I Am Retiring At 36

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Photojournalism can take you places.

I know it's trendy and hip to quit your job these days. I’m afraid I’m going to blend in with the Great Resignation. It stole my thunder.

I’m not sticking it to the man. I’m not protesting anything. I love my job. I care deeply about the company I work for. I’ve had incredible opportunities to travel, and I’ve won a lot of awards for storytelling. I had a comfortable salary and led a team of outstanding photojournalists. I have a purpose.

My journey toward early retirement started 5 years ago. And if I could blame one word, it’s responsibility.

I never wanted to settle down. Ask my wife. She won’t let go of the “sowing wild oats” version of me she met 10 years ago.

In 2017 however, I was suddenly given a ton of responsibility. I was made Director of Photojournalism at my station, somewhat reluctantly. I was actually hoping to move to a bigger market, closer to home, but they made me an offer I couldn’t refuse.

With my new salary increase, we decided to buy a home in Cape Coral, Florida. We had zero money for the down payment. My dad wisely convinced me to open a Roth IRA in my early 20s, and so we plundered that for 3% down.

Before responsible me, my biggest household expense was my liquor bottle collection. My dream was to be a pirate with a rum bar. Actually, it still is. We’ll get there someday.

So taking that first step toward being a real adult, I learned a lot about buying a home. I learned about interest rates. I began to understand equity. I started studying real estate investing.

Not long after we moved into our abode, marriage occurred. Yeah, it sort of just “occurred” while we were drinking at a bar on St. Patrick’s Day in Savannah.

So there I was, living free, and all of a sudden, I’m responsible for 40 employees, a house, and being a thoughtful spouse. And ya know what happened? 5 years went by in the blink of an eye.

When you are responsible, you are busy. Your thoughts are filled with a million worries. You are at work, and there is a long to-do list. Then you come home to knee-high grass that needs mowing, weeds that need pulling, and bills that need paying.

The more responsibility you take on, the busier you become and the quicker the days go. They just melt off the calendar. How could it possibly be this anniversary again? How is it Monday already? That vacation we looked forward to came and went, and I’m back at work. The inertia of life seems to be accelerating.

When you’re young, your entire life is in front of you. “Someday” is fine when you are 20. You’ve barely lived. “Someday” is fine when you are 30. You still have a lot of time left. But, in the past couple of years, when I’ve had a few moments to glance up from my responsibilities and realize I’m almost 40, I can’t help but think that that's the halfway mark if I’m lucky.

I know a dozen people from my high school who didn’t get to 40. My sister was diagnosed with stage 4 cancer a few years back. She’s is alive, thank god. But, these have been sobering smacks in the face that woke me up to my own mortality.

My Sister Meg Reminds Me How Short Life Is.

The morning we found out about my sister’s cancer, I vividly recall I was playing video games. I still felt like a kid. I wasn’t thinking about death. Retirement was a lifetime away.

I don’t play video games anymore. I put down the Playstation controller and picked up the guitar that was collecting dust in the closet. I always told myself I’d learn to play it someday. Though I suck, I still think you could probably make out the riffs.

My thinking in recent years has turned to what I might be remembered for. “He put 200 hours into The Elder Scrolls 5” is a sad epitaph.

Now I focus my energy on trying to become the guy I picture at the end of his life. That guy plays guitar in a band, runs marathons, travels the world, hosts incredible parties, stays up all night around a candlelit table with friends, studies literature, and speaks intelligently about numerous topics because he has an insatiable appetite for learning.

He had a mid-life awakening in his 30s. He started accepting responsibility. He learned about financial independence. He learned about saving and investing. He bought a rental property, and then turned that into an empire.

When he became a father, he didn’t have a million dollars but retired from his career in TV to spend more time with his daughter and pursue his dream of becoming a writer.