Late to the Game

I “early retired” aged 50, and still put the term in inverted commas because (a) I never really convinced myself I had retired and (b) I went back to work a year after the event, so maybe I never really did retire in the true sense of the word.  And (c) does being aged 50 really qualify as “early retired” when for many years, that was quite a common exit point from the world of work? In fact, I was really surprised to learn that the government only changed the rules to make minimum pensionable age 55 from 50 in 2010!

I reflected on this subject as I was listening to the Mad Fientist’s most recent podcast where he was interviewing Mrs ONL from the Our Next Life blog. Toward the end of the hour, Mrs ONL made this cogent observation:

….my advice is, every day of freedom that you can steal back from 65 is a win. And so even if you are retiring at 64 ½ or 62, that’s still huge. And that’s still a lot more life that you get to live on your own terms than most people will ever get to say. Or just even being able to retire on your own terms is huge.”

She also commented on something I’ve noticed about the competitive nature of Retiring Early, where you now have bloggers claiming to have attained FIRE in their twenties. Soon enough you’ll be hearing some blowhard down the pub spouting “Yes, as a foetus I implemented the 4% rule and effectively retired”. To be fair, in Britain I think that’s a long way off. Occasionally during my year out I did tentatively mention to peers that I was “retired” and half expected to get the response, “Oh, I could have done that, but I just wasn’t ready for it in my fifties”. I expected this to happen much more frequently than it did. Coming to think about it, I can only recall the one occasion where I got this response and that was from a bloke whom, if he hadn’t reacted in that way, I’d have been devastated. He’s one of these guys who, when you tell him your car had a flat tyre on the motorway, will comment, “Oh yes, did I tell you about the time I had three tyres simultaneously blow out on me on the M25, when I was doing 98 mph? In the rain? And when I pulled over, Kylie Minogue stopped to give me a hand to change the tyres?” And he’d be quite serious.

The most common response was some sort of positive rejoinder accompanied by a kind of puzzled look, as if people were wondering if you were winding them up. (Not surprising when half the time I was wondering if I was winding myself up!) Nobody really asked for any further detail, preventing me from spreading the word about passive investing, Index Trackers and the list of inspirational websites that had helped me decide that Early Retirement was the lifestyle choice I wanted to experience.

I now find myself asking what I learned from that year and what I’ll do differently as I approach – or am forced to approach – my next retirement date. The first thing I think I’ve learned is to absolutely have a structure to the days, preferably written down in a spreadsheet, of what I want to do and when I want to do it. Definitely the most difficult retirement days were when I drifted through them, nothing to do and all day to do it, when walking to the local Co-op to buy a loaf and a pint of milk seemed to be a worthwhile objective. This was particularly true in the afternoons between about one o’clock and six in the evening, when I found it hard to motivate myself to do anything. I’d generally spend a lot of that time aimlessly surfing the internet in the vain hope that I’d find a hobby or pastime to occupy myself with that might also earn me a wee bit of cash on the side – then it’d feel more “worthwhile”. But if earning money was partly what I wanted to do, then why didn’t I just get back into the kind of career I once had and (generally) really enjoyed? In the end, that’s what I did.

It’s clear to me now how much routine and structure were important to my days and it now dawns upon me how, for almost thirty years, work provided it. Work also helped define the days that you weren’t at it  – weekends were special, holidays an oasis in the desert. Before that, it was school, with your scheduled timetable, the play time bell and the ever longed for summer holidays. It’s not really a surprise, or it shouldn’t be, that when that structure vanishes and every day is like Sunday, then it’s quite a shock to the system. It’s therefore not a failure to seek a structure to replace what you’ve known for literally most of your life to that point. In fact, it’s almost a requirement that you replace the old solid routine and structure with one that’s equally robust.

So what I learned was that it doesn’t really matter how late, or early, to the game you are if you’re really not prepared for it. In fact, the more months and years you have to start laying the foundations for outside interests, hobbies and pastimes that are an alternative to work, the better it will be. Don’t make the mistake of waiting until you have time in retirement to work on all those things because, in my experience, it just ain’t as simple as that.


18 thoughts on “Late to the Game

  1. I don’t think 50 was a commonplace exit from work, although for a period in the late 1990s a lot fo companies cut out their dead wood by offering voluntary redundancy with no pension actuarial reduction, shifting their redundancy costs onto their final salary pension schemes which were in surplus at the time. Oops…

    I struggle to see how anyone can get through life without some sorts of non-work hobbies and pastimes 😉 Sometimes I suspect perhaps having children makes the difference, which I would not know being child-free. But then I think back to my neighbours and relatives when I was a child in the 1960s and even these working-class guys often had hobbies even though they had kids – one fellow made models out of matchsticks and several were into carpentry. I can only make things out of wood for the garden, I can’t get anything accurate/straight enough to be in the house 😉 I do suspect having children is much more all-encompassing these days, whereas in the 1960s and 70s it was something you did rather than a huge portion of what you are.

