Retiring Early in the Face of Fear // Our Next Life // The biggest non-financial question we've been getting lately, now that folks know we've retired, is "Aren't you scared?!" And you might assume that people who've made the big leap and given up the big paychecks would say, "Nope!" But that's not true. We are scared. Just as anyone doing something big and at least a little bit risky should be. But we didn't let that fear hold us back, and that's what actually matters.we've learned

Retiring Early in the Face of Fear

A few weeks ago, I wrote that the most common question we’ve been getting lately, now that nearly everyone in our lives knows that we’ve retired early, is whether we own Bitcoin. But we’ve also been getting a very different kind of question, a lot:

Aren’t you scared?

It’s a reasonable question. We were high earners who walked away from all that (and maybe closed the door on going back to something similar, because it’s often not easy to “just go back to work”), and instead decided to roll the dice that future market returns will look at least a little like past market returns. We’re also gambling on future health care expenses, future food and gas prices, and nearly everything else that costs money. We can analyze inflation projections and read expert opinions all we want, but the truth is that none of us knows what will happen in the future.

Very smart, rational, brave people would be forgiven for finding this kinda scary.

In some ways, I’m fearless. I’m not easily intimidated, I can speak in front of hundreds of people without cracking a sweat, and I’ve climbed up and skied down some things that my parents would not be so happy to know about. But when it comes to money, fear is an intimate companion.

Part of my motivation in starting this blog, in fact, was the idea that I could master my fear of giving up a steady income forever by analyzing every aspect of early retirement. That by having to come up with things to write, I’d be forced to scrutinize our plan so thoroughly that it would become airtight, waterproof and impervious to failure.

And then my fear would dissipate.

But what I learned along the way was quite different.

Retiring Early in the Face of Fear // Our Next Life // The biggest non-financial question we've been getting lately, now that folks know we've retired, is "Aren't you scared?!" And you might assume that people who've made the big leap and given up the big paychecks would say, "Nope!" But that's not true. We are scared. Just as anyone doing something big and at least a little bit risky should be. But we didn't let that fear hold us back, and that's what actually matters.

Fear and Early Retirement

One of my favorite books, a must-read for any writer, is The War of Art by Steven Pressfield. In it is the perfect description of what my experience of early retirement fear has been:

The amateur believes he must first overcome his fear; then he can do his work. The professional knows that fear can never be overcome. He knows there is no such thing as a fearless warrior or a dread-free artist.

What Henry Fonda does, after puking into the toilet in his dressing room, is to clean up and march out onstage. He’s still terrified but he forces himself forward in spite of his terror. He knows that once he gets out into the action, his fear will recede and he’ll be okay.

— Steven Pressfield, The War of Art

Get Out Into the Action

I’ve already spoiled this story because you know how it ends: I retired early despite my fear. But that quote above so closely matches what I eventually realized. There was no overcoming the fear that bad economic things might befall us and we might run out of money one day. No amount of analysis or research or planning would free me of that fear, at least not entirely.

I’m still scared that we might fail at this.

Maybe not quite terrified, as Pressfield suggests Henry Fonda was. But the fear is absolutely still present in my life. That’s not actually important, though.

What’s important is that we acted anyway. That we managed to hold that fear, see it for what it is, listen to what it has to teach us and then get on with our plans. Because I learned that both can be true:

I can be scared and trust that we’ll be okay.

The Problem with the Narrative of Overcoming

We didn’t let that fear stop us from realizing our big life dream, which probably sounds a lot like your typical movie narrative. Have some challenge. Overcome it. Succeed. The popular narrative of this kind of thing is so much about overcoming. The underdog who overcame some challenge to win the big game. The person who went through something and overcame it to achieve the great feat.

Those stories can be inspiring, but they’re often not accurate. Sometimes the thing standing in your way can’t be overcome at all, it can only be managed. And what matters is not beating it, but acting anyway, in spite of it.

When we say things like, “Don’t be scared,” or “Trust the math,” we might mean well. But we’re subtly signaling to those who are afraid that they must not be ready, because you’re only ready to make the leap when you’re not scared anymore.

