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Advice / Succeeding at Work / Break Room

Early Retirement's Fine—But Finding a Career You Truly Love Is Probably a Better Plan

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Peter Adeney, 41-year-old husband, father and blogger, is, depending on your point of view, either unemployed, underemployed, or retired. Adeney, whose avatar and blog name is Mr. Money Moustache, maintains that he’s retired and has been for about 11 years. After saving hundreds of thousands of dollars from his work as a software engineer, he decided to stop working and embark upon a life of frugality, in part, so that he could be a fully present dad.

While one could argue that you’re not exactly retired if you’re making $400K a year running a blog, you can’t argue that he’s fully committed himself to the idea that you’re happiest when you’re not working (a traditional job, that is). In a recent New Yorker profile, Nick Paumgarten lays out Adeney’s goals: “1. ‘To make you rich so you can retire early; 2. To make you happy so you can properly enjoy your early retirement”; and 3. “To save the whole Human Race from destroying itself through overconsumption of its habitat.’”

Criticizing American consumerism, and possessing intense beliefs on what one should spend money on (a bike that can carry appliances) versus what one shouldn’t (a nice meal at a restaurant), Mr. Money Mustache purports that there’s always a better, cheaper way of doing things. It’s only by taking control of your finances and refusing to live beyond your most frugal means that you’ll be able to turn the dream of early retirement into a reality.

But, who’s to say that we all want to retire ASAP? I’m younger than Adeney now, but older than he was when he retired, and I can’t imagine not working at this stage in my life—and not just because I can’t afford to. I’ve had a couple less than stellar jobs throughout my career, but on the whole, I’ve enjoyed my experience. While I imagine I could fill a few weeks or months with retirement-like endeavors, after a certain amount of time, I think I’d be incredibly bored, not to mention feel purposeless.

Paumgarten writes that Adeney “disdains the idea of spending another minute of his life in a cubicle, in order to afford a dryer, or a Tesla,” and I can’t help wondering if perhaps Mr. Money Mustache never found his calling. Could it be that he stopped working at the youthful age of 30 because he hated what he was doing? I get wanting to spend more time with your family and friends and not wanting your job to consume you, but isn’t there a happy medium? Isn’t that why we care so much about work-life balance?

Adeney’s goals might appeal to you if you find yourself in a soul-crushing job, miserable for the better part of the week, but they’re not one size fits all, and they certainly aren’t the only option—even if you do despise that cubicle. Before you jump on his bandwagon and vow to save, retire ASAP, and live off of 50 to 75% less than you currently do, consider what alternative solutions for long-term happiness exist—because I promise you, they do exist.

We talk a lot here at The Muse about finding a job you love, but we also recognize that isn’t always easy, and I’d argue, even a necessary, achievement, or marker of success. But the choice isn’t not-terrible job or dream job. As Muse writer Kat Boogaard asserts of the often-elusive fantasy job, “the idea of having this in general seems a little too all-consuming to me—like I need to wait for that piece to fall into place, and then I can finally be happy.”

Happiness can come in many forms. If you haven’t found work that you find stimulating or thought-provoking, if you haven’t found a project that gets you excited, it doesn’t mean you should stop looking and throw in the towel. Resigning yourself to being unhappy until the day you’re able to retire sounds incredibly depressing to me. Sorry, but I’m not buying the idea that the best answer to getting a better life is not working.

Furthermore, I find Mr. Money Mustache’s goals and opinions to be short-sighted and narrow. Paumgarten writes that Adeney “created his Mr. Money Mustache avatar as a way to tell the rest of us, with meticulous and triumphal precision, about his finances and his lifestyle, and about how bad at math and life the rest of us are. We are debt slaves, consumer suckas, car clowns, complainy pants.”

Please. Adeney may have solid math skills and smart ideas about money management, but when it comes to career advice, it seems as though he doesn’t have anything valuable to add to the conversation. If anything, he should advocate for people to pursue a fulfilling life—for him it’s running his blog and raising his kids—rather than imply that following his lead will automatically lead to happiness.

Look, I’m not suggesting that it’s easy to find meaningful work, and that if you hate your job, you should just quit. I recognize that we are often bound by our financial obligations above all else. And yet, I nonetheless support the notion that changing careers is possible and that having a job you don’t dread is worth seeking. It won’t happen overnight, but then again, neither will retirement.

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