It’s been a bit of a slug-fest at work.
These last few weeks have brought on a heavy dose of 11th-hour drama that’s quite typical in the world of software delivery at large corporations. Sweating out another Sunday night has me wondering how to get retirement right: Should I reconsider ditching the cube early and explore alternatives to retirement?
When you get close to the finish line of a project at work and the customer decides “This isn’t what I wanted”, all of a sudden, collegiality flies out the window. Emotions take over. In my case, being a leader means I wind up defending my team more than I should have to. They’re simply doing their jobs.
Being a mediator can feel bring on some serious stress. I can feel my blood pressure rising on those conference calls. That’s when I remember that it’s okay to want to retire early. Are there merits to leaving the rat race, or does a meaningful career support a purpose-driven life?
After Mrs. Cubert hit the hay, I stayed up to watch Jiro Dreams of Sushi on Netflix. Believe it or not, I came away from that screening with the crazy notion that I should never retire.
Seek Struggle, Not a Job You Love
In the film, Jiro, an 85-year-old sushi chef and restaurant owner in Tokyo, Japan, shares his secrets to delivering a consistently excellent product over seven decades. He’s a firm believer in perfecting one’s craft to the utmost. He feels it is an obligation to love his work.
Jiro’s life is a case study of how consistent, repetitive execution with small tweaks here, and there can lead to mastery and success.
“Once you decide on your occupation,” says Jiro, “you must immerse yourself in your work. You have to fall in love with your work. Never complain about your job. You must dedicate your life to mastering your skill. That’s the secret of success and is the key to being regarded honorably.”
It’s easy to see why Jiro still works as hard as he does (even now, approaching age 90), from 5 AM to 10 PM each day, repeating many of the same tasks day over day. Simply, he is devoted to his craft. Through endless execution, his craft has come to define who Jiro is. If Jiro were to retire, he’d be, “bored to death.”
I came away from this documentary with a new perspective on work and retirement. Is it taking the easy way out to retire early? Am I simply giving up? Why can’t I be like Jiro, devote myself to project management, and continue to master my craft?
I don’t know the answers to those questions right now. I hope the answers emerge over the next three years, at which point I become eligible to bolt.
Jiro never suggests that you need to find a job you love. Fact is, he struggled mightily in the beginning, and it took many years for him to achieve a level of success we would define as “making it.” Persistence and resilience are a big part of what got Jiro from a place of hardship to a place of great reward.
Now, despite all of the toil and repetition, there are subtle aspects of the sushi chef gig that make it rewarding work. If you’re looking for a Blue-Zones case study on healthy longevity, look no further than Jiro:
- Jiro is on his feet all day, and you’re in constant motion. This is HUGE for folks looking to live a long time in good health
- Jiro gets to sample the goods. He and his staff ensure quality control by tasting the sushi throughout the day, to avoid putting a bad product in front of customers. In the process, Jiro is consuming some very healthy and very anti-inflammatory seafood, while avoiding junk food.
- Jiro gets instant gratification. His customers respectfully gush over the extraordinarily simple and flavorful bites put in front of them. Putting forth your best effort (and seeing the results) builds great pride in your work.
- Jiro establishes long-term friendships. From the vendors at the fish market to the rice dealer, and even the restaurant critics… They’ve all bonded with our hero. And also, of course, have his two sons, even after working under his harsh tutelage for many years.
Work Less and Emphasize Work-Life Balance
For all you wusses out there who whine and complain about how awful holding a steady job is, look no further than Denmark. The happiest people on the planet can’t even fathom the concept of early retirement. Why? Because they get a truckload of time off from work (among many other social benefits).
And check this nonsense out, FIRE Team: The Danes are up for more work, even into their 60s! That’s right. Even though the official retirement age is 67, many Danes had been calling it quits at 62. (Though lately that figure has crept up to 65.)
The line that I found most telling from that last linked article was this: “Many jobs have become less arduous, making it more feasible to continue into older age…”
In Denmark, the average workweek hovers around 40 hours. You show up at 8 or 8:30 and head home at 5 for dinner with the family. Want to know what makes the Danes just that much more willing to work, aside from reasonable hours and all that vacation? They live close to where they work.
That’s one of the hang-ups from the environmentally sensitive among us. But you won’t find the crush of clown-car commuters in Denmark. Nope. That’s because the Danes ride their bikes EVERYWHERE.
It’s not all roses of course. As the economy has recovered over the last decade, the average Danish commute has crept up to *26 miles. And not surprisingly, many Danish companies are struggling to recruit talent, because the Danes despise long commutes.
As for me? I’m feeling a bit Danish about my current situation. My annual time off from work is about equivalent (though we don’t get NINE paid holidays here in the states). And my commute is a measly 10 miles, of which I bike about a third of the time.
My work week clocks in at about 43-45 hours, and that’s because I try not to waste time when I’m there. Like the Danes, I set aside no more than a half-hour for lunch, but unlike the Danes, I eat lunch at my desk.
Ultimately, I have very little to complain about. Even stressful days when the craziness abounds is a cakewalk compared to many other jobs or companies I’ve experienced. Since my early retirement journey began back in 2014, I’ve managed to avoid the type of monster projects that made my work-life miserable five years ago.