And that’s ridiculous. It’s like the saying, “If you’re not outraged, you’re not paying attention.” If you’re not at least a little bit scared when you make the leap to early retirement, you almost certainly aren’t taking it seriously enough.

Big decisions in life are like that. We can be excited and optimistic and scared. Maybe that’s exactly how we should feel.

Understanding Risk to Manage the Fear

Pulling the ripcord to early retirement isn’t the first big scary financial thing I’ve done, though it’s for sure bigger and scarier than the others.

Starting to invest my money – money I could now theoretically lose! – felt scary. Buying our first place – but what if the markets crashed more?! – felt scary.

And what helped me do both of those things was not overcoming any fear, but rather learning that risk is almost never on just one side. I saw investing as risky because I mistakenly believed saving in a savings account to be safe. But once I came to understand inflationary risk and realized I was guaranteeing I’d lose money in a savings account, investing seemed much less risky by comparison, and I was able to act in spite of that fear. Same with buying our first place – sure, the markets could dip more, but rents in LA were rising, and we could have easily ended up financially worse off not buying. It was scary to write that down payment check and to take on that big debt, but we didn’t let that fear hold us back.

Every once in a while, learning something actually did remove the fear entirely. Like with dollar-cost averaging, a very fear-driven approach to investing. We used to fear socking lump sums into the markets, but got over that after we learned the math on it. That’s not the norm, though. For the most part, the fear stays with me, but knowing more about whatever it is helps me act anyway, in spite of that fear.

With early retirement, realizing that it’s not about a secure, income-earning life vs. an insecure, non-earning life was pivotal. Rather it’s between a life in which you might have more financial security but you also trade so much of your precious time for that versus a life in which you trade a little financial security for the gift of more time. (Or, as I prefer to put it, “We didn’t want to risk spending all our good years at the office.”) Not risky vs. safe, but one risk vs. a different risk.

And so we chose the latter, and we leapt.

But Listen to What the Fear Has to Teach You

I’m actually grateful for the fear that I’ve felt all throughout this journey, because I know it has made our plan better and more solid. Without that fear, I would not have done so much research or baked in so many contingencies. I wouldn’t have educated myself so much about the pitfalls of different drawdown strategies and the finer points of sequence of returns risk. We might have blindly followed 25X without building out a better-for-us two-phase approach that gives us a built-in safety valve of a whole second pool of funds to provide for our traditional retirement, whether or not we succeed at early retirement.

I credit fear with that. If I’d overcome the fear of what this leap means, I might not have put all that thought into it.

So it’s truly worth examining whatever fear you feel, and listen to what it has to teach you. “I’m afraid” isn’t specific enough. Go deeper.

“I’m scared that the markets might not return enough, and I’ll run out of money,” means you might need a larger margin of safety.

“I’m scared of bad returns early in our retirement wiping us out,” means you need to have a plan to manage sequence risk, and likely a bigger cash cushion.

“I’m scared that I might spend too much early on in early retirement and run out of money too soon,” means you need accountability structures built in that will help you manage your spending.

“I’m scared of how it will feel not to get any sort of paycheck,” means you probably want some kind of side hustle in place well before you leave your career so you’ll still have a small paycheck coming in.

Sometimes that fear points us to strengthen our plans in financial ways, and other times, it’s all about emotional comfort. Both are equally important and equally worth listening to, because both help you sleep at night. And if you can’t sleep well at night in early retirement, you’re doing it wrong.

Don’t ignore that fear or try to trick yourself into believing you can push it away entirely. Instead, listen to it, learn from it and then act anyway. There’s no reason why you have to let it hold you back!

Let’s Talk About Fear

Let’s get into it! What do you fear in early retirement, or did you once fear? How do you manage that or act in spite of it? Sometimes – when fear stems from truly not understanding something – it IS possible to overcome it by gaining that understanding, like us with dollar cost averaging. Any good examples of that you can share? Or any examples of fear you still carry around, but which you’ve managed by learning a ton about your options? Any fear that still holds you back a bit that folks in the community can help you act in spite of? Let’s chat in the comments!

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87 replies »

  1. You guys aren’t going to fail, no way. You’re already making money on your passion projects and I predict they will become as lucrative as your former jobs, probably more so. Then you can spend your time responding to the retirement police full time.

