When I think about retirement, I have never pictured myself sitting on the beach drinking pina coladas daily. That’s not how I picture retirement. I could sit on the beach for a few days but for weeks on end? I would get bored out of my mind. I will want to do something more fulfilling than spending my days idling around.
For me, retirement is not about sitting around and not doing anything. And early retirement is certainly not about having the lowest expenses possible by eating beans and ramen noodles every day only to deprive yourself and not enjoy life.
Retirement is about having free time to do activities that I enjoy, regardless of whether I am making money or not. It’s about spending time to improve my community, helping others around me, and improving myself as an individual.
This sentiment is very well-versed and summarized in a quote I heard at my high school music teacher’s retirement party:
At the end of the day, it’s not about how much money you make, it’s not about how big your house is, it’s not about what kind of car you drive, it’s about the relationships that you build and the impacts you’ve made on other people’s lives.
Given our dream is to become financially independent and live off dividends by 2025, I have been spending a bit more time thinking about early retirement and what I am retiring to.
Don’t get me wrong, I still enjoy my job and find it challenging and all, but it doesn’t prevent me from thinking and planning about retirement. Furthermore, after working in high tech for almost 17 years, I have learned not to take things for granted. The next round of layoffs could be just around the corner… (we’ve seen many layoff announcements from the likes of Meta, Amazon, Twitter, Intel and Google in recent months).
When I was in my 20s, I used to be quite adventurous and spent a lot of time in the great outdoors. I’d be what you called a weekend warrior, spending weekends hiking, climbing, skiing, and exploring the great outdoors. Unfortunately, I started putting my outdoor adventure days behind me after having kids.
I still head out to and do outdoor adventures occasionally, albeit a much tamer version than what I used to do in my younger days…
For spring break this year, we spent a week at Whistler skiing. I really missed skiing as well as the amazing views of the snowy mountains and landscapes.
“I know what I want to do when I retire… ski and enjoy the snowy view regularly each week in the winter,” I told Mrs. T as we were riding the Whistler ski lift one day during the vacation.
Mrs. T then kindly reminded me that I need to take care of my body so I can continue to do these outdoor adventures as I get older (she can be very practical this way ha!).
So how do I imagine my retirement life? Back in 2015, I wrote about fighting for financial freedom and imagined what my early retiree’s schedule would look like.
A lot, not surprisingly, has changed since 2015. Now with two elementary school-aged kids and being in my early 40s, my early retirement schedule would certainly look very different.
Looking at this schedule, my immediate thought is that I want to have a more flexible schedule. I don’t want to restrict myself to only doing certain activities on a certain day or at a certain time.
Essentially, I want to avoid rigidity in early retirement and strive for flexibility instead. I would like to have the flexibility to do different activities as I want and not have the activities dictated by my daily schedule (I realized some activities like fitness classes or picking up kids have a more rigid schedule but let’s ignore those for now).
On a high level, here are some activities I’d want to do in early retirement:
- Go skiing regularly in winter, preferably during weekdays to avoid crowds
- Go hiking regularly, preferably during weekdays to avoid crowds
- Workout three to four times a week
- Go swimming two to three times a week
- Work on this blog
- Spend more time on hobbies, like photography
- Take my kids to school and pick them up
- Cook dinners with Mrs. T
- Go for walks with Mrs. T when the kids are at school
- Volunteer as a Scouter in multiple groups
- Volunteer at local charities
In short, my goal is to keep myself engaged in various activities and keep myself mentally and physically challenged on a daily basis. My purpose in early retirement is to improve myself, build and strengthen relationships, and create positive impacts in my community.
Unfortunately, too many people tie themselves to their work and define themselves by their jobs. When they do retire, all of a sudden they find that they have lost the identity they’ve known for decades.
This loss of identity can be detrimental in some cases. Recently, Mark McGrath, CFP posted a series of heartfelt tweets on the importance of making sure you know what you’re retiring to.
Make sure you know what you’re retiring to.
This was a hard post to write.
I almost didn’t write it in fact. I’ve started and trashed this story many times.
But I believe there are important lessons in this story we can learn from.
Warning: this does not have a happy ending.
This is a story about my dad.
My dad grew up the youngest of four siblings in Quebec.
He, his siblings, and my grandparents moved to Vancouver in the 70s, and my uncle opened a tile store.
My dad worked for him for a while, then eventually opened his own store.
He was a relentless entrepreneur and a good father.
He was shrewd and pennywise. I used to joke that he would split 2-ply toilet paper to save money.
But he was also a savvy investor, and he did well in his business.
He didn’t care about tile and saw the business as a means to an end – a way to build wealth and retire.
He was laser-focused on this goal.
He was fit, active, and a traveller.
He was a scratch golfer and swam 80 laps at the pool three times a week.
He was also a black belt in karate and extremely disciplined.
Like many French Canadians, he loved steak and beer.
But any time he found himself getting “soft”, he would just switch that off – he would diet and quit drinking for a month or so until he got his six-pack abs back.
I didn’t realize as a kid how impressive that was.
He used to read books on longevity and admired the lifestyle of the people of Okinawa.
Okinawa has some of the highest life expectancies on Earth, and is home to one of the greatest concentrations of centenarians.
He planned to live a long, long time.
My brother and I had a great childhood.
We played sports, went camping, and took family vacations.
I played high-level baseball and my brother played high-level hockey, and our parents never missed a single game.
We lived in a nice house and had everything we needed.
My dad was private, and we never really knew his financial situation.
Growing up, we would ask him if we were rich, to which he always said, “no, but we have enough”.
