Friday, June 2, 2017

Interview on LifeHacker

The sun has shined on our little blog, as Kristin Wong, she of LifeHacker and New York Times fame, asked to interview me recently on a post I wrote back in April: "Boredom, Cognitive Ability, and the Mental Retirement Effect". After Mrs. Done by Forty and I danced around the living room like children, and I texted every person I know to brag, I said yes.

You can read her piece, "Why Early Retirement Isn't as Awesome as It Sounds," along with all the rest of Kristin's excellent work, on the Two Cents section at LifeHacker.


  1. Wow congrats on the interview!

  2. Just read it - excellent, Brian!!! Good work. :-)

  3. The article was great, the title was super misleading.

    As I commented over there (I put a snippet of this on your original post, but then saw this one, and felt the whole thing was more relevant on this post--feel free to delete either/both if you like):

    "“Why Early Retirement Isn’t as Awesome as It Sounds”? The article doesn’t say anything about that.

    It should have been titled “One thing to watch out for in Early Retirement” or something like that.

    You definitely want to keep your brain sharp, but that doesn’t mean early retirement isn’t as awesome as it sounds.

    There’s TONS to do in ER that will keep your brain sharp. Hobbies, new interests, continual learning, volunteer work, sports, relationship growth, personal growth, etc. etc.

    Early Retirement gives you the TIME to do these things. I’d worry about a brain atrophying while doing the same monotonous work in a cubicle for decades more so than it atrophying in early retirement, with the many options available to you.

    Retirement doesn’t mean you do nothing, it means you can do anything! :)

    And contrary to what the title says, as someone who retired just before 30, I can tell you it’s even more awesome than it sounds. ;)

    This is a well written, interesting article about why one ought to retire to something, not from something. The title just needs to be fixed."

    1. Thanks for the detailed comment, and for stopping by from LifeHacker.

      And also, congratulations on the super early retirement! That's incredible.

      Not to get too deep in the weeds, I think the thing that most of the FIRE bloggers/readers/early retirees seem to be tripping over is the notion that "I'll just stay busy/mentally engaged in early retirement and that will take care of things." But I feel like that misses the point of the research cited in the Freakonomics podcast: put simply, they observed trend was that early retirees had cognitive decline. Was there something different about these early retirees than those in the FIRE community? Perhaps. But it's a big leap to presume what that is. The researchers concluded that it was the retirement itself that was causal.

      Anyway, I know this post throws some water on our plans/dreams. I just want to be really clear that there is an observable, documented risk to our mental abilities, and it really does not seem to be all that clear that simply doing things like hobbies, new interest, sports, relationships etc. will definitely stave off that mental decline in the way that traditional work seems to.

    2. Okay, thought experiment time.

      Let's pretend for a second that some cognitive decline in ER is not only true, but inevitable (i.e. nothing you can do will keep you sharp except paid work). I'm very skeptical, but let's go with it for this thought experiment.

      Here's your choices then:
      1) Work until you're 70 at a 9-5, 40-50 hour/week job. Stay mentally "sharp".
      2) Early retire at 30-40. Have an extra 3 to 4 decades of freedom, and spend the bulk of your life doing whatever you want. Experience some cognitive decline (which in this scenario is unavoidable).

      Which do you choose?

      I don't know about you, but I'll take number two every time. Even if there is cognitive decline, and it's unavoidable, I'd still prefer total freedom, travel, hobbies, etc. over staying "sharp" and going to work day in and day out for decades more.

      And, again, I'm betting just being aware of it will help one stave it off.

      But to each their own. If staying mentally sharp until the day you die is the point of life to you, and you think a job is the way to do that, go nuts! :)

      I'm betting most people would take option two in my scenario though.

    3. "If staying mentally sharp until the day you die is the point of life to you, and you think a job is the way to do that, go nuts! :)"

      I guess we're in the strawman part of the discussion.

      I can see that you're very skeptical of the research, but I have to ask: did you actually read the paper by Rohwedder & Willis, "Mental Retirement" linked to in Kristin's piece, my article, & the Freakonomic podcast? If not, that might be a good next step to test your skepticism.

      The hypothetical question you posed makes me wonder if you read my blog post (the other one you're writing the duplicate comments on). Which of the two choices I'd pick is pretty clear. But just for the sake of clarity, here's the 2nd to final paragraph from my post on the subject:

      "I don't want to say that this podcast spooked me and now I plan on working until traditional retirement age. That's not happening. But I'm not as keen on the idea of "just figuring this early retirement thing out as I go", either. I need to do a better job of mapping out what this next life is going to look like, and how I'm going to keep my mind sharp without all the benefits of a structured work environment."

      Again, I feel like you might think there's a criticism of early retirement here, when there is not. But just as with any life change, one should be aware of the possible risks along with the stated benefits.

    4. Since you seem to have taken my thought experiment personally (hypotheticals aren't meant as an attack), I'll bow out here.

      One thing I will recommend you do is read the LivingaFI blog.

      It covers the "better job of mapping out what this next life is going to look like" aspect, and the psychology of retiring early very well.


    5. Just to be clear, you didn't hit a nerve here. I was actually thinking that you might be taking things personally, as someone who's already FI and might be learning of this research for the first time.

