The incredible life phases of an early retiree

Published June 1, 2016   Posted in How to Think

Wow, look at all that I am giving up. A pretty good job that allows me to work 100% from home, get paid damn good money and live a relatively stress and carefree life, all the while enjoying a dependable paycheck. What is wrong with me?

Pinterest: Incredible life phases of early retirementI recognize how good I have it. There are a lot of people who would love to be in this position.

And I would be an idiot not to reflect on what exactly I am giving up to achieve financial independence and an early retirement from full-time work. The fact is life doesn’t suck. I have a good job that isn’t going away anytime soon. It’s dependable. My boss is a great guy.

I get to wake up every morning, take a shower and stumble a couple of steps to my computer and start work. No commute. No traffic.

This job allows me to be 100% location independent, and considering our future lifestyle of full-time travel, this very much appears to be a match made in heaven. I get to work from anywhere so long as I have an internet connection, make good money and bring in that almighty paycheck every two weeks.

Do I really want to give all of this up?

Life phases of an early retiree to the rescue!

The future and the past

Anyone who has ever retired from full-time work gets to experience at least two phases of their life. The first phase is the accumulation phase, acquired through full-time jobs and occasional long working hours, and the second becomes what I like to call the freedom phase.

When I consider the position that I am in right now – and especially all that I am giving up, it is helpful to remember that I’m still in the first phase, the phase that demands full-time work in order to pay the bills and save hordes of cash. Sure, this part of my life is going extremely well, but that is also because I actively made the choices necessary for this phase to have turned out relatively awesome.

Most of us have a hell of a lot more control over our lives than we think or care to admit.

But as emotionally-driven human beings, it is natural to second guess the decision to give up everything that we have, all that stuff we bought and those things that we’ve built for ourselves over the years as full-time drones of corporate America.

“I’m in a good place,” you might say. “Yes, I’d love to retire early, but look at what I’ve built for myself. Look at how much money I am making. Do I really want to give this all up?”

In my case, the answer is a resounding “YES”, and the reason is simple. Why prolong the accumulation phase if you have already accumulated?

If the accumulation phase turned out this awesome, it only follows that the freedom phase, which is the easier of the two phases, will turn out even more awesome. In fact, I will ensure that it does.

Over the years, we learn from our mistakes, develop a sense of who we truly are and what makes us tick, and we begin to feel more and more comfortable as people living in society. We find comfort in whatever truly makes us happy and devise a way to maintain a relatively productive life even through building careers, changing jobs, getting married (and divorced), having kids, dogs, buying and selling homes, jury duty, whatever.

Let’s face it: the first phase is the hardest part of life! And if we managed to build such a successful existence for ourselves even throughout the challenges, tribulations and relentless distractions of the accumulation phase, what makes us believe that the freedom phase will be any less awesome? What prevents us from making good decisions here, too?

The steady job, nice paycheck and comfortable working conditions will all go away. And I’m glad to give it all up because the truth of the matter is something truly wonderful. I am not “giving up” what I have built as much as I am transitioning into my freedom phase, and that is the phase of life that I actually want to be in. Badly. It is time for the next step.

I am thankful to have accomplished so much as a mid-30’s schmuck, but those accomplishments are phase one accomplishments. Now it’s time for the next phase of my life, the phase where I reap the rewards from those accomplishments and begin living the life that I truly want to live.

After all, don’t most of us painstakingly go through phase one so we can enjoy phase two? Forget “how good you have it”. Look at the numbers. Consider your goals. If you are prepared to transition into the freedom phase of your life, then you need not feel bad or second guess your decision to give up the niceties of the accumulation phase. You’re moving on. It’s old hat.

Because, almost by definition, the freedom phase will be better – regardless of what you happened to build or the successes that you enjoyed while working full-time for a nameless corporation. Congratulate yourself on a job well done, reward yourself by pounding a gallon of ice cream for dinner, and then begin tackling your new life by putting into place the foundation necessary to achieve similar successes.

Believe me, success will become you in your next phase of life. After all, you’ve become used to success. You made enough mistakes in your life to know how to avoid them in the future. You are comfortable, experienced and skilled in your own skin and instinctively know when something feels right – and wrong.

In other words, you’ve mastered your life and totally rocked the hardest part of it. Now, you get to enjoy the fruits of your labor.

Enjoy it. Grab it. And never look back.

