The Cliff of Irrelevance

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It happens quickly.

One minute you’ve got a nice title, one you’ve worked decades to achieve.

The next minute, you’re irrelevant.

What can you do to survive the Cliff of Irrelevance?

The Cliff of Irrelevance: that point in time when that title you worked so hard to achieve becomes irrelevant. It happens quickly. Are you ready? Click To Tweet

The Cliff Of Irrelevance

I recently threw away a stack of my “Corporate” business cards.  I was moving into my Treehouse Writing Studio and realized those cards were irrelevant.  They represented what I had been in the past, back in my “working days”.  They meant nothing to me anymore, so two years after my retirement I was able to throw them away with little emotion.  But still…it was a strange realization of how little my job actually mattered now, in spite of the fact that it once was a major part of my life.

We’ll all face the realization at some point that our jobs don’t matter very much.

If you’re still working, you’ll probably face that realization sooner than you expect.  It’s coming, trust me.  Don’t sacrifice everything in your life for the sake of your job.  It’s not worth it.  It’ll be over soon, and you’ll have nothing left that matters to you.

If you’ve already retired, you probably went over that Cliff of Irrelevance and realized in time how irrelevant your position really was in the “bigger picture” of life.  I’ve got a lot of retired friends, and it’s interesting to me how little time we spend talking about what they did for a living.  With many of them, I don’t even know what their job was.  It doesn’t matter anymore. 

It’s irrelevant.

Retirement is a cliff. Things that once mattered, suddenly don't. Things that didn't matter, suddenly do. Click To Tweet

Retirement is a cliff. 

Some folks go over that cliff and seem to soar, while others drop like a rock.

What happens when we go over that cliff of irrelevance, and what can we do to ensure the best possible transition?


A Reader Faces The Cliff of Irrelevance

Today’s post was triggered by an email I received from a reader, the key element of which is presented below (a few edits were made to protect the reader’s identity, bold emphasis added by me):

The company had a reduction in workforce and I  was selected. Not only did I not have to pay my bonus back, but I was given a good severance package. I got exactly what I wanted and what I was hoping for.

Now, I am free, yet I cannot help to think that all the knowledge which I acquired through all my career as an industry expert will soon cease to be needed in my new life. It is hard to imagine that what you have worked on all your life to acquire is suddenly going to a closet to never be needed again.

I don’t have the feeling of uselessness, I am nervous about letting everything go and dedicate myself to playing golf, travel, wine, and dine. There is a feeling of guilt, fear, loss, etc.

Any advice?

 


My Response:

How do you respond to an email like that? 

I enjoy interacting with the readers of this blog and had a good exchange with the individual above. He’s certainly not alone.  Many of you struggle as you experience the Cliff of Irrelevance, and most of you never saw it coming.  Following are several relevant excerpts from my exchange (emphasis added):

Thanks for reaching out.  First, rest assured that your concern is far from an isolated situation, many people go through this same feeling as they face the transition into retirement.  Second, congratulations on scoring the good severance package and getting out of the two-year obligation early, it’s rare to get “exactly what I wanted and was hoping for”.  Well played.
 
More importantly, the reality of the mental adjustment to retirement is what you’re facing.  It’s very real, and it can be a very difficult transition for people.

Now, the hard part.  The reality is that, in all likelihood, the expertise you built during your career is much less relevant once you’ve retired.  I spent 33 years in the aluminum biz, gave presentations to rooms packed with 400+ industry leaders “back in the day”, and was widely regarded as an “expert” in the field.  Today, it’s irrelevant. 

I went on to give him some advice about how to start finding a new purpose, a new relevance, in retirement.  I’ve incorporated some of that advice into the “How To Survive The Cliff of Irrelevance” section a bit further down in this post.


Your Professional Decline Is Coming…Sooner Than You Think

I read a fascinating article on LinkedIn last night, and it fit nicely with this post.  If you’ve got some time, you may be interested in reading Your Professional Decline Is Coming (Much) Sooner Than You Think

The article penetrated my brain. 

The article is a fascinating look at a successful man dealing with the reality that he’s facing the Cliff Of Irrelevance.  As I told the reader in my e-mail, he’s certainly not alone.  If you’re struggling with the cliff of irrelevance, I encourage you to read the LinkedIn article.


flying over the cliff of irrelevance

How To Survive The Cliff of Irrelevance

While thinking about the cliff of irrelevance, I realized that a hang glider doesn’t take flight until someone runs off the edge of a cliff (or down a big hill). 

Retirement is like that.

You can’t really fly until you conquer the cliff of irrelevance.  Retirement does NOT mean irrelevance.  Quite the opposite, actually.   The cliff isn’t the end of relevance, but rather the beginning of flight. Consider your mind to be the wings of the hang glider.   Prepare it appropriately, and it will carry you over the edge.

You can choose to fly.

You can choose to be relevant.  


How To Be Relevant In Retirement

Finding a way to reinvent yourself in retirement is up to you.  No more bosses, no more guidelines.  This is something that each of us must do for ourselves.  Retirement does not mean the end of relevance.  Rather, it’s an opportunity to create relevance in areas that matter to you. 

Find your Purpose.  Build your wings.

I’ve written thousands of words on how to find your Purpose in retirement, and I won’t try to recreate that wheel here.  Rather, I’ll summarize the essence in 3 words:

Pursue Your Curiosity.

A few examples are in order. 

