Joshua Keel

So I'm Thinking of Retiring...

February 27, 2020

My wife and I have had a weekly “finances check-in” on our shared calendar for months now. That check-in—when it actually happened—had been serving its purpose for the most part, but even though we had frequent financial discussions, we still didn’t feel like we had a real grasp on our situation.

In order to try to understand the big financial picture, two weekends ago we spent almost an entire day creating spreadsheets that show us what our current financial habits look like, projected out 10-15 years into the future.

You see, shortly after we first started dating about four and a half years ago, we became fascinated with the FIRE concept and community. FIRE stands for Financial Independence/Early Retirement, and the community is a group of folks who care about saving, investing, frugality, and becoming financially free. It’s full of people who are planning to “retire” in their 30s, 40s and 50s.

As someone who has had a rocky relationship with my career as a software developer ever since my first year or two of college, I latched onto the early retirement idea immediately. What? You mean I don’t have to work if I just save and invest my money? I can support myself without a job?!

I was compelled to learn everything I could about early retirement so that I could become “free”. I thought financial independence was my way out, my ticket to a life where I am not obligated to work for money, but can instead work for fulfillment and purpose.

I had reasons to want out. I spent a lot of my early 20s hating not only my choice of career, but also my life. Although I loved computers as a teen, I felt passionless about writing software in the latter part of my college career, and after I got a job in the industry.

My interests were all over the place: first music, then psychology, then personal growth, then whatever-else-but-please-god-not-software. I felt like a fake, a phony software engineer who had to pretend to be enthusiastic.

The truth is I wasn’t very happy with anything in my early 20s. I was obese, binge eating every night, and my social life was almost non-existent. I was fucking miserable.

Fast forward to now, and I’m active, have a great marriage, own a house with my wife, and still, funnily enough, have that same job I once hated.

What changed? I did. I’ve grown. I’ve come into my own. I’ve left behind more guilt and shame and baggage than I ever thought possible, and somehow managed to become a pretty happy person in the process.

Now, I’m paradoxically more excited about my software development career than ever before, and also planning its conclusion. Unless something wild happens and I start my own business, I plan to retire sometime in my mid-to-late 40s.

I won’t stop working, I’ll just pick up career two in earnest. What you’re reading now is the start of career two. It’s writing, thinking, learning, growing and sharing. It’s me stepping firmly in the direction of fear and uncertainty to say yes to my deepest drives and motivations; my core interests; the things that make me get up in the morning and say hell yes!

Author Ryan Holiday carries around a memento mori, a death reminder, in his pocket. Like him, I am always aware of the fact that my life will come to an end, and I may not see it coming.

In light of the fragility of my existence, I want to lead a life that is not in vain: one that makes a positive contribution to the well-being of others, that leaves the world a little better than I found it. To do that, I need to make sure today counts; that I am cultivating that life; that I am bringing it into being.

It helps me to know that space can be created for all the many passions and interests I care about, that I won’t just work for 45 years in a meaningless office job, only to retire at 65 and then promptly expire. Knowing that my software engineering career has an expiration date actually makes it more fun to do my day job, and makes me excited to see what I can achieve in the next decade or so, before that chapter closes.

I plan to spend the next 10-15 years figuring out what’s next, so that when I do “retire”, it won’t be to my couch. I will have created a meaningful, solid base on which to grow the next phase of my life. At 45 or 50, I’ll just be getting warmed up.