Is Early Retirement Selfish?

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The drive for financial independence and early retirement from the corporate world seems like such a fundamental motivator for me that I am often surprised when I see people bashing it. The argument that I think holds the most merit is that early retirement can be considered selfish.

I think there are absolutely some selfish factors about my goals. I want to have more free time. I want to get away from environments where I need to take orders from others. I want to be able to spend more time with my family. Of course, I would also like to have some time to play video games. For me, one sentence justifies these desires.

We are all going to die.

Despite even the best efforts to stay healthy, you and everyone you know will someday die. It’s a bummer, but it’s true. There are only so many days you are going to walk this earth, how many of them do you want to spend making SOMEONE ELSE RICH? That is what you do by staying in the workforce unless you work for a non-profit. If you enjoy your work every day, then by all means, continue as long as you wish. However, many of us have worked just as hard, but either never got an opportunity to work for the companies we want, or found out our dream job wasn’t all it was cracked up to be.

So, let me pose this question. Which is more selfish? Working 40 years at a marketing company to make as much money as possible and feeling like a “contributing member of society,” or working long enough to reach financial independence so you have the time to do something more fulfilling and meaningful.

Here’s another misconception naysayers have about early retirement. Many of them think that all we want to do is sit on the couch, watch tv, golf, and sleep. Every person that I’ve talked to who is seeking early retirement has said they want to give back to society when they reach their goal. Whether it’s through volunteer work, counseling, or donating to charity, the early retirement pioneers see financial independence as a means to a benevolent end. A person with enough free time (achieved through financial independence), may find they have the inner desire to make the world a better place.

My favorite case study for this concept is Bill Gates. At several points in his career, Bill Gates could have sold his Microsoft shares and donated the cash to charity, but he didn’t. He kept growing that capital and eventually started the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, which arguably contributes more to the betterment of society than any charity that he could have donated to earlier.

Early retirement is hardly the most selfless thing in the world. However, in terms of the greater good, there’s a case to be made that achieving financial independence is not an entirely selfish goal. What good would you do if you had the time and money?

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