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FIRE and friends
Old 07-20-2010, 11:42 AM   #1
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FIRE and friends

So it happened. A college buddy to whom I had not talked in 9 years found me on facebook and is eager to know how my career is going... We graduated together from the same school and had similar career prospects. But his career seems to be on the upswing while mine is unwinding.

As many of you already know, my last day at work is only 10 short days away and I don't know how to explain FIRE to people, especially my peers.

I don't want to sound boastful and tell them "I don't need to work anymore". For one, they probably wouldn't believe me. But, at the same time, I don't want people to feel sorry for me either if I tell them "I am unemployed".

So what should I do? How did you very early retirees handle those situations?
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Old 07-20-2010, 11:48 AM   #2
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Just tell him the truth - you're going to abandon the rat race and smell the roses. If he has a problem with that, so be it.

I'm always amused at how folks here worry about what to tell others about being FIRED. If you really have an issue with telling the truth, just change the subject to politics, religion, or other similarly comfortable topics.
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Old 07-20-2010, 12:12 PM   #3
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Is this going to be a person that you ever have close personal interaction with? Or just someone who will stay an occasional facebook acquaintance?

If it's the latter, I really wouldn't worry. Tell them the truth, that you're escaping the rat race. Or, if you'd like, play with the truth a little. Say you're going into asset management (your assets). Or that you're in the travel industry (if you plan on traveling). Or that you're going into real estate (hey, every time you come home from work and walk in that front door, you're going into real estate, aren't you? )
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Old 07-20-2010, 12:13 PM   #4
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Just tell him the truth - you're going to abandon the rat race and smell the roses. If he has a problem with that, so be it.

I'm always amused at how folks here worry about what to tell others about being FIRED. If you really have an issue with telling the truth, just change the subject to politics, religion, or other similarly comfortable topics.
I don't think he would have a problem if I told him the truth. But he might have questions. Like how could I possibly afford it. Talking about money with him would be much more uncomfortable than talking about politics or religion, which for me are not at all uncomfortable topics of conversation...

The thing is, FIRE is clearly off the beaten path. Up until now, in almost every single aspect of my life, I have been the guy who has followed the beaten path faithfully. By stepping off the path, I feel like I am breaking every rule in the book!
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Old 07-20-2010, 12:13 PM   #5
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I don't know how to explain FIRE to people, especially my peers
Since retiring I am struggling with exactly the same problem.

All my good friends are still being slow-roasted on the fires of industrialized, middle-aged life. There is no way I can tell them "I'm free" without causing all kinds of undesirable feelings.

The past three months I was travelling overseas, so I could be perfectly honest with friends about that. Now I'm home and people are asking if I'm back to w*rk yet.

"Not immediately, but I'm keeping my eyes open" is generally what I say. I plan to say that forever until people just gradually infer that I'm not going back to w*rk ever.

I'm not proud of the half-truth, but it's far, far more humane than the whole truth would be.
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Old 07-20-2010, 12:17 PM   #6
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A guest editorial I read not long after I left work. I cut it out and posted against the wall next to the monitor

Quote:
Out of the Rat Race, and Pitied for It

In a recent flight from Las Vegas to Chicago, I ran into a colleague from my old job, and a question of protocol silently, and uncomfortably, arose: Since we are no longer co-workers, what are we? Friends? A divorced couple? Strangers? Depending on the answer, how should we act toward each other?

Making it all just a bit more awkward, I acknowledged, was that while we are former co- workers, he's the only one working right now. I left HBO in July after 11 years as president of HBO Enterprises, and by "left" I mean resigned. Quit. That was the story, and that was the truth. But it doesn't mean that anyone believes me. The assumption is that people just don't leave "jobs like that." They are fired or, in this uncertain economy, they are downsized.

And so, for three hours, we sat at a distance and avoided each other. We'd feign sleep and turn toward the window at strategic moments, anything to avoid eye contact and conversation.

This dance of discomfort had been performed all weekend. In Las Vegas, I stayed at the Four Seasons Hotel, and so, it seemed, did most of my former colleagues from HBO, because of two events: Lennox Lewis and Hasim Rahman were fighting for the heavyweight championship on pay-per-view television, and the next day Britney Spears was performing live.

My replacement was there, and so, too, were senior production executives, marketing people, two former members of my staff and many others. I was there for the fight, and my ticket did not come out of the HBO allotment.

I avoided almost everyone. I did without the lavish buffet and free margaritas at the postfight HBO party, turned down tickets to the Britney Spears concert, wiggled out of a golf date, arrived at the fight late, avoided the hotel restaurant and the main lobby. But by Las Vegas standards, it was a small hotel, so running into fewer than six HBO people in three days was a good record, if avoidance is one's goal.

What I was really avoiding was feeling contagious. When you're not working and they are, nobody wants to catch what you've got, even if what you've got is what you want. I'm 49 and unemployed because I can afford to take a break - thankfully a long one if I care to.