As I mentioned in my e-mail response to the reader above, a few years before retirement I gave the largest public presentation of my life to 400 executives from throughout the global aluminum industry.  It was a big stage, and I was in the spotlight.  Fun, that. I was relevant and able to discuss dozens of global trends and how they affected “our” industry. I could banter for hours with anyone, about almost any topic in the field.

None of that really matters now.  It’s irrelevant to my life in retirement.

Before I retired, I pursued my curiosity of writing, without ever realizing where it would lead.  I’m humbled when I realize that tens of thousands of people now read my words every month.  Thousands of you have read my book, Keys to a Successful Retirement.  I’m helping people make successful transitions to retirement.  The feedback I get proves to me that I’m making a difference.  A hobby that I started 3 years before my retirement by pursuing my curiosity has become part of the wings on my hang glider.  The satisfaction I get from knowing my efforts are helping people is more rewarding than anything I experienced in my 33-year aluminum career.

I’m retired.  But, I’m relevant.

My wife, Jackie, is the Founder and President of a successful non-profit called Freedom For Fido.  In 2020, pursuing her curiosity led to the creation of a charity that built 23 free fences for low-income families, and freedom for 56 dogs in our area.  Dozens of volunteers donated 750 hours of effort in building fences.  Donors helped fund the $14k+ required to buy the supplies.

Ask Millie or any of the other 55 other dogs who are free because of her.  They’ll tell you.

She’s retired.  But, she’s relevant.


From the Freedom For Fido Facebook Page:  (click the link to follow along on our Freedom Quest)

overcoming the cliff of irrelevance


We’re not stopping there.  We’re continuing to pursue our curiosity and our wings are continuing to grow, making it easier to catch the updrafts to ever-increasing heights.  I’m becoming a woodworker, and my efforts will provide doghouse shelter to more dogs who live outside.  We’re buying a second home to be able to spend quality time with our granddaughter in her critical early years (I’ve got a future post coming out about the home purchase, stay tuned), and we hope to have a major impact on her childhood development.   We’re active in our community.  Our hang gliders are working, and we’re flying high on the relevance we’ve developed for ourselves in retirement. 

I’m not alone.  Many of you have shared your stories with me of what you’re doing in retirement.  You’ve found your “thing”, and you’re relevant.  I suspect many of you found your “thing” by pursuing things that you were curious about.

What’s your hang glider look like? 

What are you doing to continually grow your wings?


base jumping over the cliff of irrelevance

The Base Jump Approach

While the hang glider may be a smoother method of launch, many retirees choose a harsher option, the Base Jump Approach.

In this adventurous approach, they simply sprint over the edge of the cliff.  No pre-planning, no pursuit of retirement curiosities in their final years of work. 

A simple sprint to the edge, followed by a heart-stopping fall.

I don’t recommend this approach, but I’ve seen it time and time again.  I suspect the writer of that earlier e-mail has “decided” (the lack of a decision is, in itself, a decision) to follow the base jump approach to the cliff of irrelevance.  He’s not alone, as anyone who has faced an unexpected retirement knows.  The lack of planning your approach to the cliff of irrelevance doesn’t eliminate the cliff. 

The cliff is still there, and you’re still going to go over it.

It’s a scary time, and many struggle with the drop.  As I wrote in Will Retirement Be Depressing, your chance of depression increases by 40% in retirement.  I dedicated an entire chapter in my book to the Hidden Challenges of retirement.  I suspect many of these could be avoided by planning how you’re going to deal with cliff of irrelevance before you become airborne.

While not as comfortable as the hang glider approach, the recommendation to pursue your curiosity remains valid for those taking the Base Jumping Approach.  As I did with my friend Joe when he faced an unexpected retirement, I encourage anyone taking this approach to ask themselves What 3 New Things Are You Going To Try In Retirement?

Don’t be naive.  

Recognize in advance that retirement is a major change in life.  

The cliff of irrelevance is coming.  

Prepare for it.


Conclusion

It sounds harsh, but the reality is that what you did for a living is essentially irrelevant after you retire. 

Things that once mattered, suddenly don’t. Things that didn’t matter, suddenly do.

Don’t fret about it. Get on with finding the things that matter in this new phase of life.

Learn to fly.

Become Relevant.


Your Turn:  Did you struggle with the Cliff of Irrelevance?  Did you take the “Hang Glider” or “Base Jump” approach?  What suggestions do you have for others who may be struggling with their loss of identity?

91 comments

  1. Excellent article and very timely. We are 3 months into FIRE and I had a few “irrelevance” moments yesterday so you can imagine my surprise when this article came thru this morning! Thanks

  2. Great article!!! I will retire officially February 1st but with covid-19 and other benefits I only have to go in about 5 more days. I am currently getting ready to leap off the cliff. We will RV in 2021 and hang out at home and don’t have any ” have a to be anywhere” plans for the first year. A tip from you to break the work structure. My question is I worked hard to earn a CA water distribution license that was required for work. It requires 16 hours of study hours every two to maintain. It can be used in the whole state. Do I just let it go? Is it irrelevant? What about other licence the group may have. You don’t just throw away your masters degree when you leap. Or do you?

    1. David, congrats on having only “5 more days” in the office (this WFH stuff has to be pretty nice for those of you still working!). Great idea to hit the road in the RV, we spent 3 months in the Pacific Northwest last summer and loved it. Take advantage of your Freedom while you can.

