For many, the decision is involuntary due to being laid off and unable to find a new job. For a lucky few, it’s a self-determined decision planned in advance.
Obviously, being given a choice and leaving on one’s own terms is the preferred way to go, but it can also make for some anxious moments and second-guessing of one’s self, specifically when to pull the plug, cease being a full-time player in the financial game, and retire?
It’s not just a question of having financial independence (FI); there is a mental aspect as well. Like a professional athlete wondering if he or she should commit to “one more season,” how does one know when it is a good time to let go?
For Jim, it was easy. He was becoming burnt out from teaching. He still loved interacting with kids in the classroom, but it was taking him longer to get over the parent phone calls, he complained of more “administrative distractions,” and overall he seemed to be having less fun plying his craft.
He also pointed out that his group of students for whom he was an advisor were graduating the same year as our sons were graduating college. Jim said it was a sign, but it’s funny how such signs seem to appear when one starts looking for them. In any event, we both decided in the summer of 2017 that the spring of 2018 would be his last semester. He was ready mentally.
I was not mentally ready, however, to hang up the career, so my decision remained a struggle. I was pretty happy with my work, and I still had “game” to give to the financial world. I had put in so much effort to break through the glass (women’s) and bamboo (Asian’s) ceilings to be promoted to a vice president of credit risk management just two years before, I didn’t want to quit so soon after reaching such the milestone. I was also curious to see how much further I could go. Could I make another breakthrough?
To make it even harder, I really liked my manager, my colleagues, and all the people I worked with. The job was interesting with enough variety of challenges and even provided me with the flexibility of working from home.
Then life threw me a curve ball when a series of unforeseen and unfortunate events happened within a short time.
It started with my mother-in-law passing away unexpectedly in December, 2017. She was not only the matriarch of Jim’s family, she had been an immigrant to America (she was British) and we had bonded for many years over our mutual love of tea and “becoming American” experience.
Then my father, who is lives in Bangkok, was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease in Jan of 2018. My three brothers and I also discovered that my dad was a victim of elderly abuse. Over the last few years, as he mentally and physically declined, he gave away much of his savings, including his monthly pension, to former employees who preyed upon his good nature and diminished understanding of money to take so much money it threatened his and my mom’s own retirement.
Even as my brothers and I tried to plug the financial leaks of my parents retirement lifeboat, my dad’s physical and mental state continued to deteriorate so quickly that, with the advice of a family lawyer, my brothers and I initiated the painful process of going to court to declare him incompetent in order to preserve something for he and my mother to live on.
It is a blessing for my generation to be able to know and have a relationship with our parents for so long, but it is, frankly, an emotional roller coaster. I was a part of my husband’s family grieving in the loss of my mother-in-law in Texas in January, and then by February I was with my family in Bangkok addressing my father’s illness along with his financial and legal woes, including his reluctant closing up his medical clinic and moving my parents into a new home.
With all this going on, my work at the bank had to take a back seat. My manager was kind enough to allow me to work at night while I was in Bangkok taking care of family business, but there was no way I could keep up, especially mentally.
The experience was agonizing and excruciating in so many ways. I felt incompetent at everything I was trying to do. I had lost control of my life. I cried myself to sleep every night.
But it was these experiences (or “series of unfortunate events”) also made me realize how short and unpredictable life is, how fragile we all are and how time is the most precious and limited resource we have. It made me thankful for the time I had been blessed to have with my parents, my husband, and my children, and it made me want it more.
One early morning when I took my usual walk in Bangkok, I had an epiphany… I realized the reason for my hesitation to retire. I had grown in the habit of validating myself externally through the success in my career and I was too afraid to lose my trailblazing identity that I had worked so hard to achieve for so long. Like an investment one hesitates to sell because one has always been “in that market”.
I needed to redefine how and where I wanted to invest my time and my efforts.
This is a classic economic concept of sunk cost (a cost that has already been incurred and that cannot be recovered). The reason economic analysis ignores sunk costs is that doing so helps to prevent decision makers from throwing good money after bad when they are stuck in an unprofitable project. Economic theory tries to solve that problem by focusing only on future costs and returns.
In the case of my getting fulfillment from my career, if ever the financial phrase “past performance is not indicative of future results” fit, I realized this was it. As Paula Pant from Afford Anything says, “You Can Afford Anything … but not everything. What’s it gonna be?”.
On that morning in early March of 2018 on my walk, I made the decision to start my Third Life.
For Jim, he had been stuck on a career highway but looking for an exit sign.
For me, it was more like I was forced off the main road by a detour, but the unanticipated accidents and roadblocks forced me to see the beauty and enjoyable attractions I had been speeding past without taking notice.
- How about you? If you have already retired, was it a well-planned decision or was it unexpected and sudden?
- Were you looking for the exit or did the road of life make you detour?
- For those who are working on financial independence, do you already have the date or a certain milestone in mind?
- Are you mentally and financially ready for your third life? How are you mentally preparing to let go?
Please feel free to share.