The 1st anniversary of my last day at work just slid by on September 4, 2019. I can’t believe I have officially been retired for 1 full year now. So how do I feel about that?
The easy answer
It feels absolutely amazing to be retired. I’m so happy with my life right now that I can hardly find words to describe how that feels. In the spirit of keeping it simple (a rare thing for me) I’ll just say being retired is incredibly AWESOME and very satisfying.
I do not miss having a job. I do not miss the routine of deadlines and alarms. And I definitely do not miss the way my brain used to be completely overloaded with job-related tasks and priorities. Most of all, I do not miss the culture of bonus-obsessed competition and conflict that was so common in my industry. I’ve spent the last year detoxing from all of those things and I’m not quite done with that yet. Now that I’m retired I don’t have any job-related stress and anxiety, a huge improvement in my quality of life.
I’m thrilled to be retired from job-life and 100% focused on life-life. I know some people worry they’ll be bored, but it’s easy for me to keep myself busy every day, both physically and mentally. I feel very inspired and wish there were more hours in the day. A typical day for me right now includes a lot of time reading and writing, some cooking, and a walk (or 2 or 3). I’m pretty obsessed with reading and journaling right now, though I kind of wish I was making time for other things as well. I’m assuming I’ll get enough of a “reading and writing fix” in a couple of months, and then I’ll make more time for drawing and other things. I’ve thought about giving myself a weekly schedule but that sounds too much like job-life and I’m having fun avoiding that type of thing right now. I’m enjoying the fact that I have a bunch of other interests that I haven’t even begun to make time for.
I know it’s unusual to have the option to retire forever at age 44, and I’m incredibly grateful that I was able to make that choice for myself.
And of course, being retired does not mean life is perfect. I’m still very capable of being grumpy, snarky, and I’m certainly still capable of being bossy and controlling. I have an overactive sense of independence right now that mostly rears its head whenever I think I’m being told what to do. My goofy form of post-retirement protests often start when Alison says I should hurry. If we agreed to leave on a walk at 1pm and she tells me to hurry so we can get going, I will actually slow down and stall even more (which is obnoxious).
I spent my college years in classes that essentially taught “love of writing, reading, and research.” That’s it. There was nothing practical for business or development of skills. After college I thought I would have a career in publishing because I wanted to be surrounded by that type of creativity. But the entry-level jobs I found offered minimum wage salaries and had heavy competition from overqualified applicants. So I changed my plan and ended up in marketing. Now that I’m retired I finally get to develop that creative writing part of myself (yay!).
The First 13 Years of My Career
My first job in marketing was at an engineering firm where I stayed for almost 13 years. I was working in PR in 2002 when I got a call from a recruiter about a marketing job. I remember being in that interview with the woman who would be my boss and the guy who was her boss, while they described helping engineers and scientists with their proposals and presentations. When they offered me a job I couldn’t believe my luck. I was still in my first year there when I found the niche I ended up in for so long, which was sort of a traveling SWAT team designed to help win the biggest and most important projects for the company. I worked with really talented people during some of their most critical, career-changing projects. The work was exciting and stressful. The amount of juggling and collaboration I was responsible for kept me on my toes and challenged the hell out of me. I had outlets for every version of creativity I’ve got and I was constantly coming up with new tools and ideas, mentoring people in different roles and locations, and always searching for my perfect mentor as well.
While I was there our employee-owned firm grew from 3,000 people nationwide, to a global firm with over 10,000 people. The 401k had a really broad selection of investments, the level of company matching was excellent, and best of all the company stock performed at outstanding levels for all of my 13 years with the firm. Having retirement benefits like that definitely made me want to stay where I was.
The amount of travel I did for my job was stressful, but I knew how to make it fun and I appreciated the bonus of earning tons of miles and points. Though I really disliked being away from Alison so much. My home base was Seattle but I worked in Sacramento, Walnut Creek, Los Angeles, Irvine, Riverside, Portland, Anchorage, Honolulu, Calgary, Vancouver, Denver, Boise, Albuquerque, Phoenix, and of course Omaha at our headquarters. I was having a fabulous time in my job, and that’s how I got stuck. All of that travel created a sense of change for me even when there wasn’t any significant change in my role.