      As for the license, not sure how often those 16 hours of study are required (you stopped at “two”, I assume you meant two “years”?). If, in fact, 16 hours of study extends your license another 2 years, I would think it’s worthwhile to extend it one more time after you retire, just to keep your options open. I know CPA’s who have done that, just so they’d be able to do part-time tax work, if the mood strikes.

      1. Yes. That is the plan. Take the RV out and see all the National parks and then my mind will be clear. I am free!!! Yes. For two years. I will keep all my options open and my brain working.

        Thank you.

      2. I’ve done that with certifications too. Now, almost 3 years in, I’m ready to let some but not all of them go. Cost is certainly an issue as is the hassle factor in keeping up some of the certifications. Keep your options open the first couple of years. That is the time when you have the best connections for consulting, part time and side hustle within your field. After that, it is much harder. I found that I was curious about things that had little to do with my previous vocation and much more to do with choosing activities to pursue that kept me connected with people. Friendships matter more in retirement since you have less opportunity for easy interaction. Retirement takes intentionality.

  3. Great article. I have not touched ground yet after going off the cliff but hoping for a smooth landing. The reality of not being needed stings sometimes but the freedom to explore is exciting. I have found glimmers of purpose but nothing definitive.

    1. Nah, that’s just your plane gaining speed on a steep descent to prepare you for that aerobatic loop ahead of you. I’ve enjoyed following your journey, Planedoc. I’m sure you’ll overcome the cliff of irrelevance in your typical “high flying” fashion.

  4. I do enjoy your articles and appearances on podcasts! Living vicariously while still approaching the edge… such a bittersweet thought this article addresses. It occurs as I read it – to pivot on the thought and state “I once was less relevant in the most important areas and now can improve on that in a big way.”

  5. I loved the quote Pursue Your Curiosity. It made me smile because my kids, who are either in college or graduated, have heard me time and again saying find something that will always spark your curiosity. Passion is nice, but curiosity is stronger. It will serve you well. I still have about 5 years before retirement and I am practicing what I preach. Besides setting up the financial part, I am setting myself up to be curious about what is next that I want to learn and grow with.

    1. Your kids have heard you, but are they listening? Smiles.

      I agree on the statement that “curiousity is stronger”. It leads to some amazing discoveries, and is a fundamental key to a great retirement (and, a great life). Are you listening, kids?

  6. My father was a workaholic . He loved working and as a kid I remember that the most about him being absorbed with work . He finally fully retired in his 70’s.

    At his 80th birthday party I put together a slideshow of his life. As I did I realized there were few, if any, pictures of what had absorbed him. No corporate pictures, no buddy pics of all the names I heard . The real life was in family and friends. I’m a bit of a chip off the block but have made an effort to live a more diverse life and recognize that in the end all that crap that we thought was so important and made us relevant was in fact , irrelevant.

  7. Starting out as a young lawyer, I was interviewing a retired executive who was a witness in a case my firm was handling. I needed to schedule a deposition for him and asked him for some dates, he said he had to check his calendar, and when he pulled out a little pocket one, it was completely blank for the two months he checked. The look of embarrassment and shame on his face was painful to look at and I quickly looked away, but I have never forgotten that moment, 35 years ago. Friz, this article should be required reading at every B School. Thanks for the fair warning! And awesome work for the dogs!!!!

  8. This speaks to me Fritz. Five years ago I was a star in our small state’s business community. I ran one of the largest, oldest and best known companies in our region and literally everybody knew my face and my name. I had the cell numbers for governors, senators, billionaires and CEO’s in my phone and they would take my calls. I testified before House and Senate committees in DC, had my times on Youtube and in the press. I was making more money than I ever thought possible. And then I retired. But I knew myself well enough to avoid the cliff jump plan of action. Instead I ramped down into consulting in the same world I had worked in, for only a few hours a week. But it kept me in the news at times and rubbing shoulders with the same rich and political types. Now I’m ramping down again. In a few months I’ll leave the consulting behind, once I’ve made sure I’m not leaving my clients in the lurch. And then it will be volunteering, tennis, hiking, church, fishing, off roading and something new. I haven’t figured the new thing out yet, and I think I never will unless I let go of the last bits of the old life. I’m thinking mentoring of some nature, maybe via a local university’s fledgling engineering department or maybe in some other way. But it is time to make another change. The consulting isn’t providing the same sense of purpose work used to. It still scares me to contemplate. In a few hours I’m meeting with my clients to tell them I’m on my way out of the consulting gig. Wish me luck!

    1. Your story makes me think of a star quarterback who “retires”. The brighter the limelight, the bigger the cliff.

      Great move to move into consulting. I was going to mention that option in my article, but edited it out due to length. Definitely a viable option for keeping a toe in the water, as is my role on a Board of Directors in a company in my field of expertise. Tough to keep these posts to a “readable” length, I have SOOO much I could say on this topic. Good luck on the “second taper”, sounds like a major call later today. BTW, I love the idea of mentoring. Thanks for adding value to the discussion. Wishing luck…

  9. The thing that is bothering me more than the job irrelevance is that my college diplomas will no longer be worth anything. I won’t need them anymore. I figure that I spent the equivalent of about 3 years 24/7 in college classrooms accumulating 460 college credit hours, and that doesn’t even include the homework, studying, and travel, not to mention the inve$tment. Now it will be irrelevant. Wow! That’s like a 3 year prison sentence, and now nothing…… Makes you wonder……. I tell my own kids to not worry so much, it all works out in the end…..

