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Retirement Discussions / Jimmy Buffett-Style Retirement
|Subject: Preparing for freefall (very long)||Date: 2/7/2001 11:48 AM|
|Author: 1HappyFool||Number: 188 of 381|
I posted this over on REHP and a commenter recommended via email that I post it here also. For those of you who frequent both boards, you'll notice that I fixed the bold problem but I've made no other edits.
I've taken a look at my path to my achievement of ER and I've sensed a desire from those who have not yet achieved ER for input on how I did it and my experiences in making it successful. I have much snow around my home and plenty of time to contemplate and write, so I've compiled my thoughts.
I will express my thoughts as truths, because that is how I see them. If you disagree with my truths, then just remember all the times that you've heard that truth is subjective and go from there. The first truths are perhaps obvious, but I arrived at them from an unaccustomed path.
ER Truth #1 -- A successful exit from your career requires spiritual preparation.
Very few people can exit the workforce totally unprepared and not suffer greatly from the stress this causes. For people who have become emotionally invested in a career and have a history of achievements, exiting from your career voluntarily is like skydiving while exiting through a layoff is like being pushed out of an airplane in flight. Either way, the end result is the same if you aren't prepared for freefall. I make this analogy because I have bailed out from airplanes and from my career and I have encountered the similarities.
I've met several hundred first time skydivers and every one of them has had two crucial common experiences. They have all undergone some preparation and then taken a leap of faith. None of them have skipped the preparation and all of them have voluntarily let go of the airplane. Sometimes people undergo the preparation and then are unable to make the leap, but this is very rare. Normally when someone has made the decision to get to the moment of truth, they have already made the decision to make the leap.
When I decided to ER, I went through some serious preparation and then I took a leap of faith. I would not have taken that leap if I did not feel sufficientally prepared, but, as with skydiving, my preparations were not just physical. Sufficient preparation meant that I had to be spiritually prepared. My physical preparations were inextricably enclosed within my spiritual preparations.
You have an emotional investment in your career and your achievements. The consequences of failing to prepare will not usually be as fatal as the consequences of failing to prepare for a skydive, but suicide and homicide have often been attributed to loss of employment. These are failures of the spirit, but other spiritual failures include depression and all sorts of feelings related to loss. Make no mistake about it, leaving a career is a loss. Spiritual preparation helps you put that loss in its proper perspective.
I mentioned earlier that being laid off is like being pushed out of a plane in flight. If you are prepared for job loss freefall, you can reduce the trauma and you may even discover that it was a blessing in disguise. The simple fact that you did not voluntarily make the leap of faith is not as important as the fact that you were prepared for the experience. Many people who have been spiritually prepared for a layoff quickly got over the feelings of self-doubt and eventually thanked their lucky stars that they got the push.
ER Truth #2 -- Unless you are happy being a bum with no dependents and no other obligations, an essential part of your spiritual preparation is financial preparation.
As the parachute is to the skydiver or the hapless person who is involuntarily pushed from the plane in flight, so the portfolio is to the person who has exited from a career or job. The parachute provides the soft landing that keeps you from dying. Being financially prepared is a part of your spiritual preparation, not a separate entity. Few people would be spiritually prepared for freefall without a parachute. For those who are prepared for such an experience, the plane is usually just starting to taxi down the runway and has not yet reached a speed where the consequences will be more serious than an ankle sprain or a skinned knee.
The lowest level of financial preparation is where a newly graduated high school or college student resides, especially when there are no dependents in the picture. Beach bums and ski bums and all sorts of other bums are here, also. These people are reasonably comfortable here because their investment in their career matches their achievements. The only thing wrong with remaining here is that for most people, their essential nature simply doesn't permit it. As the plane has an engine, the person has potential. As the plane gains altitude, so the person achieves more and more of their potential and becomes more deeply invested in their career.
Of course though, the higher you fly, the further you fall. The key is that spiritual preparation, including the attainment of a parachute, makes the experience less traumatic, more exciting and potentially even fun and desirable.
Ok, so maybe the first two truths aren't really blinding insights. We have some new-age spiritual mumbo-jumbo and comparison of a physically dangerous activity that few people do to something that many people routinely do without killing themselves. But look below the surface. Everyone who does either activity successfully has prepared and has taken a leap of faith.