For 12 years I refused to talk to recruiters and never applied for a position with another firm. Now I know for sure that was a big mistake. I learned through experience how difficult it can be to rebrand yourself, and fell into that trap myself. I focused on being a great employee and mentor, and never considered leaving my firm. I also forgot how to apply for new positions within my own firm, and pretty soon the awesome niche I was in became a box I was cornered in. Some of my colleagues did really well with creating new roles for themselves within our firm, and I envied them. There actually were some occasions when I talked with executive team members about ideas for creating new roles that I could fill, but I never figured out how to close the deal on any of those big ideas.
Plenty of my colleagues left our firm to join competitors over the years. And I also had friends who left our company for a short time and then returned to move up the ladder. I was fascinated by that tactic, and wish I had tried it myself. I truly wish I had stayed open to accepting new opportunities when they presented themselves. But I really did have the freedom to do some really exciting and fun things in my job. That company and my fabulous team were really hard to let go of!
Finally time for a change
After my 12 year anniversary at work something finally changed. I was feeling stuck in my role and bored with my responsibilities, and it was impossible to hide it. I had to do something different, so I decided to get out of my comfort zone with a big project in New York City (NYC) which involved twice as much travel as I was used to. The NYC team was kind of famous among my peers for how much conflict they had, and I was ready for a big challenge so I volunteered. I remember sitting in the first big meeting there in NYC introducing myself to the local team, when someone said they were excited to work with me because they had heard great things about me over the years. This guy said something like, “We’ve been wondering when we’d get a chance to work with you. You’ve been doing this for so long you must be able to do your job in your sleep.” I think he meant it as a friendly compliment, but I felt embarrassed instead of flattered.
The NYC project was tough because the team seemed to only have 2 operation modes, arguing with each other or trying to sabotage each other. I spent a few months in the middle of that and the thrill of a new challenge ended pretty quickly. I was very happy when our marketing efforts reached a midway point and it was time for me to go home and focus on other things.
During my last week in NYC I was getting more than the typical number of calls from my various bosses asking me how I was doing since they knew what kind of issues I was dealing with there. And then I also got a call from someone at another firm who wanted to talk to me about a new opportunity. I still had that urge to try something different, and being in NYC definitely took me out of my comfort zone. Apparently that’s what I needed to finally accept a recruiting call.
In the past I had always been proud to say, “No thank you, I’m happy where I am” to recruiters, and I was definitely out of practice with negotiating. So I called back that woman back and just listened. She said her team was filling an executive level marketing position in a small firm, which I realized was just 3 miles from my condo. She also said I would report directly to the CEO and have a ton of freedom to design the company’s marketing and business development strategy. There were only 2 offices so I would still get to travel, but not too much. I agreed to meet with their hiring team as soon as I got back to Seattle.
I went in for 3 different meetings and tried to pay close attention to every detail about the job and the company. The job responsibilities really appealed to me, and the importance of improving the company culture did as well. I also loved the idea of being at the executive level. My little ego was doing cartwheels about that.
There were some serious issues to consider though, and I didn’t consider them seriously enough. One was that the executive team members did not trust each other so they were in danger of losing some of their core client managers. The other big issue was unusually high turnover among the staff. After months in NYC I was very aware of how hard it can be to work with a contentious team in a high turnover environment. But I knew I could inject some positivity and build a strategic plan the team could work towards together. I thought this job opportunity was a great chance to make a difference, and I was hungry for a challenge.
The last obstacle was having the courage to resign, which was not easy since it had been almost 13 years since I last did that. I agonized over the decision, and I might have chickened out but there was one other thing in place that made the process easier for me. Alison and I took vacations every 2 years and we were getting ready to leave on our next big vacation very soon. Since I was going to be gone to Europe for 3 weeks I already had people up to speed on all of my projects and ready to step in for me. So I went for it!
I sat down with the CEO again and he made me an offer, and I negotiated that up 35% above my previous salary before I accepted. The salary was critical because the retirement package was a big step down compared to my previous job. The 401k was not very good and the company stock was in bad shape. The worst part was their bonus system which was designed to work through favoritism.
