25 Aug 2016, 9:21pm
living intentionally
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  • Why aren’t the National Trust and the English Heritage the same thing?

    After all, they sort of do the same kind of thing, act in the same sort of space and need to merge IMO. Before 2009 I had been a member of English Heritage for a while, largely to get into Stonehenge for free 1. It was a good staging post on the way down to the West Country, and usually picked up enough visits to make it worthwhile. It’s been a while since I was part of this, but now I have returned to the land of those with a regular income, I need to go out and put some of that to work.

    I want to see more of Britain, and take my time

    One of the remarkable things about Britain is that a lot of the place is like a history theme park, and that it has all sorts of bizarre things scattered around the landscape. Take this oddball triangular building. It challenges you a bit being inside, we are so accustomed to rectangularity in rooms that it’s quite disorienting.

    Rushton Triangular Lodge

    Rushton Triangular Lodge. It’s not a funny perspective, the groundplan is an equilateral triangle

    The aristocracy of this country was eccentric that way, and fortunately the reforming post-war governments dispossessed enough of these folk of their undeserved wealth gifted them by that varmint William the Conk that we have the opportunity to see some of them.The general principle was since so many people got slaughtered in service to King and Country in the World Wars it was considered a bit rough to have the toff dynasties lording it over the proles like they used to.

    There’s no need to get the violins out for the aristocracy – the landed gentry still own about half the rural land this sceptred isle, because the crafty devils struck a deal with the reforming post-war governments. Of course, Mr Attlee, they said, you wouldn’t like to break up family farms now, would you, after all we have just survived a war and had to dig for victory? So give us an exception on agricultural land for inheritance tax. Which still stands, but of course our landed gentry can’t be arsed to drive their own little Fordson tractors or get their hands dirty. They take public money in the form of subsidies to the tune of about £245 for every British household to reduce the costs of carrying their unearned capital stored in agricultural land, get huge contracting firms to farm the land, and flood it with chemicals, poison our birds while they of course keep the ancestral wealth in their dynasty free of IHT, because it’s agriculture, innit? To add insult to injury for the great unwashed, Gerald Grosvenor, who owned £9bn of ancestral wealth when he carked it recently, moaned that it didn’t make him happy. Well, Gerald, you know what you should have done then, you miserable git. Spread some of the love around, then maybe your kids don’t get to moan the same when they’re 64 😉 Seriously, you couldn’t make it up.

    In the UK there are two heritage organisations, the National Trust and English Heritage (and the Historic Wales and Historic Scotland equivalents to EH). The overlap is notable – for instance EH run Stonehenge and the National Trust own the site, and Avebury it seems the National Trust run the site, even if they did upset Bill Bryson. Cynical me wonders how he managed to shell out £31 before seeing a stone, and whether his role as an English Heritage commissioner had something to do with his discombobulation. I’ve had the same dilemma as Bill whether to take a fleecing from the National Trust or observe from the sidelines but if he really did manage to miss one of these great big things

    One of the massive stones at Avebury, of which there are many

    One of the massive stones at Avebury, of which there are many

    while he was so busy chasing comestibles then I think he needs a visit to the optician. Personally, I don’t expect to pay anything even for parking when I go to Avebury, but I guess I have more experience of the site than Bryson had 😉

    they're all over the place

    stones are all over the place, Bill

    I’m with the NT here–  we don’t need more or bigger signs, because if you’re the sort that misses twenty-foot high sarsen slabs by the side of the Queen’s highway, then you aren’t going to spot the signs to the stones. The territory is map enough in this case. more »

    Notes:

    1. free once I’d gone about three times in a year ISTR
    15 Aug 2016, 12:40pm
    living intentionally reflections:
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  • work as a limiting belief post FI

    We all go through life accumulating experiences, and, inveterate pattern-matchers that we are, all too often we infer the general from the particular of those experiences. In the search to impose order and meaning on our world, we frequently conflate correlation with causation, and build up a mental map of the world at odds with the territory. Some of these beliefs about the world gained from experience are just plain wrong or get overtaken by events after they are formed. To take one

    “You need to work”

    When I left university I had no money and therefore needed to work. I hadn’t come across the option of dropping out and possum living, and it probably wouldn’t have appealed, a young buck must run with its kind 😉 Peer pressure is strong for young adults.

    But in that first year I built a limiting belief, by inferring the general from the particular. I needed to work, at that time and for a significant time afterwards. But not for all time. I needed to earn enough to pay the capital cost of some of the necessities of life. I didn’t think that deeply about buying a house, though I left London because it was clear that I wouldn’t be able to buy a house there and maintain a decent lifestyle. I really should have thought more about buying a house at a market high, but that’s another story. There’s a pattern developing here, an across the board intentional living fail.

    A considerable amount of luck saved me from myself – I was enterprising enough to shift myself from boring jobs until I found one that loaded the grey matter enough to be congenial, I was fortunate enough to end up in a company where I was looked after pension-wise and the pay was decent enough. And then got on with the job of spending too much but not more than I earned on consumer crap, partying, beer and travel.

    And so across the intervening years, the world globalised and loads more people joined the capitalist workforce, and it started to arbitrage towards cheaper countries. I was protected from that from a long time but eventually the erosion came to my door. There’s an argument that the Millennium Bug work of the year 2000 accelerated this erosion of developed world work in the IT world. The Firm opened a BPO joint in Mahindra and a couple of the localised Big Cheeses instrumental in setting it up benefited handsomely from their shareholdings in that.

