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Weekend reading: Great work ends early whether you want it to or not

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What caught my eye this week.

There’s a big article to be written about the FIRE movement (though I still don’t like the name) and what it can and can’t deliver for its growing band of adherents.

With ever more aiming to ride the wave to the island of early retirement (or maybe getting washed up on that shore by fate) it’s not surprising to me to find the sea catching quite a few by the heels and dragging them back out again.

It turns out the promised land isn’t exactly what they expected – or else they discover they’re not quite who they thought they were.

For now though I just want to highlight a thought-provoking article in The Atlantic this week that’s more than tangentially relevant.

In Your professional decline is coming (much) sooner than you think, the author warns high-flyers in the prime of their life that the decline and even demise of their careers is almost inevitable. Biology will catch you, even if you escape the siren call of the personal finance bloggers!

So do not ask for whom the bell tolls:

According to research by Dean Keith Simonton, a professor emeritus of psychology at UC Davis and one of the world’s leading experts on the trajectories of creative careers, success and productivity increase for the first 20 years after the inception of a career, on average.

So if you start a career in earnest at 30, expect to do your best work around 50 and go into decline soon after that.

The whole piece is well worth a read. But isn’t it interesting that the frustration identified by some of those desperate to retire early might not be all to do with work itself – and more to do with their waning place in it?

Is early retirement seen through this lens a precocious mid-life crisis? Instead of splurging to buy a sports car, you squirrel away the money to do so if you wanted to.

Don’t get me wrong! I continue to think financial independence is a great goal for nearly everyone – and retiring early worth a try if you’re keen. It took me a mid-career sabbatical / snoozefest to realize I’d probably always want to do some paid work for as long as I could.

Maybe you’ll have to retire early to discover similar. Hopefully no harm done – it’s a joy to be financially free even in an office of wage slaves, though I’d keep it under your hat and be careful not to betray yourself in the Secret Santa.

At the same time, you might consider that you and the harried 50-something man without a plan from accounts that you just bought a pair of vintage Bart Simpson socks for might have more in common than you think…

The same question: “What next?”

From Monevator

Visualizing investors’ emotions – Monevator

From the archive-ator: Gold as an asset class – Monevator


Note: Some links are Google search results – in PC/desktop view you can click to read the piece without being a paid subscriber. Try privacy/incognito mode to avoid cookies. Consider subscribing if you read them a lot!1

Fund managers most bearish since the financial crisis – CityWire and The Fat Pitch

Facebook has incubated a new cryptocurrency called Libra – Libra and Simple Living in Somerset

Honesty is majority policy in lost wallet experiment – Guardian

Pension transfer advice substandard, warns regulator [Search result]FT

Demented billion dollar row erupts after a UBS economist makes a quirky quip about pigs – Business Insider

Young adults have less to spend on non-essentials, study finds – Guardian

Draghi sends bond yields negative all over Europe – Axios

Remember when the Conservative party was conservative? – YouGov via Twitter

Products and services

Vanguard cuts fees on its UK active fund range on hitting three-year track record – Portfolio Adviser

Natwest becomes first big bank to let customers open account with a selfie – Guardian

How to turn your Lifetime ISA cash into a deposit for a first home – ThisIsMoney

Ratesetter will pay you £100 [and me a cash bonus] if you invest £1,000 for a year – Ratesetter

Neil Woodford should find alternative ways to return capital to clients – Hargreaves Lansdown

Morningstar finds its [own…] fund ratings do add value – Morningstar

For hedge funds to survive, they best have at least $250m in assets says Goldman Sachs – Bloomberg

‘Amazon’s Choice’ does not necessarily mean a product is any good. [It’s a robo-verdict]Buzzfeed

Glass houses for sale [Gallery]Guardian

Comment and opinion

Maths versus emotion – Humble Dollar

Academics find a simple five fund passive portfolio beats active funds 90% of the time, with lower volatility2Institutional Investor

Taylor Swift has an economics lesson for you – Bloomberg

Playing with FIRE – Simple Living in Somerset

Early retirement can be a killer, so start your planning now – USA Today

What role do bonds play in a portfolio? – Morningstar

What Mrs YFG wishes she’d known about work half a decade ago – Young FI Guy

What was the greatest asset bubble of all time? – Of Dollars and Data

The risk of being unemployable after retiring early is overblown – Financial Samurai

Why do we need inflation? – A Wealth of Common Sense

Diverse life experiences make for better financial advisors – Abnormal Returns

Your financial mid-life MOT: is it time for a tune-up? [Search result]FT

Investing is risky. Press your luck – Bone Fide Wealth

For stock pickers: Moat erosion starts behind the castle walls – Ensemble Investing

Berkshire Hathaway Annual Shareholder meetings since 1994 [Podcasts] – via Overcast [h/t Zude PR]


Mark Carney: 150,000 firms are not ready for no-deal Brexit – BBC

How Oxford University shaped Brexit – and Britain’s next prime minister [Search result]FT

Kindle book bargains

The Millionaire Next Door by Thomas J. Stanley – £0.99 on Kindle

How to Make a Living with your Writing by Joanna Penn – £0.99 on Kindle

The 80/20 Principle: The Secret of Achieving More with Less by Richard Koch – £0.99 on Kindle

Bean Counters: The triumph of the accountants and how they broke capitalism by Richard Brooks – £2.59 on Kindle

Off our beat

Puppy dog eyes evolved so dogs could communicate with humans – National Geographic

Clean energy overtaking fossil fuels in Europe – BBC

What really happened to Malaysia’s missing airplane – The Atlantic

Marriage of ultimate doom – Indeedably

Alexa, I’m having a heart attack – Bloomberg

And finally…

“The fact that a thesis is flawed does not mean that we should not invest in it as long as other people believe in it and there is a large group of people left to be convinced. The point was made by John Maynard Keynes when he compared the stock market to a beauty contest where the winner is not the most beautiful contestant but the one whom the greatest number of people consider beautiful.”
– George Soros, The Alchemy of Finance

