Allow me to introduce you to an early retiree with 13 years of early retirement experience. For perspective on that timeline, this Dude has been retired longer than I’ve been an anesthesiologist. And the Dude’s not even 50 years old.
Early Retirement Dude was once clean-cut and corporate. But having retired at age thirty-six and being forty-nine now, he looks like he oughtta be leading an Entmoot. He has a wife, a daughter, a cat named Satan, and however many dogs his family happens to be sheltering that week. Oddly, he’s cool with it all.
Early Retirement Doesn’t Have to Suck
I was way too young for Vietnam, but recently during a midnight run on an ill-lit sidewalk I stepped off into a knee-deep rebar-spiked gravel pit that some fudgewit contractor had seen fit to conceal beneath a sheet of grey cement-crusted plastic. A utility excavation?
At any rate, I climbed out of this punji trap and sat on the curb oozing blood and badly in need of a tetanus shot, thinking about what anybody would think about in such circumstances: whether catch-up contributions fall under the IRS 415 limit for qualified retirement savings plans.
Ha-ha. No…what I thought about was that even fitness can kill you. And the realization immediately followed that since retiring in 2005 at age thirty-six, I’ve whipped myself into the best shape of my life…and what exactly did that mean, sitting on the curb with flayed shins??
Well, nobody ever writes about the downsides of FIRE. It’s all high praise of sleeping in and daytime grocery shopping; of rum and hammocks and afternoon quickies, yes?
This being a blog run by a physician—at least I gather he’s a physician because his masthead says “physician”—as well as being a blog about FIRE, the negative effects of FIRE on one’s well-being merit discussion. So let’s discuss them.
FIRE and Self-Discipline
First, FIRE can destroy your self-discipline. Like it or not, I imagine you’re skilled at rising early, attending to your morning toilet, dressing yourself passably, commuting, arriving at your job promptly, etc… You don’t WANT to be doing this stuff at oh-God thirty in the morning…you do it because you’re a self-disciplined professional.
So when you’re no longer a professional, your self-discipline is apt to suffer. You’ll be able to sleep in late, hit the pizza buffet for breakfast, play video games all day, watch hours of coin pusher videos on YouTube, surf social media until your eyeballs char…
But look, don’t believe in New Year’s resolutions. Don’t believe in suddenly committing to an enormous life change and trying to achieve it by willpower alone. That only leads to failure and concomitant guilt. Instead, I recommend you try micro-change—each day completing one or two five-minute tasks that eventually lead to strong, healthy habits.
Like working out. Gyms make money because people join and resolve to go regularly and quit after a few days or weeks. But if you hang a simple set of gymnastics rings in your garage and do a few dips followed by a few burpees twice a day, and gradually increase your reps, you’re gonna gain strength and conditioning whether you notice it or not…and in the near future you’ll be able to use your now-established habit to push yourself into the gym for, say, a thirty-minute workout twice a week. These things have a way of building on each other.
FIRE and Your Social Life
Second, FIRE can blow up your social life. You should NEVER depend on your job for your social life. And yet we do, because the ever-lengthening workday leaves less and less time for building and enjoying more personal and more validating relationships in the few off-hours we have.
Consequently, the majority of those work-based relationships will vanish the moment you FIRE. Back in the day you didn’t have time to socialize outside work, and when you’re gone your friends who are still working won’t either. Leaves a big empty hole.
But if you used to go out drinking with your coworkers a lot, now’s a fine time to cut back. If you have family out-of-state, now’s a fine time to visit. If you want to meet people who share your interests, now’s a fine time to join the local craft guild, the monthly backpacking club, the volunteer group, or whatever. The relationships you’ll build won’t be so evanescent.
And on the subject of relationships:
FIRE and Your Relationship with Your Partner
Third, FIRE can damage your relationship with your SO.
Here’s the example everybody dwells on but nobody brings up: sex. FIRE, as you might expect, gives you a LOT more time for the wubba-wubba. But since no two people are perfectly matched in their sex drives, even minor sexual disconnects can cause major resentment.
