Guest post: 4 things (New) lifers say and how to stop grieving your career

Published June 8, 2016   Posted in How to Think

Hey look, another guest post (the second, in fact). Today, I am publishing a response to my Seven things those who will never retire say from the perspective of a 20-something, the guy behind who managed to accumulate over $100,000 by the age of 25. Nice, job well done!

Alright, Money Wizard – take it away!

Anyone who is serious enough about early retirement to share their secret intentions with friends, coworkers, or family has no doubt experienced what I like to call, “The Look.” The Look is that completely confused, eyebrow raised expression you are guaranteed to receive the moment you suggest retirement before age 60 is possible, without winning the lottery.

If you choose to really push the envelope and share your secret early retirement plans, well then you better be prepared to answer a gauntlet of questions and accusations that would make an FBI interrogator proud.

Two weeks ago, Steve published a great article on the seven most common protests he experiences when sharing his early retirement plans. If you’ve been keeping up with, and/or you haven’t been living under a rock, you know that Steve is a 35-year-old who’s done an amazing job of putting himself in the envious position of retiring in approximately 6 months. Way to go Steve!

On the other hand, even if you haven’t been living under a rock, you’re probably less familiar with my story. I started this year after saving $100,000 by age 25, which for the purposes of this article and more importantly than my humble brag, means that I interact with a group of people at an entirely different point on the career scale timeline.

Put simply, Steve’s peers, which were so perfectly summed up in last week’s article, consist primarily of mid-career employees. My peers, on the other hand, are those fresh-faced college graduates excited about their entry level opportunities while asking you entry level questions.

And this difference was shockingly apparent as I read through Steve’s article. As someone more used to discussing early retirement plans with 20-something recent grads, I noticed an overall trend of underlying contentedness among the mid-careers speaking through Steve’s 7 common quotes.

The mid-career lifers immediately formulate a knee-jerk reaction for why “staying the course” for another 20 years makes the most sense. Let’s take another look at some of the comments from last week’s article:“Seven things those who will never retire say”

  • “I don’t need to retire, I like my job.”
  • “I could never retire early, I’d be so bored.”
  • “You will completely lose your purpose in life.”

What do all these comments have in common? They are all content. Whether that’s a bogus sense of purpose or feigning enjoyment in the job, the immediate reaction is there’s no reason to try to buck the system. Sure, early retirement might be possible, but why bother? I’ve got a pension to collect in 20 years. Or something…

Even the last comment of the article, which said, “Remember, if you earn a dime after retirement, then you aren’t truly retired,” could be roughly translated to “Why would I want to pursue financial independence and take on a dream job, when I could keep rotting in this cube on a comfy salary forever?”

4 Things Those “New” Lifers Say

What shocked me the most is that through all of my sharing and blogging about early retirement to a group of mostly 20-somethings, I’ve seen the gamut of knee jerk reactions. Yet those reactions are completely different from what Steve experienced.

My newly career’ed peers aren’t content in any way. In fact, they almost always see the benefit of being free from a job (I don’t think anyone goes into a first job expecting it to combat boredom) but they instead immediately formulate reasons for why early retirement isn’t even an option.

1. I don’t make enough money to retire early

Without even seeing your finances, odds are you probably do. The catch is that your first job out of school might not earn you enough to retire early while footing the bill for that new status symbol ride to impress all of your facebook friends.

If you earn more than $32,400 per year, you are already among the richest one percent of humans on the planet. Meanwhile, the median starting salary for new graduates in 2014 was $45,000. Prioritize what is important to you and save the rest.

2. I can’t save enough to retire early

Yes, you can. And you probably won’t even notice. I currently save 65% of my income. If I doubled, or even triple my spending and slashed my savings, would my life be any better? It might look better to strangers, but my true happiness wouldn’t change.

John D. Rockefeller wishes he had as rich of a life as you

John D. Rockefeller wishes he had as rich of a life as you

And therein lies the key. We live in a time of unprecedented decadence. The poor American today enjoys luxuries John D. Rockefeller, a man with an inflation-adjusted net worth of $340 billion, (yes… with a B) couldn’t even dream of in the late 1800s. Recognizing this fact is the first step in exposing the frivolous, keep up with the Joneses spending for the ridiculous insanity that it is.

