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Our Changing Definition of Early Retirement and the Power of the Freedom to Fail

I used to be super hardline about the definition of early retirement. “No work,” I’d insist. Not quite to the retirement police level of accusing others of not actually being retired if they did some post-career work, but I only considered it retirement for us if we had no employment and no active income pursuits.

It wasn’t an unreasonable thought, actually, given that that was back when we were formulating our plan and timeline, back when we thought retiring in 2020 was a super ambitious goal (and it was, but then we got super duper ambitious). And I was looking purely at the numbers.

“Right now, our hourly rate for work is X. And if we need money in retirement, we’ll have to work, like, 10 hours to make X,” I’d reason, probably exaggerating a bit. “So why don’t we just work until we have enough to never need another cent, and be as efficient as possible with our earnings?”

Sound logic, right? Mathematically, my hardline stance made sense. Where it didn’t make sense is in the actual realities of early retirement, or at least our early retirement, something that has been slowly revealing itself to us over these past few years, especially because blogging makes us ruminate on early retirement far more than someone else might (and maybe more than anyone should). ;-)

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Today we’re exploring our changing vision for and definition of our early retirement, and talking about the power of the freedom to fail — something that we’ll enjoy in abundance in retirement, and which has made it possible to achieve early retirement in the first place.

OurNextLife.com // Our changing definition of early retirement and the power of the freedom to fail // privilege and early retirement, work in early retirement, working on your own terms in early retirement, financial independence, not having to work for money

The Early Days: Retiring From Something

Back in those initial years of our early retirement pursuit, when we hadn’t yet gotten aggro about knocking off milestones left and right, when we were still figuring out whether this questionable notion was even possible, our thoughts about early retirement reflected a common theme:

We were focused on retiring from work. 

That’s all. We knew we didn’t want to work forever. Work was stressful and all-consuming, and we wanted the opposite of that, whatever that was. (And we were tired, and early retirement seemed like it must come with more sleep.)

What the opposite of that — of work — actually was, we gave that far less thought. It vaguely included more time in the mountains, but that’s as far as our thinking went. Still, that was enough to jumpstart our research and planning, and put us on the journey we’re nearing the end of.

Net worth by year // Quarterly financial progress report toward early retirement, beyond financial independence

Pre-2010, our annual net worth growth was comparatively small. But after 2010, we got serious and focused, and the line got a lot steeper.

The Later Days: Retiring To Something

As the years have passed, though, we’ve started to see more nuance in our vision for early retirement. Especially after we left the big city and moved to a small town in the mountains, we started realizing that our choice to move here meant we’d get tons more time outside, but perhaps at the expense of some of the intellectual stimulation we’d enjoyed in the city. Not that there’s not an endless amount to learn about the geology and wildlife here, and plenty of stuff to geek out on like the various aircraft used to fight wildfire and how they all coordinate (just to use a totally non-specific example I definitely didn’t ask a US Forest Service firefighter 5000 questions about earlier today), but the culture’s different. People just want to talk more about their outdoor radness or next epic adventure, involving at least 10 hyperbolic overuses of “epic,” as they should, because look out the window.

But over time, we realized that we might miss that part of work. The constant interaction with super smart colleagues and clients. Having to stay current on the latest relevant news. Being forced to address challenges we wouldn’t otherwise choose to tackle, keeping our minds sharp. The feeling of having created something.

Mr. ONL in a recliner, not keeping his mind sharp, and not how he'll spend early retirement!

Not keeping his mind sharp

As this realization has slowly bubbled up, we’ve also put a lot more thought into what we want out of the rest of our lives. How we define our purpose, what that means for what we want to accomplish, all the places we want to travel and adventures we want to have for as long as we’re able, what we want an average day to look like, how long we want our trips to be.

Over time, a very crisp vision has emerged of what we’re retiring to. And that vision includes work.

Our Revised Definition of Early Retirement

What we’re envisioning in the next stage is not work as we know it now, certainly nothing substantial that would fall under the category of “employment.” But by just about any definition, it will still count as work. We’ll take on things that then become mandatory to do, though on our own time as much as possible. (There is no part of me that wants to have to show up at a specific place at a specific time, at least for a good, long detox period.) Plenty of folks have already told me that this blog counts as work, and I plan to keep going with this, and with other related projects.

Our definition of early retirement now looks something like:

Owning our own time, making decisions about work to take on based on intangible factors like how interesting something is or how much it benefits others rather than money, and no longer striving for advancement. 

Owning our own time has become the most important aspect for us, not “no work.” Not all work is bad, and we plan to keep doing some of the parts of it that we’re awesome at, but only in ways in which we can decide when to put in the time, and that we can do from anywhere with an internet connection. We feel strongly that we don’t want post-retirement work to stand in the way of our travels or adventures, or to cut into our outdoors time.

So the work we do in retirement will probably look quite a bit like the work others do in the gig economy. Projects here and there that sound interesting with a baseline of ongoing work. But there will be one difference, the importance of which is impossible to overstate:

Unlike almost everyone else on the planet, we will have the freedom to fail at whatever work we do in retirement.

