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“Choose your friends.” With Beau Henderson & Leif Kristjansen

You will feel like you are letting people down but retiring helps them. I was wracked with guilt when I quit and if you are invested in your job or your team you will feel guilty about leaving them too. It’s like leaving a family. With some planning, you won’t be leaving your team to […]

You will feel like you are letting people down but retiring helps them. I was wracked with guilt when I quit and if you are invested in your job or your team you will feel guilty about leaving them too. It’s like leaving a family. With some planning, you won’t be leaving your team to flounder but instead leaving them to grow. You are opening up space for the others which helps them achieve their dreams.


As a part of my series about the “5 Things Retirees Say They Wish They Were Told Before They Began Retirement” I had the pleasure of interviewing Leif Kristjansen the founder of FiveYearFIREescape. Leif basically retired from a management job in high tech in his 30s, which is quite an accomplishment with a wife, kids and a house in an expensive city (Toronto, Canada). His wife retired in her 30s too so now their family used the time and youthful energy to get up to some exciting adventures. Leif’s blog is very to the point and very much oriented about saving your time so you can spend it on what you love. He only recommends what works well. Things that just work don’t even make the cut. It has to be efficient, and very consistently effective. So I know what he recommends below will be to the point and useful.


Thank you so much for doing this with us Leif! Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you share with us the backstory about what brought you to your specific career path?

Wow, my origin story. This is like the opening of a superhero movie. The biggest factor in finding my career path was just following what I found interesting. I have a STEM degree because I liked science. Every kid has a vision of what they want to be when they grow up but I went into my adult life knowing my vision would change as I went along.

Every job I took was just something that would match my passions better or would help some other aspect of my life (like dropping a commute). To me, this is the proper way to approach life. Your passions and your opinions will change as you mature so you should make a life plan that is flexible enough to account for that.

This also led me to always really enjoying my job. I semi-retired very early but that was because my life goals changed. In fact, my job was so well aligned with my passions that when I retired I didn’t need the money but I just wanted to keep going because it was so enjoyable.

Actually, my co-workers don’t really know that I have the money to be retired, I hid that from them. They seem to think I’m a kept man and I like them thinking that way.

Halfway through my career, I made the jump to management for the same reason I took all of my other positions. Not the money, not the prestige but I thought that I would enjoy mentoring others more directly than a colleague can. To be true, I regretted that decision powerfully for the first few years but I grew into it and eventually grew that job into the perfect match for me.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

This may be cliche but that special person is my wife (edit: I am also earning myself huge bonus points right now). If you are married you have to make a very special team with your wife. When one person has trouble, the other has to pick up some slack or help them out.

My wife has done that for me countless times and I appreciate it greatly. I made my way up the corporate ladder because I was able to dedicate myself to work when needed. That wouldn’t have been possible without her.

What advice would you suggest to your colleagues in your industry to thrive and avoid burnout?

Work on what you love. Also, I recommend you do as I do and eventually reduce your hours to very few per week. Life isn’t all about work. The sooner you realize that the more achievements you can make throughout ALL the facets of your life.

Reduced hours helps you achieve that. It makes a soft transition to retirement too. If you spend some time out of work in your last working decade then you will have a lot of things to look forward to. It might even convince you to accelerate your retirement instead of procrastinating it.

What advice would you give to other leaders about how to create a fantastic work culture?

You need to have a vision and you need to hire to fill in that vision. I worked in high tech so technical skills are very important but I always hired for a person’s personality before those skills. If the personality that you are looking for doesn’t match the candidate then you will never change it.

Technical skills can be taught to some degree and going through a few months of pain teaching someone a skill is better than years of dealing with a non-ideal fit.

You need to think about who you want to fill that role, then hunt that personality down.

Ok thank you for all that. Now let’s move to the main focus of our interview. Retirement is a dramatic ‘life course transition’ that can impact nearly every aspect of one’s life. Obviously everyone’s experience is different. But in your experience, what are the 5 most common things that people wish someone told them before they retired?

1 — You don’t have to stop working

Retirement is an age where you can stop working financially but you don’t have to stop. A lot of people are stressed by losing the companionship of work colleagues or they just like their jobs. If you want to keep your job in retirement feel free to do so. You could also try something you have always wanted to do or just scale back your hours to something that fits your life better.

I kept working at my old job but with severely reduced hours and I love it even more than you would expect. Actually, I really liked my job when it was full time and now I like it even more now that I work 1–2 days a week. I dropped out all the parts I didn’t like and was left with just the good bits.

2 — You will feel like you are letting people down but retiring helps them

I was wracked with guilt when I quit and if you are invested in your job or your team you will feel guilty about leaving them too. It’s like leaving a family. With some planning, you won’t be leaving your team to flounder but instead leaving them to grow. You are opening up space for the others which helps them achieve their dreams.