If you want to get hardcore, Jacob from EarlyRetirementExtreme lives happily off just $7,000 per year. Kill your debt, then save $35 a day for just 10 years and you will have a portfolio fully capable of early retirement.

3. What do I look like an investing guru? And besides, the market could crash and ruin all your savings.

You’ve watched too many movies. Forget the charts, graphs, and mathematical equations drawn on glass windows. Index fund investing is as simple signing up for Twitter and avoiding your next impulse purchase.

And honestly, I welcome the next market crash. A 25-50% sale on stocks would do wonders for my cost basis. Remember Warren Buffett’s words of wisdom:

“You want to be greedy when others are fearful. You want to be fearful when others are greedy.” –Warren Buffett

Let’s assume the stars really align to derail my plans, and the market crashes the day before my early retirement. Worst case scenario, I’ll wait out the recovery for a few years and still retire decades before the average person. If you’re worried about a complete world economy collapse, well then I’ve heard of a show called “Doomsday Preppers” that you should audition for.

4. I want to have kids one day

So do I. And I can only imagine that not having to miss baseball games and dance recitals because of conference calls and client meetings will make me a better parent.

Yes, kids are expensive. But the notion that having a child somehow automatically binds you to spending hundreds of thousands of dollars is pretty darn similar to the widespread wives’ tale that you can’t retire on less than a million dollars.

Your spending is within your control, and just like every other expense, your kid related spending is a function of your willingness to conform to the norm.

A Shifting Attitude

What are we seeing here? Take a look back at the four most common protests I hear and compare them to the most common protests Steve hears.

The mid-20s attitude towards early retirement could be summed up as, “I can’t do that.” Then, after a 10 year beat down of conference calls, micro-management, and the daily grind, the mid-30s attitude shifts to, “I don’t want to do that.”

Psychology already has a name for what we just watched unfold over those 10 years. It’s called the 5 Stages of Grief: beginning with shock & denial and ending with acceptance.

The Working Career’s Five Stages of Grief

Although the 5 stages of grief model was developed by psychologist Elisabeth Küber-Ross as an attempt to explain the mourning process with terminally ill patients, she later expanded the model to include any major loss. In Dr. Küber-Ross’s words, this included such wide-ranging areas as death, divorce, and even the loss of a job.

Dare I say, the rat-race lifestyle is such an unnatural version of human life, that this model is equally applicable to the acceptance of a job. Let’s take a look.

Stage 1 – Denial

“The first reaction is denial. In this stage individuals believe the diagnosis is somehow mistaken, and cling to a false, preferable reality.”

Imagine the denial inherent in the wide-eyed optimism of a newly hired college grad. There they are, ready to take on the world, nod their head, and climb that corporate ladder until they’re CEO at 65. They just graduated school, scored a job, and life is good. To suggest there’s an alternate path, one that allows them to reach retirement decades sooner, is met with flat out refusal.

And besides, early retirement isn’t possible anyway. After all, “I don’t make enough. I can’t save enough. I’m not an investing guru, and I want to have kids someday. Anyone who suggests otherwise is just naïve, and those wack-Os will be hit with the harsh reality of the real world soon enough.”

Stage 2 – Anger

“When the individual recognizes that denial cannot continue, they become frustrated”

It always takes a few years for the birth of the disgruntled employee, doesn’t it? And they’re angry. Angry with the company, mad at their boss, or just frustrated with the daily grind.

I’ve been a part of the real world for a little over 3 years now, and I’ve started to see stage two unfold for nearly all of my similarly experienced co-workers. The anger usually starts with a smack in the face of the reality of the corporate ladder; someone gets passed up for a promotion or misses out on a bonus. Or more likely, the new college grad takes a step back from the fake smiles and reaches the startling conclusion that the corporate world sucks.

Stage 3 – Bargaining

“The third stage involves the hope that the individual can avoid a cause of grief.”

Soon after the anger, then the mid-career crisis kicks in. Facing down the barrel of another 25 years in the working world, the worker attempts a compromise to regain control.

  • “What am I doing here? If only I would have pursued my true passions.”
  • “I always wanted to be an artist…”
  • “Maybe if I just work harder, I’ll finally get that promotion and life will be great.”
  • “It’s about time I got that sports car I deserve.”

