[Happy Friday! Please welcome today, a good blogging bud of mine, ESI from ESIMoney.com. He recently retired at 52 and gained a whole new appreciation for what life has to offer. And spoiler alert: it doesn’t involve money or a high-powered career! Both of which he retired from once he realized enough was enough (his “enough,” btw? $3 million :)) Take it away, ESI!]
When I retired last fall at 52, I thought I knew exactly what retirement would be like. Many of the expectations I had did come true, but there were several surprises as well.
Today I’ll share my revelations in hopes those of you considering early retirement might be better prepared for it.
#1. Mondays Became the Best Day of the Week
Monday was my archenemy for decades.
I worked as a marketing executive for 28 years, many of them in high-pressure jobs. The sinking feeling would start about 4 pm on Sunday — dreading the work week to come.
Then Monday would hit and it’d be the low point of my week. Each day got better than the previous one until we hit Friday. It was all great from there. Until Sunday at 4 pm again.
Now, Monday is my favorite day of the week. It signals the beginning of five days of peace and quiet. The gym is less busy, the stores are less busy, restaurants are less busy, everything is less busy — because people are at work. It’s quiet, and I like it.
#2. My Colleagues Can’t Accept I’m Retired
There’s a whole host of reactions you get when you retire early. Most of them are quite comical because people are literally stunned. This is especially the case when you’re a C-level executive (or higher), and you retire during your most lucrative decade of earning power.
I expected people to be a bit shocked, but I didn’t foresee them constantly pushing new jobs at me like I needed to work or my life was over. Colleagues after colleagues send me new job openings all the time now. I have more recruiters than ever even connecting on LinkedIn and forwarding me job listings (some are pretty good actually!).
Even people I just meet aren’t satisfied with my retirement.
I had coffee the other day with a friend of a friend because the original friend said we should meet. The new guy spent the whole time brainstorming how he could help me find a job. Ugh. I feel like an unmarried, 30-year-old woman whose Jewish mother keeps pushing bachelors her way so she’ll get married even though she doesn’t want to be married.
#3. I’m Busier than Ever
When you work 50+ hours a week for most of a career and have a family along with personal interests, you’re very busy. Life is hectic. That’s just the way it is.
I expected things would calm down dramatically when I retired, but I now seem to have more to do than ever.
The difference is that I went from doing things I HAD to do, though, to doing things I WANT to do. Which makes all the difference in the world.
Still, I’m swamped.
I’ve been ramping up my blog writing (which is quite fun and gives me a creative and intellectual outlet). I started working out at a faster pace. I developed a plan to climb Pikes Peak this summer. I got involved in more aspects of planning my daughter’s college career. I started helping my son find his life calling. I dramatically upped my video game playing time (from virtually nothing to an hour or so a day at the present time (Horizon Zero Dawn FTW!!!)). I joined a non-profit board that helps the homeless. And I’m planning several trips with various members of my family.
On and on it goes. Most of the things on my to-do list simply move to the next day’s undone.
I was one of those people who used to think “What will I do all day in retirement?” I then moved to “I’ll find things to do”, so I made the leap. Now, I’m wondering, “How will I get it all done?”
But I am doing what I want, which makes this a “fun busy”. So I don’t mind.
#4. I’m In The Best Physical Shape of My Life
I started working with a trainer about 18 months ago. Up until retirement, I had made tremendous progress. I added 20 pounds of muscle and dramatically improved my cardio conditioning (which has always been good.) As a result, I almost completely eliminated back issues that I had for over 20 years.
I thought I’d continue on the same pace during retirement, but the freedom of time and lack of stress has really taken my workouts up a notch.
In addition, since I’m at home more, I can control better what I eat — which has always been my weak spot as it’s so hard to eat well at the office (at least for me). They say being in good shape is 80% nutrition and 20% exercise. I so wish the percentages were reversed!
When I was younger, I could work out and eat pretty much whatever I wanted. No longer. As I gained that extra muscle, I didn’t lose much fat, so my weight went up (even while my waist size shrunk).
After retirement, I decided to get serious about eating well. I went high protein and low carb. Since the start of the year I have lost 16 pounds of mostly fat. In addition, I was given my third cardio test and my VO2 max was in the “excellent” range for my age. It was so good that it’s even in the “good” range for a 20-year-old.
Who would have thought my best physical years would be after 50?
#5. I’ve Gotten Very Comfortable Wearing Casual Clothes
I’m not going to say I have always been an uptight dresser. Let’s just say I was always dressed for the occasion. I like to look nice and professional whether at work, church, or even out shopping. I’m not wearing $1,000 suits by any means, but I like to be dressed “nicely” wherever I go.