If we try something and suck at it, if the economy turns south and there’s no market for what we’re offering, if what we put out there is just bad, we’ll be fine. A layoff, a recession or a skeptical market might bruise our egos, but it won’t hurt us financially.

So while our work may look like a lazy form of hustling, we will be entirely unlike virtually all others out there hustling because success for us will be counted entirely in how fun, fulfilling and worthwhile something feels, not how much it earns for us.

What an incredible privilege.

The Power of the Freedom to Fail

As we’ve reflected more on all the ways early retirement will impact our lives, we’ve realized that the power of the freedom to fail is perhaps the most powerful. Most people in the world have to make decisions through a constant cost-benefit analysis, weighing how much something might earn them, their limited time and resources, opportunity costs, the well being of their families, and dozens of other factors to make responsible decisions. (It’s always worth a quick visit to the Global Rich List to get grounded on how little most of the world has. Lower middle class in the U.S. equals super rich in the world.) But we’ll get to make decisions based almost entirely on fun.

Our Definition of Retirement: Being Ruled by Passions and Fun, Not the Need for Money

On a basic level, you’d never take a job without knowing how much it pays, right? That’s the rational thing to do. But we’ll be in a position to “take jobs” regardless of what they pay, perhaps without even knowing! (And by “take jobs,” I really mean “pursue cool projects we want to do without worrying about whether they’ll make us money.”)

But we’ve also realized through all of this that the power of the freedom to fail won’t actually be new to us. Though we won’t have had the luxury before of not having to work for money, or of being able to do any work no matter how poorly compensated, we’ve had the freedom to fail in other ways.

When I was in college, I would often say something that I both still wholeheartedly agree with in an idealistic sense, and cringe at, knowing how much unacknowledged privilege was embedded in it: “College is for finding your passions and enriching your mind, not for getting a job.” I would not have been able to make that statement if failure wasn’t an option for me.

Obviously I didn’t want to fail and no part of me believed I might, but if I struck out at finding a job, I could always move back home and mooch off a parent. If I ran out of money, I couldn’t expect full support by any means, but I could have gotten a little help. And I had other backup options like credit cards I could charge things to, something not everyone has at their disposal. I recognize now that, even if I didn’t think consciously about that safety net, it freed me to make a very different set of choices and to view things entirely differently than if I hadn’t had it.

Most of us who are even in a position to consider early retirement have had much of this freedom to fail all along. People who grow up knowing that there is no fallback option, no one who can come to their rescue, have out of necessity a very different set of decisions in front of them. It’s far harder to justify studying some frivolous liberal arts subject (English majors, what’s up!) if it’s not clear how that course of study will lead to immediate employment after graduating. And it’s a lot more ridiculous to bemoan the indignity of having to show up for work every day if you know that job is the thing ensuring your survival. (Fair warning, I will tweetstorm at the next person I see complain about being a victim for having to work, like, you know, almost every other human being on the planet.)

All of this leads us back, as almost all of this thinking does, to gratitude. To how fortunate we are to be able to pursue early retirement, how lucky we’ve been in being able to make so many of our decisions in life up to this point, how much more fortunate we’re about to get when we pull the plug later this year. We’ve absolutely worked hard to make things happen for ourselves, but we’ve had a strong wind at our backs, something not everyone else benefits from. And we’ll never stop being grateful for that.

Let’s Discuss!

Has your definition of or vision for early retirement shifted significantly over time? How do you see work fitting (or not fitting) into your next life, or your current life if you’re already retired? What parameters would you put around future work for yourself so it still feels like you’re living on your own terms? And on the freedom to fail — what decisions have you been able to make in life that not everyone can? And anyone who’s pursuing early retirement who didn’t have any family or community safety nets? We’d love to hear from people with all kinds of perspectives, so share, share away in the comments!

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89 replies »

  1. Now, this is FIRE I can get behind. The idea of getting upset over someone continuing to do what they love (or starting a new what-they-love project) has always seemed so counterintuitive to me. Sorry, retirement police. This is 100% my goal: get to the point financially where the only reason I show up to teach is because I love it. I get that it isn’t for everyone, but I also think a lot of the drive for FIRE comes out of wanting to feel like your days are full of meaning and like you’re using your time how you want to. If that looks like work, great. If it looks like never working again, great.

    • I am with ya here! My FI pursuit is more about doing something I want to do rather than getting up at the crack of dawn and getting on the bus (which I love, but would part with if it meant no work)

      Hopefully I can figure out a way to migrate this direction before FI and save a few years of sanity.

      We have safety nets, ones that we have created and I know we could count on certain parts of our family if shit hit the fan in a crazy way. After a few more years of building our own safety nets (as I don’t want to burden others with my crazy ideas if they fail) we will be in a better position to try new things and be less worried about failure.

      • I don’t think I’ve said how much I love your new profile pic with the emoji faces! (And that I appreciate that you didn’t use the sunglasses and heart eyes that I use. Because people could get confused!) ;-) I think the ER community talks too much about work (the thing we’re retiring from) and not enough about designing our lives (what we’re retiring to). If we always frame ER as the opposite of work, that’s still fundamentally about what we’re retiring from. So it’s great you’re creating your own definition! (And kudos on the safety nets! Same for us — we NEVER want to be a burden to anyone!)

