I often refer to myself as having “retired early” but, if I’m honest, my age isn’t really living up to the concept as envisioned by the FIRE community. I was fifty two when I “retired” through circumstances that were forced upon me by my company at the time – effectively I was made redundant. At this point I realised I probably didn’t have to go back to work if I didn’t want to, largely due to the combination of a severance payment, my many years of saving and investing and the fact that I could cash my first pension at fifty five. I had to cover three year’s worth of living expenses, but I felt that I could do this providing I could get my head around the concept of starting early on a “deaccumulation” of my own funds. Or, in other words, starting to spend the money that I’d previously saved.
But, aged fifty two, was that really “early” retirement? After all, it wasn’t so long ago that people could cash in their pensions at fifty, so by that yardstick I wasn’t an early retiree at all. Compared to the state pension age of sixty seven I was well ahead of the game, but by other measures what I had achieved could be placed in a different perspective. In some areas of the West of Scotland, for example, which is where I was born and brought up, life expectancy for men can be fifty four. You don’t even want to begin thinking about your life span on those terms, but once you’re over fifty questions over just how long you could and should expect to enjoy your pension start to recur in your mind with increasing regularity.
Once you’re in your fifties, you are stuck between the forked stick of realism and denial. You’re in your fifth decade. If that’s middle aged, then it’s at the far end of the scale. On the other hand, psychologically, you just can’t accept the fact that the years have gone by. You’ll swear blind that you just don’t feel any different than you did thirty years ago and thus,by extension, you must easily have another thirty years left on this mortal coil.
It’s funny how your perceptions and preconceptions about age change over the years. I distinctly remember being eighteen and seeing a poster in a disco advertising an “Over Twenty-Fives” night. I was disgusted that such elderly swingers were even allowed out. I was fed up of the oldies (people in their forties, like my parents) telling me that the years would flash past in the blink of an eye when I spent languid days at Uni or torpid hours working in bars over the summer holidays. I’d no idea that those oldies were actually understating the case.
Everyone over forty will recognise the years speeding by and it only accelerates from there. Recently, the biggest shock for me on hearing David Bowie had died was the realisation that the album “Let’s Dance” was released over thirty years ago. Thirty years! If I apply that time frame in reverse from my birth date of 1963, I’m back in the Weimar Republic, witnessing the rise of Hitler and only four years out of the Great Depression. How scary is that?
There’s no doubt now that fifty is the watershed age that forty was for our parents. For our generation, fifty is when “life begins”, but even that is up for debate. I would admit that thirty is relatively young, forty is early middle age and fifty, well, for me it was just another birthday. I certainly didn’t feel all that different from when I turned forty, although I had to acknowledge that my thirtieth birthday was beginning to seem quite a long time ago. My body isn’t quite in the same state of denial, unfortunately, and it is now quite annoying (and frankly perturbing) to find how difficult it is getting down the stairs first thing in the morning. This is despite the fact that according to many measures I’m pretty fit “for a man of my age”.
I may not yet be singing the Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock, and perhaps my “early retirement” wasn’t quite as “early” as it could have been. Fair enough, I’m more than comfortable with that and recognise that I’m in a massively privileged position to even have the debate with myself. I don’t know if I’ll ever be comfortable with how the years are speeding by though, and how impossible it seems to slow them down. All I can do is accept this fact of life and know that I’m not alone in experiencing it – as evidenced by this series of photographs in Reflections on the Past that say much more in pictures than anything that I can put into words.