Cue the workout pants. You know, the baggy, comfortable ones similar to what basketball players wear during warm-ups? They refresh my soul.
It took me about three days to go from button-down Bob to casual Clyde.
Do you know how comfortable workout pants are? Answer: VERY comfortable. These are for colder temperatures. Do you know how comfortable shorts are? Answer: VERY comfortable. These are for warmer temperatures.
Both are accompanied by a t-shirt and/or a Columbia thin pullover depending on the temperature.
These are now my clothing wear of choice. I haven’t donned even a pair of Dockers more than twice in eight months (I did wear a pair to a funeral, however). I’ve gotten to the point where even putting on jeans feels like I’m “dressing up”. And they just aren’t as comfortable as I like.
We even joke at my non-profit board meetings that I dress up for them by wearing my “nice” workout pants or shorts.
But what do I care? I don’t have anyone to impress.
Consider Steve Jobs, Mark Zuckerberg, and the like. No dressing up there. They don’t (didn’t in Jobs’ case) care what they are wearing, they just want to be comfortable. And while I don’t have billions like they do, I am financially independent and can wear whatever I want.
Much different than my pre-retirement days…
#6. My Family Relationships Are Much Better
I assumed that retirement would give me more time with family, but I didn’t know how meaningful and far-reaching this time would be.
Here’s a sampling of the impact so far:
- My wife and I take two 45-minute walks a day now (we live in Colorado, so even much of winter is walkable). It gives us lots of time to connect and talk. Great for our relationship.
- I developed a reading plan for my son to help him discover what career he wants. We discuss each book and his notes on it. He’s also my Tuesday movie buddy (half-priced tickets!) since we like the same kind of shows.
- My daughter and I go out regularly to eat (we both like Mexican), shop (she’s hooked on Bath and Body Works), or have coffee. We talk a lot about what she wants to do with her life, what to expect in college, etc. She’s totally prepared. We’ll be taking her senior trip to Seattle and Portland this summer and I’ll be dropping her off at college in the fall.
- I have been able to see my parents a few times since retirement — way more than the twice-annual visits we had before. In addition, my dad will be coming to see us in June.
- I was able to re-connect with my cousin on one trip to see my parents. I had the time (of course) that I never had before, so I asked if he was available. He was and we had a great breakfast. It was awesome!
- I was able to attend my Aunt’s funeral, and even be at the hospital right before she passed. Having a job would have not afforded me the time (or at least as much time) for either of these.
In addition to helping connect with family, being retired has allowed me to connect with friends. I attended my college reunion last fall and got to see my three best friends from that time. I would have NEVER spent a week doing that had I been working. And I hadn’t planned on it even once I retired, but the new, more relaxed, me thought “what the heck!” and I went. So glad I did. I’ll be headed back to college homecoming this year too!
This is probably the most rewarding part of early retirement for me and completely unexpected. It’s been a great surprise.
#7. I’m Learning and Growing More than Ever
Retirement is the time to kick back, down-shift, and relax, right? The time to coast on all the work we’ve done up to this point, similar to the Falcons in the second half of the Super Bowl? (Oh wait, that didn’t work out so well)
Well, let’s just say that coasting is not for me. I’m pushing forward more than I ever have and am loving it! I am learning and growing in ways I completely didn’t expect.
- I’m reading more than ever. The library and I are on a first-name basis. I’m there several times a week. I’m reading on personal growth, fitness, blogging, and a whole host of non-fiction topics. I also have time to read fiction and am catching up on John Grisham’s stuff, as well as a Batman graphic novel here and there.
- I’m learning from YouTube. You can find videos on how to do anything these days. Now that I have time, I’m learning how to cook (especially grill), how to do simple repairs around the house (I’m not “handy” yet, but I’m getting there), how to travel hack (still a neophyte but learning), and on and on.
- I’m heading up Pikes Peak. I told you I’m planning on walking up Pikes Peak this summer. So I’m learning about the physical challenges (and training accordingly), the equipment, weather, etc. It’s a blast to learn new things as well as have some big, physical challenge to look forward to.
- I’m planning loads of travel. My wife used to handle most of the travel planning, but I’m now becoming the expert. This year we have trips planned to Seattle, Portland, back to Iowa (where I’m from), Dallas, and, the crowning touch, a month in St. Thomas early next year. There are various decisions to make, and of course I want to make the trips as great as possible, so I’m doing lots of reading about each place and searching for great deals.
