Retiring early is an adventure

Retiring early was always my dream.

When my kid was young, many times I wished I were able to stay home with him.  Sending him to the day care at that young age was like sending him to the war zone.  It ripped his heart and mine.  I always felt the guilt.  Why did I have to work?  I needed the money to live.  It’s just that pure and simple.

That truth lasted for many years.  I didn’t necessarily love or hate the job.  As a way of survival, I tried to make the work experience less brutal as I could.  Over the 27 years, I worked for 8-9 employers in China and US.

Sometimes, the job was exciting.  When working on a UNDP training project in Beijing, I met many people from different countries all over the world.  The different cultures were fascinating.  Each person was friendly and fun talking to.  We bonded within and outside the classrooms.

Under the same UNDP project, 25 years ago, I got chance working in Pakistan and Bangladesh in short terms.  I enjoyed it, made some friends there, and had a lot of good memories.  It’s eye opening to get to know the countries, culture, and local people.

But, most of the time, it was just a job: got stuff done during the day, and then went home (but still on the call) during the night.  Retiring early was a fantasy.

Planning for early retirement is an adventure:

Around 2008, I became serious about retiring early.  The planning phase started, and so did my journey of adventure.

All my planning was done privately:

  • When could I pay off the mortgage?
  • At that time, my kid’s college money was already saved. That was checked off.
  • The biggest question was: when could I reach that magic number in terms of saving and investment, so I could call it a career?

As you know, 2008 was the year of financial crisis.  I learnt my lesson in a hard way.  The good thing was that, paying off the mortgage became my focus.  It was paid off in 2010, after 10 super long years.

In early 2013, while still working as an IT engineer, I was asking myself: “is it a good time to throw in the towel right now?”

Financially, I was getting close to my goal, but not exactly there yet.  I could stay on that job if I wanted to.  One part of me whispered:  keep working for another two years, and invest more.  You can do it.  The other part of me yelled:  it’s never enough.  Get out, right now!

I did more soul searching.  It’s never going to be perfect.  Life is always about trade-offs: you gain some while losing some.  The key is to find out what matters to you the most.

Obviously, the big things I was going to lose were the decent paycheck, benefits, and some level of life certainty.  On the other hand, retiring early opens a whole new world to me.  I could explore, adventure, and enjoy life more.  I tried to avoid the birds’ mentality:  the birds inside the cage want out, while the ones outside try to squeeze in.

In late March of 2013, after several weeks of struggle, finally my two-week notice was submitted.  One email.  That’s it.  I didn’t announce where I was going to.  Many of my coworkers assumed that, I was just going to a better job.

Why didn’t I tell everyone I was retiring early?  I feel retiring is a personal matter.  Working with my coworkers was good experience.  But that work connection happens in the office, and stays in the office.  To me, the work relationship doesn’t translate to friendship.  Of course, there are some exceptions.

I did share the exciting news with my family and friends.  I was counting the days left anxiously, and got those sweet greetings from them on the day I walked free.

A quick note.  After leaving the engineering career, I took a five-month break.  Then tried my passion to become a financial advisor.  Passed the Series 65 and 63 exams.  Ended up being a personal banker for fun.  It was cool trying a totally different profession.  In the spring of 2015, I retired again.

Early retirement life is an adventure, too:

Is there any standard to follow for early retirement life?  I guess not.  Everyone’s taste is different.  That’s why it’s an adventure.  Before retiring, I was so used to run the work days based on the job demands.  I didn’t have much time to think what I like to do, just do it.

Suddenly I was in an unknown territory.  Retiring in late 40s is not too early, but definitely doesn’t follow the main trend.

In US, the average retiring age is 62-63.  In China, the current retirement age is between 50 and 60.  For men, it is 60.  For women, it is 50 for the Workers (blue collar) category, and 55 for the Cadres (white collar) category.  Why is it different for men and women?  I’m not sure.  It must be related to some history in China.

By either standard, it is abnormal to retire in the late 40s as I did.  It raises an eyebrow for my relatives or friends.  They could question:

  • Do you have any health issues?  No.  I’m very healthy.
  • Do you have a pension? No.
  • Did you inherit a trust fund? No, never.
  • Did you win the lottery? No, not yet.
  • Are you crazy?  No.
  • Then, how do you cover the living expenses? I saved and invested.
  • What are you doing every day? A lot of passionate hobbies.  I’ll try fishing again this year.
  • Do you have young kids to take care of,  and to keep you busy?  No.  My kid is an independent adult.
  • Do you have grandkids to babysit every day?  No.  And not in my plan.