    1. Remember what they say about a degree or diploma…. they can’t take it away from you. Your diploma started you on a path and your path is about to change. Your education and experience will help you navigate the approach to the cliff, and hopefully to a smooth landing!

  10. Sorry, but hearing that people are “suffering” the loss of self-importance is so annoying. Are we so narcissistic? I am a physician transitioning into retirement and while I am proud of my accomplishments, I also know there is a lot more to me and what I have to offer the world, even though becoming and being a doctor has been the majority of my life. My opinion is the best way to stay relevant is to find a charity or cause that speaks to you and contribute as much time as you can. There are so many to choose from, and many are in desperate need of people that are smart, organized, and have flexible hours. Focusing on something outside yourself will keep you relevant. I am not talking about doing just the activities that the charity lets 15yo kids do, but truly use whatever skills you have accumulated in your work life. Or like Fritz’s wife, start your own! You may have been an expert is some particular area, but you probably also became an expert in writing, public speaking, time management, networking, etc. If people can’t come up with something to do in retirement except try a couple hobbies, or mourn that their “important” job is now over, that is truly sad.

    1. DL, unfortunately many in our society are, indeed, “so narcissisic”. Oh, the stories I could tell….

      I think we all live somewhere on a spectrum from “Narcissist to Humble”. The more narcissist a person is, the steeper the cliff. We should all strive for humility, life’s just better that way.

      I agree 100% with your opinion about pursuing charitable work. Focusing on others brings a sense of satisfaction and Purpose that far exceeds focusing on Self. And yes, applying your skills from work into a cause that can use them is a great way to develop Relevance in retirement.

  11. Nice article – I’m in the camp that thinks one should put your expertise to work after one retire if it’s a field you’re passionate about, even for just a little while to help smooth the transition. I was in K-12 education as a district leader – part of my job was leading teacher workshops, it was my favorite part of the job. I was able to move into consulting for the state education department with most of the time spent leading teacher workshops. Like Steveark, I spent the first four years of retirement I spend time each summer traveling the state and working with teachers – it let me see where my expertise had led me and helped – a little more each year – to let go of that part of my life. While doing the summer workshops I had to stay relevant, taking online courses and diligently working to keep up with advances in computer science education. After four years I was ready to fly off the cliff leaving education behind and letting my license expire. These days I stay connected to K-12 education by working with high school seniors and their parents, on a volunteer basis, to prepare for the college decision. It’s rewarding, helps me stay connected in my community and satisfies the need to put some of my expertise to use, including financial knowledge. The bigger cliff I went off? I now work with VITA each February – mid April doing personal tax preparation on a volunteer basis. I like the service aspect and my skills at keeping a large room of folks orderly, engaged and at ease with the subject matter are relevant. There is still not a day, ever, that I wish to be back in the workplace – the work we put into achieving financial freedom has given us the best payoff of any work or personal project done to date.

    1. MdH, that’s a great camp to live in. Definitely, using the skills that you’ve acquired during your career in a new way is a great way to find relevance in retirement. As mentioned Steveark’s comment, I agree that consulting is a great way to do exactly that, if it appeals to you. Interesting to see that both you and Steveark took that path as a transition plan, glad it worked out well for you. Wishing Steve luck that it works as well for him (I suspect it will). Glad to hear you’ve gotten “the best payoff” from your financial freedom. Well played, and others can learn from your experience. Thanks for adding value to the discussion.

  12. Hi Fritz

    Thanks for your messages. Enjoyed your book. I might suggest a slight spin on the word “irrelevance.” As an early retiree myself (54) and 3 years into it, I have to say, the hand glider approach is by far the way to go. While I agree what one did while working is no longer important in retirement, the skills learned are extremely relevant. Titles no longer matter. No one cares. But what they do care about is your ability to help others with those skills earned and learned. That’s where Purpose comes in.

    As a senior leader in a Fortune 100 biotech company, I learned so many transferable skills that I’m using in a number of ways. First, I’m mentoring young business students from my alma maters, helping them think through career interests and supporting their efforts through the Entrepreneurial Incubator programs to help them start their own businesses upon graduation. Second, I’m assisting leaders of a 501c3 focused on helping homeless Vets get back on their feet and transition to permanent housing, through process improvement workshops and goal setting to ensure they can continue this high level of success. Third, I’m pursuing a few consulting projects here and there in my field of expertise because I still love the area of biotechnology and find it is an opportunity for continuous learning. The first two are my giving back, the third is a small stream of income my wife calls, “The Bourbon Budget.” 😎

    So, I would agree, who you were before retiring is Irrelevant, but what you learned is highly relevant when focused in the areas of your Purpose Projects.

    Keep up the good works, my friend.

    1. Stan, thanks for the “book plug”, and for the valid point about the relevance of the skills learned during a career. Finding a way to redeploy those skills is a key in finding Relevance/Purpose in retirement. Yours is a great example in how to go about that effort. I love the focus on homeless Vets, a worthy cause, indeed! Congratulations on a race well run, hope you don’t overspend in that Bourbon Budget. Smiles.

  13. Great article Fritz. My opinion is that “what you are doing for a living is essentially irrelevant – even at the time you’re doing it.” We have a tendency as humans to base far too much of our identity on our jobs which can lead to trouble down the line. While I was a Fortune 500 exec, I never took it as anything more than what it really was – Doing X each day to get a paycheck to fund my life. It’s easy to see how our psychology can lead us into that trap, but a trap it is. I suspect that this may be a factor in increasing the predisposition for retirement depression.

