Creative Retirement: Using Government Experience to Create a New Lifestyle

This former IRS employee has learned how to have an exciting retirement traveling around the world.

We frequently get e-mail from readers asking different variations of these questions: “How do I know when I am ready to retire? What will I do if I am not going to work everyday?”

Usually the person asking the questions is wondering will there be enough interesting things for me to do? Will there be a sense of satisfaction when I am not working?

Some people decide not to decide and keep on working for 35 or 40 years (or more). They obviously love their jobs or don’t know what else to do so they keep on working. But a question you need to ask yourself is “What do I most want to do with the rest of my life?” Once you decide that, you can start deciding how to reach that goal.

With creativity and ambition, you can have an exciting retirement that may be more fulfilling than you ever thought possible when you were working for the federal bureaucracy.

Here is one example of a former federal employee who is living a life he wanted but couldn’t attain when working for Uncle Sam.

Thomas L. Eastwood retired from the Internal Revenue Service in 2000. He is not a typical retiree. He retired younger than most people and retired when the agency abolished his job as part of the reorganizaing and restructuring that routinely occurs in most federal agencies. Some senior personnel at the agency were surprised he left in the midst of a successful career. He is one of the youngest IRS executives to retire from the agency.

When he retired, he was the District Director of the IRS Michigan District where he managed approximately 1500 employees and all district activities including criminal investigations, audits, collections and taxpayer services.

But he says that he wanted to leave as soon as he was eligible to do so and that is what he did. He is under the FERS system. He enjoyed his job but felt the culture at his agency was confining and unreceptive to a variety of ideas if they did not originate from within the agency.

So, within a few days after receiving the official notice that the agency was abolishing his job, he left instead of moving to the new jobs that were available and said good-bye to a successful career and a good salary.

Based on the e-mail we receive, a lot of readers say they would like to do the same thing. Most potential retirees don’t retire when they can, probably because they can’t answer the questions mentioned above.

With Eastwood’s background in tax law, one could assume there may be a market for someone with his thorough knowledge of the federal tax system–probably in an accounting firm specializing in helping taxpayers work out tax questions and problems with the IRS.

But I didn’t run into Tom in an office environment in downtown Washington, DC or any other big city. Instead, he was steaming on to Bermuda and the Bahamas on a luxurious cruise ship. And, while enjoying the cruise, he was also working.

On this particular cruise, Tom gave several lectures on various aspects of the federal tax system. While the ship was relatively small as cruise ships go (this one had approximately 400 passengers), his lectures were well attended with more than 70 people at each session. He is candid, open to questions and likes expressing his opinions on technical tax issues.

On the way to the port of Hamilton, Bermuda, Tom was explaining to his audience how to avoid an audit by the Internal Revenue Service and, if an audit notice shows up, tips for getting through it as quickly and easily as possible.

His knowledge was apparent as he easily rattled off statistics.

  • -There is only 1/2 of one percent chance of being audited by the IRS for most people and, for those with a higher income, there is only a 2 percent chance of being audited. He also explained that audits are usually targeted to look for areas where the agency anticipates the most likely chance of problems.
  • -85 percent of audits lead to more revenue for the agency and only 3 percent of people audited get money back.
  • -Six million “dependents” went off the tax rolls when the IRS began requiring the Social Security numbers of their claimed dependents.

He obviously knows the material well. He has done a great deal of public speaking and knows how to capture the interest of his audience. While the subject is not always entertaining, it can be captivating for the right audience. He explained what the IRS looks for in an audit and some ways to avoid putting yourself into a position that will attract the attention of the tax collector and may create expensive legal and financial troubles. And he discussed the nation’s tax system and who pays (or who doesn’t pay) most of the taxes and how people who get in trouble settle with the IRS. (Many of these people with tax problems are apparently prominent politicians who have a proclivity for getting themselves into trouble with the tax man.)

Of course, after the lecture, which lasted about an hour, he is free to enjoy the amenities of the ship. Or, when it is docked, he can go touring or just walk around the foreign ports catering to cruise ship tourists.

So how does a former fed evolve to giving lectures on cruise ships? He explained that he liked to travel and would not be able to afford traveling all over the world in luxurious surroundings if he had to pay for it. He started giving lectures on cruise lines that would book his lectures.

As his reputation and experience grew, he was able to only work on those lines on which he preferred to travel. He now takes 6-10 cruises like this per year so he can travel around the world in a way he couldn’t do when working in a more traditional environment.

Tom Eastwood enjoyed his work with the government but found it confining and frustrating. That sounds like a lot of federal and private sector executives. But he didn’t wait around until he was too old to do something different. Instead, he was creative and used his government experience to create a new lifestyle and new opportunities.

Will you be as creative with your retirement options?

About the Author

Ralph Smith has several decades of experience working with federal human resources issues. He has written extensively on a full range of human resources topics in books and newsletters and is a co-founder of two companies and several newsletters on federal human resources. Follow Ralph on Twitter: @RalphSmith47