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5 signs you’re not ready to retire early


5 signs you're not ready to retire early

Do you ever contemplate leaving it all behind and calling it quits? If you’re like me, you don’t like office politics, traffic jams, endless meetings, and all the BS from management. However, I didn’t consider quitting my job until 2010 when I discovered personal finance and found that I probably could swing it and retire early. Our finance was doing pretty well and I imagined life would be much better without a full time job. Before that, I thought it would be better to find a different job within the same field. I would get a change of scenery and still get paid. I already tried it once. I changed jobs completely in 2003 and work was pretty good for a few years. I probably could tolerate another job change and work for a few more years, but it would get old pretty quickly. I didn’t enjoy engineering anymore and it was better to make a clean break.

I finally quit my engineering career in 2012 and the last three years have flown by. Our finance is doing great and my quality of life has improved immensely. At this time, I’m very happy with my decision to retire early to become a stay at home dad/blogger. Mrs. RB40 has seen how much happier I am and she is now contemplating early retirement as well. She wants more time to do the things she likes. Her goal is to retire in 5 years. We are not quite financially ready for her to retire yet, but I’m pretty sure we will be there by 2020.

However, is she really ready to retire early? When she was younger, she didn’t know how to relax and take time off. She came back from Peace Corps and she started working right away as a substitute teacher. I told her to take it easy for a few months and just hang out, but she couldn’t do it.  She was a workaholic for many years, but she is mellowing as she gets older. I don’t think she’s quite ready to retire early, though. Even if our finance is ready today, she isn’t emotionally ready to retire yet.

Many people who are financially ready for retirement aren’t ready emotionally. Are you one of them? I know some of our readers are in a great position financially, but they don’t want to retire yet. That’s not a bad thing. If you want to keep working a little bit longer, then keep working. Don’t be pressured into retirement if you’re not quite ready. Here are 5 signs you’re not ready to retire early.

Work identity

In America, we identify ourselves by our jobs. When you meet someone new, they usually ask, “What do you do?” It’s a quick way to establish the social pecking order here in the US. I used to be an engineer and that means being a reasonably paid white collar professional. I probably drove a reasonably nice car, lived in a decent neighborhood, and was firmly entrenched in the middle class. A wealthy person probably dismissed me outright and a burger flipper probably felt we couldn’t be friends.

I think the more prestigious your job is, the more difficult it is to leave it. One day, you’re a doctor and the next you are just a retiree. A lot of people have a hard time dealing with the loss of professional identity. Most people have a lot of pride in their profession. It took them a long time to build up their career and it’s hard to leave all that behind. If your identity is all tied up to your job, then you’re probably not quite ready to retire early. By the time I left my old work, I was ready to move on. I didn’t want to be an engineer anymore and it was liberating.

One way to lessen your identification with your job is to work less. If phased retirement is an option, then that’s a great way to go. Working part time will help you disconnect from work and give you time to build your identity outside of your career.

Advancement still thrills you

Recently, Mrs. RB40 had the opportunity to advance in her career. This opportunity for a pay grade promotion comes with more responsibilities and requires moving to another city. One reason why she was thinking about early retirement is because she was a bit bored with work. While the work was varied, the problems felt like the same thing day in and day out. A new job is pretty exciting because she will have the opportunity to learn new skills, meet new people, explore a new city, and get a nifty pay increase. She was pretty excited to hear about this opportunity and she is giving it her full consideration.

In contrast, I avoided advancement in the last few years of my career. I didn’t want more responsibilities, more work, more meetings, or more pay. I’d rather have less responsibility and have stay with the same pay. That wasn’t acceptable to my old employer because they always want employees to improve. If you don’t improve, then eventually you will get a bad review and be on your way out. Yet another reason, I was ready to move on. If you enjoy advancement and want to see how far you can progress, then you’re probably not ready for early retirement.

Your social life is mostly at work

Most people spend more time at the office than sleeping. It’s only natural to have a social life at work. That’s what most retirees miss about work – their friends. Sure, you can see your work friends on the weekends, but they have very busy weekends, too. It’s tough to get together with friends from work. After 3 years, I met up with old work friends only twice. It’s really tough to get together in person especially because I’m a bit busy, too.

