Is Stress a Reason to Retire Early?

Is Stress a Good Reason to Retire Early?

Today was a rough day. It started out fine: I got a lot of work done at a couple of rentals and ran some errands. Felt productive. Then around noon, as planned, I headed over to the sports bar near our house to watch Michigan State host Michigan in their annual football slug-fest. We don’t have cable, and this game is one I refuse to miss. So I spent the next three hours watching my Spartans get beaten.

Crazy what being a sports fan can do to you when you lose. Dare I say it was stressful, during and after the fact? I came home in a bad mood and the rest of my day was the pits. Mrs. AC and the kids were in great moods and I was the big dud, all because I invested so much in this game. Yeesh. When will I learn?!?


Today’s post is all about our dear, dear friend, STRESS.

Mainly from a workplace perspective, but stress can certainly pop up from a variety of sources, including relationships and sour outcomes of football games, apparently. Enjoy, and be sure to comment so we can commiserate on this lovely topic.

Recently, after a period of relative calm in Cubical Land, I was in a meeting with a handful of execs… and things, well, blew up a bit. Nothing bad in terms of job security, thank goodness. But as the saying goes, the shit rolls downhill. I was waiting at the bottom with a flimsy umbrella.

A common phenomenon in my company occurs when information is shared up the hierarchy in bits and pieces, and only certain bits and pieces get filtered through. It’s an incomplete picture. Sound familiar? Sometimes this can be good, if the incomplete information keeps execs out of your hair. Sometimes the reconstructed info that bubbles up gets you into hot water. Stress alert!

Stress in the workplace is taking a real toll on us. A recent study by Harvard (in conjunction with NPR and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation) showed that nearly half of working Americans believe their jobs affect their health. Among those individuals, 72% believe their jobs negatively affect their health. Count me among the 72%.

Workplace Stress Avoidance

In my experience, stress-avoidance in the workplace is one of the drivers for strong performance. I don’t want to put myself in the position at the base of that hill with stuff rolling down at me. I try to minimize those events as much as possible. My personal approach is to:

  1. anticipate what my leaders want and expectimage
  2. bring a high-degree of self-confidence, collaboration, and decisiveness to meetings
  3. build and maintain relationships with all of my key stakeholders and colleagues
  4. build a track-record of delivering results

Mastering these four tactics will shape the perception of your leadership. When the stuff hits the fan, you’ll find yourself in a position of strength, and your reputation will shield you from stress-inducing butt-kickings.

Making Work-life Balance Work for You

Another huge source of workplace stress is when work overwhelms your life. Many of my colleagues put in 50 to 60 hours (or more) per week. Some of those hours are spent on weekends, evenings, or even holidays. It’s stressful just to type that! That pattern can play out for consecutive months or years.

Speaking from experience, when it goes beyond a year, there’s a mental and physical toll you pay. I remember just a few years ago in my current job, spending a good chunk of the winter holidays, Mother’s Day, Easter, and Memorial weekend wrapped up in war room calls. Software development deadlines at Fortune 500 companies are highly visible and often contentious, as deadlines are rarely met.

Sometimes there’s not much you can do if you have a big, important project or task to deliver. As with any difficult situation, you can turn it into a positive by digging in and giving your best. Then, you’ll be in a better position to consider early retirement. Rewards (raises, bonuses, and promotions) follow the results. Use those rewards to pay down debt, max out tax-deferred savings, and maybe buy a rental property or two.

The Face Time Myth

If you manage a team, set a good example by sticking to a 45 hour work-week. Avoid sending emails at night when you should be present for your family. Take all of your vacation, every year.

In my experience, the most valued employees are the ones who confidently get results with a great attitude. They’re also the ones who don’t stick around past 6 and aren’t shy about using their time off.

In contrast, colleagues who put in crazy hours and leave vacation on the table are often the least valued and least effective. They don’t know how to prioritize their work, they set a bad example for their teams, and they wind up unhealthy and sick from working an unsustainable schedule.

If All Else Fails, Retire Early!

Having been through a number of stressful situations during my career, I’ve come to understand a universal truth: No matter how high a performer you are, or how highly regarded you may be, there will always be stressful situations to deal with.

You might get a spanking you didn’t deserve because of the warped flow of information or political jockeying among the big shots, or you might have a team that is all-of-the-sudden struggling to deliver. Sometimes there’s a re-org that simply shakes everyone’s confidence, and morale goes up in smoke.

Early retirement is certainly a great option to consider, if any of the following apply to you:

  1. You’re susceptible to stress, and your job, employer, career is stressful
  2. You have identified other, meaningful work that isn’t stressful (or cubicle-bound!)
  3. You recognize that stress is something you can control and minimize, but even after all that, you’ve simply had your fill.

In my opinion, the best and most rewarding work is not found in companies where the CEO makes 300 times the average worker. Be your own boss. That’s the most rewarding.

How to Limit Your Stress

This is one of the things they should teach you in school, along with personal finance – limit that stress! I’ve had to learn most of this stuff over time, reacting first, learning later. Based on my own experience, here are the life stages of growth with stress response:

  1. Childhood stress relief: Go to your room convinced you’re not tired (as mom claims), you are justifiably cranky!!!
  2. Teenager stress relief: Go to your room and blast heavy metal on your headphones (Metallica, likely)
  3. College stress relief: Naps, video games, pizza, more naps, smoke things that make you want to eat more pizza, etc.
  4. Newly-minted worker stress relief: Go to happy hour, drink much beer, and lose sleep in the process, so your work suffers…
  5. Early retirement candidate: Go for a run! (And a few naps here and there…)
  6. Early retiree: What stress???

