I’ve realized lately that I’ve read an incredible amount about early retirement, reinvention, midlife change, and related topics to probably write a book on the subject. OK, maybe not enough for a book, but certainly enough for a blog post.
So I write this in service of anyone reading who may be contemplating these issues and the difficult decisions they often entail.
First of all, once you leave a certain level of job early, you can’t go back. It’s like going home again, you can go to the physical place, but you can’t ever recapture the feeling you think you remember. I find it’s the same kind of thing with the working world. You’ve moved on; they’ve moved on and everything is different. It’s an important choice to leave, and not one to take lightly.
I left a high paying high esteem high stress corporate type job (public relations work) in the early aughts for more time to devote to writing and filmmaking and other creative pursuits; while having that time has been great, I didn’t truly suss out the financials, whether it be self-employment or part time work or just living on savings.
While it is possible I could survive on savings, living a very frugal existence (which I have done for some of the time since I left this aforementioned job), I’m the type to get nervous at only seeing spending with no income coming in at all. So I wanted to do something, just not what I was doing before which was overwhelming (this I realized after I survived a bout of cancer while at that job).
So one of the dirty truths I’ve learned is that nobody will hire you in the same industry you used to work in at a lower level job. You can only be hired again at the same level you were at or higher. The idea that someone with a lot of experience might want a lower pressure job just for the sake of paying the bills does not really compute with the HR types or the always upwardly -driven. And it’s even more that you “marry” your job these days than it was when I left – -management employees are tethered to the company 24/7 by all manner of digital handcuffs. So, no thanks.
So if you don’t want to get back on that rat race treadmill, new opportunities will always pay less. Sometimes really a lot less. So this it another thing I’d think long and hard about: do you really need or want to leave that job so much that you’re willing to give up the salary and the perks that come with it? You’re saying “of course I do, I just have to escape it, it’s hell.” Hell is also having absurd health care costs when you have just very basic insurance; no paid holidays or vacations, no fun gadgets the corporate budget pays for, certainly no paid-for travel, food or even coffee!
I have been greatly blessed in my life; we’re not talking about a hell of no roof over my head or no food on the table, so I’m really not complaining so much as managing expectations. But can someone tell me whatever happened to that idea of job-sharing – for instance, you “share” the job, say, of PR Director with another person; perhaps they work mornings and you work afternoons, or alternate days. You’d think in PR, which as a industry has a ton of female executives, there’d be mothers who’d want that kind of arrangement. But it seems it never took off. One person I asked told me it was around the idea of benefits, as in, who gets the healthcare. Just one more reason for national single payer, Medicare for everyone, if you ask me.
Another thing I’d mention is that age discrimination is rampant and horrible and really hard to pin down. After my last full-time job layoff at the end of 2009, I got crickets response to my resume, with its 30 years of PR experience and several more years of publishing experience. Gurus I talked to encouraged me to leave off the year of my college graduation (1980 – and that was 3 years later than if I’d gone directly after high school) but I figured when they called me in for the interview they’d figure out my age anyway. Except – there haven’t been any interviews! I’ve not been called into any interviews for full time communications jobs in the last five years. Depressing, sure. You become, in a sense, unmanageable (and I understand this now) which derives from many things – experience, age, temperament, your accumulated wisdom, etc.
So one of the gurus told me: “I think consulting is the way you should go.”
Truly, she was correct. And actually, there wasn’t much alternative. So I have become a B2B writing consultant. But this guru also said: “And then you must commit to it 3000 percent!” She was right about that, too. Passion is key if you’re going to become successfully self-employed. Not everyone is cut out for this. For most of us, clients don’t grow on trees. You need to do major marketing work to have a chance to bring in the work — so again, make sure this is something you really want to do.
Some other thoughts on early retirement/involuntary retirement: If you retire at, say, 55, that’s maybe 30 years in retirement. That’s a long time, a really long time! You really need to think long and hard about what you’re going to do with all that time. Lying around the pool or catching up on TV series is OK for a month or so, but beyond that I think most people need a purpose. In fact, I’d say you shouldn’t retire even at a traditional retirement age of 65 or 66 unless you have a plan for what you’re going to do with all that time.
I used to look down on people who were unemployed or said they couldn’t find a job, thinking they were probably doing it wrong or just plain lazy. Then it happened to me. Funny how that works, eh?
I have more pearls I hope to share in future posts.