Sea Story: Blowing the Job Interview of the Decade

I’ve finished blogging about the main text of the book. Of course I’ve left out a few things that you’ll want to read in the book itself– the chapter checklists, the personal stories, and other goodies. Impact Publications says that the book should show up at in May and in the exchange bookstores by August.

Before I blog about financial material from the appendices, I thought this would be a good time to recount how I was enjoying early retirement so thoroughly that I couldn’t even recognize a job interview– let alone take part in it.

Several years ago, about the time I started writing the book, an alumni group was having their 55th reunion in our city. My spouse and I volunteered (on a weekday morning) to staff the hospitality suite to talk story and hand out luau tickets for Hale Koa.

We expected a rare opportunity to see a snapshot of the lives of those who’d gone before us. To travel to our town these alumni would have to be sentient, at least somewhat mobile, and affluent. What a great chance to see veterans and long-term retirees in action, and to learn from the experts!

We met veterans whom we’d only read about in history books— heroes of the Korean War, the Vietnam War, and decades of Cold War battles. Many had gone on to successful civilian careers. We also met their spouses and families and heard dozens of fascinating unpublished (sea) stories. It was wonderful to get to know these harbingers of our own aging, and an inspiration for reflecting on our own lives.

My spouse and I, in our 40s, were asked by several of those alumni how we found the time to volunteer.   Why weren’t we at work? We explained our military careers and our early retirement. Our plans were met with the usual disbelief and warnings of certain boredom and lack of fulfillment. We soon dropped the subject– this demographic was not the right audience for an ER discussion.

On a sad note, one spouse of a retired flag officer quietly took aside my spouse to ask her how we could afford early retirement. My spouse explained our savings and our investments and living off our military pensions. She shook her head sadly and said “Oh, his pension’s not big enough, and we don’t have any savings or investments.”

Later I looked up her spouse’s military pension– he had retired in the late 1970s and his payments was adjusted for inflation, so in today’s dollars he was receiving over $100,000/year plus Social Security. Yet their expenses were still too high to live without working. They have a very nice home in a very nice neighborhood, and probably a very big mortgage to go with it.  Back then he was over 75 years old.

During the morning, one alumnus stood out even from among the other more flamboyant and voluble attendees. He was of modest stature and seemed reserved, even shy; but he possessed a room-commanding presence. He had the martial “look of eagles”. His voice had the timbre and echo of professional speech training, and his words were full of credibility and experience. He mentioned that he’d flown cross-country to spend this time with his classmates, even as it took him away from a ceremony at our alma mater. When pressed he admitted that he’d just been honored as one of its distinguished graduates.

He seemed familiar but I’m embarrassed to admit that his name didn’t trigger our limited memories. (We certainly weren’t part of his social or professional networks.) Later we read much more about his impressive military career and his even more outstanding accomplishments in the corporate and non-profit worlds.

He had accumulated much recognition and many awards. He was certainly financially independent and was thoroughly enjoying serving on corporate boards and volunteering with non-profit organizations. His legacy would be reflected in history books, museums, and monuments. His contacts and recommendations would open doors of opportunity across the nation in military and corporate circles. To be blunt, he was the job-seeker’s employment reference of a lifetime– a fantastic networking contact!

While he’d been talking with the group, he’d also been observing my ponytailed enthusiasm about surfing and our stories about our family’s ER lifestyle. During a late-morning lull when my spouse and I were alone with him he asked me “So, Doug, who are you with?”

My reflex response was “Why, I’m here with my spouse.” (My spouse thought he wanted to know which alumnus brought us to the reunion.) As my confusion showed, he clarified “No, no, with what company are you working?” I quickly assured him that I was delighted with early retirement and not seeking employment. After a few skeptical questions he accepted my opinions (without understanding them) and moved on to other topics.

Later that night, as my spouse and I learned his biography and discussed our conversation, it became clear that I’d stumbled into the job interview of my life– and totally blown it. I was absolutely oblivious to the rare opportunity he’d offered and blissfully ignorant of its significance.

It was the clearest sign yet of how thoroughly I’m enjoying early retirement.

I retired at age 41, and by the time the book is published I’ll have only been early retired for nine years. According to the actuarial tables I can expect to live to at least age 67. (I’m looking for triple digits, but that’s another story.)

It’s quite possible during the next two decades or so that I’ll find my avocation– service with a non-profit, private philanthropy, or maybe even a real job with a paycheck. However, I’m enjoying writing, surfing, taekwondo, reading, home improvement, and everything else in my life too much right now to even think about searching for an avocation. It’s quite possible that ER is my avocation.

I hope the book helps you achieve financial independence and lets you feel free to retire on your terms.

Related articles:
Book update: printed by March 2011
Myths of military retirement and early retirement
Start saving early
Simple ways to start saving
Where to put your savings while you’re in the military
How many years does it take to become financially independent?

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WHAT I DO: I help you reach financial independence. For free. I retired in 2002 after 20 years in the Navy's submarine force. I wrote "The Military Guide to Financial Independence and Retirement" to share the stories of over 50 other financially independent servicemembers, veterans, and families. All of my writing revenue is donated to military-friendly charities.

  1. Thanks!

    That was a very interesting day.

    It was also interesting because the hospitality suite was on the 35th floor of the Hilton, where I could look down on Queen’s at a solid 4-6 feet swell all morning. It was killin’ me because I’d left the longboard back home, never expecting to get a chance to use it. I didn’t think this was quite the crowd for free surfing lessons…

  2. Of all your posts, this one is the best (IMHO). Excellent work!

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