    It is also possible that work has also gone that way, it’s a larger part of who you are. When my Dad was off the clock he was off the clock, so he had to find something else to do/think about. Work spreads across the employee’s time much more with smartphones and email, plus perhaps it is a feature of white-collar work more widely.

    I wholeheartedly agree that you should start preparing for retirement while still working – I had a runout of three years and getting one’s social circle right (and knowing what to keep and what to shed) is important. Shared interests are part of how you get to meet people after work – particularly for men who tend to bond over shared activities – well, those over a certain age, anyway. After all, work is also a shared interest, of sorts.


    • Hi Ermine – you make an interesting observation about having kids. They don’t half suck time out of your life and the pressure to be a “good parent” is intense. I felt this especially because I was away from home a lot for two and three days at a time. Living in hotels isn’t good for cultivating hobbies either – in my twenties I was really into cooking, for example, but that went with the career. Still, I refuse to regret the working life I chose because, if nothing else, it’s given me so many options to enjoy now, fifteen years before many people of my age will have that choice.


  2. (Sorry if this is a repost….Wordpress likes to “eat” my comments(possibly because I have more than one WordPress account and I was trying to use a “new” one?)…so please delete if it looks repetitive)

    I liked your post a lot. It was philosophical–as opposed to dealing with the mechanics of investing–and very relatable for me. Loved the image of the fetus and the guy with the blown tires. (And enjoyed adding that last sentence just to savor/savour our differences across the Atlantic.)

    Anyways, your description of your FIRE afternoons depressed me. That needs to be a priority for you to fix before the next go around. And, based on another recent post of yours, I have a suggestion: walking. But with a twist. Do it somewhere else.

    I spent last week in Mallorca on a solo trip; the days revolved around nice hikes. Most other hikers were Brits (not Germans or Spaniards)—they tell me you can get to Mallorca for under 80 GBP return ticket. Combine that with cheap AirBnBs and tapas and sunshine…well, life doesn’t get much better.

    Besides, you would get so much more than walking out of it. I find the change of locale often freshens my thinking about some longer term issue. You will meet other Brits on the hikes and in the AirBnBs. You might find a new hobby in biking, or art musuems, or pre-Roman history!

    The point is that it will shake things up for you. Gather ye rosebuds.


    • Hi Ed, I have a few ideas not a million miles from what you are suggesting. The best thing about retirement was getting out into the fresh air a lot more, and I was fitter than I’d been for years. Going back to the desk all day was a real shock to the system and I’m trying hard now to keep my fitness levels up in preparation for quitting the workplace and still being in shape to do it!


  3. P.S. to Jim — Yes, it looks like when I used my other WordPress account, those were not posting. I understand why: you want to filter spam posts from “unverified” WordPress accounts. But WordPress doesn’t give any indication of that….you just don’t ever see your post. Sigh….


  4. Your last paragraph sums it up well. I’m about to go, in my early forties (not a boast!), and reckon I have enough in the way of interests to keep me occupied, at least for the first few years. Maybe in time, I’ll need to try other things to keep me fulfilled, but I’ll deal with that if and when it arises.


    • Good for you Scott and good luck. I think I was thoroughly mentally unprepared for retirement when it was thrust upon me, and I partly started this blog to begin working through the challenges I was finding. It’s not that I wasn’t enjoying myself and I find it quite hard to explain what it was that was bugging me about achieving my goal – still do!


  5. It’s easy to think that retiring at 50 isn’t ‘early’ when you see all the blogs of millennials looking to retire at 40.

    In my view, 50 is definitely early though I’d say anything before 60 is still early – what’s the normal retirement age in the UK anyway, 65?


  6. I enjoy your thoughts and reflections on the experience of early retirement very much – thank you. I started planning my early retirement in my late 20’s and achieved it last year at the age of 57. I’m now 10 months in, and much of what you write resonates with me. I think that in an earlier post you talked about how those of us who carefully planned for early retirement may be very focused and driven, and therefore not necessarily suited to the realities of what life would be like post working. It’s rather ironic that the very people who plan for this are perhaps not always suited to it.

