“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.