If you're still not all that impressed by what you've read, don't worry. These first two truths are only the foundation for where I'm going. I'll stick with the skydiving analogy for now, but I'm going to stop talking about the possibility of being laid off. I think you all recognize that job security is what it is. Career security is somewhat different from job security, but you each have some idea of where you fit in the job market and how likely you will be to obtain another job within your field if you are laid off. My focus now will shift to the other aspects of spiritual preparation for the act of exiting from your career. This is where the bricks get laid.
The first aspect I wish to address is that the skydiving analogy makes it appear that that I'm saying the entire career is focused on the moment of truth embodied by the leap of faith at the point of exiting the career. Nothing could be further from the truth. The skydiver volunteers to undergo the preparation, get into the plane and make the leap. The preparation is not to prepare the skydiver for the moment of truth, it's to prepare the skydiver for the inevitable consequences of the act. The first time skydiver has a choice about facing the moment of truth. Some people feel driven to skydive, but most are just looking for a thrill. When you embark on a career, it isn't just the consequences of the leap that become inevitable. The moment of truth itself becomes inevitable. You will leave your career. There is no opportunity to ride the plane back down. If you've chosen to embark on a career, your last opportunity to safely get out without a parachute is while the plane is still on the runway. This brings us to the third truth.
ER Truth #3 -- Preparation is your responsibility.
You embarked on the career. You set the wheels in motion. You made the achievements. You invested your emotions into your career. While others may help you with your preparations, they cannot make your preparations for you and you cannot hold them accountable for failing to do so.
Okay, now these first three truths were kinda serious and not very spiritual. I'll lighten up on this next one a little.
The first time skydiver gets the most from the experience when he opens himself to all aspects of the experience. If I might take the opportunity to quote the prophet Bob Weir, "I might be going to hell in a handbasket, but at least I'm enjoying the ride." For the person involved in a career, we'll not go all the way back to birth, but we'll go back to the time when the decision to embark on the career was made. In my case, this occurred when I switched my major from No Pref to Electrical Engineering at Michigan State University. I received a piece of advice that resonated with me. I don't remember who gave me the advice and that bothers me because I would like to shake his hand or give her a big hug. The advice was this:
"Do something you do well and enjoy doing, but if you have something that you really love doing and it doesn't pay very well, don't do it as a job because that will take your love away from you."
Now this may not be good advice for all people, but it gave me clarity at a time when it was lacking. My first love is writing. I was the only person I know who enjoyed essays in high school. I think I like writing because it is so challenging. Getting inside the readers' heads and determining how to get my point across is unbelievably difficult. I couldn't picture myself being happy writing what somebody else wanted me to write in exchange for money. I did not want to end up hating my first love. So I embarked on a career that employed my second love. I solve problems, I do it well, I enjoy it and people pay well for solutions. Engineering and in particular Electrical Engineering seemed to me to be the most lucrative way to exploit this capability. I've never regretted this decision. I left my career in the airplane at age 42. At this very moment, I am 43 and I am enjoying my first love. I might not be doing it well, but I'm loving doing it and that is priceless.
ER Truth #4 Doing what you enjoy for high pay is better than killing your first love for low pay.
Now you may think I'm being facetious with that last truth, but what I'm really saying is that it is okay for your dreams and your career to not be comingled. I was always able to enjoy my first love while I had a career. I did not always have as much writing time as I wanted, but I wrote on my time and the feeling of inner peace that writing brings to me was not put on hold for the duration. I was also fortunate to occasionally write on their time as part of my job. I was able to avoid hating it when I wrote as part of my job because I did not think of myself as a writer. Writing was simply a tool in my problem solving toolkit. Solving problems was my craft and all craftsmen love their tools. My relationship to my first love has endured and I will hopefully have many years and as much opportunity to embrace my desire as I could possibly enjoy.
So to bring this back to the first time skydiver analogy, it is emminently worthwhile to enjoy the preparation and the plane ride, but you don't have to love it. Love life. Love what you love. Recognize that your career is not all that life offers and that it is not necessary to fill your career with love. It is sufficient to simply enjoy the ride and there is no reason to feel unfulfilled if you aren't making money by doing what you love doing. So perhaps ER Truth #4 should be revised.