    I wasn’t passionate about IT although competent, I moved into it and out of electronics engineering because that was what The Firm did. Some people did jump ship at the time, fearful that their electronics skills would atrophy. In the first glimmerings of intentional living I came to the conclusion that I worked to live not lived to work, I was in serious negative equity so I adapted and retrained. I suspected electronics design would go to cheaper countries, and it did – the tide would have gone out on me faster in electronics that it did in IT. 1

    Limiting Beliefs

    Steve Pavlina has a pretty decent summary of limiting beliefs –

    Limiting beliefs can seriously hold us back in life. But most of the time such beliefs are invisible to us. They control some of our thoughts and behaviors behind the scenes, enough to curtail our results in some area of life.

    His article also proposes a method of eliminating these. I don’t have his particular brand of materialist rationalism, so while I am prepared to acknowledge some limiting beliefs, I won’t fight all of them. One of mine is that something snapped in me mentally in the last few years at work, and that once something like that has broken it will never bear that load again. Since I’m rich enough not to have to challenge this by finding another job, I don’t have to go through the pain of challenging it, or indeed find out that it is in fact true. The evidence that countermands that belief is that people overcome much greater mental challenges than having a really shitty experience of working for a year.

    The way this belief limits me is that I will never be able to feel safe enough to deploy any money that I earn in working again to increase my lifestyle, because I will be afraid of losing having the FU nuclear option on work. So while I might well appreciate more baubles and jaunts, no consumer shit tastes as good as financial freedom feels. And I’ve gotten used to owning my own time. So I’ll pass on the extra money and enjoy the extra time.

    Over at SHMD Jim has returned to work. While that wouldn’t be right for me I tip my hat to a fellow who concluded a 0 hours week wasn’t enhancing his quality of life, and took the obvious corrective action – go get a job. I’d actually read Jim’s article before it was cited on Weekend reading and just thought good for you Jim, about time too 😉

    When I read the phrases selected by Monevator from Jim’s post I thought blimey, did I read the same article? Monevator is a much more pithy and concise writer than I am, but the precise extract and reformatting together with the extra narrative in his post I think says something about both the observer and the observed:

    I was struggling a bit with the retirement lifestyle, and finding the change from a full on, full time working week to a zero hour one quite difficult to handle.

    I just couldn’t shake the notion that I was too “young” to put my feet up, that I should be working and that I should be out there earning money.

    I might not have “needed” the latter, but it never quite felt that way.

    SHMD as cited by Monevator

    Jim’s evocative description of the problem shows to me an incongruity between his map of how things should be compared to the territory of how they were. He doesn’t need the money, but he needs things to be different to how they are to feel happy about it. This looks like a limiting belief to me, largely because Jim “shoulds himself” twice in one sentence. Two different takes on this issue, one from Psychology Today and the other from the A0M seem to indicate this limiting belief is from an external locus of control in the affected topic. He is measuring an internal state by a yardstick written by other people. Since humans are a social species some of this is inevitable, and there was an easy and obvious solution. Make the territory more like the map and go back to work.

    Monevator admits his gut belief later on

    But I believe almost everyone will benefit from having an ongoing economic relationship with society while they can – even if only for a day or two a week.

    Sadly, by the time most people reach the point of having options, they seem to feel too burned out by the workplace to explore all the various other ways of making money more freely.

    Protestant work ethic detector goes off. You don’t have to work to have an ongoing economic relationship with society. I allocate capital, society pays me for the pleasure of using it 😉 Heck, on the other side of the coin the consumers of Britain racking up unsustainable credit card debt have an ongoing economic relationship with society, even if they are on the dole, or reality TV show aristocrats.

    Reality TV show aristocrats

    Reality TV show aristocrats in an ongoing economic relationship with society

    I am thinking of buying a Naim 272 to replace my 30-year old preamplifier, tuner and audio streaming box, surely I still have an ongoing economic relationship with Salisbury then? I don’t even have to worsen Britain’s consumer debt mountain because I have the money.

    Now I am a case of the burned out husk Monevator refers to, although I have to say that the proposed alternative of endless hucksterism of selling your wares as a freelancer/contractor gives me even more the heebie-jeebies than the thought of going back to work for The Man. But I’ve already confessed to the potential limiting belief in my case, so far be it from me to criticise either of these two good people for tolerating theirs 😉 We can all afford to pay the cost of our limiting beliefs – I will be poorer by the opportunity cost of the money I could have earned, they will be poorer by the opportunity cost of the time spent working after financial independence. Conversely, they will be richer in money, I will be richer in Time, and each to their own. Neither course is right or wrong, it can only be right or wrong in combination with the individual’s predilections and temperaments, which may change over time.

    What’s that burnout process all about then?

    Like Monevator, the younger me didn’t understand the burnout mechanism. I saw burnout in enough other people at The Firm, but had been fortunate enough to occupy specialisms slightly removed from the ritual slaughter and yearly cull of too many project managers as the number of projects to manage dropped. I was offered enough PRINCE2 training but I’d rather drink my own urine than be a PM. I have respect for the job and the difficult balances to be made, but I don’t want to be it, and particularly for the Firm. I didn’t realise then that  the The Firm employed the same techniques as some Japanese companies on some of these guys – because there were technical reasons why compulsory redundancies were expensive for them, so they needed to mind-f*k people. They created a Redeployment Unit, which was ostensibly to re-educate some of their dead wood old fossils superfluous headcount. It had a terrible success rate – more than 50% of people eventually left on voluntary redundancy terms, because they couldn’t stand the endless Jobcentre style filling in CVs. You had to fill in so many a week, just because. It drove a fair number of people round the bend. In many cases they had been pulled from overworked teams to match headcount targets, it seemed to be a particular irony to then go for a coffee with their ex-team-mates and hear that deliverables were slipping because there weren’t enough boots on the ground. Which conveniently meant they could pull the project, outsource it to India and send the rest of the team to the RU, while marking down their performance management results. Conveniently you were barred from taking voluntary redundancy if your performance management score was needs improvement, so they saved money by sending people round the twist. Nice.