Eventually, my parents split up.
But they remained close and lived in the same neighbourhood.
One day he told us he had sold his business and was retiring.
We were thrilled.
All he wanted to do was retire so he could keep travelling, golfing, swimming, and enjoying his life.
He booked a two-month trip to Asia to celebrate.
He was 58.
And then it all went downhill.
Within a month of returning from his trip, he was back working for the guys he sold his store to.
He didn’t need the money – he just missed his store and his friends.
His best friend was his first employee – a man he had hired 30 years earlier.
This worked out for a while.
But slowly, he started to change.
After a few months of golfing near-daily, he got bored.
And then he got depressed.
One day he said he didn’t like steak anymore.
This man had eaten steak three times a week for over 40 years.
Something was up.
He called me one day from the UBC Psychiatric Ward.
He told me he was having dark, intrusive thoughts and thought he should get checked in.
I didn’t realize how serious this was, but I noted that he had the wherewithal to realize it and seek help immediately.
I went to see him, and he had made friends with half the patients in the ward. Including a well-known ex-Vancouver Canuck hockey player. He told me that night he had made a mistake by going there. That this place was full of crazy people, and he wasn’t crazy (his words).
They gave him antidepressants, and he checked himself out.
He seemed better until a few days later.
We were scheduled for dinner at my mom’s house, but he didn’t show.
This was not like him.
After about 30 minutes, my mom panicked and said: “something is wrong.”
We called the police, and they came by about an hour later.
In mid-sentence, the officer got a report about a car accident in his earpiece.
The vehicle involved fit the description of my mom’s car, which he had borrowed.
He looked at us and said, “your dad is alive, but…”
We rushed to the hospital.
All we knew was that he was alive. We had no idea what the extent of his injuries were.
When we got there, there wasn’t a scratch on him.
The paramedics told us they needed “the jaws of life” to pry him from the wreckage.
It was a miracle.
But something was nagging at me.
My dad was an exceptional driver.
And the crash location was a j-curve intersection he drove through twice daily on his commute for over 20 years.
I called his best friend to get his take.
His best friend told me that my dad had called him right before the accident.
He told him he had stashed his wallet and ID under a garbage can in a parkade on the other side of town.
A parkade he had no business being at.
To this day I still don’t know why he did that.
My only guess is that he crashed that car intentionally.
He went 100km/h through a red light straight into the j-curve.
He rolled it three times.
I think he didn’t want his ID on him because he didn’t want to be identified immediately.
But he was wearing his seatbelt…
Over the next few weeks, he was overcome with the fear that he would be arrested and put in jail because of the accident.
We tried to explain that no crime was committed, and that no one was hurt.
But he was adamant.
This fear paralyzed him.
Then one day, I was on the Skytrain on my way home from work.
My dad called and said he had a fight with my mom and he was going to grab a hotel.
I told him to come and stay at my place for the night, but he didn’t want to bother me.
That was the last time I spoke with him.
That night, on a foggy Thursday in October, I was awoken by a phone call from a private number. I ignored it. And they called back. It was the police, and they told me my mom was upset and that I needed to drive the 40 minutes in the middle of the night to see her.
I told them if I was driving across town in the middle of the night, I wanted to know why.
He was hesitant, but I was persistent.
Then he told me, “your father is dead.”
I collapsed and remembered only that I kept saying, “I had so much more to tell him”.
He had rented a car for some reason, drove it to the middle of the Lion’s Gate Bridge in Vancouver, turned on the hazard lights, and got out.
Then he jumped.
Two cyclists – one on the bridge, and one down below on the seawall – called it in.
Why am I telling you all this?
Selfishly, because it’s been almost a decade, and I’m not sure I’ve really had an outlet until now.
But also because I think I know what happened, and I think people can learn from it.
+What I think happened is that my dad’s business became his identity.
He was the tile guy.
He was the guy that sponsored all of our sports teams.
In a booming town, he was the guy you went to when you needed tile.
He was the tile guy.
And when he sold his business, he stripped himself of his identity.
Now he was a nobody.
He lost his purpose, the very thing that made him who he was.
Whether he knew it or not, I think he loved the business because it gave him a sense of fulfilment he didn’t know he’d miss.
By losing his purpose, he lost his essence, his spirit.
The thing that gave him his joie de vivre.
He had surmounted his biggest challenge and achieved his singular goal.
And there was nothing on the other side.
And remember, this was a guy who had lots of friends, social activities, sports, and hobbies.
And still, retirement undid him in less than 18 months.
Humans require a purpose.
And if that purpose is linked to your business, be careful leaving it behind.
As a financial planner, I didn’t get any training in this. We learn about the financial side of retirement but not enough about its emotional and psychological aspects. About how our identities can be intertwined with our careers and our businesses.
So when you think about retirement, think about what you’re retiring to.
Focus on your relationships, mental health, community, and purpose.
And spend time before you retire on finding a path to fulfillment.
I feel terrible to hear this personal story. The idea of focusing on your relationships, mental health, community, and purpose in retirement really aligned with my ideas.
Therefore, it is critical to make sure you know what you’re retiring INTO. We all need a purpose in life and that purpose shouldn’t be tied to your job, work, or business. We can do a lot of financial planning by running different calculations and simulations but I believe it is even more important to prepare ourselves emotionally and psychologically.
Regardless of whether you are close to your retirement or not, it is vital to know yourself and understand what you want to do when you’re retired. Spend some time thinking about your plans in retirement, it will be better than not having any plans and just winging it.
Dear readers, do you know what you’re retiring to?