I asked her if it seemed like it had been two years since I retired (almost 2 1/2 now).
Or maybe she thought it felt like it had been longer or shorter.
She said she it feels like it’s been longer than that. I agreed.
But not in a bad way. In an “I can’t remember what it was like to work and I’m glad” sort of way. 🙂
As I reflected back on that conversation I was intrigued by retirement years seeming longer than regular years.
I let the concept stew a bit in my mind and stumbled upon the fact that there are actually many types of “years”, all with different senses of time (some seem longer while others seem shorter.)
Then I decided I’d share this thinking with you and get your take on it.
I know. It all sounds a bit “out there”. And I admit it is.
I generally write about much more concrete ideas. But this is an important one for those who are considering retirement plus it sheds additional light on what it feels like to be retired, so I want to proceed.
Hopefully I can make some sense out of it.
And if not, at least you’ll have a good laugh at me trying to go all philosophical on you (and area that is far outside my comfort zone!) 🙂
Let’s begin with the baseline: a year.
We all know what a year is, right?
365 days. 52 weeks. 12 months. One year.
It’s a standard measure of time.
But those 365 days are really just a blank slate we all start with every January 1.
And those days are not completely ours to do with as we wish.
It turns out that many of those days have time claims on them — and what those claims are determines how quickly it feels like a year is passing.
We’ll get to specifics in a minute, but first let’s take a small detour and look at the life of man’s best friend.
Most people are familiar with the concept of dog years. It generally means that for every regular (human) year that a dog lives, he ages seven years.
In reality it’s not a linear 1 year to 7 years ratio, but it is true that dogs age faster than humans.
And for the sake of simplicity we’ll use the 1:7 ratio throughout this post.
This relationship means time moves much faster for a dog — what he experiences in one regular year “costs” him seven years of his life.
Looked at in reverse, for the cost of seven years of his life, he only gets to experience one year of human life.
As such, life must be a blur for a dog, rapidly advancing every single day.
Just consider if humans aged this way:
- Within three years a baby would go from newborn to almost a college graduate.
- After three more years he’d be solidly middle age.
- And after three more years, he’d be facing retirement.
A blur indeed.
Now let’s get back to humans.
Working adults have a different sort of year which I’ll call a “career year.”
This is the regular, 365-day year adjusted to see how much time is really ours to enjoy and how much is consumed by work.
To no one’s surprise, we spend a lot of time at work.
Consider the following…
Those with careers work Monday through Friday most weeks (I know people work weekends too, but I’m going with the most-common scenario). They get Saturday and Sunday off.
They also get additional breaks from work including vacation days, sick days, and holidays.
At my last job I had four weeks of vacation (20 days — which is way better than what most have), a couple sick days, and seven holidays (New Year’s Day, Memorial Day, Independence Day, Labor Day, Thanksgiving, Christmas Eve, Christmas Day).
So in the course of a year I would work 232 days as follows:
- 365 total days
- Less 104 weekend days
- Less 20 vacation days
- Less 2 sick days
- Less 7 holidays
Of course this doesn’t count the days off when I actually worked (which were many) as well as the extended workday hours (which were common). Since those just muddy the waters I’ll ignore them for now.
Using the numbers above, a career year includes 232 days of work and the rest off for one reason or another.
How Much Life is There in a Career Year?
Now you can cue the music from the Twilight Zone. I’m going to get a bit “out there” for a moment.
Stick with me. You may or may not agree with my thinking, but at least hear me out.
As a life-long, hard-charging career worker, I have some experience living this life, and I think my experiences are relatively common.
Now to the question in the heading: How much life is there in a career year?
Well, that depends on how you define “life”.
It’s likely that we all have a different definition of life (at least to some degree), so I’m going to define it in the broadest possible terms as “the freedom to do whatever pleases you.”
This could be traveling, reading, or even working — whatever you enjoy doing, that’s what I’ll call “life”.
I’m going to make another assumption as well: that for the vast majority of people reading this, your career does not qualify as life.
