The pursuit of early retirement due to stress is a topic near and dear to me.
Why? Stress. Stress is a constant companion that even “happy” people suffer from. It can emerge from a variety of sources, including relationships, or even worse outcomes of football games. Then, there’s workplace stress…
Recently, after a period of relative calm in Cubicle Land, I was in a meeting with a handful of executives, and things, well, blew up. Nothing bad came of it in terms of job security, thank goodness. But as the saying goes, the sh*t rolls downhill.
And I was waiting at the bottom of that hill with a flimsy umbrella.
It’s commonplace where I work that information is shared up the hierarchy in bits and pieces, and only certain bits and pieces get filtered through to the front line. It’s often an incomplete picture, clouded by office politics.
Sometimes this dynamic perversely helps in keeping swoop-and-poop execs out of your hair. On the other hand, the fog-of-office war gets you into hot water. And you have no idea why.
Stress in the workplace is taking a real toll on us. A recent study by Harvard (in conjunction with NPR and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation) showed that nearly half of working Americans believe their jobs affect their health.
Among those individuals, 72% believe their jobs negatively affect their health. Count me among this group.
In my experience, stress avoidance in the workplace is one of the drivers of strong performance. I don’t want to put myself in the position at the base of that hill with the sh*t rolling down at me. I try to minimize politically-charged meetings as much as possible. My approach is to:
- anticipate what my leaders want and expect
- bring a high degree of self-confidence, collaboration, and decisiveness to meetings
- build and maintain relationships with all of my key stakeholders and colleagues
- build a track record of delivering results
- not be afraid to say “No.”
- build up enough F-you money so you never have to fear the consequences of bad judgment on the part of your management
Mastering these tactics will shape the perception your management has of you as a leader. When the sh*t hits the fan, you’ll find yourself in a position of strength, and your reputation will shield you from stress-inducing moments. For a while at least.
Making Work-life Balance Work for You
Another huge source of workplace stress is when work overwhelms your life. Many of my colleagues put in 50 to 60 hours (or more) per week. Some of those hours are spent on weekends, evenings, or even holidays.
It’s stressful just to type that! That pattern can play out for consecutive months or years.
Speaking from experience, when it goes beyond a year, there’s a mental and physical toll to pay. I remember just a few years ago in my current job, spending a good chunk of the winter holidays, Mother’s Day, Easter, and Memorial weekend wrapped up in war room calls.
Software development deadlines at Fortune 500 companies are highly visible and often contentious. Deadlines are rarely met.
Sometimes there’s not much you can do if you have a big, important project or task to deliver. As with any difficult situation, you can turn it into a positive by digging in and giving your best. Then, you’ll be in a better position to consider early retirement.
Rewards like raises, bonuses, and promotions follow the results. Use those rewards to pay down debt, max out tax-deferred savings, and maybe buy a rental property or two.
If you manage a team, set a good example by sticking to a 45-hour work week. Avoid sending emails at night when you should be present for your family. Take all of your vacation, every year.
In my experience, the most valued employees are the ones who confidently get results with a great attitude. They’re also the ones who don’t stick around past 6 and aren’t shy about using their time off.
In contrast, colleagues who put in crazy hours and leave vacation on the table are often the least valued and least effective. They don’t know how to prioritize their work, they set a bad example for their teams, and they wind up unhealthy and sick from working an unsustainable schedule.
Early Retirement Due to Stress (or similar reasons)
Having been through several stressful situations in my career, I’ve come to understand a universal truth:
No matter how strong of a performer you are, or how highly regarded you may be, there will always be stressful situations to deal with.
You might get a spanking you didn’t deserve because of the warped flow of information or political jockeying among the big shots, or you might have a team that is all-of-the-sudden struggling to deliver.
Sometimes there’s a re-org that simply shakes everyone’s confidence, and morale goes up in smoke.
Three Indicators You’re Ready for a Change:
- You’re susceptible to stress, and your current job, company culture, and boss all pile it on
- You have identified other, meaningful work that isn’t stressful and you find your “flow” (you actually have to be pulled from your work!)
- You practice self-care, meditation, and even tried quiet quitting, but even after all of that, you’ve simply had your fill
In my opinion, the best and most rewarding work is not found in companies where the CEO makes 300 times the average worker. Be your own boss. That’s the most rewarding.
5 Top Benefits of Retiring Early
1.) Improve Your Health
Escaping the daily grind allows you to focus on your well-being. Imagine how you feel when you’re on vacation and right around day 2 or 3, your worries start to melt away. That’s when you know you’ve left behind the stress of all the demands compounded on yourself.
The source of the stress doesn’t just come from your boss, your peers, or your clients, it also comes from YOU. Early retirement doesn’t erase stress, but it does unwind the 9-to-5 source of the pressure of politically-charged corporate gigs.
Beyond reduced stress, the gift of time from early retirement allows you the chance to get outside more and exercise. Today I’m lucky to get in 3 workouts a week, whether it’s a 2.5-mile run, a gym class, or weights at home.
Without the demands of a full-time job, I have no excuse to not take care of myself and carve out time to exercise daily.