ER Truth #4 (Revised) It's okay not to love your career. Simply enjoying the ride is sufficient.
So, okay, that was a little more spiritual, but of course, it comes too late for most of the people reading this. You've already chosen your career and invested in it. Your plane has left the runway. If your career involves doing what you love, then with luck, you'll be able to avoid losing your love. If your career doesn't pay very well, then the moment of truth will be postponed. If you hate your career, well hopefully the moment of truth isn't far off and you can hang in or change careers.
So let's dig a little deeper and get a little more personal. What else do you need besides financial preparation? You need a way to avoid the mistakes that many have made. As the saying goes, those who ignore history are doomed to repeat it. It is our hubris that normally keeps us from understanding that the history of others can be applicable to us. So I will go through at least some of the truths that history has shown me. By history, I mean the personal examples I have learned from other people who have voluntarily exited from careers. Some of them went on to new careers and some of them just retired and some of them found inner peace and some of them failed to find inner peace and went back to their careers in defeat.
ER Truth #5 -- Your spiritual preparation will be more complete if you understand how you live vicariously.
Everybody spends some amount of their lives living vicariously. Listening to stories has been largely replaced by watching movies, but those two are almost universal. I know of only one person who almost never watches a movie, but he watches videos of himself engaged in Xtreme sports and that comes close enough for me. Reading books, playing video games, watching dramas, comedies, team sports or bass fishing videos are all forms of living vicariously. What many people don't realize and don't prepare for is the fact that they live vicariously through the lives of their coworkers and other people that they meet while engaged in their career. Many people fear that if they leave employment, they will become couch potatoes. They seem to know instinctively that TV will fill some void and possibly become addictive, but they just don't know why. It never occurs to them that there are major similarities between watching Friends and interacting with real people. So they fear TV instead of realizing it for what it is and what it has the potential of being.
Now this might sound like a defense of couch potatoes, but the key is to understand what voids will be opened by leaving your career and how you can close them. Your vicarious living habits will have financial impacts, but they will also have some bearing on such things as location and connection to your community. When you leave the community of your career, you will have time on your hands and you will change your relationship with the community of your locale. For example, If you watch team sports and you love to watch them in person at the stadium, you will have time for all kinds of spectatorial opportunities, but the cost and social aspects of a high school football game are nothing like the cost and social aspects of a college football game or a pro football game. If you think about this before you let go of the airplane, you'll be less likely to spend time patching holes in your parachute on the way down.
ER Truth #6 -- Your spiritual preparation will be more complete if you understand your sensory needs.
Your senses are the channels through which you receive input. There are many, many ways in which your senses can effect you. A very simple example is the person who suffers from Seasonal Affective Disorder and becomes depressed during the winter unless they are sufficently exposed to fairly bright light. Some people just aren't happy unless the "scenery" is always changing. Others need to be steeped in sensory input. I went to a Texas Rangers game with coworkers and at first the experience was somewhat jarring. The stadium, the people, the organ sounds and PA system were much different than in any other baseball stadium I've visited. There was more noise, more color, brighter scoreboards and lights and generally more activity. The smells were even more powerful. I was with a Brit who had recently become a baseball fan and he confessed to liking the whole stadium experience more than the actual game itself. He had never been to any other ballpark in the US and he was drinking the sensory input that was distracting me for the first two innings.
The lesson from this is that by ensuring you will receive appropriate physical sensations upon leaving employment, you will positively effect your frame of mind. This may mean travel or may be a function of geography, geology, climate or even simply your ability to create a comfy nest in your home.
ER Truth #7 -- Your spiritual preparation will be more complete if you understand your expressive needs.
Everbody has expressive needs. Everything you intentionally do is an example of you expressing yourself. Loss of employment includes loss of expressive opportunities. If these expressive opportunities are important to you, then they must be replaced in order for you to be spiritually sound upon retirement.
Some people just need to talk. Some people need to create something with their hands. Some people need to write. Some need to help others. Some need to plant, nurture and harvest. Some sing and some play an instrument and some conduct. Some plan and some test and some build and some destroy.
You might express yourself to others, or your self expression might be completely private. Either way, you will suffer if your expressive needs are not satisfied by post employment life.
ER Truth #8 -- Your spiritual preparation will be more complete if you understand your relationship to control.
