Does Achieving Early Retirement Mean Failing A Career?

What did you want to be when you grew up? At various points for me it was a doctor, a librarian, an author, a bookseller. I never wanted to be an accountant that’s for sure.

Nevertheless, having fallen onto that path many years ago, ambition kicked in and I put my best foot forward, ever upwards on the career ladder. I always assumed I would keep going until I got to the very top. It didn’t occur to me that I would ever get vertigo and feel an almost irresistible urge to jump off.

The question is, when I look back in twenty years time, the misery of my current day to day will have faded to a long distant memory. Will I be disappointed that I didn’t make it to the top? I will never call myself CFO. Will I look back and wish I had achieved more in my career? 

Swimming with Sharks

I was a competitive swimmer in my youth. For a while I was the big fish in a very small pond and enjoyed an early taste of the euphoria of success. But inevitably, at a certain age we were tipped into a much larger pond, the genetics lottery kicked in and I realised I was a minnow competing with sharks.

I struggled on for a year or two before admitting defeat and disappearing into obscurity. I’d been told “going out at the top” was the right way to do things, but for me it was more like plopping into the drain at the bottom. I would have loved to have ended that particular phase of life at the top of my game, forever able to look back with pride. As it is, despite my early success I’m ashamed. In fact, this is the first time I’ve mentioned it in years.

Reflecting on that now, I realise I feel sad for my childhood self. She was great! She has an attic full of trophies and medals and nothing to be ashamed of. She should celebrate her successes and remember how it feels to stand on the top of the podium, because she did – many times.

She was swimming with sharks after all – maybe she should be congratulated for getting out before she was eaten.

A Different Mindset

That change of mindset is a powerful thing.

Returning to what I wanted to be when I grew up, it turned out my aptitude for science was mediocre at best and so I was never going to be a doctor. (I came to terms with this a long time ago and live vicariously through Meredith Grey).

But author….? Librarian….? Bookseller…..? All of those things are still possible.

Let’s think about it this way – when I look back in twenty years time, would I be more disappointed at never becoming CFO or at never becoming an author? There’s no contest.

We all live with regrets and “what if’s” and “if only’s.” Over the years, I’ve been wistful about the unfulfilled dreams and buried ambition in one field while simultaneously pushing myself hard in another direction. But the lifestyle of the impoverished artist was never for me and neither was taking big risks with my financial security. It was necessary to get to here, so that I can now try to get to “there.”

Thanks to a solid financial foundation I’m in a position to revive my other ambitions without the pressure of having to make a living. What incredible luxury! I feel like I am finally a grown-up!

I’m about to make the leap and walk away from a full time career. I have reached (lean) financial independence through years of working, tracking expenses and investing. In my heart of hearts, there is one thing I know to be true – reaching my full potential was never about getting to the top of the accountancy tree. It was my first career, but it doesn’t have to be my greatest achievement.

I’m not going out at the top in a fanfare of celebration. But I’m not dropping through the drain at the bottom of the pool either.

What Would You Tell Your Younger Self?

This question comes up time and again – what piece of advice would I give my younger self? Or what should I teach my children?

For me, the answer is easy. Well – easy to say, not necessarily easy to achieve.

Never underestimate the power of financial independence.

Financial independence is true freedom. Do anything you can, educate yourself, read, read, read. Become the person you need to be to achieve that financial goal. If you get only half way there, you’re in a helluva better position than if you didn’t start at all.

But if you make it – a whole world of possibilities opens up.


21 thoughts on “Does Achieving Early Retirement Mean Failing A Career?”

  1. There will always be someone better than you. Some next step on the ladder. That’s what I’m starting to see in my career now; I would have never on being at my current career progression a couple of years ago, but I seem to always want more. It’s like a game of Candy Crush Saga in real life – it never ends.

    In some way, being ‘FIRE enlightened’ gives you a little respite for this feeling, as the very notion of the movement can put you above the people at the very top of the food chain in terms of finance. Takes away from that gut punch feeling when you find out someone is earning double what you are to know they have no retirement savings.

    The pursuit of FIRE and the eventual capture of it is a greater achievement than getting to G level status in your career. You definitely won’t look back!

    Liked by 2 people

  2. I imagine for almost everyone it’s inevitable to have such thoughts. You know it was possible to become a CFO – you have the skills, and think it’s a lack of drive, energy, whatever that prevented it. It’s easy to see the knowns. It’s much harder to see the alternate paths – being a librarian, side hustle helping others with their finances, chilling with a good coffee and a good book in the garden when we get a rare sunny day.
    I’ve pretty much taken it as inevitable that I’ll feel such ‘thoughts masquerading as regrets’ after hitting a number, but it’s just society whispering it’s message in my ear. We’re supposed to work, pay tax, consume, grow old – that keeps the economy spinning. Whether it keeps you content is not the issue. It’s inevitable that society will laud you becoming CFO, but only you and those closest to you will laud you taking another path.
    But for me at least it’s very clear – to badly paraphrase The Jam, when what I get is no longer worth what I give, it’s time to change direction. And overall I think that’s good. Sure I’ll wonder what my final position would have been, and how society might have perceived me – but I’ll also remember how it affected me, and a better life is better than scratching the FOMO itch.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Really interesting to read how your perspectives have changed and that you are leaving past regrets behind you. And that you are close to make the leap and enter the gate to financial independence. Very inspiring!

    I wanted to be an astronaut. Walk on the moon and live in space. I watched too much sci-fi I guess. Then I saw a famous (silver) flute player on TV and wanted to be like him. I was terrible at playing the flute. Then I tried my luck at swimming. Best achievement? Beating my brother who was 3 years older than me. Eternal fame!