    I would add one further thought to the debate: in addition to the ‘soft’ planning of cultivating hobbies etc, we also need to think about our emotional and mental health. Taking retirement (whether early or not) is a huge life transition, one we have not previously encountered or coped with as individuals. We therefore have no map which guides us. Whilst I am enjoying my experience of leaving work early, and have no regrets, I also recognise that I am dealing with issues of bereavement and identity. My previous experience of bereavement was that the process takes at least two years (loss of parents), and can be unpredictable: it certainly changes you in profound ways. I believe the same may be true about adjusting to a retired life – we need to give ample time and space for the changes to happen inside us, and in doing so recognise that there will be both joys and pain as we change. If early retirement doesn’t always feel good that doesn’t necessarily mean that we made a bad decision, it just means that we are adjusting, and that feelings of discomfort are just as much part of this process as the euphoria we felt in the early days.

    For me this gives context to the days when it all just feels rather weird, as well as the times when I’m truly grateful for having made the decision to go – which thankfully outweighs any perceived negatives.

    I hope that this contribution to the debate is helpful, and thanks for consistently thoughtful and stimulating posts. I’ll be fascinated to watch how this all pans out for you.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thanks for that thoughtful post Tony and I agree with it completely. In addition, retirement doesn’t just happen to you, it affects everyone around you and some (spouse!) a lot more than others. I can’t deny that I had a sense of “being someone” at work, with a defined role and contribution, which switched to “Who am I going to be?!” in retirement. When that happens overnight, as it did to me, it was a big mental and emotional change that I hadn’t really prepared for. At least not in a deep way.


  7. My latest retirement wheeze, wiki editing. It satisfies my urge to organise and do computer stuff, doesn’t need to ever be completed, and if you pick the right wiki (not wikipedia, their editors are anal) its congenial. I alternate that with the outdoors conservation volunteering and soon gardening again.

    I’m a bit puzzled by your suggestion you need a spreadsheet to organise your time, perhaps you need to join a monastery, and get summoned by bells!


    • I first saw the spreadsheet time management system in a Stephen Covey book (The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People). How I laughed scornfully at people who would need to do that. He had even allocated time to “Talk to the children”. To me it’s more about writing stuff down – it could be a notebook, a Word document, whatever. I find that if I make the effort to write a task down, there’s more chance of me doing it. But I’m not at the stage where I’m allocating every half hour of the day, a la Covey…


  8. I’ve learned I am very much a structure-girl. I have a daily “to-do” list, that includes everything from the mediocre to the steps in the big goals I’ve set for myself. I “plan” the projects out, kinda like work – even when that project is moving my sister-in-law into a retirement home. I set quarterly goals consistent with my life vision. That’s what I’ve found works for me – helping me replace the structure I had at work. I’m still working on the identity bit… by I’ve learned to love the exploration of new things. From yoga and spirituality to cooking classes and blogging. And picking up an occasional consulting gig. I’m becoming a hyphenated identity. I didn’t have any of this in place when I retired early, so its all still work in progress. But I’m enjoying it… and no plans to return to full time employment.


  9. An enjoyable read Jim, thanks!

    I’m pretty confident of being able to fill my days with fun /meaningful stuff but then with no long term experience at the FI life it’s really hard to say.
    I think we differ very slightly in that I do like a schedule but I prefer it to be a very rough one and I strongly dislike any other person setting it that isn’t me.

    Love the description of the serial bullshitter. I’ve met a handful of people over my life in that camp, one fellow I used to work with as a young lad would always outdo our “funny night out” stories by an order of magnitude. I mean more crazy stuff happened to this guy in a month than most people experience in a life time, the life of a computer salesman, it would have made a great film! Another guy at Uni was the classic “played for England schoolboys rugby but I did my knee in” type. Although when quizzed further on what position he played he tripped up and exposed the (already obvious) lie. It was great fun baiting him to spin us a yarn then totally picking it apart.

    Funny at the time but also very tragic that people feel they have talk such rubbish to gain social approach!


  10. Great article. It speaks to the ‘is that it?’ feeling that comes with retirement.

    I am now 5 months into a planned retirement and still feeling in transition. I had very much enjoyed my work and looked forward to picking up a couple of related projects to work on. That coupled with some writing and long neglected interests was the plan.

    It is working out, and I have a couple of projects on the go related to my experience,but I still feel uncomfortable. I am not working with the intensity I did when in employment, and tend to finish the day with a nagging feeling of not much achieved. The rational response is that I don’t have to achieve anything, but it is hard to get that through to my subconscious.

    I am going to put a bit more structure into my days by making appointments with myself to do specific things rather than hoping for inspiration to strike in the moment. Then when I am used to retirement I can perhaps achieve the spontaneity I had hoped for.


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