    Performance management clobbered me because for the first 20 years at The Firm, appraisal was roughly about how well you did the job. I was okay with that. For an engineer their work usually speaks for itself. However, performance management was a way of introducing arbitrary extra elements, FFS like giving 5 minute seminars at all hands meetings whose tedium was increased by 5 minute presentations on random stuff to tick the box, and it was a bewildering mishmash of capricious targets. Basically you had the choice of meeting the targets or doing the job.

    I pre-empted this with the last vestiges of energy I had in reserve in 2009, and fired off speculative applications because there was an opportunity to use some of my legacy electronics engineering skills for the London 2012 Olympics. I was fortunate enough to win that lottery and sweat out three years doing something interesting, time-bound and rewarding. I got a decent sendoff and the guy in charge of delivering the Olympics said I was leaving on a high, and in terms of what I did, yes. But I formed another belief about working then. Which is that working in the modern world of professional jobs is all consuming, over-controlled pissing match that hurts, and I want no more of it in my life.

    It took time before freedom from became freedom to, and I realised the value of the prize I had unwittingly taken with me on the way back from the pub at that final leaving do. Eight precious years of my life that I will never live again, and in decent wealth and health, and indeed I still have a few to go before I reach 60 where I’d join the original track of my retirement from work. What’s the point of burning them up working? As Arnold Zack said to Paul Tsongas

    Nobody on his deathbed ever said, “I wish I had spent more time at the office.”

    Tsongas retired on (physical) medical grounds and cashed in his chips at 55.

    It is the privilege of youth to think you will live for ever in perfect health – in general this squares with your experience of life so far, but as they say past performance is no guarantee of future success. I got a long way into middle age on that assumption, and I am still to be to the best of my knowledge in good physical health. But when something existential that you took for granted fails in service, then the knowledge that can happen changes you. I like to think I got some wins out of the negative experience – I deepened, and took the opportunity to jump the tracks of the assumptions I had never challenged since first starting work. I took the glittering prize of my time back with me, but I only unwrapped it and saw its gleam after the first phase of decompression had passed after two years. I had to switch off so much of myself to get through the last three years of working that I had to train myself to see beauty and appreciate music again. It is all the more amazing because I know the emptiness of the burned out years. I have more gratitude for it. It is sweeter for having known the loss, and to discover in the depths of winter, I finally learned that within me there lay an invincible summer. 2.

    I hazard that Monevator hasn’t had that experience in the work area of life and I hope he never has, and Jim took corrective action much earlier in his journey out of work, or had greater resilience. Indeed, the younger Ermine knew the feeling of Monevator’s surprise at people’s passivity in the face of an adverse work environment –

    Sadly, by the time most people reach the point of having options, they seem to feel too burned out by the workplace to explore all the various other ways of making money more freely.

    It’s always a puzzle, why the hell don’t people sort their shit out and improve their situation? The reason it so often happens is that while mental stress may manifest in an obvious breakdown, the seeds are sown and grow in tiny incremental stages beforehand. It is in these days, months and years beforehand that the fightback must commence.The breakdown is the result of feedback mechanisms that are trying to compensate for the stress finally being overwhelmed. While they work OK these feedback mechanisms minimise the visibility of the problem by trying to maintain the norm. So by the time people realise something is wrong they have passed the point of no return, they do not have the energy to start the fight. I was fortunate in having good people around, and doubly so in having a rare legacy skill that was needed for the last three years it took me to buy my way out. There is much more luck than judgement in that narrative. Some judgement, yes – in the switched off nature where I had lost most of the function of the emotional centre I still had the intellectual centre working at half cock. I was able to see with unclouded vision that buying into a shattered market of 2009 might be a good idea 3, and the nonfunctioning emotional elements did not jam that with the ‘run for the hills’ response. But it’s probably the luck that won it. I learned from that experience, charging into the markets in 2011 during the Summer of Rage and again earlier this year. Last year I was into EMs, which was probably jumping the gun, though the addled brains of my fellow countrymen destroying the currency have helped buy me out of that trigger-happiness and even these dogs are starting to perform.

    Work meant more for me when I was younger, it was part of how I saw myself, and it took the long process of individuation to de-identify myself against external values and own my values.  There is a lot of existential value associated with work for many people – take Ruth Graham’s rebuttal of the deathbed quote. It’s also not terribly surprising that people who suffer burnout break the link between meaning and purpose and work. After all, if I felt like Jim about work I would have to go back into the fray, risking the burnout again. It is easier to change myself than the toxic world of performance management and meaningless metrics.

    Jim doesn’t have that link broken. There are hardly that many terrible consequences of working when you don’t need to. But it isn’t totally cost-free. Those are years you won’t get to live again. Work is a way for finding challenge and interest. But it’s not the only way.

    How to go nuclear on your career

    This is a bigger change that gradually inching down, or switching to a different type of work. If you have any lingering doubts, then don’t do it. Go for the slowly reducing your hours if you can, or alternative employment. After all, that’s the point of being financially independent. You can choose not to work, but you don’t have to. If you are reducing your hours, things are simpler, you probably want to stay in the same location.

    But if you are aiming to finish work, or do something else, then you have more options. Moving is one of them – of course if you have a partner/children and particularly if they are not retiring at the same time then this is out, unless moving closer to their work. For many people FI roughly coincides with their children coming of age, which I hear is also a big life change for the parents. It’s a good time to re-evaluate what you want out of life.

