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This is a post-retirement update for those who asked, but for others, I offer whatever Early Retirement lessons you might derive from it.

I've been a self-imposed exile from this forum for the past few months while the election ran its course and while I settled into my new post-career mode of life. Let me tell you about what I've done and why. You might find some valuable nugget to make your own ER more meaningful or more timely.

Eight months ago, I pulled the plug on a lucrative career. I could have held on for a year or two to make my financial future just that much more secure, but I can honestly say that I haven't regretted the decision to exit (stage right) from the rat exercise regimen that my career had become. Even with the anxiety produced by the downturn in the market, I have not considered going back. I have spent about 8 highly paid hours as a consultant to my former paycheck provider and that was more than enough. The consulting work has probably ended (never say never), but the career has definitely ended.

You may recall that an integral part of my ER plan required that I leave a high cost job market and move to a rural area with no discernible job market. This is a strategy that can be used by people who wish to reduce their expenses. If you can do your work from a home office through a telephone line and you work for a progressive employer, you might even be able to do that as a precursor to ER. I chose not to try to work in my former career (information technology) even though it is possible to do so from the non-job market. I have chosen instead to spend this early part of my ER as a tree farmer.

Now just in case anybody thinks that sounds like too much hard physical work for someone who has supposedly retired, just think about how little effort one must expend to grow a tree. You plant it (if it doesn't plant itself) and then 30 - 40 years later you harvest it. It's a lot more complicated than that, but not a lot more difficult. Understanding the distinction is an exercise left for the student.

During my corporate-rat-on-a-wheel career, I had occasionally heard of people exiting through the always open cage door to try other pursuits. Some of these were the proverbial "worm farm in Oregon" or "bait concession on the pier" kind of careers and others sounded a little more conventional. I admire those who retire to teach or volunteer for the Red Cross or other noble pursuits. Hopefully, becomimg the steward for land that produces oxygen, binds carbon in long lasting wood products and provides habitat for nature's treasures meets at least some people's idea of a noble pursuit. One of my epiphanies since discovering this forum is that not everyone will need to dispense cookies at Red Cross blood drives or greet strangers at Wal-Mart to achieve inner peace upon retirement.

Before I go any further, let me convey a few stories that helped me make the decision to swim against the current and put my career in the proper perspective (my rear view mirror).

I once met a man who retired early from his career as a chemical engineer from Chevron to open the Lost Mountain Winery. He made a very fine Pinot Noir and claimed he did not make a profit from his new career, but he seemed very happy. I'm a long way from the superb West Coast wine regions now, but I hope others are benefitting from this man's decision. His desire to produce wine instead of gasoline did not noticeably change the market price of either, but his wine was good for his soul and that can't be a bad thing.

Another chemical engineer that I worked with had transferred to California from his home in Buffalo, NY when the refinery in Buffalo closed. After about a year away from their families, he and his wife made the decision to shuffle their butts and their new baby back to Buffalo to be the owner/operators of an ice rink. It certainly doesn't take a chemical engineering degree to run an ice rink, so I would say he was following his dream or at the very least, finding a creative way to throw away his BSChE.

Another engineer bailed early to "play with his stocks". This was in the late '80's, so I doubt he had a discount broker or anything resembling online trading, but the fact that he could contemplate making a living off his investments was "interesting" to me.

My father retired at age 50 after 30 years of city maintenance work to become a landscaping contractor and farmer. His final job at the city was king of the mountain for city maintenance and he would be re-appointed (or not) by the winner of each mayoral election and confirmed (or not) by the city council. He knew that sooner or later a new mayor would stick a buddy into his box on the org chart so he sweated through every election. When it finally happened, he was downgraded from Director to Supervisor. He was a retiree within three months and is still running his landscaping company at age 66. He doesn't need the money, but dictators have a tougher time than most people when it comes to retirement, so he's found a way to be president-for-life.

So when I decided that independence day had arrived, I briefly considered hanging out a shingle at to try my hand as a freelance tech weinie. I suspect I could find plenty of work, but continuing to be treated as a necessary evil has lost whatever appeal it once had. Since I've had enough examples of people who "left to pursue other interests", I've been able to keep an open mind about what to do with my newfound "life energy".

My wife and I had originally planned to build a home on 20 acres of raw land that we purchased years ago. It has a pond and trees and is located next to a Christmas tree plantation. I believe I even said something about pine and spruce scented breezes. We also own a much larger parcel and we had a backup plan to build there, but we didn't want to miss any golden opportunities, so when we got to the locale of these properties, we decided to look at the local real estate market.

We're pretty fussy about the homes we live in. We designed our last home and we designed and added a room addition to our home before that. We had a large list of criteria with weightings for desirability. We didn't think it would be possible to find what we want at a price we could afford, but I believe that one of the keys to a successful early retirement is to be flexible. Knowing where and how far you can bend and being willing to push the limits a little can open doors like the one we opened to find our new home.

It wasn't anything we would have thought we would like, but we managed to find an unbelievably unique house/lodge in an incredibly beautiful location. It has everything we really wanted and potential that just continues to make us very glad we didn't just stick with Plan A. It also has challenges, but they are acceptable and will provide some of the best aspects of designing and building our own home without the inconvenience of living temporarily in another place.

So for the price of just a little more than the equity from the home we sold in Virginia, we now have a right sized 3br house, secluded in the woods on 85 acres. The terrain ranges from rolling hills to cedar swamp to submerged. We have hardwoods, softwoods, marsh and about 10 acres of a private 80 acre lake. Wildlife abounds. The house was mainly used as a hunting lodge, so it never had a phone and we had to fork over $900 to get connected to the outside world again. I have to build a road across about 400 ft. of marsh to gain easy access to the lake, but these are the kinds of challenges I need right now. We're within easy walking distance from a town that has a restaurant, a bar and a gas station with a convenience store. We've almost finished the unpacking and the place is feeling like home. The indoor work is battling for my time with the outdoor work and so far the outdoors has been winning in my heart. The snow is deep now, so I've finally begun to focus more on the indoor work. Autumn and Spring were my favorite times in Virginia, but they were way too short there. Being aware of that has helped me to find a place where I can get a little more of what I want.

I said before that I was the steward of this land I bought. You can't really buy land. It isn't consumable. It was there before you were born and it will be there after you've gone to the great beyond. You can only be a steward for it. You can be a good steward or a bad one. You can use the land wisely or unwisely. You can exploit it well, poorly or not at all. You can make it more productive or less productive or just let nature take its course. You can make it either more or less desirable for the next owner. You can build on it or break it up into smaller parcels and 100 years from now it could be recombined and the buildings long gone. You can mine it of everything valuable and it will still be there. It may not be worth much when you're done, but it will endure better than you do.

I choose to try to make this land more valuable and to exploit it as wisely as I can. I will harvest the timber without sacrificing the natural beauty. I will make it a nice place for the local wildlife to live. I will use it to make my new redirected life more meaningful. It will provide what it provides. I will hopefully pass it on to its next steward with greater intrinsic value. In the meantime, I will enjoy my stewardship.

I conduct my days in much the same way that I conducted them during my career. I spend a small amount of time each morning prioritizing the tasks in front of me and then I tackle the ones with the highest priority. It's the nature of the mornings and of the tasks that has changed. My mornings are when I feel like getting up now. The tasks make more sense now. I awake with more optimism than I would have believed possible.

This is the kind of life I've always wanted. I just had to let it happen. This certainly won't be everybody's idea of the good life, but if you take the time to understand yourself, you can find the right path.

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