    Like your own example illustrates, the real magic of retirement is that you get to create your own, real relevance. One of the things I love most about retirement is looking in the mirror each morning and asking “Who do you want to be today?” knowing that it can be anything or many things. A writer, a musician, a servant helping others, a mountain hiker, a blog commenter – that’s what I am today and therein I find my relevance. And tomorrow I’ll get on the glider again and soar toward my passions!

    1. “We have a tendency as humans to base far too much of our identity on our jobs…”

      There you go. 17 words which perfectly summarize my 1k+ word post! Pithy work, Mr. Fate. Glad you decided to be a commenter during your morning mirror session. Your relevance is firmly intact. Wink.

  14. Great Article, certainly the transition from being an expert in your field to in my case having to catch up after being asked to consult with my old company has been difficult. Even after retirement I consistently received calls with technical questions to the point that I was asked to come back as a consultant by my old company. This opportunity has been a two edge sword. First because everyone wants and needs to be needed and being asked to consult and make use of my 40years of experience is very flattering. The problem somewhat reverse of your article has been that I find myself lacking the passion I once had to truly devote my time to helping the company not that I don’t care or want them to achieve success but because I have made that leap and found other activities to pursue. Not sure of my next step but I am sure it will involve setting my priorities and limiting my time allocated to consulting.

    1. Todd, interesting dilemma, and one that makes me think of my Father. 6 months after he retired as a University professor, he was asked to come back due the unexpected mid-term departure of another professor. He had a really tough time trying to get back on the treadmill after a 6 month absence, and made his transition to retirement more difficult. When you make the leap, it’s best to make the leap.

  15. Another great article…it really made me think – 3 months from The Starting Line and official notice in this week and I still feel funny telling people I am retiring(at 47). I have been saying – “My husband is retiring in March and I am leaving my position at the same time”. What is the cause of this? Fear of irrelevance? (never occurred to me as a possibility until I read this article), Embarrassment? ( seems weird), Imposter syndrome? (am I not good enough to retire at 47), Fear of nonconformity? (what my hubby thinks!) Fear of people’s reactions ( there have been some doozies!). Alas, my soul searching for the answer continues. Maybe I will figure it out just in time to celebrate “our retirement” in March! There I said it! This is of course a safe space to declare such a crazy notion!

    1. What!!?? How in the world can a 47 year old RETIRE?! What’s wrong with you? Haha.

      Interesting that you’re struggling with telling folks you’re retiring, intriguing list of potential causes. Practice a 30 second elevator speech, it gets easier in time! Congrats on your earlier retirement, you embarrased, irrelevant, non-conforming imposter…..

  16. Nice article as always Fritz. You do a great job of putting things into perspective. I enjoyed reading your book, thank you.

  17. The Cliff of Irrelevance is somewhat similar to when a man realizes that that pretty young woman is looking through them, not at them. For me, both have happened, and my pride will not allow me to state which was first!

    My first day of retirement is 1/1/21, and that is my choice, not my employer’s. I could work longer, but just like the idea of always being able to say 2020 was the year I hung it up, (and I have the T-shirts that state that).

    On the topic of irrelevance, I’ve never really lived for work; rather worked to live. I have this thing called “The Bus Theory”. The concept is that if someone gets hit by a bus while crossing the street, he/she will be replaced by their employer before the funeral service. And on 1/1/21, I’ll be replaced, while I move on to the rest of my life.

    1. So, I’m not the only one that wondered when he suddenly became transparent? 😉

      Happy New Year! 2021 is going to be a great year in the life of JD…just don’t get hit by a bus. Great theory, that, and one I’ve seen demonstrated personally several times during my working years. None of us are irreplaceable, nor are we nearly as valuable as we think to our employer. Life goes on…

      1. Many, many years ago I had a boss about thirty years older than me that shared his perspective on job relevance. He said that “the graveyards are full of indispensable men” (and women).

  18. I agree with the comments posted above – it’s another great article, Fritz, and one that resonates as a recent retiree. I’m in the transition period and writing “retiree” is still not natural. Similarly, I haven’t updated my LinkedIn profile. I don’t think it’s narcissism but a reflection that I spent a lot of time in a professional setting and took pride in my work. With that said, I think I’m depending on my calendar as much now as ever. I recently joined a public board and am having a great time pursuing something I’m curious and passionate about. I may not be using the technical skills I honed over decades in a field but I am able to use my experience and life lessons to [hopefully] make a contribution and impact.

    And, congratulations Fritz for your transition and the contributions and help you’re providing so many of us. You communicate naturally and effectively to dispense common sense information that paves the way to the cliff we’ll all come to. In many ways, you’re the wings that will help many of us soar.

    1. Interesting comment about the calendar, I find myself relying on mine more in retirement than I did in my working years, too. I never thought that was possible, but it’s a reality. Thanks for your kind words, love thinking that I’m helping people grow their wings. A real compliment, indeed.

  19. One calling, many assignments
    I have looked at life as a calling. It has taken me awhile but I have realized my calling has been to help people be successful.
    My assignments have been as a pastor, teacher, employment and vocational counselors, a parole officer and even a season in retail sales. I’m currently a financial advisor.
    I anticipate, at the start of retirement, a season of hobby pursuits, birdwatching, rv travels, motorcycle rides, back to learning Spanish, and many unfinished honey do projects.
    Yet, I know all of those things will not be filling without that aspect of helping others. Perhaps, that will be in grandparenting, more church involvement or helping others while doing the hobby activities.
    Life is a mix or enjoyment and purpose.
    Be well.

