends. Until a few years ago, no one ever told me that this whole thing was bullshit.  That we had (and have) choices.

Grey-haired men and women who have lost their youth, their kids grown up with kids of their own in a blink of an eye.  The job has paid for super-sized houses, luxurious vacations, excess security, and extravagant comfort.  But it’s cost them much of their lives.  In a few decades, they’ll be dead.  And none of them, not a single one, will wish they’d worked more.  Most would trade their leftover money and lavish comforts for just a few more days of youthful exuberance, quiet walks with their spouse, and playful time with their young children who are now grown up.  None of them, not a single one, will look back and wish they’d worked more.  If they consider their live’s at all, most will wish they worked less.  And yet despite this being a statistical guarantee, so few people are doing anything about it!

The unexamined life is not worth living

- Socrates

I felt like pulling up an ergonomic cubicle chairs, standing on top of it, and screaming at the top of my lungs “Wake Up!  Do you know why you are here!?!  Is this really where you want to spend today, tomorrow, and the rest of your life!?! You have a choice!!!”

I didn’t, of course.  Because no one would understand, and because I’d look like an idiot.  I wasn’t looking for a Jerry Maguire moment.

 

As I’ve gotten closer to my upcoming resignation (or retirement, if you prefer), I’ll admit that I’ve had moments of fear.  Fear that I’m missing something, that my calculations are off and retiring now is a fool’s move. That I’m leaving behind an posh job and all-but-guaranteed security because I just got lazy, or I just couldn’t cut it anymore.  That I’d lost.

But this moment was one of clarity.  I no longer had fear, and I haven’t had it since.  I now realized that I would rather quit now and fail miserably than to go on with this useless work.  Staying in this cubicle farm would be a decision only driven by a desire for comforts I don’t need and by fear of the unknown.  But this isn’t how I’m wired, and I suspect that if you’re still reading this then it’s not how you’re wired either.

I didn’t stand on the ergonomic swivel chair and passionately scream my pleas for change, but that doesn’t mean the opportunity is lost.  I still have my voice.  Here.  So if you’re still sitting in a cubicle at a job you don’t like, let me just say:

“Wake Up!  Why are you here!?!  Is this really where you want to spend today, tomorrow, and the rest of your life!?! You have a choice!!!”

And, most importantly, “What are you doing about it?”

What is your biggest fear?

I’ll tell you mine.  It’s not running out of money or losing my reputation as a hard worker and an intelligent dude.  It’s running out of time and regretting how I spent the finite amount I was blessed with.

In the next few weeks (and possibly earlier), I’ll be retiring from the cubicle lifestyle for something better and more natural.  I’ll let you know how it goes.  ;)

 

The Way of Financial Freedom

If your cup of water is empty, would you refill it by taking your empty cup to the faucet, or by bringing the faucet to your empty cup?

This is the secret to financial freedom.  You can bring your savings up to cover your expenses, or you can bring your expenses down to fit your savings.  All you need to do is bring them together.  How hard you want to make it is up to you.  Just remember which one is harder to move.

 

Interestingly, this also explains the way to happiness.

Peer To Peer Lending Update: March 2014

It’s been 6 months since my last Peer-To-Peer investment update, so I figured it’s time to drop another quick summary on the site. I’ll be changing things up a bit this time, and providing an update for both of my P2P investments: Lending Club and Prosper.

Lending Club

Here are my historical returns with Lending Club…Read More