Do we deserve early retirement?

Published September 26, 2016   Posted in How to Think

I came across an interesting article the other week written by a guy named Jacob Jolibois about deserving what you want. The article was genuine and intriguing, but also sparked a question that I’ve toyed with in the back of my mind for quite some time. Do we “deserve” early retirement?

Pinterest: Do we deserve early retirement?Jacob writes about Jay Ducote, who is now a nationally-recognized food blogger and radio personality. He got his start by simply blogging about the lunches he ate back in 2009, which seems like ancient history by now. Through persistence, he accidentally fell into something lucrative and exciting. Exciting, indeed. The dude has a media company and regularly speaks about food stuff, cooking.

“Sometimes it’s about showing up every week consistently,” Jacob wrote.

I agree entirely. Most of what early retirees aim for is only achieved after years of consistent and determined pursuit. We aren’t the “get rich quick” types. We didn’t win the lottery. Most of us haven’t inherited millions from wealthy family members.

We’re regular people, doing regular stuff, pursuing lofty goals. We work hard and smart to achieve those goals. Saving, investing, sacrificing, you get the drill. It’s all basic stuff.

The intriguing part of Jacob’s article comes from the quote by Charlie Munger: “To get what you want, deserve what you want. Trust, success, and admiration is earned.”


Do we deserve what we get?

If a man kills another man, most of us would agree that the murder deserves to be punished. He did something wrong and needs to suffer the consequences of his actions, not to mention removed from society for our safety.

Similarly, U.S. Airways pilot Sully Sullenberger successfully landed an Airbus A320 passenger jet in the Hudson river after blazing a trail through a flock of Canadian geese, which disabled the plane’s engines, during its ascent out of La Guardia Airport. Not a single death resulted from the water landing. Surely, Mr. Sullenberger deserves praise for his miraculous response to a potentially deadly situation.

Even so, the word “deserve” is loaded with meaning and context. Absent of life-and-death situations, do we deserve what we get? If we save hard and fast for many years, do we deserve to achieve our goals? If we spend like a drunken sailor, do we deserve to be broke?

Let’s go to the dictionary!

The meaning of the word deserve defines deserve as such: “to merit, be qualified for, or have a claim to (reward, assistance, punishment, etc.) because of actions, qualities, or situation”. We need a cause and effect for the word deserve to be applicable.

We do something. As a result, something else is warranted.

Thus, if we spend a decade furiously saving our cash to accomplish our dream of retiring early, we, therefore, deserve to retire early. We did something in order to facilitate a result. Easy, done.

But, there’s a problem. The problem lies in our minds and how we manipulate this situation into something more akin to, I don’t know, “entitlement”. Replace the word deserve with entitled and we quickly begin treading deeply in shark infested waters with soggy dictionaries floating on the surface.

If we save hard and work smart, are we entitled to retire early?

Entitled contains a much less positive connotation. It implies that a result is deserved in the absence of effort necessary to achieve it.

Deserve vs. Entitled, and which one is the right answer

For example, the phrase “Americans are entitled to a living wage” focuses entirely on a result rather than on effort. On the other hand, “Women deserve equal pay to men” is a statement that very much suggests effort. Women work just as hard as men and, therefore, deserve equal pay.

Deserve is the right answer. Entitled is the wrong one. Unfortunately, our society merges the two into an unhealthy relationship that bastardizes the entire concept of work vs. reward, cause and effect.

The reason is because sometimes we don’t get what we deserve. And when that happens, we often feel entitled. After devoting the effort, we expect our just rewards. Unfortunately, the world doesn’t always work that way. It may not be fair, but it happens.

Strangely, I do not feel that I deserve early retirement even though my wife and I are putting in the effort to make it happen. I definitely don’t feel like I’m entitled to it, either. I do feel, however, that I am entitled to try.

And that’s exactly what we’re doing.

What say you? Do we deserve what we get? If we work our ass off long and hard in pursuit of a goal, do we deserve that goal? Further, are we entitled to it?

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35 responses to “Do we deserve early retirement?”

  1. Really interesting to step back and view early retirement through this lens. So if feeling like you deserve something because of the effort you put in, but not receiving it, turns into entitlement, does that make feeling like you deserve something bad as well? Or is the line between the two? E.g. it’s justified to feel like you deserve something, but if you don’t get it you need to chalk it up to bad luck and move on.

    Alternatively, maybe there is a line between actually deserving something and feeling like you deserve something. Once you get into the latter you are dealing with things outside of your control, which is bound to bite you.

    Thanks for the thoughtful post!