All of these are an attempt at bargaining through the issue. Whether it’s a new car or a new career, the worn down worker day-dreams of a bargain to regain control of their fate.

Stage 4 – Depression

“During the fourth stage, the individual despairs at the recognition of their mortality.”

As the worker recognizes the likelihood of a long, drawn out career, the sadness kicks in. We have all seen the depressed co-worker, dragging their weathered-self to work every day. Maybe you’ve even been there…

Stage 5 – Acceptance

And finally, we reach acceptance. The worker accepts that the working lifestyle, day in and day out for years on end, is the only path for them. Dreams of hitting it big and pursuing that dream are pushed aside in favor of stability and predictability.

“Besides, this job isn’t so bad… in fact it’s kind of likable. And I’d be bored without it, or lose my purpose… Early retirement might work for you, but it’s just not practical for me…”

Pulling the Plug on the Slow Acceptance

It doesn’t have to be that way. There’s an alternate path to the generally accepted working career: a road less traveled, an unnoticed side door, and a well-kept secret. It’s called early retirement, and people like Steve are proving it is entirely attainable for normal people.

So, which path will you choose? The soul-sucking slow grind that elicits a grieving process, or the early escape to freedom and frolicking in fields of dandelions?

How peaceful and tranquil this must be

How peaceful and tranquil this must be

We track our net worth using Personal Capital


25 responses to “Guest post: 4 things (New) lifers say and how to stop grieving your career”

  1. Very well done, love the tie in to the 5 stages of grief. I think I may have hit the bargaining stage before I realized there was the side door toward early retirement. Thankfully, I had already been saving a bunch. Slowly I came to the realization that it is possible, began to wonder why more folks don’t follow the same lifestyle, and then started a blog to help folks understand personal finance and reach FI.

  2. It is surprising sometimes how closed people can be to the even the idea of trying to reach FI. Nice analysis.

  3. “Index fund investing is as simple signing up for Twitter and avoiding your next impulse purchase.” This is my favorite blog line that I’ve read in a while. You’ve hit the nail on the head both with the 20 something objections and feeling of impossibility, and your responses.

    • The best part is it’s true. Despite my username, there’s no magic involved in earning solid investment returns. If more people knew this (and if the personal finance industry focused more on education and less on intimidation) many more people would be in much better place financially.

      Thanks for the compliment.

  4. Apathy Ends says:

    It took me 5 years to get into the bargaining phase, thankfully I was rescued by books and personal finance bloggers before I accepted my fate!

    Great post – I think you are making a few of us jealous with your impressive savings so early.

  5. I think you really nailed it with this post. I see the denial and acceptance all around me. With ER on my horizon I feel like I am living on an entirely different plane.

    • Thanks Jolly Ledger. I can definitely relate to feeling like you’re on a completely different plane. It can get lonely as the one person secretly planning on exiting completely in a few years. Thankfully there’s the wonderful early retirement community providing some therapy on that 😉

  6. Mr. PIE says:

    The points made under kids is important. Too often an easy excuse for too many. Fully agree that it is critical to resist the urge to enter your kids into the “arms race” (as Mrs. PIE described in a recent post on this very subject. ). Much of what kids need is unstructured time to explore the world around them. That in most locales is absolutely free.

  7. Hmmm I’m in a unique position, I guess. I had to be on disability in my 20s. Having not been able to earn a paycheck had two effects: It made me fearful of not having steady money come in and put me very far behind most people’s financial progression. Made worse when we had to contend with my husband’s own health problems (and extreme expenses).

    So I’m not sure I’ll ever retire. Partly out of necessity (this year we’re spending $26k on oral surgery, which would’ve been spiffy to put against our mortgage but oh well) and partly because I’m not sure I could handle the anxiety of once again living on a very fixed income. That said, I’d love to be able to at least go down to part-time one day. So we’ll just do our best — especially now that the worst is out of the way (she said, dooming herself) — to get toward financial independence.

    • Abigail, pursuing financial independence is about so much more than just retiring. Retiring is the end, the real benefit of the early retirement mindset is the financial freedom you begin to accumulate. Even if early retirement never happens, the financial security and peace of mind that grows with each increase in savings is priceless. Like most things in life, the reward is in the process, not the end goal.

