Re-entry Problems

By Slow Dad - March 03, 2017

Financial Independence is awesome, but be careful what you wish for. The early retirement genie is certainly hard to put back in the bottle.
Recently I’ve been experiencing some re-entry problems.

By that I don’t mean leaving my house without my front door keys.

What I’m talking about is more akin to what astronauts experience when they return to Earth, or convicts enduring once they are released from prison back into the big bad world.

Financial Independence, Yay for me!

Last year I hit my Financial Independence number.

Unlike many personal finance bloggers I didn’t determine this as a net worth figure.

My thinking is net worth is a moving target, particularly if you have any sort of significant proportion of your wealth invested in the stock market.

To illustrate consider some factoids posted on than arbiter of all pub bets, Wikipedia:
  • On 19-Oct-1987 the S&P500 fell 20.47%
  • On 15-Oct-2008 the S&P500 fell 9.03%
I’m sure I’m not alone in thinking that such material swings in my net worth would induce major pucker factor!

More to the point, if your net worth is now 20% under the Financial Independence threshold you’d set, does that mean you have to go back to work full time in your original profession?

Of course the market could just as easily move upwards in the same kind of proportions. In that regard the stock market gods are more like toddlers with short attention spans loaded up on sugar… as opposed to ex-mothers-in-law, possessing longer memories and stronger penchant for revenge than the average mafia don.

No thank you! I’ll happily ride a rollercoaster in Hyde Park’s Winter Wonderland, but only if I love being able to leave the wild ride behind when I exit the amusement park.

A endlessly replenishing stream is much better than a finite bucket

Instead my Financial Independence number was based on achieving a (hopefully) infinitely sustainable passive income figure that was high enough to cover my cost of living with enough padding left over to cover occasional “want” purchases like gifts, overseas travel, and service my wife’s slightly secret expensive shoe/handbag habit.

2016 was a bumpy ride

2016 proved to be a bumpy yet defining year for me.

It was the last year of my 30s, so I knew I was entitled to a midlife crisis. Traditionally that would involve driving around town looking like a dickhead in a flat cap and a shiny red sports car, or buying a Harley-Davidson, or getting a trophy girlfriend.

Decisions, decisions... A Harley or a trophy girlfriend for my midlife crisis?

A health scare, and ensuing period of hospitalisation, provided both the time and opportunity for a evaluation of my satisfaction levels with how I’d spent my life thus far. This proved to be somewhat confronting, given I was told by the leading lights of the medical fraternity that my time was up should their drugs of last resort not work amazingly well. Luckily for me third time around, they worked.

(Note to self: two valuable life lessons learnt: (1) next time you have a near death experience, don’t go to hospital without an iPhone charger, and (2) never accept the offer of a sponge bath from Nurse Kiwi Steve).

It was the year I hit my Financial Independence passive income number.

I’m told some people retire once they reach Financial Independence. They buy a Winnebago with air conditioning and autopilot, or they take up furniture making, or go back to university to study Archaeology (because it is super interesting, and who doesn’t want to be the next Indiana Jones?).

Who wouldn't want to be the next Indiana Jones? Image credit: Lucasfilm.

My problem with that is I have a low tolerance for boredom, along with two school age children which somewhat constrains my ability to travel affordably… school holidays = peak season.

However I also realised that I was wasting my life surfing an endless cycle of hand holding indecisive executives (who possess attention spans that would be shown up by your average toddler on birthday cake), hosing down the endless flapping of panic stricken project managers, and working towards unrealistic arbitrary deadlines on meaningless projects.

The great escape... Steve McQueen style

Initially I looked around for a part time role, aiming to apply the same skills and experience I’d successfully deployed over the course of my career for one or more clients, for the same sort of hourly rate… but for no more than 10-15 hours a week.

That proved to be a hopeless pipe dream, those kind of jobs just don’t exist.

Next I sought the same kind of role, irrespective of the hourly rate. Those kind of jobs don’t exist either.

Not easily deterred I decided instead to adopt a seasonal working pattern.

Take a bunch of time off, then go do a project, then take a bunch more time off.

I congratulated myself for being a genius, counted down the sleeps until the project I was working on at the time was successfully completed, let the majority of my staff go … and retired!