    • Steve says:

      Thanks Matt. I agree, it’s a very fine line, and perhaps there isn’t one place where it’s drawn. Seems different based on each situation…and the people whom it affects.

  2. As the declaration of Independence says we have 3 unalienable rights, “life liberty, and the pursuit of happiness”. I due believe your goal of early retirement reaches the definition of pursuit of happiness. Nothing in there says obtained happiness, so I also agree we are not entitled to it.

    • Steve says:

      I largely agree, Full Time Finance. We deserve to try…we SHOULD try, but that doesn’t mean things will work out perfectly. I suppose that’s what makes it so sweet when things DO work as we want. 🙂

  3. Generally speaking, I think we all deserve what we get. Sure, things happen and life bends a certain direction, but it all stems back to small and perhaps inconsequential decisions early on. But if you have a goal and work hard towards it, you may be deserving of it but not entitled. But that’s life and one of my least favorite sayings growing up from my parents was that life isn’t always fair. So what we get is usually based on how we react to the “unfair” things in life. Just keep motoring on towards your goals and you can achieve them!

    • Steve says:

      Thanks Green Swan! The bottom line is life isn’t fair – you’re right. Some people get things that they don’t deserve (both good and bad). I suppose it’s just one of those things about life that we need to understand and be willing to adjust to.

  4. Mrs Groovy says:

    As we’re about to retire early (for OUR generation) these are interesting questions. We put the effort in, but we also got an extremely lucky break with the sale of our condo. Would some others have squandered $250K? Yes, some would. But we made some very smart lifestyle choices. For that I feel we deserve credit. But I don’t necessarily feel we deserve early retirement.

    • Steve says:

      I’m right there with you, Mrs. Groovy. It’s tough for me to believe that we deserve early retirement either. We put in the work to achieve that goal, but still, “deserve” just doesn’t feel like the right word to use.

  5. Mr. PIE says:

    Good question.

    I think we deserve to accept the consequences of the decisions we make in our lives. If those decisions are about working more, retiring early, over the top consumption, then people better own those choices. If such decisions are made by us then nobody can complain about the events that follow. We may have to adapt, change course significantly but we own those events and we own how we deal with them.

    • Steve says:

      “We may have to adapt, change course significantly but we own those events and we own how we deal with them.” – Bingo! Sometimes we can’t change the things that happen to us. But, we CAN change how we react. That’s something that we can always control. 🙂

  6. Most of the time, I think Charlie Munger is pretty much a genius. But in this case, I think he’s wrong.

    I’ve seen too many people who don’t deserve the rewards they get in life. A lot of times the wrong things are rewarded….

    Like the guy who always shows up for work late, and is always goofing around, not working — and yet he still gets promoted. Why? I have no idea!

    Yet I see this happen far to often to believe people get what they deserve.

    If their is one thing I’ve learned, life isn’t always fair.

    • Steve says:

      It’s not always fair – exactly. You’re right, bad things happen to good people, and good things also happen to bad people. And there doesn’t appear to be a rhyme or reason why, either! But, I’ve found that the better decisions that we make in our lives, the more likely we will reap the positive rewards from those decisions.

  7. Michael says:

    Putting money that you have today into an asset (that generates positive cash flow) rather than spending it today – that is investing. You could refer to it as common sense or deferred gratification.

    If you have worked and saved towards your retirement goal, and you finally get there, you have earned it. It is well deserved.

    • Steve says:

      Thanks Michael, appreciate your thoughts. It definitely is nice to reap the rewards of the work needed to retire early. Absolutely no doubt about that! 🙂

  8. Some interesting comments here already – good food for thought.

    I think for the most people we do get what we deserve, but there are obvious exceptions (like Tako mentioned) that seem to defy reasoning.

    Regardless of those edge-cases though, I think we should position ourselves to deserve what we desire, and I think the two are much more likely to align.

    • Steve says:

      I agree with you, Brad. When we make good decisions, we are more likely to reap positive rewards from those decisions. Sometimes things won’t work out as we expected, but maybe those situations are the “exceptions that prove the rule”?

  9. Aghh this is a toughie. On one hand the “I deserve…” attitude is the reason I got into debt in the first place. Combined with a lack of self-control and too much free time, the word “deserve” in this situation is a recipe for disaster.

    I don’t believe anything is handed to us. Even if you’re gifted something, you still had to work in some way to merit a windfall.

    But do we “deserve” a payout of our hard work? In a perfect world, but life just doesn’t work out sometimes. So I don’t think I automatically deserve something just because I worked hard on it. At the end of the day, doing your best is the right thing to do, so I do it. If that causes good things to happen, then that’s doubly awesome that it paid off!

