I try my very best to be respectful. As an early retiree, I know full well that early retirement isn’t for everyone. It just won’t work for all of us, and that’s okay, nothing wrong with that. I just wish that other people, who may not have any interest (or knowledge) in retiring early would show the same courtesy.
Last week, I stumbled across an article written by Ramit Sethi titled “What successful people don’t tell you”, published on GrowthLab.com (a very nice web site, by the way). The thrust of the article was clear and direct:
Most “successful” people don’t retire early. They keep working. Influencing.
The author told us a story of launching a course and bringing in $600,000 in under a week – a remarkable feat, no doubt. Then, he began to draw a line in the sand, pointing precisely in the direction of early retirees.
“With that money, I could’ve just dropped everything to go sit on the beach in Santorini for the next 5 years. But that’s not what I wanted to do.”
At this point, that’s all well and good. Because, well, blowing $600,000 on a beach in five years doesn’t sound like a sustainable way to live your life, and no early retiree that I’ve ever met would claim otherwise.
The author begins to talk about the “dark side” of early retirement and provides an example from a popular subreddit. If you read the early retirement subreddit carefully enough, the author says, you begin to pick up on a theme: People love the idea of early retirement until they actually get there.
He provided this snippet as an example:
“Now what? I’m mid 30s, very frugal, unmarried, no kids, virtually no hobbies, high salary, low expenses, work in finance/tech, and can [retire] whenever.… I thought when I got to this point I’d be happier, more relaxed, but it’s yet to happen.”
This may have been the worst example for Mr. Sethi to pick out because this person does not represent a typical early retiree in the FIRE community.
He chalks early retirement up to a very simple concept:
“Hey, I don’t like my job. I’m going to (1) eat rice and beans for the next 14 years, (2) my new hobbies will be walking, and (3) in 17 years, I’ll retire!”
To help provide additional thrust for his article, Sethi picks and chooses particular written soundbites that supposedly explains just how barren, lazy and hollow it must be to retire young and live out the rest of your life doing whatever the hell you want. What a horrible life that must be.
Side note: I appreciate the assist on fodder for a blog post, Mr. Sethi!
Mr. Sethi, on the other hand, “fucking loves what he does”. Even with all the money in the world, he’d keep working. Keep innovating. Keep producing. Because, the “real” top performers, he states, don’t want to avoid work and sit on a beach. They want to make an impact! Improve their lives! Roar!
With all due respect, Mr. Sethi, allow me to respond.
Let’s cut this “us vs. them” bullshit
Expanding one’s horizons does wonders to improve one’s understanding of complicated organic matters of life.
Sethi’s article ended with this gem:
If someone handed you a check for $600,000, what would you do? If your answer is “retire and milk a 4% return to live on $24,000 for the rest of my life,” you should check out the FIRE community.
On the other hand, if you say, “Man, I’d take an awesome 5-star vacation, I’d fly my friends in… then after a few weeks, I’d be ready to get back, refreshed, (maybe with nicer shoes) and I’d start on my next project…”
…you’re one of us.
You’re a smart guy, Mr. Sethi. I know you’re a smart guy because I’ve seen a lot of your work. As such, I refuse to believe that you didn’t do enough research into the FIRE community to build a more solid understanding of what this business of early retirement is all about. By assuming we all want to relax on a beach somewhere, you’re linking traditional retirement with early retirement. That doesn’t work.
Early retirees aren’t sitting in their rocking chairs yelling at the neighbor kids to get off their lawn. We aren’t all Clint Eastwood in Gran Torino.
The article drips of an “us vs. them” attitude. The implication throughout was as clear as it was disingenuous: Those who actually provide value and make an impact don’t want to retire early. They work.
Completing the logic circle, those who DO retire early want to avoid work, be lazy and eat rice and beans all day, becoming a drain on society caused by a distinct lack of ambition and motivation to succeed.
To be clear, there are people who lack direction in early retirement. There are folks who are genuinely disinterested in work and just want to relax on the beach all day. It’s true, those people exist.
But, here’s the rub: Those who retire early are typically incredibly driven and successful people. It’s not easy to retire in your 30s and 40s. It takes drive and determination, and quite a bit of discipline. Even a little creativity, too, to make the numbers and our lifestyle work. We’re heavily motivated people and work hard to achieve our goals, whatever they may be.
Smart early retirees retire TO something, rather than FROM something – and, coincidently, this is a point that we tend to preach a lot on our blogs and through discussion forums. I personally don’t know of a single [current or future] early retiree who doesn’t have hobbies…plans for what they want to do after they hang up their hat in corporate America.
Typical early retirees don’t just sit there twiddling their thumbs.
Early retirement and a motivation to succeed are not mutually exclusive, Mr. Sethi. I respect that you love what you do. Seriously, that’s great.
But, you do your argument no favors by picking out an example of someone who retired early without any hobbies and now feels void of a reason to live. You selected one particular example as a means to throw a wide net across the majority of the FIRE community.
Look: I know that you make a good living by writing about controversy. You intentionally take hard-line views that drum up emotion. You pick fights, and it’s a lucrative business. Trust me, I get it. It works.
But, come on, you’re smarter than to think (like, in your “heart of hearts”) early retirees lack a motivation to innovate.
Reddit is where you go when you’re looking for answers. As a result, of course you’ll meet folks who don’t have a lot of direction – who barreled through their accumulation phase of life and retired early, only to discover that their jobs were the only things to give them drive and ambition.
It may be tough to believe, but Reddit doesn’t necessarily represent the wider community of FIRE. Check out FIRE bloggers who live and breath this stuff. The majority of us are the other side of that coin – the side that you buried in the sand of that beach you kept talking about, Mr. Sethi.
There is a huge population out there that don’t need jobs to make an impact. Many of those people blog about it, but you might be surprised at how many are out there doing it quietly. The lack of that full-time drain over both your time and mental energy frees us up to pursue activities that can and do make our world a better place.
Sitting at a desk trying my best to be a “high performer” wasn’t doing it.
I cannot count the number of messages I’ve received since starting this blog telling me that I’ve inspired them to make serious changes in their life. Changes like prioritizing their futures. Saving big. Paying themselves first. Getting rid of so much of their stuff to live more simply.
And, yes, to retire early. Having this impact is a powerful thing, and it’s amazing to me that my story has resonated with so many people. It’s a thrill, but it’s also pretty damn humbling. I love the fact that my story is inspiring others to improve their lives and make changes for the better.
My story has been made possible by FIRE – thank you very much.
If early retirement isn’t for you, that’s great. It doesn’t need to be. However, implying that successful people don’t retire early is an unfortunate consequence of drawing conclusions about something we don’t understand.
Ironically, early retirees are typically creative and highly motivated people. Read more about what we’re doing to get a feel for what early retirement actually means to us. Some start podcasts. Others write. A few of us probably build beautifully-crafted wooden rocking chairs.
You won’t necessarily find this stuff on Reddit, but there’s more to the FIRE community than Reddit. In fact, there’s a huge FIRE blogging community, and one can significantly expand their understanding of what so many of us early retirees are doing with our lives before – as well as after – quitting early by spending some time reading what’s plainly available for all to see.
Uh oh…but if we earn even a single dime pursuing any of these post-retirement activities, then we aren’t truly retired, right?
Thanks for the fodder, Mr. Sethi. Now, I’ll return to my beach, nursing my bowl of rice and beans, hell-bent on avoiding any and all work. 🙂
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.