  8. Ha, the “five stages” analogy is perfect! I’ve seen one more reason for denial among the 20-somethings: they just worked their entire lives to get here. Several of my young colleagues in my first company were absolutely miserable — like, crying-in-the-office-regularly miserable — but wouldn’t consider planning for anything but the traditional career track. I think a huge part of that reasoning was that they had just spent the past two decades working as hard as they could for straight A’s, the best university they could attend, Dean’s list, a competitive professional job, etc. How could the thing we strived so hard for be so unfulfilling?

  9. Felicity says:

    I’m a youngin, but I work with a whole range of ages on a regular basis. There’s definitely a shift in thinking as time goes on.

    I initially told a similarly aged colleague about my early retirement plans and got the “you’d be so bored” comment. About a year or two later I mentioned it again, but not as “retirement.” I talked about it in terms of being free to pursue side projects full time without worrying about income. Then she was all for it!

  10. […] Check out the full article! 4 Things (new) Lifers Say and How to Stop Grieving Your Career […]

  11. Petra says:

    Whether it’s a new career or a new career, the worn down worker day-dreams of a bargain to regain control of their fate.

    I assume this was supposed to be ‘new car or new career’?

  12. Cottage Blog says:

    A Recent Guest Said As

    […] suggest there’s an alternate path, one that allows them to reach retirement de […]

  13. LW says:

    Great articles from unique perspectives. Wondering what each guys thoughts are on the following:
    Why I “Can’t” retire too early;
    1. By continuing to work and contribute to plans like a 529 & 401K, my investments will cover everything I want and college for my children. Providing for them a more simple start than I had in reaching where I am.
    2. The opportunity cost of retiring early as opposed to after 30 years of work is massive! If I retire at 55, in 20 more years I’ll have $1M just in my 401K, not to mention other investments, a company funded pension & have my house fully paid off. BUT if I wait 2 more years its another $250K, another 5 years and Im at $1.4M- which would provide $108K/year until I turn 81. Let’s say I go all the way to 65 now I am sitting on almost $2M, half from the last 10 years. I’ll have $108K/year to live on in retirement. Provide anything I want to my children and grandchildren. I may even put my grandchildren through college.
    3. You are giving up free money, most companies pay a match on a 401K contribution. Say 6%, for the sake of easy math $6,000/ year they give me as a match for my 6% contribution. Doubling my money every month!!! Course I contribute more than that min 6%, but the company will give me more than $200K for free over the course of a career. That compounded with interest is about $500K after 30 years.
    4. I mentioned my other investments, there is also a company pension to consider, the company also pays dividends.

    So I am content not to eat my PB&J and “be free” from hard work. I’d prefer to put in the hours, develop skillsets above and beyond someone gaining no exposure to strong opinions, well developed peers, challenging business environments and experiences that build character. We enjoy our international trips every year, our new cars every 10 or less, we like our big house and we want our kids to have every advantage. In retirement nothing will change, with the exception of having more time to do all the things we love with all the financial security we have built.

    I welcome your responses.

    • Steve says:

      Hi LW – my thoughts on this. The argument is 100% undeniably sound. It’s spot on accurate and acutely describes how much money can be made by staying in the work force for a longer period of time. And to that end, I agree with it 100%.

      But respectfully, I must also retort with this: “Well duh!” Of course remaining in the work force will result in a significantly higher net worth. Making lots of money will often result in more money than making significantly less money. 2 is very often bigger than 1. It’s a wonderful mathematical formula that we can certainly count on.

      However, early retirees value other things in their lives. It’s not all about money. It’s about having *enough* money to live the lifestyle we choose. To some, spending another 20 years in corporate America sounds absolutely horrible – regardless of the monetary incentives involved. Many of us value our time over our money. Two week vacations every now and then don’t cut it.

      In the end, there’s nothing wrong with working your entire life to accumulate a small (or large) fortune. Whatever floats your boat. But to those of us who value our time and freedom over money, we may choose to exit the work force super duper early in order to live the rest of our lives doing what we truly want to do. After all, we humans don’t need millions of dollars to be happy, and at the end of our lives, we’ll remember the adventures we had, not all those hours we spent sitting in an office.

      To each their own! 🙂

  14. […] particular blog post was about 4 things “lifers” say, but from the perspective of our younger generation. The comment, written by LW, offers something a […]

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