10 Levels of Early RetirementToday, I’ll answer this question once and for all – “are you really retired?” Most working people view retirement as an abrupt transition. They think you’re either retired or not. It’s on or off for many people. However, things rarely work like that in real life. Even a TV usually isn’t completely on or off. When you push the button to turn it off, it’s still on at some level. The screen is off, but the parts of the innards are still on. The only way to turn it off completely is to unplug it from the electrical outlet. Even then, it still has power for a short while due to batteries and capacitors. Retirement is kind of like that. It’s a process. Most people don’t retire completely and never work again. There are many levels to it.

Ok, nobody is interested in power management states (except engineers.) We’ll just go with 10 levels of retirement. It’s a way to gamify it. Check it out and let me know what level you are in the comment section.

Level 0 – Startup

You routinely work 80+ hours per week. Not everyone works at this level, but a few do. Two of my friends started an internet business right out of college and they worked a ridiculous amount of hours for several years. 12 hours per day with no weekend is tough, but many entrepreneurs do this. Even I worked this much when I was an engineer and a blogger at the same time. I consistently went to bed around 1 am for a couple of years. It’s pretty crazy. Most people can’t keep this up for long.

Level 1 – Employer gets medieval on your ass

You usually work 60-80 hours per week. This level of work is familiar to most engineers. I used to work 60-80 hours per week often when I was in my 20s. Whenever there is a deadline, it’s all hands on deck. We had to come in and help push the product out the door. Those free meals and workout facilities aren’t free. They’re designed to keep you at the campus so you can put in more hours (for no extra pay.)

Level 2 – Normality

I think most American workers are at this level today, 40-60 hours/week. A lot of people work more than one job. Every young person I meet has some kind of side hustle going. Actually, I think most professionals work more than 40 hours per week at their full-time job. We want to get ahead and show the boss that we work hard. Also, we’re online all the time to check emails and do various work-related activities.

Level 3 – Ideal working condition

This is the ideal working hours, right? You work 8 hours per day and leave everything at the office. IMO, this is really difficult these days because we’re so connected. Does anyone with a full-time job really work just 40 hours per week? I guess if you have a timesheet, you’d be limited to 40 hours/week. Otherwise, I seriously doubt it. Do you work just 40 hours per week at your job?

Level 4 – Somewhat retired/part-time work

Ahh.. Part-time work is so nice. This is the sweet spot for me, 20-40 hours of work per week. Over the last 7 years, I work on my blog about 25 hours per week. This is not strenuous work. It’s mostly browsing the internet, write a bit, socialize on Twitter, and make sure the blog is running smoothly. I consider myself “retired” because I retired from my engineering career. But I still work so I’m not 100% retired. Semi-retired would be more accurate, but that’s a terrible name for a blog. Retire by 40 sounds way better than Semi-retired by 40…

Level 5 – Semi-retired/work occasionally

This is even better than level 4. It’s my summer schedule! Over the summer, I worked just 10 to 20 hours per week because being a stay-at-home dad is job 1 when my son was out of school. I spent a lot of time with RB40Jr and we had a ton of fun around the city. I was supposed to transition back to writing 2 posts per week after summer, but my to-do list exploded and I had to catch up on a bunch of stuff. That’s why I’m keeping the summer schedule until New Year. In a few years, I’ll transition to this level of work year-round.

Level 6 – Mostly retired/minimal work

This is the black belt level. Only a few FIRE bloggers get here. We work too much! At this level, you work minimally – 0 to 10 hours per week. Or work for 3 months and take the rest of the year off. Most Americans are too obsessed with working to get to this level while they’re young. Hopefully, I’ll be able to transition to this level in 10 years or so.

Level 7 – Volunteer or have kids

What if you don’t work for money, but volunteer? You’re here at level 7. Volunteering is still working even if you don’t get paid. Stay-at-home parents are at this level too. They don’t work for money, but taking care of children is tough! The IRP (internet retirement police) is obsessed with this. Apparently, nobody can be retired if you have kids.

Level 8 – Retired, but has a working spouse

Ahh… another sticky point. What if you retired, but your partner still works? This isn’t a big deal. Lots of older couples retire at a different time. It’s convenient and it’s better for your finance. If you aren’t working, you’re retired. It doesn’t matter if your partner is working or not. Why should I force Mrs. RB40 to retire if she doesn’t want to? It doesn’t make any sense.

Strangely, some people don’t see it that way. They say being married turns two people into a single entity. Both of you need to be retired or else it doesn’t count. Whatever… Everyone is entitled to their opinion.

Level 9 – Full on retired

pool retirement

Yes! This is Nirvana. It’s the ideal retirement everyone dreams of. However, I think you’ll be disappointed when you get there. I don’t want to lounge around the pool and sip margarita all day long. It’ll be nice for a few days, but not for 30 years. I’d watch TV all day and my brain would turn to mush. It’ll be super boring. Trust me; don’t shoot for this kind of retirement if you’re young. Aim to get here when you’re 70 or so.

Level 10 – Dead

Here we go – the mastery level. You’re not 100% retired until you’re dead. I’m not looking forward to this level of retirement, but we’ll all get there someday.

Okay, that’s my take on work and retirement. I started out at level 0/1 in my 20s and now I’m between 4 and 5. Over the first half of this year, I worked 20-30 hours/week. In the second half, I’m working 10-20 hours/week. That’s a pretty good level for me at 45 years old. I don’t think I’ll stop working completely until I’m much older. Work is good for you if it’s the right fit.

Now, it’s your turn. What level are you? Also, do you work just 40 hours/week at your full-time job? It seems most employers want more than that now.

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