      All I was really wanting to know is if you bothered to read the source material or my blog post prior to commenting. It's not a huge deal either way: it just changes the type of discussion we have.

      Anyway, no hard feeling at all, and apologies if I ruffled any feathers.


    6. No worries.

      I'm not offended in the least (I'm not sure I actually can get offended).

      I always have to laugh though at a post called "Why Early Retirement Isn't As Awesome As It Sounds". Why is there a need to convince anyone early retirement isn't great?

      I did read your post in its entirety. I did go skim the freakonomics transcript, but just part of it; I'm well familiar with the research, it's been around the ER community for years.

      Some discussion on the MMM forums, for example, with this first post being about 4 years old:

      You can find it in the other ER communities as well (, for example), and much discussion around it, potential problems with the research, etc.

      In the end, it's one thing to look out for.

      Boredom is another. Depression. Disillusionment. Disconnection. Isolation.

      All of these things can occur. That doesn't mean they have to, or that early retirement itself isn't great. I think simply being aware of them helps, and talking about ways to mitigate these things is the way to go.

      The thought experiment was intended to help make it clear about one's feelings on ER, if it's still worth it to a particular individual, or not.

      I'm betting the extra decades of freedom would be worth it to most people, so the LH article titling it "Why ER isn't as awesome as it sounds" is misleading to all those people. Especially the majority who will glance at the title, skim for a second, and then give up on saving towards ER.

      Having seen many, many people's lives change (though the MMM forums, and emails I've received personally about changes people are making in their lives due to our example), I have a hard time doing anything but chuckle at people (not you, necessarily, but say, the editor who wrote the clickbait article title on this one) who try to tear down ER. So many people have changed their lives for the better due to the concept, whether that's getting total freedom, or just not living paycheck to paycheck, being able to handle an emergency, or being able to take time off to care for a sick or dying family member, there's so many examples of ER--and the process of striving for it--being amazing.

      A maybe potential side effect that probably can be mitigated? Okay, cool.

      At Camp Mustache 3 (2016) I lead a breakout session on "Post-FI." I totally agree everyone should have a post-FI plan.

      But still charge towards FI as fast as reasonably possible. ;)

    7. Agreed on the overall point: work towards FI, but be aware of the risks, and try to mitigate them. On that front, we're in agreement.

      I don't have the same problem with the title that you do, and I disagree it intended to "tear down ER". Seems like a stretch from where I sit. Frankly, I think this is an issue of semantics, and kind of a nit: no title choice is going to please everyone.

      Reading through those forum links now. It seems they reference different studies on the same subject, which is great. More for me to read. :)

  4. Thanks so much for the insight! I really appreciate your objective take on the topic, too. Your articles always give me something to think about.

    1. Thanks, Kristin. I knew I'd get some push back from my fellow early retirees (or those working towards it), but I found the study to be convincing. We should push for better awareness of the possible risks to an early retirement.

  5. Very cool! Kristin is great :)

    My hypothesis is that the only people who bag on early retirement or those were not able to retire early. It's a natural response. There are and unless I'm out of things to do once you leave corporate America.

    1. Thanks, Sam! What are your thoughts on early retirement?

      I may be wrong here, but didn't we have an old bet about people being able to stay retired after an early retirement? I'd thought you might be an advocate for staying engaged in some sort of work, even after leaving the traditional cubicle life.

  6. Congratulations on your writing success! It was an article which still bothers me because I seem to be pulled along by the goal of ER and when I get there, what will my motivation be? It requires some serious thought.

    1. It bothers me a bit, too, Daizy. No easy answer at this point because the research doesn't specifically state what the special sauce is in working which staves off mental decline.

  7. Congrats on the interview man! Looks like you may have ruffed some feathers there too ;-)

    1. Ha, yes! I suppose if you're not ruffling feathers, then you're not writing about interesting enough things.

  8. Great interview/article and definitely something that should be brought to ER aspiring folk's attention!

    I don't think it will be an issue for me because of this line:

    "The solution seems to be less about working through retirement and more about making sure you’re exposed to stimulating activities when you retire."

    Totally plan on doing that sort of thing, and also like the conclusion you have come to, also keeping on doing some sort of work as well.

    I love playing golf, lounging around, and seeing friends and family, heck even watching TV (Don't tell MMM et al!!!) but I know that I wouldn't find life fulfilling if that's *all* I ever did. So mind stimulating "work" and activities/hobbies is the way to go here.

    Not really sure I got the guys argument above about the click bait title. Didn't seem that bad to me and for him to say "Especially the majority who will glance at the title, skim for a second, and then give up on saving towards ER." - Like as if anyone is ever going to make such a large life changing decision based on a skim read article and title... hah! But agreed with him (and you) on the larger points discussed there.


    1. Totally agree! Nitpicking about a title is kind of at the margins of a material criticism anyway, but how can serious cognitive decline not make early retirement less awesome. I mean, it's objectively less good to have your mental faculties decline, right?

  9. Whao o! Congratulations. That is one good thing about internet. You may just be at the corner of your room while someone very important may locate you. And that can be a turning point you need to get to the next level of life. There was a time an influencer re-tweeted my post. That actually gave the traffic to my website a boost. Even though the traffic later dropped but it has never returned to the level it used to be.

    1. Thanks! Yeah, even the temporary traffic boost is pretty sweet.