Take a year off ... and do nothing
Why Retire As Young As You Can?
You cannot change your past ... but you can change your opinion of your past.
Robert Kiyosaki is an author, investor, educator and entrepreneur.
After nearly ten years of hard work and struggle I had become financially free at the age of forty-seven. That year, in 1994, a friend called and said, "Be sure you take at least a year off after the business is sold."
"A year off?" I replied. "I'm going to retire and take the rest of my life off."
"No you won't," said my friend Nyhl. Nyhl had been a member of the team that started and built several major businesses, two of them being MTV and CMT, Country Music Television, back in the early 1980s. After having built and sold some of those businesses, he retired at age forty-one. We had become friends and he was now passing on his lessons from retirement to me. "In less than three months you'll be bored and you'll start another company," he said. "The hardest thing for you to do is to do nothing. That's why I recommend you set a goal to wait at least a year before even thinking about starting another business."
I laughed and tried to reassure him that I was retired for good. "I have no plans on starting another business," I said. "I'm retired. I'm not going back to work. The next time you'll see me you won't recognize me. I won't have a suit on nor will I have short hair. I'm going to look like a beach bum."
Nyhl heard my words, yet he was insistent. He wanted me to hear and understand what he was trying to tell me. It was important to him that I understand his message. After a very long conversation he was beginning to get through to me. Finally I heard him when he said, "Very few people have the opportunity you have. Not many people are financially able to stop working and do nothing. Not many people can truly retire in midlife . . . during your prime earning years. Most people can't afford to stop working, even if they want to . . . even if they hate their job. . . they can't stop working. So don't take this gift lightly. It is a gift few people will ever be presented with. . . so take it. Take a year to do nothing."
Nyhl went on to explain that most entrepreneurs sell their businesses and start another business right away. He said, "I used to build a business, sell it, and start immediately building another one. I had built and sold three businesses by the time I was thirty-five. I had a lot of money but I could not stop working. I did not know what stopping meant. If I was not working I felt useless and felt I was wasting time, so I would work harder. My hard work was robbing me of life and time with my family. Finally I realized what I was doing and decided to do something different. After I sold my last business and put the check for millions in the bank, I decided I would take a year off. Taking that year for my family and me was one of the best decisions I have ever made. That time alone with myself, having nothing to do, was priceless. Do you realize that since we are five years old, we are in school studying and once we are out of school, we are working? Very few people have the luxury of at least one year to sit and just think and be with yourself."
He told me that as soon as his affairs at home were tied up, he and his family moved to a remote island in Fiji and sat on the beach. He said, "For months, I just sat on the beach, gazed at the crystal blue ocean, and watched my kids enjoy a life we all dream about." Once they had had enough of Fiji, he moved his family to Italy and sat there for months doing nothing. "It was a full year before I became a sane human being again," he said. "I had no idea how hard it was to stop waking up and thinking I had something to do, a meeting to attend, a plane to catch, to make enough money to pay the bills. It took a full year for me to slow down and let the adrenaline leave my body. It took a full year of relaxing to slow down enough so I could think straight and become whole again. I was now forty-one years old. For thirty-six years I had been running to get somewhere, and now I was there."
The Hardest Thing I Had To Do
Nyhl was correct. The hardest thing about being retired was having nothing to do. After years of school, classrooms, tests, meetings, airplanes, and deadlines, I was truly conditioned to get up and rush off to do something. Just before retiring, I remembered hating the pressure and the worry of work. I remembered thinking, "Only six more months and I will be free. I can retire and do nothing. I can't wait till the business is sold and I can stop this madness."
In September of 1994, the sale and transfer of assets out of the business was complete. I put some money in the bank, invested in a few more apartment houses and warehouses, and formally retired. I was forty-seven and my wife, Kim, was thirty-seven. We were financially free with the rest of our lives yet to live and enjoy. And just as Nyhl warned, within weeks after selling the business I was restless. I continued to wake up early, only to realize that I had no plans for the day. I had no one to call and no one called me. I was alone in my house with nowhere to go. I was soon restless and irritable. I felt useless and unwanted. I felt my life was being wasted and I was unproductive. I wanted desperately to work on something but there was nothing to do. Nyhl was correct, in that for me, having nothing to do was the hardest thing for me to do.
Kim had her business of investing and managing her real estate portfolio. She enjoyed it and went about it at her own pace. She would find me in the kitchen bumping around trying to do nothing.
"Are you looking for something to do?" she would ask.
After a few months of trying to do nothing, Kim and I decided to vacation in Fiji where Nyhl went for part of his year off. I was excited about just going somewhere, even if it was to just do nothing.
Within three weeks of deciding to go to Fiji, we arrived by seaplane and were greeted by smiling Fijians with flower leis and tropical drinks. As Kim and I walked down the long pier that jutted out over the crystal blue water, I thought I had arrived on Fantasy Island and was waiting to hear a short chubby guy saying, "Boss, de plane, de plane."
This island was more beautiful than Nyhl had described. I could not believe its beauty. Being raised in Hawaii, I could not help but say to myself, "This is the way Hawaii used to be and this is how Hawaii should be." Yet as fabulous as this secluded island was, it was too slow for me. I could not believe that paradise was making me crazy. I would get up, have a healthy breakfast of fruit, jog for a while, and then spend the day at the beach. After an hour I was stir-crazy. As beautiful as the beaches of this island were I was ready to get back to the States and start a new business. I did not know why I had promised Nyhl that I would take at least a year off. Two weeks was all that I could take of paradise. Kim could have stayed forever but I was ready to get home to Arizona. Why I needed to get home, I do not know. . . but we left paradise and headed home.