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  1. Note some articles can only be accessed through the search results if you’re using PC/desktop view (from mobile/tablet view they bring up the firewall/subscription page). To circumvent, switch your mobile browser to use the desktop view. On Chrome for Android: press the menu button followed by “Request Desktop Site”. []
  2. To be fair, it seems they compared a five-fund ETF portfolio to a single mutual fund, which isn’t really apples to apples. If they’d batched multiple active funds together I think the return results would be at least as compelling, but the volatility of a multi-fund active portfolio would probably be lower, too. []
{ 46 comments… add one }
  • 1 sherry @ save. spend. splurge. June 21, 2019, 6:59 pm


    1. Not into the “FIRE” movement and also dislike the name. I think rushing to the end so to speak, just leaves you at a loss. If you don’t have a goal at the end, why are you rushing there? I have no goal, am at a loss to figure out what I want to do if I did retire on beans and rice living off $1000 a month (all lies, I don’t ever think I could live on less than $2500 as my lifestyle stands today)..

    2. No one who actually does retire early, retires and never works again.

    I have yet to find an early retiree (my partner included) who has not picked up some sort of work on the side. Even HE is going back to become a professor.

    They don’t want to quit working, they just want to quit their jobs specifically, to which I say — why not do the switch NOW to a career you love / prefer instead? This is not called retirement in my books, this is just called a career change.

    3. I cannot imagine myself retiring but somehow thought by 50 I’d be annoyed with the whole rat race and want to get out, so I am focusing on 50 as my retirement age. I suspect if I were less lazy and took on more contracts at lower rates, I could retire by 40, but I much prefer my own semi-retired lifestyle now where I work, then take a break for 6 months to 2 years, then work again.. wash rinse repeat, amass money (net result) overall at an average of $75,0000 a year in savings.

    Still trying to figure out what I want to do if/when I retire and get angry at working.

  • 2 Tyro June 21, 2019, 9:08 pm

    That YouGov graph almost makes me want to vote for Corbyn next time round, just out of spite …..

  • 3 Aron June 21, 2019, 9:19 pm

    Re: Libra, crypto in general and The Blockchain (RAWR) have a watch of this from my friend Jez about why it’s terrible – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vw0H16rZW18&t

    Though he is part of a project for the National Archives which uses The Blockchain (RAWR) in a very good fashion – https://www.archangel.ac.uk

  • 4 Ben June 21, 2019, 9:41 pm

    That chart.

    Ok I can accept that the average conservative voter would want Brexit even if it destroys the economy. But why does the answer change if its a Corbyn government? Surely the problem there is he’s going to destroy the economy, but if you’re getting Brexit….. I don’t understand.

  • 5 b0ardgamer June 21, 2019, 9:55 pm

    @ Sherry, I retired early (6 years ago), and have no intention of ever working again. I haven’t got the time!

  • 6 Chris June 22, 2019, 8:05 am

    Some of this depends on your definition of work, doesn’t it?

    Is driving a train work? What about driving a vintage steam train? What about if it’s an experience bought as a 70th birthday present for a steam train nut?

    Sure, people could “simply” change jobs – but it isn’t always as simple as that. Some paid jobs have high barriers to entry, but the same kind of work is still open to volunteers and hobbyists.

    But I agree, retiring early requires some kind of plan for filling the blanks that paid work (at its best) fulfilled. For some, that those will be purely financial, for others it could be a range of things including purposeful existence.

    This recent Cambridge study is also interesting re: the mental health benefits of one day/week of paid work.

  • 7 Far_wide June 22, 2019, 8:16 am

    Re: “@ Sherry, I retired early (6 years ago), and have no intention of ever working again. I haven’t got the time!”

    @Sherry, 4 years ago here (mid-30’s), also yet to have this supposed unavoidable urge that so many tell us that we will inevitably have. Of course, I think everyone needs mental stimulation, but not ‘work’ as such.
    Oh, and pu-leeze with the rice and beans. I’m travelling the world eating incredible food, currently spending £20k p.a for a couple. Not that I’m against rice and beans, love ’em, but not my only food 😉

  • 8 Commenter June 22, 2019, 8:17 am

    Tend to think that polls are a nonsense these days, they either reflect the view of whoever paid for them, or they are designed to be interesting enough to be reported.

    In case of large polls the methodology is weak or flawed. They remind me of bbc news reporting random Tweets in the news – “here’s what everyone else believes, so be a good little drone and believe that too.”

    Brexit – polls wrong.
    Trump – polls wrong.
    Last Uk election – polls wrong.
    Previous Uk election before that – deffo going to be a hung parliament – wrong.
    SNP getting a majority in Scotland – polls said it was an impossibility under PR – wrong.

    This is epsilon theory’s widening gyre in action.

  • 9 Far_wide June 22, 2019, 8:19 am

    @chris our posts crossed, but I totally agree. It’s about occupying time in a meaningful way to the individual, not ‘work’.

  • 10 Hari June 22, 2019, 9:01 am

    Interesting article, having started my main career at 26 and finishing at 48, I clearly was on the cusp of mediocrity !

    12 years now of FI it’s interesting to compare the experience versus the anticipation…

    6 months of decompression, then I woke up bored one day… doing a favour a few days previously for someone, led into a side gig for 3 years, then a relocation led to a career move (part time) that I had dismissed when younger as not sufficiently lucrative. ( I was not wrong, but fun for a few years )

    It’s the chilling, taking opportunities and ignoring the financial side, mixed with extended periods travelling and lack of commitments, what’s not to like ? it’s fun!

    A great summation of the attitude…

  • 11 The Investor June 22, 2019, 9:24 am

    Based on my debating of Brexit over the past three years — mostly here but also in real-life — and watching most of the Parliamentary argy-bargie over Theresa May’s Withdrawal Bill and its alternatives, I have no reason to doubt the accuracy of the YouGov poll.

