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We rarely regret the things we did do, only the things we didn't do

A post on Facebook got me thinking. An anonymous poster was asking for help - should he retire?


In broad terms, his post said that:

  1. He has a good job, one that pays a nice salary, along with a car and even a house.

  2. His savings and investment portfolio are comfortably sufficient to provide an income to live the life that he'd want.

  3. He doesn't want to spend his whole life working, there are other things that he also wants to do.

  4. But when it comes to the does he or doesn't he retire decision, he's unable to make the choice.

I don't know this guy, so I'm going to have to make some assumptions but, my first thought is that it's a big decision, and it's not unusual to be finding it difficult to choose. My second thought is what a great position he's in. He's confident that his finances work for retirement and he seems to have some ideas as to what he wants to do if he were to retire (I wish I'd had such confidence back when I was making my own early retirement decision!)


Against these plus points, I can imagine there are a couple of things that might be troubling him:

  • Fear, of making the wrong decision i.e. if he chooses to retire and then finds that he wishes he hadn't. I get this, but it's only half the thought process. Exactly the same logic and fear question should be asked of the stay working option i.e. it might feel like the safer option, but it could equally mean missing out on a new part of life that might be awesome.

  • Identity and status, or rather the loss of it? Our social system attaches significant importance to what we do for work, with much of our identity and status being linked to our job. In his Facebook post, he wrote about his successful career and it quite reasonably seemed to be a point of pride. Deciding to take steps away from that identity and status can be difficult.

I suspect that the Facebook poster knows in his heart what he wants to do, and is looking for some confirmation, for people to tell him he's right and that he should go for it. I guess I'll never know what he decides.


A quote that I thought came from Mark Twain is worth keeping in mind for such situations:

"...you will be more disappointed by the things you didn't do than by the ones you did do." Apparently, not Mark Twain

My Google searching tells me that it wasn't Mark Twain who said this, but that doesn't diminish it's value. I've found it to be good advice, and feel it suggests that we try to be a little brave or bold in deciding what to do. Looking back at the more significant decisions where I've made the braver or bolder choice, I can't think of a single one that I've regretted. Even those few that didn't go as perfectly as they might still gave me a great experience and the knowledge that at least I tried. I'm sure my life would have been poorer if I hadn't made those difficult (and perhaps risky feeling) choices.


Making your early retirement decision
Good advice, even if not from Mark Twain

I can't say what the anonymous Facebook poster should do, whether he should embark on an early retirement life or continue working, but I hope that he might be thinking about the twenty years time quote while he makes his decision.







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Guest
Sep 17, 2023

As the Canadian band The Tragically Hip sings, "Nobody's interested in something you didn't do".

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Getting Minted
Getting Minted
May 28, 2023

I think his stage in life is important. If he has achieved all that he wanted to do in his career, then why not stop working. If he can be comfortable explaining his situation and choice to those around him, then why not stop working.

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Guest
May 29, 2023
Replying to

Why would he need to explain his choice to others or indeed care about what he has or hasn't achieved in the past?


All that matters in my opinion is will his future be better working for however long he may continue to work or not working and having the choice to do what he wants with his life, but with less money than he would otherwise have.


I retired last year and found the decision fairly straightforward. I appreciate it may not be the same for everyone, but what I had done in the past was definitely irrelevant and what others thought (other than my wife) was also not a consideration.


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People who work in palliative care have reported that those at the end of their lives often say one of their biggest regrets is " they wish they spent less time working and more time with their loved ones". I guess it comes down to your personal values and what you value most at the end of the day.

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Absolutely, it is a very personal thing, so what floats my boat might not be for someone else. I like my current situation where I largely enjoyed my career and am very glad that I had it, but now I'm enjoying having a new and different part of my life. It feels like the best of both worlds.

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Guest
May 22, 2023

Loss of identity and status is a really interesting point and one that I struggled with when making the decision. I've had lots of conversations along the lines of Q:"So, what do you do?" A:"I'm actually retired" (almost apologetic in the response), Q:"So what did you do before you retired?" It is quite sad that people judge who you are by what you do.


Another thing I've experienced is that there can almost be a bit of "survivors guilt" post retirement - if that makes sense? It's not really helped by the fact that most of my peers and friends are still working.

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Replying to

I don't have any survivor guilt, but I absolutely do recognise your portrayal of the what do you do conversation. Saying I'm retired when you don't fit the expected age profile can sometimes be a conversation killer. I guess that work does fill a large amount of our time but now, looking back, I think it's a bit sad that when I worked, the expected response to the what do you do question was for me to say I was an accountant, when I really hope there were other parts of my life that were much more interesting.

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"...you will be more disappointed by the things you didn't do than by the ones you did do." This is more of a statement on how the mind works. In fact, it probably tells you, in the end, that humans make decisions based on emotions instead of thought. Which is probably why the statement shouldn't be the basis of good decision making. If i were Mark Twain, i would disassociate myself from this quote too ;).

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Oh, I'm not so sure. I equate it in some ways to my technique of looking at a decision and saying I don't want to look back and think "if only" or "I wish" I'd done it". Also, I think emotions are a normal thing to be included in many of our life decisions, for example, if I'm looking for a home and considering two different houses, then including the one that I can emotionally picture making my home is valid part of the decision.

Of course, emotions should only be part of a decision, the hard facts and figures have to work too. As you say, the statement shouldn't be the basis of decision making, but I think it…


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