“I Followed My Own Script” – Retiring In Vilcabamba, Ecuador

You know the story:

Go to school, buy a car, find a job, get married, buy a house…

Raise the kids, get a better car, get a better job to pay for the house, the kids, and the car…

Get a better house, get better kids (wait a minute!), get a second car, build your career to pay for the better house, the bigger kids, and even more cars…

Get the kids out the door, keep paying for them, keep working…

Keep paying into your pension, retire at 65, get a gold watch, move to Florida, collect your pension…and enjoy your declining years.

If that’s the life you want, then stick to “the script”—and hope that those your success depends upon stick to it, too.

But if you want something else, then you’re going to have to do something else. That’s what I did.

So how did I change the script? Well, for one, I retired at 44 instead of 65…but that was just the latest of my many wanders down the road less traveled.

The first was moving from my home state of Wisconsin to Florida to play football at one of the state’s “football factories.” When that didn’t work out—mostly because my leg apparently didn’t read the script—I returned to Wisconsin, having decided that, actually, going to school might be a good idea.

While the script said to go for four or five years, I went for nine. And unlike many of my classmates in architecture school who interned to further their careers, I worked as captain of an authentic stern wheel paddleboat on the Chain O’Lakes near Waupaca, Wisconsin. As my friends were learning about office politics, I was getting the experience of a lifetime while getting paid to wear a captain’s hat and toot a horn.

When I finally graduated, for the third and final time, I took a huge detour from the script. Yes, I got a “real” job—but not as an architect. Instead, I taught computers and math at a university… in the United Arab Emirates. Whoa! Didn’t see that coming did you? Neither did I!

And then, in 2007 at the age of 44, I retired. Not to Florida, or even to the United States, but to a riverfront property on a dirt road outside the small town of Vilcabamba, Ecuador.

My better half Sue came with me. She’s still here…probably because she isn’t one for sticking to the script either.

I do whatever I want each day. OK, I have to feed our chickens and be nice to Sue (sometimes following the script is a must), but other than that, the day is mine.

In the six years I’ve been here, I’ve worked as a writer, photographer, public speaker, architect (finally!), plumber, electrician, and graphic designer. I’ve also spent plenty of time working on our property as a gardener, landscaper, and laborer. The script says I should hire somebody to move dump truck loads of dirt, but I find it more rewarding to do it myself.

What’s to come? I have no idea, but that’s what happens when you deviate so far from “the script.” You get a life so unlike any other that you don’t always know what’s next. I wouldn’t have it any other way because it’s made for an interesting and rewarding life—the kind you get taking the road less traveled.

Even if you’ve been faithfully following “the script,” it’s not too late for you to change it. So go ahead, make the changes you want to make—especially if you don’t like the script you’ve been handed.

I’ll be speaking at this year’s Fast Track Your Retirement Overseas Conference in Las Vegas, about our move to Ecuador and life in this magical country. Come along and you can talk with me and Sue in the networking hall, the hotel, the casino, a restaurant…because one of the benefits of attending is the face-to-face time you’ll get with all the presenters, many of whom, like me and Sue, have changed “the script” for a better life overseas.

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