The solution is to have a social life outside of work, but that’s pretty difficult, too. It’s easier when you’re young, but when you’re 40 or 50, it’s hard to make new friends. As a parent of a small child, I have it a bit easier. I can make friends through RB40jr. When he meets someone he likes, then I’ll try to set up playdates and such. Another good way to meet new people is to find others that have similar interests or hobbies. I’m met new friends through blogging and playing ukulele, for example. Anyway, you need to build up your social life outside of work or else early retirement will be kind of lonely.

You don’t like being alone

As an early retiree, you will probably spend a lot of time alone even if you have a social life outside of work. Most of your friends from school or work will be busy working. As an introvert, I don’t mind being alone at all. I love reading books, catching up on the Walking Dead and other series, browsing the internet, listening to music, and blogging. I’m very comfortable being alone and I think it makes early retirement much easier.

Of course, I have RB40jr to help me pass the time. We have so many things to do that we don’t have time to be bored. I just taught him to ride a bike without the training wheels and I’m helping him with his swimming. A 4 year old boy has so many things to learn and it’s a lot of work to teach him these things. Of course, it’s a lot of fun too! Sometimes I wish I had a little more time to myself. I’m sure every stay at home parent has the same thought from time to time.

You don’t have big plans post retirement

This is probably the trickiest part of early retirement. What will you do with all the time you freed up from not working? I firmly believe you need some long term projects to work on so you don’t get bored with life. I have RB40jr and this blog to keep me busy. My father in law has been working on his 2 acre backyard for the last few years and it’s looking great. Some people say they want to travel, but I don’t know if this is a long term project. I would love to travel for a few years, but I don’t think I can travel forever.

Most early retirees don’t stop working completely. They have side projects and businesses that they pursue. Volunteering in an organization you care about is another great option. Your community could always use a hand, too. There are a lot of options and you just need to figure out what interests you. Early retirement is great for self driven people who like to explore their boundaries. If you like the structured lifestyle of working, then you might not like early retirement.

Early retirement

Early retirement is great, but it’s not for everyone. Even if you’re ready financially, you might not be ready emotionally. Work plays such a big role in our lives and it can be difficult to transition to an unstructured lifestyle. I don’t think Mrs. RB40 is ready to retire today, but she might be ready in 5 years. She still likes challenges and being relevant. The problem with work is that it just takes up too much time. Perhaps she can transition to part time or some kind of consulting position.

As for me, I love early retirement. I can make my own schedule and follow my own agenda. I’m able to spend a lot of time with our kid. I can work at my own pace and I don’t have to put up with management. Early retirement has been great and I’m looking forward to 40+ more years of this relaxed lifestyle.

Do you think you’re ready for early retirement? If you already left work, what were some challenges that you faced?

Image credit: flickr by bobbyfiend

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Joe started Retire by 40 in 2010 to figure out how to retire early. He spent 16 years working in computer design and enjoyed the technical work immensely. However, he hated the corporate BS. He left his engineering career behind to become a stay-at-home dad/blogger at 38. At Retire by 40, Joe focuses on financial independence, early retirement, investing, saving, and passive income.

For 2018, Joe plans to diversify his passive income by investing in US heartland real estate through RealtyShares. He has 3 rental units in Portland and he believes the local market is getting overpriced.

