Some will never retire early, and it’s all their fault

Published June 12, 2017   Posted in In Retirement

Some will never retire early, and it’s all their fault. It’s true. The choices we make and motivations we hold make a profound impact on accomplishing our goals – early retirement or otherwise.

I’ll let you know right off the bat that there’s a wheel barrel full of tough love in this post. I know that I’m going to piss some people off, and that’s fine. It comes with the territory. I’m okay with it. Still want to continue reading? Goooood.

If you’re thinking to yourself, “But I don’t want to retire early”, then simply substitute a major life goal instead of using early retirement. You aren’t getting off that easy. Regardless of the goal, this stuff still holds true.

If you fail at your goal, it is probably your fault

“There is no such thing as luck, merely opportunity meeting preparedness”

— General George S. Patton, Jr

First, I will plainly state that I do acknowledge the presence of “fortune”. Sometimes, good things really do materialize out of thin air. Then again, so do bad things – like blowing a tire at 70 MPH on I-80 in the middle of nowhere. Or, winning the lottery. Winning the lottery is good fortune (though playing the lottery was a choice).

Shit happens. Those of us who let that shit dictate our lives are bound to fail.

We cannot control everything that happens to us, but we sure can control how we react to our circumstances. Let’s look at an example of how this works. Pretend you’re a singer. You’re pretty good, but you haven’t caught your break yet. You’re still singing in local dive bars as the warm-up band. You’re just keeping the crowd half-way engaged until the real band takes the stage.

You keep pitching your band to music companies, over and over again. You keep accepting invites to play at small dive bars as cheap entertainment, often getting paid in a tank of gas or a cold beer rather than cash.

Finally, after years of shitty deals and small-time venues, you get your chance. A music company gives you a contract. You finally got “your break”.

Is that luck? If you send out 100 records to music companies and assume the “law of numbers” are bound to reward you with a contract, were you simply the beneficiary of a lucky break if someone accepts your offer?

If you met the right person to grow old with, is that luck as well? Or a job offer to your dream job. Again, luck?

Is anything really within our control?

Almost everything is within our control

“Shallow men believe in luck. Strong men believe in cause and effect.”

— Ralph Waldo Emerson

I reject the notion that luck dictates our lives. Believing in luck gives us an excuse to fail without self-reflection. It assumes that there’s nothing we could have done. Our hands were tied. We might as well not even try, right? Because luck is a more powerful force than YOU?

Screw that.

The truth is that our lives are made up of a combination of things. Our upbringing. The things we experience. Our ability to think with our brains rather than our emotions. And, yes, our choices. Especially our choices.

Luck? It doesn’t factor in. At all.

Luck can make things easier or more difficult, but it doesn’t affect long-term goals.

If we’re training for a marathon, a couple of “unlucky” rainy days might keep us inside rather than out. But over the course of our six-month training regimen, those rainy days don’t make a difference. We had plenty of opportunities to train.

Besides, how bad do we want it? Those of us who want it bad enough will run. Yes, even in the rain. If we want things bad enough, we find a way to make them happen.

Back to the band scenario above – what about all those nights you spent pitching music companies? All those shitty gigs you decided to accept rather than pass up? Or, all the women that you DIDN’T settle for until the right one came along? Or, designing a tailored resume for your dream job, and dressing like someone who actually knows how to do an interview and gives a fuck about their future?

These successes aren’t luck. Companies don’t hand out dream jobs by drawing names out of a hat. Music companies don’t pick the next rockstar after a rousing game of eenie meenie miney mo.

Do you want to retire early bad enough?

Let’s say that you want to retire early. Great! What are you going to do to accomplish that long-term goal? Hope that you get “lucky”? Maybe someone will walk down the street and offer you a $100,000 job and force you to save half of it. How lucky would that be?!?

Of course, the world does not work that way. It is true that bad things happen to good people. Bad things happen when we least expect them to. Life is tougher for some than for others. Yada yada, I get it. There’s no question about that. Things may not work out the way we hoped. Got it.

The real question is how bad we want to succeed in life. How much are YOU willing to do? Early retirement isn’t going to creep up on you and present itself on a silver platter.