3 — Everything won’t fall apart

You likely work hard every day and question how the company could operate without your presence. It’s sad to say but once you are gone the corporate structure will figure out how to deal with your absence very quickly.

By planning for replacement and task allocation you can make that process very smooth for them. If you miss something, it will work out.

To give confidence to yourself and your co-workers I recommend taking long vacations as ‘retirement trials’ before you actually go. It will make you and everyone else more comfortable.

4 — You need to learn to stop the hustle

This took me a whole year to figure out. When your job demands that you are constantly moving and you only have limited time on the weekends you are constantly trying to fit it all in and not stopping to smell the roses.

It will take a while to relearn how to live slowly and enjoy some of the slower events, like having morning coffee with friends.

The tip I want to give is that this takes actual effort to re-learn. It will take forever to come naturally. I have a book recommendation later on that I say everyone should read as they enter retirement.

It sounds unreasonable but slowing yourself down has great rewards and is worth relearning how to do.

5 — You will have plenty to do if you get interested in something

When you stop going to your day job you suddenly have drastically more free time available to you. This is a real issue and if you don’t deal with it properly it can actually cause many problems.

There are two methods I would recommend. Either go to retirement planning classes where they teach methods to overcome this or make a very slow exit from your job to allow yourself to organically find new interests instead of trying to force hobbies onto yourself.

If you just drop work cold turkey before you have an interesting task that takes up your time, retirement life will be boring. I guarantee though if you are a curious person you will find something that piques your interest if you give yourself enough time. Not planning for that time, will result in failure on your part.

Lets zoom in on this a bit. If you had to advise your loved ones about the 3 most important financial issues to keep in mind before they retire, what would you say? Can you give an example or share a story?

Oh yeah, this is my specialty! I am a walking example of the benefits of my financial tips!

I was very motivated to have good finances throughout my adult life. I didn’t always make good decisions but by working towards a goal of enabling early retirement I actually was capable of fully retiring in my 30s. I didn’t stop working but I had the option financially. Below is a rough outline of how I got there financially.

1 — The most important financial factor in ‘time to retirement’ is your savings rate. That’s how much of your income you save as a percentage. It’s important to the fact that it is a percentage and NOT necessarily the dollar value.

A person with a $100,000 income who spends $50,000 every year will take just as long to retire as someone who makes $10,000 a year and somehow lives on $5,000.

It may seem surprising but if you have to support a very expensive lifestyle you need to save up a lot of money to feed it. The lesson from this: to ready yourself for retirement financially, saving more is the best thing you can do. More than asset allocation strategies, fancy investments or tax tricks. Just save more.

Heck, I even recommend you fixate on the savings rate so much that you don’t even bother budgeting and instead rely on creating some extreme motivation.

2 — You don’t need to have any fancy investments in order to retire, regardless of if it is early, late or on time. Fund managers underperform the market over the long term 99% of the time according to the SPIVA 2018 report. That means if you own a simple index of the market average you will outperform the majority of other options available.

The beauty of it is that it is simple. You don’t need to spend nights thinking about which fund is best, you can just invest in bond or stock indexes as match your place in life.

I recommend the investment path of using index funds to everyone. If investing scares you then its even better for you. You can learn to be a great index investor in 15 minutes and an even better one in 15 more minutes. If you want to make it even simpler a robot can even do this simple task for you.

3 — Plan to spend more money in retirement. I certainly did. Some people talk about being able to reduce expenses in retirement due to cutting out a commute or taking cheaper alternatives (like matinee movies).

Sure you will be able to save some money but you finally have more time available and hopefully the energy to spend it doing what you enjoy. You don’t want to just flip from having more money than time to having more time than money.

Having said that, you still want to spend your money wisely. Not doing so will just torpedo your retirement. By the time you hit retirement you should know what you enjoy and confident enough to not succumb to peer pressure (I have an article about avoiding it if its an issue for you). Add up some extra money to service that hobby.

I hire language tutors because I love to learn languages. Having a tutor helps me fill that love and the extra money is well worth it. We also hire cleaners to come over every 2 weeks. My wife and I hate cleaning and it is very much not how we want to spend our time.

I won’t add a fourth tip but financially I do think that rental houses are amazing. I have to mention that. I am very into rental housing and the reason is largely because of the amazing power of mortgages to make your money grow. Some people think it is a lot of work but it doesn’t have to be. That’s a story for another day.

If you had to advise your loved ones about the 3 most important health issues to keep in mind before they retire, what would you say? Can you give an example or share a story?

I have always been into my health and think about these things an awful lot. I entered my partial retirement early enough that I didn’t have any health issues but I definitely have three tips.

1 — Your health won’t change quickly.

It takes a long time to get into a good or bad health state. Years of bad posture and inactivity can’t be changed by a visit to the chiropractor. It’s nice to think it can be but that’s not how your body works. Visits to physicians etc can help you but you have to realize it is a long term game.