    Anybody living in London should seriously consider their options on reaching FI. It’s a young person’s city and no place for old men IMO – and you may as well leverage the closeness to massive pool of employment premium on the value of your house or reduce the rent you’re paying. It’s an opportunity to reduce costs, unless you value the lifestyle more than the cost.

    For many people work is a huge part of the amount of day-to-day intellectual stimulation they get, they are too busy in their non-work time making all the trappings of a middle class life happen and wrangling kids. Pull the plug on work in that sort of lifestream and there’s going to be a great big instant hole.

    If you are going to quit then you have to step up to the bigger change. You have greater opportunities too, simply because you now have all your time to allocate to living your unique life. In no particular order I toss these out as things worth considering, they work for me. I’m not saying they have to work for you

    Look to your social circle post-retirement

    Early retirees, very early retirees, men, those who move on retirement all have a particular issue with this and ideally want to start addressing it before they leave work. To stereotype shockingly in the interests of brevity

    Early retirees (30s-40s) and men often have a lot of their social circle connected with work. Retire early and half your social circle is still working and will be for the next 20 years. You want to at least think about backfilling this, and you’re probably going to have to make most of the effort.

    Those who move on retirement may face having to start anew in a different place. If you have an idea of where you are moving to, there’s a case to be made for cultivating social connections there ahead of time.

    Retiring is also an opportunity to leave behind people who have become toxic in some way, it’s not all bad 😉

    Toss your TV.

    Slightly tongue in cheek, but it is a particular form of a general principle. Create, learn and be intellectually active rather than a passive consumer. TV is great escapism to switch off from work. You don’t need that any more. And too much of TV is vapid attention-grabbing pabulum whose main purpose is to be a carrier wave to ram consumerist messages into your head.

    Learn something new every day

    You probably had to do this at work. If you are retired, then you have the freedom to cover new ground. Learn about new things just because. It doesn’t have to be useful. I am thinking of making a bull-roarer today. It is the diversity of what you learn that makes you a more rounded person, and exposes you to more viewpoints. Read at least two papers from the opposite sides of the political spectrum. Try and open your mind to points of view that you don’t agree with. Are they at least internally consistent? Are your views? Are your views perhaps wrong?

    Read books as well as the Web

    The Web is a fantastic resource for learning something new every day. But it is shallow, it is bad for your attention span, it is often unreferenced and unauthoritative, and there is always the vile commercial imperative in a lot of writing, which favours the attention-grabbing and the short form. I found too much web reading damaged my ability to take in information from books, I had to slightly relearn that

    When I say books, I mean books that have at least some print format that is not self-published. If a publisher had to take a risk on the book it is more likely to have merit. The massive swathes of ebooks written by money-grabbing incompetents are a way of trying to ‘monetise content’ and from my experience that content isn’t worth my time. There isn’t a book in everybody, leastways not a book worth anybody’s time. I wish there were a way of screening out the output of ebook content mills on Amazon. Using your public library to borrow real books is one way round that.

    Walk/bike everywhere

    I’m a walking guy on this front, but that’s because Ipswich is a relatively compact market town. most places I want to go are within two miles. Over distances like that walking wins over cycling by not having to park your legs outside your destination and worrying some scrote is going to pinch them. I’m of the opinion no retiree needs to use a gym 4. The trouble with walking when you are working it it wipes out a huge amount of your small amount of free time, after all if I want to walk somewhere two miles away and come back it’s going to wipe out an hour and a bit of my day. That’s tough if I only have four hours free time. But it’s no beef for a retiree. It’s good for you, and thinking while walking is somehow a different and more lateral experience too.

    Obviously there’s space for the car as well, if you are going to haul stuff. But don’t go nuts on it. I walk a mile and a bit to recycle glass, carrying it in a rucksack. You can easily carry 10kg in a backpack, more in panniers on a bike.

    Create experiences, don’t buy them

    Climb hills, learn about Nature, invent, carve, repair, originate before consumption. Many ‘attractions’ are simply commercial enterprises designed to separate parents from their money because they don’t have enough energy or imagination to distract/entertain their kids themselves. I personally avoid places like this like the plague. But there are similar joints for adults, and, I am sad to say, particularly targeted at men who have a weakness for extreme this and that. There are general trends to commercialise, professionalise and monetise recreation. What did kids do before Go Ape? They climbed the trees and built their own tree-houses from scrap wood. BTDT

    Do hedonism, but vary it. Prize diversity and  quality over quantity

    There’s nothing wrong with going to a decent restaurant every so often, but it should cost you more than £100 for two (Londoners probably need to think £300). Do better, but less often. There are vast swathes of middling and low end joints which aren’t worth your custom, go big or go home, but go infrequently. And spin it out with other sorts of hedonism.

    Travel alone sometimes

    You see far more of a place when you travel alone. Conversely the experience of travelling with your partner is a more congenial experience and gives you shared stories. Make space for both.

    Be insanely curious

    Poke about in the cornucopia of variety that is our world. Take things to bits, turn them over and wonder why. Lift stones and see what’s underneath 5. Play

    Do one thing at a time, and do it well

    There’s a trend towards multitasking – looking at your phone while listening to an audiobook etc. Humans haven’t suddenly become great multitaskers over the last 20 years. If it’s worth doing it’s worth doing well.