Things like stepping outside of your comfort zone. Saying no to those weekly drinking invitations or expensive dinners. Choosing to save half of your salary rather than wasting it on crapola. Refusing to upgrade your cell phone every year. Ditching cable or satellite television.

Enough excuses. “I don’t make enough to save”, 99% of the time, is bullshit.

It’s easy for me to say, right? I retired from a 6-figure job at 35. I was on easy street, wasn’t I? I could have fallen asleep and retired early, right?

…bad enough to change our lifestyle

It’s easy to look at our dual income in the information technology sector and conclude that our incomes let us retire early. Anyone who pulls in 100 Gs a year can do it. It’s easy when you make lots of money.

And you know what? It’s true. It IS easier when you make lots of money. Like, no shit.

The more money you make, the greater the potential for maximum saving. It’s true that my wife and I made good salaries when we were working full-time.

But, we also saved 70% of them. We could have easily paid for expensive dinners or “date nights”, bought a big house and drove around in the latest German-engineered auto. We could have had every movie and sports channel available at the touch of a button, right there in our family room. Nice cars. Extravagant vacations. It was all within our grasp.

But, what did we do instead?

We sold both of our homes and bought an Airstream RV to live in. Ditched cable. Used the cheapest cell phones. Hardly dined out.

And today, we boondock out in the middle of nowhere to keep costs low. We only allow ourselves $50 / month to go out to eat. We wait months to buy things that we want. We’re on a super tight budget.

We wanted early retirement bad enough to make what traditional society would deem to be “sacrifices”. It seems like nearly everyone has satellite television hooked into their RVs. We don’t. We cook in our Airstream most days rather than grabbing a bite out. We stay away from expensive campgrounds. We talk about every single purchase we make. Yes, including Amazon purchases. Okay, especially Amazon purchases [Amazon, you make it way the hell too easy to spend money!].

We have no traditional sticks and bricks house to return to. Our Airstream is it.

It’s all your fault

If you aren’t accomplishing your goals, it’s probably YOUR fault. You might not want it bad enough. Can’t live without cable television or the latest cell phone? There ya go. Did you choose a completely unmarketable college degree? Okay then. Are you out there fighting for yourself every day? Asking for help? Going the “extra mile” at work? Saving cash instead of spending it on alcohol / restaurants / shoes / yarn / cars / whatever? Are you telling yourself that your lack of success is due to “bad luck”?

If you are, then you’ll never succeed. Guaranteed.

If you don’t feel like you’re totally killing it, then get off your ass and do something about it. Can’t afford a college degree? Try a community college or trade school. Even online training programs can produce good results or at least show a current or future employer that you give a shit about your future.

…that you give a shit about your future.

Stop making excuses and start taking control of your life. Show up. Are you prepared to learn from your failures, never quit, and seek help while your friends are partying? How bad do you want it?

Make it happen. Put up or shut up.

EDIT: Based on some of the comments, I feel like I need to clarify a point. It is prudent not to compare ourselves to other people. Our goals are very personal regardless of who we are. There will always be those who are less fortunate than we are (being born into a poor “slum” country, for example). This article is about achieving YOUR goals, not “achieving as much as I did” – or your neighbor, or anybody else.

This is about you, not me. It’s about each of us and our ability to make the best of our living situation and achieve those goals that we set out to achieve.

We track our net worth using Personal Capital



Comments

46 responses to “Some will never retire early, and it’s all their fault”

  1. I definitely agree that most people don’t practice delayed gratification. That see something that they want now and then run after it. Not worrying about how it will affect them in the future. It’s something that I weigh very heavily when I buy. Will this make me truly happy or is this pushing me further away from my goal of reaching FIRE. It’s a sobering reminder each time 🙂

  2. I appreciate the practical sentiment here, especially for those who read early retirement blogs. I also appreciate the kernels of truth in your posts that don’t give a shit, celebrate selfishness, etc. Finally, I have mad respect for how you’ve reached your goals and you don’t apologize for them. You did it. If this post was all about you, I’d have no beef.

    I hesitate to leave this comment, but I just don’t think what you’re saying is true. For a lot of people bad luck is not bullshit.

