9 Secrets to Success in Retirement!

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“9 Secrets to Having a Successful Retirement!” – The Money Guy Show, Dec 18, 2020

If you’ve read earlier posts of mine, you’ll recognize that I have mentioned The Money Guy Show podcast and YouTube channel previously. I find their guidance to be both highly relevant and well aligned with my worldview. They recently put out the show linked above. While watching it I thought that this would be a great opportunity to add context from my own FIRE (Financial Independence Retire Early) journey. I believe that my post should stand OK on its own, but I strongly recommend viewing the above video for the full picture.

Admittedly this is a lengthy article – my longest, I think! In the interest of keeping the content at the right level, I’ve placed many links throughout this article that will take you to posts where you can find more details about concepts that are of interest to you.

1. Have an Attitude of Gratitude

It’s impossible to argue with such sound advice. Irrespective of your path to retirement – and particularly if you retire early, you surely arrived there supported by many others along the way. I am forever thankful for the many positive influences in my life, such as my family, and particularly my wife, Lorri. In my series on keys to success in the workplace, I wrote about the extraordinary value gained from aligning yourself with strong mentors. When I reflect on my own path to financial independence, it is these individuals from whom I learned the most and also gained tremendously in terms of career advancement. There is no question that this accelerated my FIRE goals, and I am grateful to have known them.

As I wrote back in my very first post, I know just how much I have to be thankful for. I find myself reflecting daily on how fortunate I am to have succeeded in my plans to FIRE. Yes, there was lots of hard work involved! There’s also a heck of a lot of good luck and timing as well. I can easily identify opportunities where things could have turned out very differently for me. If you don’t believe that, please read Malcolm Gladwell’s book, Outliers: The Story of Success (he narrates the audiobook as well). I believe you’ll be convinced!

2. Know What You are Retiring To

I love this point, though I also feel there is not merely one way to answer this key question. As I’ve noted before, achieving financial independence does not mean you’re ready to retire or necessarily should! I did not have a finely articulated plan on the day I left the workplace – and for me I think that’s just fine! I have a never-ending desire for learning, and a huge benefit of retiring early for me was simply creating the space for this very purpose, along with pursuing my passions, like cooking. In line with what Brian and Bo mentioned, I’ve got a list of hobbies and interests I have explored pre-retirement, but not in sufficient depth. One example is app development, where you can’t simply dabble. Only now have I had the time to spend hours daily or weekly to dig in as required to understand if this is something I want to do merely at a hobby level, or perhaps as a business – and yet I’m still just getting started!

Leaving the workplace also requires a tremendous amount of adaptation. We spend the majority of our waking hours at work and when that is suddenly gone, you will be surprised by many things. Having a plan or at minimum a loose structure of what you will do once retired is essential. This is an area in which it pays to be thoughtful! You don’t want to find yourself wondering “what do I do next?”

3. Do The Math

It is a huge though necessary change to go from a saver mindset to one of consumption. It’s among the things I thought about the most in the last few years before retirement. While my wife and I were strong savers, we had never employed a formal budget. We spent a full year before I left the workplace developing and living on our retirement budget. By making all our spending visible and holding ourselves accountable for our expenses, we entered this next phase of our lives feeling so much more confident. As I’ve discussed before, Lorri and I also found huge value in working with financial advisors to ensure that we were well positioned to take such a huge step.

That advanced preparation has been hugely supportive to my mental health during these first six months of early retirement. I believe it is essential for all retirees, but particularly when you pull the trigger in the midst of a global pandemic and a highly volatile stock market! I think the best evidence of my financial peace of mind has been that of all the topics I have covered in my “milestones” posts, money concerns are nowhere to be found.

If you’re interested in learning more about the math of withdrawal rate, it’s hard to do better than the simple guidance Bo and Brian share in the video (see ~24 min for this section). I’ve read endless volumes on this and shared some details on this topic before. For us, we landed on ~3.5% withdrawal rate, in line with The Money Guy Show recommendations. That means we needed to save around 29 times (or 100 / 3.5) our annual expenses before retiring. That said, market conditions this year have us ending 2020 withdrawing quite a bit less based on our current net worth – not a bad “problem” to have!

4. Prepare for the Psychological Change

Retiring is one of the biggest life events you will undertake – right up there with getting married or having kids. And just as with those things, you cannot fully prepare for retirement. Even with good research and reflection, you will have to learn to fly the plane while you’re still building it! Frankly, it requires a huge amount of adaptation. This has absolutely been the area of biggest surprise for me, as I assume it is for many. I’ve written about this a few times now, and it plays a central role in my milestones posts to date.

I get tremendous benefit from my daily morning walks. These put me in the right headspace to start my day. They also have become an opportunity to process the emotions I’ve been feeling lately. But I’ve also learned that isn’t enough. I’ve realized I need to talk about these things with Lorri as well, something I admittedly haven’t always done well in the past. I know I am growing as a result of all this change but that doesn’t make it any easier! Retiring early is a seismic shift after all those years of work, and is a journey on which I learn something new about myself seemingly every day.

On a practical note- Yes, Brian is absolutely right: being able to shop/etc. at whatever time I want is really great. We love being able to hike whenever we like and know the trails will be far less busy than on weekends. Particularly when we are all undertaking necessary precautions due to COVID-19, this is a big benefit.