      • haha – obviously there can’t be two PF blogs with the same faces!

        People were starting to think I looked like an old dead president so I had to switch it up :)

    • Well in that case, I wrote this just for you! ;-) And yeah, I still can’t begin to understand why some people (clearly a TINY slice of people but with an outsized voice) care what others do with their lives or what they call it, but yeah, I think less rigidity in the labels is a good thing. The most important thing is that we can all pursue happiness, purpose and meaning, right? Who cares if we get that at work or somewhere else. :-)

    • Completely agree on this, Penny! A lot of jobs these days can’t give you the feeling of doing something that has meaning. If you can find one like that, there may be no reason to retire early at all!

      For me, I want to have my day completely free to live generously both financially and in deed. This new definition from Our Next Live is great!

      • Totally true. If you have a meaningful job that you love (and, ahem, SUMMERS OFF), then hang onto it!

  2. I’ve noticed a similar change of thought in our household. Initially, we looked at early retirement as not working, but now we’re more focused on just having that freedom to do what excites us.

    I definitely won’t be starting a new career, but I will continue to find things that interest me and like that any pay it offers isn’t really a deciding factor, but rather just a fringe benefit. My wife on the other hand will probably be focusing more on volunteer work.

    The idea of having that freedom of choice is probably what makes the goal of early retirement the pot of gold out there for us.

    — Jim

    • Thanks for sharing that, Jim! That’s interesting to know that you guys have had a similar evolution. And of course I love that your wife will focus on volunteering — the world needs a lot more of that!

  3. I love love love this! (Can you tell I agree?) I enjoy work, structure in my life, the ability to help others/solve problems and the sense of accomplishment I get from a job well done. But this is not limited to my job. I have often thought that, while I love my job, I would like to have more flexibility and the ability to pursue my passions a bit more. I still want to utilize my talents and skills. Retirement for me might be volunteering or working for the local running club, coaching high school alpine skiing or cross country running, working in our church and/or become an outdoor guide or ski instructor (maybe ski patrol someday?). All of these are not exactly the “sit on the beach sipping pina coladas” retirement. They are adventurous passions that require hard work, strategizing and helping others. Who knows, this may be my retirement in the next decade or so!

    ~Mrs. Adventure Rich

    • Nooooooo! Not ski patrol! Sooooo dangerous! (Sorry, reflex! This is what I shout when Mr. ONL brings it up.) ;-) (But for real. So dangerous.) But yeah, I love your vision! It’s hard to imagine many of us just wanting to sit still. And while we might dream of a lazy reverie for a few months, that would get boring and aimless fast!

  4. “Owning our own time, making decisions about work to take on based on intangible factors like how interesting something is or how much it benefits others rather than money, and no longer striving for advancement.”

    Love this! My goal is to focus on more that’s important to me than it is to stop working altogether. I’ll want to continue generating ideas and starting side hustles and see how they go!

    • Thanks, Lance! And love your way of defining your next life phase — there is something to be said for getting to try out a bunch of ideas to see what sticks and not have your entire financial future hinge on the first idea working.

  5. It’s always surprising to me when people take a hard stance around the terms of early retirement. Your point of view makes much more sense: early retirement is a chance to do whatever we please, whether that generates income or not. We need to leave the door open for new possibilities. I honestly couldn’t tell you what I want to be doing in 10 years so it’s crazy to make any decisions now, when it’s completely unnecessary.

    I’d be open to work but likely in the form of a volunteer position. Maybe getting involved with the Humane Society or some other charitable organization that I’m passionate about. I’m definitely not waking up to an alarm clock and want the flexibility to travel at a moment’s notice. I’m looking forward to waking up each day, knowing that I have the freedom to do whatever I want :)

    • I totally own that I started out with that hard stance. And I *do* get the critique of it when it’s specific to bloggers going on and on about how easy it is to retire early, and then they get there and keep earning income. It feels like they’ve sold a false promise. But for everyone else just doing their own thing? Call it whatever you want! ;-)

      I love your priorities for retirement, and agree — no need to put any parameters on it anytime soon!

      • Definitely agree with you on the financial aspect — it drives me crazy when bloggers preach the 4% rule but don’t follow it themselves since they generate enough income blogging/consulting to live off that rather than their investments. More honesty/transparency would be helpful to the PF community. I worry that people are taking it as gospel and will end up running out of money, since they’re unlikely to generate the same kind of revenue blogging.

      • Preach! That’s my fear as well, and why I am trying my best to be transparent despite not sharing numbers. ;-) And why I’ve written about 5,000 posts on being overly conservative. Haha.

  6. I completely agree and it’s one of the things I’m most looking forward to about early retirement- the ability to take on projects because I think they’re interesting or will benefit someone, rather than because I will get paid. I think there’s a lot of value that we all have to offer and removing the income requirement just creates so much flexibility to pursue those ideas and passions.