    Leave the smartphone at home

    This is a personal bugbear of mine. I decommissioned my smartphone when I realised it was simply pissing me off for no good reason, and swapped it for a dual-SIM plastic Nokia 150. Why? Dual SIM gives a better chance of getting a signal in the countryside if they are on different PAYG bearer networks, plus I can route outgoing calls and SMS via the cheapest option. I couldn’t stand the touch keyboard, and prefer predictive text SMS. The RF performance of a basic phone is so much better than a smartphone, people can actually hear me and I get to hear them (if they aren’t using a smartphone outside an urban area). Every photograph I’ve taken with a mobile phone is a little bit shit and makes me wish I hadn’t taken it or had used a real camera. I don’t regularly do Facebook, twitter and all that cobblers. A smartphone is a really crappy satnav, because again the RF performance of the GPS is poor in urban areas, which is of course where you really need detailed navigation and good responsiveness. They are great in the open, on motorways and A roads, the sort of places where it’s easy to navigate using map and road signs 😉 I bought a Garmin satnav after realising that I was going to more places I hadn’t been before even in Suffolk and was spending too much time and fuel overshooting, then turning round to back up. It performs properly in urban areas, uses DAB to update traffic reports rather than spying on me by using the mobile network. A smartphone does a load of things, all of them poorly, and I got sick of that in the end.

    Reduce unnecessary interruption in your life

    Most of these come from electronic devices and social media. You can probably still swim with the hive-mind by connecting every three hours and then disconnecting, and the old saw about connecting to email once or twice a day is also worth noting. Even if you are a social media maven, well, connect every hour or half-hour if you must, and then give your full attention to whatever you are doing. If you can’t be bothered to give it your attention, then perhaps just cut it out of your life altogether. You don’t have this choice at work, because obviously you are being paid to do what others want.

    Pursue novelty. For its own damn sake

    But try to avoid paying for it 😉 In general any new experience or thing should challenge you, teach you something  or make you grow some tiny bit. Too many manufactured experiences are designed to get you to buy something or take part in the sequel, hence try to avoid paying for it. I admit that three years of frugality mean I take this a little bit too far. I should become more prepared to pay for and honour quality and distinctiveness.

    Choose diversity in what you do

    You may think you want to lie on the beach or play computer games all the time. Too much of any one thing isn’t good for you. Mix it up. You have the opportunity now your time is your own. Seize it. If you’re sitting in the same place for as long as you were at work you’re probably doing something wrong even if it is on the beach or at a computer game.

    Does retiring early kill you faster?

    Towards the end of his piece Monevator opined,

    Incidentally, I also think retiring early is bad for your health.

    This is a hard subject to get any accurate research on. For starters, people who retired early in the 1970s and 1980s tended to be be educated white collar workers, which is a shocking sample bias. These guys are going to be richer than the general population, and, surprise surprise, richer people live longer anyway. Pretty much everyone reading this will probably have a longer life expectancy than average all other things being equal, let’s face it the poor don’t read about personal finance and early retirement because it’s not relevant to their lives. There are just too many confounding factors and statistical wrinkles to establish facts with a decent confidence interval. We diverge more and more from each other as we get older – at graduation you had more in common with your peers than you’ll have with them at the reunion year when you all start drawing your State pension. There are more subtle forms of sample bias. Some people retire early for health reasons, arguably I am one of them, although for mental rather than physical health. If you retire early for physical health reasons then you’re loading the dice towards shortened longevity, I don’t know what the stats on that are like for mental health. For physical health reasons it’s probably still the right thing to do – for you, and for the same reason as retiring early was the right thing for Paul Tsongas. You gotta play the hand you are dealt.

    There’s an ESRC report that concluded 6

    “Early retirement is generally good for people’s health and wellbeing unless it has been forced on them,” the study said.

    “Those forced into early retirement generally have poorer mental health than those who take routine retirement, who in turn have poorer mental health than those who have taken voluntary early retirement.”

    A moot point for me then. Arguably it was forced upon me, although I did not retire using any formal ill-health procedure, and indeed took an active part in the decision to retire early but using voluntary early retirement mechanisms. In that case Monevator’s prognosis is right and  I will die younger than my parents. OTOH I can hardly say the ESRC’s narrative on mental health squares with my experience of life post retirement 😉

    There’s sport for both of us in Sing Lee’s interesting piece using the pension funds from several big American white-collar employers’ pension funds. I confess that I agree with Lee in that technical creativity is probably at it’s peak in the 10 years around 30. Although he took a lot of shit for it Mark Zuckerberg was probably right that young people are just smarter. If people stopped berating him for his political incorrectness and listened to what he said, he proffers a mechanism which makes a lot of sense to me

    “Young people just have simpler lives. We may not own a car. We may not have family.” In the absence of those distractions, he says, you can focus on big ideologies. He added, “I only own a mattress.” Later: “Simplicity in life allows you to focus on what’s important.”

    Looking at the other end of the working life arc Sing Lee’s 2002 talk of over-funding of pension funds sounds delightfully naive now – he didn’t realise that the developed world was going ex-growth after the dotcom bust. However, when he charted the years of retirement versus age at retirement, I think his narrative is pretty much along with the narrative what I did, although I didn’t have the strategic vision and just ended in a tactical firefight.

    The pace of innovations and technology advances is getting faster and faster and is forcing everybody to compete fiercely at the Internet speed on the information super-highways 7. The highly productive and highly efficient workplace in USA is a pressure-cooker and a high-speed battleground for highly creative and dynamic young people to compete and to flourish.

    However, when you get older, you should plan your career path and financial matter so that you can retire comfortably at the age of 55 or earlier to enjoy your long, happy and leisure retirement life into your golden age of 80s and beyond. In retirement, you can still enjoy some fun work of great interest to you and of great values to the society and the community, but at a part-time leisure pace on your own term.