I actually find this empowering for one reason. A lot of chronic pain can also be solved with a body overhaul. I had horrible pains at one point in my life that my doctor said I would just have to learn to live with. After a year of constant stretching just to become a more flexible person, all my pain disappeared. It was like magic. Your doctor can’t fix your issue with a pill but a lifestyle change can have a big effect.

2 — You are what you eat.

The food you eat is very important to your well being. If you are unhealthy in any way, take a look at your diet first.

I don’t think everyone is chock-full of special allergies but I believe in the complex nature of the body enough to believe that some small dietary changes can have a big effect. I have removed types of foods from my diet as trials over my life and seen some unexpected results (in the plumbing department mainly) and it showed me that what I eat can have a lot of surprising effects on my body.

One of my closest friends swears that removing processed grains (flour etc) from her diet got rid of her allergies. I don’t know if it’s true

3 — Relax

After years of living in a high-stress work environment I saw the effects stress can have on every part of my life. Your weight won’t be what you want it to be, your sleep will be restless, and you will just overall be less impressive due to stress.

Now, that you can leave that behind make an effort to do so. It’s easy to just re-adjust what your new threshold is for agitation but if you keep in mind how stressful the life you left behind was then it should keep everything in perspective. I actually recommend you stop reading the news as part of a quest to de-stress yourself. It is shown to suck up a lot of time and increase your stress level.

If you had to advise your loved ones about the 3 most important things to consider before choosing a place to live after they retire, what would you say? Can you give an example or share a story?

1 — Everyone should move around after they retire. You have the time to travel and exhausting amount, also you likely have nothing that forces you to be locked to your current location. Maybe your kids live nearby but if you wander away for 6-months they will survive.

Take advantage of your new-found freedom and live somewhere else for 3–6 months. Psychologists will tell you that being away will let you think about things from a new perspective and open up the possibilities to find some epiphanies about your future.

2 — Choose your friends over a fancy lifestyle

Some people move far away from family and friends to live out their retirement on a frugal plot of land. You can do that but I would prefer to have my family and friends nearby for a cheap meal than eat out with just my wife every day (edit: Honey, I love you to bits but you know it’s true for you too).

3 — Downsize

Your house is likely your biggest expense throughout the majority of your retirement. The taxes, the utilities and possibly any debt that still exists. Downsizing can solve that problem and maybe make you mortgage-free if you aren’t already.

More importantly, it lets you have a fresh start.

It’s easy to just stick with what you know and stay in your house forever. It has memories. Those memories won’t go away. Then with the freedom given by a smaller house, you can make new memories. Maybe use the money to go away to the Carribean with your kids and grandkids every year.

Your house is likely worth so much money you would be nuts not to try to do something to reduce the expenses or get some money out of it.

You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

I would encourage everyone to spend some time and actively go looking for a cause that moves them. Everyone has some cause near and dear to their heart but you might not even know about it.

Well, it’s not going to come up and smack you. You might be lucky and be found by your cause but you should be proactive and look for something moving.

Be a volunteer mercenary, hopping from event to event until something really touches you. If you find something moving it will change your life.

Is there a particular book that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story?

In Praise of Slow by Carl Honore was a big one for me.

The rough outline of the book is that everyone is constantly hurrying around and would be happier if they took things a little slower. This was a big deal because I am definitely a busy-body high energy person. After reading the book I still have no plans to change that but I at least make time for slower things that mean something to me.

The biggest example of a change at that time in my life was getting my children from daycare. I was a busy person so I would blow in close to closing time toss my kids in the car and go home to start making dinner. I realized though I loved that time after school and before dinner with them.

So I started to pick my kids up earlier and walk home with them. We had lots of quality time together and developed fun routines. The people at the bakery nearby got to know my kids and would talk to them or toss in little extras when we stopped in once a week. It’s something I never would have thought about if I didn’t go out of my way to make time for the slow things.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Do you have a story about how that was relevant in your life?

‘You can’t go back and change the beginning but you can start where you are and change the ending’ C S Lewis

A lot of people fixate on where they ought to be instead of where they are. It’s over, you need to move on and deal with your situation.

Saying ‘if only my back didn’t hurt I would *blank*’ isn’t productive. I live by this every day and it was internalized early in my life. I used to be a pretty competitive athlete and when you beat yourself up over points you already lost you won’t be thinking properly in the game. Most high-level coaches will really hammer this into their athletes. It’s an important concept that lets you stay in the moment and properly analyze your current situation.

For normal people, it lets you assess your state in life and even save yourself a bit of extra money.

What is the best way our readers can follow you on social media?

Twitter: @5YearFIREescape

Facebook: @FiveYearFIREescape

Thank you for these fantastic insights. We wish you only continued success in your great work!

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