    This post also reminded me of why I’m such a fan of the concept of Universal Basic Income (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Basic_income). Without getting all political about it, I think (at least in theory) it could give that “freedom to fail” to so many people, even those that are just starting out, without requiring them to first save up the sort of nest egg that we in the FI community do. You might see a lot more people starting small businesses, pursuing art, or having the freedom to care for loved ones without a need for income. I know the concept would have its challenges to implement, but I really love the idea.

    • I love how you focus on value we can each offer. There’s something so troubling about thinking we’re done contributing after we leave traditional work, and it couldn’t be farther from the truth! And I love the universal basic income concept, too. Giving more people the freedom to fail would undoubtedly lead to more innovation and great thinking that isn’t possible now, in addition to those less visible value adds like caring for loved ones, as you mentioned.

  7. This is such a great post and inspires me to think about my own personal evolution, financial and otherwise. I hope writing will be a major focus of your future projects – I love how you connect the dots between early retirement and broader themes!

    • Thanks so much for this nice comment! :-D And absolutely YES, writing will be a major future focus!

  8. This is a long way off for me and I am in the super early days of this journey, but early retirement for me has always been about freedom. I’m the kind of person who feels restless/guilty for not getting anything “productive” done on even one day of the weekend, let alone the entire weekend, so I know already the “sit around and never work again” version of ER would never work for me. To be fair, the need to be “productive” is ridiculous and something I’m trying to break, but I do need structure in my life. I’m viewing financial independence as an opportunity to figure out what I want to do, since I have NO idea (I’m always terrified of the “where do you see yourself in 5 years?” question in job interviews, etc). FIRE for me is the freedom to explore things to figure out what the answer to that question really is, and the freedom to fail. If I do something and it’s not what I want or doesn’t work, cool. I’ll just try something else!

    • It’s good you know that about yourself, that you have such a strong need to be productive. Writing this blog has definitely helped affirm for me that there are many ways to feel productive, and they can have nothing to do with work. :-) I do think it’s important that you go into ER with *some* activities or vision in place (but you have time to figure that out!), just so you don’t feel aimless, especially given your need for structure. But as long as you have it partially figured out in advance, then you can definitely use the rest of the time to explore and feel things out, all consequence-free!

  9. I remember before I retired five months ago, that my biggest wish was to improve my overall quality of life. That if anything, any work I might do, paid or unpaid, would not be the center of my existence. I think that I’ve found that, although I’m still working out what I want to do with my time in the long-term future. In the short-term, I’ve made the decision to accept my former employer’s offer to do part-time contract work for one year. I consider this a win, because they have the benefit of my skills, and I get flexible, part-time hours. At the end of the year’s contract, either one of us can decide not to renew.

    • You’re still in the detox period, so you have no obligation to have any answers yet! ;-) And I think your part-time continuation gig sounds like a nice way to transition (as well as to reduce your sequence of returns risk with a little added income!).

  10. I do love how I now have the freedom to fail, even while I’m getting out of debt. Lifting the burden of car loans, student loans, and credit card debt has enabled us to feel better about our situation and where we’re going.

    • That’s terrific! And I love that you feel that freedom even if you’re not totally financially independent (yet!). :-)

  11. To me, the ability to choose how you spend your time, 100% of the time, IS retirement. If you choose to spend it by pursuing work that happens to bring you happiness, so be it. That said, it might be tough to argue that someone who works a full-time job is truly retired, even if they don’t have to work. I might chalk that up to financial independence.

    Luckily, the retirement police have no effect over my life. Or your life. Or anybody’s life.

    My definition of retirement has changed some over the years, but not significantly. I knew that I’d probably do *something* post-retirement even for no monetary compensation. I had assumed they would be my own projects, but I love that I was able to find a role in Rockstar Finance contributing to a system that’s pretty darn influential within the PF community. That definitely makes it sweeter.

    I also thought that I’d be writing more, especially in compensated positions for other content outlets. But the more I investigated that potential, the more it sounded like a job. After retirement, I didn’t want to be boxed into writing X number of articles per week. I quickly ended that possibility.

    Overall, I’d say it’s GOOD that early retirees keep one finger in the pot. Options are good. And it keeps your mind active and thinking.

    • Oh dude, no one said anything about full time. ;-) Hahaha. Hells to the no! Your gig with RSF seems like such a great fit for you and that’s awesome. I think we have the same bias as you and have little desire to work for others in ER, even if it’s for a small number of hours. Being on the hook to someone else for some something just has no appeal. (I know, I’m so spoiled!) ;-) But totally agree — keep one finger in one pot, at least!

  12. I think the hardest thing about early retirement, whatever terms you use, is filling the void of work and relationships that go with it. When you retire early, you will find, as I have, that there aren’t a lot of people around in your ‘demographic’ and those that are around are often unemployed and so at least emotionally encumbered. Part of me says that there needs to more prep time — have a plan — but I did and a year or so into it I still find myself unsteady. Do I miss full time work? Not at all. Am I engaged in many things and traveling? Absolutely. Do I have issues to worry about? Not really but I’m a worrywart so it’s in my nature.