We track our net worth using Personal Capital



Comments

45 responses to “The incredible life phases of an early retiree”

  1. The accumulation phase has a lot of the same thoughts as people who rationalize themselves out of the early retirement pursuit altogether. “Why would I want to retire, I like my job?” “This job is good enough. If I leave, it might not be better so I should just settle”. Making changes is uncomfortable so we naturally rationalize that things are alright so maybe we don’t need to do the uncomfortable. The people who can do the uncomfortable live the lives others can only dream of.

    Glad to see you are still rolling right through your FIRE phases!

    • Steve says:

      Yup! Getting out of our comfort zones is very difficult for a lot of us, but I find it’s a snowball effect. You do it once and get to experience everything that’s truly out there, and then you have the itch to do it again, and again. Each time, it gets easier and easier. The key is doing it the first time…it’s all downhill from there!

    • Stockbeard says:

      I don’t know if I fully agree with this. I’ve talked with people who genuinely enjoy their work and don’t see themselves anywhere else. I think it’s not all people who are afraid of change is what I’m saying 🙂

      • Steve says:

        I definitely agree, not *everybody*. In fact, I am finishing up an article that talks about this very issue. For some of us, we truly love work and find profound enjoyment out of it. And that’s okay! 🙂

  2. Apathy Ends says:

    It feels good to be good at what you do, until you realize that you are working on a project you won’t remember or care about the day after its finished (or have any use for in 1 year)

    Glad to see you are still laser focused on retiring! You are motivating all of us!

    • Steve says:

      Amen to that, Apathy! Putting things into perspective definitely helps us to realize what is truly important in our lives. Are you really “giving up” so much, or are you *improving your lifestyle* by ridding yourself of time-consuming work?

  3. I’ve heard of these phases and they seem to make sense. I think anyone approaching a major life change–getting married, having a baby, moving across the country, changing careers or leaving a career–feels reservations and doubt as well as excitement. It’s hard to process a change that big until it happens. I’m sure you will love it though!

    • Steve says:

      Thanks for the comment, Kalie! It is tough. New things can be difficult for a lot of us to process. Thankfully, people *usually* realize that once you start to develop a new routine to address that new phase, things become just as normal as they ever were. Different, but more normal.

  4. Mr. SSC says:

    It’s like I try to point out to people who may not understand where I’m coming from when talking about ER – Yes, I love my job, it’s fun, I get to be creative and all that, but I have at least 2 things I can think of that I’d much rather be doing right now than being here earning a paycheck.

    I do realize though, that a lot of the people I’m talking to are still in the accumulation and early phase of their careers, so they still want to build something, do something and get recognition that they’re good at their job. I mean they did go to school for 6 years just to start working in this field. So maybe it’s different for them, but I just try to plant the seed that there is a different approach, a different way to go about life, and it doesn’t have to be working for another 30 years…

    • Steve says:

      Yup, precisely Mr. SSC. There is another way…while early retirement isn’t for everyone, it’s within the reach of far more people than most of society would care to admit. The only demand is we need to WANT IT bad enough. Some do…many don’t.

  5. I think you nailed it. Most of us are cranking through phase one so that we can enjoy the freedom phase later on. The problem is that many people end up defining themselves by what they do/did in phase one and are afraid to let go of that.

    I’ve seen too many people have a hard time retiring to not believe that it’s a very real thing, even if I don’t fully understand it.

    Part of my phase one journey, like you, is to try and understand myself much better so that “what makes me tick” isn’t some 9 to 5 that ends up defining who I am. That’d be sad.

    • Steve says:

      Thanks for the comment, Ty. It’s true, many of us do define ourselves by what we did in the accumulation phase. I used to do that, too. And I agree, to me that’s pretty sad as well. What makes me tick isn’t working a 9 to 5 – and never will be!

  6. I always love your positivity on this topic, Steve. “If the accumulation phase turned out this awesome, it only follows that the freedom phase, which is the easier of the two phases, will turn out even more awesome. In fact, I will ensure that it does.” Yes!

    I just wrote about taking on (and then quitting) a part-time gig during the first few months of my freedom phase. Perhaps part of the reason I tried it at all was clinging onto the mindset of the accumulation phase: “Do I really want to give all this up?” Alternatively, framed more positively — I used my freedom to try something new, and it didn’t work out, so I stopped. Cheers to the freedom phase!