Joe highly recommends Personal Capital for DIY investors. He logs on to Personal Capital almost daily to check his cash flow and net worth. They have many useful tools that will help every investor analyze their portfolio and plan for retirement.
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{ 37 comments… add one }
  • Ernie Zelinski July 20, 2015, 1:04 am

    Joe, as you know, I am a great fan of early retirement and read a lot of articles about retirement. Even more interesting than the articles are some of the comments by people who have retired happily or are fans of early retirement. Here are some of my favorites:

    “I retired at age 58 and I am now 80 .. Guess what, it was the best thing I ever did!!!!!! Who needs to drop dead on the job. I say, “Get out and live a little!”, you only have one life to live.”
    — The Salty Old

    “If I read one more article about delaying retirement I’m gonna puke. The social and mental benefits mentioned in the article weren’t there my entire working life,
    and I got my first job at age 14. Why will they suddenly be there at 66!?!
    — Comment in response to an article “Why You Shouldn’t Retire at 66”

    “I can’t believe the nerve of our completely worthless corporate-owned government to suggest working till you die. I am an auto technician and it’s hard grueling work. I have only seen one technician make it to 62 in the 30 years I have been working on cars. Usually by your mid-50s repetitive injury becomes very hard to bear. Some one should smack
    the moron who wrote this article.”
    — Party Loyalist

    “I would have retired when I was 18 if I could have… now at 55 I can’t wait … wait until 66… no way!”
    — Denver1957

    “I retired early and it was the best decision I ever made even though it means less money.
    If you can’t figure out how to enjoy life in retirement, then you probably aren’t much fun to be around anyway. I don’t need a dang job to define who I am.”
    — Someone

    “Why would anyone WAIT to enjoy their last years? I suppose I could work, paying into the system, until I dropped dead, but that would only serve the government and not me.
    I would advocate to retire at the earliest possible time, if one has the means. 59 1/2.
    The odds of waiting later to retire AND be in good health (to enjoy retirement) must go down greatly with every passing month.”
    — Michael (MichaelAHunt)

    “My wife died at 60 so she did not get to enjoy retirement or any of the money she put into SS. I left at 61 and have never looked back. Sure it is less money but there are a lot of things out there to do that do not take a lot of money.”
    — 1963corvette

    “I bailed at 62. I can finally sleep at night and no longer have to worry about another BS deadline.”
    — JOHN DOE 2

    And here is one of my favorites from a reader of one of my books:

    “If I’d known that retirement was going to be this good I’d have done it the day after I left school !!!”
    — Mickey White (who lives in the United Kingdom and wrote to me about how much he enjoyed “How to Retire, Happy, Wild, and Free”.)

    • retirebyforty July 20, 2015, 12:10 pm

      Those comments are great! I learn a lot from the comments here at Retire By 40 as well. I don’t know everything and our readers are teaching me new things every day.

  • nelson July 20, 2015, 1:33 am

    I was ready to retire before I joined corporate america. However, all of the past misery has made my current circumstance much more rewarding.

    • retirebyforty July 20, 2015, 12:12 pm

      That’s how I feel sometime. Removing the misery of work is a big part of why retirement is so great. I don’t think I would appreciate early retirement as much if I didn’t go through some tough time at work.

  • Kimberly July 20, 2015, 3:36 am

    I took an early medical retirement from 17 years in the Army, I was 45. My disability is 20k a year I was making 70k a year. It was the best decision I ever made ( besides enlisting in the army of course!) I thought it would be hard to adjust to the pay loss, but I realized I did not need money to enjoy life! I found so many things to enjoy that do not cost a dime, and the pay cut has simplified things which makes life less stressful as well.

    • retirebyforty July 20, 2015, 12:15 pm

      That’s a big pay cut. I’m glad it’s working out for you. I thought the military has a better retirement. I guess it depends on how many years you put in. Glad to hear you are enjoy retirement and thanks for your service.

  • Jon July 20, 2015, 4:58 am

    I’m ready to retire early. In a way I have since I left the corporate world to blog full time. I love the freedom of working for myself and I don’t much mind the alone time as I enjoy being by myself anyways. But you do make a good point – you might think you are ready for retirement but really, you might be ready for another job or even a part-time job. Going this route gives you some more freedom/flexibility and you can still have social interaction.

    • retirebyforty July 20, 2015, 12:16 pm

      It’s great that you found an alternative to the rat race. Life is great when you can control your destiny and not worry about money too much. Cheers!