    I think the idea of ‘freedom’ to fail is very important. We’ve spent our lives reaching a level of competence and confidence in our careers and, yes, hobbies and more. Now as we start new things, adventure, education, in my case very humbling attempts at fiction, you can get hit with a degree of discomfort. Fear. But I liken it to a good fear, the type that comes with learning something new when I was younger. While we early retirees have maturity and material resources and health, I think we might forget what it was like to be the student just starting out. It can be disconcerting until you realize that you’re doing it for fun and perhaps don’t take it so seriously.

    • I think what you raise is super important, and you’re not the first person to talk about the challenge of the void. That was a big motivator to us, actually, in moving to a mountain town where a much higher percentage of people in our general age vicinity don’t have traditional 9-to-5 jobs, so there are actually people available to get together at off-peak hours. That wouldn’t have been true where we lived before! But it’s not something everyone considers before making the leap.

      It’s so great that you’re writing fiction! I completely admire that, and hope to follow you one day soon — I can crank out tons of nonfiction prose, but fiction is far more humbling and challenging. So kudos to you for taking that on, fear and all.

  13. Wow. I love this outlook. My whole life I’ve felt like I HAD TO succeed because there was no safety net. No parental home to which to bounce back. No “bank of Mom and Dad” for a cash advance. No second chance if I failed med school.
    Now we can do anything, and who cares if it doesn’t work out? Blogging isn’t really my forte, and that’s okay. I’m excited to see what’s next.

    • Thanks! And yeah, it’s a whole new kind of opportunity — being free to be BAD at something, or just to have it not make money. ER lets each of us do whatever brings us joy, not what’s profitable. :-)

  14. Since we’ve “moved” up to Breckenridge for the summer from Austin, it has been incredible to see the efforts of the local and federal firefighters. These guys/girls are true heroes. Certainly it must have crossed your mind that this would be one kickass retirement job. Jumping out of airplanes, being a part of a hotshot team, keeping the community safe … that’s real purpose. Coming to the mountains is so rejuvenating for us to see a completely different perspective on work and life from the hustle and bustle of the tech world. But back to the post at hand. Whatever you decide to do for your personal growth and community contribution is good enough. It’s great to have the financial freedom to pursue your own projects, whether paid or not. We’ve been longtime FI, but I’ve been in and out of work projects. First and foremost they must be fun and encourage learning. But there is nothing wrong with getting paid good money for it. And if you don’t need the money, then put it to work in a way that helps other people. I always liked Ernie Zelenski’s approach to not work in months that didn’t have an “R” in it. Having space and time to recharge is critical. So paid work is a day to day thing for us, which is the reason I prefer the mini-retirement sabbatical approach to things. Both work and retirement is never permanent. As for other people’s opinion on things … I could really care less. Except for my circle of close friends/mentors. I posted this on Steve’s site a couple days ago where Jon Stewart had the most succinct view, “You can never retire too early bro!”.

    • Clearly I am too safety focused, but I see what those (incredible) firefighters do and I’m like, “Um, no thanks, but keep up the great work!” Haha. And I didn’t know Ernie Zelinski’s work schedule lined up with when you’re not supposed to eat oysters. ;-) Totally agree there is zero shame in earning good money for post-ER work, but likewise there’s no shame in NOT earning money even if you’re working hard at something. That’s the new level of freedom that comes from all of this. (Wohoo!)

  15. I’m still closer to your original definition, the absence of work. But, I could care less about the police aspect. Still I do agree you need to retire to something not from. Ambition doesn’t disappear onceyou retire nor do other drivers.

    • The ambition thing is a real puzzle, and one we’re going to have to face soon enough. What happens when a type-A ambitious climber retires early and has no outlet for that ambition? No idea, but I’ll be confronting the question soon! ;-)

  16. Can you just put a disclaimer at the top of the blog that says “I am privileged”?

    I get that you don’t want to come off as arrogant or lacking in empathy. But privilege is inherent in pursuing/achieving FI. I don’t think it is any secret that you are a high earning individual with a relatively high net worth (despite your insistence to not report any hard numbers). In my mind the constant need to say “This is privileged, but…” gets a little old.

    Anyways, just my two cents based on reading a few of your posts.

    • After I see it actually be acknowledged broadly by folks, which I sure as heck don’t see now, I’ll shut up about it. ;-)

      • I actually think acknowledging privilege has very little to do with how we want to be perceived. For me, it’s like leaving out an ingredient of a recipe. It has more to do with transparency than anything else. It doesn’t mean that other people with varying levels of privilege can’t achieve FIRE, but if it plays a role in your life, why wouldn’t you put all the cards on the table?

      • Totally agree. I think all PF blogs, but especially FI blogs, have an especially high responsibility to be transparent, and this is a big piece of our “recipe.” Our trajectory would look so different without the advantages we’ve had along the way, and it would be blatantly misleading to act like those opportunities are available to anyone. We’d argue that many people can do what we’ve done, but few could do it on the same timeline, and the last thing we’d ever want to do is suggest that anyone who couldn’t replicate our path had done something wrong or didn’t measure up.

