I’ve long described planning for early retirement as living a double life. And for years, we’ve carried around this huge lie among some of the people we care most about, unable to divulge our true mission for fear that doing so would jeopardize our plans.
We knew the lie was there. We knew it was heavy. We just didn’t actually realize how big and how heavy the lie had become until it wasn’t there anymore. And this week, we officially freed ourselves of the lie.
All of a sudden, we both feel so much lighter. And freer. And less guarded. Less afraid of accidentally saying too much, of giving something away prematurely.
Here’s how it all went down.
There’s No One Experience. Here’s Ours.
I’ve learned in hearing from so many of you over time that every job is different, and the dynamics in every company are different. Some folks warned us that our employers wouldn’t really care, or would say some variation of, “Oh bummer. Moving on…” Or that our work friends wouldn’t turn out to be real friends after we leave. We believed that wouldn’t be true for us, not because we are so amazing, but just because our companies and work dynamics are different.
Here’s more than we’ve shared before:
Mr. ONL has been in his job for 19 ½ years. (Yes, you read that right.) He started right out of college and has had no other employer in his career. I’ve been in mine for 15 ½ years. I’ve had two other employers, but both of those were brief stints. We grew up at our companies, we still work closely with the people who hired us all those years ago, and we are surrounded by many of the people who either were hired alongside us or predated us, meaning we’ve been friends with them longer than if we’d known them for kindergarten through high school graduation. We both work for companies where people stick around because there’s a clear sense of shared mission, a strong work culture, and a palpable commitment to teamwork. In addition to that, we’ve progressed to senior management roles – he’s a partner, and I’m a senior vice president – and have unique skills that add to our value. While of course everyone can be replaced, some people are harder to replace than others.
All of that is why this decision – and actually going through with quitting! – have perhaps weighed more heavily on us than they might have on others.
And we know this isn’t true at many workplaces, but our closest work friends are genuine friends. We both keep in touch with former colleagues, and are accustomed to hearing dispatches at work from the (few) folks who’ve left. The field we work in is a small world, and even those who travel far from it are considered part of the club forever. We’ve wanted to spill the beans on our plan with our friends but knew we couldn’t. All of that has added to the weight, too.
And on top of all of it, this blog has grown into a big part of our lives in ways we couldn’t possibly have guessed when I started opining in all lowercase almost 300 posts ago. When friends at work have asked us about what we’re up to or where we traveled, we’ve had to guard this secret, too. More added weight. (So if you’re thinking about starting an anonymous blog, consider this possibility.)
When the Weight Gets Lifted // Giving Notice
Mr. ONL gave notice two weeks ago, in a conversation I’ve shared with those on the newsletter list. Here’s a snippet from that:
The conversation went just about the way you’d expect between two awkward nerdy white guys – I was nervous, he was stunned, but we soldiered through. I’m guessing many FIRE’d readers have had similar conversations when they gave notice: “Wait, what do you mean by retired? HOW old are you? Are you going to have enough money?” As a boss he truly cares about his employees, and to some degree his reaction was that of a concerned father – “Wow, you’re doing something so outside the mainstream. Are you sure you’ll be okay?” My relief on telling him was immediate and visceral, but I could also tell I was letting him down. And while I expected that, it still leaves a hint of ambivalence in what is otherwise a time of overwhelming joy and relief.
Mr. ONL only had to give notice to one person, but I had to do it with three, and then share the news with the full executive level team via email. And so while he felt that immediate, visceral relief, my relief came in little portioned-out doses, one tiny hit at a time.
My first boss, long-time mentor and woman who hired me was first up, over dinner. My current boss, whom I’ve worked with for years, was second, over breakfast the next morning. And my secondary supervisor was third, by phone that afternoon. All in, it was a 24-hour process, with new nervousness each time. With each one, I talked about our dream, my concern about possible health challenges to come, and how grateful I was for all the opportunities and mentorship. One said she was glad that I’d dropped one subtle hint a year or so ago, so that she wasn’t utterly shocked. The others were more surprised, but all three were ultimately completely supportive and amazing. Which let me exhale just a little with each one. And which made me feel both better and worse – better because I was relieved that none were upset with me, but worse because their support was yet another reminder of how fortunate I’ve been to get to work for an inspiring company full of wonderful people for all of these years. And I know that leaving will be a loss that I’ll feel and mourn. It’s still a loss I’m willing to go through because of what’s next, but there’s no reason to pretend this is all pure happiness and elation.
So for both of us, that heavy lie might be gone, but (temporarily) in its place is the heaviness of the loss we both now have to process. It’s mixed with the excitement of what’s to come, but it’s still there.
Related post: You can love your job and still want to retire early
The Double Life Winds Down
There are still other people to tell, which is why you don’t see our faces and names here just yet. We have a few other team members to tell and most of our clients, and those conversations will bring some of their own sadness. We’ve had many of our clients for years, and consider some of the them friends, too. And the teams we lead are filled with talented staff whose success we feel personally invested in. We want to be as helpful to them as we can be before we leave.
But gradually, we’re beginning to share more of what we’ve been up to for all of these years. We’ve both now shared the blog with a few colleagues. (Hi!) We’ve gotten a few questions about how to do what we did. (Answer: Read this blog! But start with this book.) I’ve shared some of the other top secret projects I’ve had in development. (The first podcast launches November 8!)
All of this stuff that’s been out-of-bounds for discussion is now okay to talk about, and it frankly feels weird.
I’ve typed “early retirement” hundreds of times here, maybe thousands of times. And several hundred more on Twitter. But I’ve said it aloud far less than that, and the words “We’re going to retire early at the end of the year…” felt foreign coming out of my mouth, like the words of a rash, foolish, impulsive person. That’s something we’ll have to get used to, too: saying this stuff out loud, in real life, with confidence, without a hint of implied question mark at the end.
Completing the Mission Without Having Our Cover Blown
I’ve learned a few tricks over time about how to blog anonymously without getting found out, at least by people without access to sophisticated intelligence tools. (I’m not running ONL out of the dark web or anything.) So for the past year, I’ve felt pretty confident that we weren’t going to have our covers blown too early. Still, I stayed off Reddit and other sites that I thought might make us a target. And I didn’t let myself get lazy on the precautions, just in case. And that doxing that we’d always held in the backs of our minds as a possibility never came.
Which means: mission accomplished.
We successfully completed our mission without blowing our covers, and we can now retire from the double agent life for good.
Lots of questions for you guys today, so let’s dive into all of it in the comments! For those who’ve already given notice, was it anything like our experience? Tell us all about it. And for those who are thinking about how you’ll give notice in the future, what are you most afraid of, if anything? Anybody else feeling the weight of the lie and want to share how that’s playing out for you? Or have tips for others dealing with the double agent life? Fire away!
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