Some people need to control others. CEOs often work into their 70's because they love the power they wield and can't find it upon retirement. The only thing that comes close to running a large corporation is running a large charitable foundation.
Some people need to be controlled by others. If they don't have someone giving them direction, they simply tread water. Volunteering is an honorable option for people who need to be told what needs doing.
Most people fall into the above two generalizations, but will not admit that they need to control others or to be controlled by others. They use euphemisms about "power" or "structure". No matter how they phrase it, if they don't recognize the need for the control relationship, then something spiritually necessary for them will be lacking once they leave employment.
I said that most people fall into the above two groups, but a substantial number don't. Some people need to feel they have control over their destiny. They don't like having their priorities set or rearranged by others. They may want to be their own boss, but they won't want employees and they will want freedom to shut down their activities whenever they wish to do something else for a while.
Some people need an environment where interuptions are frequent. They need to be dealing with challenges thrown at them by others. Owning a small business is attractive to people like this. It gives them the sense of freedom from supervision that they want but allows them to give up control to the realities of their occupation. Buying a bar or a shop of some sort is a common retirement dream. It gives these people the proper relationship to control.
ER Truth #9 -- Your spiritual preparation will be more complete if you understand your relationship to security.
Security is an often cited reason for not retiring, despite the knowledge that jobs aren't all that secure. Not having security is a euphemism for not being emotionally able to voluntarily take the risk. People have a greater fear of "screwing up" than of being abandoned by their employer. These people will probably never skydive, but more importantly, they won't understand how others can take the risk of becoming voluntarily unemployed. Their risk aversion is considered *normal*, so to become voluntarily unemployed, you have to overcome normal.
Part of overcoming normal is recognizing the truth about job security and overcoming your fear of screwing up. This is where the old adage, "Nothing ventured, nothing gained" comes in. Security is a state of mind that comes when you can feel confident about your ability to satisfy your needs. The beach bum can feel secure when the billionaire can't. That's because the beach bum knows how to satisfy his needs while the billionaire doesn't.
ER Truth #10 -- Your spiritual preparation will be more complete if you understand your relationship to desires.
Not all desires are needs. Some are merely wants and the fulfilment of some of those wants might be destructive. We each have some ability to defer gratification, but knowing how much is enough is more of a challenge for some than it is for others.
I have a pet theory that the Depression has had lasting impacts on parenting that effect our relationship to desires. See if these next few paragraphs ring true.
If your parents were teens during the Depression, you may have a tendency to deprive yourself of things that are necessary for your happiness. This is because your parents *learned* that they could *survive* with much less than they desired. You were impacted by the trauma they suffered and if you have children, you've tried to shelter them from that deprivation.
If your grandparents were teens during the Depression, you may have a tendency to treat all desires as needs and to have trouble achieving happiness unless you are able to fulfil your desires. This springs from the fact that, because your parents were impacted by the trauma that their parents suffered, they sheltered you from deprivation.
If your great grandparents were teens during the Depression, then you are probably hopelessly screwed up and have very little chance of ever achieving anything remotely resembling happiness after age 40. Your best bet is to find someone who can point out when you're screwing up and listen to them. The good news is that you're probably too young to be reading this.<g>
If your parents were preteens during the depression, then it is likely that you fall between the two extremes caused by *learning* deprivation. Your parents were raised in deprivation and knew increasing good fortune through their teen years. OTOH, they "became aware" during WWII when some level of deprivation was patriotic. They learned sacrifice and deferred gratification. This does not mean that you will have the perfect balance between deprivation and indulgence. Instead, you will be in a state of internal struggle between guilt and obsession with pleasure. The war will wax and wane and you will be pulled back and forth in the conflict. If the swings are wide and the stresses are excessive, it will be difficult to find a satisfactory balance.
If your grandparents were preteens during the depression, then you will be impacted by the internal conflict of your parents. Dependent on your parents' ability to put their conflict into perspective for you, you could end up anywhere along the full range from ascetic to completely indulgent. Fortunately, you're probably too young to be reading this now and you're still able to achieve the insights that can pull you away from the extremes. With luck, you will have sufficient exposure to balance.
This all sounds very gloomy for all involved, but the one thing that can make it just fine is our ability to examine our desires and categorize them as needs or wants. This applies not just to our financial desires, but to all of our spiritual d