Early Retirement Isn’t for Everyone

Early Retirement Isn't for Everyone 350Some people just aren’t cut out for early retirement. IMO, most people would choose to keep working even after they achieve financial independence. Early retirement is unconventional and scary. Why retire if things are going well? Let’s take a look at my friend for example. Jane worked hard for many years. She saved and invested since she was young and accumulated over 33x her annual expenses. At this point, she can retire early and comfortably withdraw 3% from her investment every year. That’s a safe sustainable rate and her portfolio should be able to support her lifestyle indefinitely. That’s not all. When she’s old enough (62?), she’ll receive Social Security Benefits and a pension. She doesn’t have to worry about retirement money, but she chose to continue working. This is not unusual. Personally, I think 90% of normal people would make the same choice. Only a small percentage would quit their job and retire early. Anyway, we’ll examine Jane’s personality today and see why early retirement isn’t a good fit for her.

Team player

Jane likes being part of a team. She has always been a part of some organization or another since she was in school. She was in the marching band, softball team, student government, and many other school activities. After college, she joined the Peace Corps for a few years then came back to the US and worked for a big organization. She gets along well with her coworkers, managers, and subordinates. Jane is a great employee and everyone thinks she’s a big asset to the team. In addition, she enjoys working with other people and contributing to the organization. Work gives her a lot of satisfaction. Also, work doesn’t interfere with her family life. She works 40 hours/week and spends plenty of time with her family. For Jane, there isn’t much downside to working.

External validation

External validation makes you feel good. Jane is a good employee and she gets a lot of external validation from work. I think she is a little addicted to it. That’s understandable, right? If you get endless praise for doing your job, you’ll love it too. Jane feels like she’s making a difference and work is a good environment for her.

I also enjoyed external validation when I was young. However, the external validation in my engineering career came at a high cost. I worked 60-80 hours per week and competed with extremely smart coworkers in a toxic work environment. It was too stressful and I was burned out after about 10 years. Slowly, I grew disengaged and external validation became meaningless. In my case, the price of external validation was too high. For Jane, it isn’t. She puts in reasonable hours and receives excellent performance reviews every year. It feels good and doesn’t cause any problem for her.


Jane lives a conventional lifestyle and it works out very well for her. When she was young, she lived in one city and didn’t move until she left for college. She graduated from college after 4 years. Now, she works for a big organization and she’s on track for raises/promotions every year. She has a happy marriage and a son. Her life is charmed and uneventful. Jane doesn’t have to think outside the box because the conventional lifestyle served her extremely well.

In contrast, I didn’t have a conventional life. My parents moved around every few years when I was young and I never felt rooted. My parents immigrated to the US from Thailand when I was 12 and we faced a lot of adversity. I worked at their restaurant when I was in high school and didn’t have much time for other stuff. College was difficult for me and money was always a big issue. I worked a conventional job for a while, but I chafed at it. Back then, a conventional lifestyle meant work long hours, live in a nice big house, drive a convertible BMW, go out to expensive places, and being miserable a lot of time. I had all that and I didn’t like it so I had to figure out an alternative.

Status conscious

Jane works in HR/middle management. She likes the status. When someone asks her what she does, she can answer with pride. This status will disappear if she retires early. A lot of people’s identities are closely tied up with their profession. They identify as a manager, doctor, lawyer, engineer, or whatever. The job brings a lot of pride. It feels nice and normal to be somebody. When you retire, you no longer feel important and other people think you are inconsequential.

I left my engineering career 8 years ago and I’m still uncomfortable when someone asks me what I do. People judge you by your job. It’s an easy way to rank someone. I used to tell people that I’m retired, but that’s uncomfortable because I’m still pretty young. I know they’re thinking – “you’re a bum.” Now, I tell them I work from home. Like it or not, people are judgy.

Change and uncertainty

Jane dislikes changes. She doesn’t like to move. She doesn’t like to buy a new car. Basically, she thinks life is good so why change it? This mentality is actually really good. She’s satisfied with life so the grass isn’t greener on the other side. She’s happy with her life. However, this is incompatible with early retirement. Her job is good. There is no reason to retire early when she’s already happy.

Jane also hates uncertainty. Early retirement is full of uncertainties. I retired from my engineering career when I was 38. I could be in retirement for 50 years or more. A lot can happen in 10 years, let alone 50. Our spending is under control, but nobody knows if that will change. We don’t know if our portfolio will really hold up for 50+ years. Early retirement is full of uncertainty. You just have to take a chance and leap. This is too much for a lot of people. Most of us like the certainty of a steady paycheck.

Type A personality

Jane is Type A. She likes getting things done. Well, she’s not 100% Type A. I think maybe 70% type A and 30% type B. However, that’s enough. Type A people thrive in a structured working environment. They enjoy the competition and camaraderie. Work gives them a set of goals so they can strive to finish them one by one. Structured work is a good environment for this personality.

I’m much less competitive and have a Type B personality. Early retirement is a great fit for me. I love the unstructuredness of it all. I can do things at my own speed without any stress. The freedom is awesome.

I think Type A people will have a harder time with the retirement transition. They probably need to figure out some new goals so they can strive toward them. It’s hard for them to relax.