    Indeed I’d go so far as to say that it was an “ah, now I understand why there’s such a large head shaped hole in the wall next to my computer” moment when I saw it…

  • 12 Tyro June 22, 2019, 11:14 am

    @ Commenter: “In case of large polls the methodology is weak or flawed.”

    Which large polls? Why large polls particularly? What methodology/(ies) are used with such polls? Why are such methodologies weak or flawed? Do you have any expertise in this area to inform your assertion? (Hint: an opinion, however strongly held, doesn’t count as expertise.)

  • 13 The Borderer June 22, 2019, 11:58 am

    “Still trying to figure out what I want to do if/when I retire and get angry at working.”?

    If all that washing and rinsing means that you’re saving $750,000 per year, I’d say you can do pretty much anything you like.

  • 14 r June 22, 2019, 12:54 pm

    Well that blasted bell tolled for me.
    With 2.5 years to go till (calculated) early retirement at 38 I’ve been diagnosed with MS, a disease likely to impact both my quality of life and my quality of work in the long run. At least now I know why work tires me so (MS) and also have a sort of escape plan with a tentative date set (22 of December 2021 – longest night of the year with freedom arriving at dawn).
    Monevator, you’ve been part of my journey since 2008-2009, so a big thank you for helping me out with achieving my goal. My diagnosis would be a lot harder to bear if I didn’t know that I had an “out” from full time paid work. I don’t want to know what working full time till I’m 65 would do to my body and mind and I can’t but look back and wonder how lucky I was to encounter you and Jacob from ERE when I was 25.

  • 15 The Investor June 22, 2019, 2:36 pm

    @r — Thanks for sharing your comments, and I’m really pleased we’ve been able to play a small part in helping you get positioned for early retirement. 🙂 I’m sorry to hear of your recent diagnosis. I know MS can vary a lot, but for what it’s worth the wife of a friend was diagnosed when we were all shortly out of university and a couple of decades later she’s doing very well most of the time, working and raising two kids, so as you surely know there are reasons to be relatively optimistic. Hope you’re able to manage as best you can.

  • 16 John Joe June 22, 2019, 5:38 pm

    If everyone retires early what happens? And financial independence is reliant on our state system, do you believe the rest of society if it came to it will support you?

  • 17 Ben June 22, 2019, 7:19 pm


    If everyone retired early you’d give more people a chance at the good jobs for a start, if the length of peoples working lives drops by half I doubt the demand for skills at the top end would drop by half, so you’d twice as many people having rich and fulfilling careers, rather than having graduates working in coffee shops. I don’t think everyone is going to retire early though, too many people like ‘things’, and keeping up with the Joneses. And some early retirement people actually end up going to work for various reasons.

    Re the state, the state supports you when you reach retirement age just like everyone else, you may not be paying income tax if you retire early, but that isn’t receiving support.

  • 18 Indecisive June 22, 2019, 9:53 pm

    @Sherry, “I much prefer my own semi-retired lifestyle now where I work, then take a break for 6 months to 2 years, then work again.. wash rinse repeat, amass money (net result) overall at an average of $75,0000 a year in savings.”

    I have to ask: what do you do where you can work, take 6-24 months off and still over that period save $75k/year?

  • 19 The Borderer June 22, 2019, 11:34 pm

    @Indecisive (18). $750,000 per year she claims, (although she may mean $75,000 per year or maybe $7,500 per year, who knows?).

    Have a read of her blog – fantasy land and no place on this forum

  • 20 The Borderer June 23, 2019, 12:13 am

    “…and no place on this forum”. By which I mean having no place for serious response on this forum.

  • 21 ermine June 23, 2019, 12:44 am

    > They don’t want to quit working, they just want to quit their jobs specifically, to which I say — why not do the switch NOW to a career you love / prefer instead?

    Because the world is so full of easy jobs that pay shedloads of money in careers you can love? Because it never takes time to get good at something in a career? In Financial Samurai’s article linked above he says

    Poll after poll shows that roughly 70% of American employees are disengaged or actively disengaged at work.

    so presumably this two-thirds of the American workforce somehow missed all these great alternatives for what reason, exactly?

    Perhaps I shouldn’t be so harsh, in my twenties I couldn’t understand why people put up with jobs that hacked them off. I was single, and also lucky enough to have some talent, switching jobs and moving town was easy then. I’d make the same comments to my younger self.

    But to zoom out to the big lifecycle picture: You change as you get older. Carl Jung said it best

    “Thoroughly unprepared, we take the step into the afternoon of life. Worse still, we take this step with the false presupposition that our truths and our ideals will serve us as hitherto. But we cannot live the afternoon of life according to the program of life’s morning, for what was great in the morning will be little at evening and what in the morning was true, at evening will have become a lie.”

    As a rough guide, the morning of life is from young adulthood to middle age, where the young person sets their face against the world, and establishes their place in it and the social structure. That is the time when career and deriving a meaning from work is a strong urge in some. I was that guy, then. Rattling across midlife two things happen. Some people stay with that trajectory, others deepen and look to other aspects of life for meaning, to a rough paraphrase, it is more what you are than what you do. Let’s hear it form old Carl, again

    Who looks outside, dreams; who looks inside, awakes.

    There are other factors too. You get more aware that your time on earth is not limitless, and work takes up an awful lot of it.

    Not everyone does this, there is much variety in the human animal. I couldn’t give a damn about the greasy pole any more, BTDT.

    I really don’t get how the heck it is that so many feel that work is the most rewarding thing they can possibly do with their time. That seems to show a desperate paucity of imagination. I can see the argument against compromising much of your youth squirreling away cash to retire early. Balance in all things, peace is not often to be had in extremes. But the world is a damned interesting place and once you’re free of the need to earn money then get right out there and stick your nose into some of those interesting bit you never had time for when you were working.

    I assure you, you won’t run out of interesting world in a lifetime. Work is but a small part of the world, and the constraint of having to make money out of something ruins many an interesting possibility. There’s no need to forswear making money – but you’ll have a much wider choice of activities if that isn’t a prerequisite.