    • Steve says:

      Thanks Matt – staying positive is the best way I know to keep things straight and level. I just read your post about your part-time gig, good call on stepping back. This whole process is about doing what you like and finding happiness, not the accumulation of money. Phase One is over. Now, it’s time to enjoy Phase Two. 🙂

  7. wishicouldsurf says:

    Another good post, Steve. A lot of people think it’s insane to walk away from a lucrative career when you are at the top of your game. Most of the feedback I receive alludes to that… “but you are so good at what you do”, etc, etc…

    I don’t hate what I do. I don’t hate my company. I’m really good at it. But after 18 years of sitting on my butt for entirely too long every day with my eyes attached to a computer screen, I know my job is slowly killing me. I haven’t gained a bunch of weight and I don’t have heart disease so it may not look like it is killing me but the variety of what some would deem minor health issues I’ve experienced over the past few years, are red flags. The human body was not meant for this type of work for long periods of time.

    Besides, there are so many things I would rather do with my time.

    The trick for me right now is to keep the end game as my goal but to stay in the present. I’m so close to the magic number that I can taste it.

    • Steve says:

      I’m right there with ya! There is just so much more out there to explore and do – you never know what ELSE you might be good at that doesn’t revolve around sitting on your ass most of the day shuffling papers or responding to emails. Even if you are good at that, I can’t imagine that is at all thrilling. Fresh air is pretty cool, ya know. 😉

  8. I’m not quite ready to transition to that next phase but I’m trying my hardest to prepare and get myself ready. You’re right though, we all have a lot more control over our lives than we may initially thick and can take it many different directions.

    • Steve says:

      Thanks Green Swan, appreciate the comment. Getting yourself ready is definitely time well spent. The transition will be that much easier when the time comes, and it’s always nice to think about that point in your life to keep motivated going through Phase One!

  9. Oh boy, having gone through phase I and being in Phase II for two years, I feel I need to say something. If your work really is as good as it sounds it is, why not try to combine the two for a while longer. Start Phase II but don’t close off phase I. You still have to freedom to quit whenever things don’t get so pleasant at work. Financial independence means having choices. It doesn’t mean break with the old.

    I lived through exactly what you are talking about with the difference that my work, as comfy as was yours, did come with a lot of stress. I had accumulated what I needed and work was starting to affect my health. That’s why I quit when I quit. I already had enough a year prior to that.

    Today we manage to pay all the bills and live comfortably on the waterfront. Live is still good. I did find that as you change gears your interests change and with it possible come new costs. I now wish I would have accumulated a discretionary fund that would pay for some of the new hobbies.

    If you can I would start your travel and keep working for a little longer. Take the money from that extra work and create a splurge fund/discretionary fund. You might find that while traveling you’re spending on things you hadn’t counted on.

    Still what a great place to be, isn’t it?

    • Steve says:

      Hey Maarten – I definitely hear what you’re saying, but there’s NO WAY I’m going to try and combine the two. In my line of work, it’s the WORK that takes the largest portion of the day. While I can work remotely, I wouldn’t enjoy myself sitting in front of the computer for eight to 10 hours a day, especially with beautiful scenery around me. That is exactly what I am trying to get away from.

      I derive very little enjoyment out of what I do for a living, quite honestly. Working while I travel would just make things worse and would require us to stay around cell service for Internet, restricting where we go, what we do and how successful I’ll be in truly enjoying my time in the next phase.

      Combining the two, at least in this capacity, is absolutely off the table. There’s just no way. I am open to “work” if it sounds interesting, but it would have to be in a very, very different capacity. No full-time work for sure…nothing that is going to take 40+ hours of my time every week.

  10. Good points, and very motivating! I always thought I could kick the bucket any day, so I wanted to get to phase 2 as soon as possible.

    • Steve says:

      Exactly! We never know what the future holds for us. When the time is right, strike! Nothing is permanent, after all. We can always go back to our old life if the need arises. 🙂

  11. I think many people who have the unfortunate burden of sharing my personality type enjoy the thrill of the hunt so much that moving from the accumulation to the freedom stage is almost anti-climactic. To be satisfied with the freedom stage requires a big mindset shift. When the time comes, I think I will be able to make the shift, but I’ll definitely need some new endeavors to stay busy and maintain purpose.

    I sense in your writing a genuine excitement about moving onward to the next stage, Steve. I am sure you’re going to enjoy even more than you anticipate.

