I’ll admit it – before I became a personal finance blogger, I never liked those “How I retired at [insert insanely young age here]” posts. They always came across to me as “Hey, look at me! I’m awesome!”, and I recited the approved excuse, “So everything went right for you…cool, but what about me?”
I usually just skimmed them anyway, because very little of what I read really applied to me. Okay, so you saved a bunch of money by living like you’re Amish. Ah, so you went into business for yourself and sold your super-duper awesome company. Oh, so you were a high-ranking executive pulling down $250-grand a year and got tired of it, saved for a few years, and retired.
And all these stories seemed to start out the same way. Nobody dives into their careers hoping for an early exit, and these retirees were no exception. They engaged in the grind. Slaved away at their jobs. Sacrificed their time (and families) for the sake of more hours at work. Day in and day out, the brutal, never-ending grind of corporate America, just like me. Yada yada…
“Screw it, I’m out!” they said eventually and proceeded to spend the next couple of years putting the pieces in place to retire early. Of course, my mind never truly accepted the possibility that early retirement was as much of a skill as it was a “lucky happenstance”.
I am now in a unique (read: ironic?) position. My plan is to retire from full-time work by the end of the year. I will be 35.
So…do I? Do I write my own version of “How I retired at 35”?
And if so, how do I connect with people in their 20s? People just like I was, who see the idea of “early retirement” to be akin to gambling at the Texas Hold’em tables in Las Vegas? How does my story convince others that early retirement, like winning at Texas Hold’em, is a game of both luck AND SKILL? After all, there’s a reason why poker champions tend to repeat their successes. It is much too simple to chalk this up to, “Everything went right”, and call it a day. If it were that easy, everybody would be doing it!
Perhaps I’ll try to connect with my readers by linking early retirement to poker. Let’s see, here…
Early retirement and Texas Hold’em poker
Luck isn’t the only factor in poker. Winning at poker is also about calculating your odds of winning based on your environment and the cards around you, about reading the faces of those at the table, observing their mannerisms and noticing their “tells”, picking the right opportunity to go all in because you know your last remaining challenger is bluffing.
He exposed one of his tells.
That’s right, he scratched his nose and curled his lip, which is his unconscious sign that he’s holding a bunch of crap. Your pair of 7s will likely beat him.
If you want to be a poker champion, you practice. Any budding champion practices, and practices hard. They play any chance they get. They bet big and very often lose big. They fail more than they succeed. They misread their competition and fall victim to their cockiness.
“Winner winner chicken dinner” suddenly becomes “Loser loser homeless boozer”.
It’s a tough road to conquer. It’s ruthless and unsympathetic. The payoff is big, but the risks might be even bigger, especially if you think that “luck” and privilege are the primary factors in success. Reading these posts about retiring early as a young 20-something, I thought luck played a huge part in it all.
And unless that luck suddenly happened to me, what chance do I have at retiring early?
I subconsciously compared my chances at early retirement to winning it big in Vegas. I thought those who DO retire early were the lucky winners, too, and those “How I retired at…” posts only seemed to solidify that short-sighted assumption.
I’ve learned a great many things in my journey down Early Retirement Road, but perhaps none more interesting than this:
In many ways, retiring early is easier than winning at poker. In poker, the better you become, the higher the stakes get, and unless you’re swindling rich idiots out of their money at high stakes poker tables, your competition gets better. You’re no longer playing against doctors and lawyers who like to throw money around on a Friday night, where losing a grand is no big deal.
You’re playing against poker players. Those players are reading you as much as you’re reading them. In fact, they read you better. They’ve already calculated their odds of winning as you’re still adding up the numbers in your head. These guys mean business and they aren’t afraid to completely clean you out. And they aren’t afraid to fold, either. Winning at cards isn’t about winning every hand.
The better you get, the better your competition gets. The higher you ascend, the tougher it is to progress. You’re playing against an ever-increasing echelon of talent.
And the scariest part of all? Most of us know that luck is only a small element of winning at poker. Winning at poker takes skill. You win for a reason. You win because you know what you’re doing, more than anyone else at the table.
But what about early retirement?
Who is your competition? Is it true that the richer you get, the tougher it is to get more rich?
Luckily for us, the answer is no. In fact, success generates more success. Think of it like compound interest. Just like our next egg, success grows exponentially.
Simply, the richer we get, the easier it becomes to get more rich. Riches beget riches. Each step we take down the road to early retirement is a step that is generally easier than the last. Our mindset changes. We focus more and more on what truly matters in our lives. We understand what “enough” means to us, and our jobs take second fiddle to our families and happiness.
We begin to succeed more in life because we establish clear and achievable goals for ourselves, and we become aware of our surroundings. We win because we, like a poker champion, know what we’re doing – more so than your neighbor might, your friends, your family. We win because we’re good at the game of life…but we also cheat because we’re playing a game that we’ve meticulously designed for ourselves. If we control our lives well enough, we rig the game in our favor.
As we win, our wealth takes an exponential turn upward, doesn’t it? Compound interest means that our money makes money, and the more money we have, the more money we make.
It’s a wickedly lucrative cycle.
In early retirement, our only competition is ourselves.
My “How I retired at 35” post, if I pursue it, may be the most challenging post that I will ever write.
Tell me: How do you connect with people when telling your story of early retirement – whether verbally or in the written form?
Steve is a 38-year-old early retiree who writes about the intersection of happiness and financial independence. Steve is a regular contributor to MarketWatch, CNBC, and The Ladders. He lives full-time in his 30′ Airstream Classic and travels the country with his wife Courtney and two rescued dogs.