Early Retirement: Everybody wants to be a bodybuilder, but…

Today's guest post comes courtesy of the Early Retirement Dude. If you frequent the /r/financialindependence subreddit, you might recognize him as a cool mod known as ER10years_throwaway! He FI/ER'd in 2005 at the ripe old age of  36. He made a very insightful comment and I asked him to expand upon it in a guest post. Take it away, Early Retirement Dude!

“Everybody wants to be a bodybuilder, but nobody wants to lift no heavy-ass weights.” — Professional bodybuilder and eight-time Mr. Olympia winner Ronnie Coleman

Remember when you first heard about the idea of financial independence/early retirement (FI/ER)? What was your reaction?

I retired when I was thirty-six, eleven years ago, but in real life when I meet someone new I don’t bring it up. Early on I might’ve, but I got too many negative reactions: “No way”…“Oh, I hate you”…and the worst: “I could never do that.” I finally realized I was chilling what could otherwise be good relationships, so I stopped talking about FI/ER with anyone other than family and a few close friends.

But having considered those reactions for a long time, I’ve come to believe that the average American worker is ill-conditioned to conceive of FI/ER as even existing, let alone being achievable. People’s parents don’t tell them about it and schools for damn sure don’t teach it to students…so people default to the traditional middle-class mental roadmap: graduating, getting a job, forming a family, and planning to retire comparatively late in life. It’s what everybody does, right?

You gotta toss that roadmap, my friend. Set the bugger on fire and flush the ashes.

Hence my initial question: what was your reaction when you first heard of FI/ER? Was it “I could do that?” I’m guessing it wasn’t, or at least not initially.

So what kept you interested?

Maybe it was this: you recognized that you were on the cusp of a life-changing moment.


I want to share with you my most life-changing moment, at least in the pursuit of FI/ER. If it hadn’t been for one hour, a mere sixty minutes, I truly believe I’d still be corporate.

When I was twenty-six I worked in marketing in a public utility, and I applied and interviewed for a new and fun job that carried a pay raise from $ to $$. But the two hiring managers turned me down. So I called them and asked if we could meet for a feedback session. I wanted to know why they blackballed me; what they thought I could work and improve so as to make the cut during the next round of hiring.

An hour of straight talk ensued, a lot of it personal. And honestly, they were right: I’d screwed a lot of stuff up. I had the reputation of being a prima donna, a lousy team player, and a know-it-all. I rubbed people the wrong way by trying to be smarter than everybody else and twice as funny. (Probably still character issues, but set that aside for now.)

Their feedback was tough to hear and even tougher to accept. But I WANTED that job. Besides being new and fun, I’d become convinced it was my best shot at FI/ER.

So for the next six months I set about becoming their ideal candidate. On my own time I studied the knowledge and skills required by the job. I periodically discussed my progress with the hiring managers and networked to other influential people in the company. And I tried to rebuild my reputation.

I finally got hired. I worked in that group for a year before getting the chance to jump over to a new employer in the private sector. [FOOTNOTE BELOW] My salary went from $$ to $$$ and then to $$$$, eventually enabling me to become financially independent and retire.

Like I said, I’m convinced I'd still be working if I hadn't asked for that meeting with those two decision-makers. Holy shit, was that a life-changing moment. But was it solely my doing? Can I take full credit for lifting that heavy-ass weight?

Of COURSE not. I had a great mentor at the time, and for the life of me I can't remember if asking for feedback was his suggestion, but it sounds exactly like the kind of thing he’d have advised me to do. And there were other people who were generous with their time and advice. Even one guy was such a jerk that he motivated me to haul ass in the opposite direction. And the candor of those two hiring managers…wow.

You shouldn’t just wait on these life-changing moments to come along…you should actively be working to create them. Sometimes that requires changing your thinking from, “I could never do that,” to “With some help, I probably could.”


Which brings me back to the second paragraph of this post, where I said, “I could never do that,” is the worst reaction possible to the concept of FI/ER.

