A software developer who retired in his 30s says he went back to work less than 2 years later because the free time didn’t make him any happier

Early retirement isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.

At least, it wasn’t for Tony, who retired at age 37 and prefers not to reveal his last name. He was able to retire with savings in the mid-six figures thanks to a high income working as a software developer and low expenses; he paid $400 a month for a house and land owned by distant relatives, where he started a farm.

However, not long after making the leap into early retirement, he found himself in a “spiral of thinking,” he said in a recent podcast with Brandon of The Mad Fientist, who retired early at age 34. He had intended to build skills and learn new things but never followed through with them because he was depressed and anxious, he said.

“Because of privilege and just lucky timing, and then all the hard work that I did to save so much money, I just
felt like, ‘I have all of [this] stuff. I have all [this] free time. I live in this beautiful valley on this farm. And yet, here I am, miserable,’” he said. “That was some of the lowest times I’ve ever had.”

Less than two years into early retirement, Tony went back to work part-time in the tech world — an easy decision, he said, because there were three things he missed during early retirement.

Early retirement lacks 3 things, according to one early retiree
Tony said the biggest thing he missed was human connection.

“After I retired, I kind of built my own lifestyle that didn’t include a lot of habitual human contact that was not at work,” he said. “And so that was a big thing. I think if I was going to do something different, the biggest part of it would be building human contact into your daily — not daily routine, but definitely your weekly routine.”

Even on days he felt like being social, he added, all his friends were busy working their nine to five jobs.

He realized that he missed his own nine to five: Early retirement also lacked the fulfillment his work had brought him. “It’s really fulfilling to work on something you’re good at doing,” he said. “So, I think me, especially, and a lot of people I’m sure, we like to learn new things and do things that are difficult. And a big part of that is failing over and over again. And that can get fatiguing after a while.”

He continued: “So, I think just doing something that you’re competent at is its own reward in a lot of ways. And then, I’d also say that working on hard problems with other people that you respect is totally a drug. I don’t know, there’s something juicy about that.”

The money didn’t hurt either, he said. While one can pull from investments and savings during early retirement, the steady cash flow that comes from a job (unless you have passive income from a side hustle) is often missing. “I just view it as like a bounty now,” Tony said. “It’s like I don’t need to worry about taking care of my needs. I know they’re taken care of.”

Early retirement isn’t for everyone

Tony experienced some of the early retirement drawbacks that early retiree John of “ESI” Money previously highlighted in a post published on Business Insider. They included loss of income and reduced social security, mental and physical decline, loss of social interaction and identity, boredom, and lack of challenge or purpose.

Tony’s not alone. After retiring early at age 34, Sam Dogen of Financial Samurai suffered an identity crisis, felt stuck in his head, was disappointed he wasn’t that much happier than when he was working, and felt like he lacked purpose.

Seven years later, he decided to go back to work full-time because there was nothing more he wanted to do in early retirement and he wanted to “feel normal again.” And, like Tony, he missed the camaraderie at work and wanted to make even more money.

“Having the freedom to do what you want cannot be overstated,” he wrote. “However, your mind will play games with your spirit during the first few years after leaving work. Some of you won’t be able to handle early retirement life and will go back to work.”

According to Brandon, a job can offer opportunities you can’t access on your own. For example, he noted, working for a big corporation might give you more leverage.

“I think people get so hung up on the early retirement part, but the whole point is happiness,” he added. “So if you step away from work and realize that you’re missing a lot of these things, and the easiest and best way to get those things is to get another job — a full-time job, even a part-time job, or whatever — there’s no shame in that.”

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