5. Make No Obligations

I love this one – and of course it was one of the things I really looked forward to in retiring early. After a career of timebound and other structured requirements under the direction of others, I really wanted this freedom. I now have very few obligations – outside of a couple of weekly Zoom happy hours with friends 🙂 Like many, I have fallen into some natural rhythms of how my days run. I discussed this in my six-month milestone post. But that doesn’t mean I stick to them like a schedule – or beat myself up when I don’t feel like following my usual course of events. It’s the freedom to spend our time how we want, right? I still find I need to remind myself about that sometimes.

I did encounter one area of caution so far that is worth mentioning. I’ve been approached about consulting a number of times since I left the workplace, and have had some good calls with prospective clients. After 23 years of work, I found myself being really drawn to such familiar ground without really thinking through it. After reflection, I’ve realized that at least presently, I need some real boundaries. A few consulting calls a month is easy to take on, is interesting, and generates some income. But I have also learned I need to be protective of my time and make sure I don’t overcommit. I’m just getting started on this next phase in my life and I need the space to do the things I want to do. I haven’t let landed on “what I want to do” next and taking away the time I need to explore that would be a bad idea, indeed! Thankfully, my wife and friends are great at hammering me on this point!

6. Be a Lifetime Learner

This one is my favorite! As I wrote in #2, my FIRE journey is all about creating space to learn and experience life to the fullest. While I’m not standing still in the moment, once COVID-19 is behind us, that pursuit will only continue and grow. There are courses I want to take, skills I want to learn, and myriad trips that Lorri and I will enjoy – the list is practically endless. Never stop learning is one of the best pieces of advice I can offer to anyone. Our world is enormous and there is so much to experience and discover. Get outside the familiar and comfortable – Carpe diem!

Teaching and mentoring is a natural inclination for me, and as I have learned, one of my most important sources of positive validation. I recently realized this is what I missed most about the workplace! I do get to scratch that itch somewhat from consulting, from this blog, and also the calls and emails I’ve had with others on the topic of FIRE – I really do get a lot out of those exchanges. But I’m still searching for another outlet. My intention is that 2021 will help me identify those things so I can take action!

7. Know Your “Why”

For me, this point ties together several other items on this list. It’s vital to know “why” you are retiring – particularly if you are doing so early. Yes, leaving the workplace means eliminating things you want to leave behind: other people’s deadlines, endless paperwork, long work hours, and the list goes on. But entering upon your next phase of life in retirement, you need to know what you aim to achieve. We didn’t yet know how to do it, but Lorri and I decided nearly 20 years ago that we aimed to retire early, and precisely why we wanted to do that. It was a key goal of ours, despite having challenging, rewarding, and fulfilling careers! There’s just so much more we want to do, and we had a clear vision of what that would look like. We spent the intervening years refining that vision and taking the steps we needed to get there.

A note of caution – for many, a large part of their self-worth and their view on the contributions they make to the world are very tied up with their work lives. Retiring will remove that in an instant! It is essential to have thought through “what comes next” and how that ties into your greater purpose and direction. As Brian mentioned, many people leave the workplace only to return because they were depressed and didn’t know what to do with themselves. Measure twice and cut once!

8. It’s Supposed to be Fun

I have never apologized for loving video games. As a mid-Generation X-er, I was born at just the right time to have experienced the full tenure of these delightful distractions! This is just one example on the lighter side of the fun things I enjoy spending (it’s not wasting!) time on since leaving the workplace. I’ve got a long list! But yes, if you were wondering I am still playing World of Warcraft. On a more productive front, cooking has continued to be another thing I really enjoy. I don’t see my interest in that diminishing anytime soon!

Brian and Bo make an excellent point – one of the most fun and productive pieces of brainstorming you can do in the years leading up to – and after retiring, is thinking about all the things you want to do. I had never been a bucket list person myself, but in the last year before leaving the workplace I started a list of things I wanted to do “eventually” after FIRE. Some were straightforward (cook Oaxacan mole negro – I’ve now made six of the seven Oxacan moles! Here’s my Notion database with recipe info), and some were longer term (learn Spanish). And then there’s the never-ending list of places to which we want to travel… My advice to you: enjoy this time, and known that after retiring, the fun continues as you will think and talk often about what to do next.

9. There’s More to This Life

I imagine this one means something different for each of us. For me, this ties in to purpose, intention, and knowing what is important to you. In my view, retirement – early or otherwise, is just another phase in the continuum of life. It’s not a panacea, a reset on life, or anything like that. Rather, it is simply another stage in this life we are so fortunate to live and get to define as we see fit. For me it is about enjoying the time I have with family and friends, learning and experiencing as much as I can along the way, and contributing in the ways I am able. Leaving the workplace simply provides me the opportunity to spend more time on these pursuits, leveraging the gains made from my time there. What it looks like will surely continue to change and evolve as time goes on. I, for one look forward to all the twists and turns, the successes and failures, and the many experiences that are to follow!

I’d like to close this out by thanking you all for being on this journey with me. I wish you the very happiest of holidays, and all the best for good health, success, and happiness in the New Year. May 2021 bring you only positive things and cherished memories!

image credit: “Success!” by gfdnova1 is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

2 Replies to “9 Secrets to Success in Retirement!”

  1. This is such a strange time to leave the workplace and embark on this journey. I know it’s hard being unable to explore so many of your interests because of this pandemic, hang in there ❤️

    1. I like to tell myself it will be net positive. I’ve definitely had lots of time for introspection on this huge change. I suspect that would have been spread out over a much longer period of time had we spent the summer traveling as we had planned! We will get there.

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