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5. We believed. We worked toward our goals. We got me Retired at 45.

No matter what your dream, if you really want it, you can achieve it.  It might take longer than you thought it would… mine did.  It might be harder than you thought, but maybe not.  It might take more sacrifice than you think you can give.  But if this goal is truly important to you, believing and working can get you there.

When Dan and I first came up with this plan to get out of the Rat Race, I hoped to be retired by 2008.  That didn’t work out.  When I took my last job in the Rat Race in 2006, I figured I could make it out by 2011, when I’d be fully vested in my 401k plan at Steel Dynamics (SDI).  In the end, it took a bit longer than I had initially hoped.  But it was much quicker than if we’d not dreamed, not planned, and not worked at all!

People at SDI thought I was crazy, talking about retiring in a few years.  Going on about my “5-Year Plan”.  I’m pretty sure they all thought I was blowing smoke up their butts.  Just talking out of mine.  There were a few people who knew I was serious.  But I think everyone was still shocked when I finally gave them a date.  I think they expected I’d wait until my kid was out of college.  I had a few confidants at work who knew early.  I wanted this to be a smooth transition, not a leaving-them-in-the-lurch scenario, so I worked closely with one of my employees and encouraged another who seemed willing to fill my position to assure SDI would be able to have all the bases covered once I left.

Which brings me to Point #1 in leaving the Rat Race.  I recommend NOT going out in a blaze of glory.  You’ve all seen the YouTube video of the guy who brought the marching band to quit his job, or heard stories of people dropping the bomb and leaving in a big cloud of drama, mistletoe on the back of their pants, all that fun stuff.  But I believe in Karma and, as much as there are always a few people I would love to see get their comeuppance, I don’t really think I can play God and determine when and how they will.  And I believe in the Three-Fold Law:

Ever mind the rule of three,
What ye send out comes back to thee.

So I definitely wanted to do things right.  When I knew I was getting close, I so wanted to give more notice.  But with things not finalizing until the end of July with Dan getting health care benefits at his new job, and my plan for heading to Dancing Rabbit, I couldn’t give much more notice than I did.

Side Story: When I quit my penultimate job, I gave a full month’s notice.  Of course, at that time, I didn’t have another job lined up…  It was that bad.  I was DONE.  Maybe someday I’ll tell that story here.

But I did give SDI 2 weeks notice.  Actually, it turned out to be three weeks, but I took a week of vacation in that last three weeks as well.  And I recommend doing the same if you’re leaving any gig.  I mean the giving-2-weeks-notice thing.  It’s just common decency.  Though the vacation-before-you-head-to-the-next thing is great too, if you can swing it.   There is a chance they will walk you out immediately, and that was a factor in my decision for giving notice when I did.  Our family would be fine if SDI decided to do that, but my boss was super awesome in taking my notice.  He let me decide how the separation would work best for me and, in the end, it worked best for SDI too.  I think he’d learned to trust that I would make sure of that.  And I don’t think he was as surprised as most.  I’d been dropping stronger and stronger hints that they might want to prepare for my departure, without actually saying I was leaving or giving a time frame.  But he is a pretty sharp guy.

The employee I’d taken into my confidence has been able to fully transition them in the time since I left and I have always been willing to answer any calls or e-mails with questions on where things are, how to do tasks or what the heck we’d been thinking when we set up the system the way we did.  It took a bit of my time and, no, they were no longer paying me, but as you might have gathered, in my world, it’s not always about money.  It’s about doing the right thing.  Being happy and helping others to be happy means trying to help where I can.  This keeps other people from losing it when they are trying to figure out all the things you used to do when you were there.  There are so many little things we each do in our jobs that no one really sees until we’re gone.