As you can probably guess, Jane is a stand-in for Mrs. RB40. She continues to resist early retirement even when our finances can support it. That’s why we changed our goal. Now, we plan for her to take a year off in 2022. We’ll see how the preview goes and then we’ll figure out the rest later. If she doesn’t like it, she can go back to work. If she enjoys it, then maybe she can stay retired. She is mellowing out with age so maybe she’ll be a good fit for early retirement soon.

Do you know anyone who might not be a good fit for early retirement? 

One way to help convince your partner to FIRE is to show them the numbers. Here is a great tool for individual investors – the Retirement Planner at Personal Capital. It is the best retirement calculator out there. It’s even flexible enough for early retirement. Sign up with Personal Capital and check it out.

Image credit: Isaiah Rustad

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Joe started Retire by 40 in 2010 to figure out how to retire early. After 16 years of investing and saving, he achieved financial independence and retired at 38.

Passive income is the key to early retirement. This year, Joe is investing in commercial real estate with CrowdStreet. They have many projects across the USA so check them out!

Joe also highly recommends Personal Capital for DIY investors. They have many useful tools that will help you reach financial independence.
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39 thoughts on “Early Retirement Isn’t for Everyone”

  1. The thing with FI is to be able to choose. Most people cant. Most people dont do work that they are very passionate about, sure you might like it but its not a calling.
    The freedom to be able choose to downshift, work less, more time with loved ones and hobbys/interests, and Down the road quit working all together, thats the beauty of it.
    Doest mean youre not doing anything, you just dont work at a workplace.

  2. “She has a happy marriage and a son. Her life is charmed and uneventful.”

    She’s standing right behind you, isn’t she Joe? 😉

    On that note—where did she volunteer for PC? Nicaragua here, for business education.

    I’m with you on some (most?) folks not really being cut out for the very different life that is RE. I don’t really think that’s inherent to RE, rather the structure of our society just doesn’t mesh well with it.

  3. Good performance reviews are definitely not a reason to keep working. I was in the top 10% throughout my career and the top 5% for the last few years. The stress was definitely not worth it.

  4. I figured out before I finished undergrad that I needed to retire. I set a 10 year plan. Failed well (took 14 years) and checked out just after my 40th birthday. If that math seems weird, it took me 8 years to complete undergrad but I did it without debt.

    BUt I know people who can’t live without their work. Good on them. Someone has to produce and consume the stuff that my dividends rely on.

  5. Hi Joe, you are right. Not everyone likes early retirement. In my case, I loved it, and look forward to retiring again whenever the Obamacare is getting better. Definitely I’m not in Type A, and can’t care less about the work-related identity or status. To me, working part-time is better than full-time, but it’s still a job, and comes with the related hassles. I don’t need to spend much to make myself happy, but a new car would be always nice to have.

  6. I identify with y0ur amazing spouse. But I’ve found that even though I left the world of corporate big shot I stayed in the same volunteer roles that came along with the bigshot status of my past. And I get just as much newspaper and press coverage doing those that I did running a billion dollar corporation. Maybe she should dig into some volunteer work while she has all the street cred she has earned and then sliding into retirement won’t be the same kind of dropping off the radar she might fear? At least it kind of has worked for me these last five years. Charitable organizations love her kind of expertise. HR experience is actually the very most useful board skill there is. Just a thought. Life is great when you’ve got an amazing spouse, isn’t it?

  7. I can relate to this! When I first heard about FIRE many years ago, it didn’t seem that compelling since I love my job and still have time to pursue other interests outside of work. I reached FI through natural frugality and now that I’m here, I am starting to consider a potential next chapter. I love my coworkers and they feel like family so that is another reason I am not in a rush to leave. I wish I could do part-time but my job is also not conducive to that. I liked the idea of ‘chapter overlap’ that Tanja talked about on Our Next Life and that’s what I’m pursuing so I can be confident that what I do next will be as fun and fulfilling as what I’m doing now, in new ways!

    • That’s great! If you enjoy your work, you don’t need to retire.
      It’s too bad you can’t go part-time. I think that’s the perfect solution for a lot of people.
      Mrs. RB40 would love to work part-time, but her organization doesn’t accommodate that.

  8. i’m in no rush to retire now that my job is better than it used to be. i might be a little like jane in that i seem to have plenty of time to do the things i like and even some left over after that. i need a better hobby i guess. nice post.

  9. This is an interesting topic. I’m a type A pursuing FIRE and I do struggle at times having nothing to do. Especially so when I take time off of work and we don’t go out of town. But I think (I hope) this is just from lack of routine and structure. I like the challenge of potentially slowing things down and having more time to spend with the kids.

    Our plan is to do some long term travel when we pull the work plug. I’ve done this before in my twenties, and know that this is something that suits me. Luckily, reaching FIRE takes time and discipline. Hopefully people pursuing FIRE can use the accumulation phase to plan on what they will be retiring to.

  10. I think not chasing early retirement is really the norm because not chasing early retirement is actually the norm. In other words, retiring early doesn’t feel right to many folks just because not many people do it.