      • I agree with James. I know you aren’t intending it this way, but your privilege disclaimers come across a little humble-braggy. It might just be better to make a blanket disclaimer.

      • I disagree that a blanket disclaimer would be better. I truly appreciate how this blog actually acknowledges the good fortune and privilege. Most of the FI movement has an issue acknowledging this. I think addressing it can inspire others who may not have been as blessed. It’s also a good reminder to be grateful. I see so many people focused against their job and saving every penny just to be FI, but it doesn’t seem that they’re going towards anything. It’s more of a game. We are lucky to have a job and an income that we can save. As Warren Buffet says, we’ve all won the Ovarian lottery.

      • Thanks for chiming in! And totally agree on gratitude. *Not* acknowledging our luck and good fortune (in addition to our hard work and perseverance) would mean missing out on a huge and ongoing opportunity to feel grateful, and gratitude brings nothing but good vibes and happiness. We’d be dumb to pass up free good vibes! ;-)

    • I disagree with James. I think acknowledging one’s privilege needs to happen over and over again, especially because so many financial blogs purposely NEVER mention it. It would be disingenuous to leave that piece of the ONL puzzle out because she’s right: she HAS had a strong wind at her back, which has contributed to her early retirement schedule.

      • Thanks for sharing your perspective, P! I think it’s critical to share that info with new readers, which is one reason why I mention it when appropriate, not just once and done. But even for folks who read continually, there is no downside to reminding ourselves how fortunate we are and feeling that gratitude. Gratitude and happiness are strongly linked, after all!

  17. You said aggro. :) YES. Taking money out of the decision making equation is so empowering and such a privilege. Liberal arts and the humanities in general – I think they are so important and quite the opposite of frivolous, though I would agree that it’s not optimizing or extremely practical for your 4 or more years of undergrad. But I’m sure you have some interesting thoughts for a blog post on that subject.

  18. As our plan to FIRE only started in 2015, we benefitted from a lot of wisdom from others and we knew we need to retire to something. And it was clear soon that this would be some sort of work, on our terms, with sufficient non working periods in between.
    The big challenge now is to define and find that work. In a ideal world we take on that work now, and delay the official FI date and at the same time move forward the benefits from FI.
    So far the goal, we now are working on the plan to make this dream a reality.

    • I agree with you — finding work that can be done on a totally self-directed schedule is not entirely easy. You can either build something yourself (our plan, we hope), or if you work for others, then it’s perhaps a bit of luck to find the right opportunity where they’ll accept you working sometimes and being unavailable other times!

  19. I absolutely love reading this! Looks live you have found your purpose for “retirement”. I think I’m leaning the same way as well. Achieve financial independence so I can decide to do whatever I want with no regards to money whatsoever!

    • Thanks. :-) We’re feeling good on the purpose piece, but I’m sure how it expresses itself in ER will continually change!

  20. Love this! I’m a huge believer in financial independence but I absolutely don’t care about retiring early. I want financial independence to be free to do the work I want to do or not do the work I don’t want to do. If that means retiring early then great! If it means working more hours on my blog than I currently spend at my full time job. Also great! That’s the choice and freedom and I want to have.

    • You don’t care about early retirement?! I know what those words mean, but have no idea what you’re saying! Hahahaha. Right on for following what you’re into and giving yourself that added flexibility, even if your vision for your time is to fill it with work. :-)

  21. I have been following this blog and many others in the FIRE community for some time. The word privilege is used infrequently and I think miss ONL has been sincere in making sure new readers are reminded that their journey is quite exceptional – I do not see it as humble bragging at all

    In general I think too often people are quick to correlate success with privilege, there is for some a direct correlation but for most, in America, I believe a more loosely aligned correlation and while that privilege may have made a few more doors easier to open at the end of the day you have to deliver because absolutely no one (outside of trust funders) get a free ride to the top floor of financial independence.

    Even if you are fortunate over a 30 year career to earn an aggregate of 5 million, the compounding returns math, lower early year earning capacity and overall savings rates do not line up to deliver outsized FI success unless you have been dedicated to that outcome. Not having children also plays a role in ability to save – I would likely have achieved FI a decade earlier without children but for us they were priceless and I wouldnt change a thing. Privilege plays a minor role if you start at zero and after 25 or 30 years you can achieve FIRE. Luck, planning and being frugal probably play a bigger role.

    These guys (ONL) were INTENTIONAL and have accomplished what they set out to do. if the other 98% of the humans who aren’t as intentional as those who are, there would be better outcomes for more people. I know plenty of people who have come from zero and achieved wonderful results in life. This country provides more opportunity than any other on the planet, not everyone succeeds but the ratio of success and upward mobility is greater here than any other country. Financial literacy also plays a big part, Americans on average are naive about finance. Let’s fix that

    So if you are not born of wealth in the end hard work outweighs privilege by a considerable factor because quality results are what gives you the capacity to earn above the mean.