When I knew it was getting close, I asked Danny, “What am I gonna tell them?”  I hadn’t really been looking for a new job in MN.  I was getting out.  So I wasn’t going to a new company.  I was just leaving my current company.  Danny said, “Tell them you’re retiring… again.”  Yes, actually, I was a retiree once before.  When I left my first job out of college at Inland Steel (at that point they had become ArcelorMittal Steel), they offered me a lump sum pension.  And then I got a letter from the Retirees Club welcoming me to Retirement.  I was 30 years old.  So, in essence, I was “retiring again”.  Once I realized this was really happening, I got giggly about it.  I’m sure it wasn’t as funny to those I was leaving behind but I started to get tickled every time I’d say it.  I kept pinching myself to be sure this wasn’t a real dream, that this was truly real life!

Leaving to nowhere was maybe easier than going to a new job, in which case, my company might have been a bit more cautious and let me go immediately.  Though I have never understood this practice.  I mean, if I’m leaving and I know I’m leaving, then I know I better get all the stuff I want to steal (information, data, contacts, staplers) BEFORE I actually give my notice.  Duh.

Point #2: Be sure you are taking care of you.  I recommend taking care in how much you share as you prepare to leave the Rat Race.  I know I wrote above how I was always going on and on about leaving, and that is a fine tactic.  At least, it worked out okay for me.  But when you get serious and close, don’t ruin yourself by thinking you can share your detailed plans with just anyone.  It probably isn’t a good idea to trust your HR person, even if you are BFFs.  This person has their own ass to cover and, if it ever comes out that they knew beforehand, their job could easily be on the line.  So sharing with them puts them in a difficult position.  Not sharing is really about protecting them.  This is one reason so very few people at my place knew details as I got close to leaving.

Side Concern: What about the employee that worked for me?  Am I not outing her now?  Well, they REALLY need her, so I’m not too worried about spilling the beans.  And as she likes to say, “They need me more than I need them!”  It’s so true. (Yeah, you’re seeing why we got along so well, right?  She’s the Queen of Sarcasm, a Jersey Girl and she knows the ins and outs of ISO system requirements better than anyone there, and better than many outside that plant for that matter.)

Be sure that you have all your ducks in a row, find someone OUTSIDE your work environment to bounce ideas with, and definitely think about what backup plans you might need.  I still have in my mind that, if things get really crazy, I can always go back to work full-time.  I don’t WANT to, but I am willing to, if that is what my family needs.   Most companies these days are not worried about their people as there are lots of other cogs to fill your place if you leave.  So be sure to have what you need in place for the separation and think through to assure that you’ve planned for contingencies moving forward.

And a part of the above includes Point #3: Keep your bridges intact.  Be sure that you maintain your integrity and your relationships throughout the process of moving on.  One of the things I always do when leaving a job is reach out to co-workers, clients and suppliers to let them know how much I appreciated their support, friendship, mentoring, etc.  None of us gets here on our own.  We all have help along the way and it’s good to recognize that.  Usually we only tend to let people know when they have let us down, but I have found great happiness in letting people know when they have impressed me or helped me in a way that was above and beyond the normal call of duty.   I was always one to send a note to someone’s boss when they did a job quickly, very well or with great enthusiasm.  I appreciated people and I think it has helped me get lots more done, especially when I was in a pinch.  And I always did what I could to help other people when I could.  It’s just good Karma.

I had a fellow practitioner of this way of life visit me at the bookstore recently.  We have just re-started Storytime for kids Saturday mornings and she happened to be there at that time.  She noted how pleased she was that we do this and that I had such a great voice.  I explained that I was not reading the story and she said, “Yes, but you made a great announcement at the end and you have a terrific voice.”  Awww!  I was really touched.  It’s not every day that people take the time to tell you something positive but it sure feels good when they do.

Well, I’ve shared in the first few posts the route I took to get to here, Retired at 45.  As I move forward, I’d like to hear from you as well.  Do you like what you’re reading?  What kinds of things would you like to hear about next?  Where are we going to go on this journey together?  Let me know in the poll below.  Or tell me on FB comments.  Or send me an e-mail.  I want to hear from you too. 🙂

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