    1. What an interesting life you’ve led. I love your calling, and it’s interesting to see that you could fulfill that calling in each of your chosen professions. Wow, what a varied career you’ve had. Best of luck on your journey, thanks for taking me along.

      1. From Who’s who to who’s that?
        I discuss with my clients
        Martin Selegman’s thoughts about the components of positive mental health.

        P – Positive Emotion
        E – Engagement
        R – Relationships
        M – Meaning
        A – Accomplishments

  20. Again, you nailed it.
    One of the last things I did while gathering my hat and backpack was tossing the 1/2 used box of business cards into the trash. It was not only a bit concerning and sad, but at the same time even more a rush of relief, and more pressure lifting off my chest. It was the real “It’s over, I’m done, onto the next career- Retirement !!
    And a big thanks to you, I’m enjoying it even more from your writings, keep the ink following Fritz. Your doing a fine job.

  21. Fritz! Exceptional article and a keeper for the “what I learned in 2020 file!” As I’ve shared with you, this is something I’ve struggled with in my life. Being a FIRE family, it’s fun to have lots of options, but causes you to search deep when struggling for a sense of purpose/relevance when you get there; real-world problems, I know!

    Two quick observations from your writing and others’ posts:

    1. The idea of following a passion in retirement that makes a little money or is volunteer work seems to be a common theme.

    2. We had a revelation recently that may be applicable for your readers, like us, in their 40’s that are able to retire early. We often find it difficult to align with the thinking and views of those our own age and align much better with folks decades our senior.

    1. Wow, I made it under the wire for that 2020 file….with only 2 weeks to spare.

      Good observations, interesting to see a FIRE enthusiast relating more to us “oldsters”. I think the stage of life often drives your connections more so than your age.

  22. I retired in the fall of 2019 at the ripe old age of 52. It was always in the back of my head to reach some level of financial independence so I could be choosy about what employer I would work for. Thanks to your writing I realized I did not have to wait until later to retire and decided to leave the corporate world when I did versus the safer route of “one more year.” COVID has delayed some volunteer activities but we have made up for it by traveling around the US in our Class B RV…three months on the road and 14,000 miles later. Our local Habitat is getting ready to break ground on a new housing project and I can’t wait to help someone else realize their dream of home ownership. Purpose is key to a happy retirement as you have expressed in your writing and this will assist the transition process. Travel, dining, golfing, etc is great but the focus need to be a balance of internal and external activities.

  23. hi fritz. after reading that atlantic article i’m glad i wasn’t a french horn prodigy. unlike many high professional achievers i was pretty much a career slacker. on the other hand i had all the fun up until age 35 and only got “serious” about 17 years ago so there is no fear of missing out on the crazy stuff i could do when i was young and dumb. i did all of that and found a nice cushy spot at work where i had to figure out what to do with my time even though i’m still working. it’s so easy the past few years it feels a little like retirement.

    i couldn’t agree more that finding an interest paid or unpaid ahead of time is pure gold. i like the mentoring idea or at least attempting to provide value to the world. we’ll see where it all goes but contentment at home is a good start.

  24. Thanks for another 5 star post. One I can identify with.
    2 Months after I retired, I was invited to the 100th anniversary party of the founding of one of the companies I worked for. The party was huge, may be 1000 people. I ran into many old friends from various stages of my career. There were contractors, vendors, union reps, tradespeople, owners, and engineers. We shared war stories and memories for hours. I had a blast and was exhausted by all the back slapping and hugs throughout the night.
    On the way home, I was overcome by an immense sadness. When I got home, I talked to my wife about the great night, what I was feeling, and went to bed. The next morning the sadness was still there and then after a while, it hit me, the previous night was my career funeral. It was a final goodbye. I was putting that huge part of my life behind me and moving permanently into a new life. Once I had that realization, the sadness left me, and the work I had done to plan for my retirement left me in a good place.
    People heading toward retirement need to be aware of impact the change of their identity could have. My little drama lasted 12 hours. I’ve talked to people who still living their past life 10 years later.

  25. In many ways, great portions of our college educations also became irrelevant as we progressed in our careers. I got a BSEE but never did a lick of electrical engineering, rather used my M.S. in Optics. And as I progressed up into project and program management, did no firsthand engineering design or calculations whatsoever. I learned a whole heck of a lot of business skills that were never discussed in college – – cost & schedule management, risk & opportunity management, business development, proposal development, etc.

    1. Interesting comment, as I just read this morning that ~60% of folks end up pursuing careers outside whatever area their degree is in. BSEE and M.S. in Optics, sounds like Valerie is one smart woman. 🙂 Never stop learning, never stop growing. You’re a case study in how it’s done.

  26. This is a great post Fritz, one of your best. Mainly because it’s so darn true. I’m not even fully retired yet but I reached that cliff after a few years in a senior management job that was mostly full of BS bureaucracy. I realized that I had a positive impact on my organization during my career, but that was then. It’s in the past. I’m using my graphic arts business as my “hang glider” to make the fall off the cliff easier and more fun. And since I’m still working 20 hrs a week at my job it’s not quite as drastic. But every week that goes by I find myself checking out a bit more mentally, and moving on.

