Are you planning to retire early? Will you probably regret it?
What I learned in the first year after my early retirement
I love reading all these articles on medium.com on self development and the art of living. They really are inspiring. All these bright ideas, checklists, consistent morning routines and so forth. Most of the authors sound very energetic, they are starting and building a career or an entrepreneural venture.
Much less I find about the other end of the story, about finishing something, about letting go. E.g., who on medium is reflecting on early retirement? Very few, probably. I am one of them and like to share my experience. Why? Because everyone here will hopefully reach this state too.
After decades of a corporate career on C-level, two years ago I finally reached some point of ennui and fatigue. In business life, I thought, I have seen it all, nothing more to learn. I didn’t want to go on with doing (almost) the same any longer. But I had no idea of how to proceed.
So I took a sabbatical and for a few months I was hiking through the Alps. I wanted to brood over what to do with the rest of my life. And, by the way, my first learning was that I could walk all day without thinking at all! But nevertheless I finally came to a decision, and I retired, at the age of 59.
This is now about one year ago, so it’s time for a résumé: what did I learn so far? There is a lot I enjoy in this new setting, some things I miss, some things I don’t.
What I enjoy:
Having enough time to prepare anything I do. I am a strong believer in quality, whatever you do. And so this is probably the most awkward remembrance of my corporate life as an executive: rushing between meetings, often being late, colleagues waiting for me, for my inputs, my decisions — and me, while already talking, trying to figure out what the meeting was all about. Quality needs time. Time I didn’t have, but I do have now.
Nature — small things like walking through the garden in the morning, barefoot in the grass, moist with dew. Or at night staring into a sky full of stars.
Being free to act on impulse almost anytime: to take advantage of the bright weather and go for a hike, or to drink a beer with a friend I ran into accidentally, or change plans anytime.
Reading, reading, reading — not only technical books, and having time to reflect.
What I miss:
Cooperation — working with a team of bright people, struggling together for a solution, constructively fighting for arguments, finding an agreement
Tough challenges, that make me proud about achievements
Creating something that is actually used by people: when I was CEO of a software company, I could see how our customers used our products, understand what they like, what they don’t, how we can better support them, how we can improve. This is real feedback, real (not only verbal) appreciation.
What I don’t miss (and partly surprisingly so):
The power to decide: I have learned that decisions that I made just based on my authoritative position, without taking my time to really convince people (yes, I frequently did so!), are not sustainable, not real.
Compliments, invitations to fancy events, where it’s only my business rank that is addressed, not me as a person
Being «needed» by colleagues and clients
What are my new challenges now:
I have to intentionally structure my days: there is a kind of gravity that slows me down and lets inertia flourish, if I don’t have some minimum time structure. So I make plans, checklists, deadlines, even for not so important actions. Is this something I still will have to overcome?
My experience is sometimes blocking me from new ventures: it shows what usually works, but also, what usually does not work — and this constrains innovative ideas, leaves me biased in many areas.
So — it was a year of both, surprises and expected changes. What are my learnings? What advice can I give to people who fancy retiring early?
Actually, I did not anticipate very well what I would miss and what I would enjoy. As with many things in life, you cannot really prepare.
Maybe the best advice I can give is:
Invest time and energy into networking. Even if you think right now, that’s a waste of time. It still is the best source for getting to new opportunities and ventures. And as we say in my home country: «A bisserl was geht immer» (I bet you figure out, what this means). And start early, because a bearing network is not built overnight.
And don’t mix business contacts with real friendships. Work consistently on building both.
But I am just at the beginning of my new life as a retired person. Things will Change, most likely.
Would appreciate to hear your thoughts on this.