  • Mrs. Budgets @MrandMrsBudgets July 20, 2015, 5:49 am

    These are excellent points to tell if you are ready for retirement. My husband feels very similar to how you were feeling in your last years as an engineer. He’s turn down promotions and could care less about making more money at this stage. Financially were not at a point where he could leave his full-time job yet, but were getting closer each day.

    • retirebyforty July 20, 2015, 12:17 pm

      Good luck on your journey. Keep working on it and I’m sure you will get there. Can your husband transition to part time? That’s pretty hard for most corporation.

  • Mike Drak July 20, 2015, 6:01 am

    It’s been a year since I left my full time corporate job and I would describe myself as still out of balance. I suffered from a case of sudden retirement syndrome which was interesting to say the least. My father went through it and I had a good friend who died from it. Exiting from a 36 year executive position because you are bored is not as easy as it seems. This past week I’ve had two dreams (nightmares) about my old job always with the same theme which to me shows the power our old jobs had over us. Thank God I had the strength to leave!
    Totally agree with your comments about friends at your old job and the importance of having “real friends” outside work. Like you I haven’t had any meaningful interaction with anyone since I left. Things just feel different.
    Why did I leave my primary job? I was bored and my heart wasn’t into it anymore because of the many reasons you listed for yourself. But for me a full stop retirement wouldn’t work and I needed to find something meaningful that would occupy my time hence my decision to write a book about FI and different styles of retirement. The opportunity to help others is a gift and I plan on doing it for as long as possible. I feel like a kid again but this time I’m in charge because of FI so the future is bright. Now all I have to do is finish that book!

    • retirebyforty July 20, 2015, 12:20 pm

      I haven’t had a work nightmare since I left 3 years ago. Sleeping well is another great benefit. You’re doing the right thing. Writing a book is a huge project. Keep working on it! Thank you for sharing your experience.

  • Pennypincher July 20, 2015, 6:36 am

    Very funny line about the burger flipper, feeling you can’t be friends! He probably has a PhD in engineering and owns the burger joint!
    I won’t bore you w/all the reasons to leave the corporate work world behind-everyone knows them, they are universal, right down to someone stealing your lunch in the office fridge. Or the driver in front AND back of you texting @ 60mph on the commute.
    But it’s one place where you can get respect from others. I told my husband when he retired, watch out, you’re just another minion on the street outside the office/your profession. Not once in all the years of child rearing did anyone ask me what I did in my past professional life. Not one. And no one ever wanted to talk about art, history, etc. either. Pretty sad.
    Retirement is a state of mind. I’ve never been happier. Freedom from the work world, putting kids through school, and another big reason, I just forgot what it was.
    Career experts say it’s important to go into retirement w/a “second act”. Mine is doing as I please, pursuing passions. I found it very difficult to have a life/friendships outside of the office. Now it’s so easy to find friends and have a life. Make a plan, people!

    • retirebyforty July 20, 2015, 12:23 pm

      Hmm.. you have a point about the burger flipper. Ugh, stealing lunch, that’s low. You’re right about being a stay at home dad. No one really care about what I used to do. That’s okay with me, though. I’d rather spend my energy figuring out our next activities. It sounds like retirement is a great success for you, enjoy!

  • Early retirement is something that’s never really been a goal for me – probably because I’ve never been on a traditional employment schedule. My goal has always been to create a lifestyle with income streams I can foster and enjoy. I truly love what I do. That’s not to say it’s not work, but I can’t imagine my life without it. The only thing that matters to me is having things be on my terms.

    • retirebyforty July 20, 2015, 12:24 pm

      That’s a great goal. I wish I knew that earlier in life. My 20s and 30s would have been much more enjoyable. That’s the right way to go through life. 🙂

  • beth July 20, 2015, 7:22 am

    I can handle losing the work friends, having no job title and all the rest but I have one big problem that is holding me back from retiring now – lack of money.

    • retirebyforty July 20, 2015, 12:26 pm

      Of course, finance is a big concern. I’ll write a follow up article focusing on finance later. I wanted to explore the emotional side of thing today. 🙂

  • freebird July 20, 2015, 8:52 am

    Joe, thanks, you’re one of the very few bloggers who retired early but doesn’t think that’s necessarily to the do-all/end-all. You and I reached our watershed moments at the same age and we took opposite paths.

