Tomorrow night I tell a tale. The tale I’ll tell will be of a year of life in nature in near-wilderness. The fact that I was able to triple the task and turn it into a series is also a tale of what happens to someone who retires, whether because they can or because they must. Ignore the common definition of retirement. Leaving one job or career rarely results in the remainder of life spent on the beach. The new definition of retirement is the redefinition of a life.
It may be hard to believe, but I retired almost 16 years ago. As current events have proved, that retirement was temporary. Want the entire story? Read my book Dream. Invest. Live. and this blog reaching all the way back to its first incarnation just after to Barack Obama’s first Presidential election. The short version, an economic crisis, a divorce, a poorly timed house purchase, a second economic crisis, and a Triple Whammy, and I am into an energetic recovery mode that mobilized all my Backup Plans.
Retirement at 38 years old was possible because of a frugal yet comfortable lifestyle, a diverse stock portfolio, the willingness to take on some risk, and some good fortune.
I hadn’t produced a detailed plan for my post-career life. The main theme I’d heard across friends’ anecdotes was to keep busy until you figured out how to also relax. As they’d told me, it took a year or two to simply catch up with the majority of the household chores that accrue around a household. I knew that wouldn’t be enough, so I opened the first door I found, which was to teach karate. Stay in shape, build a business. It sounded like a nice break from corporate politics and stress. Of course things changed. I let them.
I’m old enough that many of my friends are finding their exits, sometimes without a choice. Some have called for advice and guidance about the transition. (Something I do professionally as well.) The answer is simple yet not easy. The good news and bad news about leaving a career is that the best way to adjust is to listen to yourself; not the voices, advice, or role models inserted by culture, media, or peer pressure. Listening to yourself, your Self, is seen as selfish; but it is also necessary. Without the guidance and incentives of a career, guidance and incentives have to be found within. External isn’t nearly as powerful or sustainable as internal.
My karate business faded – and I appreciate my students who trained with me. Shortly after that I bicycled across America and eventually wrote about it. Writing a book taught me that I liked to write and that I could write a second book better than the first.
In those first few years of retirement I learned that my penchant for persistence and perseverance wasn’t external. It was internal, and a strength. With that in mind, why write one book when I can write a series; especially when it is for an appropriate topic like the varying climates across Washington State’s Cascade mountains. I picked three lakes at the border of wilderness along one highway (US2), visited each for a year, and wrote a book about each. Barclay Lake is basically in temperate rain forest and nearest suburbia. Lake Valhalla is at the crest and spends more time under ice than under blue sky. Merritt Lake is as far to the east as Barclay is to the west, so Merritt is hot, dry, open forest prone to fires and Libertarians. I like them all.
I hadn’t planned on becoming a writer. I had to be talked into it. My writing prompted my art photography, inspired by comments from the audiences and readers who heard or read my tales. With my move to Whidbey Island I became more known for art than anything, except maybe dance. For my first few years here, while I was still apparently financially secure, I worked profit-free plus non-profit workweeks of more than 30 hours a week. At least there was time for drinks on the deck. It was a good thing I kept busy because that work provided a foundation for my subsequent and unfortunately necessary business. It became apparent to me that the artists and entrepreneurs that I knew had great passions and ideas, but sometimes could use someone who enjoyed strategizing and program planning, who was also aware of risk and reward.
My story continues, as this blog demonstrates. Great good news rarely happens suddenly, which is why I am glad for my persistence and perseverance. Though I do admit to wishing the good news would come sooner rather than later. Later can be too late.
A generation in an abstract concept, and yet we group people into Generations. I’m at the tail end of the Baby Boomer Generation. People a few years older than me managed that traditional retirement plan, which really only existed for a few decades. Many seem to be confused about why it isn’t working for everyone who simply works hard. People a few years younger than me have little or no expectation from Social Security, and the corporations behind the few remaining pension plans. Luck seems more powerful than work. Many wouldn’t be surprised to find that the United States of America followed the track of the Soviet Union and splits up. My contemporaries lacked the definition that would make us a generation, until now. I think the people born between the Korean Armistice and the landing on the Moon are getting the opportunity to redefine retirement. Some of us started earlier. The bulk of the crowd is just arriving.
As we redefine the term we will also be rewriting the Conventional Wisdom behind legions of retirement calculators. Business models will be re-arranged. Even unemployment is being shifted as older people decide to stay in their jobs longer for money, benefits, or lack of a better option; which also means that fewer jobs for younger people. My experience may become more common. As we grow older, retirement may be a series of episodes interspersed with a series of careers. The idea isn’t new, but the details can only be found by being lived.
Tomorrow I’ll tell tales about Nature’s cycles within a year. (Thursday, May 15, 6:30 Langley Library, free) Nothing is static, not even the rocks. Change is inevitable, and it either comes slowly and quietly, or suddenly and loudly. Accept change. Take it at its pace. And tell the tales for they are the source of wisdom.