Hierarchy of Retirement Hurdles


Will and I have been reading blogs, checking out books from our library, and talking with each other in preparation for our impending early semi-retirement.

We’ve had to accelerate our coming to terms with early retirement because of recent changes in work circumstances.  Long story, but there is a complicated scenario involving a possible transfer and accompanying economic and professional commitment to staying for several years after the move.  Depending on how the next few weeks go, we might be retiring one year EARLIER or a couple of years LATER than we had originally planned.

So…  Now is a really good time to take stock and really figure out how ready we are for this rather momentous move.

We know that plenty of people retired way younger than we are now, but since we started thinking seriously about early retirement fairly recently, only about 18 months ago, having that retirement date pushed FORWARD by a whole year makes it that much harder for us to contemplate.

On the other hand, since we wanted to retire in early January 2018, does pushing it BACK another year amount to a defeat of sorts?  We will both turn 50 in the summer of 2017.  It’s one thing to retire AT 50 like we planned, but does 51 (or later) not sound so good psychologically?

I’ve been thinking that there are–broadly speaking–three major hurdles we need to overcome as we consider (unexpectedly) early retirement.


If we retire before we hit 50, can we feel confident that we have enough saved to last us a 40+ year retirement?  The stock market has been very hot the last few years (aside from a blip or two), and how realistic is it to assume that we can continue to count on that sort of return on our investments?  Isn’t this all an economic bubble that will surely burst?  Possibly right after we pull the plug?

Sure, we’re healthy now, but we hear of catastrophic illnesses and accidents ALL THE TIME, not just from freak news stories but even from our close family, friends, and co-workers.  What makes us think that we can safely weather a debilitating tragedy without depleting our resources?

While we don’t want to keep repeating the ONE MORE YEAR mantra, isn’t it wise to save as much as we can, as long as we do indeed put that stick in the sand?, draw the line?, etc.


What this second hurdle amounts to is “Survivor’s Guilt.”  Sort of like: Why should we be able to leave the workforce so much earlier than others who have been working just as hard?  Do we feel a sense of entitlement, that we deserve early retirement?  (And, frankly, I’m not a big fan of people who feel entitled about anything.)

Yes, we could argue that we worked hard for the decades we were in our professions.  But really, don’t tens of millions of others, including our family and friends?

Perhaps we were more frugal about saving money and investing wisely than some?  Sure, but plenty of people didn’t have the resources–mostly, income from our professional degrees–to save money even if they counted every bean sprout they purchased (like my parents did).

And, truth be told, isn’t it at least part plain LUCK that we did as well as we did in school, in getting our jobs, in landing the right promotion, in being at the right place at the right time?

Also, let’s not forget, we are DINKs (Double Income No Kids).  Our childless state did not come about by choice, but it has been mighty convenient after-the-fact, once we started planning early retirement.  We know so many good people who feel they cannot pursue their own retirement dream when they need to save for exorbitant college tuition and the generally ridiculous cost of raising kids these days.


We’re getting more comfortable with the first two hurdles.

We think we will have enough to meet our regular spending needs and minor emergencies; and there’s not too much we can do about catastrophic life-challenges anyway that one (or ten!) more year of work might have solved.  I will still feel Retiree Guilt, but the two of us working longer and denying possible employment to other, perhaps more needy, workers will not alleviate that guilt.

But before we can ride off into the retirement sunset, hopefully in a coastal southwestern French town (photo above), we need to address the final hurdle.  If the first two retirement hurdles represent the equivalent of lower rungs on Maslow’s famous hierarchy of needs, then this final hurdle might be the one that equates to that top triangle, Self-Actualization.

What is our full POTENTIAL?  What were we meant to ACCOMPLISH on earth?  What makes us most FULFILLED?  How can we make our retirement years not only SATISFYING to ourselves but MEANINGFUL to the world beyond our little selves?

For good or for bad, perhaps working so hard allowed us NOT to confront some of these vexing issues.  At this point though, should we have answers to some of these questions before we cut off our apron strings to full-time employment?  Or, can we not SELF-ACTUALIZE until after we are off the work treadmill?


We haven’t cleared this final hurdle yet.  We’ve been approaching it from various angles and still trying to figure out how best to make the leap.  We’re comforted by the notion that perhaps it’s not really possible to clear this particular hurdle before we retire.

It may be the project of the rest of our lives to figure out how to achieve self-actualization DURING our retirement.



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