Fifteen years of semi-retirement: A real-life look at what it’s like to live more and work less


Today’s “money story” is a guest post from Bob Clyatt, author of the outstanding Work Less, Live More, which is one of my favorite books about financial independence and early retirement. [My review.] It’s an update on what his life has been like since moving to sem-retirement fifteen years ago.

I had the good fortune to start a digital design firm in 1994. I sold it during the dot-com frenzy, leaving me with a bad case of burnout and full retirement accounts. It seemed like the right time to pull the plug, so in 2001 — at the age of 42 — I left full-time work.

I embarked on a self-funded post-career lifestyle that wasn’t quite retirement (at least not in the traditional sense). I chose to do part-time, work-like activity in order to stay challenged and engaged while also closing budget gaps. Five years later, I wrote Work Less, Live More, which popularized the notion of semi-retirement.

So, I guess the big question is: Does semi-retirement work? What has it been like for me and my family? What lessons have I learned since embarking upon this path?

The Way to Semi-Retirement

The quick answer is: Yes, semi-retirement can and does work. The investing approach outlined in Work Less, Live More has sustained our spending since the day my wife and I quit work in early 2001. Our savings have allowed us to have part-time, low-paid (but intrinsically fun and meaningful jobs) at a time when the normal people in those jobs can’t actually make ends meet — and can’t enjoy them as a result.

My wife works ten or twenty hours a week in a large specialty women’s clothing store. Her job allows her to stay connected to her interests in fashion while spending time with a younger generation of women: her co-workers and managers.

Meanwhile, I got to pursue my dream of becoming an artist. I went to art school, then built a sculpture studio. I now show and sell my work everywhere from Hong Kong to Paris, from trendy art fairs in Miami to galleries in Manhattan. [Check out Clyatt’s contemporary sculpture at his website.]

Bob Clyatt, sculpting
Bob Clyatt, sculpting

I’ve certainly had fifteen-hour days and eight-hour weeks in semi-retirement, but mostly I putter around in the morning before going to my studio after lunch. I spend an active afternoon sculpting. At night, I’m parked on the couch just like the rest of the country.

Like all artists, I sigh that I don’t have as many sales as I’d hoped after an art fair or gallery show. But then I pinch myself and remember that the art itself is getting better. I remind myself that creating the art is deeply meaningful and our financial needs are still covered by our savings.

Our Time in Eden

We have a close family.

Our two sons (now 21 and 25) were short-changed for Mom & Dad Time during the 1990s. Business trips and long hours at the office scarred me deeply and took me away from the kids. This was probably the driving force pushing me toward early retirement, actually.

But were able to spend a lot more time with the boys once we chose the path to semi-retirement. (They probably got too much time with us by the time high school and college rolled around!) We bought a boat and took plenty of family vacations, and there was always time to play catch or Frisbee while the kids were growing up.

Once I left the rat race, I got into yoga. I spent more time working out than the average executive could ever dream. Staying fit takes time and energy. I had plenty of both. We also took the time to to prepare healthful meals at home. As I get older and I’m unable to eat as much without packing on the pounds, preparing exciting, well-made food has been something of a compensation.

Now that our kids and in-laws have moved out, our house is more than we need. It requires plenty of work, but is a source of enduring pleasure for us. The gardens and grounds are Edenic. We entertain a lot at home, and the studio I built on the property a few years back has made me something of a homebody (gladly so!).

Work Less, Live More
Work Less, Live More

I have the time to think, to…

Marcela
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Marcela

COO at oneQube
COO @oneqube | Angel Investor | Proud mom | Advisor @TheTutuProject | Let's Go #NYRangers
Marcela
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