    I don’t live my life as if it depends on luck either. But I’d kindly submit that this put up or shut up challenge applies to a narrow set of people who have already had a great deal of luck — being born with a decent genetic inheritance in a particular time and place with a family / culture / society that supports their ability to make choices. Tell the kid born in a slum in Somalia to put up or shut up. Tell a girl born in Saudi Arabia it’s her fault she can’t drive an Airstream. Or a thousand other unlucky breaks, even in the good ol’ USA, worse than getting a flat tire.

    The reality is that anyone who is reading this blog has had an incredible amount of luck — living in the West in 2017 with internet access puts them in the top 1% of human history in terms of wealth. Probably you’d agree with that, and I guess from that perspective you have a point for some readers.

    • Matt @ Optimize Your Life says:

      This is pretty much what I was thinking. This is a great kick in the pants for people reading this blog. And if you are fortunate enough to be reading finance blogs in your spare time, then this is probably right on point.

      I agree with Rich that this isn’t a global truth, though. Hard work can get you over a lot of bad breaks. Maybe with enough hard work you can get over every bad break. But some people are definitely far more lucky than others and it helps a great deal. Bad luck isn’t a reason to give up, but it is certainly a formidable impediment for a lot of people.

    • Steve says:

      I appreciate your comment, Rich, and I definitely see what you’re saying. No doubt, people born into the slums of the world definitely weren’t one of the fortunate ones. Nobody can be blamed for being placed in a predicament that they could not control – such as the country they are born in. You and I definitely agree.

      This post was specifically about achieving your goals, and I don’t believe that goals are restricted to those in first world nations. Naturally, our goals are much, much different than goals held by those overseas, or in poor countries, or in communist countries. There is no sense in comparing us to one another because, like you rightly point out, our circumstances are all quite varied and unique.

      My point was that although there are circumstances that we cannot control, giving up under the guise of “bad luck” helps no one, especially those who find themselves in bad situations. I believe that the very large majority of us have more control over our lives than we care to admit or even realize. That doesn’t mean we control everything, and I tried to make that point clear.

      Thanks for reading, my friend!

      • Hey Steve, I like the exchange of ideas, my dissent on this point is not personal. I always find it interesting (or disingenuous) when people reply to one post saying “Yes, we’re so fortunate and lucky” and reply to another post like this one saying “We made our own luck, 100%!. I’m interested in true ideas, not blog popularity. We can disagree sometimes and still be virtual friends 🙂

        • Steve says:

          “We can disagree sometimes and still be virtual friends” – Beautiful, Rich! I wish more people held your perspective on life. 🙂

  3. rjack1201 says:

    I retired early at 52 due to about 30% luck and 70% effort.

    Lucky Stuff:
    1) My parents were frugal and taught me to be frugal.
    2) I married a frugal wife even though that had little to do with why I married her.
    3) I became a software engineer because I loved it, but it was luck that it became a high-demand job.

    Effort Stuff:
    1) I saved a lot of retirement money when I was younger.
    2) I always lived well within my means.
    3) I studied investing and invested well.
    4) I did freelance consulting which was much more lucrative than just a job.
    5) I ate well and exercised to stay healthy which made it easier to work hard and be happy.
    6) I worked hard to prepare our house for sale so that we could get a good sales prices.
    7) I downsized into a much smaller apartment.
    8) I sold my car so that we only have one now. Mr. Freaky Frugal car is a 2009 Honda Fit – not a fancy luxury vehicle.

  4. SR says:

    Great motivation for first thing on a Monday morning. I was cranky when I got to the office because it’s a beach day and I’m here. But, you know what? It’s my fault I’m here. Good reminder to just stick to the plan and eventually I’ll be at the beach on a beautiful Monday morning.

  5. Amy Blacklock says:

    I get what you are trying to say here and agree. We are all in charge of our own lives and for those that wait for something to happen to them or for them, they’ll always be waiting. For those that choose to make things happen, it will.

    As others have pointed out…yes there are places in this world where terrible things are happening, things I can’t even comprehend and I am extremely grateful for being born in the U.S. But we don’t get to choose where we are born or when. Are we “lucky” to be born here? Yes. So then don’t take that for granted. Don’t think luck is going to continue to give you something or make you something in life. You have to show up and do. And…”give a shit about your future.” There are a lot more people than just early retirement blog readers that need to hear this and I will continue to share this message.