The maxim “Improve everything else and the sex will follow” is true, but if you should find yourself in sexual disconnect, how about meeting each other halfway? Here’s an opportunity to practice generosity with your SO. You may not be in the mood but at least be willing to be gotten into the mood…not just for sex, but for any chance to grow closer. And if your partner definitely isn’t having any…OK, maybe next time.
Sheesh, man…this subject puts me in mind of several years ago when I was at the beach and there were all these middle-aged wives in their folding chairs reading—nay, mesmerized by—“Fifty Shades of Grey.”
Meanwhile, of course, their husbands were ogling the college girls. I remember watching and thinking, “Come on, you two…Smith & Wesson sells a damned fine set of nickel-plated handcuffs, and you can buy cheerleader costumes on Amazon for fifty cents a ton…” And I generously shared that joke with my wife, who generously LOL’d. Wow, that was an instructive vacation.
FIRE and Fitness
Fourth, FIRE will wreck your fitness if you let it. I have a very high tolerance for pleasure. As I mentioned, rum & hammocks are a particular vice. But having said that FIRE attacks your self-discipline and that micro-change is a great way to defend it, check this out:
Two weeks ago I conducted a couple of informal social media surveys on that subject and got back answers I wasn’t expecting. My question was, “After retiring early, did your weight change?”I expected people to put on some pounds, and granted there was some selection bias in the responses, but the majority of those who replied said they’d either maintained their weight or gotten leaner…and one case, lost a lot. Went from morbidly obese to a normal body-mass index, in fact. And several said they’d used FIRE to get back into the shape they’d been in college.
So you know what? I’d been selling people short, but I was happy to be proven wrong. Ain’t the FIRE community great?
FIRE and Mental Health
Fifth, and most importantly, FIRE can harm your mental well-being. What? Did I just say that? Escaping toxicity can be toxic?
Yeah, it can. Let me share something I once wrote about how achieving FIRE can rob you of the joy of achieving FIRE.
You wake up in the black hours of the morning and lie there afraid that you peaked a long time ago; that you abandoned your career out of selfishness; that you’re little more than a dilettante scattered thin with too many interests and not enough commitment; that you haven’t found your vocation yet or even done anything that matters; that you never will; that what keeps you from doing so is that you’re too preoccupied with gratifying your own ego to accomplish anything of any meaning; that you’re getting older; that you’re going to die someday and it’ll be too late.
So you get up and come out into the kitchen and get a handful of walnuts to eat and sit down and type stuff like this. And it helps you a little, and eventually you go back to bed.
Again, therapy. But the best way to stop focusing on yourself is…stand back, folks…to stop focusing on yourself.
Sound simpleminded? It’s really not. That statement hearkens back to everything I’ve written in this article: assess yourself, exercise your self-discipline to engage in healthy and productive pastimes, build and/or maintain good relationships, and keep physically fit.
These things help get you past the self-destructive inner dialogue we all suffer from; the kind I shared with you just now. I wish I’d been thinking, I screwed that up, but I got this, this, and this right. So maybe it’s not so bad.
And when you turn down the volume of that little voice, you can hear what goes on outside yourself much better.
Welp…there you have it. I have to split now so I can call the local 311 line and explain to the city works people why concealed punji traps on sidewalks are hazards to public safety and especially mine…so I leave you with this thought: FIRE can indeed suck. It’s up to you to make sure it doesn’t.
[PoF: Thank you for enlightening us with your tips on sucking the suckiness out of early retirement! FIRE is supposed to be life-changing, and we should make sure it changes for the better. If not, we’re obviously better off focusing on FI and leaving out the RE part.
For more monkey pictures and musings from a FIRE veteran, be sure to head on over to visit the Early Retirement Dude]
***If you’re in the Twin Cities, we’ve got FI meetups planned this evening.***
Contrary to popular belief, early retirement isn’t all sunshine, rainbows, and “wubba-wubba.” How do you plan to ensure your retirement doesn’t suck?