    But the cool thing about those passion projects is that you’ll have FULL control and be able to dial it back whenever you want. If you want to spend more time on the slopes, then you say no to a speaking gig, or skip a podcast episode. Being in control of what brings money in is a super-duper powerful weapon!

    • You’re using a rational argument when we’re talking about fear. ;-) And OMG, the thought of responding to the retirement police full-time makes me want to go back to work! Hahahaha.

      All of what you wrote is true, but you can’t argue your way out of fear. You can know all that stuff to be true, and then you just have to let yourself feel the fear and decide to live your life anyway. ;-) (And holy crap, why are you already up?!?!)

      • My friend just introduced me to the mini-book “Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway,” it’s exactly what you’re talking about! (Which might be obvious as you almost named the book exactly in your comment). I’ve been deciding on staying at my current job or leaving, and much like how you frame the options of investing vs. banking as risk and different sort of risk, she framed it as they are BOTH good choices. Your decision will be good either way– when you frame it that way, it helps mitigate the fear.

      • I haven’t heard of that book! Sounds interesting. And that’s a great way to look at it — the safe choice wouldn’t seem safe if it didn’t have positives, so I love the idea of seeing both as good choices. I often think about big choices like that in terms of potential future regret. Which choice would I be more likely to regret making or not making?

    • When you’re in the fear, it’s hard to be rational. That said, “full control” sounds nice except are you really in full control? Speaking gigs don’t just happen, they are relationships that need to be cultivated over some time. You can’t ignore someone until you feel like doing a gig, so to some extent it’s not 100% in your control. Skip a podcast episode and some folks who are used to your cadence will look for a replacement if you take too long a break… eventually, your audience erodes. Passion projects and side hustles need constant maintenance, even more so than a full time job where there are others tending the operating. :)

      • Thank you for adding all of this! So true. It sounds lovely to be able to ignore the world for a few years and then suddenly make money when we feel like it, but that doesn’t feel realistic to us. Thank goodness we don’t NEED to earn much (or anything), so can just do the stuff as a hedge that seems fun. That fact alone tells me that I’m not being ruled by the fear, because I’m not operating with a scarcity mindset on this stuff. That is what I think of as recognizing the fear but not being ruled by it. ;-)

  2. You nailed it with this post! “Fearless” – There are tons of things that will always invoke fear. If I wait until the day I can leave my job/big co Health Insurance without fear, I’ll be dead first.

    The underlying “fear” is trading the known for the unknown!

    • Thanks so much! I think it’s the same as what they say about having kids (though obviously I have no personal experience on this!): “If you wait until you’re ready, you’ll never do it.” Going from known to unknown, as you said, will always be scary.

  3. For me, the best quote I ever heard on fear was, “feel the fear and do it anyway.” My kids now know this one well. We feel fear, because that’s life. And then we do the thing anyway, despite the fear. Because we don’t let fear stop us. It’s just a feeling.

  4. Even years and years away from retirement I feel that fear….and because of that we are looking at how we are going to give ourselves big cushions/buffers/contingency plans. Even though I’m happy to trade a couple years of work for added security and piece of mind, it’s also scary to think about how far we are away from FI!

    • The great thing is you’re in the best possible position to give yourself leeway to act in spite of that fear. I found that having solid contingency plans and cushions made all the difference in the world! And it’s also entirely possible that you’ll get to FI much faster than you expect!

  5. Love the quote!

    My favorite video on fear is Will Smith’s talk about sky diving.

    Good for you all to overcome the fear and just like you adapted to achieving the FIRE lifestyle, you will adapt if anything happens!

    Thanks for sharing your story !

    • I need to check out that video! When I went skydiving, I was glad to have a tandem instructor attached to me, so I didn’t have to make the decision to jump, but was just magically out of the plane. Hahahaha.

  6. “When we say things like, ‘Don’t be scared,’ or ‘Trust the math,’ we might mean well. But we’re subtly signaling to those who are afraid that they must not be ready, because you’re only ready to make the leap when you’re not scared anymore.” I disagree with this. These statements are generic comforting statements, i.e., “there, there, it will all be okay”, not, “you’re not ready, young grasshopper”.