I have heard all of the questions and comments. Yes, I am working out more. Yes, I've lost weight. No, I'm not doing anything (meaning working). No, I'm not looking for a job. Yes, it's great to be home. Yes, my children like seeing me around the house. No, they don't know what to tell their friends. Yes, it's fun not having a schedule. No, really, I'm not bored.

But I know what they're thinking because it sometimes sneaks out: What does he do all day? He looks too relaxed. It's all a front. He was fired and can't find anything. How can his wife and children stand it with him around the house all the time? He's pathetic.

Those of us who don't necessarily aspire for more (yes, we exist, even in New York) and are lucky enough to be content with what we have (an even smaller subcategory) don't need a support group. Honest.

But some things change when you stop working, or take a break, especially if you've enjoyed a level of professional responsibility. You become the party on hold. Somebody has to be the one waiting for a callback, and it's usually you. The business associate who couldn't get enough of your wisdom and humor a year ago is now screening your calls. You grab for the dinner checks less assertively.

For people who know the truth, who know that, in a sense, you've rejected their world, what are the limits? Is sharing office gossip still O.K.? How many times can I tell them that enjoying life is enough and that no one need feel sorry for you because you're on a different schedule?

My situation is really pretty good; if only everyone were so lucky. What happens, inevitably, is that you find yourself with a Rolodex packed with "acquaintances" because too many "friends" disappoint you.

What's up with the West Coast friend with whom you spoke at least once a day? Is he angry or just uncomfortable, like the former colleague on the plane?

So you return to protocol. Is it O.K. to ask for favors, and for how long? If you ask someone to lunch, does he pay automatically because he has the expense account? And does he think you called him just looking for a free meal?

The first time I played golf with my former boss, he was candid: "What were you thinking when you quit?" When I told him, he sort of listened, and nodded, but was waiting for the "real story."

Every once in a while you read about the guy who hit the lottery, or inherited money, or traded in his dot- com options in 1998. You think: "Man, if I had that kind of money, I'd check out, maybe permanently, maybe just for a while, but I'd check out. I've got nothing more to prove. I've got enough money now. I think I'll do nothing, or do what I want - won't work - for six months, a year, forever. Maybe I'll accomplish something; maybe I'll just be happy."

So, on the issue of protocol, there is no reason to turn away from me or to feel uncomfortable. The protocol is to ask all the questions you want - but to believe the answers.
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Old 07-20-2010, 12:27 PM   #7
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I empathize with you. It isn't easy. I'm in my 3rd year of ER and I think I finally said the "R" word a few weeks ago. Now, I say "I'm retired". Usually, the conversation stalls & I can steer it elsewhere.

If they ask more questions, I answer honestly. I am also honest about the fact that our plan may or may not work, but we feel that this is the best thing for us. I also am open about the fact that if I find some other interesting career, I may give it a shot. For me, those are real options that I have not shelved.

If the conversation moves into areas, like numbers, that I am uncomfortable with, I politely let them know, and suggest a book that they can read - my favourite. Work Less, Live More. It seems to work - for me, and from what I gather, for the other person too. I have not received any negative reactions - amazement yes, but no hostility. Some have gone the "oh, you don't have kids" route. I agree and move on. I don't have anything to prove to them.

Close friends & relatives are different. I told them of our plan before we pulled the trigger, and they have ALL been supportive & happy for us.

All the best. Enjoy these last few days. Write down your observations - they'll make interesting reading in the future.
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Old 07-20-2010, 12:29 PM   #8
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Firedreamer,

You could say "I'm being downsized/rightsized/RIF'd/whatever and I'm going to take a little time off to regroup and see where I want to head with my career." If asked about money, just say that your wife has been doing well in her career and you have managed your finances conservatively such that you are now financially able to take a break from working for a while. That's the truth (as best I remember your plans??), and you don't have to disclose that you may never return to work (if that is your plan??).

That is sort of how I plan on explaining my lack of work when the time comes (hopefully) while I'm still in my 30's. Just taking some time off, like a sabbatical. Except I imagine I'll tell the truth to close (and trustworthy) family and friends. I really would be just taking some time off, and I may be forced to return to work if things don't go well with the portfolio.
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Old 07-20-2010, 12:32 PM   #9
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But he might have questions. Like how could I possibly afford it. Talking about money with him would be much more uncomfortable than talking about politics or religion, which for me are not at all uncomfortable topics of conversation...
tell him something like....

I lived modestly and saved and saved. Now I am going to take all of that money I saved and buy my life back.

follow that up with... and you ??.... how are those staff meetings going ?
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Old 07-20-2010, 12:32 PM   #10
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So what should I do? How did you very early retirees handle those situations?
The same way my then future BIL did when my dad asked him what he did for a living before he married my sister: "I'm retired. You will enjoy it when you get here."