    • Steve says:

      That’s a good point, FinanceSuperhero, and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with enjoying the hunt, either. To many people, THAT is exciting – just as exciting as I anticipate retirement from full-time work to be. A big mindset shift indeed! 🙂

  12. Tawcan says:

    Great stuff, accumulation phase is important but too many people end up “accumulating” for too long so they never get to enjoy the 2nd phase. I would love to transition into the freedom phase soon. 🙂

    • Steve says:

      It’s very, very easy to accumulate “too much” under the guise of what-ifs. I think most of us fall prey to that, and you never know when those extra resources will come in mind. At some point, though, we gotta draw the line and just go for it. I just so happen to be drawing that line pretty close to the present. 🙂

  13. Oh Steve, you are getting so close. It is a good exercise to mentally prepare yourself for the freedom you are about to experience.

  14. Jim Wang says:

    It’s very hard to see what the freedom phase will be since for the entirety of your life until now, it’s been accumulation. I feel like I’m halfway between the two. After my last blog landed me a large windfall and as I embark on new projects and adventures, I’m an almost retiree except that instead of playing golf I get to play business on the internet.

    I’m not sure what the freedom phase will look like but I agree with you, it will be better.

    • Steve says:

      True, it can be tough to see, especially if you haven’t spent a lot of time thinking about it because retirement just seems so far off. It is the easier of the two phases, and yup, definitely a better one!

  15. Mrs. PIE says:

    A really nice perspective, thanks for sharing. It’s so easy to let the what ifs take over, or wonder if it’s all just a foolish decision. This is one of the reasons I love this huge and diverse online community. Yes, we are awesome and we are rocking phase 1. We have all the smarts we need for phase 2!

    • Steve says:

      Thanks Mrs. PIE, appreciate the comment. It’s true, the what-ifs can kill us if we aren’t careful. That is one thing that I definitely don’t let stop us. No time like the present, maybe? 😉

  16. Matt Spillar says:

    “Most of us have a hell of a lot more control over our lives than we think or care to admit.

    But as emotionally-driven human beings, it is natural to second guess the decision to give up everything that we have, all that stuff we bought and those things that we’ve built for ourselves over the years as full-time drones of corporate America.”

    Completely agree, I think a lot of people let the “fear of change” effect their decision making WAY too much. We need to let go of the “good” before we can really take hold of the “great.” There are a lot of things in life that we can’t control, but our spending/saving and our attitude are both in our control.

    • Steve says:

      Yup, the “fear of change” thing. Absolutely agree that’s a huge problem – for me as while, too, especially in an earlier life.

      “We need to let go of the “good” before we can really take hold of the “great.”” – Awesome quote!

  17. You captured that feeling exactly. It seems everything many of us have ever known is the accumulation phase. From the time of our youth, through our education, and into our jobs, we learn how to work for other people and how to spend money.

    It’s a big leap of faith to leave that world.

    Thanks for making it a little easier.

    • Steve says:

      It is a leap of faith indeed. The leap becomes easier, though, when we understand that we are leaping into a *better* world, where time becomes our ally, money is no longer a worry and happiness is the only true goal.

      Thanks for the comment!

  18. We’re two months into the “freedom phase” and absolutely loving every day. Time is the ultimate luxury!

    • Steve says:

      Exactly! Time, something we can’t buy, but also something so fantastically critical to a happy and productive life. You’re living the dream, my friend. Shortly, I’ll be there with ya!

  19. Joe says:

    Nice! Go for it.
    I think there is a between phase too. I quit my full time job, but I’m still working part time on something I enjoy. We can’t save as much, but we are not spending down either. I guess this is the holding phase. 🙂
    Enjoy your freedom!

    • Steve says:

      Thanks Joe! Yup, I can definitely see that in-between phase too, where working part-time to stay busy is a perfect mix of work and freedom. The “holding phase”, I like it! 🙂

  20. Morgan says:

    Wow, this post is so insightful. Everything you say makes a lot of sense! It’s really important to keep these things in mind when you are coming up on your retirement years. Considering the costs beforehand and working hard to plan ahead will certainly make the process much easier when the time comes. Nicely said! Thanks for sharing your tips!

  21. Great article!

    Although not retired at a really early age. My wife and I are completely retired, from working for others, at 54. I’m doing some freelance writing for extra coin, but we have enough coming in to pay all the bills and have some play money.

    It’s great not to have to be somewhere. Yesterday, Friday, Sept. 16, we road to Rockport to the Humming Bird Festival. Was tons of fun.

    Keep on keeping on! I know that you’re gonna enjoy the “Freedom Phase.”

  22. […] is my time to ditch the primary accumulation phase of my life and usher in the phase where I actually do those things that I want to do. No looking […]

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