    I’ve read many sad threads on the MMM forums of people who have *all* the money, say they want to quit, but can’t bring themselves to pull the trigger. They ask strangers on the internet for help, get told “trust the math”, but still can’t do it. I don’t think that’s because people are saying the wrong thing, I think it’s because with all the support in the world, some people have trouble facing fear. Maybe they haven’t done it enough to be comfortable with it. Having done the move to a far-flung part of the country where I didn’t know anyone and didn’t have a job was way scarier than I perceive FIRE to be… probably because I’ve already done what to me was the big scary thing.

    I also had someone close to me die very young and several family members died before their time thanks to cancer, so I think that probably heavily influences my feelings as well. The riskiest thing is not fully living life and having it cut short.

    • I think both are true! I have also heard from lots of folks who are more than ready financially but can’t bring themselves to make the leap, and I do my best to nudge them. But, at the same time, if they are so consumed by the fear that they won’t be able to sleep well in early retirement, I’m not sure there’s a point in pushing them because they won’t enjoy it anyway. I’m all about people getting there in their own time. I think you’re right that you have a big advantage (in all of life, really!) of having already done a big scary thing. A lot of folks haven’t! I’m so sorry you lost someone close to you. I’m glad for your sake, though, that you learned that lesson that we’re not guaranteed tomorrow and shaped your life around it!

  7. When I first started working in the aerospace industry many years ago I was blessed by some early career advise by several veterans of that particular company. Now that I am retired I still apply these approach’s to life in general. Please keep in mind that these tidbits have been used long before I received them but perhaps valid just the same.

    1. Control in life is an illusion

    2. Free will is a bitch. (I say this with all respect)

    3. If people are involved it will no doubt be a random and chaotic event.

    4. Tanja, I really stand by what you said earlier in the action is the best way to reduce fear!

    If I had a lucid point it would be that life is nothing but random, blind corners filled with chaos so spend your time getting comfortable with risk and uncertainty because living a life in fear of things you cannot contol is a life not lived.

  8. Fear (and a whole host of other “negative” emotions are part of life. Just like I won’t tell my son not to stop crying or stop being sad if there’s a legitimate reason, I’d agree that being fearful has its place as well. Emotion is an important part of life.

    • :::Standing ovation::: Yes! I’m so glad you’re teaching your son that there’s space for all emotions instead of that emotion is weakness or some such malarkey. (Of course I’m not surprised! Just glad.) Whether we like it or not, fear is part of life, and the key is learning to live with it, not pretend it doesn’t exist.

  9. Love that quote. It looks like a book I’ll have to check out!

    This is something I am gradually trying to learn more and more as well. The fear will be there. Learn the risks and do it anyway.

    I suppose you could say I get forced to face this regularly at work. You need to go in there and teach the students, no matter how nervous you are. Maybe over time, I’ll grow up a little bit of fear resilience? ;)

    I used to be afraid of a lot of things. But slowly, I’ve come to realise that it is a lot more frightening NOT to go out there and try the things you want to do. Where you’d be in 10-20 years if you let fear control you, for instance, is pretty sobering.

    • Definitely read The War of Art. It’s short, but powerful. And I bet his concept of “resistance” to acting will resonate with you as a teacher — it’s all about whatever is holding you back, and I think that applies across many tasks and disciplines, not just writing.

  10. Are people actually asking if you invested in Bitcoin? Haha, clearly it’s the only way someone could retire early. ;)

    Real talk, though — love this post! Fear is not always bad. ^_^ . I fear walking along the edge of a cliff for very good reason (so I don’t). Ditto with my dog getting into something he shouldn’t (hello baby gate!).

    For early retirement, I definitely fear sequence of returns risk. In fact, I told a friend the other day, “Now, I’m not one to encourage trying to time the market, but mark my words, there will be a market crash the day we retire (plus or minus a few months).” We’re definitely going to work up a bit more of a cushion. Right around where we meet the 4% rule, I’m planning on at least inquiring about some flexible work situations. Possibly working part time, possibly working full time, but only in spurts. Ideally? I can work 100% for a few months on a short term project that is amazing, then travel for the rest of the year. Three months wouldn’t cover all our expenses, but it would cover over half, and dividends in taxable accounts would likely cover the rest of our base living expenses.