The next morning I resigned from the company I loved, which involved spending the entire day calling various managers and team members to shock the hell of them. And there was a bit of crying too. I felt like I was getting a divorce, from tons and tons of people I really cared about. And I honestly thought I would go back to that company again someday, which made it a little easier to leave. Thankfully though, just a few days later Alison and I left for 3 weeks in France. That really was the perfect way for me to clear my head and get ready for a fresh start.
The last 2 years of my career
I knew my new job would be a tough one, but I was excited to see what I could do to improve things for my new company. I spent the first 6 months building trust with everyone on the executive team along with some good relationships with the people I admired most. And I had a kick ass strategic plan coming together that I was very proud of. It seemed like everything was going pretty well.
That’s when Alison did the math on our portfolio and realized we had hit our FIRE number. She asked me if I wanted to retire immediately and I said I thought I should stick it out for a few more years to see this company start to grow. Since I had only been there for 6 months I felt like I really couldn’t consider leaving that quickly. Plus I had negotiated such a great salary that I wanted to bank more of that.
And I was getting attached to people there. I also really enjoyed working with the staff of awesome millennials. The company was so young and energized it was thrilling to be part of the team.
The dramatic grand finale to my job-life
Unfortunately, the honeymoon period in my new job was short. As bonus time approached a few of my fellow executive team members staged a coup to get rid of one of their peers so they would have one less person to share with. It was like a bad episode of Survivor. And it was heartbreaking for me, because the person being attacked was the one who called me and asked me to join the firm. I was horrified to realize that I couldn’t protect that person, so instead I helped my colleague get a new and much better job very quickly. A few months later the very same group of guys staged a 2nd coup and went after the person they saw as their biggest competition, the CEO. I respected my boss and I liked him too, so I promised to leave if they pushed him out and then I worked with the board to bring in an outside coach that I thought would help us identify solutions. Somehow I thought things might still turn out ok at that point. But the board decided to demote the CEO to appease the rebels and brought in a temporary CEO. The new CEO was a caveman from another era and fostered a completely different type of culture. He was someone I never would have agreed to work with if he had been there when I interviewed.
My new boss wasn’t there to work side by side with anyone, he wasn’t interested in opinions from “hen peckers,” and he really wasn’t interested in protecting or inspiring the workforce of millennials that carried the company. His attitude was so destructive that 2 months after his arrival 3 of my fellow executive team members quit, which completely shutdown our 2nd office. I told my new boss I wanted to make a small gesture of positivity by giving everyone at the firm new notepads and pens with the company logo. No purchase required since I had enough logo gear to last a couple of years, but he refused my request on the basis that “millennials don’t know how to use pens.” Basically, my new boss was my professional archenemy. My goal was to experience something totally different from what I was used to at the end of my career, and that’s exactly what I got.
Half the comments my boss made were offensive and the other half were just out of place. I spent my last few weeks in the office having non-stop debates and disagreements with him, and my one team member who seemed inspired by him, and things were escalating. I was going home irate every night and it was clear that I couldn’t do anything to make things better for my team. It was also clear that the probability of me having an explosive argument with my boss in front of everyone was increasing every day. Since Alison had announced that we hit our FIRE number and retired herself a few months earlier, there was no reason for me to put up with that caveman for a minute longer.
The last straw was a pretty stupid one. For our final knockdown I simply insisted on being treated like a professional but my boss seemed to think professionalism was less important than sexism and ageism. My boss literally told me I did not have the right to “express disappointment” in an older male colleague, his one and only supporter, and demanded that I apologize for expressing disappointment to an older man. I insisted that all executive team members should meet their commitments, regardless of their age and sex, and also insisted that I was allowed to be disappointed if an older male colleague didn’t do what they promised to do. We were officially in kindergarten at that point.