    Good luck everyone

    • Thanks, Phil. I always get sad when people talk about privilege as thought it’s either/or. Either you’re privileged or you earned what you have. But that’s far too simplistic, and just not the way it works. As you said, privilege can play a potentially huge role in someone’s likelihood of success, but ultimately we ALSO have to earn it. We know other people along the way who had more advantages than we did, and made worse choices, and they’re in worse spots. So we’d say we’ve been extraordinarily lucky AND we’ve worked hard and earned where we are. Both are equally true. :-)

  22. Our post 9-5 plan never consisted of never working, which is a hard thing to define anyways. But not doing work that sucks, or to pay the bills, or because we feel like we have to. Just things that add the most value, most of which we do for free. We look at our values, impact, and what really matters to us and we spend all our time, energy and effort there. That might be cooking real food, traveling with our kids, serving on a non-profit board, mentoring, working in the yard, going to the gym, writing. Then finding the perfect balance of those for any given day. If or how much money they earn is about the 12th question we ask when deciding how to spend our most valuable asset, our time. Our general rule is we only do things that are interesting/fun/important enough that we would do them for free. If we wouldn’t do it for free… meh. Life’s too short to waste our time on it.

    • That’s a super grounded way to view it all! I appreciate that you focus on spending your time wisely above everything.

  23. I love this post! The idea of being free to fail never crossed my mind, but it makes so much sense. For me early retirement has always been more about the freedom to chose what I do daily and owning my time. To not feet obligated to work a job that I may not love, just because I need the income. I understand the desire to rest and have fun in early retirement, but I think that can be done along with meaningful work. Such a thought provoking article!

    • Thanks, Rachel! :-) I think a lot of us think of ER as you do, as a chance to control our own time, and to pursue meaningful work over lucrative work. And, turns out, we can also experiment and it’s totally okay if it turns out we’re bad at some of those things we try! ;-)

  24. You nailed the definition of ER that I’ve been working toward. My goal is to remove money from my decision-making process, but not to stop working.

    I’d go nuts if I weren’t actively learning and creating – I don’t anticipate that’ll change as I get closer to early retirement. If anything, my big goal is to get to the point that I work for the impact of what I can do and the personal growth I can get out of it – not based on the size of the paycheck.

    If I make money from whatever I do in retirement, it’ll help us do even more charitable giving :)

    • You know I totally love that you have such a big charitable giving focus. Being able to make decisions about how to spend our time without making money a primary consideration has got to be one of the best privileges out there. And if the thing that calls to you looks like work, who cares! What matters is that you feel engaged and interested in what you’re doing, and like you’re making a contribution!

  25. I don’t believe I’ll ever want to do zero ‘work’
    I really enjoy and am quite good at helping others, and it just so happens that people are willing to pay for that. Win-win in my books :)
    My ideal would be to have a super flexible schedule where I can spend as much time as possible with my family and then pick up enough extras to ‘top up’ on any passive income streams.

    • Total win-win! If you’re good at something, people will pay for it, AND it helps others, that probably qualifies as a triple bottom line win-win-win. ;-) And I hope that super flexible schedule is something you can pull off easily when the time comes!

  26. Like you, I’ve enjoyed the privilege of freedom to fail from an early age. For my first several years post high school, I took relatively low level risks… attending college, choosing a semi-marketable major, working for a Fortune 50, etc.

    After having kids, Rob and I realized that we had a lot more room to take risk and fail, so we’ve taken some enormous risks since then. Rob went back to school, I quit the job and started freelancing instead (among other risks). Those decisions would have been really hard to make if I hadn’t enjoyed the earlier successes [Path dependence :)]

    Growing to some high level of wealth (perhaps not FI, but FI enough which is what I consider myself) allows you to change your time horizon from months to years. That time horizon brings an even greater level of freedom to fail since the burden of your failure rests on your own shoulders for a long time.

    If you don’t have your own wealth, the burden of failure is on your parents/social network or the government. Most people who don’t have personal wealth really don’t want to utilize a social safety net, so they can’t take on as much risk even if it would be a lucrative decision.

    The point being- it’s good to recognize that you are free to fail, and that freedom came from others as well as yourself.

    Related to your actual point of the article: as long as you’re creating value for others, I think your retirement will be a success. Creating for others (and not just yourself) is essential to human flourishing. In our current economic setup, creating value for others will often bring in some money, but it doesn’t have to.

    • Thanks for sharing this, Hannah! I like how you explained the concept, putting it in terms of risk you’ve been able to take on instead of freedom to fail. And it’s true — so many people are forced to make the safe choice, or the sure thing choice, rather than following their passion or interests. And so being in a position to follow our own interests first, and to focus on making a contribution to society without worrying about paying our bills — we feel pretty darn lucky to be in that position. ;-)

  27. I don’t know that I’ve ever had a plan to do something post-retirement. I’ve had lots of “plans” just nothing concrete. I mean our plan is to set up our system so that if we didn’t make money, it would still work – but it’s all black magic, voodoo and guessing so who knows what will actually work. That being said, we’re just shooting for a lifestyle change because we don’t see both of us “not working”.