    • Steve says:

      “Are we “lucky” to be born here? Yes. So then don’t take that for granted. Don’t think luck is going to continue to give you something or make you something in life.” – Incredibly well said, Amy. And you’re right, we were very fortunate to have been born in a prosperous, opportunity-rich country. Now, do something about it. Make it work for you.

    • The Tepid Tamale says:

      Amy, I agree with you. I see Steve’s point. I have been born into a better circumstance than just about anyone else in the world. You could call this ‘luck’. But, now that I am here, in this circumstance, what am I doing with it? Am I achieving my goals or lamenting the fact that others seem to be while I am not. (I have been falling into the latter lately). I have been given a tremendous opportunity, I need to make the best of it! At that point, it’s not luck, it’s all me. Then, the next step, if I am fortunate to be born where I am (Buffet’s ovarian lottery), while others are not. Should all my goals be about me, or should I also help others out?

      • Hi TTT, appreciate your comment. As to your philosophical question “Should all my goals be about me, or should I also help others out?” My take is that we indeed help others if we are able, we just need to remember to put our own oxygen masks on first. Now let’s go achieve some goals! 🙂

  6. Be careful – no one likes to hear it is there fault. It’s much more popular to blame someone or something else lately. :-\

  7. tntcomfort says:

    Agreed, most of it comes down to the choices you make. My brother likes to believe I am lucky, he has dubbed it “Troy Luck” but the reality is I had to make a choice and do something before the “Troy Luck” kicked in.

    Small example, I win stuff (TV, Pistol, cash, etc) now and then, however, I wouldn’t have won anything had I not entered the contest.

    Big example, I do not believe luck was involved in my early retirement or financial independence, I had to choose to have a career, save money, be frugal, etc. FIRE is a result of the choices I made.

  8. People will come back at you with “BUT WHAT ABOUT XYZ BAD THING?????” What they’re missing is that there is a binary: things we can control and things we can’t. By removing the things we can’t from our list of things to worry/complain about, and making the changes we need to in the sphere of things we can control, I’d be so bold as to say everyone would see a marked improvement in their lives and in their progress towards whatever goals they have.

    The comparison of “lucky compared to people in X country” or “lucky compared to Y rich person” is pointless. The real comparison is between where we are today vs where we could be tomorrow depending on the choices we make in the realm that we can control. That’s all anyone ever has, anywhere in the world and at any time in human history.

    • I’m not missing that binary at all. Of course there are things one can control and things one can’t control. Everyone agrees on that.

      But the claim being made goes farther, and it is this: if you don’t achieve your goal, it’s your fault, you’re on your ass, and your excuses are bullshit. With 99% certainty.

      I’m sorry, it’s a good sound bite but it’s simply not true, and it’s not true at a higher rate than 1%. While this may be a good motivational tactic, it’s certainly not true of people who have been genuinely unlucky. You can’t possibly project your ability to control your circumstances with everyone everywhere. Even a slightly humble person will admit that luck has plenty to do with success.

      • Rich, I think your point is an important and interesting one, but I’d just challenge what “success” means in those relative contexts. If success means bettering your circumstances by doing what you can and not falling back on excuses and fatalism with regards to your lot in life relative to others… then I think that’s actually within everyone’s reach.

        • Fair enough, I appreciate the reply Expat. And I’m jealous of someone who lives in Dublin, so now I really can’t let your comment stand. (just kidding)

          I guess I’ve seen plenty of situations where people are not even in a position to make excuses because they had nothing to start with in the first place. For me, personally, I know I have no excuse because I’ve had plenty of advantages in life. My point is not about me. I’m in the no excuses camp, as a practical matter.

          I’m asking myself why I even feel the need to make the point about bad luck, and here’s why. I think if we take this view to far, it impacts how we view other people, and how we’d choose to help (or not help). If we hold the view that 99% of excuses are bad ones and everyone can shut up and fix themselves, well ok. Most likely we will view people who are really struggling as bringing it on themselves and not really deserving consideration. Lazy asses full of bullshit, right? These aren’t my words, they were the words in the post. It’s an option.

          But if we view luck as at least a partial factor — which I’d argue that it is, in all cases — we’ll tend to be more humble about our own successes and less disdainful of others’ failures. That’s why I think it matters, besides the fact that it also rings true in my experience. Thanks for the online tussle.