Alternative Retirement Lifestyles
This is where virtually 100% of the FIRE blogging community resides. Many early retirees simply travel the world and enjoy themselves immensely with their newfound freedom. But they are compelled to carve out time to blog about it.
Blogging is a part-time (and sometimes even a full-time) commitment, aka a “job”. And in many cases, it helps pay for the groceries. That’s SemiFIRE. (And for those who prefer to only work during part of the year, while enjoying the free time during the rest, there’s SeasonalFIRE.)
Other so-called early retirees don’t just write a blog, but they create new businesses and travel extensively to preach the good word of FIRE Salvation. That’s a wonderful thing, because who wouldn’t want to trade a confining cubicle job for work so exciting? Suze Orman would approve.
SemiFIRE is nothing more than trading your working energy from the cubicle monotony, for something you have more passion about. It’s still working because YOU HAVE A JOB TO DO. We could play with semantics all day. But the point is we in the FIRE club have taken the traditional nature of “retirement” and reshaped it to suit our purposes.
Example: Troy Aikman retired from the NFL (aka, “retired early”), but he picked up a side gig co-hosting televised games soon after. Sounds nice. Very “SemiFIRE” of you, Troy. But do you think his family misses him when he’s off to a different city for telecasts half the year? At the end of the day, we are all simply trading up jobs and calling it “early retirement”.
If You Love What You Do, Keep Working
I can hear the groans already from the Muppets in the balcony:
“But I want to travel the world!”
“I want my freedom!”
“Commutes are choking our lungs and polluting our lakes and streams!”
Trust me. I’m right there with you. I miss travel. I too wouldn’t mind sitting lakeside on a beautiful summer’s Tuesday. And long commutes are terrible. Not only from a safety perspective but from an environmental one too. Our current work culture in the U.S. is pitiful!
That’s probably the main point of this entire post. If we could learn how to balance work with our lives and our environment, maybe early retirement isn’t the only option left to us…
Consider some other examples. Jiro the Sushi Wizard. The 90-something wonder from Japan who loves his full-time work crafting sushi, on his feet, all day long. Someone give that man a Yebisu!
I can guarantee he doesn’t get stuck in rush hour traffic (he takes the train) and I’m pretty sure he’s reconciled a purpose and struggle that’s meaningful to HIM. If I had to guess, I’d say his purpose has been the perfection of an ancient craft as his art form and passing that craft down to his sons.
You just read about the early retirement connection with Blue Zones’ longevity. Able-bodied 90-somethings are off herding their sheep up and down hillsides in Sardinia.
Able-bodied great-grandmothers tend their gardens, watch over children, and prepare meals for friends and family. There are even 90-something cardiac surgeons still performing operations:
Do you think all of them are hating life and whining about their work? Probably not. And I suspect it’s because they too, like Jiro, have reconciled their struggles as a core function of their existence. There’s gratitude embedded in what they do, and it likely stems from their ability to provide and sustain. Swirl that around and gargle for a minute.
Early retirement is rarely looked at as anything other than a glorious achievement. You’ve made it. You put in the time, toil, and effort, and voila! It’s finished. Time to soak up the sun and kick back, maybe read a book or two, go for a bike ride, and see the world.
Some might suggest that once you’ve reached this pinnacle of no longer being bound to a cubicle, there’s little else you need to feel fulfilled. Think about it. You’ve got the resources to feed yourself, clothe yourself, and keep a roof over your head. Arguably, you’ve made some friends along the way, and maybe you have a partner to enjoy life’s twists and turns with.
As I approach the stage of my career where I could take it or leave it, these are the kind of thoughts that occupy my mind. Sometimes the pressure and stress of work get me daydreaming about quitting (I’ve already “quiet quit”). And other times, when I feel a little appreciation and camaraderie, I think to myself that a career can be rewarding too.
Is the Never Retire Philosophy Right for You?
Maybe it’s simply managing the rental properties? In that case, I’d have to hope for enough maintenance projects to keep myself “in motion” for a good amount of the time. Ideally, your rental portfolio is passive, with the occasional elbow grease involved.
Where do I stand with this philosophy today? I still plan to keep my early retirement goal, but I’ll certainly be mulling over Jiro and his very stoic approach to work. He is a throw-back who would surely laugh off the notion of early retirement. He uses the word “honorable” to describe work. You’ve got to respect that.
Whether or not his attitude towards work would play out any different if he were a lawyer or a janitor, who knows? One thing I do know: I’m craving some good sushi.
An earlier post from LifeHacker.com does a very nice job of posing these and similar questions. It’s worth checking out. Let’s face it. Work doesn’t always suck.
That said, work sure as heck is a lot harder if you’re extremely incompetent, hard to get along with, or wilt faster than a daisy at high noon in pressure situations. That aside, we can agree that cubicle work sure as hell beats begging for food on the streets, or even watching TV all day.
Then there are times when even the best of us reach our breaking points. Weekends and long workdays, soggy stop-and-go rush-hour commutes, and bosses who just don’t get it.
We’ve been there, done that too. It could be you’re stuck inside those four walls during one of the few beautiful weather days of the year in the polar Midwest when you simply want to be outside appreciating the fresh air.
Looking back over my career, which spans a healthy 23 years, I understand better what makes a working life a tolerable one.
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