I was perusing the forums over at earlyretirement.org and came across a post referring to an article entitled “The Dark Side of Early Retirement”.  I decided to read said article and I must say, the author is…well misguided to say the least.  I won’t disagree with some of the assertions made in the article, such as some of us retire early after realizing life is short and time is precious or because we are dissatisfied with our jobs or that we go back to work because we run out of money or become lonely.

However, towards the end of the article there is some really scary stuff.    For instance:

“CAREFUL WHO YOU LISTEN TO

Early retirees will croon about how great their lifestyles are.  I’m sure, in some ways they are spot on.  But notice how they seldom write about the hardships they face.  They can’t, because it’s important they continue highlighting how awesome everything is, to justify their decision to no longer work.  Can you imagine spending 16 years going to school (grade school + four years of college) only to work for 10 years?  Some would surely say that’s a waste, would they not?

The worst that could happen is some aspiring scientist, musician, lawyer, or teacher decides to give up their careers because they believe traveling around the world on a shoe-string budget is so glamorous.  Years later, they realize their fingers don’t remember the notes anymore and the chemical formulas are one big haze.  Maybe they would have made it as a concert pianist, or helped discover the cure for seasonal allergies, ACHOO!  What a shame they never reach their full potential.

Hidden in here is the message that we hear way too often in a society that is supposedly a free one.  That we owe society something.  That we must work and reach our full potential, not as we define it, but as it is defined by others.  We may be the greatest chemist or pianist in the history of chemistry or pianos, but if our desire is to travel to distant lands and learn about other people and cultures, we are deemed selfish.  We are depriving society of our talents.

Hogwash!  We owe nothing to society at least not in a free society.  It is the selfish desires of individuals to make money, gain knowledge or create stuff that drives our society, not some societal need that we are obligated to fulfill.  We fulfill those needs though our selfish desire, not central planning.  How many books, paintings, inventions, etc. might society have missed out on if somebody didn’t retire early?  How many small businesses would go under without retirees traveling around spending their money?

And for the record, retirement is great but it is just like real life.  It has its ups and downs.  But I never wake up and say to myself, “Gee, today would be better if I had a job to go to.”  Some retirees might become depressed, lonely or bored, but that’s their fault not retirement’s.

“EARLY RETIREMENT IS SELFISH

As I strive to fulfill my goal of retiring by 45, I’ve come to the realization there’s an unhealthy focus on self.  “What do I need to amass to be comfortable?” should be replaced with “How much do I need to be comfortable while helping others?

It’s absolutely selfish for me to even consider working less than the number of years I went to school.  I think back upon my childhood years and how much effort my parents put into raising me.  My mother would spend hours a week sitting down with me after dinner to explain mathematical equations.  My father would read all my essays and fix all the punctuations and grammatical mistakes.  I would feel like a disgrace not to at least try and do great things.

45 is just an age goal.  If I haven’t achieved my potential by then, I don’t plan on retiring even if I have the money to do so.  The point of having an earlier-than-normal retirement goal is to help keep someone focused.  Like an exam that’s 3 months away, we don’t study until the week before.  Hence, better to believe the exam is only a week away so that we are better prepared.”

And here, in the very next section of the article, is the naked truth.  We are selfish.  We are letting down not only society by depriving it of our talents, though only the talents we can indulge in while making money, but also our parents.  All their hard work and their hopes ruined by our desire to not work.  Notice the article ignores any contributions we might make while retired.  Many retirees, manage to do great things after they retire!  How can that be?  Hell, my parents are proud of me for working hard, planning well and retiring early.

Then, the idea of planning for retirement is, at least for the author, nothing more than a device used to motivate themselves to work harder and longer.  The emphasis in the above quotes is not mine.  The author highlighted those passages.  So, start saving your money, start planning for all that free-time you’ll have in your retirement.  Work hard and sacrifice and you’d better enjoy it, because it’s just an exercise, just a motivational device.  The hard work and sacrifice should be the only reward you should ever expect.

Look, I get some of what the author is trying to say, but the overriding message is that work is the default desire of all humans.  We all really want to work, sacrifice and meet the demands of society on societies terms, we just don’t know it.  If you’re a talented scientist but hate science, tough.  Society demands you excel in your career, not retire and become what you want.  If you desire to retire to a life of leisure, you’d better consider all the hard work your parents, teachers and coaches put in.  You’d better cure cancer or invent a longer lasting light bulb and only then is you life your own.

Otherwise, you haven’t lived up to your potential.  Not the potential you deem worthwhile, but the potential society deems important.  Retirement is about freedom, individuality and, yes, selfishness.  The act of putting one’s self first, and as we all know you can’t help others if you aren’t taking care of number one.  You won’t ever meet your potential if you’re unhappy and depressed, longing to exit the workforce and pursue your dreams.  You won’t ever be able to give back if you expend all your energy just dragging your behind to a job you dislike.

If you like your job, more power to you.  If not, change that.  If you have the means and the desire to retire, do it.  Who knows what you might contribute to society if you’re doing what you want on your terms?  And even if you contribute nothing at all, who cares.  It’s your life and you need to live it on your terms.  Anything else and you’ll likely never live up to your potential and you’ll probably never be happy.

Bottom line, this article misses the point.  Whether we retire young or old, because we hate our job or just find our passion fading or we retire willingly or are forced by circumstance, we do not necessarily drop out of society, we do not cease to contribute in our own way and in a way that matters to us.

That is where the author errs.  Not by asserting retirement has a dark side, it can, but by assuming that dark side comes from our inability to serve society on it’s term.  That we can never truly be happy unless we’ve met the expectations of the world around us.  That we cannot, in good conscience, retire without first sacrificing ourselves on the altar of obligation, guilt and altruism.

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