          • You make a good point, and I think it’s always a delicate balance between, what will we call it? Stoicism? and compassion. The reminder to practice more no-excuses Stoicism on ourselves, and more compassion towards others, is a welcome one. Thanks for that. 🙂

    • Steve says:

      Thanks, GracefullyExpat! You’re hit the nail on the head that there is no use comparing us, in well-developed first world nations, to those in the slums. Of course there is no comparison. Of course those people did not ASK to be born in the slums. I think we can all agree, there.

      This is about achieving goals…especially long term. Achieving some semblance of success, and “success” is incredibly relative and unique to all of us. Our goals will always be different from those in other parts of the world.

  9. I actually do believe in luck and believe it weighs heavily. Where you were born, what you were taught as a kid, ect. All luck that influence your future… But… “Luck favors the prepared”. Everyone gets a bone of luck from time to time, even the most unlucky person. The key is being ready and willing to take advantage of that luck and to mitigate the unlucky parts. For most people and most situations I do believe there is a way to be prepared to take advantage of luck. That’s where determination and drive come in (full disclaimer: life threating illnesses and the like are partially mitigatable but still luck. That’s the small exception type area)

  10. Acastus says:

    You are a little hard on people who draw the short straw in life. A lot more people than you realize get the short end of the stick. Example: there are over 50 million in the US with a disability, whether born with it or got it later on. Some can still work, but some cannot. So, for those that really get dumped on, we need to show a little compassion.

    For the other 80% of workers, and some of the above, you certainly have much more control of your fate than you think. Making smart choices can easily shave 10% from your expenses. Millions less fortunate live on less than you do. If you devote some effort to the problem, you can probably shave 20-30%. Then you can invest the difference. The magic of living on less adds to you nest egg and lowers how much you ultimately need. It really does work.

    • Eileen says:

      Yup — all I could think about reading this was my sister who had a severely handicapped child and how she was a stay at home mom and her husband worked a career at a fortune 100 company (though not white collar) his entire career to maintain the benefits that allowed them to care for her w/o going completely broke. He retired at 60 (not sure his body would have tolerated the job/hours much beyond that) with a pension and got to spend time with his daughter before her passing.

      Sometimes the goals are just to get thru the day/week/year when you are getting curve balls all the time.

  11. caren magill says:

    A harsh reality, but very true. We make our own opportunities and our small, seemingly insignificant decisions make up the results of our life. That said, there are things that are unforeseen as well, like a sickness that wipes out a life savings, or 9/11 that kills a business or even a whole industry. There are things you almost can’t prepare for, but those are less common then what we’re talking about here. For the most part, we determine our destiny.

  12. I LOVE this! I am so tired of whiny ass people making excuses for their lot in life. They believe in an external locus of control – that their bad ‘luck’ is due to things out of their control. If they got drunk, lit up a cigarette, fell asleep and their house burned down, well that is just because they are unlucky.

    If someone doesn’t have a job (and wants one) and isn’t hustling their butt off to obtain it and instead is at home binge watching TV saying they can’t find a job – well, whose fault is it?

    Take responsibility. Work towards what you want. Stop making excuses. The way to obtain what you want is within you. Have an internal locus of control – that you make things happen to you. All your previous choices have led to this exact moment of you reading this. They can lead you anywhere else you want with enough effort.

    It was like when I first started out on Steemit.com – I was unknown and hardly making any money with my posts. I knew I could do it and I never stopped working at it. Soon people started noticing my work and my posts began to make money. Now 10 months later that side hustle has earned me $26,000 in cryptocurrency!

    No one but me is responsible for my success.

  13. I see it very often, there’re two problems with people who can’t don’t achieve goals. They’re either don’t work enough, or they are not choosing THEIR goals. Is it great to be FI at 35 and drive across the country? That’s amazing.
    Can I do it? Yes, probably I could.
    Do I wan’t to do it? Not at all, I don’t want to live in an RV with 2 kids.

    Am I a bad person because I am not retired at 35? Or maybe I didn’t work hard enough? No, of course not. I have my own goals that are different then other people’s dreams/goals.