    Yes, there is always someone who is better, smarter, more beautiful, whatever. And I couldn’t care less. I’ve come to the understanding that what is needed is to be well balanced, self-contained. I don’t need to compare myself with others to know I am good enough. That is real freedom. I have nothing I need to proof to anyone. I do want to proof things to myself. Achieve things, learn. Especially about myself. And I will have so much more time to do that when reaching financial independence.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I’ve had a similar realisation in the last couple of years. I’d been a middle manager for a close on a decade and working on an organisational change programme made me realise I didn’t enjoy the increasingly toxic politics or think the game was particularly worthwhile playing anyway. Further, a couple of friends passed away in their late 40s/early 50s which brought an additional perspective: Will I look back on this as a life well lived on my death bed?

    Thankfully, this coincided with becoming FI and so with the help with a very accommodating boss, I’ve crafted a role which is part-time, avoids the toxic stuff and taps into the things I really enjoy at work. It’s freed up more time pursue other interests too.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Well that sounds fantastic – well done firstly on becoming FI and secondly on crafting the Holy Grail of a part-time role you enjoy!
      What is it about work-places today that they seem to be becoming increasingly toxic? Congratulations to you and here’s to a far better life 🙂


  5. You offer some fascinating insight, particularly the comparison of the childhood swimming pool to the corporate career shark tank!

    For what it is worth, I think you have done things in the right order. Having ensured your family’s financial footing, you are now free to indulge your own desires.

    The “follow your dreams” myth is criminally bad advice in my view, if those dreams are unlikely to pay the rent. I’m all for people wanting to be Formula 1 drivers or West End actresses when they grow up, but only if they have the financial security behind them to ride that rollercoaster and survive should they not ultimately win the trophy in the end.

    Best of luck exiting your current rat race, and I hope you find more fulfilment in the pursuit of your next endeavours.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you! Although a lot in my life has come from being in the right place at the right time, I am glad it happened in this order. I’m trying to point this out to my children also – “following your dreams” often is bad advice when young but that doesn’t mean the dream needs to die. It’s a long life we hope to lead – there’s time for several paths if you are clever about it.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. This is a wonderful post.

    I stepped out of the ‘career’ mindset around 3 years ago leaving behind a Head of Digital job to work on my own websites & freelance a little bit. Long story short but financially, lifestyle & time wise this was the best decision I ever made. Leaving such a rigid structure brings so much more opportunities you would never get access to if you stayed in a 9-5 job.

    The ladder approach to life is becoming more and more blurred and as you progress down a different route you will realise you are anything but a failure.

    In the way, people measure someone’s wealth by the car they drive or the house they live in they also measure ‘success’ by the place they have on the ladder.

    For me, your approach is so much more exciting and innovative and you have beaten the trap of the ‘system’ and having to continue to scale the ladder. In retirement your career will continue I have no doubt about this. A multi hyphen career!

    Finding peace with where you are and moving into a new stage of your life is far more fulfilling than any corporate job.

    Your achievements are far greater than you actually think. I’m excited to be watching your next steps!

    Liked by 1 person

  7. I face this question day to day… and it’s the most exciting yet scariest thing that I feel I’ll have to face. I’m not anywhere near the peak of my career however my performance is quickly getting me recognition from the people that will be responsible for putting me at the top. There’s just one odd thing they can’t place their finger on about this guy. He makes us tons of money and we pay him exceptionally but… Why doesn’t he drive something nicer than an old Prius? Why doesn’t he move to the highrise condos? Why doesn’t he join us on our expensive lunch outings? Why is he so content, is it that he isn’t hungry enough to reach the top?

    My secret is that while I’ve always wanted to reach the top and become the CEO is that I’m making more money without spending more and my focus has not changed from reaching the top to enjoying the process it will take to reach FIRE (which is getting shorter and shorter with each promotion)

    I think we have discovered that life is much different from the game of Life and it’s not a ladder. It’s a world that has so much more Happiness to give than most people claim!

    I’d be honored if you would follow me on my journey and speak into it as well because I can tell that I have much to learn! Congratulations on the clarity that you have achieved!


  8. The bit that really hit me here was thinking about why my 18/19/20 year old self would think of me today (I’m in my 40s). That person had a lot of dreams about what he would be, and some those things have been achieved and others haven’t – but I think that’s OK.

    What I think my younger self would really appreciate is that I haven’t given up on my dreams yet (and I agree with you and indeedably above that there is an excellent case to getting your finances/ in shape before chasing after the wind). While life, and work and family and all of the rest of it fills a lot of my time he would love the fact that older me is still trying to shoot for the stars – or at least one or two of them.

    So thank you for this. I reminds me that Older Me can quite possible still make Younger Me proud!

    Liked by 1 person

  9. As someone within touching distance of retiring at 55 I look back on my various jobs, (Painter and decorator, Royal Navy Chief petty officer, technician in a BP petrochemical plant, and current position, technician offshore in the North sea, and I can honestly say I wont miss or have missed any of it. Freedom from the grind of 9-5 is and always has been the goal.
    I have seen too many people sacrifice time with their families, and in some instances their marriages and health, for what? Six months after they leave their job people struggle to remember their name, and in the unfortunate instance where they have dropped dead on the job they have been replaced in weeks, then forgotten.
    Now, we all have goals in life, they are all individual, and no doubt will bring a sense of achievement into our lives. Choose these goals carefully. Your health and how you choose to spend your time are the two most valuable assets you control. I wish everyone success in their own FIRE journey, and a long life to chase those dreams.
    As for withdrawal rates, Im going with 4% to start with, and cutting the cloth to fit after that. Hoping to be able to throw those trimming scissors away at some point.


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