…perhaps, being inspired by Bill Clinton, depends on what the definition of definition is 🙂 The name of this blog is Early Retirement Extreme, but the question comes up again and again—at least often enough—whether I (or we) are really genuinely retired?

According to the dictionary, being retired means having withdrawn from one’s professional occupation, which I think implies having withdrawn permanently, or at least the intention to withdraw permanently, from any kind of employment.

Here I cleverly excluded those who are euphemistically speaking “temporarily retired” because they got laid off. That doesn’t count.

I also kept the word professionally, sneakily, to imply the receipt of a paycheck.

My understanding of the dictionary entry thus means that a retired person is someone who no longer is employed working for money or seeks such employment.

I use employment in a very wide side. A businessman is not employed—he is the employer, yet if he still works for money, he is not retired in my opinion.

The money question is determining to a large extent. Financial independence is certainly a useful duck test(*) to see if someone is retired. All we need to do is to look at a person’s cash flow.

(*) If it swims like a duck, quacks like a duck, and walks like a duck, it probably is a duck.

However, does this now preclude any kind of earned income. I have seen(**) many retires doing part time consulting along with their golf and sailing and yet I would still call them retired and I think most other people would too.

(**) “I know it when I see it”

However, suppose a retired person decides to pick up a 9–5 job because that’s more fun to him than playing golf. I think he fails the “I know it when I see it”-test, but he still passes the duck test,…

…unless part of the duck test also included living in a retirement home, participating in “activities” and having the grandchildren visit.

I think this is exactly where extreme early retirees get in trouble. The “age”-part of the duck test. We are too young and rare for most people to have a good idea of how we should be defined. Everybody has a typical image of the retired 60+ year old. Everybody has a typical image of the retired 50+ year old and there are even some retired 40+ year olds being described in the money magazines. 20 and 30+ year olds are extremely rare although I bet they are not functionally much different. For instance, since I retired—still subject to the final definition, which will be given at the end of the post—the mean age of the people I do stuff with has increased substantially, into the more traditional (early, but not extremely so) retirement age.

I offer the following definition of retirement:

You are retired if you each can do whatever you want (within reason) with no obligation, financially, economically, contractually, or socially, to continue doing so.

By this definition, I am retired.

Originally posted 2010-09-27 09:10:53.