    • Steve says:

      “Am I a bad person because I am not retired at 35? Or maybe I didn’t work hard enough? No, of course not. I have my own goals that are different then other people’s dreams/goals.” – That’s exactly right. I don’t ask that anyone compares their goals or successes to mine. My lifestyle is only right for ME, not necessarily for anyone else. The second that we compare ourselves to other people is when we begin casting judgment, which is wholly unhealthy for all of us.

  14. Agreed. Thanks for sharing. It’s sometimes tough to give tough love. Because you know people will get pissed. Some will at least. It comes with the territory. But a lot of people just need a swift kick in the pants for some of this stuff to sink in. I’m a good example of someone who’s had nothing. Came from nothing. Immigrated to the US to pursue the American Dream. And guess what? The American Dream is still alive. Just sheer rule of law, freedom, and the business infrastructure is all very favorable here in the US. I don’t think people understand how rough it is in other places in the world.

  15. Mrs. BITA says:

    I agree that no matter how bad your luck is, chances are that you can set some goal and work hard to achieve it. Depending on how badly life chooses to fuck you though, some goals are simply out of reach for some people unless someone helps them out. I’m living the double income tech salary life in the Silicon Valley. For me, personally, if I fail to achieve my goals I will have nobody to blame but myself. For hordes of other people all over the globe though, what they need to achieve their (probably much more modest goals) is more a helping hand than a swift kick in the pants.

  16. But Dude, you could be driving a really awesome Corvette!! (Wink).

  17. weenie says:

    I do believe in luck and I believe you can ‘make’ your own luck by taking advantages of opportunities. If you dismiss opportunities because you don’t think you will win or succeed, then you will never win or succeed.

    I was ‘lucky’ to come across MMM by accident! 🙂

  18. Mr. Tako says:

    I’m living proof that you don’t need to have a “good lot in life” or have high-paying employment to retire early.

    Hell, I hardly had steady employment during my saving years, and I still managed it.

    Anybody can do it if they set their mind to it.

  19. Amber says:

    YES! This post is perfect. I absolutely cannot stand it when people whine about what they either want but don’t have, or about how xyz have happened to them so they were doomed from the start. Everyone should understand that they are in control of their own life and that being prepared for the unknown (car trouble, job loss, medical expenses) is part of it!

    • Steve says:

      The unknowns are very much a part of life – no doubt. Some of us have it easier than others, but that shouldn’t give anyone a free license to simply give up under the guise of “bad luck”.

  20. DadsDollarsDebts says:

    Success is definitely preparedness meeting opportunity. I have been fortunate to have both. For some, as stated above, the opportunity is low and the opportunity for preparedness is low. It does not mean that the person can not make it, but it is exponentially harder than how I had it.

    I do agree with you- we have the opportunity to improve our lives. If we are living in moderate luxury, then we can make changes to improve life the way that we would like.

  21. I read your post and am still waiting to get pissed off 😀 Just kidding!

    I think everything is about mindset. Sure, it’s not easy to save when you make minimum wage and have a family to feed, but that doesn’t mean you can’t find other ways to earn more and at least attempt to reach early retirement.

    Like I keep telling everyone, if my boyfriend and I managed to live off of 1 income, pay off both our debts and save enough to buy a car, anything’s possible 😀

  22. Miss Mazuma says:

    Some great comments here! I think taking the fortune you are given (such as being born in the US) and making the most of it is the key point here. When people waste their own potential they are doing a disservice to the communities around them. There will always be a ton of variables for one persons situation compared to another’s, but a great majority have the chance to make more of themselves. Go out there and BE somebody!

  23. People try to blame others for their failure. Failing to plan is a plan to fail. We do control our destiny. There are those rare circumstances that prevent capable people from being successful. But for the most part, people can be successful and reach their goals if they put their mind to it.

    Thanks for the inspiring article.

    • Steve says:

      “But for the most part, people can be successful and reach their goals if they put their mind to it.” – Exactly right. Most of us have WAY more control over our lives than we care to admit. 🙂

  24. I don’t think the discussion should be what percent luck vs choices make up success now that I think about it.

    You can’t control luck and for those who make excuses for their financial misdoings – luck is their #1 go to excuse. Which is total BS because that’s the magic word you can use to feel better about anything. We should go with choices because it’s the only proactive thing we can do. No more excuses!!!

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