Retiring at 37

IMG_0561In my hotel room Wednesday night, I spent some time watching basketball games. It was a good evening for it! I did not watch the whole Kobe Bryant retirement game, or the Golden State Warriors get their 73rd win, though I did see Boston come back from a 20-plus point deficit to beat the Miami Heat so that was kind of cool.

Anyway, despite going to bed early into the late games (I relish my sleep while traveling) I spent some time pondering all the Kobe Bryant hoopla. The idea of retiring as a long-playing veteran at age 37 is jarring. Of course, sports careers will happen when you are young. Though Bryant pulled out one last 60-point game, he was already years past his peak, and indeed the news stories said he told his marveling kids that his stellar night was how he used to play. His best years were long ago in their memories. The Lakers of the championship years were a very different team from the one playing now.

Still, 37 does not feel old to me. I think it would be incredibly disconcerting to find the career one loves becoming increasingly difficult and undoable at such a young age. The body betrays you quicker than the mind. In the progression of life, there is a certain psychological benefit to being in a line of work where age tends to improve things rather than the other way around. I imagine it could be disorienting for sports stars to figure out who they are afterwards. Some do it better than others. But perhaps it is easier if you have accomplished everything you could have. Whatever one thinks of Kobe Bryant (and oh, is it complicated) he did that.

For those in your mid-30s, do you think you are still getting better at your game?


12 thoughts on “Retiring at 37

  1. I’ve been considering the possibility I’ve peaked in my particular career path by personal preference. Mostly to preserve my health, but secondarily as a new mom, I don’t care for the next logical steps in this industry because they’d require a huge increase in travel and public speaking, neither of which yield enough benefits to be worth the changes to our lifestyle.

    I’d love to retire entirely to do what I love but since I’m not yet independently wealthy, I’ll have to develop a new career instead 🙂

    1. @Revanche – interesting. I’m curious to hear your thoughts on what the new career would be! I have found that traveling and public speaking have been OK on the lifestyle front in my career (self-employment is key for this), because I tend to be gone 1-2 days per week, and not every week. It generally pays better than cranking out articles, so I’m doing a bit less of that. The 3 days I’m home can be relatively chill and I can do various kid things.

      1. I’m mulling this over now, to be honest! I suspect it will involve some form of self employment because I’m looking for at minimum the same level of autonomy and schedule flexibility as my current job affords me and really, very few traditional jobs offer that.

        A change in industry is probably in the cards, too, I’ve put quite a lot of years into this one but again, it’s a traditional field that focuses too much on face time, more than productivity, and doesn’t often allow the kinds of freedoms that I’ll need and want as our kiddo gets older. Short answer: I don’t know yet but I’m throwing ideas at the wall and testing them out to see what sticks.

  2. I’m going to be 38 next week, and yeah, that does feel young to be retiring.

    If my husband and I retired right now, though, it wouldn’t be to sit on beaches and do nothing until we die. Retiring right now would give him the freedom to do something he likes more than what he currently does, and it would give us schedule/traveling freedom. We’d still want to do meaningful things with our lives.

    1. @Kristen – that’s always been my question with the early retirement people. I recognize the appeal of financial independence. That is great. But if it’s framed in terms of not-working well…then what? What are you going to do with yourself? If you have a clear vision for it, how about figuring out how to transition to a profitable version of that now? Maybe it wouldn’t work, but it might.

  3. My husband is in the military, so retiring young is a reality. He’ll be eligible in just a few years, at 41. We definitely see the physical toll the job takes, but there’s so much mental and intellectual work to what he does, and that’s hard to give up. The benefit to knowing from the beginning that a career will only be 20-30 years is you can plan for the second stage, and look forward to the positive changes. We have seen many people retire unexpectedly due to injury, or retire planning to just enjoy the down time, only to find it’s not so enjoyable. And leaving a job that saturates not just your life but your family’s life and identity can really be hard – the change in identity may be the toughest part of retiring early.

    1. @Meghan – yep, military would be similar to sports. All consuming while you’re in it, but over while you’ve still got a lot of life left. So what is the second chapter? An important question to think about!

  4. I’m about to turn 37 and I do believe I’m still getting better at my professional craft and I’m continuously seeking new roles and continuing education. My idea was to transition into an academic career in my early 40s and retire from professional life, but I find myself doing both and not wanting to let either one of them go. It is hard to think of retirement when there is still so much left to do and I’m blessed in that I love my profession. I know that my RA will eventually make it hard to impossible to do the daily tasks of my job, but it is well managed and that time seems very far away. But when do I get to do everything I want to do outside of my profession? This is what originally turned me to your books 🙂

    1. @Morana – ah yes, the question of when to do all the other things! It can be tricky, but in general, I think it’s better to have lots of things you want to do with your life than nothing you want to do with your life.

  5. I just had to chime in, as someone who is on a mission to semi-retire at the age of 40. My husband and I work full-time jobs which dictate much of our schedule. The premise behind early retirement is not really to sit on the beach and do nothing, but to give yourself more time to engage in activities that are personally meaningful and to have more flexiblity in your schedule. Also, for the vast majority of us, it means that we will have to live frugally – instead of spending money on stuff, we’re buying back our time.

    I am a huge fan of your writing and advice – and agree that you can fit a whole lot into the non-working hours, even with a demanding job. But the possibilities increase exponentially with long stretches of free time during normal working hours. My own plans for semi-retirement include a lot more family adventures, volunteering, reading, writing, homesteading activities, and crafts. For example – I really can’t do much reading right now, other than listening to audio books during my commute. It works, but I’m really looking forward to just being able to sit and turn the actual pages at my own pace, once I no longer have to spend so many hours in an office each week.

  6. The issue with many young pro-sports retirees is that many go bankrupt several years after retirement due to poor money management strategies. Also sports is all they have ever known; even if they have a college degree they would be entering a career job market a decade and a half later than most others. Hey, for some it works… establish your own clothes line or become a tv commentator- though this isn’t the path for most.

    To tag onto Harmony’s comment, I had no desire to continue my 60+ hour a week professional job. I’m in my 40’s and now work 3.5 days a week, accomplished by the elimination of debt and hopping off the consumerism treadmill. I love my career, but a year long unemployment stint showed me I could be a very happy, engaged, fulfilled person even if I retire early. I envision full retirement in my mud 50’s and the time filled with volunteering, hobbies, and more travel. So with that said I slowed down in my “prime career years” and don’t regret my decision.


  7. I think it really depends on the person’s values and industry. My brother in law retired from a hedge fund in his 30s because it was obviously very stressful and he had done very well financially. Then found he was too bored working out and helping raise their four kids. I remember him saying something like, “I am 35 and I can’t believe my productive years are over.” Now my sister and he run a huge residential real estate company and while it comes with a different type of stress, they have more flexibility being self-employed and having a ton of employees to help manage things.

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