Monday, October 24, 2016

Early Retirement: The First Day of the Rest of My Life

“Hereby, too, I shall indulge the inclination so natural in old men, to be talking of themselves and their own past actions; and I shall indulge it without being tiresome to others, who, through respect to age, might conceive themselves obliged to give me a hearing, since this may be read or not as any one pleases.”
Benjamin Franklin. The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin.

Funny how the things you have the hardest time parting with
Are the things you need the least.”
Bob Dylan. Lonesome Day Blues. Love and Theft.

“May your choices reflect your hopes, not your fears.”
Nelson Mandela. 1918-2013.

I’ve been toying with the idea of retiring for a while now and finally took the plunge this past week. It’s a long and tedious story that I won’t bore you with. Suffice it to say that I've had a fairly productive and successful thirty five year career behind me as well as a happy personal life. The decision was based more on personal reasons than anything related to work.

“A bit young” [fifty two], you might say. Thirty five years is a long time in any industry, I would respond. I just happened to have started early.

“You'll be bored,” you may say. “You’ll need something to keep your mind occupied.” True, and also what my wife tells me. In her case, she also has a not-so-hidden agenda to get me out of the house and out of her hair. There are only so many ways you can rearrange the junk in the garage or program the sprinklers, after all, even given infinite time and patience. Having spent thirty five years in a niche (and, let's admit it, we’re all working in niches today) has meant many repetitive and boring tasks over the years. There are only so many ways you can manage a project, only so many lessons you can learn by shipping software. So you end up with more "Been there, done that" moments than "Aha!" moments. Of course, there are always new technologies, new ideas, and new companies to get excited about but I find, for one reason or another, I usually end up running an engineering organization and that often amounts to 90% repetition and frustration and, at best, 10% “new” and exciting.

I think a more candid objection might be: “You’ll need the discipline of a nine to five job to avoid brain rot.” Perhaps true. I aim to take my chances and find out. I hope I can keep myself occupied without needing the daily grind. If I can't, I have noone but myself to blame for my lack of creativity.

“That's pretty selfish of you,” you might say, “or at the very least self-centered.” Only if I use the time to live selfishly. Not having to go to work every day, in fact, increases the opportunity for more engagement with friends and family, with the community, and with the world at large.

Let me put it differently. I've obsessed over work for the past thirty five years. And, in the process, ignored "life". Having tried and failed to ever achieve any semblance of work-life balance, I’m forcing myself to walk away from full time work. Let's see if I can go obsess about "life" for a while. And, I'd argue, fifty two is exactly the right age for retirement. I have at most ten years of healthy living ahead of me before genetics catches up with me. If I don't have to sit in an office building for the last ten healthy years of my life, why would I?

So, what am I going to do with all my spare time? I don't have a clue. Right now, I'm enjoying biking several hours a day and getting back in shape. We plan to spend a few months living in Europe next year and travel extensively - something both my wife and I enjoy. My daughter got married last year and I hope to be a grandfather one of these days. I plan to spoil the little ones every chance I get. Meanwhile, I'm also staying engaged with the industry through advisory roles and coming up with crazy ideas for new startups.

You can follow me on Twitter or read my blog. Who knows, I may even pick up a camera again. Stay in touch. Things are just starting to get interesting around here.


  1. 49 here. my Goal is 55. Thanks for the motivation

  2. Congratulations on this new life Ben.Hope you will enjoy it to fullest.
    Few Suggestions, though i accept , you did not ask. :)
    Try embracing the resulting silence and stillness.You dont need to keep "working" to make your mind occupied.If you do, you will remain in same rot that you want to get rid of at first place.Don't try to overly rationalize why you are doing what you are doing.
    Just enjoy , just "BE".

    -Rohit Tripathi
    (Ex Cisco - Your LinkedIn contact )

  3. "I have at most ten years of healthy living ahead of me before genetics catches up with me"

    You won't start falling apart at 62...that's a bit pessimistic unless you have some family history that you are worried about. My father retired at 59, is now 74, and is still very active with no loss of independence. You should have AT LEAST 10 more good years of robust good health, and probably can count on ten more after that.

    1. I hope you are correct. I have cancer, diabetes, heart disease, high cholesterol - just to name a few - on both sides of the family. Better safe than sorry. :)

  4. Love it Ben! I have been wrestling with early Semi-Retirement (43). I have some side investments and activity to keep me busy for a few more years. I have worked at instituting work life balance back in my life the last few years. I see no issue keeping my-self busy when I make the step. Insurance is the only puzzle piece holding me back at the moment. I personally find it inspiring to see this choice from you. Many of us have had incredibly successful and rewarding careers. Stepping aside opens up opportunity for others. As we seek new adventures we also will be able to influence, share and help others further creating more opportunity and growth for those around us.

  5. Congrats, Ben. We met at Cisco, and I could see you were a great guy and leader. Come visit Switzerland, where we can spoil you with great food and the bike riding to make you hungry for it.


  6. The Nobel prize reminded me of your frequent quoting of Dylan. Quite insightful on your part I thought! Good luck with retirement, especially the cycling part.

  7. Best of luck Ben. I met you when i interviewed for a job in a new org under you. Have been in semi retirement for several years now, teaching a couple of MBA courses part time. From my own experience and even not really knowing you , i have to tell you that you made the riht choice.

  8. Congrats. A few recommendations: Hiking is easy on the knees. Diabetes in the family means low carb. Learn the impractical (what no one would pay you for) today's online video training is awesome. Advise youngsters. Sleep in (if you can).

  9. Hello Ben
    ping me when you are around in Europe

    For the rest, nice words :-)

  10. Hey Ben,

    Congrats on having the courage to recognize that there are a million interesting things worthwhile doing, if only you can find time to discover what they are. For my part, though, the plan is to work until I drop dead or Alzheimer's takes hold and I can't remember exactly where the office is. My only possibly suspect advice is now that you can afford to take the extra time, buy a Leica and couple of Summiluxs and focus for yourself. For those wanting to go their own way, there can be an ungodly level of satisfaction in that.

    All the very, very best,
    Ron Mann

  11. Very good written article. It will be supportive to anyone who utilizes it, including me. Keep doing what you are doing – can’r wait to read more posts.
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