    I don’t socialize much so my work identity stays in the lab, but I agree with your point that it’s hard to leave behind a hard-won position. My opinion outside of work carries zero weight, and I can’t envision life where my most important decision of the day is fish or chicken for dinner. You should mention your solution– specifically by gaining a wide audience in the blogosphere you are probably more influential now than you were in your original job. And face it, you’re not “working less”!

    I’m not interested in advancement, either promotions or raises at this point because I think those are better suited to those who are earlier in their careers and can get more mileage out of them. At the moment one-time bonuses like cash, restricted stock, and options rule. Plus I would be interested in any unusual opportunities for which my background make me well-suited. Like if some VC were to call and describe something that fits, I’d probably go in for a buck a year (plus equity). Admittedly odds of this happening now are very low.

    A couple of years ago I did a test run of early retirement and found that simply relaxing and watching the day go by was great for a few days but it got old after that. I think this is probably the key item on your list– you need something to retire to.

    One thing I would add: even though I chose to stay on, it would be a very different situation if I needed the paycheck. My job conditions wouldn’t be so benign and the resulting stress would have me seeking escape. In other words gaining financial independence actually saved my career.

    Anyway I think you have a pretty clear picture of the other side of the fence.

    • Mike Drak July 20, 2015, 11:51 am

      Well said freebird! You view work differently after achieving FI and it’s wonderful to have earned the power to say ‘NO”. It’s important in retirement to feel that you still matter and both Joe and Ernie Z have ways that work for them, they help people and that’s not a bad thing to retire to.

      • retirebyforty July 20, 2015, 12:28 pm

        It sounds like you are doing the right thing for you. You are enjoying work again and that’s great. It’s pretty amazing how your state of mind can affect your work. You can always retire when you’re ready, right?
        I’m definitely more influential now than when I was working. 🙂

  • Stockbeard July 20, 2015, 9:06 am

    Joe, your articles confirms to me that I’m 200% ready for early retirement. I have big plans, I enjoy solitude way more than the average.

    What’s frightening me a bit though is that my wife might not be ready for me to retire early. She’s a bit conservative in some aspects due to social pressure, and I think she “likes” that we’re a “normal” family, with me working and her at home (note: she’s Japanese, it is very safe for me to say that over there, the “norm” is for the wife to stay at home and the husband to work outside and bring the money. I am not trying to say I consider it acceptable or “the right” way, it’s just the way it is over there. Hence the quotes around “normal”)

    • retirebyforty July 20, 2015, 12:30 pm

      Just keep talking to her and communicate how you feel. It might take time, but I’m sure she will eventually come around. Good luck! I guess I’m lucky that Mrs. RB40 isn’t really conventional.

  • Justin @ Root of Good July 20, 2015, 9:54 am

    Based on your factors, I’m definitely ready for early retirement! 😉

    I’ve never cared that much for the work I did or identified closely with my profession. I never got into socializing in the workplace other than with a couple of close friends I made at work. Hanging out after work for beers with the relative strangers a few cubes over doesn’t sound like fun.

    I’ve always enjoyed solitary activities and never get bored. Between video/computer games, reading books, writing, netflix, exploring the outdoors, and learning new stuff, I can’t imagine getting bored (and it hasn’t happened in the almost 2 years of early retirement).

    • retirebyforty July 20, 2015, 12:31 pm

      You’re a great fit for early retirement! Some of us are better suited to early retirement than others. Enjoy it!

  • Amber Tree July 20, 2015, 11:46 am

    Great check list!
    I seem to fail in 2 out of 5

    Need for advancement: I still want to progress and learn new things in life. I know it can be other things than work related skills, but for now, these seem to be the things I prefer.

    Fear to be alone: I would find it difficult to be alone a big part of the day. Kids off to school, wife working… I can do some household work, some gardening, but I think the final result would be to work on advancement anyway.