    On the other hand, if you are not able to get out of the pressure-cooker or the high-speed battleground at the age of 55 and “have” to keep on working very hard until the age of 65 or older before your retirement, then you probably will die within 18 months of retirement. By working very hard in the pressure cooker for 10 more years beyond the age of 55, you give up at least 20 years of your life span on average 8

    But anecdotally I see where Monevator’s coming from. I’ve seen people retire and then pretty much switch off. My Dad did this. He retired, at 65, from his job as a fitter, and while he didn’t zone out totally he watched far too many crappy TV game shows. On the upside he was also stuck to Teletext and share prices 9, he read company accounts and went to AGMs, as well as gardening and the occasional travel. In support of Monevator’s angle, as a non-early retiree, he got to 86 before leaving this mortal coil, which is still 16 years of extra time over his allotted three-score-years and ten.

    Retiring early does hit people who get a lot of meaning and self-esteem from work. It’s not inconceivable that if they lose meaning from life they may live shorter lives, and certainly have a lower quality of life. The obvious answer is ‘don’t retire early’.

    Notes:

    1. I still indulge the passion for electronics in making instrumentation, it’s of course different from the purely analogue world I cut my teeth on as a teenager but still fascinating. But there’s no point in trying to make money from it, too niche, too much regulation and too many Chinese copycats ready to eat my lunch. OTOH I would probably still be an employable bench tech/engineer, because there is still some niche instrumentation being made in the UK. But why the hell would I want to drive to Cambridge every day?
    2. pinched from Albert Camus, Return to Tipasa
    3. I am not a passive investor, because to build my portfolio I had an extremely short timeframe of only a few years. My contributory investing career is almost done now. To me valuation matters for new money, and 2009 was a good year to apply that. I may become more passive after I have finished contributing, though I will leave my HYP in place for the zero carrying cost and the income.
    4. If you get an endorphin rush, have masochistic tendencies or simply like the stale smell of sweat and pheromones, then damn well go for it – there’s nothing wrong with gyms if you can afford the money. I just don’t think they are essential.
    5. Old World only – don’t do this in Australia, where if it moves it wants to kill you
    6. I had the devil’s own job trying to locate this. It is called “Health And Well-Being In Old Age: It’s Still Money That Counts” by the ESRC in 2009 The press can get it from Science Daily
    7. how delightfully anachronistic, I haven’t heard reference to Al Gore’s information super-highway for years, it’s so AOL Connie
    8. Sing Lee does stand somewhat charged with inferring the general from the particular. For starters his stats about longevity are typically from people who retired 30 years ago, so the pressure cooker pace of change wasn’t so bad. Some of the jobs will have been more physically wearing 30 years ago which may have taken a physical toll. There’s no good answer to the delay in longevity statistics, we will find out what early retirement really does for my age cohort in a few decades.
    9. this was pre-internet
    10 Jun 2016, 12:39pm
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  • create your future with journalling

    Creating your future with a journal is a bizarre idea, but the art of creative visualisation is a mysterious beast. A lot of the problem with doing something long-term, like reaching FI, is that it is made up of an awful lot of small steps, and it’s easy to lose the way. Many years ago DxGF 1 bought me a copy of The Artist’s Way at Work. Bless her – she had only known me when I was a good worker bee and hadn’t reached the Turning Inward which meant that I was so done with work as a concept, but that’s a different story. TAWAW is partly about recovering the spiritual and internal drive in connection with creative expression, this is the function that in many people expresses in work giving them meaning in life. This drive was reorientating in me to different parts of life, and as a result TAWAW was flogging a dead horse and merely began to piss me off. However, it has helped many people and has a big following, though I guess not so many of them are engineers.

    TAWAW is all about getting back your mojo at work and being more successful and creative. It may well work if you are self-employed and in charge. I was going to toss this book out a couple of years ago but fished it back out – I had a feeling that it still has a song to sing to me 2, but it wasn’t right for that time. One of the big things in that was about “morning pages” – go get a piece of paper in the morning, before you turn your damn computer on and before you look at your phone and write down what you think, what you want of this day, year, life – whatever comes to mind.

    It’s good stuff, and sort of worked for me for a while, at least I saw odd little wrinkles that I wasn’t consciously aware of, in those parts of the scribble that I could read. They were adamant you do this longhand. I am still capable of using a computer without automatically firing up the Web at the same time so I did switch to using a journal program I had used on and off as a work tracking notebook, Rooksoft’s Blog 3. That way I get to actually read what I have written. Although it’s called Blog and could make static web pages, a diary/journal has no business being on the open Internet, although the blog format came from online diaries. Just like a teenage girl with her red diary that nobody, particularly her mother, should read, you need the freedom to think the unthinkable without criticism and repercussion. And articulate it. There is a case to be made that a journal is a write-only medium, but if you are trying to create your future then you need to read it back every so often.

    Journalling is a big thing in the self-help niche, but the tragedy is you only get to see its value after you have been doing it for five years or more. I was recovering some of mine from the old program, to use Jekyll to give me some data future-proofing 4, and I came across some entries that reminded me of the value of this.

    A bit over seven years ago a despondent Ermine was sitting in the office looking for a way out. I had been hit with a performance improvement plan and interpreted this as the writing on the wall. In looking at some of the simple living and frugality websites, I’d come across Creating a Five Year Vision on simpleliving.net before they realised you can’t make money to frugalistas selling books. To the cynical me five year visions and particularly the way they advocated in imagining you were looking back from then seemed either very Soviet Russia or alternatively smacked of cosmic ordering and greaseballs like Deepak Chopra. Although in a purist world you shouldn’t garner information about the destination from your fellow passengers on the bus, I can’t help it, if Deepak Chopra is on board I’m getting off at the next stop. If cosmic ordering worked we would have a country full of Lottery winners and inflation running a bazillion percent.