  27. I have never really had a “Title” other than Educator. I miss the days when one of my students would say “OH that is interesting”. But times move on and the memories will be there for as long as I live. Volunteering in the Athletic Department helps a little, but COVID has shut that down for 9 months now. I have BIG plans but COVID has put a halt to that to. Oh Well “These are times that try men’s souls” Thomas Paine

    1. Thomas Paine? Now THAT man could write! One of the best books I’ve read is Newt Gingrich’s “To Try Men’s Souls”, gave me a real appreciation of the impact Thomas Paine’s words had on the creation of this country. Great reference for the times in which we live. Hang in there, COVID will be behind us soon enough…

    2. Please try and adapt. You seemed to do well with the old system. Students are struggling more than the instructors.

      From your experience – how can you help the best students? How can you help the poorer students? How can you help the students who are most like you? The rules have changed; help who needs it.

      Regards,
      Mike

  28. Your article was thought provoking and probably came at a time when I needed it most. I have been toying with the idea of retirement for years but have been fearful of just what exactly will retirement look like for me as I do not have ‘passions’ nor have I ever felt a ‘calling’ on my life ….but maybe none of those things matter as much as I originally thought they did in terms of having a ‘successful’ retirement. I am chuckling to myself that maybe retirement doesn’t even lend itself to categories like successful or unsuccessful. I have several interests and have even thought that working a summer with cool works.com might be, well, fun! I have been a mental health provider for years and am completely burned out. I know it is time to move on and I am quite inspired by your article and by the many intriguing and thought-provoking comments that have been left by respondents. I am probably more ready to glide off that cliff of irrelevance than I ever thought I would be. Thank you for the manifesto! I am thankful for your great insights!

    1. I also just purchased your book Keys to a Successful Retirement and cannot wait to read it. Thank you!

    2. Monta, glad the timing of this post was good for you. If your numbers say you’re ready, it’s time to overcome that fear. Life on this side of The Starting Line is amazing, you just have to prepare for the transition. Great idea to pursue coolworks, we’ve considered that ourselves (though our 4 dogs make the logistics a bit challenging). Good luck on your journey, and thanks for purchasing my book!

    1. Thankyou – I have found a number of your posts valuable as confirmation of my approach leading to early retirement in the next few years.

      On this particular topic I had an interesting experience a few years back when I met up with a former boss of mine who was then about 60 and had just retired from his very successful corporate career and was doing some high priced consulting. I knew he had been paid many millions over his career and over a beer I asked him why he didn’t just retire and enjoy relaxing and doing fun things? …his answer was effectively that after many years of being treated as a person of importance (he’s actually a down to earth guy and never lost the common touch) it is very hard to adjust to just being considered another ‘old guy’ walking down the street. I couldn’t necessarily relate to this, but I did get it. Interesting.

  29. Frits, I probably missed this somewhere in the article but you yourself made a wise transition. According to your LinkedIn you’re currently serving on the board of aluminum corporation. I used to work as independent contractor in to a prestigious country club North Atlanta. One thing I noticed was some of the very wealthy older individuals was they never really retired. Instead, they would serve on multiple boards and sometimes with companies were previously they had been the CEO. Some of these boards are more active than others, but no way were they busier than when they worked. Additionally some of the salaries of this board members is very significant. I am in government service so that doesn’t doesn’t exist for me. But if I was an executive cooperation, I would drive work towards a goal of serving on a board. Another opportunity is becoming a consultant. My friends dad was an engineer in the oil and gas business in Texas. When he retired he became a consultant. He said there’s no way he could officially retire when they were paying him so much money and requiring less hours of work as a consult.

    1. Bryan, as mentioned in the comments, I think both consulting and Board work are viable options for smoothing the transition. I agree that folks can benefit from a Board role, though they are hard to land. I was fortunate to be invited to serve on a Board, and enjoy the quarterly interaction.

  30. Another great post as most have said. The hang glider analogy is a great one. For me it comes back to the old adage of “Work to Live, not Live to Work”. Work is very important to achieving your financial needs, but it always has to be kept in perspective as to it’s real importance of life, which should not be in the top couple of priorities. Our culture isn’t really conducive to this, with our keep up with the Jones’ view, but it is a key point that I’ve tried to pass on to younger folks. The real key is recognizing more to life than work at an early age. I guess those are the people that make up the FIRE community???

  31. First-time poster here but long-time reader! My husband and I are going to hang glide off the cliff on December 31 at 2:30 p.m. We both work for the same company–me for 38 years and my husband for 29 years. The cliff of irrelevance is real even in the months leading up to retirement. You’re slowly not in the center of decisions (or meetings) or sought out for your advice about something planned in 2021. While it stings a little, it also helps you to let go. We’ve been planning our jump for a long time–living below our means and within our needs, working with a financial planner, reading countless articles/books (including your blog and book which have been SO helpful!), and figuring out how to use our passions in retirement to serve the Lord and have some fun along the way. We’re ready! Thank you for sharing what you’ve learned with your readers so you can lead the way for us!

    1. I love “first-time posters”, welcome to the Commenter Club! Congratulations on your launch at 2:31 pm next Thursday! Good point about the Cliff starting before retirement, I noticed the same reality of being less sought after in those last few months of work. I’d forgotten about that element, thanks for the reminder and adding value to the discussion. You’ve earned your “Commenter Card”, I hope you carry it with pride over the cliff!