    • They are! And they’re also asking — really — if THEY should be getting into Bitcoin. Amazing how much it’s tanked just since I wrote that post, proving me right at least temporarily. ;-) Hahaha.

      I think you’re super smart to be thinking of sequence risk the way you are, and your prediction to your friend is exactly what we’ve been telling everyone for years. Hooray for FI superstition. Hahaha. And Steve and Courtney have been doing what you described — traveling most of the year and then hopping back to Tucson for her to work on her old project for a bit. I think that makes tons of sense to help bolster that cushion until the sequence you fall into is more clear.

  11. I was afraid when I began my business. I’d worked for small businesses but had never owned one and been responsible for everything. I’m still afraid, because there is still so much to learn about being truly excellent at my business. Jumping in before I was ready was the only thing that was going to get me close to ready. The fear remains, but actions will at least teach me far more than speculation can.

    • I so appreciate this! There are many, many things that we really can’t learn from books or from other people, we just have to do them. And I think starting your own business falls very much in that category. Which means, by definition, that you have to start before you’re ready. Of course, there is a big gap between saying that and actually doing it, and that gap is filled with fear. Congrats on taking the leap anyway!

  12. Thank you so much for this post! It was just what I needed right now (also, thanks for linking to relevant old posts — since I just started reading you recently I haven’t read everything on here and it’s nice to have guides to specific things that I might find interesting :) ). I am facing a lot of fear right now just trying to do planning for FIRE. The lessons in this post are ones I’ve just been realizing for myself, although realizing them doesn’t always make it easy to actually sit down and do things in the face of fear. I am trying to remind myself that doing the actual planning is an important part of what the fear is telling me to do, while also understanding that fear will never go away.

    Remembering that there is inherent risk in life no matter what choices we make (and that we aren’t really as in control as we like to think) is helpful to prompt action over inaction (that is, it can feel easier/safer to stay with the status quo than to make a change, just because one is more familiar than the other).

    • You’re so welcome, Sarah! I’m glad this one spoke to you. :-) It sounds like you’re in a similar place now to where I was when we started all this, and so if nothing else, I can at least say that it’s entirely possible to manage all that fear enough to move forward. Learning more helps, and so does thinking of the alternative: Would you rather go through your whole life doing what you’re doing now, and never taking a chance? (Of course not, or you wouldn’t be on this path.) You know the answer, but there’s no shame in asking yourself that question as often as necessary to keep you moving forward. ;-)

  13. “the thing standing in your way can’t be overcome at all, it can only be managed”

    Absolutely. Fear is an emotional response to uncertainty. It can be managed. Two years into early retirement I’m still entirely uncertain about the outcome of my life, but at least I can manage my emotional responses to that uncertainty. I no longer call it fear.

  14. Hello,

    I love Lake Tahoe! Lucky you !

    I am so happy I just found this blog, and it was almost like a sign from heaven. I am planning to retire early in a few years and my absolute paradise on earth is Coronado island in San Diego, where I have already lived for a while earlier. However, I have sadly been thinking about California as an impossible state to retire in because it is pricy, and just as I was feeling miserable about this I found your blog and the post about why California is a good choice. I am so thrilled. I currently live in Sweden, where we have universal healthcare that is funded by our taxes and I have a dual citizenship (American and Swedish). I have two questions to you and if you do not want to answer them I understand: 1. Do you think I can retie early in California on a passive income of 40 000 dollars a year? What amount do you live on each month? 2. How would a landlords in California view my passive income as my only income? When I lived in Coronado the last time it was very irritating to realize that most rental property companies demanded that I had the rent x 3 as my income. I am very frugal and have no debt. In addition Coronado is a very walkable island where I hardly will even drive my car.

    Again thank you for a great blog and I will keep on reading as I work towards my goal.