    Ariadne giving Theseus the red threat to retrace the Minotaur's labyrinth

    Ariadne giving Theseus the red threat to retrace the way out of Minotaur’s labyrinth

    However, we humans are frail and sometimes need the guidance of Ariadne’s thread across the pathless way once we have lost sight of our origin and the destination has yet to come into view. And I needed that bad after taking a massive hit to self-esteem and seeing the prospect of a shortened career crashing and burning ten years short of my planned retirement date. So inspired by that post I wrote this some time in 2009.

    In Five Years0905mountain_sunrise

    I want to pursue interests, be inquisitive, to learn about new things for the sake of it. I want to be able to recognise trees, and birds. I want to listen to the song of the city as well as that of the countryside.

    I want to be the weight and waist size I was at 21. I want to read, for joy, to be lost to books. I want to be kind, to be open to others, to lose the insularity and harshness that sometimes imprisons.

    I want to explore the inner world, though I wonder if I have drifted too far from it to see that distant shore. I want to build sensor systems, to see stoats in the countryside, and watch a hundred sparrows line up on a wire one day.

    Then, of course, there are all the things I don’t want to do. I don’t want to work for The Firm, at least the unreformed Firm as it currently is. I don’t want to hear the corporate bullshit and to be able to simply turn my back on anybody who uses the phrase “raising the bar” and a hundred and one perversions of the English language. I want to have nobody other than me or people that I respect criticise what I do and have a money input as a result.

    I got most of the way there – the one fail is the weight. I drank far too much red wine to dull the everyday pain in the three years after I wrote it, and while I have pulled my weight below what it was in 2009 5, this is still a work in progress. I have no idea of if it is realistic – it is perfectly possible that a 55-year old body with the same weight as my 21-year old self will have a different waist size. I believe I will find out, in a couple of years.

    I have seen a stoat in the countryside, but I haven’t seen a hundred sparrows on a wire yet. These are all metaphors for the freedom of the natural world – this was a wage slave that once resented the song of a charm of goldfinches on a June morning because they were free and I wasn’t. But overall, even though this was written at a low-water mark in my life, it mostly came good. All the freedom from goals were achieved.

    The rest of the narrative of that period in the journal is also a record of the three-year final push to FI – the endless grey days of just putting one foot in front of the other, the small victories of reaching Friday and a brief respite of the weekend. I still can’t believe I was prepared to drink homebrew, FFS! But the red thread held – it is all too easy to lose the big picture as you fight the day-to-day battles. Perhaps there is something to Cosmic Ordering, provided you focus on the things you can change, like saving up to win financial independence as opposed to changing the balls of the National Lottery.

    I had always looked at journalling as a record of the past, but perhaps it is also a way to create some of the future. I am closer to what I wrote in 2009 in all respects, and much closer than I expected at the time, and all the direction of travel is in the right direction. Mr FinanceZombie wrote one of these too, and I wish his future self all the best and hope it works out well.

    Don’t deaden the picture of your future self by writing a S.M.A.R.T description

    You’re creating a myth, storytelling, it is all about the hero’s journey. The stoat and the sparrows were symbols for me to get out into the natural world more and appreciate it.Here are a load of sparrows. They’ll do. I don’t need to count 100, just have plenty, and a hedge will do instead of a wire.

    Equally a whole bunch of lapwings would be a good substitute. What I wanted was more real nature, less office wall and fewer screens in my life

    Lapwings

    Lapwings near Felixstowe

    The sensor systems are a metaphor for being creative with technology. You will recognise the place you sketched out if you got there, and perhaps life will throw you different opportunities and challenges on the way. It doesn’t matter – what seems to be inspiring is painting a vision of a better place. You don’t have to get to that exact place, but it has to be real enough. Business management is full of tosh about smart goals and rubbish like that. Smart goals are great for optimising one-dimensional problems, and absolutely terrible for inspiration, creativity or even civilised living which are a balance of many different variables.

    Avoid making your vision conditional on things outside your control. I’ve heard far too many people spend far too much mental energy on “when I win the Lottery”. You won’t. 6 And every minute spent on dreaming about splashing the Lottery cash are minutes taken away from creating a better life with the tools and talents you do have right now.

    So consider articulating your hopes and dreams. You may just get there, because the inspiration of an imaginable picture keeps you from straying from the path towards it. Much to my surprise, it worked for me.

    Notes:

    1. Dear Ex Girlfriend – the glossary system I used died in a software update a couple of weeks ago 🙁
    2. There’s a version for new retirees, although it’s kinda wrongfooted from the off for me with This book attempts to address many taboo subjects for the newly retired: boredom, giddiness, a sense of being untethered, irritability, excitement, and depression, to name just a few but you never know – perhaps it has an answer for some folks asking themselves the question So what do you do all day
    3. Don’t use that now, it doesn’t work right with anything post WinXP
    4. remember this has no business being outside your four walls, so it has to work on a standalone system, preferably without a database, and definitely no Cloud
    5. retirement is infinitely better that working for physical activity, and Ipswich is a relatively compact town where anywhere I want to go is in walking distance or bike distance.
    6. and if you really must play it for some reason don’t think about what you’ll do with the money before you win it – at least you then just get to pay for your empty dreams in cash, rather than time as well. You can buy time enough to daydream with the winnings, should it really be you
    3 Jun 2016, 12:16pm
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  • So what do you do all day?

    One of the common things wannabe early retirees and those around them seem to worry about is what are they going to do all day. It always struck me as the most bizarre thing to fret about, but it appears that many people define themselves by work, and the answer to ‘what do you do for a living’. If you do that, then yes, the question is valid, although perhaps you might want to take a step back and ask yourself how it came to be that you define yourself by what you do rather than what you are. There is even a small constituency of folk who define themselves by the level of their spending, these should never retire 😉 At least not until they have read Erich Fromm’s “To Have or To Be“.