  • 22 Ste June 23, 2019, 2:04 am

    While popular, the idea that polls for Brexit and Trump/Clinton were wildly off the mark is not entirely accurate. Here’s a good summary: https://fivethirtyeight.com/features/the-polls-are-all-right/
    Basically, if the result is very close (as they were), polls are statistically going to come out on the wrong side of a binary decision in a significant number of cases.

  • 23 Stefan June 23, 2019, 8:19 am

    You are a great writer, both on your blog and in comments. Your thoughts on life are an interesting reference for someone considering what to do with their future.

    One thing that becomes clearer when approaching FI is the need for a vision and a plan for what to do in early retirement. Stay in your job and you have a default path, though that may lead nowhere happy and be repetitive. Still, it seems wiser to stick to the job unless and until you come up with a plan for life afterwards.

  • 24 Rui N. June 23, 2019, 8:41 am

    “Brexit – polls wrong.
    Trump – polls wrong.”

    On Brexit results were within the margin of error of most of the last polls before the vote.
    On Trump, the polls were generally spot on in the agregate national wide vote. The problem was in a few states (where there not almost any polls, surprisingly), which was what gave him the victory. You can certainly argue what’s the point of national polls if the result is decided in a few states, but that doesn’t mean the polls were wrong.

    There are much better examples of wrong polls that these ones. E.g. Le Pen v. Macron, in which a lot of polls gave Le Pen a chance, and in the end she lost by a lot.

  • 25 The Investor June 23, 2019, 9:03 am

    @Chris — That’s a very interesting article on the benefits of a day a week of work that you link to. To quote:

    Just one day of work per week is the most “effective dose” to give the mental health benefits of paid employment, research by Cambridge University suggests.

    A study indicated that the risk of mental health problems reduces by 30 per cent when people move from unemployment or stay-at-home parenting into paid work of eight hours or less per week.

    But researchers at the Universities of Cambridge and Salford found no evidence that working any more than eight hours provided further boosts to well-being.

    I’ve often suggested the benefit of a day a week (for example to my Internet chum @ermine, who has generously shared some thoughts above) based on intuition and a bit of experience. Interesting to see that same figure come in via research, too.

  • 26 Indecisive June 23, 2019, 10:09 am

    @ermine Great comment and good quotes. I started my first business when 15, and now at 35 “midlife feelings” have appeared. Work (independent software consultant) has been good but it’s been non-stop, full-on and lost its attraction. I’m tired. Really tired.

    My wife & I just returned from an 18 day holiday (longest I’ve taken since starting). It was a good time to relax and discuss what success means, why earning the same or more than last year is so important to me, and what we want from life.

    We’re not FI but can buy without a mortgage – and have some left over if we buy outside the south-east, which will reduce the pressure on me to be continually employed.

    I can’t see beyond work yet, but it’s a start. Here’s to the next 35 years!

  • 27 ZXSpectrum48k June 23, 2019, 10:16 am

    I agree with the article but my decline came well before middle age. By age 35, I simply wasn’t as mentally sharp as my mid 20s. In my career, investment banking and hedge funds, I’ve increasingly relied on experience, rather than raw intellect. Moreover, sitting in front of eight screens does nothing good for the physique.

    Where I don’t agree is with this idea that work is ‘necessary’ or that you can to find a ‘career you love’. I think this is BS to be honest. The Neolithic agrarian transition, industrial revolution, mass communications, machine learning are all part of a inevitable trend that is takes us into a post-scarcity world for human labour. Yet we still stupidly define ourselves by what could well become an obsolete concept: our job.

    Even if I look back at my education and career, I can probably only pick out two interesting periods. My PhD, particularly my time at CERN Theory, which was intellectually stimulating. The other was the 2008 financial crisis, which was a huge amount of fun to trade. The rest I characterize as long stretches of boredom with the odd spike of excitement. When I consider other jobs, they look even more tedious and/or more stressful than what I do now. As for retiring and then helping a charity or my local community … yawn. No, once the kids are off to uni, I’m taking the blue pill; I’ll take virtual reality over the greyness of the so-called ‘real world’.

  • 28 Chris June 23, 2019, 12:05 pm

    How Oxford University shaped Brexit – and Britain’s next prime minister [Search result] – FT
    This (by Simon Kuper)is a sobering read, probing the cult of entitled amateurism that led to the Brexit mindset. Insights that stick with me include the observation that the Oxford politicos/hacks (Boris, Gove, etc) understand Westminster – it’s in their blood, and their ‘skills’ of bluff, bravado and waffle fit there – and they can’t process the more ordered, rule-bound and ‘boring’ Brussels. Entitlement, too: we chaps are born to run things, not these foreigners….

    Perhaps Kuper’s most telling line is to compare the Oxford Brexit crowd with the previous generation’s Cambridge spies – another bunch who felt they knew everything and proved they knew nothing. Kuper notes that both groups sold their country to Moscow. The Cambridge chaps meant too.

  • 29 The Borderer June 23, 2019, 12:21 pm

    @ Ermine (21)

    “You get more aware that your time on earth is not limitless, and work takes up an awful lot of it. ” Beautifully put – and may I also add that at the same time you begin to reach an age where serious illness becomes statistically more likely to strike either you or loved ones. My wife was diagnosed with the big C (now thankfully recovered), but events like that concentrates the mind on the importance of work, I can tell you.

  • 30 Learner June 23, 2019, 2:49 pm

    @John Joe > If everyone retires early what happens?

    Interesting thought experiment but no danger of that occurring. Very, very few people have the wealth or good fortune to seriously consider early retirement.

  • 31 The Borderer June 23, 2019, 3:45 pm

    @TI (25)
    I could be wrong but that Cambridge University study regarding the 8 hours work ‘dose’ seems to have been in relation to unemployment or (unpaid) stay at home parenting.

    How much of the findings are a function of poverty/shortage of money I wonder?

    And if a significant proportion is related to money concerns, then how applicable would it be to FI/RE ?