    Kind regards from Sweden,


    • Hi Anneli! Coronado is beautiful — I don’t blame you for wanting to live there! As for your Qs, we don’t share our budget, but I think $40K is doable if you find a low-rent home or own a home outright, but it could be tough in high rent areas (which is now most of the state). And I think you’ll have to try several landlords until you find one who is comfortable accepting passive income instead of active income, but if you explain the situation in your application and show documentation (brokerage statements, bank statements, etc.), I think you’d be sure to find one who would work with you. (As a landlord myself, I’d LOVE to see a tenant application from someone with a lot saved because it would suggest a high level of responsibility in all things!)

  15. “We didn’t want to risk spending all our good years at the office.”

    Love this, and it really sums up how risk works. Risk rarely can be eliminated: usually only mitigated. And when we embrace the idea of opportunity costs, that doing one thing necessarily means you’re not doing some other thing, then risk starts to look more like a trade. I can avoid this risk over there, sure, but then that means I’m probably embracing this new risk over here.

    Choose your own risky adventure, folks.

  16. I’ve been working on leaning into fear and uncertainty lately since I’ve spent a lot of time avoiding it instead, to no benefit to myself. It definitely helps to realize that fear is NEVER going to go away, so might as well take that and do something useful with it instead of constantly hiding from it.

    FIRE is a long way away, so guess my most immediate financial fear (besides the ever-present losing my job suddenly) is watching the market continue to drop and practically my entire net worth with it. And it would be an interesting test of my fortitude since I’ve only ever invested in a bull market. But I’ve read enough about investing (and about the opportunity cost of losing money via savings!) to know to stay the course. This is the brand of risk I’ve chosen, after all!

    • Yeah, I’m with you! I think we’re taught to try to beat fear or any other negative emotion instead of managing it, and that’s rarely realistic. I find it much more freeing to acknowledge that that fear is most likely going to stick around in some form. And I love how you put that last line — you have to choose some risk (though not everyone realizes that!), so I admire you for recognizing the downsides that come with your particular brand. ;-) (If only there was an option with nothing but upside! Hahahaha.)

  17. Love “The War of Art’! Helped us a ton when we first started writing. Turns out it worked because getting published is no easy feat, but showing up really is half the battle.

    I was terrified too when we first retired in 2015, but gradually that fear went as away we gained experience and managed our risks. The longer you stay retired, the more confident you become. It’s the same with anything else you don’t have experience with. It’s scary in the beginning because you don’t know what to expect but once you get used to it, it gets easier. Things are always scarier in our heads than they are in reality.

    • Yes! That’s the best blogging advice I can give anyone: Do the work. Show up and commit the time and write, and don’t think this is something you can do in tiny bursts of time here and there. If that’s what you’re prepared to devote to this, then focus on Twitter instead. ;-)

      And I have no doubt that some of our (mostly my) fear will lessen over time, but I also know myself well enough to know that it won’t ever go entirely away, because we’ll never be able to see the future. (Though if I’m wrong about that, I’ll be stoked!) I definitely look forward to building more and more of that confidence, though!

  18. So much fear and so many BIG question marks in my life right now. Buying a bigger house, the health of my parent, finally opening a brokerage account only to have the markets do crazy things… Your comments about fear remind me a lot of the evolution of my thoughts on grief in the past 6 months. It’s not something you “overcome” – it sticks with you, and, at times, can be totally paralyzing. But it is something you need to push through. That doesn’t mean you’ll never feel fear/grief again about the same situation, but mental toughness IS a learned trait, and something I need to practice more often. Same with goal setting and making decisions!! These are skills you can improve, by understanding risks, contingencies, and your own fears surrounding the various paths forward.

    • All so well said! And I know you’ve got a lot on your plate and on your mind these days, in addition to dealing with some grief and big expenses in the very recent past, too. As you said, you can’t defeat this stuff, and have to find a way to live your life anyway. I’m cheering you on from over here, if that helps. :-)

  19. I love this post. It applies so well to real estate investing also. There are plenty of people who sit paralyzed on the sidelines in fear because it feels so risky. And I get it! But if you don’t use the fear to gain as much knowledge as you can, but then push through it and jump in, you will always be stuck on the sidelines. Congrats on your big bold step in to early retirement and Godspeed!

  20. Next month I’m leaving my high-paying job, selling my house, and leaving the city I’ve lived in for 21 years. This isn’t nearly as well planned out as your retirement is, but I’ve been running the numbers and I think I’ll be okay. All of my other “I’m either brave or stupid” life choices have worked out and have led to the things that have brought me the most joy.