Like I said, even hearing about the FI/ER concept, and especially its achievability, is a moment you can build a whole new life from.

Let’s say you research FI/ER for a while, realize that maybe instead of retiring in your mid-thirties, your mid-fifties are more realistic…or say you shoot for FI/ER for a while, get burned out on it, and think you'll never get there…are you going to give up? Or figure out ways to use those obstacles to keep going?

Think about it: every day in your life is made up of life-changing moments. Which, yeah, is simple-minded advice. Motivational poster crap. But look, take it seriously nonetheless. Becoming financially independent and retiring early requires a shit-ton of time and commitment.

And I think that’s ultimately the reason people tell themselves, “I could never do that.” It’s not that they don’t WANT to get out of the workforce, or lack the brainpower to understand the tools…it’s “lifting heavy-ass weights” for the years and years and years necessary that’s impossible to internalize. So another life-changing moment gets wadded up and tossed away…which is a friggety shame.

Don’t sell yourself short, man. Make that moment happen.

[HERE'S THAT FOOTNOTE:] I maintain that being a good team player doesn’t necessarily mean unquestioning loyalty to your current employer. Keep in mind that your employer wouldn’t hesitate for three seconds to cut you loose if doing so would increase the bottom line. Granted that your personal value equation is likely more complicated than mere salary, but all else being equal, why would you ever hesitate to follow the money?

Sick of your job? After a thirteen-year career, Early Retirement Dude fled corporate America for good. You can do it too! Visit his blog at Early Retirement Dude or email EarlyRetirementDude@gmail.com

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8 thoughts on “Early Retirement: Everybody wants to be a bodybuilder, but…

  1. Great story, Early Retirement Dude. Have you heard of the concept emotional intelligence (EI?) I read this book about EI in graduate school: http://www.danielgoleman.info/topics/emotional-intelligence/

    It sounds like you learned a few lessons about self-reflection and you also were more aware of how you carried yourself in the workplace after that meeting? This book dives deep into similar concepts.

    A question for you: when you start making a lot more money, did you ever question if you deserved that much money? Or put another way – did you continuously ask for raises or were you continuously promoted?

    • I’ll have to do some research on EI. Interesting concept.

      I was definitely more aware of how I carried myself, even though your status in that new job was all about what you earned for the company. We had several people who were straight-up assholes but nonetheless were valued team members.

      When I started making a lot more money I never really questioned whether I deserved it. I was frequently intimidated by the sheer brainpower of some of the people I worked with, though–I’m thinking specifically of one VP I frequently teamed up with, who had the most retentive memory and the greatest ability to synthesize as anyone I’ve ever known. There was also this quant guy in our analytics group who’d won some crazy South American mathematics competition–so he was basically the smartest guy in South America.

      And yes, if I wanted a raise or a promotion I went out and earned it…but I made for damn sure those opportunities existed.

  2. I definitely thought that the idea of FIRE was the least bit feasible when I first heard about it. Luckily, I love a challenge and going against the grain so once I dove a little deeper, I was hooked. Thanks for sharing your defining moment!

  3. Great post! I’ve seen your posts on the FI subreddit, and I’ll be following your blog now. What made you decide to start it now?

    • Thanks!

      Started it because timing was right. I’d had a bunch of people ask me to start one, and then my artistic gig folded. I need a creative outlet, so this is a new one. Hopefully it’ll be more successful. 🙂
      Ed Dude recently posted…The Day I QuitMy Profile

  4. I have attempted to start and stick to an exercise routine only about a gadzillion times in my life. I want the results. I fail miserably at putting in the consistent effort required to achieve said results.

    And this is why it astounds me that I have been steadfast on the path to FIRE since I discovered the concept. I am grateful every day that this thing I apparently want badly enough that I am willing to do the time. I hope to retire at 42, and I am 44 months and change away from from my retirement date.
    Mrs. BITA recently posted…The Position of Fuck YouMy Profile

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