  • 32 The Investor June 23, 2019, 5:21 pm

    @The Borderer — As I read the piece, the study was done in anticipation of our robot future, where jobs may be scant — so they were looking to see how what work is available to living humans could best be divvied up for maximum happiness. Rather quixotic in my view, but anyway I’d hope they controlled for income and wealth.

    I’m not saying everyone needs to work for a day or two a week (or say 6-8 weeks a year, if that suits your skills better).

    But I’m pretty confident most 30/40/50-somethings will feel better for it. A huge piece of evidence in my favour is virtually all the net-famous ‘early retirees’ either go back to work or else go on to earn some sort of side income. Plus most I’ve known in real-life.

    I’m not quibbling about whether they should call themselves ‘retired’ or whatnot here. And I’m certainly not quibbling that they do it! The opposite.

    I think in a society structured around work/money/earning/self-actualization to a great extent, it’s an unnecessarily painful for a lot of people to step outside of it all and suddenly be faced with existential questions / lifestyles that can be easily avoided with a bit of work on the side.

    Sure we can argue all is vanity, you can’t take it with you, nobody wishes they’d spent more time at the office, etc etc — but the fact is few people set off trying to follow the path of the Buddha to enlightenment from all worldly attachments, whether 20 or 70. 🙂

    I believe most people will feel better / happier keeping their hand in. The extra money is helpful, the self-esteem boosts, social aspects, mental agility etc more so.

    Sure, people can come back and say “I get my self-esteem from assembling model planes in my garage”. 🙂 To each their own, and there are always exceptions.

    I score the highest of anyone I’ve ever met on introversion tests — I presume anyone more introverted basically can’t go out. I can easily go a week if I want to without noticing I haven’t spoken to anyone. This is ultra-rare, because I schedule stuff in advance, because I think life is better with friends and connections and that takes an ongoing commitment.

    My point is I’m as self-contained as anyone I know, and for much of my life was heroically anti-materialistic by modern standards (much less so after buying my flat, but probably still top quartile for my relative wealth) and I know and have seen the benefits of doing some more work, for reasons that I could tough out but why bother? 🙂

    And as I say, pretty much everyone who retires early and publicly does it anyway, so I feel the evidence is on my side, too. Sure some readers say “not me” but that’s pretty self-selecting (and they’re often not early retirees — quite happy to agree for many it will be a different story from late 50s onwards.)

    Cheers! 🙂

  • 33 The Investor June 23, 2019, 5:23 pm

    p.s. And to stress again again because this is Internet comments and people will have forgotten by the time they get to the end of that long one — I am talking about a small amount of work — circa 20% of previous full-time employment. I am not saying “you have to keep working, that’s all there is to life.” I am saying “Just continuing to do work for 20% of your freed-up time and getting paid for it will probably have many benefits.” 🙂

  • 34 Tyro June 23, 2019, 6:06 pm

    @ Chris – yes, having been on the fringes of these circles for many years until fairly recently (nothing to do with Brexit!), I can say that Kuper hits the nail on the head re the UK political elite’s culture of entitled amateurism and ‘winging it’ versus the EU’s culture of rule-governed order. Our politicians consistently underestimate the binding force of the treaties because our own constitutional practice rests on convention, hence the sense in the UK that you only need the right personality to exert his or her charisma and hey presto! anything and everything is possible. But there’s also a difference in levels of intellectual firepower; our ministers are satisfied with their (sometimes mediocre) undergraduate degrees from Oxbridge, but Brussels’ policy-and decision-making circles – which don’t go in so much for the British cult of upper-middle class dilettantism – are full to the gunwales of PhDs (including from Oxbridge, Harvard and the like). Our EU-based civil servants (Permanent Representatives and the like) are very much more impressive than our politicians and certainly smart enough to operate in the EU to our advantage, but these are precisely the people who’ve been sidelined and dissed over the last few years by the Conservatives. The UK’s hopes have been placed instead in dopes like David Davis and Dominic Raab.

    Another reigning UK trope is that foreigners are obviously not as competent as us, so the EU is bound to collapse soon ….. you can see this idea in the mid 1950s, when we were first invited to join the negotiations that would lead to the beginnings of the EU. The six founding states sent very senior politicians, prime ministers and the like, and we sent a junior official from the Board of Trade. When he reported back to his political masters that this was something we should take seriously, the prevailing view amongst our most senior politicians was that the continentals would never be able to pull off something so ambitious so we could safely ignore it. When the Rome Treaty came into being in the late 1950s, the prevailing view became that we should set up a rival free-trade organisation (EFTA) – which, given that we had set it up, would obviously be superior – and it would sink the forerunner to the EU. (EFTA, btw, is the organisation at the heart of some of the counter-plans to Mrs May’s withdrawal treaty …. the irony!) Clearly that didn’t work either, and the economic data showing growth rates amongst the Rome Treaty states consistently outstripping our own forced a rethink and our late request to join. And since then it has been repeated time and again, by people who know little or nothing of the history of UK-EU relations, that the continental Europeans are not really committed/are not really competent/are desperate for our participation or goods or car-buyers/don’t have much leverage/etc/and the EU is going down the pan.

    It’s all right there: 70 years of delusion.

  • 35 slg June 23, 2019, 6:56 pm

    I love the acronym FIRE! Its perfect, light it under your arse and do something differently!

    Whats next? My retirement plans include more physical work than now and a fair bit of mental work too (health permitting).
    Pick a journey that works for you and your “why” and use that FIRE. Whats in the name? If anything should be individual, its how you live your life. In a world designed to tempt you to trade your money for things, consciously unshackled by money worries sounds better to me!

    Thanks for the weekend reading Monevator!

  • 36 ermine June 23, 2019, 7:04 pm

    > virtually all the net-famous ‘early retirees’ either go back to work or else go on to earn some sort of side income.

    *Cough*. Not all of ’em. Yeah, I earned about five grand p.a for a couple of years because I was scared to running out of money (wrongly) and helped someone out. I earned about a grand last year (note to self, if you’re gonna earn this year then FFS keep it below the £1k no need to declare threshold, now I have no need for Class II NI).