In China, many retirees babysit their grandkids.  Do they enjoy doing it, or just an obligation?  It could go either way, or mixed.

Retirement life offers a lot of choices.  It’s up to each retiree to find out what he or she likes, and go for it.  After those years of hard work, you’ve earned it.  Enjoy it while you are still young and healthy.  Don’t wait.  Don’t stop exploring.

On the day I retired, I promised I’m going to enjoy life no matter what roadblocks are ahead.

In summary, retiring early is a great adventure. Don’t be afraid of pursuing your own life style, as long as you are happy.  That’s what matters at the end of the day.

How other people judge you is their problem, not yours.  Don’t let it bother you at all.

Yeah, discussion time:  where are you at in your journey to retirement?  Or you plan to keep working and enjoying it forever?

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16 Responses

  1. Ms ZiYou says:

    A great story Helen, love how you have retired early twice!

    • Retire Early Helen says:

      Thank you, Ms. ZiYou. I liked to try a different profession. It was fun, much better than sitting in those cubicles. Have a great weekend.

  2. Samantha says:

    Helen, great blog! I am in Ohio too. We are hoping to retire by 40. Very exciting. Maybe 3-5 more years. I enjoy reading about your story, keep it up!

    • Retire Early Helen says:

      I’m so glad to hear, you are living in Ohio, too. Retire by 40? That’s really exciting. I’m so happy for you. Enjoy the journey!
      – Helen

  3. Joe says:

    Sending our baby off to daycare was really hard. It seems like we spent just 1-2 hours with him. By the time we get back from work and had dinner, he was ready for bed. The kids were sick all the time at daycare too. That’s a big part of why I retired early. I became a stay at home dad when he was 18 months old. It was perfect timing because he wasn’t a lot of trouble then. I’m really glad I quit at that time. Now he’s 7 and goes to public school. Life is much easier. Kids grow up so fast.

    • Retire Early Helen says:

      Right. Sending baby to the daycare is tough. As a parent, I just felt helpless, as not much option was there. Glad to hear you were able to stay with your kid since he was 1.5 years old. That made a huge difference. Yeah, time flies. When the kids were young, we dreamed about the day they grew up. But once they are adults, as a parent standing at the sideline, we could feel kind of lost. I guess that’s the way it is. Have a great weekend.

  4. Steve says:

    Hi Helen,
    My feelings are similar to yours and I decided to sell my business and semi retire(mid 40s). It has been a great balance for me and I still collect a paycheque albeit a smaller one. My friends and relatives think I am crazy but “How other people judge you is their problem, not yours.” Excellent post Helen, have a good weekend !

  5. GYM says:

    Excellent post! I will have to go back to work in a few months and am not looking forward to saying goodbye to my baby when I head to work. If I were to work part-time that would be ideal. I aim to be retired in my mid 40’s as well as I think my mom will be elderly and in her 80’s and I will need to take care of her as my siblings will likely not help.

    • Retire Early Helen says:

      Thank you, GYM. Going back to work is quite a transition. Hopefully your work schedule will be flexible enough. It sounds wonderful to retire in mid 40’s. That gives you more freedom to do whatever you want. It’s great to have that earned choice.

  6. Caroline says:

    Hi Helen,
    Great post. I plan to keep working but at my own pace, doing whatever I want to do.
    Just like you I promise to enjoy life no matter what roadblocks are ahead:)

    • Retire Early Helen says:

      Thank you. It will be great to work at your own pace. That’s quite a freedom not many people have. When I retired, one of my friends wished me: “Enjoy every minute.” Sweet wish. I don’t know if I could do it in minutes, but definitely I try to enjoy each day.

  7. WTK says:

    Hi Helen,

    It is up to us to explore how the adventure of retiring early, is like to be. One thing is for sure that there will not be stress related problems such as tight deadline.


    • Retire Early Helen says:

      Hi WTk, yes, early retirement is a new chapter of life. There are a lot of opportunities we can explore. We have more time and energy to try new hobbies.

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