I retired at 43 and life is good. During the summer, I spend my days with my children. We bike, swim, explore the creek and even work on some math lessons. Because I don’t have a job, we enjoy slow travel. We just got back from a road trip that lasted over two weeks.
When school is back in session, it’s “me time.” I read, write, work on projects around the home, study real estate investing and exercise for at least two hours every day.
While life is good in early retirement, I made some mistakes getting there. Now that I’ve been done with work for over a year, it’s time to reflect on what I would have done differently. While you don’t get a do-over button in life, I hope you can learn something from my experiences.
I Should Have Renegotiated My Work Situation Sooner
At the end of my career, I asked for a part-time (three days per week) work schedule. I never thought my manager would approve it, but he actually said yes without hesitation.
I should have asked sooner. Stepping down my work schedule earlier would have postponed my retirement by a bit, but it would have made life more fun. It would have allowed me to taste what life feels like post-work and, at the same time, reduce the stress that comes with a household with two working parents and two kids.
A part-time schedule may not work for you, but perhaps you can negotiate another arrangement. For example, a sabbatical would give you a taste of retirement with your job to fall back on.
I Shouldn’t Have Worked So Hard
For almost two decades, my wife and I flipped homes. These projects were live-in flips, meaning that we lived in the houses as we were working on them. The upside to this strategy is that if you live in the home for two years, you usually don’t have to pay any taxes on the sale. The downside is that you live in a construction zone.
I flipped most of these houses when I had a full-time job, and it wasn’t easy. I’d get home from my job as a software developer, change clothes and pick up a hammer. I’d then work for many more hours, sometimes until midnight. All weekend, I’d work on the homes. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat.
These projects built the core of my nest egg. I have a net worth of over $2 million because of this hard work. However, what fun is life if you never get a chance to live?
I Should Have Been Working on Myself the Whole Time
My job was stressful. It gave me nightmares, and it made me worry all the time. Because of this, I believed that leaving work would instantly result in increased happiness. It did, but nowhere near what I was expecting. Before I get into that, let’s discuss happiness for a moment.
According to professor Sonja Lyubomirsky and her book “The How of Happiness,” 50 percent of our happiness is determined by genetics, 10 percent is determined by our circumstance and the remaining 40 percent is determined by you. The important factor is the last one. To elaborate, your attitude, self-control and how you view the world determines almost half your level of happiness. Who knew? I sure didn’t.
I was counting on an external event (leaving work) to bring me happiness when I should have been working on it internally the whole time. Oops. I now know that happiness needs to come from within.
It’s important to know that early retirement will likely solve some of your problems, but it probably won’t change your baseline level of happiness. If you want to retire early because you’re running away from something, you’re doing it for the wrong reason. Work on yourself now. Find beauty in life every day. Live with meaning, purpose and intention.
When I was writing this article, I had this thought: This is going to depress the reader. But, please don’t take it that way at all. Life is pretty great in early retirement. I could elaborate on the many ways that my life is better, but since this article isn’t about that, I’ll limit myself to just two.
I’m Going to Live Longer
Before I retired, my weight hovered around 180 and my blood pressure was 130/80 (hypertensive). Now that I have adequate time to exercise and plan healthy meals, my weight has dropped to 160 and my blood pressure is below 120/70. Early retirement has improved one of the most important parts of life: my health.
I Actually Am Happier
Early retirement has given me time for deep introspection. I now know that I must work on my own happiness and, consequently, I’m happier for it. It’s wonderful to have the time to read, study and think.
More on Finding Happiness: Does Money Buy Happiness in Other Countries? New Study Finds Out
Life Is About the Journey: Appreciate It
The most important thing I can tell you about your path to early retirement is this: Appreciate the journey. Your job may be stressful. You may have a boss that you don’t like. Managing a household with two working parents and children can leave you exhausted. Been there, done all of that.
But I encourage you to follow in my footsteps. It’s good here on the other side. I get to live life on my own terms, spending each day how I choose. Time is the most precious resource and not having to trade it for money is liberating.
Just don’t forget to enjoy the steps along the way.
Read More: What It’s Really Like to Retire Early
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