    That’s not some sort of side income. It’s pin money. If you have half a brain and get out there it’s tough to step back sharply enough from all ‘opportunities’, plus some of these people are people I like and want to help. My ISA has worked harder than me for a long time. It’s not work, because The Man is absent. and because there’s no hustle involved. The Ermine does not do hustle, side or not. I hate the sort of self-promotion and the creepy gaze you get from people who think of you as a networking opportunity.

    Not all of us throw in the towel and go running back to The Man. There is life after work.

    @Stefan (23)

    > One thing that becomes clearer when approaching FI is the need for a vision and a plan for what to do in early retirement.

    A vision, sure, but remember no plan survives contact with the enemy. Wing it. The principles are 1) who you spend your time with and only then 2) what you spend your time doing. Early retireees can have a problem with 1) because most of the people you know will still be at work, and many of those available in the free time you now have will not be spring chickens, there may be some disconnect there. Perhaps there’s an opportunity for a FIRE app to put early retirees in touch with each other. I did not have this problem so much because I retired in my early fifties. That was not unheard of among my peers, though being happy with it was rare. Probably supporting TI’s case above, although I would say financial muppetry is much of their problem. The FIRE was not strong in these people.

    > unless and until you come up with a plan for life afterwards.

    I disagree, with due respect. You will be changed by retirement. Embrace that change, in some ways it is a chance to be young again, in the sense of having opportunity, to try new things, rather than having beautiful skin and a ripped six-pack again. Too many people who fail at retirement attempt to cling to the trappings of work, because for too long they have been a prisoner of the structures and values imposed by work. You do not have to ossify as your get older. Embrace change, the opportunities to live life well, without the constraints of work. Do not live the life your wage slave self imagined, or at least consider widening the search. You have to retire to get to do that.

    Many wage slaves dream of the round the world tour they will do on retirement, or something else. I always suggest people take six months out after working before committing to any big irreversible life changes like spending loads of money on travel, or moving to a different area. This is because their retired self will not be the same as their working self. If it is the same, then they are doing something wrong. They may as well go back to work and get paid for it.

    If they change, but the siren song of the round the world tour or moving closer to your grandchildren and a sea view still calls after six months, well, go knock yourself out. If something else calls – to the hills rather than to the sea, then at least it’s their retired self calling the shots, not the cubicle slave’s imagination of their retired self

    The worker bee sees life like the denizens of Plato’s cave, shadows on the wall of the outside world, limited by their circumstances. If you have the privilege and good fortune to be able to be able to become financially independent, then why live your freedom through the lens of of your working life? Change. Or begin to die.

    I did not know this before I retired, unlike most of the readers here I retired in an unplanned way and for negative reasons – in my original view of my working life I would still be at work now.

    But having crashed out of the workforce and sitting dazed and confused for a couple of years* of decompression I started to wonder at the richness of opportunities and the all round damned fascination of it all.

    You don’t need a plan, well, not one crafted by the working you. Be open. Spend time with people outside your social class. Be generous with your ideas and time, provided they are respected. If you are learning just one thing new every day then you are doing something wrong, be curious. Discover. Seize the day, because it’s 24 hours you won’t get to live again. You can also be true to yourself and live your values. You don’t have to glad-hand people you don’t like – don’t have a go, just avoid. You don’t have to put up with corporate bullshit. What’s not to like?

    * For most people the adjustment period from work to retirement is about six months, up to a year.

  • 37 Jonathan June 23, 2019, 7:40 pm

    Well, perhaps this is the article where I suddenly felt alienated from the great Monevator series of articles which has sustained and inspired me since 2013 or so. Perhaps this is where the wheels come off for me.

    High flyers over fifty need to be prepared for a sooner-than-expected end of the prime career? I’ve just passed fifty, and I’ve never been a high flyer. My “career” had languished in the forum’s of being a technical specialist (something which interested me enormously when I was in my twenties and maybe thirties – the Jung quote really resonated). Then, just as I stated to think about doing something more organizational and managerial (which is where the money gets better, and the problems are more interesting, to me at least), the world of work blew apart in the Great Financial Crisis. I can still do the technical job, but I can’t get an interesting job, and I’m sometimes very dismayed at the poor quality of management decision making I see. I’ll never know, but I suspect I could do better than some in those positions. I’ve heard theories that one of the reasons for the British (Low) Productivity Puzzle is the poor quality of British management, but it’s only a theory.

    It’s utterly demoralising to think that probably my prime has passed, at least in the model for by this article. Of course, most people aren’t high flyers anyway, and most of us won’t retire early. Retiring at UK state pension age with a decent money-purchase pension seems to be a big enough challenge for most of us. Many won’t even achieve that.

    I try to keep sane by telling myself that my situation is down to a bit of bad luck compounding one or two bad decisions when I was younger. What’s the point in telling myself that it’s all my own fault? It’s too late to change things now. Of course, if I’d done better, I’d enjoy thinking how my own skill and ability were the root cause of my success. There would be no point in admitting how lucky I’d been.

    I don’t think the world of work end well for everyone. The divergence of outcomes is astounding. Unfortunately, I’m intelligent enough to see what could have been, but wasn’t in the right place at the right time, or when I was, I didn’t realize it. Nassim Taleb (“Fooled By Randomness”) said that many people don’t realise how seldom opportunity knocks, and throw away the few chances they get, because it’s not convenient right at that time. Perhaps he’s right.

    Anyway, I’m not trying to claim to speak for all low flyers. I’ve done better than the average Briton, and I can see that. Yet this article touched a nerve, and I can only imagine how much worse it must be for people of average and below-average income to read this stuff (or indeed, to have to listen to my whinging about unfulfilled career potential – First-World problem or what?)

    @Investor – many of your readers are “the harried 50-something man in Accounts” – what the heck are we supposed to do, if even the high-flyers are doomed to falter and fail? Should we just give up now?

