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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