I owe a great deal to my lovely wife for introducing me to running. Running is an amazing stress reliever. That runner’s high is for real. I can go for long bike rides,  take walks, sling kettlebells around, etc. but no other workout comes as close as plain old running for clearing my mind and getting a lasting, positive “buzz” for hours afterwards. I generally go for 2.5 to 3 miles on an average run. No earbuds, no treadmills – gotta be outside, take it in.

The other key bits of wisdom I try to abide by include:

  • getting at least 7.5 to 8 hours of sleep each night
  • keeping in touch and spending time with old friends
  • limiting carbs and limiting booze to one drink a day (maybe two on occasion)
  • reading books
  • playing and laughing (often) with the family (often overlooked, but so important)
  • making date nights
  • Pick a winning football team!

Stress is something we all have to deal with. Some of us are better than others are managing it. I know I’ve got a lot to learn myself. Now at mid-life, I’m still just a mere novice when it comes to managing my own stress, whether it’s in the workplace or at home. Maybe that’s ultimately why I have this early retirement goal?

Readers: How do you manage your stress? I’d love to learn from you!

Level-Set: The post is indicative of the first-world problems I mentioned in my very first post on this blog. Many countless individuals the world over are going through REAL stress and are in really tough situations. Consider being homeless, living in a war zone, being in an abusive relationship, being bullied, or dealing with addictions. Remembering that our blessings are countless is a supreme means of stress avoidance. Even better if we reach out and help those in need.

Early Retirement Stress Relief

Comments 17

  1. I too, was a victim of corporate stress. It wreaked havoc on my physical and mental health that I only realized after the damage was done. It really is tough to be at the bottom of the hill! Poor health forced me into early retirement for which I was poorly prepared. My retirement income is a mere pittance (due not only because of early retirement, but working for a company with a pitiful retirement plan) and I did not have rental properties to fall back on, I found myself re-entering the work place in a different field. That happened twice as health situations reared their ugly heads in between jobs. There is a lot of wisdom in your plan, so I hope those in your same situation take your words to heart and learn from you.

  2. Corporate jobs have their benefits and they can be stressful too. People like me, who work in small business healthcare sectors, working till the last patient is mandatory. Yes, managing stress is important. Putting food on the table is important too. So, finding a right balance is the way. Finding some time to look around and see the leaves or rain snow is a big stress reliever .

    1. Great points, Pellrider. You know it dawned on me while finishing up the draft that this post almost felt “whiney”. Balance is the key for sure. Getting out into nature is super effective stress relief -agree. If you’re going to run, run outdoors!

  3. Nice post AC! I can definitely relate to the work-related stress you outlined. The key is setting boundaries to get some form of break. It could be as small as not logging back on after leaving the office to taking a vacation as you suggest. These things will give you time to recuperate and come back refreshed. For those with flexible working arrangements this is even more important as it so easy to end up constantly working without those physical boundaries.

    1. Thanks, MsMM! You’re right on about those boundaries. We seem to have fewer of them with our modern technology. Still, we can make a choice! Don’t bring that laptop to vacation, and try to leave that machine at work each day if you can.

  4. I hear you on the football stress! I have gotten better than I used to be about it though. Regarding work, I think a person just has to take a deep breath and put things into perspective. Things could be worse and there is always someone who would gladly switch places with you in a heartbeat. That’s what helps me anyways. Take care!

    1. You’ve gotta laugh with how wound up we can get over a sports team. Sigh… True about the work comment. I suspect that knowing someone could easily take your place is all the more reason to stay focused on an early cubicle escape.

  5. Talk bout stressful- how bout that Game 7!? Tied game and extra innings? Crazy talk.

    The thing at work that stresses me out the most is actually my coworkers. It seems there is always at least one person I don’t get along with. On my current team there’s two of them. They monitor my work, appearance, and hours closer than my manager does! It’s incredibly stressful to know your every movement is being watched with an eagle eye. Fortunately I will be leaving this team soon!

    1. I couldn’t stay up past the 9th inning… go Cubs!!
      Sorry to hear about your situation, Gwen. Having been there before, I can sympathize. Whenever you’re stuck in a “chicken shit” situation, as the military refers to non-material issues, its time to get out. Glad to see you’ll be on your way soon.

  6. “They’re also the ones who don’t stick around past 6 and aren’t shy about using their time off.” I believe this is true! My husband is this! He puts in a solid, productive day, but is out the door and home by 5:30. And he effectively leaves work at work – never bringing it home (unless he’s on call). Though he doesn’t necessarily always love his work, it isn’t a huge source of stress for him. Great advice here!

    1. Your husband is a smart one! I didn’t always follow this course. Often I’d pop open my email at night or on weekends, even during the first year of having our twins. After the last big project ended, I said “enough”.

  7. Early retirement jaded me and now I can’t hustle like the rest of my coworkers – who regularly skip dinners with their families, text work related things at all hours of the night, work all weekend, etc. I did work 24/7 in October and it killed me. Still exhausted from those four weeks. If I didn’t have my relo package hanging over my head, I wouldn’t have done it. Great advice on keeping the big bosses happy to minimize your work stress – and also how details get warped as they go up the food chain – ugh!

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