    The VP at my old company pulled off the best of both worlds. Both he and his wife make excellent money and could retire now and live extravagantly for the rest of their lives without a care in the world AND still be able to pass on a sizeable nest egg to their kids. But he absolutely loves what he does. He wouldn’t have it any other way… and that’s fantastic. He’s happy working and financially independent. If he wants to cut back to part-time eventually just to do other things, not a problem. It’s hard not to envy someone in this position.

    • I think part-time is the answer for a lot of people. They get to work and still have a lot of freedom.
      Unfortunately, Mrs. RB40’s work doesn’t allow that.
      Maybe she can find a part-time job after she retires early.

  11. Honestly I was Jane before Covid. While FI I had no intention of calling it a day before 55 (16 years from now.). Covid is really burning me out and beating me down. Not sure if my position will change. My wife keeps telling me to see where I’m at after a vaccine because like Jane she thinks I’d not be happy.

  12. My wife sounds a little like Jane, but she’s ready to take a break and then get back into something else. The year off is perfect and that’s what we’re trying to engineer right now.

    I don’t know where I fit. I think I like to be part of the team, but maybe more of a leadership role since I don’t enjoy taking direction well (especially if it’s bad direction). I just know that I needed to not be tied to a job 60-80 hours a week because I need more balance in my life than that. Tech doesn’t seem to be a good fit for balance.

  13. I do think a lot of physicians have the same issues as Jane. The external validation can certainly play a major role.

    I would like to retire early and don’t suffer from the many issues listed. My main issue is suffering from one more year syndrome. I feel I have accumulated enough to be fine but still plod on because I am finding I am pretty conservative when it comes to feeling like I have enough to retire early. If it was just me I think I would be fine. But my daughter and more specifically her educational expenses which I like to provide for her through college makes it a little more complicated.

    I think I am sticking with my time based plan for early retirement (age 53) versus amount based. It’s still early enough to enjoy retirement and the extra 3.5 years will add more safety layers.

    Once you leave medicine it is very hard to go back so I want to make sure I won’t ever have to try and enter the medical field again once I leave.

  14. I’m not a good fit. But in many ways being a professor is like being early retired because of the autonomy and flexibility. I mostly get paid to work on what I want to work on (with some exceptions for unwanted service, and maybe a little too much teaching).

      • I have to teach two classes a semester and get some say in what I teach and when. (Not total say.) I have to do service, but get some say in that as well. I can research whatever I want. The joke is that as a professor you can work whatever 80hrs/week you want. (The reality is probably closer to 40 during the summer when there’s no teaching and 50 or 60 during the school year depending on how bad service/teaching is that semester.)

  15. These are all very good points Joe! For some people I think the external validation is a really strong driver, and during this pandemic we’re seeing that extroverts and type A personalities like to be around people. So many of them do not like working from home and they want to go back into the office. We’re all different, that’s what makes life great 🙂

    The main driver for me to go part-time from my W2 job was that white car office work is just bad for your body and health. Sitting under fluorescent lights all day in a static position away from windows and natural sunlight is just not good for the human body, plain and simple. I care too much about my health to let it wither away like that.

    • I like external validation too, but the cost was too high for me. I went into the wrong field.
      Actually, blogging has high external validation too. It’s great.
      I agree with your assessment of office work. I never liked sitting around all day long.

  16. Well said Joe. I agree that many people are not a natural fit for the RE portion of FIRE. I think your plan to take a gap year and go from there is a brilliant one. “Jane” (nice job on that twist) may learn a great deal about herself and like being semi-retired more than she thinks.

    I don’t think the retired/not retired status has to be nearly as bimodal of a decision as we believe. People think of it like a water faucet, on or off. Black or white. I suspect there is a great deal of grey in there. I bet she enjoys the grey quite a bit! 🙂

    • I agree. You never know what you will like if you don’t try it. She didn’t like working from home before this year, but she loves it now. We’ll see how she likes early retirement in 2022.

  17. Yeah, I agree. Some people are completely fine with the status quo. They do well in a ‘traditional’ lifestyle and really like their work. Retiring sounds terrible to them. It’s like choosing to remove all the best parts of your life.

    Mrs. Tako is a lot like this. She’s happy with her job, and likes the social aspects of it. I’m fine with that as long as she’s happy. I won’t push the issue of retiring, but if she changes her mind someday, we’ll be ready.

    • The conventional path is a great fit for a lot of people. That’s why it’s conventional, right?
      Mrs. RB40 might get tired of working someday. People usually mellow out a bit when they’re older.

  18. My alter ego has written another insightful post. I figured it out right away, but it took my “Jane” several paragraphs to realize you were writing about her.

  19. You ask, “Do you know anyone who might not be a good fit for early retirement?”

    Of course, I do.

    Donald Trump is not a good fit for early retirement. Regardless of the fact that he spent the last two days on the golf course without making any public statements, Trump needs the attention and adulation from his followers. Plain and simple, he is an entertainer who is addicted to attention from others. So don’t expect him to leave the White House and spend the rest of his life golfing like some retirees do.

    But hey, I would likely not want to retire early from a professional speaking career if I was extremely good at it and was able to get standing ovations every time I had a gig.


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