Mance Rayder, The King Beyond The Wall once said, “The freedom to make my own mistakes is all I ever wanted.” After three years of being away from Corporate America, his words have never rung more true.
If I wanted more money, I would have stayed in my investment banking job for the rest of my career. But I longed for the freedom to choose after my 13th year. Being absolutely free is priceless. Unless you love what you do, it doesn’t matter how much money you have if you’ve still got to take direction from someone else.
But besides glorious freedom, there are also incredible health benefits I’ve noticed after leaving the permanent workforce. Let me share some with you.
When I was working, I had the following ailments:
During the last year of work, my TMJ got so bad that I went to a dental specialist and paid $750 out of pocket to have him shave down my rear molars. The idea was to create grooves in my teeth so my mouth could shut more easily, thereby relieving the stress from my jaw muscles. The procedure helped lessen the pain by roughly 30%, but that still left 70% of unwanted discomfort.
By the sixth month after leaving my job, EVERY PAIN went away. Perhaps my problems should have gone away even sooner, but the first three months were filled with excitement and worry. I kept wondering whether I had made the right move. I had other job opportunities come up that I kept on rejecting. But after a while, not working just felt natural because I had an outlet, ONIG Financial Blog, to share my thoughts.
I firmly believe that STRESS is the main source for many of our health problems. Except for an occasional allergy attack, I no longer suffer from any of the above mentioned chronic ailments. It’s been three years since I left work, and work stress was clearly the source for most of my problems.
For more details about how stress can negatively affect your physical and mental well-being, see a paper on the US Library of Medicine’s website.
Besides the disappearance of chronic health issues, early retirement allows you to take better care of your body. When I first began work, I gained 20 lbs to 180 lbs within the first year at 5′ 10″. Getting fat got me down because I was so used to being trim due to all the sports I played growing up.
After leaving Manhattan for San Francisco in 2001, I got down to about 165 lbs, but I was always battling back the 170 lbs mark. By the end of my first early retirement year, I got down to 158-160 lbs and stayed there for two years due to all the exercise. There were also no more constant wining and dining of clients at high caloric, fancy restaurants.
Do you remember running around the neighborhood as a kid with all your friends? I do. Every day after school we’d go out and skateboard for three hours a day before dinner. When we’re working, there’s no play time between 4pm – 6pm anymore. For many, leaving the office before the sun went down was unheard of. Just like how compound interest creates great wealth over time, compound lack of activity creates great girth after several years.
My exercise frequency went up from 2X a week to 4X a week on average. The duration of exercise also increased given there was never really anywhere to go by a certain time frame. We’d play tennis for four or five hours sometimes without a care in the world.
Plenty of exercise plus a good diet surely should help one’s quality of life and longevity at the margin. Have you ever wondered how much money you’d be willing to forgo to live just one more year? Probably a lot the older you get!
Less Gray Hairs / More Hair In General
The first time I found a gray hair was at the age of 36. I was sitting in the barber’s chair when I kept seeing what I thought was a reflection off my left side. The grey hair was a shock, that reminded me how quickly we age. Of course I pulled it out, contrary to my barber’s advice. “If you pull it out, 10 more grey hairs will grow back in its place!” she said.
I thought 36 would be the beginning of the grey hair avalanche. But instead, I haven’t had a grey hair since, and I’m 38. I was a year and a half into my early retirement phase, and felt like I finally got in the groove. No longer was I wondering whether I made the right move. There wasn’t any money worries either since I had picked up a consulting job to supplement my passive income streams.
Another interesting phenomena I noticed is that my hairline doesn’t seem to be receding as quickly any more. It began started receding when I was 33 during the height of the financial crisis. But it’s seemed to have stopped for the past two years. Unfortunately, I’m unable to grow back hair where hair used to be, but I’ll take a slowing recession any day!
Update: I turned 40 in mid- 2021 and I’m happy to say I have ZERO gray hairs and still a full head of hair. It actually looks thicker than it did a couple years ago. Fingers crossed my hair stays the same, but with a new baby and lots of new parent worrying, I’m not so sure!
Naturally Feel More Confident
When you’re in better shape you feel more confident. When you’re more confident, you enjoy life more. And when it’s evident by everyone around you that you’re a happy person, more opportunities arise.
I told myself, no, I swore to myself in 2012 that I would never go back to work if I could successfully negotiate a severance. I remember the week where the fate of my severance was in limbo because I accidentally e-mailed back an old work file that contained client contact information. Thankfully everything turned out fine, especially since I emphasized I wasn’t going to work for a competitor.
Except for competitors looking to hire me immediately after I left, the first year of early retirement on the work front was quiet. But since early 2014, I’ve received multiple attractive consulting offers that just came out of casual conversations and referrals. I’ve never advertised my services to any corporate before.
Optimistic people are like magnets. When you’re confident, people of all sorts want to connect. This is true in your professional and personal life.
A lot of people who’ve never achieved early retirement have bashed the early retirement movement. I even penned a very frank post before pulling the rip chord called, The Dark Side Of Early Retirement. Many of the arguments still hold true now that I’ve experienced three years on the other side. But if your body is crying out in pain, you owe it to yourself to discover a more congruent occupation.
When I’m sick, I’m willing to give any amount of money just to feel better. If you are experiencing chronic health issues, there’s a high chance the source of your ailments is due to the stress from your job. Does that prestigious title or all that money really matter if you are feeling horrible? You might even be cutting your life shorter by a year or two due to so much stress. We haven’t even touched upon mental issues such as depression and anxiety that work stress can create either.
It’s been over five years since I left Corporate America, and it’s become so abundantly clear how much work stress is killing us. If you find a way to get out or work at a more fulfilling, and less stressful job, please strongly consider taking a leap. The older you get, the more you will cherish your health. Don’t look back and regret having chased money and prestige. Chase happiness instead.
Note: If you are experiencing any type of chronic pain (not just back), I highly recommend picking up a copy of Healing Back Pain: The Mind-Body Connection by Dr. Sarno. I’ve been back pain free for over 15 years despite playing tennis 2-4X a week, after having crippling back pain in my early 20s. I couldn’t even drive to work for a while because my sciatica was so bad.
Updated for 2021 and beyond.