Is it better to burn out or to fade away?

Bombshell: I’ve just got off the phone with my boss and I’ll be work-free until Christmas at the earliest and I’ve got mixed feelings about all this.

Is this the end of my career? Am I on the scrapheap or failed middle aged career casualties?

On the other hand, have I’ve managed to not go out with a bang but peak at the right time. My family’s financial future is secure and I am in a position of not needing to work to cover our spending. Ok, our current spend at around £4,000 a month will mean we could run out of money at some point but we are better off than 90+% of the population. Also the Lady is still employed and I’m a kept man / stay at home dad. But there are still questions to answer around how I spend the next few months and the future in general. This is less early retirement and more early expirment!

My, my, hey, hey

For the Neil Young fans out there is it better to burn out or to fade away? The sentiment of that song is something I’ve maybe judged wrong – after all Neil is still going strong in his 70s. Is it better to burn out or to fade away? Advice for anyone looking to retire early is very simple but can’t actually tell you what you should do. Is it worth pushing yourself to the limits to end up burnt out? How hard should you prioritise your career over your family, friends, health, soul?

So, I have a few qualms about the situation I find myself in. Just to sum things up; we are comfortably off, the Lady is in work the the kids are in nursery and love it. My job is dead right now and if LinkedIn is anything to go by, it’s very bad out there for my profession (engineering). If new work came in the next few months that would be useful but there is no guarantee and a significant risk that nothing will come up

Financial Implications

I’ve grown used to having money come into the bank account each month and with that gone, I need to balance things so that we don’t run out. That’s on a day to day basis, but if my future earnings are going to be closer to zero for the next maybe 5 years, is ok and am I ok with that? It’s hard to know.

Ltd company implications

From a company perspective, I’ve not earned enough money this company tax year to pay for an ongoing director’s salary or ongoing company expenses. I can of course pump money into the company to cover these, but it would be good to know that I’ll get money again in the future to pay off.

Family Implications

I get to take the kids to/from nursery and spend more time with them. I can also pop out for lunch with the Lady or chat more during the day. I am also around a lot more so I can help keep the house nice and I am also a wonderful cook – so Michelin star standard meals are on offer every evening. My work has impacted family life negatively in the past and I’m not keen to repeat.

Professional Implications

I’ve spend the best part of 20 years in my technical profession and it seems a bit foolhardy to give up on it. Then again, I’ve avoided doing further work like an MBA because I’ve thought that it was a waste of time becoming a business administrator. However, maybe I could put some energy into learning. I’ve got an interest in sustainability and it’s something that might even have a job at the end of it in a few years. This time off could be a chance to learn, study, grow.

Personal Implications

It might seem a bit naïve to say this but it’s great not having a job. I feel less stressed than ever and happy. Stress is a killer but so is being overweight – so maybe I can get into shape a bit more? This is something which I can do myself, it won’t eat into family time (if the kids are in nursery and the Lady working then I can easily exercise).

Outside Viewpoint

I’m not the only person not working right now and there are lots of people in much worse positions than me. However, I’ve made the general fact be known that I’m not working 9-5 to family and they’ve not been very supportive of the position. There’s a dignity in the suffering we all have to do for work – take away the misery and there is no joy in life. Personally, I don’t agree with this but try pointing out that you can be perfectly happy and idle (as recommended by Bertrand Russell)

Hobbies and Projects

I’ve been busy selling some things on eBay and that’s a fun way to make a bit of money and practice some selling skills. I’ve managed to buy stuff in charity shops and turn it over for a profit. I have also got my lurcrative side hustle which is pulling in £2000 a month on average – so I could almost call that my job. It also gives me the chance to listen to audiobooks, read more – I can’t complain about that.

Why not just pull the plug entirely and retire early?

Well, would you in my position? Let’s say your family spending is half covered by your spouses earnings and fully covered by dividends and side hustles – other than that you have your pension money sorted but the 20 year gap is only covered by about 10 years of money now (based on current family spending). So, you could live for a few years in blissful peace and only really need to worry about money from age 48-58. Would you quit now?

Luckily, I don’t need to make the choice as I am not working at the moment and don’t have anything to quit from. The situation in a year’s time if I was working again will be a very different question. In the meantime, I’m enjoying life and my family is happy and I’m happy too.

I am a bit concerned about opportunity cost – is there something I’m missing out on that I could be doing right now that I’m not? People with less time on their hands than me have achieved a lot more and this could just be the perfect opportunity to grow, reinvent myself and do something different in life. That’s

Thanks, GFF

19 comments

  1. It depends on the circumstances but I think in this case an initial burn out followed by a slow burn to fade away. There was a timely reminder on Reddit recently on the dangers of burning out too quickly after early retirement: https://www.reddit.com/r/FIREUK/comments/jneovt/5_years_later_i_feel_like_fire_has_kinda_messed/

    It always helps to keep your skills up to date, although from experience engineering doesn’t move as fast as other industries. Saying that if your side hustle is bringing in £2k per month, I wouldn’t be as worried.

