“Yes, I plan to retire at 55” repeated the evening’s host.
A stunned silence settled over the other diners seated at the table. They wore looks varying from quizzical to aghast.
The tense hush was eventually broken by a series of staccato questions:
“Are you serious?”
“How is that possible?”
“Will you tell me your secret?”
The host kept their cards close to their chest, offering a non-committal answer about finances and pensions.
If you’re presuming that I bravely announced to a dozen others my intentions for early retirement, you’d be sadly incorrect. My secret identity remains just so.
I was, however, present for the above exchange. During it I chose to focus on my dessert (too cheesy) while everyone else stared, goggle-eyed at the seemingly scandalous claims emanating from the other end of the table.
I actually found myself struggling to suppress a grin. Not that retiring at 55yrs seemed comical. I was tickled instead by the other diners, who appeared to have their heads buried so deep in the financial sand that the very notion seemed outrageous to them.
Yet the fallout from the interlude was brief. Heads returned to their warm, comforting sandpits. Conversation moved on.
How far I’ve come
I suppose that a majority of the diners simply sifted the idea into the discard pile. Perhaps rationalising with denial – surely it’s not possible? Or taking the stance that the early-retiree-to-be is a statistical abnormality. An outlier. An anomaly. Maybe that guy won the lottery? Or struck gold?
I wonder what would have happened at dinner if I had followed suit by declaring similar, albeit earlier, intentions? Indeed there was a brief temptation to start explaining how “it’s relatively simple to do if you practice financial discipline and start investing“. I might as well have announced that I was a rabid Covid denier, and would also be explaining why the moon landing was fake and 9/11 was an inside job.
The latter may have gone down better.
The event demonstrated just how my framing of finance has changed. For most of my life retiring early had seemed something that only multimillionaires could do. Now it’s an eminently tangible prospect.
Moving in FI(RE) circles it’s easy to lose perspective. It’s easy to be blinkered to what lies over the bubble’s event horizon. It’s easy to forget how niche FI(RE) truly remains, or that simply investing (without designs for early retirement) continues to be relatively uncommon. This was a welcome reminder of how far I’ve come.
It’s hard to describe why the whole affair made me feel happy. It wasn’t exactly schadenfreude. It was as if I had a naughty, or guilty, secret. An inside joke that only I was privy to. A kernel of hopeful ambition that brings comfort.
Perhaps I was happy because I felt as if I was ahead of the game. Because for what all these others seemed so farfetched is well within the realms of my possibilities.