I retired at 26

I can still remember the final mouse click that completely changed the trajectory of my life.

Before clicking, I double, triple, quadruple-checked that all the information I provided was correct. Name? Address? Credit card number? I stared at the screen for a while. Is this what you want? Yes. It’s time for a change. Are you sure about that? Yes. Get on with it already, Nathan. *Click*

This is real, I wrote in my journal that night.

I was going to retire.

Mwahahahah. Sayonara, suckaz! It was time to hang up my business-casual corporate uniform in favor of… not a flower-print Hawaiian shirt, golf polo, or pajamas, but simply, more casual clothes. A button-down shirt and chinos.

I would no longer arrive at work at 8 AM (ok who am I kidding- 8:25), Monday-Friday. I had no idea what my hours would be, and that’s how I liked it.

The click that sealed my fate for the time being sent a sum of money as a deposit to a teaching certification school in Prague. Setting aside the Mechanical Engineering degree I had made use of the last 4 years, I was going to take my talents to Europe and become an English Teacher.

Disappointed? I hope not. It doesn’t sound sexy… I didn’t slave away in a dimly-lit garage for 3 years, developing an app that would ensure my financial freedom. I didn’t get burned out from working on Wall Street. I didn’t start a tech company. I agreed to move to a country I’d never been to, not knowing what kind of jobs I would find, in a career I’d never dreamed of having.

It took me about a year to realize that I retired. After joking with a few colleagues about having retired from engineering, I realized there was some truth to these comments. I mean, what had I just done? I changed to a lower-stress job where I don’t spend so many hours at work. I moved to a really cool place. I had time to travel more. I started spending more time on hobbies and things I liked to do, like writing. I had more time and energy for myself. Sounds a bit like retirement, doesn’t it? At least what my ideal retirement looks like. There’s a great chance I sound like a smug, cheeky bastard as I tell you that I retired. Admittedly a small percentage of that is true.

But Nathan, isn’t it stupid to retire before you have a family? Before you do all the adult things? You’re just showing off… flexing your travel photos on Instagram. Shouldn’t you be saving for a down-payment on a house?

Now is the perfect time to retire, before I have a family and serious financial obligations. And about that house? Nah bro. What house? What future should I be saving for? If at some point I desire the lifestyle that involves a house and children, I will assess my financial situation and decide what the best step will be. I could come out of retirement and put my engineering skills to use again.

When I think of retirement, I think of a retirement party for a corporate employee who has spent more years at a company than I have been alive. A small group of people get together to reminisce about the past, make some wisecracks about the amount of golf that can be played in retirement, and how you’ll be back at work within a year.

The idea of retirement in one’s older years is fascinating to me. By the time you’re around the age of retirement, when you are supposed to be wise and have things figured out, you quit work cold turkey and try to figure out what to do with yourself. You bounce around with no work, part-time work, full-time work, and no work yet again. You flounder around uncomfortably, unsure of what to do with this new-found freedom bestowed upon you, ready-or-not, by The System.

The traditional view of retirement, as part of The System, is that once you spend most of your life working for a company, you can finally rest and enjoy doing nothing until you die. Similar to other parts of The System, this is a theory that sounds good in principle, but in practice, is 75x more complicated, as well as stigmatized. If you don’t go to college, you’re lazy or unintelligent. If you get a divorce, you failed. If you retire more than once, you’re indecisive. The stigmas around these alternative lifestyles are completely unfair, judgmental, and out-of-touch with reality.

The need to do something productive and/or stimulating is inherent in human nature. We are hopelessly bound to this. Studies suggest that retirement has a curious effect on your health. Within the first year of retirement, your health generally improves- a nice break from work can be positively welcomed by your body. After around 2–3 years of retirement, however, your mental and physical state begins to decline [1]

Well great. As a retiree who just passed the 1 year mark, I have some time until my shit starts to fall apart. Better enjoy it while I can.

Why do we do this to ourselves? Why do we wait until we are 65 to retire, and then figure out what to do with ourselves? By then, we’ve already given up a large portion of ourselves, and with all this time we have, what do we do with it? Do we still remember how to have free time?

Life happens in waves. This is my first retirement; I plan on having somewhere between 2–5 of these sometime in my life. At some point, when my shit starts to fall apart, I may need a new job. Something different, something more stimulating, maybe with higher pay. The idea of having multiple retirements in life sounds exciting to me.

In my retirement, I am not relaxing. I have the same drive to be productive (*eye roll*) and make an impact (another *eye roll*) as every other millennial. I have a hard time sitting still and I know that retiring to live the so-called good life has work in it. I also know that my lifestyle at the moment is similar to what I would like to do in retirement, so why not do it now, before I get arthritis in my knees and can’t walk? I definitely couldn’t have walked 16 miles on a Saturday in London last weekend if I was 3 times my age.

And what about money? How do I have enough money for this lifestyle?

I’m lucky. Privileged, spoiled, whatever you want to call it… I consider myself an unbelievably fortunate person due to the fact that I wasn’t drowning in student debt after college. I finished college with no debt all thanks to my parents. I am grateful for this each and every day of my life. Coupled with the fact that I am a frugal person, I was able to save some money from my engineering days for use in retirement. I find it a bit disappointing in the United States that I even have to consider myself lucky that I find my current position after college- not drowning in student debt- to be one of extreme fortune.

This life is far from perfect. I still have stress and anxiety as I did at my old job, just less of it. I make money to live and don’t have excessive spending money. Sometimes the job can be frustrating. But when little 4-year-old Honza remembers a word I taught him last week, that brings a smile to my face.

Retirement is not for everyone. It also doesn’t have the same meaning for everyone… my version of retirement doesn’t have to be the same as yours. However difficult it may be, the life you have right now doesn’t have to be permanent. Corona said it best… find your beach.

[1] Borzykowski, Bryan. “Capital — Can Retirement Kill You?” BBC, BBC, 14 Aug. 2013, www.bbc.com/capital/story/20130813-the-dark-side-of-the-golden-years.

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English teacher, engineer, expat… writing about things I am passionate about. Author of Avocado Toast and Other Millennial Insights.

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Nathan Adlam

Nathan Adlam

English teacher, engineer, expat… writing about things I am passionate about. Author of Avocado Toast and Other Millennial Insights.

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