  32. After reading this article, I had a significant dream. I have been planning to retire for two years, and I’m pulling the trigger in August 2021. Subconsciously a struggle has been playing out for years. It is important to state that I am and have been an educator my whole life, and it has been a passion of mine, not just a profession. Now……to the dream…………..
    I am in a classroom in a large old school building. The classroom is mine. I am with several friends. It appears I have been clearing it out, but when it comes time to leave, I cannot find the key to lock the door.
    I search for hours, but no luck. One of my friends asks if her husband should come to see if he can do it, but when I realize he is going to charge me for it, I decline, feeling that he is taking advantage of the situation.
    I keep looking, and eventually I see a teenage girl in the hallways, and I ask her if I can use her ‘key.’ It looks like a magnet/master key, and she gives it to me, but it is too small. The lock on the door is a very old brass one with a large keyhole. The number on the classroom door is 1. I do not allow myself to leave even when it is 2:00 A.M. as I feel I will be responsible if anything happens due to the door being unlocked.
    Eventually I see a large, principal type looking guy in the hallway. I ask him if he has a master key, as I cannot lock the door and thus cannot go home. He is a very reassuring presence, has a similar ‘key’ to the one the teenager had, but larger. I tell him I borrowed a key from a teenager, but it didn’t fit. He asked me if that was his foster daughter. I said I didn’t know but she was a very pretty girl. He said “No.” I said she was very kind. He said, “No.” Basically, it seemed it was his foster daughter but I could not flatter her for the sake of relating better to him. So, we go to classroom number 1, and it seems as if things could go as planned and the door could be locked, but I wake up before the door actually is locked.

    1. Wow, Freud would have a blast with that one!

      Dreams are a topic I could write an entire post about. They’re fascinating to me, and I’ve had some great ones since retirement (usually work related, and there’s nothing better than waking up and remembering I’m retired. It’s like the honeymoon starts all over again. I had college “stress dreams” for years after I graduated, I wonder how long the “work dreams” will continue…).

  33. Hi Fritz,

    I’ve been a reader for some time now but this is the first time I decided to chime in. I retired about a year and a half ago after running my own business for 37 years. I was never married to my job, it was simply a tool that I used to get to where I am today. Once I was able to retire I put the tool away and went about my life. Some thoughts:

    A college degree isn’t about “the degree” it is about learning how to learn.
    Don’t confuse who you are with what you do.
    Boredom just means you think you should be doing something other than what you are currently doing. Corollary: The solution to boredom is doing something different.
    The secret to getting things done is doing them.

    Thanks for the articles!

    Jim

    1. Welcome to the Commenters Club, Jim. Take a seat right next to Joy. Smiles. I love the concept of a job simply being a tool. When you’ve used it for the intended purpose, it’s simply time to put it away. Nice thoughts, too. Thanks for adding to the discussion.

  34. Thank you for this great article – it made me realized that “jumping the cliff of irrelevance” is actually a unique and rare opportunity to re-start my life, free of financial and career limitations. Actually, it is a kind of start-up where I:
    1. Can do whatever I want with my time and money (I own my time – it is not for rent anymore)
    2. Trial and error is actually time well spent (a counter guild trip to old work habits..)
    3. The important things in life (family, me, friends, community) are truly the essence of life – Career/alary were only the means (how “quickly” we forget)
    4. Retirement makes me realized that successful as a career may be, almost nothing meaningful is left from it once I left it behind (how many of your old colleagues are still your friends?). However, family, real friends, self-development, and adventures, which I have accumulated over a lifetime, will stick with me for the rest of my life.
    5. The more I am vested (like in my career) the more I get involved emotionally (like addiction), but is it really the deep essence of (my) life? (ask any junkie, the answer is the same!)
    6. Guild and fear are in our upbringing and it will haunt us for the rest of our life – Stick to what is solid and happy with your life and learn to enjoy it as it comes – you rightfully earned it in retirement.

    Great site, great articles – more power to you!

  35. Fritz,
    My leap occurred on February 1 of this year and I could not be happier being “irrelevant”. No more
    decisions affecting peoples lives and livelihood, planning budgets into the unknown future, dealing with the Covid issues, how to support employees in financial straits, Government regulations, and on and on. Being responsible for only my family and myself has been the greatest rejuvenation of spirit and energy ever. I have never suffered from not knowing what to do or having enough to do. With time being mine to decide what and where, I feel blessed more than I even thought I would, and that is in a Covid world. I cant wait for the world to open up so I can truly spread my wings.
    I will refer to an earlier posting and my retirement mantra that I stole from it. After all my years of putting off expenditures, family visits, travel and just plain fun with the excuse that someday……
    Well, Someday Came!

  36. This is excellent, as was The Atlantic article. Everyone is replaceable, even if they excel in their chosen field. I think the act of drawing from retirement as opposed to accruing wealth provides a similar experience. You spend all of your years working toward something, and now you’re watching yourself chip away at that prize. But at least there is that prize, unlike in many completed careers.

  37. The irrelevance factor cannot be avoided within the context of the work life. I am in the middle of this as my official retirement date is 12/31/2020. I have been one of those “experts” spending the past 30 odd years as the go to person for a particular product line. I found over the last six months of work, people relied on me Less and less and now at the point of retirement, know that product expertise is of little use in my new life. I am committed to build new areas of relevance in my retirement but realize my happiness can’t be wrapped up in what I do.

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