If I want to reach my late 90s with health, like those crusty old shepherds who live in Blue Zones, I need to prepare for a life-long engagement with daily physical activity. Waiting until I’m 65 to start that habit just feels way too risky.
2.) Improve Your Relationships
Hanging it up early also gives you time to focus on what’s truly important: family and friends. Time has a way of accelerating as you age. You can easily find yourself loaded with regrets.
Maybe you missed important events in your kid’s lives, or you let your marriage slip into a survival pattern?
If there’s ever a good reason to focus on a goal and give yourself time back, it should be to avoid having any regrets later on. Free yourself to spend more time with loved ones. Free yourself to improve yourself, so you can offer even more to those you care about.
3.) Improve Yourself
With time on your hands, you can do one of two things: waste away your days getting bored in permanent vacation mode, or, pick up and master new skills.
When you think about some of the seemingly happy phenom-types in history, it seems to me they had the luxury of boundless time to experiment, create, and master.
Ben Franklin, Leonardo da Vinci, Gandhi, Nelson Mandela, Mother Teresa, Pablo Picasso, Jane Goodall, and countless others did some of their best work very late in life.
I’m not trying to say you’ll become a renaissance master if you simply retire early. But you could certainly benefit from the time you’ve freed up to explore passions or causes that add more meaning to your life.
We don’t get to chart our courses with as much freedom at the cubicle farms. In early retirement, you can stand up an easel and paint, write a novel or blog, or lend your talents to worthy volunteer causes. All this of course, after quitting your job.
4.) Travel More…
This one is an extension of “Improve Yourself.” Travel is fun. We all wish we could take two or even three weeks off of work on overseas vacations. I struggle a bit with this one since it takes fossil fuel to go anywhere far off.
Look to plan a few trips and be mindful every time you book a flight of how much it taxes the planet.
If you’re diligent about savings and minimizing expenses, you can easily plan to take those trips after you’ve retired. Just make an effort to travel with an open mind and don’t limit yourself to tourist zones.
You might find that the world is a much more nuanced place, requiring much more nuanced thinking than you previously considered. You could even blog about it, (or blog about the money you saved traveling by reading this blog!)
5.) But Reduce Your Footprint
One great thing about being retired has to be the farewell to rush hour traffic and saying “good riddance!” to crummy commutes. Eliminating over 250 days of round trip fuel burning per year is like sending a little “Thank You” to your grandchildren and future generations.
No more fancy work clothes and dry cleaning services. And you might just find the time to plant a garden and locally source more of your family’s food. Every little bit counts, right?
Even if you can’t quit your job for the foreseeable future, look for ways to shrink your commute. Consider riding your bike to work, moving closer to the office, or switching to telecommuting.
Public transportation is a great option if you have access to bus lines, subways, and light rail in your city.
How to Limit Stress
This is one of the things they should teach you in school, along with personal finance – limit that stress! I’ve had to learn most of this stuff over time, reacting first, learning later. Based on my own experience, here are the life stages of growth with stress response:
- Childhood stress relief: Go to your room convinced you’re not tired (as mom claims), you are justifiably cranky!!!
- Teenager stress relief: Go to your room and blast heavy metal on your headphones (Metallica, likely)
- College stress relief: Naps, video games, pizza, more naps, smoking things that make you want to eat more pizza, etc.
- Newly-minted worker stress relief: Go to happy hour, drink a lot of beer, and lose sleep in the process, so your work suffers…
- Early retirement candidate: Go for a run! (And a few naps here and there…)
- Early retiree: Meeting up with friends and establishing a fun, fulfilling, and repeatable routine.
I owe a great deal to my lovely wife for introducing me to running. Running is an amazing stress reliever. That runner’s high is for real.
I can go for long bike rides, take walks, sling kettlebells around, etc. but no other workout comes as close as plain old running for clearing my mind and getting a lasting, positive “buzz” for hours afterward.
I generally go for 2.5 to 3 miles on an average run. No earbuds, no treadmills – I’ve got to be outside and simply unplug.
Here’s how I try to strike a balance these days:
- Get at least 7.5 to 8 hours of sleep each night
- Keep in touch and spend time with old friends
- Limit carbs and limit booze to one drink a day (Maybe two on occasion. Three if it’s your birthday.)
- Read books and LEARN something new
- Play and laugh often with your family
- Set date nights every other week at least
Stress is something we all have to deal with. Some of us are better than others are managing it. I know I’ve got a lot to learn myself. Now in mid-life, I’m still just a mere novice when it comes to managing my stress, whether it’s in the workplace or at home.
That’s ultimately why I have this early retirement goal.
Level-Set: The post is indicative of the first-world problems I mentioned in my very first post on this blog. Many countless individuals the world over are going through REAL stress and are in really tough situations.
Consider being homeless, living in a war zone, being in an abusive relationship, being bullied, or dealing with addictions.
Remembering (whether your religious or not) that our blessings are countless is a supreme means of stress avoidance. Even better if we reach out and help those in need.
Readers: Are you considering early retirement due to stress? I’d love to learn from you!
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