Retirement is awesome... but decompressing takes time

It took an alarmingly long time to decompress. I’m talking months rather than weeks.

Gradually however I started to unwind.

Being more active during the day was liberating. I also lost 10kg, returning to a weight I hadn’t been since I was at university.

I stopped drinking entirely for a couple of months, then relaxed that prohibition to just not drinking on school nights (turns out my friends are challenging company when they are drinking and I’m not!).

I started dreaming. Not the dozing, interspersed with thinking about work, that we normally experience. This was the fun/strange/imaginative stream of consciousness dreams like we used to have as children.

I also commenced writing on this blog.

Time passed.

Eventually it became time to return to the fray, take on a client with an interesting problem to solve, and go back to work.

All good things come to an end

I was surprisingly reluctant. After six months I can honestly state that retirement was awesome!

Roughly a month ago I attended my first day on site with my new client. After a month back in the saddle here is a summary of what I’ve (re)discovered.
  1. Sitting down for ~8 hours a day sucks.
  2. Enlightenment and inner peace does not lie at the end of a lengthy commute on public transport.
  3. It is incomprehensible how people with full time jobs (that don’t support flexible working hours or remote working) manage to get anything done at home.
  4. Hustle” is code for exploitation… many folks work way too hard, but not nearly smart enough.
  5. If you couldn’t explain what you do for a living to a 7 year old, then you add no value whatsoever.
  6. The majority of workers are salary collectors, adhering to the consultancy philosophy that there is no money to be made in solving problems, only prolonging them.
  7. Acceptable incompetence is absurd.
  8. Most meetings are complete wastes of time. There is an inverse correlation between the number of attendees and the likelihood of a decision being made. People's continual propensity for demonstrating their incompetence and stupidity in front of an audience is dishearteningly boundless.
  9. If you live in an expensive locale, work in IT, and are not involved in one of enterprise architecture, procurement, SLA enforcement, or integration then you are a heading the way of the dinosaurs.
  10. When the AI robots come almost everyone is doomed.

What do I miss about retirement?

I am missing the almost complete absence of stress, of feeling rested, and feeling healthy.

I am missing not being chained to a clock, retirement runs at "island time".

I am missing the activity levels of retirement. Going for a 20km walk along the river or through some amazing parks is a worlds apart from dashing across the street from the office to grab a sandwich.

I am missing dreaming.

I am missing how little day to day fun money I consumed while retired. Working is really expensive: commuting, buying lunches and drinks, the increase in frequency of takeaway/convenience dinners due to time pressure (and laziness).

So what?

I’m very much looking forward to my next stint of retirement, though I think I will need to re-evaluate whether I line up again for the next seasonal work stint.

It appears putting the retirement genie back in the bottle is more challenging than I’d anticipated.

I guess the moral of the story is be careful what you wish for. That said it is certainly a luxurious problem to have, and for that I am very grateful.

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  1. Perhaps the key is balance - a job that has less hours/responsibility which allows you to have some of what you enjoy/are missing about retirement? Or how about a longer retirement and see how that goes, seeing as you are FI?

  2. Valid observations all weenie.

    I think part of the challenge is once a person no longer needs the pay cheque, they also realise they no longer need to subject themselves to the day-to-day institutional silliness, bureaucracy, and office politics.

    People working towards Financial Independence long for the Jim Collins style freedom option that his "Fuck you money" concept provides. They dream of being able to say no to their boss when work demands are being unreasonable... "if I didn't need this job I'd tell my boss to shove it"

    Once you've hit FI that excuse is removed. You don't need the pay cheque, therefore you don't need to subject yourself to unreasonable demands from an employer or client.

    From that point on you start to realise just how often something seems unreasonable!

    At that point you have a choice:
    - either suck it up and stop complaining about it be you do have the luxury of choice
    - do something about it, stand up for yourself, call your boss/client out for being unreasonable.

    If you choose the latter however you have to be prepared to pack up your desk, because the boss/client probably does still need their job, and in unlikely to stand for a subordinate who can no longer be controlled/motivated/manipulated using the usual levers available to an employer.

    One of the best things about retirement is no longer needing to have those sorts of battles with a boss/client!