    Oh yeah, and one more thing, I am only at 24pct of my number… This leave me plenty of time to work on the 2 remaining points

    • retirebyforty July 20, 2015, 12:33 pm

      It’s rewarding to make progress at work. It makes you feel good about yourself. I’m sure you’ll reach a point in life where you won’t seek advancement. No need to retire if you like work.

  • Jason July 20, 2015, 2:06 pm


    Definitely agree that this lifestyle (early retirement/FI) is a lot easier for introverts. Though, technology makes it a lot easier to get out and meet people.

    I would actually say the “social circle” at work was a drawback for me. I was FORCED into being nice and talking to people I wouldn’t otherwise associate with. A lot of people I worked with totally bummed me out, but I had to be civil in order to keep my job. Not sucking it up for anyone is one of the great perks of working for yourself/being FI. You only spend time around those you want to.

    Best regards!

    • retirebyforty July 21, 2015, 3:49 pm

      Being self employed is perfect for me too. Most of my old co-workers were nice so I didn’t have much problem with them. Some people abuse their power, though. ANyway, self employment is great!

  • [email protected] One More Year July 20, 2015, 3:07 pm


    I am definitely ready for retirement based on your list. I work remotely from home 99% of the time, with little human interaction, I don’t care about advancements anymore, and my identity is not wrapped up in my job.

    My two biggest emotional concerns are keeping busy with meaningful activities and feeling like I have saved enough to leave paid employment. Ernie Z’s book are helping me with the former and the latter is still a work in progress.

    It sounds like retirement from your employer has worked well for you and the family the last 3 years. It gives me inspiration to see how other people have made this leap and hearing about the results.

    Take care!

    • retirebyforty July 21, 2015, 3:51 pm

      Good luck on your journey. It sounds like you are well on your way. Check out Go Curry Cracker, Financial Samurai, Mr. Money Mustache, and Dividend Mantra. They are all handling early retirement in their own ways. It’s fun.

  • Dividend Growth Investor July 20, 2015, 3:39 pm

    Congrats on the 3 years anniversary of your Early Retirement Joe!

    I would say that I am ready for early retirement. However, the goal for me is to gather enough income producing assets so that I don’t have to spend time for income ( unless I want to). I learned a long time ago that advancement in corporate America is a double edged sword – if you get a 30% raise, the level of responsibilities jumps by 70%, and time on the job increases as well. This is why in the past year I have found a job with lower chance of advancement, but better work life balance ( and higher salary).

    I am hopeful that sometime around 2018, I would be able to achieve FI. Then I would have the option to keep working, be a beach bum, or just focus on investing full time.

    • retirebyforty July 21, 2015, 3:52 pm

      Thanks! I agree. The level of pay raise doesn’t reflect the amount of additional work. I think the executives sucked up all the money that could have gone toward mid level employees. 🙂 Good luck on your journey. 2018 will be here before youknow it.

  • HMB July 20, 2015, 7:07 pm

    This post reminds me of a book I recently read called You Can Retire Sooner Than You Think by Wes Moss. He basically states that in order to have a fulfilling and happy retirement you have to have at least 2-3 passions in life. You have to have a plan for what you’ll do with all your time. This is something that alludes so many people that are traditional retirees. The best thing about FI or being close enough to it, is that you have a plethora of options. That to me is true freedom. Thanks for sharing.

    – HMB

  • Geblin July 21, 2015, 1:57 am


    Nice write up. A lot of people would indeed be bored if they retire early or miss their work friends. I will probably retire by age 35 – 40. If I can do it earlier I will do it. I think when I retire I will have to less time to do everything I want.


  • Duncan July 21, 2015, 8:29 am

    Totally agree with your points, confirms I’m ready to get out of the rat race and enjoy slowing things down and exploring life in a way that is meaningful to me. I’d love to have less structure, write articles online, and just help others achieve goals. Thanks for the read!

  • Alexis @ Fitnancials July 21, 2015, 7:44 pm

    I hope I get to retire early! Or at least make working at home a full time profession.

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