  • 38 The Investor June 23, 2019, 7:43 pm

    @ermine — Yes, it was with due deference that I enshrined your experience in the ‘virtually’ in my ‘virtually all’. 😉 Thanks for another interesting and extensive comment. You’ve used the word hustle again, which last time we discussed this I think I said meant you were doing it wrong. But now I’m wondering if the ‘hustle’ — however mild it may be, and I think it *can* be very mild — doesn’t add a dash of eustress to the mental mix that I’m suggesting it’s better to embrace than the full check out of. But each to their own; and as I say, I’m certainly prepared to believe that for a minority full retirement may be the best option.

    @slg — Fair enough. 🙂 If you follow my link about FIRE, you’ll see I’m mostly describing the happy state you describe. I have zero problem with the Financial Independence part, and would urge it on everyone. It’s the prescriptive Retire Early second half that I don’t like being *automatically* presumed by the acronym.

    By way of analogy, imagine a weight loss and fitness movement called SWAP — Shed Weight And Partner — which allied an amazing health and exercise regime with the idea that you then ditch your spouse of 20 years and go and find a fitter model. 🙂 No doubt that would be ideal for some — and may have even motivated the programme’s originators — but it wouldn’t be one (smaller!) size fits all, and many would find it horrifying.

    That’s a little bit how I feel about ‘FIRE’, though I concede it’s a handy and punchy shorthand.

    [p.s. Please excuse the post-publishing typo corrections to this comment. Replying to comments post-pub; never ideal! 😉 😉 ]

  • 39 ermine June 23, 2019, 9:42 pm

    @indecisive (26)
    20 years of work is enough to take stock. But don’t take your three-score years and ten too literally, it’s probably a bit longer 😉

    Where the cross point from the turning outwards to the turning inwards across midlife varies, of course, it is as much a matter of self-awareness as of chronology. All change is painful, and some either do not see this change or they refuse it. Of the older refuseniks that I know, I am not sure that arresting the change was a good way to go.

  • 40 The Borderer June 24, 2019, 12:10 am

    @TI (32)

    This is a fascinating topic. Here’s a couple of links to the source material https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2019/06/190618192030.htm

    I’m afraid without buying the right to use the background study material, whether the study is actually in respect of the “financial effect” benefit, or the “sociological effect” benefit, of working 8 hours per week, remains unknown. But because the study refers to “mental wellbeing benefits of paid work”, and “even a small number of working hours (between one and 8 h a week) generates significant mental health and well-being benefits for previously unemployed or economically inactive individuals”, I’m inclined to believe it to be the former – the key being ‘paid work’.

    As the primary aim of FI/RE is to do away with the necessity of paid work, (but not necessarily the need for work, (or at least a comparable stimulation)), I’m still not convinced that this is evidence that paid work is some kind of basic human need that needs to be fulfilled for people who have FIREd.

    My garden is immaculate, I can pick fruit off my trees, my handicap is down, I have a healthy tan, I’m fitter than I have been in years, I’m doing a 2nd degree from the Open University.

    Works for me.

  • 41 The Investor June 24, 2019, 12:58 am

    @Jonathan — Ouch, your anguish does come through in your comment. Commiserations. Regarding my comment about a ‘harried 50-something in accounts’, what I mean is ‘the man who doesn’t have a financial cushion to leave’ versus the early retire-er who decides to go back to work for various reasons. (That was the context of my comment.)

    Very well aware many readers will be pushing on until their 60s in order to retire comfortably. 🙂

    I don’t really have a good answer to this though:

    What the heck are we supposed to do, if even the high-flyers are doomed to falter and fail? Should we just give up now?

    Isn’t this the stuff of all literature and poetry and music and wandering around graveyards as a moony-eyed 17-year old (or was that just me… 😉 )

    I’m not the best person to come to for a non-financial pep talk; I do think life is pretty much a long journey of waking up to your limits and your ultimate mortality, and then wishing you’d done more earlier / different / you could do it again, to suit. Perhaps acceptance is the best we can hope for?

    Two excellent novels on this theme that I rate highly that might help someone so afflicted not feel so alone are Stoner (John Wiliams) and Light Years (James Salter). Neither are cheery reads but they seem on the money to me. A more jolly and accessible version might be Any Human Heart, by William Boyd.

    Don’t beat yourself up too much. As you and Taleb say, most of us miss our moments. I often think I did with this very website (around 2013, if anyone is counting) and I failed beyond miserably to get anything going in the dotcom boom (where I was in the right place at the right time with the right skills *and* the ideas, but not the nerve.) And I haven’t written a damned novel.

    Appreciate this wasn’t the pep talk you were probably after, but it is the equivalent — if we were in the pub — of a clinked pint and a “I hear you mate”. We’re all in it together!

  • 42 Learner June 24, 2019, 1:58 am

    Any Human Heart is one of my favorites; hoping to avoid those those “dog food years” (I’m vegetarian!)

    Jonathon, congrats on apparently lasting 50 years before being overcome with existential angst. I’m around 10 years younger and reached the same view not so long ago. 30 year olds will get there soon the way life/work is accelerating.

    A fellow low-flyer, I began switching out of a technical role some years ago but only recently found an employer sufficiently committed to career development to take it seriously. Enjoying the change immensely though it is not without significant risk – employability falls in the short term as tech skills age out. I weigh this risk against the alternative risk of not changing course. There are few grey hairs amongst the engineers in this office.

    Agism and employability are some of my favorite topics. Hearing younger people joke about having to work into their 70s, I can’t help think: you should be so lucky. The elderly “greeters” at Walmart are my regular reminder to keep moving.

  • 43 ermine June 24, 2019, 10:28 am


    > It’s utterly demoralising to think that probably my prime has passed, at least in the model for by this article.

    Framing is all. Look at the title: *Great* work ends early…

    WTF is so *great* about work? The Jung quote resonated because something in you is telling you that you are changing, over midlife.

