Early retirement: Dreams can go sour

The flotation of a private international company on the stock exchange made Martin, a long serving board member a multi-millionaire. Within a relatively short period he had access to wealth that wouldn’t put him on any global rich lists, but provided that he didn’t do anything crazy, would guarantee  him the very comfortable life style that most people only dream about – for the rest of his life. He had no need to work again. Ever. He was 47 and jumped at early retirement.

Meet Jean who inherited his grandmother’s property portfolio, selling at the top of the market in 2007 to make a small fortune. He retired from his role as Engineering Director aged 49.

5 years later their dream situations are far from idyllic. Both feel lonely, isolated, possibly even mildly depressed.  Their relationships are under strain. The children are now either in university or working abroad. Friends are at work. Non executive directorships have not materialised. Perfection has morphed into problematic.

When considering early retirement at what is in reality a relatively young age to stop being professionally active,  it’s a good idea to take these factors into consideration:

  • Do you really want to stop work altogether or simply change career?  Sometimes the wish to retire early and not wanting to work at all, becomes confused with an inner signal of a need to do something different. Many people believe that switching direction in late 40s is not an option, but that is no longer true even in the corporate world. It is always good to discuss the personal aspects of early retirement with a transition professional, not just  financial advisors.  There are many options including becoming an entrepreneur.
  •  Do you have a retirement strategy and goals?  To give up what has been the structure and fabric of your life requires a strategy, particularly in the medium term. Make sure you have one. What will you do when the thrill of having breakfast at 1000 at home and wearing pjs all day wears off?
  • Do you have hobbies and pastimes that will occupy your time and stimulate you intellectually? Senior execs who have taken early retirement mention frequently the lack of intellectual stimulation as well as the ” buzz” and social engagement they gained from the positive aspects of their senior professional roles. Do you have substitutes? Can you take personal development or other courses,  do voluntary work or acquire new skills?
  • What are your friends doing?  Many men particularly complain of a buddy shortage. Generally their energy has hitherto been channelled into their careers and their friendship networks tend to be smaller than their female counterparts.  Although the retiree can now go sailing at the drop of a hat or play golf during the week, their friendship groups tend to be reduced and in any case their pals are not available. Many are now also deferring their retirement dates, so the time when friends become available for week day outings is also likely to become deferred .
  • How is your network?   Networking is a life long activity and particularly for those seeking non executive directorships, a vital component of any early retirement strategy. Steps should be taken to position yourself in the pre-retirement run-up. Unless you are strongly visible and high profile, these positions will not come to you. You will have to go after them.  Think carefully before disconnecting from business associations and professional networks and cancelling subscriptions to journals and newsletters. Do you have an online presence? Even if retired, I would recommend a professional online profile to maintain visibility.
  • How is your relationship? Many men taking early retirement very often do not factor in the role and input of their partners, leading to unforseen relationship difficulties. Professional women may expect their men to assume a greater domestic role, a foreign assignment for many executives, especially if there are children living at home. Non working partners may feel as though their space and routines have been invaded and resent the impact on their day time previously autonomous schedules. Many transition experts will also bring partners into any pre-retirement coaching sessions and it’s always useful to prepare your relationship for this next phase of your life.

It’s indeed strange to think that what would be a fantasy for most of us in today’s economic climate, can actually have a downside. Early retirement even with a sizeable bank balance is not without challenges. Like any major transition professional support and preparation is advisable, especially when the dream starts to go sour.

5 thoughts on “Early retirement: Dreams can go sour

  1. Wendy Mason

    Great advice as usual Dorothy. I think very few understand just what a large transition this is and very few prepare which is much more than planning for the trip of live time – that takes up a few months at best.

    1. Dorothy Dalton

      Thanks Wendy – yes my observation is that some of the issues kick in after about the first year when the novelty has worn off. Obviously these gentlemen in my piece have no financial considerations to factor in but if they become challenging too it can be a very difficult time.

  2. Ethan

    Very good information Dorothy. We work with folks all the time that are contemplating early retirement and we often only focus on the financial side of the equation. We will incorporate some of what you have provide for our clients to consider.

    Thank you for sharing this information.

    1. Dorothy Dalton

      Thanks Ethan for your comment. Yes a good idea to advise on non financial considerations or suggest coaching. Retirement is a major transition and not always the dream foretold!


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