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Advice / Succeeding at Work / Work-Life Balance

4 Lessons From People Who Retired Early

People who retire early seem to have it all figured out. They can do what they want—completely free of financial constraints. How did they do it? Is there some wisdom that can be gleaned from their success?

Maybe. And though you might not be able to follow in their footsteps just yet, here’s what we can all learn from those lucky (let’s not pretend that luck doesn’t play some small role) folks.

1. Patrick Pichette

Lesson: Don’t let ambition get in the way of life.

Patrick Pichette was most recently in the news for his stunning retirement from his position as Google’s CFO. Despite his impressive career, Pichette chose to retire to spend more time with his family rather than let life get away from him as he chased his ambition.

As he states in his retirement announcement: “In the end, life is wonderful, but nonetheless a series of trade offs, especially between business/professional endeavors and family/community. And thankfully, I feel I’m at a point in my life where I no longer have to have to make such tough choices anymore.”

While you might not be able to choose your family over your salary just yet, it’s important to remember not to get carried away with your career and forget why you’re doing it all in the first place.

2. Greta Garbo

Lesson: You don’t owe anyone anything.

Greta Garbo, an incredibly popular actress in the ’20s and ’30s, surprised the world when she unexpectedly retired from acting in 1941. In fact, she essentially dropped out the Hollywood scene altogether and didn’t even go pick up her Oscar in 1954 when she was awarded an Academy Honorary Award “for her luminous and unforgettable screen performances.”

And while Garbo did sign up for a few additional projects, all of which she quickly dropped out of, she more or less made the decision to be done with acting and stuck with it—for completely personal reasons. She didn’t quit for family (she never married and had no children), and, had she wanted, she could have easily continued to act. But, she didn’t want to and therefore didn’t—and that is totally fine.

While easier in theory than in practice, in the end, you don’t have to do anything you don’t want to do in your career—and that includes continuing it.

3. Michael Jordan

Lesson: You can change your mind.

I’m not going to write an introduction to Michael Jordan, because who doesn’t know who Michael Jordan is? Jordan was frequently in the news, not only for his numerous athletic triumphs, but also the numerous times he went in and out of retirement. Despite his indecision regarding where to end his athletic career, none of his mini retirements hindered his success.

Jordan reminds us that no matter how big of a decision you’re facing, even if it’s retirement, you can always change your mind. Consequences are a real thing, but many times they’re an inconvenience more than a serious detriment. Retirement, like most things, doesn’t have to be permanent.

4. Mr. Money Mustache

Lesson: You don’t have to be rich or famous.

And, the most hopeful lesson of all, even normal people can retire early. Mr. Money Mustache is an engineer named Pete in Colorado who, along with his wife, retired when he was 35 and writes a blog on how he managed it all. With some frugal living and smart investments, he and his young family are completely financially independent—and therefore, in their mind, retired.

In an interview for MarketWatch, he explained, “I realized that you can generally count on your nest egg to deliver a 4% return over most of a lifetime, with a good chance of it never running out. In other words, you need about 25 times your annual spending to retire. So we tracked our spending and our net worth, and when we hit the magic number, we declared ourselves ‘retired.’”

Sadly, I’m not retiring any time soon, but it’s a nice reminder that the possibility is out there. Perhaps, with a clear plan like Mr. Money Mustache, an understanding that there are things more important than my career à la Pichette, and the realization that I don’t need permission from anyone (thank you, Garbo), we can all aspire for some form of early retirement—and then change our minds once we’ve achieved it.

Photo of eye courtesy of Shutterstock.