- I’m consuming podcasts. As I train for Pikes Peak, I’m walking a lot. Some of that is alone, and when I walk alone I listen to podcasts. I’m learning about a whole host of topics, plus getting lots of input on financial issues that keep me sharp. I really look forward to this time each day.
- I’m playing chess. I now have time to do daily chess puzzles, play chess, read chess books, and even watch chess videos. I know some of you are close to falling asleep simply reading that last sentence, but chess thrills me. The strategy and complexity gets my juices flowing.
I’m interested in a lot of things, and now I have the time to learn about them too. I thought I would have some time for this, but the amount and diversity of learning has really surprised me.
#8. I Can’t Go Back To Work Anymore
When I retired I thought I’d only take a year or two off, but would then likely go back to work at some point — even if just part-time. After all, I was a high-power executive and work was what I did!
Now I can’t imagine ever going back.
If I did, I’d hate Mondays again. I’d have to dress in something other than comfortable clothes. I’d miss the time with family and friends. I’d have to cut back on fitness and learning. I’d have to live by a schedule. That all sounds like a colossal pain in the rear now.
I’ve since eased into my new normal, and I love it.
#9. The Stress is Gone
We all hear about stress and how it impacts our health, and so forth. But having lived with it for so long, it was normal to me. I didn’t realize just how much it was impacting me.
Sure, every once in a while I would realize my temples were tight and my jaw was clinched while laying in bed. I’d try to relax my facial muscles and could for a bit, but even trying to fall asleep, the tension would come back. It was the stress of work.
Once I retired, I could literally feel the stress melt away. It was that tangible. I was destressing after 28 years of constant pressure.
It took several months to go completely away (it was that bad!), but I eventually got to a low point of stress I never thought I would reach. I started sleeping better. My head wasn’t tight all the time. Life was more relaxing overall.
I was surprised at just how noticeable it was. Something that simply was there for most of my life, is now almost nonexistent.
#10. I’ve Turned Into a Morning Person
There are morning people, and there are night people. I have been a night person my whole life. My ideal world was to stay up until 3 am and get up around noon. Not bad, right?
But I had to go against that grain during my career. Most companies expect you to roll in well before noon, so I was up early every day and I hated it.
I didn’t think I’d sleep to noon every day once I retired, but I did think I’d sack in until at least 9 or 10am.
Nope. I’m now up and at ’em by 6 am most days. Sometimes I’ll got to 7 am if I had a really hard workout the previous day or stayed up late the night before. But that’s rare. I can’t remember the last time I slept until 8 am. And I’m certainly up more days before 6 am than after 7 am.
The big difference now, though, is that life is so much more exciting.
I’m getting up to do things that I want to do. It’s a blast — almost like the night before Christmas. I’m excited about the next day and simply can’t sleep longer.
Plus, the working out and lack of stress helps my sleep to be more restful, so I feel better with less sleep now than I did with more sleep while working. (But don’t worry that I’m robbing myself. I’m a regular 10 pm to 6 am sleeper, so I still get eight hours most nights)
My kids think I’m crazy (“why do you get up so early?” they ask) but that’s what happens when you are excited about life.
My wife has always been a morning person, but I’m now up an hour or so before her each day. It’s so quiet and peaceful at 6 am and the day is full of promise. It’s my favorite time of the day. 6 am on Monday is heaven.
As a bonus, I heard somewhere that getting up early can make you wealthy.
[EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the reason I started waking up at 5am every day! The peace is unparalleled! And as ESI mentioned, it’s far easier to do so when you get to do things for YOU than for others :) You can read about the other things I learned too when first starting this schedule here if you’re new to the site: What I Learned Working Like Benjamin Franklin For a Week]
So those are my ten surprises from early retirement!
I’m only nine months in so I’m sure I’ll find many more in the months and years to come, but hopefully I’ve given you a good glimpse into what retirement is like.
If you have any questions I’d be happy to answer them in the comments below.
Otherwise, I’ll see you at the gym on Monday morning at 7 am. :)
UPDATE: Check out part II to this series: 10 *Downsides* to Early Retirement! Where ESI comes back a year later to fill us in on the other side of the FIRE coin ;)
ESI is the founder of ESI Money, a blog about achieving financial independence through earning, saving, and investing (ESI). It’s written by an early 50’s retiree who achieved financial independence, shares what’s worked for him, and details how others can implement those successes in their lives. You can learn more about him, and get his free ebook, here: Three Steps to Financial Independence.