Note: In this post I discussed some of the aspects about my former career while I was still working. One of my problems was “lack of adequate replacement”. Like some people have pointed out, most people need something to do. However, I would point out that this does not need to be a job. It could be taking care of a bonsai tree; or it could be working as a gardener. In terms of the suggestions below, they are remarkably constant. The only thing that’s changed in the two years that have passed is that I no longer foresee starting a bookstore.

What does early retirement mean for those who chose to save so intensely and early for retirement and essentially had enough money to stop working around age 30? This is a question I have been asking myself and for which there does not seem to be any conventional solutions.

In most cases, at least as far as I understand from reading Smartmoney magazine, early retirement means spending more time playing golf, being home with the kids, or seeing the world. None of this seems particularly appealing to me (I don’t have kids) right now. In 15 years, maybe, but not now.

Conventionally, I should be doing what most phds with a few years of experience do, that is, try to work myself to death in the desperate attempt to get tenure. Except for the death part, that is actually what I still do even though I in principle could quit. However, having seen first hand where this road can lead I must admit that I am no longer so sold on the idea as I was 5 years ago. Here’s my cost benefit analysis: costs: 95% of the students, grant writing, committees, relatively poor pay, forced mobility, department politics, and did I mention, 95% of the students – benefits: making my own schedule, 5% of the students, and doing research. I think having the freedom to take half the day off on Monday and work 16 hours on Tuesday is overrated given that it comes with a constant pressure to perform. It feels equally nice to work 9-5 and know that you are not supposed to work outside of those hours. Call me naive, but I have finally realized that 95% of the students at higher ed do not really seem to want to be there. Some professors live for the enthusiasm for the remaining 5%, but I don’t think the 1 in 20 ratio is high enough for me. Research is interesting and frustrating. Interesting because everything you do is a “first” e.g. you have discovered something that no humans have known before. Frustrating because there is a ton of dead ends that must be explored. It is really 99% perspiration and 1% inspiration. Just imagine trying to come up with something creative when you know that in all likelihood it will fail. Then repeat and do it again. In addition, most researchers, myself included, are working on things that are only interesting 5 other people in the world. There’s a slight shot at fame. For instance, I have published a good 20 papers. Forsooth, you can find them in university libraries around them world, even! However, 30 years from now, I will just be a set of initials in some dusty journal that will only be read by some poor suffering grad student. I am after all not working on curing cancer, so while somewhat meaningful, my work is perhaps not terribly important [except for those 5 persons in the world]. It’s not a terribly bad life though. One gets to influence events in the sense of deciding where thousands and even millions of tax payer/alumni money gets spent. There’s all the free traveling to conferences etc. I have been to 14 countries so far and never paid a dime. It’s not exactly a luxury vacation, but the similarities are probably larger than the differences. However, I wonder whether I am going to spend the rest of my life doing this. If I do, I’m projected to pass $1,000,000 when I’m 40, but what am I going to spend that money on anyway? The law of diminishing returns of extra dollars is knocking on my door already. There is also significant opportunity cost. Maybe I will be wondering what if I had done something differently. The question is, what is the alternative. I think it is exceedingly important to live a life of no regrets.
Okay, so I could in principle retire, but I haven’t. Why not? One problem is that I have not found anything sufficiently meaningful to replace a full fledged career with. In contrast to a job a career should be a means of self-actualization and I tell you if you actually have a career goal in mind, this works out quite well. If you don’t, then it turns into a job fairly quickly, whoops!

Financially independent is a better description of my situation. Maybe people aren’t meant to retire this early. It’s almost like breaking the law of the rat-race e.g. “you still have so many years left in you”.

Perhaps‘s son’s mom said it best when it what described as re-tirement as in changing tires during a pit stop. Yeah, I might want to change my tires.

Here’s my list of possible re-tirings.

  1. Start a PF blog (I have previously thought of becoming a tech writer and this seems to fit the bill).
  2. Start a bookstore.
  3. Buy a small farm, breed an army of sheep and take over the world.
  4. Sell my soul to Wall Street.
  5. Become a watch maker.

I have started on 1. The question is whether I can make a career out of it in the traditional sense of a career e.g. something that takes up much of the day and keeps me active while being somewhat meaningful and self-actualizing.

As you might have surmised I am not really sure about this. It turns out that it is a lot harder to figure out what to do with financial independence than to achieve it in the first place. It is definitely something I should have thought of earlier in the process.

What would you do if you did not have to work again?

Originally posted 2008-01-06 08:45:24.