How Early Retirement Feels Like
For most people, the Holy Grail of life is early retirement. Angel investor and Internet entrepreneur Lim Dershing shares his intimate thoughts on what it’s like to retire early at the age of 39.
Words by Lim Der Shing
This is a personal post and I need to add a disclaimer that I am writing this story from the perspective of someone who has just stopped working for seven months after 14 years of entrepreneurship. I may feel differently two years from now!
I retired at 39. The reason I am sharing my experiences is because I’ve realised that many of the people I’ve met seem to have this glorified, and not necessarily true, ideal of early retirement. Predictably, many entrepreneurs and working professionals seek financial freedom as a key goal in working life. So, I want to share how early retirement and financial freedom has been so far and hopefully, it will help fellow entrepreneurs and other professionals to get another perspective of life after leaving the rat race. This will help them in their decision making and planning.
A bit of background: I have four children, three of whom are 12, 11 and six. The youngest is a six-month-old newborn.
I have had three main takeaways in the past seven months:
- It is possible to stay reasonably busy but feel less fulfilled
My days are quite busy. About half of my time is spent on the kids and other family commitments, 20 percent on various work items (managing my portfolio, meeting potential companies for angel investment, volunteering my time and energy with the South West Community Development Council, Action Community for Entrepreneurship, etc.), 10 percent on exercise, and the remainder on leisure activities (I managed to catch up on The Walking Dead and The 100!). During a typical week, I have, on average, about two to three meetings – talking with companies that I’m looking to invest or have already invested in and chatting with organisations for my volunteer-related work.
Looking back at the past seven months, I feel that all of these activities are actually less fulfilling compared to running a full-time business on top of them. There are two key differences.
- I have no bone to obsess over
Now, instead of digging in and being intimately involved in a business, everything is more touch and go. There is no bone for my mind to chew on daily. Portfolio management has sort of replaced this since I can obsessively track gains and losses and there is an endless amount of analysis to read and learn. But, it’s less fun.
- There is a lack of excitement
I used to work in an office with 100 people and interacted with 10 to 20 of them daily. There was a buzz in the air, which comes from working with a regular team and aiming for a common goal. Now, it is far lesser since we are frequently not on the same team.
What I do enjoy from the past seven months has been my time working with startups, whether as an investor or director, or just being able to share experiences over coffee with driven and coachable entrepreneurs. Currently, I spend most of my time and effort on DrWealth (Editor’s note: That’s us!), which has just raised S$800,000 during a seed round. Things are getting exciting there! I have also formed regular forums under ACE to help tech startups learn from each other.
- More time = becoming physically and mentally healthier
This is a big one for me and is one of the two reasons why I am not rushing back into the business world. Back when I was running the business, I was perpetually stressed out, both mentally and physically. I had a permanent stress cough, suffered bad sinus problems, and had difficulty switching off at night. I would even think of the financial numbers while in the toilet!
All of this has changed in the last seven months. I sleep much better, have spent enough time in the gym, have fallen sick only two or three times (used to be almost monthly or bi-monthly), and am more patient with people. In fact, my cholesterol level has dropped by almost 40 points – back into the healthy range – despite there being little change in my diet.
- More time = being physically and mentally present for my loved ones and other people
Throughout the last 14 years, I have always tried to spend time weekly with my parents, have daily dinners with the children, and generally be there during their growing up years. But truth be told, I was obsessed with the business – even when I was spending time with them, I would still be thinking about my business. I wasn’t mentally present.
Now, I find that I am far more present for them. I can experience everything with them – their first day of school, their first taste of porridge, and even their first PSLE! And this being present extends to my friends and the people I meet. I find myself far more patient. Just being willing to listen and seeing things from their points of view is great because it helps me to control my competitive nature and I believe that it has made me become a nicer person.
So there you have it – the three key changes that happened to me.
Will I plunge back into the fray with another startup? Maybe. As usual, it is a matter of having the right team, the right idea, and the right timing. It may not even be an Internet business.
Will it be this year? I am letting things happen and will go along with the events that develop in my life.
At the moment, I’m concentrating on my family – my second kid has PSLE this year and my youngest, who is only six months old, is still very cute (to me)! I haven’t even done much traveling due to my new baby and recent family events.