Luckily, my boss was not only being completely ridiculous, he also finally became openly abusive both verbally and in writing at that point. So I was done. I sent a very detailed “I QUIT” email that night. But the HR manager refused to accept it as my resignation, probably because I included so much detail about many different incidents with my boss. I’m grateful she refused though, since that gave me a chance to calm down enough to negotiate a couple more months of salary without having to be in the office or interact with my boss again. That’s probably a cop-out but I wasn’t trying to go out in a blaze of glory. My last day on the job was September 4, 2018. I only lasted 1 year and 10 months there.
One year after retirement
Now that it has been a full year since I quit, I can admit that I’m grateful for that last job. I met some good people there and I made some genuine improvements. And I’m not at all attached to whether or not they use the very awesome strategic plan I created. I’m grateful for the salary I had for almost 2 years. And I’m glad I made it to an executive level position before retiring.
My last 2 years of job-life were definitely more dramatic and ridiculous than they should have been. But maybe if I stayed with the company I loved that would have made it harder for me to retire. If I had stayed in my previous job I might have finished my career feeling the satisfaction of a track star crossing a finish line. Or maybe I would have been disappointed to finish my career while feeling bored and stagnant in a role I kept for too long. Either way, I chose to spend the last 2 years of my career at a struggling firm where people were treating each other badly, because the money was great. A weird thing to admit, but ultimately that’s what made it easy for me to quit and retire early. Hooray for FU Money, and 3 cheers for hitting FIRE!
If there is anything about retirement that’s challenging, it’s letting go of people who aren’t comfortable with my choices. I can understand that some people might think my choices are a sacrifice or even a regression, but that’s not how I feel. I can also understand that my choices might make me unrelatable to some people that I had a lot in common with before. I don’t really know what to do with that other than understand that everyone is different, and acknowledge that my ability to choose what I want to do with my life is a great privilege.
I left my old job-life mindset in Seattle and instead wake up to a constantly evolving perspective. Every time we change our location as nomads I literally get a new point of view. Everything is constantly changing, and I love that now. Even the way I walk has changed. I’m only 5’2” but I used to walk really fast, and I used to feel really tense when I walked. When Alison and I walked through Seattle together I always ended up getting ahead of her, even though she’s 6’2” and her legs are much longer than mine. This year I’ve slowed down, and I notice my surroundings much more than I used to. Alison gets ahead of me on our walks a lot now. When I see people coming and going from their jobs while we are out walking aimlessly for fun, I feel a little awkward and also a little embarrassed. I think that means I haven’t quite settled into retirement yet.
Today we were out walking at 8:30 am in Edinburgh watching people rushing to work looking tense and focused, some people running to catch a bus or train, some people looking completely exhausted and stressed out at the very start of there day. And I was strolling along like I had a golden ticket in my pocket. I’m not sure how to feel about that aspect of this new retirement situation yet. It really is a strange feeling, and one I’m going to keep thinking about as I continue to adjust to being retired.
My job used to take up the vast majority of my time and energy, but it was never my passion. For a while I got caught up in thinking my job title and my home could help me forget any feelings of embarrassment I might still carry from being a welfare kid with two absentee parents. It turns out that letting go of my career and home has made the biggest difference for me in letting go of those old feelings and limiting beliefs.
I want to make responsible decisions and arrive at my version of success. I just don’t see success the way I used to. Being independent and self-reliant is important to me. Detaching my self-worth from my job and possessions has been liberating. I gave up my job and my home to spend all of my time with Alison, and focus on the things I care about. I choose to live with less in terms of ownership, in exchange for a lot more in terms of experiences. We don’t have money in our budget for luxury vacations, but we do have money in our budget to travel full-time. We don’t have a home of our own, but we do have the freedom to rent homes in lots of different locations. And after some years of owning less and letting our money grow, we will be able to settle down in one place again eventually, if we decide we want to do that.
I want to be a good person, to love and support Alison, to be there for our sisters if they need us in any way, to express my creativity, and enjoy and appreciate my life. I want to find the balance of continuing to support my mom financially despite her toxic behavior, while prioritizing my health and my family. I want to spend as much time as possible with Alison’s mom as she ages. I want to be a positive role model for all 6 of our nieces and nephews. I want to honor my aunt’s wishes and be there for her sons. And I want to have a positive impact on the lives of others and empower people to choose what’s best for them. That’s about it, for now.