Sitting at home was not much better than sitting on the beach, but at least I had my car and familiar places to keep me distracted. A new neighbor came over to introduce himself one day. He too was retired but he was about twenty years older than I was. He was sixty-eight years old and had been a high-profile manager of a Fortune 500 company. Every day he would come over and talk about the news, weather, and sports. He was a nice guy but sitting around trying to do nothing with him was worse than the worst meetings I had ever been in. All he wanted to do was work in his backyard and play golf. To him, retirement was pure heaven. He did not miss the corporate world at all and just loved his free time doing nothing. I realized that I would wind up like him if I hung around him much longer. When he wanted me to join his men's card group at the country club, I realized that I had to find something else to do in order to do nothing.
Finally, I could take no more. One day I said to Kim, "I'm moving to Bisbee. I need to go somewhere that I can be busy doing nothing." In a few days, I moved to the small ranch that Kim and I owned. It is a beautiful yet secluded piece of land, hidden in a valley, covered with tall oak trees, an intermittent stream, with lots of deer and an occasional mountain lion, nestled high in the mountains on the Mexico, New Mexico, Arizona border. I had finally found my place to take my year off . . . a place where I could be busy doing nothing. After a few days of just sitting in the mountains, in my cabin without television or radio reception, I began to calm down and settle into my year off. My breathing slowed down and so did my pace. Peace and tranquillity became a part of everyday life, rather than the pressure of meetings and deadlines. My year off had finally begun and it was as Nyhl said, "A gift few people will ever be presented with. . . so take it." It had taken me nearly six months to slow down enough to begin my year off.
Starting Life Over Again
Sitting alone in my mountain cabin, I had the time to reflect on my life. I thought of all the stupid and impulsive things I had done in my youth. I thought about the choices I made and how each choice, even though not a brilliant choice, had been important in shaping who I eventually became in life. I had the time to sit and remember my high school days and the friends I grew up with. . . friends I rarely see today. I recalled my friends from college and wondered how they were doing. This time alone gave me the opportunity to reflect on how much the friends of my youth impacted the man I had become.
There were so many moments sitting in my cabin that I wished I could go back in time and be with my boyhood friends again. I wanted just to laugh and be young again. . . but now all I had were the precious memories. I wished I had taken more pictures and written more letters and kept in touch more.. . but we had all become busy with life and had gone our separate ways. Sitting in the mountains, in front of a roaring fire, playing back the memories of my youth was better than going to a movie theater. The time off gave me the time and the solitude to replay in vivid detail the memories of my past It is interesting that even the bad times were not that bad. I came to appreciate my life, the people in my life, the good and the bad, and as messed up as my life was at times, I greatly appreciated my own unique life.
In those quiet moments, I realized that we all have the potential to be good and bad. We all have the potential to be great, but greatness was not to be a part of my youth. I was not a child genius, a musical prodigy, an athletic star, nor was I in the in crowd, or invited to many parties. In looking back upon my life, I realized my life was average. . . but sitting in the mountains made my average life very special to me.
I had time to think about my family, old friends, guys I played sports with, old girlfriends, and old business partners. I thought about choices I had made and wondered what would have happened if I had made different choices. .. choices such as, what would have happened if I had married my girlfriend from college, settled down, and had kids, as she wanted to do? What would have happened to my life if I had not decided to be- come a pilot and fly in Vietnam? What would have happened if I had avoided the war as most of my friends did? What would have happened if I had gone for my master's degree instead of starting my nylon and Velcro wallet business? What would have happened if I had not lost two businesses before finally having one work? What would have happened if I had not met Kim and gotten married? What if Kim had not stuck it out with me when times were really bad? And most importantly, what did I learn and who did I become because of the successes and failures my life had presented me?
It is true that you cannot change your past. . . but you can change your opinion of your past. Up until this time in the mountains, my past was just a blur. It was just a series of people and events that whirred by as I rushed through each day of my life. The solitude in the mountains gave me the opportunity to stop my life and take a look at it. There are also many things I have done in the past that I am not proud of and would not do again. There are many mistakes I wish I had not made and lies I wish I had not told. There are also many dear friends and loved ones that I hurt along the way. There are many people I love dearly but I do not talk to anymore because we disagreed on something silly. During this year off, I found out how important those events were in my life. Sitting alone in the quiet of the mountains, I reconnected with my past friends, family, and myself and thanked them all for being a part of my life. Sitting alone in the mountains, I had the time to say "thank you" to my past and prepare for the future.
Today when I speak to groups about taking a year off, I say, "The best thing about retiring early and taking that year off in midlife was that it gave me a chance to start life over again."
A suggestion: Regardless if you can retire early or not, I suggest taking at least an hour each month to reflect on your life. Taking the time to reflect on my life I found out:
1. What I thought was important was not that important.
For me, the best thing about retiring early was learning to appreciate life, even if it was hectic, stressful, and filled with problems. When I had nothing to do, I found out that I did not know what to do if I had nothing to do. Today, I truly appreciate the hustle and bustle of life because I know what it is like to sit around doing nothing. So whatever state your life is in at present, take a moment to appreciate it . . . because tomorrow it will only be a memory.
Robert and Kim Kiyosaki, Fiji 1994. Free at last.