    • That sounded a bit more flippant than I’d intended. I’m being responsible (detailed spreadsheets, not cocktail napkin math). Point is that I’ve stood at the edge of this change-you-life-forever abyss and jumped a few times before. And those jumps have been exhilarating and have always led to better things.

    • Wow! So many big changes coming all at once! How brave indeed — and how wonderful! It’s so great you recognize that that fearful feeling has in the past brought you to great joy, and you’re now channeling it again. :-)

  21. I had this exact conversation with a friend about relationships! She wanted to know how on earth I could understand and relate to all her fears of commitment but still have gotten married.

    Exactly what you said here – I didn’t get over the fear. I made the decision to accept that there were rational reasons to have fear, that there was clear data that suggested I should be able to NOT have that fear, and then to move forward in spite of the fear. Cautiously but with it. Because there was no rational or logical way to set aside this really legitimate feeling if I didn’t just move forward. And I had done my due diligence, and there was nothing more I could do by standing on the sidelines refusing to get married until I could be sure. I wasn’t sure for years before getting married because … fear. That it would fail, that it would have been a mistake, that my trust would be betrayed, that the timing would suck etc. But in the end, choosing to reach for the end result we have spent years laying the groundwork for, choosing to mitigate the fear and then moving forward anyway, we can only know how that turns out IF WE DO IT.

    And we did it. And I was right, marriage isn’t perfect. But that’s absolutely ok, because less than perfect is still pretty damn good. It was worth packing that fear into a bag and doing the thing.

    Once we finally do all the preparation and saving and the math, I think it’ll be the same for us with retirement. I’ll be terrified. I’ll squawk at you about this that or the other thing, and you’ll remind me – pack that fear into your carry on and do it. And you’ll be right.

    • Thank you for assuming I’d be right. ;-) I might still be horribly, horribly wrong about this whole early retirement thing, after all! Hahahaha. But seriously, kudos for being so terrified of marriage and doing it anyway — that’s pretty incredible growth to recognize the risk and uncertainty on both sides, something I’m convinced we’re wired not to see. So glad it has worked out so well for you!

  22. This point about fear applies to pretty much everything in life, including when you first start investing! I made most of my decisions based on fear or what I thought I should feel or do. Not necessarily what I wanted. Predictably this meant I missed out on what could have been some great experiences. All in all, not a great way to live.

    Fast forward to my early 30’s, life happened and I finally paid attention to its lessons. What do you know, I learned the difference between fear, needing security and calculated risk. That led to a whole lot of happy places to where I am in life now.

    • It does, it does! It’s why I saved waaaaay too much in a savings account before I dared start investing any money. (But I might lose it!) ;-) So glad you’ve been able to grow to a place where you don’t let your fear hold you back!

  23. My greatest fear about early retirement isn’t about the money. It’s about loss of identity, becoming irrelevant, finding I’m actually unhappy with my time not filled to the gills. I plan to work part time for a while at different places around the country to put off dealing w the first 2 for a while.

  24. When I was younger, my sister wrote me a letter that said something along the lines of, “Fear is not a worthy emotion. Nothing comes out of fear. Act out of bravery.”

    I understand fear. I understand anxiety. I have been there. And I think that the most important thing is, like you said, to understand where that fear is coming from.

    Nothing is guaranteed in life. Nothing is certain. We cannot predict our futures. All we can do is take care of ourselves in the moment, and work towards a great future.

    • Huh — was the letter from your sister empowering or belittling? I think fear IS a worthy emotion, but not so worthy that it should paralyze you. ;-)

  25. LOVE your perspective that it isn’t about avoiding risk, it’s about understanding and managing it. I still have a healthy dose of financial-related fear, but in other areas of my life I try to value an abundance mentality. Instead of stressing about things one can’t control, focus on the idea that you often have more options than you think. Do you ever listen to the “How I Built This” podcast? Now those are some risk-embracing folks. I don’t think I’ll ever be at that level, but it’s inspiring nontheless!