The numbers would back me up on this. Just look at the surveys asking how many people like their jobs. Talk to your family, friends, and neighbors. How many would say their job “pleases” them?
Sure, a job might be a good trade-off of time for money. Sure, it might be something people have to do to care for their families. Sure, they may even enjoy it to some degree.
But would they say it “pleases” them?
One way to determine this is thinking about whether or not they would keep their job if they had all the money in the world. Most people would not. They would quit most jobs in a heartbeat if they won the lottery or came into wealth some other way. This says to me that their job does not please them/is not something they enjoy.
My personal experience is a testimony to the lack of life in a career. I had a long and prosperous career and I would say that I enjoyed most of it. It was challenging, exciting at times (sometimes in a bad way), provided for my family’s needs, and much more. All the wealth I have today is a result of my career directly (savings) or how I took earnings from my career and applied it (investing). So overall, it was a good ride.
But does that mean I would keep working if I had the choice? Uh, no. I have a TON of other things I would prefer to do.
Even when I eventually landed a job where I had a decent balance between work and life, I still would have preferred to spend my time elsewhere.
If this is the case for me, as someone who liked his career, imagine the feelings of the vast majority who hates their jobs. I think it’s safe to say they would not list their jobs as something that “pleases” them, which by definition means that working does not create “life”.
The Career Lifestyle
Why is this? Why does work not always (or even usually) create life?
Well, I can tell you why from my experience…
During my working career I was almost always in a constant state of rushing. I got up, hit the ground running, and didn’t stop until shortly before bed each night.
I had to deal with crazy co-workers and employees, crazier bosses, unimaginable situations, loads of stress, and on and on. It was a constant onslaught of demands, many of which were useless and/or painful.
Even weekends were rushed because I had to do all the tasks I couldn’t accomplish during the week (mow the yard, manage the finances, etc.). And of course I wanted to spend time with my family. And all this doesn’t include time to simply relax (which was rare).
Then on Monday morning, the whole cycle would begin again.
That, of course, assumes that weekends were free from work, which they rarely were.
Life was very, very rushed. Not as rushed as a dog’s life, mind you, but I did feel in some sense that life was passing me by. (BTW, this was very noticeable in my last position. I would sit in meetings, bored and yawning, and literally feel the life draining from my body. Then I somehow came to my senses, realized I didn’t need this crap as I was financially independent, and I made the moves to get out of there.)
I believe this sentiment is relatively normal for many U.S. workers. There’s a lot of time spent at work and not much life from it.
Retirement years are exactly the opposite. They are slooooowwwwww…
That is, slow in a very good way.
As I approach the 2.5 year mark as a retiree, I really appreciate this.
Retirement years relaxed. So relaxed that it often seems like time is in slow motion.
There’s very little rushing, few schedules, and no deadlines. If I have just one meeting a week (which I probably initiated) I feel rushed. That’s why I avoid them.
I’m as busy as ever but my busyness is enjoyable and flexible. Tasks can be completed on my schedule — which makes a world of difference. And if I don’t feel like doing something, no one is going to force me to. There’s a peace in that.
Because of this dynamic it seems like you can fit in several regular years of living into one retirement year.
This is why it seems like I’ve been retired for much longer than I have. It’s the time warp created by retirement.
As I was sorting through all this after the conversation with my wife, I came up with the gut feeling that every retirement year was like living two or three regular years — which made retirement years the opposite of dog years.
Putting Numbers to It
I then wondered if there was a way to quantify this feeling so it was less touchy-feely.
The answer is “probably not accurately”.
But being accurate has never stopped me before! LOL!
Seriously, here’s my attempt to put numbers on this situation. See what I’ve come up with and then decide if you agree or not.
When I worked, I had 133 days (365 – 232) of “life” allocated to me every year. (Yes, there was life on work days and work on non-work days, but those are almost impossible to factor in, so I’m calling them a wash.)
Now that I’m retired (or financially independent, or whatever you want to call it), I have 365 days of life every year. Almost three times as many!
