“The trouble with the rat race is that even if you win, you're still a rat." -- Lily Tomlin

Friday, March 15, 2013

Working It Out

     I got a job last week. Nothing full time. Just an assignment I occasionally get from one of my old industry contacts.

     There are a few select people who, through some combination of high income and economical living, have achieved true financial independence by the time they're in their 50s. They have the option to retire early, no problem.

     I myself retired early ... through no fault of my own. It's just that, as the old saying goes, after what my employer said to me, at age 53, I found I couldn't possibly work for them anymore. What did they say? "You're fired!"

     However, despite a decent salary, along with reasonably economical living -- as economical as you can get if you have two kids -- I fell short of the threshold of "true financial independence."

Happy at work
    John Nelson, co-author of What Color Is Your Parachute for Retirement: Planning a Prosperous and Happy Future, says, “When it comes to financial independence, we can get caught in ‘all-or-none’ thinking. Especially for our jobs, we think that financial independence means not working at all."

     But retirement is not necessarily an all-or-nothing proposition. And neither is financial independence.

     So after I got laid off I decided I didn't have to go all in with a full-time job. (Besides, I got laid off during the early 2000s recession and at age 53 would have been lucky to find any job at all, even if I was willing to take less of a salary with a longer commute.)  So I decided to tighten my belt and go into the consulting business. And that's what I've been doing ever since.

     Meanwhile, I got a kick out of the storm of controversy that came when Yahoo ceo Marissa Mayer decreed that her employees can no longer work from home. They have to go into the office, at least several times per week. I've got the opposite problem. No one will let me come into their office.

     So anyway, occasionally I take a limited-engagement job. Nothing that really pays all that well. But it does pay something. And it helps me keep financially fit.

     I was inspired by a friend of mine, a few years older than me, who had been laid off by my same company a couple of years before I was. He was able to arrange for some consulting work from our old company, and he picked up a few other projects from people he knew, and he set up an office at home and soon found himself working 20 to 30 hours a week. The bonus: "As soon as I left my job," he told me, "my back problems went away. I started to eat better and do more exercise. I make half as much money, but I feel twice as good, and I'm twice as happy."

     Recently I asked the same fellow, now in his early 70s, if he had any plans to truly retire. "Why should I?" he said. "I really retired ten years ago. Now I love what I'm doing!" 

     I do enjoy working, now and then, because it gives me some focused activity; it brings in a little money; and it makes me feel good to be engaged in work that's important enough for someone to pay me for it. It takes me out of myself, and makes me feel like I'm worth something beyond my own little life and my own family.

     I don't know if I'll still feel that way ten years from now, when I'm in my 70s, but I really do feel that way now.

     Besides, even retirees who are truly financially independent, the experts tell us, need to find pursuits that engage their interests. Nobody can expect to be happy sitting in front of the TV for the rest of their lives. We need activities that stimulate our imagination, connect us to other people, and help us develop a commitment to something more than our own self-interest.

     Maybe one day, when I'm truly financially independent, I'll find satisfaction in golf or gardening, in photography or following the stock market. But for now, I'll keep on taking an odd job. Or, at least that's what I tell myself as I type out my replying email, saying I'd be more than happy to do the work. 

     All by way of saying, I'll be working for a few weeks, and may be posting less often. Somehow I think the blogosphere will survive my partial absence.

     See you around ... and if I'm looking a little frazzled, it's because I'll be blogging in my off hours, with my other eye on the paycheck being dangled in front of my nose.



Unknown said...

Two out of my three previous positions were 50+ hours per week, with lots of weekend work. Now I am at 40 hour a week position with no nights or weekends and it seems like part-time work.

And now I am thinking and planning on how to cut back. But not stop because I too have not achieved true financial security.

Hi Ho Hi Ho, I whistle while I work, can't you hear me?

Olga said...

After I retired from teaching, I was offered a number of long term substituting jobs at my old district. Nice that they thought enough of me to keep me in the loop, nice to have the extra cash. Three years ago, though, I realized I just never want to have to get up to the sound of an alarm clock and I told the administration that they should offer the opportunities to young talent trying to break into the field. Now I volunteer at a library. We have always had fairly simple wants and needs so we have enough. Not a lot of money, but enough.

schmidleysscribblins,wordpress.com said...

I'm glad you are happy with your situation. If i never worked outside the home again, I could care less. I think work outsied the home matters more to men than women. That's my 2 cents. Dianne

Rosaria Williams said...

Finding the right balance, being engaged part of the time with pursuits you enjoy, profitable or not, will allow you to live the way you want to live.

For most of us though, it is all or nothing. Work pays our bills; and bills continue to accumulate no matter your age.

Douglas said...

Your post reminded me of two things: making lemonade out of the lemons life hands you from time to time and a "legend" from my former company.

The legend goes like this:
Back when AT&T got into computers and gave up on Olivetti and bought HP. One of our techs had a sideline... he consulted on and repaired personal computers. The company learned of this and threatened to fire him if he did not cease and desist. He refused to and they fired him. They then turned to him and gave him a contract to maintain PC's and to consult on them... for twice what they had been paying him as an employees.

Which caused me to think of a new motto for the company: "We are AT&T, we make money in spite of ourselves.

Enjoy your job, really. I am enjoying my full retirement. I do not intend to work for a paycheck ever again. Wish me luck.

Friko said...

I was going to ask how you find time to wrk for money as well as blog.
Well, if you’re cutting back on the blogging . . .

By the way, gardening (in earnest), dog walking, entertaining, going to plays and concerts take up a lot of my time. I couldn’t possibly work for money as well.

I’ll just have to remain tight-belted.

Have fun.

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Jo said...

I have been retired 3 years now and at 63, I find myself perfectly content to have no job. I do have purpose. That is key, I believe. I am my Momma's taxi and go-to-guy and I love a good redecorating project in my home and yard. I am also, finally, a full time wife and homemaker which is something I used to dream of being. My time is my time now and I have to say that I am really happy.

When we decided to live in a retirement state, we also sacrificed the bigger incomes for the time to enjoy. It was a choice. For us, a very good one.

Dick Klade said...

After retiring early I had a small contract job with completely flexible hours. Later, I went back to work almost full time for two years with another contract, but with no requirements other than that I deliver the product.

Now I have no desire to do anything that can be defined as work. But I do have a new personal reason for hanging around above ground. I think having a purpose is what's truly important for happiness. Employment may provide the purpose for some, but not for all.

Dr. Kathy McCoy said...

My last twenty years of working was a frantic mix of one full-time job and two part-time jobs -- working horrible hours and often seven days a week. It was all necessary to finance my bout of grad school that led to my being a psychotherapist and to build up my retirement account that took a beating when I was out of a job in the early 1990's. Since retiring in 2010 from everything but writing, I've gradually begun to feel renewed energy to do work I love. I'm trying to find a balance between blogging and writing that pays -- which leads to my not blogging quite as much as before. Though we'll miss your posts when work precludes your blogging for awhile, we certainly understand, Tom. And we'll look forward to hearing from you again!

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Lorna said...

Don't scare me like this. I am retired (since 2000). am 69, and do not work. I get scared seeing how much less my dollar can buy me. Being a retired high school teacher, you can know that my income stream is not heavy.


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