    I could do that, but I know I’d probably end up bored, fat, or develop some other unhealthy habits that could elad to a shorter lifespan if i didn’t find an ikigai (or purpose in life) post career. I ahve no clue what that will be as currently, if I have free time, I rarely utilize it to do anything I’ve talked about wanting to do. Interesting huh?

    Who knows what will come in the end, but as long as it’s my goal and my plan and not creating negative vibes for anyone else, then i’d call it successful, even if it doesn’t fit any definition of FIRE.

    Oh, and tone down the privilege talk, won’t ya, sheesh. (eyeroll) lol :)

    • Hahaha, truth. It’s ALL voodoo. Ooh, speaking of ikigai, maybe you need to take up ikebana. I could totally see you guys doing tea ceremonies and arranging flowers out at the lake estate. ;-) (Let me know if that vision sticks!)

      [DISCLAIMER: We have lots of privilege.]

  28. I love your new definition of early retirement! In particular, this part struck a chord:

    “no longer striving for advancement.”

    Advancement in a corporate setting, at least for me, is almost always brought about by the need for more money. With all of the politics in an office environment, it takes a lot of energy and can wear you down when you are trying to move forward. This can actually HINDER your growth rather than help it.

    In early retirement, being able to do what you want frees you from the burden of needing to advance. This way, you can grow even more!

    Great article!

    • Thanks! And glad you caught that part of the line, because that’s a biggie for me especially. Not even for the money as just for the proof that I’m valued and making a contribution. We shall see what happens when you take a gold star seeker and throw her into retirement, but you know I’ll write about it either way! ;-)

  29. This post is very fitting for me today as it is my last week working as a full time employee in corporate America. I think early retirement, or really financial independence is really about working on things that I was to work on. Not working just for the sake trying to get a promotion with a slightly higher raise or bigger bonus then the person next to me. It is about freedom of choice.

    For the most part, I loved my time in corporate America. I learned a tremendous amount. If I want, I can share my experience as a consultant, or not. Thats the beauty of it.

    • So by now you must be all done. CONGRATS!!!!! And I definitely appreciate that you aren’t hating on your job on the way out. We can enjoy the work and love our time in our careers and still want out. :-) Congrats again!

  30. Late to comment, but I just re-read this today (featuring on my weekly roundup) and I still love this post. Some awesome quotable material here, and really hit the nail on the head with what I’m pursing for early retirement.

    Your revised definition is perfect!

    • Thanks, Dave! Glad it resonated with you so well. And thanks for the feature in your roundup! :-)

  31. That’s our plan as well: in fact, we came to FI/ER as a goal *because* we want to do other things where we can completely fail, with little/no financial risk. That’s actually what motivates us – more than just the money piece. In fact, at my last job, that’s the main reason I left: too much pressure/stress to never fail – which meant taking little risk, doing routine things, never seeing big returns, and so on.

    I can’t understate how wise it is of you to approach your early retirement in this way: you’ll have the freedom to do the work that is meaningful to you, thus fulfilling the purpose you were made for. And without having to worry about finances!

    More importantly, this is *exactly* why I created a blog: to encourage people to focus upon life purpose, and use finances as a means towards that end. We’re all designed for a purpose, and that purpose will remain even once the money piece is nailed down, as it is for you. (I’ve noticed some bloggers who retire early feel that nagging tug to get back to meaningful work – because we’re all designed to do work that is meaningful.) It sounds like you’re using your freedom in the best way possible!

    If you have time, check out my recent post re: giving – it’s along a similar theme, encouraging everyone (and challenging bloggers!) to find meaning through giving.

    • So glad you’re pushing folks to give more. That’s a big thing I promote, too. And I don’t know that I agree that we all have one purpose that we’re put here for — I think each of us could potentially have several, or a combination like ours (adventure, service, creativity) — but tuning into the larger idea of purpose truly is the key to happiness, I’m convinced. ;-)

      • Thank you! And I totally agree. It can change over time, too. With life experience (especially after a really significant experience), and so on. In fact, I love one purpose-related book, and its author jumped from purpose/life coaching into something totally different after his kid died (charity work related to the same). But what I mean is at any one point in time, you have a purpose or purposes.

  32. Strangely, since I have my own business that must have a concrete location due to its nature, I want location independence in my version of early retirement. Once I have the nest egg I want, my plan is to literally pay someone to check my mail for me so that I don’t have to be where my business is.

    Part of the reason I want location independence is that my girlfriend’s career is on an entirely different plane from mine. She will be headhunted across the US and possibly the Globe. I want to be able to join her as often as possible without losing my own business. Thankfully, the lucrative side-skill I’m building can be more location independent. Recently, there was a posting for a short-term gig in her city. I FLIPPED with joy at the prospect.

    • Oh my gosh, a possible move?! That’s a (maybe) big deal! And I think location independence is a GREAT way to define your version of FIRE! We already sort of have that, but the work still takes up far too much of our time, so we’ve realized we want the time independence more than the location. ;-)

      • There is nothing at all in the works yet. I just want it to be an available option. But, if we go that route, having a low-cost home base in my current city would be good for both of us. Just a tiny condo that we could always regroup in. Ah dreams!