    Although Jung’s model doesn’t apply to all, the shift is away from career and ‘great work’. A human being is richer than an economic unit of production, it is interesting that so many, having shaken off the yoke of religion, seem to live under the yoke of Calvinist theories of good works, which roughly translated means work is good for you. That’s a doctrine straight out of Protestantism. It turbocharged the West as Niall Ferguson’s TV series The West and the Rest showed. But it’s a cultural hangover.

    Your prime in a certain aspect of life has passed. Your song is yet to be sung in a different aspect of life that had to slumber through the first half.

    There are several studies that show that happiness follows a U shaped trajectory around midlife, I would suggest some of this is from Jung’s observation, what had meaning falls away, what will have meaning and value is sense only darkly, yet to be born. Gail Sheehy’s New Passages describes some of this

    I interpreted the failure of my career as a full-spectrum decline and fall. I was wrong. The process of change takes time, years I would say, as the power of your lifestream is switched from the program of life’s morning. That process is not comfortable. In the early stages it looks like loss, but after some time, there is a moment akin to Camus’s

    In the depths of winter, I finally learned that within me there lay an invincible summer.

    in Return to Tipasa

    Perhaps I agree with TI, but from a different angle. The RE part of FIRE is wrong. Retirement implies giving something up. Maybe, if one is so privileged to be able to do it, achieving financial independence earlier than normal is a goal worth having, so that rather than retiring, you get The Man off your back to explore the second half of life without dragging the carcass of what was true in the first half of life around; it gets in the way.

    FIRE folk, live the first half of life well, but with an eye to FI, early enough that you can play the second hand of cards you have been dealt on your own terms, not in debt bondage. There’s more to life than work.

  • 44 Vanguardfan June 24, 2019, 3:38 pm

    @jonathan @ermine et al. Surely we learn by now that there will always be those flying above and far below us. If you can measure worth in that way. As TI says, acceptance is the great lesson of middle age (of yourself, primarily).

    I’m with ermine here. I was a high flyer once (probably up to my mid 20s) but was never really interested in the greasy pole for the sake of it, I ‘just’ wanted fulfilling work that also provided a reasonable living (ha!). Some of its been ok, fun even, but ultimately my career also ‘failed’ (as they all will, in the end). Partly because of time and energy put into child rearing (something that rarely gets a mention in these rather male-centric discussions of the meaning of work and life).

    After becoming unexpectedly FI it has taken a long time, and quite a gentle glide path, to finally sever my connection with my career. But like ermine, I’m missing it not at all, and finding great joy in the freedom to explore a much more rounded and multi-faceted version of myself. Interestingly, I’m still in paid work – I find the pay cheque strangely comforting as a sign that I’m not totally dependent on my stash – two days seems about right at the moment. My spouse is still working, as he feels he is better able to contribute to worthwhile change in the world through his work – he couldn’t do anything similar outside of a formal work arrangement. So I see the other side as well, and can understand those who want to stay within the system as a way of contributing their talents to the world.

  • 45 old_eyes June 25, 2019, 2:44 pm

    I enjoyed the Atlantic article but did not find it as depressing as many seem to.

    I liked the distinction between fluid and crystallised intelligence. It fits my own experience, but the weird thing is that so many see fluid intelligence (the problem solving) as the important and valuable capability. As with most things we need all sorts to make progress.

    I started my career as an academic and then industrial researcher – the fluid intelligence bit. As I gained maturity, my role changed into more team leadership and management, and I relied more on the crystallised intelligence to help my younger fluid intelligence experts to deploy that skill to best effect. Yes, there was that moment when I realised that my team were subtly interposing their bodies between me and the equipment I had spent months drumming up the funding for; in case I touched anything. And no, I didn’t particularly like it as I realised that some of the fun had gone away, but I had swapped that hands-on fun for an opportunity to have more impact.

    Now, I am valued for my experience/wisdom and consulted by those who want to test their own thinking. People have said they like talking to me because I listen carefully and then ask the really stupid questions that they should have already asked. I make them look at their idea/proposition from a different perspective. I am good at spotting weaknesses in their case.

    I am never going to be a hero now. My role is to make others heroes, and I am comfortable with that.

    So for me, the transition to teacher came easily. I had always wanted to pass on what I had learned when I ‘retired’. FI gives me space to try and do that.

    I think it is much harder for people who never get around to changing their measure of success. Who try to use the same criteria as they had at the beginning of their career.

    We have all met the types. The micro-manager who cannot delegate. The retiree on a society committee who causes chaos because they have to have the loudest voice, the last word, and to be ‘in charge’.

    You may not subscribe to the Hindu tradition of life stages, but as sure as hell there are life stages and we play different roles in each of them. Much of the heat and angst in the FIRE discussions comes from different views about how people should live their lives. Which is weird. The whole point of FI is to give you choices, and those choices must be individual to each of us.

    I have friends who have reached ‘retirement’ who have carried on in the same trade as if nothing had happened, still pulling 60 hour weeks. I have others who have thrown themselves into totally new careers with ferocious intensity. Friends who have gone back to university, one who after a career as a property developer has gone to serious art-school to study portrait painting. Others have gone for world travel and new places, or who volunteer for charities.

    So let’s not obsess about declining powers. Nature compensates. Experience gives you the chance to see patterns others cannot, and that is a valuable skill. Sure you are less likely to get your name on the patent, found a unicorn or sell your business for billions. But let’s be honest that was never very likely anyway. Get to FI if you want and then choose. And whatever you choose (providing not illegal, grossly immoral or too fattening) is fine with me.

  • 46 old_eyes June 25, 2019, 2:51 pm

    @vanguardfan – Good point about child-rearing and family life. One of the big changes in my own career trajectory happened because a hard-driving East Coast US divisional manager did not agree that my family and their situation was an important consideration in whether to take on specific roles or not.

    We parted company quite quickly, and in an embarrassing case of schadenfreude, I was pleased to see he only lasted a couple more years before his ability to piss off his team caused him to be pushed out.

    But, silver lining and all, it gave me a chance to try something completely different.

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