That was a good line then, so I use it now. What's the big deal? Are you embarrassed to have reached your goal?
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Old 07-20-2010, 12:36 PM   #11
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I don't think he would have a problem if I told him the truth. But he might have questions. Like how could I possibly afford it.
I don't discuss my financial status with anyone but DW. If he is rude enough to ask, say "I think I'll be OK" and ask him who he's voting for in the next election.
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Old 07-20-2010, 12:56 PM   #12
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I tell people I'm semi-retired. It's the truth, since I teach a couple of classes, but I don't elaborate on how much little time I spend working. People don't have any issue with someone working part-time (and it probably makes it easier that I'm a woman). It also helps me in another way: I have some family members that would decide that my time is available to them if they thought I was actually retired. This way, I let them believe I am working more often than I really am. Saves us all some headaches, I think.
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Old 07-20-2010, 12:57 PM   #13
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^ I would be happy to discuss investments, "Let me see what you are invested in and I can make recommendations so that you can get on the early retirement bandwagon as well."

"Oh, I see the problem now: You have accounts at both Merrill Lynch and Edward Jones."
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Old 07-20-2010, 01:00 PM   #14
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My only brother (4 years older) and I are not particularly close, and virtually all our our once-every-6-months phone conversations are initiated by me. He is very career focused and works silly hours both in terms of total hours and time of day. Basically he has little time left for family and self.

Last call, I filled him in that I had ESR'd in April and would likely cut back even more in the next few months. Oddly, he became kind of irritable and challenged me about how I would spend my time, how he loves his work (as in, I love my work more than you loved yours) and probably would work til he couldn't, etc. I just responded benignly ("I guess everyone has to do what's best for them").

The intensity and negativity of his reaction surprised me and hurt. But it taught me not to assume that all contemporaries and other working friends and family will necessarily share the joy. I've become kind of reticent in crowds of uncertain FIRE persuasion.
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Old 07-20-2010, 01:12 PM   #15
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A guest editorial I read not long after I left work
That's an excellent piece of writing in so many ways, and I really enjoyed reading it. Thanks for posting it.


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Originally Posted by FUEGO View Post
Firedreamer,

You could say "I'm being downsized/rightsized/RIF'd/whatever and I'm going to take a little time off to regroup and see where I want to head with my career."
I hadn't thought of that angle. I may use it.


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follow that up with... and you ??.... how are those staff meetings going ?
You are cruel, sir!


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What's the big deal? Are you embarrassed to have reached your goal?
Not embarrassed. But ... [having trouble putting this in words] I think the fabric that holds many middle-class, middle-aged friendships together is the comraderie that comes from knowing you're both stuggling against a common enemy: the drudgery, confusion, anxiety, and thanklessness of modern workaday life. When you retire early you give up your membership in that struggle, and your friendships (with those still in it) can't be the same.

I don't think I'm imagining all this?
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Old 07-20-2010, 01:15 PM   #16
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FD, tell 'em since you became FI, you've decided to take a sabbatical that may last, oh....one to fifty years. Then flash 'em a glorious smile.

Remember....opinions are just like the ummmm...'big brown eye'...everyone has one.
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Old 07-20-2010, 01:42 PM   #17
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The same way my then future BIL did when my dad asked him what he did for a living before he married my sister: "I'm retired. You will enjoy it when you get here."

That was a good line then, so I use it now. What's the big deal? Are you embarrassed to have reached your goal?
Embarrassed, no. Just cognisant of the fact that luck played an important role in my being FIREd at such a young age. I won't apologize for it, but I don't want to rub people's face in it either.

I do like your BIL's line though...
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Old 07-20-2010, 01:50 PM   #18
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I would just say you are taking a sabbatical.
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Old 07-20-2010, 02:00 PM   #19
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I empathize with you. It isn't easy. I'm in my 3rd year of ER and I think I finally said the "R" word a few weeks ago. Now, I say "I'm retired". Usually, the conversation stalls & I can steer it elsewhere.

If they ask more questions, I answer honestly. I am also honest about the fact that our plan may or may not work, but we feel that this is the best thing for us. I also am open about the fact that if I find some other interesting career, I may give it a shot. For me, those are real options that I have not shelved.

If the conversation moves into areas, like numbers, that I am uncomfortable with, I politely let them know, and suggest a book that they can read - my favourite. Work Less, Live More. It seems to work - for me, and from what I gather, for the other person too. I have not received any negative reactions - amazement yes, but no hostility. Some have gone the "oh, you don't have kids" route. I agree and move on. I don't have anything to prove to them.

Close friends & relatives are different. I told them of our plan before we pulled the trigger, and they have ALL been supportive & happy for us.

All the best. Enjoy these last few days. Write down your observations - they'll make interesting reading in the future.
The last few days are strange. I am in a daze really. I can't really believe this is happening.

My family is aware of our plans. They thought we were crazy when we told them several years ago. But since we are still talking about it, they are starting to see that it is a well thought-out plan. I also noticed that, since my parents retired, they are far less hostile to our FIRE project...
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Old 07-20-2010, 02:10 PM   #20
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