    Do you mind me asking what your side hustle is?

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    • Thanks for the comment
      I read that reddit and it’s a bit concerning that focusing on fire has done this to him – but here are maybe other factors at play – self sabotage seems to be an explanation.

      Like

  2. Can you increase the side hustle at all? if you could by only a little, id just pull the pin or do the odd contract / job if you get bored.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I think that I have pushed it as far as it can go – of course there’s always improvements to be made and potential new clients but it has a finite profitability in my opinion.

      It also doesn’t consume too much time so it is not great as a way to fill the days up. As a number crunching engineer, I am used to working away like that.

      Like

  3. Sounds like a great opportunity to work on things that interest you. If that leads to future income then great, but if not then that’s ok too. You’ve worked hard to get your finances in a position where this lack of work is not an issue. Maybe it’s the mindset that you need to work on now to say it’s ok not to have a 9-5 gig. You’re making good money from your side hustle, so make the most of the fact that it’s not all that time consuming.
    Imagine if you suddenly get another job and you’ve not made the most of this time. Spend time with the kids, sort the house, get fit, learn new things. The options are endless; which I think is sometimes the problem. It’s a big adjustment having lots more time, but I’m sure you can make the most of it. Enjoy!

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  4. This might be a good time to take a break from your career – no one’s going to bat an eyelid at a gap in your CV with what’s going on in the world – they don’t have to know that you chose to intentionally to have the time off to learn new stuff, try out new hobbies, spend more time with the family etc.

    You’re in a fantastic financial position, £1m networth, Mrs GFF still in employment and a great side hustle.

    Even your eBaying can be easily scaled up if you wish – you’re already doing the buying and selling (rather than just selling your own old stuff) so that’s a little side business you could build up on which doesn’t need to take up a lot of your time.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Hi, been reading your blog with interest over the last few months. I am interested in what field of engineering you work in when your say work is drying up? In the domains I work in demand has never been greater and all the consultancies are looking for staff. Guess it depends what you are after at the end of the day.

    Cheers

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  6. Wow! That £2,000 side hustle is more than a lot of people make with their main salary. i’d take some time out and focus on that and enjoy the free time.

    Have you gone over this lucrative side hustle in any other posts? Would be interested to read more about this 🙂

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  7. Initially use your “spare” time for getting all those jobs done that you’ve been meaning to do. Get your paperwork / financials up to date etc. Get some exercise, go for walks, bike rides etc and make the most of any good weather. Being able to spend decent time with the family without work based stress is a great opportunity. Make sure the child benefit is in the non earning person’s name so you don’t miss out on NI credits.

    Whilst my employment is (currently) secure I’m getting a bit tired of being told what to do. Financially I could jump now but I do winder how I’d fill the time and the opportunity cost of lost earnings to put into investments is presently holding me back. Maybe I’ll see if a can get 6 months off with paid stress leave as a trial run.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Prefacing this with may caveats – I can relate my own experience but one should not infer the general from the particular, and I do not know what the issues of having children is like in FI but:

    Beware the burn out option. I chose that/it chose me .I was fortunate to get away without any health issues – I saw enough colleagues go down in their 50s to know that wasn’t a given. One benighted soul only quit on his second ischaemic TIA, when his doctor more or less said to him ‘your third will be your ticket to ride’ Two are no longer with us, small plots in a cemetery somewhere.

    I had to do that because I was not prepared. You are. You have choices, and a decent side income.

    Against that, your vision is clouded by the short term. This situation will pass, there are routes out of the Covid situation in the distance. Engineering is on the list of skills shortages in the UK.

    I stopped work in 2012. Eight years later, I am working part time, in an engineering field i was never trained for. Partly because Covid means i can’t do some of the other things i would do with the time, but partly to turn over the noodle. I am a generalist, and which by training I did electronics and software I can turn my hand to mechanical CAD at a small-company level. But I got this work through having solved other problems for people in one-off diverse jobs.

    So perhaps don;t write off engineering yet – but it may be in a different form. Or your industry may recover. A gap does not seem to be a killer – I never thought I would ever work again. I wouldn’t say I am working at a normal level – because i don’t want to spend any more time on it. But I started this work in the Covid pandemic.

    But as far as careers go – fade away. It’s better for your health, by observation, and there’s nowhere you can go buy that from 😉

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Thanks for the reply.

    At 38, I have a lot more ahead of me (i hope) so any navel gazing now is of course going to be short sighted.

    My instincts tell me that I would be better off trying something new, perhaps combining a post grad masters in something more 21st century engineering prospects that allows me to do the parenting malarkey as well.
    That is a leap in the dark and a choice that I don’t exactly need to make right now – however once you remove the requirement for making money from the equation of “what should I do” there needs to be a different motivator – and I quite like the slower pace of things right now compared to a year ago when I was leaving the house before 5am to make the money that I can now relax on.

    What is a tragedy these days; both parents not working full time is seen as something unforgivable.

    Liked by 1 person

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