Thu 29 June 2017 by Tom Lightfoot

I think I might be retired.

My last day of paid employment was April 21, 2017. I had been psyched up and preparing for that day for years, yet somehow now that it has happened, I suddenly feel unprepared.

Of course I don't have to be retired; I'm just unemployed. I could start looking for another job; I just don't have to, at least not for a number of years. And the weather is nice.

This path to retirement started a number of years ago. I've always had a strong desire to be recession-proof. I've also been working on reducing my car dependency and time lost in commuting. So to that end, I've been cycling to work for over a decade, I've been car-free for the past seven years and partly as a result, mortgage free for the past year and a half.

Shortly after paying off the mortgage, I read one of the most dangerous books ever: Ernie Zelinski's How to Retire Happy Wild and Free. It put some ideas into my head and the next thing I knew, I was telling my manager that I intended to reduce my work time to three days per week. I knew at the time that there was a significant risk of career suicide in making such a move but I had been with basically the same company for 15 years and was ready for a change anyways.

The company agreed to me working part time but that plan put me on to a year-by-year contract. The obvious catch was that they could let me go without severance at renewal time. Sure enough, that's exactly what happened two months ago.

Working part time was great and I highly recommend it if you can get away with it. It provides a much better work/life balance and an emotional distance from the politics and other frustrations of the workplace. On the other hand, you have to give up on the more interesting projects and roles or risk sliding back to full time. The benefits of employment that remained while part time were:

  • Positive cash flow and savings
  • A daily routine and structure to the week
  • Meaningful outlet for technical creativity
  • Interaction with people
  • A varied lunch that somebody else makes
  • Regular exercise going to and from work

I can get most of those things without regular employment but I have to be more proactive.

  • Call and visit friends
  • Get out for dives and bike rides
  • Take on technical projects at home
  • Make nice meals

It can all be done; it just takes self-discipline. The main thrust of Ernie Zelinkski's book is that the challenge of a successful retirement is rarely financial. It's more about finding an interesting and meaningful existence outside the workplace.

One thing that I certainly don't want to give up is software and electronics engineering. A couple of years ago I automated the irrigation of the garden with a single board computer running Linux. I'm working on enhancing that automation by tying in weather reporting and moisture sensing. It's more of a way to experiment with different technologies and keep my skills up to date than it is to grow better vegetables. But the veggies are nice too. Keeping my head in technology has the double benefit of providing an interesting outlet for creativity as well as keeping me employable. (Hey, you never know.)

It is still early days for me and I haven't settled into a routine. The garden has been keeping me pretty busy until now and I'm starting to get a bit of traction on my garden automation projects. The challenge right now is to make the best use of my time without the external structure of a day job, to keep a balance between physical and mental activity.