Today’s short and sweet post carries a rather simple premise: that true wealth is a life with no regrets. A meaningful early retirement isn’t one built on stockpiles of cash or multiples of millions.
For those seeking an early exit from the office, there’s some triggering event. An event that compels us to Google search terms like, “Help me get out of this god-forsaken cubicle before I go crazy!!”
My cubicle from hell anecdote goes like this: I had just completed a two year project that at times kept me from my family on weekends, evenings, and some holidays as well. It was around then that I realized, that even with a great manager and a job role that suited me well, this whole corporate scene was simply not sustainable for me.
Eventually, while methodically consuming the entire catalog over at MrMoneyMustache.com, I stumbled across an insightful little study that really pulled it all together for me, “The Top 5 Regrets of the Dying.” Sounds pretty grim, right? I figured, at 42 years old, I had a decent amount of runway to make some serious course adjustments. Boiled down, the list is as follows:
The Top Five Regrets of the Dying
1. I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.
2. I wish I hadn’t worked so hard.
3. I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings.
4. I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.
5. I wish that I had let myself be happier.
This Blogger’s Self-Analysis
Going through the list of regrets from the top, I think at the time certainly #2 (wishing I hadn’t worked so hard) resonated the most back in the fall of 2014. All the hard work that went into that project from hell did yield some worthy rewards via bonuses, recognition, and a for-reals sense of accomplishment. And yet, with two newborns arriving at the outset of the project, I felt I’d missed out on too much time with them and my wife.
Maybe in a future post I’ll ramble on about the power of saying “no.” With the list of regrets etched in my brain, I’ve gone on to turn down multiple promotions at work. Sounds crazy, when you consider how raises and bonuses can help you achieve early retirement sooner. But, I couldn’t risk taking on more when my family needed more of my presence. Thankfully, and somewhat unexpectedly, management respected my decisions.
The number one regret on the list is the one I struggle to reconcile the most. I never had pressure growing up to take on a profession or a family business. I was sort of left to my own devices so long as I stayed out of trouble. This was a gift from my parents that maybe they hadn’t intended.
Did I want to become a lawyer or a doctor? Nah. But I was sure I’d figure something out once I get to college. Or maybe after I had graduated…
At this point in life, I don’t have any regrets about the path I’ve chosen and the path I’ve yet to clear in front of me. I think the early retirement mindset brings some clarity of purpose.
The first regret on the list may resonate most with women who are expected to be housewives, raising children and running a household. We’ve come a long way as a society, and nowadays, this is a choice rather than an expectation.
It’s a little mind-blowing, and ultimately sad, to consider how many more women from generations past might’ve contributed in all the fields historically dominated by men. Gents, we had it easy. We still do, even today.
Remember to Laugh, and be Silly!
Straight from the article: “…they longed to laugh properly and have silliness in their life again.” This is the finding from #5 on the list, “I wish that I had let myself be happier.” Think about this and let it sink in. Human nature finds a way over time of steering you into comfort zones and familiar patterns.
As we age we get set in our ways; maybe as a coping mechanism? Who knows… Regardless, finding the courage to embrace change and seeking out the absurd to flex those laughing muscles seems to me a good incentive for early retirement.
Make, and keep good friends
I’ve done such a mediocre job of keeping in touch with old friends. This is one regret we can all remedy with such ease. Maybe it’s harder here in the states to maintain bonds of friendship because of our geography. I think just about every close friend I had growing up moved out of the state after college.
Let’s be honest, there’s a bit of peer pressure to go off somewhere else after you’ve obtained your degree. A bigger city, maybe even a different country. Military service certainly requires big moves, and often frequently.
Communities that seem to thrive (if you believe in the Blue Zones findings where people live to be 100 with health) are woven together by families that stay intact. There, very few children go off to college and permanently move away from home.
The village pub is where you’ll find 90-somethings mingling and joking with their contemporaries. The kids they grew up with. Makes you want to go to that high school reunion two time zones over, don’t it?
Keep this list handy
Refer to it often. We sometimes forget to focus on the here and now while forging full steam towards that early retirement milestone.
Go call a friend you haven’t talked to in over a year. Be silly. And be true to yourself!