Obsolescence, Irrelevance, Peers Spread Too Thin

It’s not as unusual as it used to be, in 2018, to be thinking about very early retirement i.e. to get out of the rat race through financial independence – without chasing enormous wealth – as soon as possible, so one can get on with living most of one’s life liberated from the prison of debt and wage-slavery. Websites like Mr Money Mustache go into detail about getting money sorted and getting out of the rat race ASAP.

I came to pretty much the same conclusions as MMM back in the mid/late 1980s and did what was necessary over the next ten years to be in a position to exit the rat race stage left by get free of wage-slavery in my 20s. Some people in this forum are discussing specific investment concerns, pitfalls and strategies. This is apposite, sure, but if one’s reasonably astute and not unusually unlucky it shouldn’t be too hard to keep on top of the finances so as to stay free; once the rubicon of “enough to retire” is crossed.

I’m twenty years into “retirement” i.e. in my 40s. The world is a fascinating place and it’s many lifetimes worth of exploration just waiting to be begin. Freedom is priceless but I’ve found two realisations growing more concerning as the years accumulate:

  1. Without being deep inside some industry or involved in practical, cutting edge collaboration, one loses touch with the expertise needed to be a meaningful contributor in anything that matters; at least not on a fulfilling scale. When we’re young the world expect you to be inexpert. When we’re middle aged the world isn’t interested in dilettantes. What may once have been your field will often be unrecognisable 10 or 20 years later. This can mean there’ll come a day you went to “do” and you’ll look to your past skills, find them next to useless and wind up out in the cold. And then what? School again? Training? Do something else and risk becoming terminally obsolete. It’s a perverse freedom that’s unmolested by any external debt or obligation but ultimately doomed to live frivolous and irrelevant.

  2. The free life can be lived on a big canvas with days that’re your own. I reckon most who’re very early retired get good at being social, myself included – plenty of time and opportunity to practice after all. What worries me, though, is the inevitable size and diversity of one’s social circle – often strung across the whole planet – comes at the expense of a genuine peer group. The peer group we had before retirement mostly stays invested in careers. This defines their life just as much as freedom defines yours. They’ll continue to evolve colleague networks as they gain seniority, influence, expertise and opportunity – albeit in a tiny pond. These networks grow self-sufficient within their field, like a prison gang, and twenty years down the line will have come to wield power in a particular industry. It’s all quite self sustaining. Living free   outside the tiny pond one may have a far bigger network of friends (rather than just acquaintances) but it’s spread thin, it’s a relationship of volunteer simpaticos not vocational bunkmates. Just this last year I’ve spent fun days being toured by different friends around two Virtual Reality studios, an offshore wind-farms array, a university campus, a NASA installation, a major newspaper sports dept and choice seats for an event and a bunch of “work” parties deep into the night. Some of these were super interesting. Friends were entrenched and clearly influential. Everyone was friendly but there was no way for me to ACTUALLY get involved, even if I was interested, no short-term way to catch-up and work on a level with any of these guys. The doors were open so long as I wasn’t figuring on getting in the way. Again, doomed to visit then leave and remain irrelevant.