If you factored in some sort of baseline for how much “administration time” is required to survive (non-life things like going to the dentist, balancing your checkbook, fixing the house, etc.) the ratio would be even larger as those fixed time costs would hit the free career days much harder (as a percentage) than they would the retirement days.
For example, let’s say it takes 60 days a year just for administration. That means in a career year you get 73 days of life (133 – 60) versus 305 (365 – 60) in retirement — which makes the gap over four times the difference.
But just like some of the other numbers, putting a specific amount on administration is little more than a guess, so let’s stick with the 133 days for career years and 365 days for retirement years.
Extending My Life
Now for the fun part. Let’s look at a couple scenarios and make some conclusions.
The first is the straight comparison of 133 days of life in a career year versus 365 days of life in a retirement year.
The difference is almost three times here. Or in other words, I can fit in three career years of living in a single retirement year. In this way, retirement years are the reverse of dog years — you actually get MORE life in a calendar year than less of it.
BTW, it’s not lost on me that some might say a dog has 365 days of life to live every year since he’s basically “retired”. In this way a dog may lose seven years to one because of biology but gain back three years of life because he doesn’t have to go to a job he hates. So his net loss is four years. Hopefully that makes dog lovers feel better. 😉
The second interesting comparison is to look at how many years I would have had to work to get the days off I’ve had in my almost 2.5 years of retirement.
We’ve already established that in every career year there are 133 days off.
Since I’ve been retired, I’ve had 913 (365 * 2.5) days off.
Comparing these shows it would have taken me 6.9 career years to have the days off that I’ve had in 2.5 years of retirement. Said another way, I’ve had almost seven years of life in the 2.5 years I’ve been retired. It’s almost like I’ve added years to my life!
If you take this calculation out many, many years, you can see how 20 years of (early) retirement counts for almost 55 years of life. In this way, those who retire at 50 and live to 70 end up with 105 years of life (50 + 55) instead of 70. Imagine what the impact is for those retiring in their 30’s or 40’s and living into their 80’s or 90’s!
It’s Not Just Time Either
As noted, the above doesn’t count the quality of life factors. Those are very hard to quantify but certainly influence the value of any free day.
What might these factors be? Let me list a few for you. Have any of these ever happened to you while working:
- Your boss/supervisor/co-worker makes life miserable for one reason or another?
- Your employer goes through some sort of change that adds severe stress to your life?
- Your work day, which is supposed to be 8 am to 5 pm, is more like 6:30 am to 7 pm?
- Your hour off at lunch is rarely taken?
- You need to work/travel during non-work times?
- Even when you’re not working, work is on your mind, impacting your life?
- Your “work time” includes a lot of other time-related costs like getting ready, commute time, time spent on learning, shopping for work clothes, etc.?
And on and on.
The point is that work has a way of seeping into non-work days, making that 133 days off less valuable than they seem. So if anything the career year to retirement year relationship would tilt even farther in favor of retirement.
So, What Does This Mean?
I’ve spent a couple thousand words talking about how retirement years are so great, but what’s the point? What can we learn/do from all this? A few thoughts:
- My recommendation is for people to retire as soon as they can. My only regret in my decision to retire is that I didn’t do it 10 years earlier when I hit financial independence. I could have lived 30 years of life during those 10 years!
- That said, be sure you’re ready to retire when you do — financially and emotionally. Financially you want to be sure you have more than enough to retire with several margins of safety. You don’t want to replace the stress of work with the stress of money issues. Emotionally you need to be sure you know what retirement will look like for you (what will you do every day?) and that you’ll be happy with it.
- Once you have the above covered, jump in. The water’s fine. Get up the nerve to retire and begin to add years to your life.
You’ve probably heard the saying that you can always get more money but you can never get more time.
While this is true in the literal sense, you can get more time figuratively by making the time you do have much more full of life.
And retiring early is the key to this.
Anyway, those are my thoughts on the issue. What’s your take on all this?