I’d estimate that about 30% of the participants in the 3rd DecadeTM program would like to retire early whether that means age 60, 50 or even 40. But, is the dream better than the reality? San Dogan, founder of the website Financial Samurai, retired at 34 and his is a cautionary tale.

About Sam: “After thirteen years of working in Corporate America, money ceased to be a major driving factor. Instead, living absolutely free became my biggest motivation. I fantasized about what it would be like to just write, spend time with family, and travel, with little financial worries. Three years after starting this site in 2009 I took the leap of faith.”

After 13 years in high finance, he retired with $200,000+ annual passive income. So what could go wrong? The following is taken from his blog post The Negatives of Early Retirement Life Nobody Likes Talking About:

  • You will suffer an identity crisis for an unknown period. He says your identity crisis might last three months or for years; his lasted one year. Uncomfortable at not having a solid answer when people asked “so, what do you do?” and realizing he was, in fact, quite replaceable at his old firm, he felt adrift. 
  • You will be stuck in your head. My dad’s version of this was “the job fills the time you have to do it in” meaning with less to do, you become quite inefficient. Which leaves you with plenty of time to wonder if you’ve done the right thing. Sam responded by doing some consulting and focusing on his website. Mr. Money Mustache would describe this as having the freedom to do the things that are more meaningful to you – not just filling time.
  • People will treat you like a weird misfit. At a recent neighborhood party, I asked a fellow what he did. Young and having been retired for a few years, he was clearly uncomfortable explaining what he used to do and how he passes his time know. My answer – work on that elevator speech and make it entertaining! Sam makes an important point – without a workplace, your social life shrinks which means extroverts have a harder time in retirement than introverts.
  • You’ll be disappointed that you aren’t much happier. I think this should be #1 on the list. People make a lot of changes in their lives thinking they’ll be much happier only to find that they return to their base level of happiness, whatever that is. The “happiness bump” from moving to a new city, buying a new house, changing your relationship status, buying a new car, etc., etc. is ephemeral.
  • You constantly wonder whether this is all there is to life. Sam makes the point that work defines your next project, your next challenge. When retired, you need to be proactive to identify your next thing and be enough of a self-starter to go after it. Nobody but you will be asking if you’ve completed XYZ yet.

He ends by saying “Nobody I know who retired from corporate life early stayed retired. You will find your purpose. Once you do, you will take steps…to ensure you remain free forever.”