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Why I consider myself to be Retired, and why you should too

There is no shame in retiring early, and potentially many benefits.

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Chris Tham

2019-01-19

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When I turned 50, I announced my professional retirement. We had calculated that we have accumulated enough savings to live out the rest of our lives in comfortable obscurity, in “shabby poor” circumstances, and that was fine by us. I could devote the rest of my life in creative pursuits, the occasional travel, and lots of gazing at sunsets and long walks.

I wrapped up a current engagement with a client and said I wasn’t planning on accepting any more work. Various people came over, kissed me, and wished me well. My client threw a nice lunch for me. I packed up all my personal belongings, and left the door not ever intending to step back in again.

Three months passed. I started composing music, and learning to draw. I was settling comfortably into retirement.

Then, one day as I was returning from my morning bike ride, I heard my phone ringing as I was putting away the bicycle in the garage.

“Hey, are you feeling bored yet?”

It was the voice of a former client. We both laughed and I mentioned all the things I am currently doing. We then talked about the good old times, mutual acquaintances, etc.

Then she casually raised the question.

“Umm, we have a huge tender coming up, and it’s an absolute must win for the company. We could really use your help. Would you terribly mind? You can have a big holiday with the money afterwards.”

We discussed it a bit, and eventually I said why not? It was only for a few weeks, and to be honest I missed the excitement and didn’t mind getting a taste of it again.

“Oh, that’s great. I’ll get my assistant to book you a flight to Melbourne on Sunday.”

I found myself really enjoying the work. It was tough, and the tender team was a bit wary of me at first, but eventually we were a Happy Family. We won the tender, and I was invited to the celebration party. I was packing up my belongings yet again, when the client called me for a meeting.

“I know you are finishing up, but as you know X has recently resigned. We are really hoping you could step into his role and manage the team until we find a replacement. Please? As a favour?”

Perhaps foolishly, I agreed. I noticed after 3 months, they didn’t really seem to be seriously looking for a replacement.

“Well, you seem to be doing so well, we were really hoping you could take the role permanently. Could you?”

I thought about it for a few days, but decided no, I really want to be retired. So I gave them my decision. I told them I am interested in creating things, and learning new things every day, and I love change. Being stuck in a full time position would kill me.

They were extremely disappointed, but we eventually agreed I would help them find a replacement, stay on to do a handover, and then blissfully return to retirement.

Eventually, we found a candidate that they really liked and they hired him. As part of my handover, I helped them finalise the IT Strategy to present to the Board, which I did literally days before flying off for a nice holiday.

When I came back, the Chief Executive of Business Services called me up for a meeting. He heard about my reasons for not accepting the position, and in true Godfather style decided to make me an offer I couldn’t refuse.

“I have an interesting “challenge” for you. I want to lift the use of analytics in the organisation to gain business insights and improve performance. Can you help me do that?”

I replied that I didn’t have a background in analytics and knew nothing about the subject. He said that is why he is asking me, because he wanted a “modern” analytics environment and didn’t want anyone “tainted” with “experience.” Then he threw the hook in.

“Besides, you said you like to learn new things and be creative. Isn’t this the perfect opportunity for you?”

The moment he said that, I was in.

The company sent me to a Gartner conference on Business Intelligence and Analytics. I understood why the Chief Executive did not want anyone with experience – the world of Analytics has been turned upside down by self service, citizen data scientists, Big Data, Internet of Things, cloud platforms. I went back to him and said “I get it.”

I spent about a year trying to enable self-service analytics in the organisation. Helping business units analyse their own data. Someone called me the “analytics evangelist” and I liked it, so the term stuck. I led a project to evaluate self service analytics tools, and we eventually chose Tableau. I learnt Python and R, and spent two weeks writing a Python script that ran on a Raspberry Pi to ingest two years worth of telemetries and GPS data from the company vehicle fleet. I registered an account on AWS and created an instance of Amazon Redshift on my personal credit card. I helped the organisation to ingest a year’s worth of transactional data onto Redshift. I then ran a tender seeking an organisation to manage Redshift and deliver Analytics as a Service to the organisation.

I realised in that year that I don’t have to be “retired” to do the things I love, and learning new things. I could do all that, and get paid doing so.

Here we are, 5 years later, and apart from those first three months, I have been working almost continuously during the period, for a number of clients. Arguably, my career has been more successful post-retirement. I certainly enjoy the work a lot more, the money is better, I get to meet lots of people, I learn new things all the time, and I have zero stress.

I am much better at navigating organisational politics, because I am not emotionally vested, and I laugh at political antics over a glass of wine.

I still consider myself “retired.”

I now realise retirement is not an employment status, or even age-related. It is a State of Mind.

Being retired means not being worried about earning a living, or where my career is going. It also means never having to say sorry. I am not worried about taking potentially career limiting risks, and therefore I am more emboldened to have difficult conversations, especially when I see something is not right. I am far more likely to take on tasks that others are afraid to do. People are also less likely to perceive me as a threat – they know I don’t necessarily want status, or recognition, for what I do and I am happy for others to take credit for my successes, but at the same time not afraid of reputation damage from failure.

I am also far more willing to selflessly help others. Nothing pleases me more than to see someone achieve success/recognition and climb in the organisation. They become potential future clients. In the last few years, more and more people have reached out to me and asked me to be their mentor, or to provide career coaching.

Most importantly, being retired means the ability to say No. My clients know I only accept jobs that interest me, so they can’t just order me around, they have to pitch assignments to me.

The money is great, and hopefully when the work stops our lives will be less shabby poor, but to be honest I’ve stopped caring about money a long time ago. We have bought all the things that we could possibly want, and visited most of the places we want to visit, and don’t really want the really expensive toys like fancy cars, boats or planes. I am more interested in creating art than buying art, and we certainly don’t need additional property.

If only I had known how good retirement was going to be, I would have retired earlier. It’s amazing how one word can completely change a life.