    • Yeah, I’m definitely not ready to do crazy startup level risk! But I love how Done by 40 put it, that every choice is a trade-off, and even the easy, safe-seeming choices mean trading away some opportunity. That’s awesome you manage to embrace the abundance mentality in other areas of your life! I have total confidence you can do that with finances as well. :-)

  26. Just wanted to say how much I appreciate this post, even if I am late to the comment party.

  27. Good post! I retired early (the first time) in Dec 2009 during high unemployment, a crappy investment market, and a damaged portfolio. Some healthy fear was there and a lot of naysayers were in my ear. Running the numbers helped but didn’t silence fear. The problem is our going counter to decades of career/employment conditioning that started when we were in school. Having decent numbers is like a parachute but you still have to be willing to leave the plane. Like sky diving, my second early retirement was easier than my first. There are no guarantees in life other than time spent can never be bought back so spend it wisely, and of course the guarantee of our eventual death.

    • Thank you! And wow, that’s pretty impressive to be willing to make the leap in 2009! I’m sure there were a LOT of naysayers. (Heck, I might have been one if I’d known — hahaha.) What did you do to offset the portfolio losses you’d taken?

  28. Now that I’ve achieved my FI goal, I find myself facing the “What next?” fear. One of the things I appreciate about your blog is how you address some of the thoughts and emotions associated with standing at the precipice of one’s next life — the life after FI. Deep in the back of my mind resides the fear of “failing” at FI (even if I can’t define what that failure would look like). For the past couple years, I’ve been so focused on achieving the goal that I didn’t really look past to the after; the “What next?” With the opportunity now to walk away from my corporate job whenever I choose, I find myself worrying that I have plenty to retire from but struggle to find what I’ll retire to. This thought has left me in a type of FI purgatory as I try to decide what I want to do next. Recently, I’ve begun to wonder if I need to just throw myself in the deep end; to take the plunge into a FIRE lifestyle in order to provoke me to actions that will hopefully answer that ultimate question: “What next?”

    • I think you’re feeling something natural. And you for sure don’t have to have all the answers before you leap into your next life. Can you line some stuff up so you have some things to do and won’t feel aimless, while you figure out what you want to spend most of your time on? Start some volunteering, maybe join a corporate or nonprofit board, sign up to take a community college class, that kind of thing? But the fear is totally natural, and I think the key is to listen to what it has to teach you but do your best not to let it hold you back. Sending good vibes as you figure this stuff out!

  29. Security for most means you trade your time in order to be taken care of by the owner whom you work for. If this relationship is honest you off load your risk onto him/her, and the owner is the one who gets to carry the fear. When you buy a stock or bond you become the owner, and you inherit back the risk. You also inherit the reward. This is the nature of entrepreneurialism, in fact it is the nature of living. Every animal in the wild is entrepreneurial and at risk. When you were a kid your parents took care of you. They were your security. When you went to school, the school took care of you. They provided you a secure environment in conjunction with your parents. When you got a job your company took care of you. You’ve lived your whole life with someone else managing your security.

    When you become an owner no one takes care of your security but you. There is no external security. At that point it becomes a game of probabilities and risk management. What you buy as an owner however is a workforce that adds value to your investment. Day in, day out. So the real security comes from the fact the people you pay as an owner (stock or bond holder) show up every day and trade their time and productivity to add value to your investment. If you live in a country where people show up and trade their time come hell or high water, you win, and they win also. If you live somewhere where that basic social compact is violated, where freeloading, thievery and dishonesty overwhelms you loose. It’s that simple, and that implicitly is the source of our fear. Societies and companies survive on behaving with justice. I think your movement toward transparency is an implicit understanding of justice and a commitment toward behaving justly.

    As an owner, if you want security, (read as lack of fear) be very careful of how you construct the social compact and what policies you choose to support. A simple example is the Facebook fiasco. Is there any justice in that hot mess?

  30. Im a 39 year old female from the other side of the world. I’ve been going through this emotional roller coaster for a while now, and i came across ur website as I was searching emotions related to submitting ur resignation note. I’m glad I realize my fear is normal and be able to identify all the different emotions and manage them.
    Im planning to take my leap v v v soon. And as much fear there is, there is more excitement.
    Keep the good posts going