Retire Early, Enjoy Life Now

I have wanted to retire early since I first tasted the awful flavor of working (for someone else), but eventually I realized that retirement isn’t what I ultimately want.  Not your traditional retirement, anyway, defined as follows:

Retirement: Growing old and sitting on your ass in Florida waiting to die, eating the blue plate special for dinner at 4 pm at the strip mall diner. – Oxford English Dictionary. 

No thanks, OUT on that.

I am an optimist, but I know that old age and the hyperbolic scenario described above are conditions that even optimism won’t save me from, so I am rethinking retirement as an end-of-life event. This is not a new idea. Young adults in Europe traditionally take a year off to travel the world after university. Regardless, I think it is a challenge for Americans to think about giving up a year’s worth of earnings in exchange for a year’s worth of unmatched life experience.

The logical argument for rethinking retirement.

Saving up while working your balls off for someone else for 40 years in the hope that you will enjoy the last 20 years of your life cautiously spending your deflated earnings on the meager entertainment that your body can still handle is not a calculated/smart decision, it’s just the accepted way of doing things.  Deflation is going to hit not only my pocketbook at the age of 60 to 80, it’s also going to hit my capacity to have fun.


(money earned over 40 years) x ( chance of surviving ) x ( deflation money ) x ( deflation fun) = expected enjoyment value of retirement

I personally have never met an old man that is happier than an energetic 20-something; old people just can’t do as much because the older body doesn’t have the capacity. I’m sure there are exceptional persons who challenge this rule, but I’ll bet that few will break it (the crazy juice man with the fire hazard eyebrows comes to mind).


Hi, I’m Jack LaLanne

The other reality that pushes me to rethink retirement, beyond decreased capacity for enjoyment and decreased spending power (due to inflation and lifespan uncertainty), is that there are absolutely no guarantees that I will even make it to the traditional retirement age.  Too many people die tragically before age 60 for me to believe with certainty that I will make it there unscathed and ready to finally enjoy the fruits of my tireless labor over the past 40 years.  These thoughts have led me to consider the alternative to the standard path toward retirement: mini-retirements.

Lets get cliché for a second:  Life is about the journey, not the destination.

Retirement is often discussed as a destination, an end goal.  This end goal is the justification of 40 years of work endured as a “means to an end.” I’ve already stated above that I don’t see retirement as one of my goals, so I have no justification for the 40 years of uninterrupted work.  My goal is to live a life full of fantastic experiences and memories with my amazing friends and family and end up wherever that journey takes me. There is no destination; the journey is over when I’m gone from here.  My goal is to maximize the journey, and mini-retirements are how I think I can squeeze as much life out of life as possible.

My plans

I’ve already taken my first mini-retirement. I spent 4 months in Brazil when I was 20, surfing, learning Portuguese, traveling, and drinking heavily. I plan to take my second mini-retirement with my wife in 2012.  We are planning on traveling to places that we will not be able or comfortable going to when we are older and have children.  We also want to go to destinations that we could not easily visit on more traditional vacations when we return to the US for more traditional living circumstances.  We plan to take a year off from our jobs for this journey and will be teaching, volunteering, relaxing, eating, bonding, and learning about ourselves and other cultures and hopefully developing a perspective on life that we couldn’t have gotten without going beyond our comfort zone.  To reacclimatize in 2013, we plan to come back to Chicago to settle ourselves and then figure out what the next chapter holds.

Thought experiment

I encourage you to try this thought experiment: Consider for 30 seconds why you are planning for a traditional retirement. If you are confident that the traditional retirement is best for you, great–just have a reason.  If you want to change your mind and take a mini-retirement, drop a comment and let me know–we can meet up in 2012!  Or, if you know someone who wants to sublet a furnished unit  on Chicago’s north side on the cheap, let me know, because I know a cool guy who needs a tenant…

If these ideas sound familiar, that’s because this post is heavily influenced by Tim Ferriss’s book The 4-hour Workweek.  If you haven’t read it, and this was interesting in the slightest to you, I suggest picking it up.  If you hated this post, don’t bother; you will think it’s idealistic tripe.

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