    • Steve says:

      Good point, Mrs. Picky Pincher – the “I deserve” attitude can definitely send us down the wrong road in life, especially when it comes to finances. I like your attitude!

  10. Lady Locust says:

    Wow! Insightful. One thing is that you’ve worked hard and saved and are not going to try to live like royalty now that you’ve “retired.” You’ve worked smart & are living smart. You two ‘deserve’ many smiles.

  11. Wow – love this post. Makes you stop and think, and consider the playing field that’s been put before us. In the context of human history i’d argue we deserve early retirement. That doesn’t mean we won’t encounter struggles after retirement. It’s not unlike taking advantage of credit card points. They’re there for the taking. Early retirement is similar. Take advantage of the playing field.

    • Steve says:

      Thanks Abandoned Cubicle! Choosing to take advantage of the hand that you’re dealt, or the situation that prior good decisions put you in, is absolutely critical to achieving and maintaining success in life. If it’s there, take it! If it’s not, keep a look out for it. Encourage it. If it appears, grab it. 🙂

  12. Jack says:

    You can’t control life, just you’re reaction to what happens.

    So rather than thinking about deserving or entitled, I’d ask are you flexible enough to succeed.

    Life isn’t fair, so the best way to succeed is to set your goals, and adapt to what happens while you’re achieving them. Some will fail. Some will try to sabotage you in envy or guilt.

    But if you’re doing what matters to you, in a way that matters to you, you never truly fail.

    • Steve says:

      “You can’t control life, just you’re reaction to what happens.” – precisely, and couldn’t have said it any better myself. Your attitude is awesome, Jack.

  13. Terrific article and really made me think. I think I grew up listening to my parents who said with hard work anything is possible. Largely this statement has been true however there have been instances where the work that I put in did not get to my desired goal. While I wish there was a direct correlation between hard work and success I realize there isn’t. But that doesn’t stop me from still working hard with the understanding that the odds are in my favor that hard work will pay off in the long run.

    • Steve says:

      Thanks Mustard Seed. In general I agree that working hard (and more importantly, *smart*) does increase the chances of the desired payoff, there are exceptions. Life isn’t perfect, nor is it fair. Life is about playing the odds and managing them well.

  14. Probably we all deserve to retire early. Though, it still crosses my mind sometimes that being where I am today is obviously the product of a chain of many coincidences sometimes good luck, sometimes bad luck. How much of my success is just the product of “dumb luck,” which would make the success a lot less deserved? I am the first to admit that not all of my success is the result of hard work. Sometimes it’s just being at the right place at the right time. Or would even success as a result of luck be deserved? If you take a risk and you get lucky, maybe you deserve that success just as much!
    But, to be sure, none of my money came from a lottery or inheritance, I insist. 🙂

    • Steve says:

      It’s a tough one…being in the right place at the right time definitely does *sound* like dumb luck, but were their decisions or actions that you took to PUT you in that place? You may not have anticipated the positive outcome that happened, but were your decisions generally supportive of putting yourself in the position to succeed?

  15. We deserve it in the sense that we worked hard and made good decisions to achieve something others did not. Still, many more in this world never had the chance we did by the fate that they were not all born in this wonderful country, had the blessings of good health, and the support of terrific families that helped us so much. I would say no one completely deserves it, but many have done what we can to earn it.

    • Steve says:

      Thanks for your comment, MrFireStation. It’s undeniable that some of us were born into a situation that makes it more conducive for success. Definitely easier for some than others. Maybe that makes those who overcame MORE…more deserving of success?

  16. You absolutely deserve it. You may find detractors in the future, who are bitter about their own situation who think you do NOT deserve it, when they see or hear about your early-retirement lifestyle. What they won’t have seen is hard work, planning, and sacrifice that got you there.

    Sometimes you have bad luck and sometimes it is good, but largely, I think people get what they deserve.

    • Steve says:

      Thanks Jon. I agree, there will definitely be those who don’t believe *anyone* deserves anything better than what they have, unfortunately. Of course their thoughts don’t really matter, nor do they change the situation for us. It does, however, keep them in the rut that they will probably forever be in.

  17. It’s tough to say whether anyone “deserves” anything. There’s no doubt, you put the work in and as a result, you deserve your reward in that sense. But at the same time, how much of it was luck that you happened to be born in the right time, in the right place, with the right family, with the right friends, with all your physical and mental faculties, etc. Do you really deserve it then when a lot of it was just luck of the draw?

    As much as we like to think it, it simply isn’t possible for everyone to save a lot of money and retire early. Everyone in that position was lucky enough to be born in fortunate circumstances. No doubt, if you work hard, you deserve something. But sometimes, it’s not enough.

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