The Retirement Black Hole
Approaching your retirement is the single greatest accomplishment of your career. You have worked your a$$ off and now you have built up enough net worth to have your money work for you, and not the other way around.
And yet, for most of us, you don’t really know what life is going to be like on the other side of your retirement date.
The countdown begins…
My initial plan wasn’t even to retire. I was leaving my CEO job and my company behind to explore my next entrepreneurial venture. I determined that I would take six months off to unwind and figure out what to do next.
Yet, it didn’t work out that way. During my mini-retirement, I realized that I could full on FIRE.
And though I didn’t have a traditional “retirement,” the events that led up to my mini-retirement were congruent with what retirement is like.
The reason being is that when you retire, you will typically give plenty of advanced notice. This was also true for me, because I negotiated my exit from the company and that included staying on for a period of three more months to properly transition out.
Three months wasn’t my choice, but our parent company insisted, and who is really going to complain about working for the man for a just a few extra months? The pay was good, and my employees likely needed a long mental transition. So there were many reasons to stick around longer and just enjoy the ride.
Time begins to slow down
It turned out that the last three months were more similar to approaching a black hole than anything else.
I showed up to work every day, but the closer we started to get to my projected mini-retirement date, the longer the days became.
Each meeting became longer, more fatiguing, and Zoom only magnified the issue. Time was appearing to slow down as I raced towards my last day.
Clearly my time dilation was entirely mental, but for anyone leaving their job in a prolonged manner, this is how it is.
You are exhilarated, ready to be done. But unless you are forced into retirement via layoff or some faster method, you are likely dealing with a lot of waiting.
You will be erased and you have to be OK with that
For an accurate day-to-day picture of what it is like to retire, please read the Countdown to Retirement series at ESI Money.
The author outlines the day-to-day vividly, giving an inside picture of the mental thought process leading up to your last day in the office.
The biggest mental hurdle when approaching your retirement date, is that your work history and your ego are literally being erased as you head out the door.
For me, it was great to know that I had built a company that could last without me.
But for my ego, it was sad to be leaving behind the status, the employees who relied on me to fight for their salary increases, for their promotions, or to be there to take the blame when things went wrong.
I felt depressed to be leaving and was mourning the company that I had helped build.
But the reality of the situation is that I had put in the work to make sure that the people that I had hired and systems that were all built could long outlast my employment.
They simply did not need me to transition out for three months.
And that is what was causing my time dilation. The transition period was too long for any normal human to handle.
Reaching the singularity of retirement and beyond
Finally, you reach the last day.
Your team throws you a goodbye party. Because of the pandemic, it is a Zoom party, which is about 20% as good as a true retirement send off.
And then you’re done. No more work – or make that no more working for money.
Your last day is truly like reaching the center of a black hole, the singularity.
And once you reach it, you will never, ever, be the same.
A black hole singularity does not allow anything to escape, not even light.
Once you have tasted the freedom of Financial Independence of not having to go into the office every day. It is impossible to turn back.
Sure I could go back to work if I had to. And I would. But I have reached a point where it makes no sense to me. I have achieved singularity of early retirement.
And as I watch my net worth continue to climb (thanks bull market), it is even more satisfying than I ever could have imagined.
The rest of the working world will never know or understand what it is like to be retired. You can’t really explain it until it happens to you.
And you can’t back out of it. At least not in the traditional sense.
You have a lot to be proud of, knowing that you set up the company to be able to run without you. But I can’t imagine how much of a kick to the ego that is, knowing “We don’t need you anymore.” Every human wants to feel needed! The comforting thing to remember is that there are plenty of people in your retired life that will still need you.
For sure! I really have tried to just remember that my job doesn’t make me who I am. There is that old quote that at your funeral no one cares about what you did or how much money you made, but how you made them feel. Jobs come and go. Feelings don’t. It was part of my identity and part of me, but now I am onto bigger and more important things!
I’ve often imagined those last days leading up to walking out as a joyous time but I suspect that when I actually get to that point I’ll have a lot of the same feelings you described. It’s hard to let go of something that, like it or not, has been such a big part of your life for a long time. In your case, having helped build the company you were leaving, that was probably especially true.
I think no matter what kind of job you are leaving there is probably at least some trepidation even if you know it’s the right decision. My Uncle retired a few years ago and I think it was hard for him to transition out, but since then he hasn’t looked back and golfs every day. But the difference is that he is much closer to normal retirement age AND as far as I can tell has a much larger buffer and no sequence of return risk.