    It’s part of the class of issues generally going with ‘what others think’. Most people are actually too busy worrying about what others think of them, it’s part of the human condition. Jim has summarised the issues well

    What will your response be if you overhear your other half talking about you “lazing around”, “putting on your pipe and slippers” or “knitting cardigans”, while they continue to bring home the bacon? Did you note a tone of pity in their voice as they try to explain why you couldn’t sustain the pace of the working life any longer? Were you really so unhappy in your job that you just couldn’t take it any more? Or were you fired? Made redundant?

    to which I confess I initially though “Eh? Meh” but it’s clearly an issue for some. What I do all day as a retiree is fantastically more diverse and varied than what I did at work. It’s not that surprising – you tend to specialise at work, and specialisation trends towards knowing more and more about less and less, particularly in a globalised world.

    Now at work you are constrained to do that because you optimise your ability to earn money, albeit at the expense of making your career more brittle due to its specialisation, and this tends to get worse as you get older. But if you lift that constraint, then I’m with Heinlein’s Lazarus Long

    “A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly. Specialization is for insects.”— Robert Heinlein, Time Enough for Love

    So which of these have I done since leaving work. I’ve designed buildings, balanced accounts, taken and given orders, acted alone and cooperated, solved equations, analyzed new problems galore, build compost and measured its heat profile, programmed computers, and microcontrollers. I’ve dug trenches and laid irrigation, climbed hills and walked many more miles that I would have while working.

    Among others I’ve surveyed birds, built instruments, learned all sorts of stuff, gone for drinks with friends, explored places, got lost, found my way again. I’ve helped two groups raise more than £100k via crowdfunding. The invading and fighting and dying I’ve passed on, and diapers were never something I wanted to wrangle, but each to their own. The point is that there is a richness to experience as an early retiree relative to the working me for the simple reason that I have far more freedom of action, which goes along with the independence part of financial independence. For sure, you could just as well use the time to stare at the wall, watch endless runs of daytime TV or potter in the allotment. There’s nothing wrong in that if it’s the sort of thing that lights your fire. Independence is the independence to, perhaps more than the independence from after a while.

    I was going to try and break it down more but fortunately Root of Good has done the job perfectly with the Early Retiree’s Weekly Schedule, and lives a more structured life so it makes more sense 1

    Root of Good's early retirement schedule

    Root of Good’s early retirement schedule

    I don’t have the structure RoG has with the school run, nor the penchant for games and Netflix but it shows the freedom they have, and particularly the great comparison with the ghastly strictures of the work schedule later in their post. As they say, that schedule has way too much red, and was only 9 to 5 and didn’t include commuting.

    As a retiree there is also the greater flexibility – a couple of days ago I was able to fit in a meetup with a friend from Denmark over on a short work visit to Felixstowe where he had a space because of a delay to his meeting. Once again, freedom to take up opportunities.

    There is a joy in being a generalist again, to keep learning for the hell of it and the curiosity, indeed some of the exploration of a child but with the power of an adult mind rather than the simplistic incomprehension of a child. Of course learning some things are harder – it would have been easier for me to have learned Morse code as a teenager, or foreign languages as a child, and new motor skills in general. But nearly everything else is easier after a lifetime of learning how to learn, and resources to learn are far easier and cheaper now.

    There’s no shortage of interest in the world – and it’s more interesting because of its variety, when you have the independence of choice. You don’t always have to do what you’re best at – I am going out this afternoon to shoot video for someone. I’m no Spielberg, but I have learned some of the rudiments of storytelling over the years, so I can do this to help someone tell their story, and get other people on board with their project. I get to do something different for a while, it helps the common weal a little bit and I get a little bit better at storytelling. It isn’t my greatest area of expertise, but then you don’t stop growing until they shovel the dirt in. Specialisation is for insects, and for work.

    Notes:

    1. I am tracking this in Outlook to see what it looks like for me, but it’s much more bitty and broken up.
    11 May 2016, 9:47pm
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  • learning to spend again – consuming more intentionally this time

    With a regular income now, and only so many years to use it in, it is time to review one of the Horsemen of personal finance from the other side, consumption and lifestyle. It’s an opportunity to think about it properly this time and consume intentionally – to spend on what matters to me and furthers my values, rather than the admen’s. This is a big difference to how I spent money up to 2009 – that was the classic slow lifestyle inflation of moving from a student through escalating jobs. That sort of lifestyle inflation is unthinking, and while I generally avoided consumer debt which is the #1 win against the black tide of advertising making consumers spend badly, I didn’t always get value. Some was bought for the promise that it would make things better and easier. Some of it didn’t because of the Diderot effect, and some of it was sheer being suckered.

    As proof of how much of this wasn’t necessary, in the seven years I have not lived a life of abject poverty or the Rowntree Foundation’s inability to take part in society – most of the stuff I had seven years ago is still in service and works well enough, and is not shockingly low-quality compared to modern offerings. One 20-year old piece of consumer spending that did give me great value that failed in service over that time was my Naim power amplifier for my hi-fi, already secondhand when I bought it, which developed a shorted turn in the transformer. I missed that, but anything else that broke I lived happily without. Some of this is because digitalisation means the world is getting a little bit more virtual and less physical, but much of it was simply because I didn’t give a damn, once you have freedom you can be more creative or just go do something else instead.

    It’s hard to get perspective as one gradually inflates lifestyle to match income, but I have had a long break from consumerism – for seven years the answer to how much to spend on Wants was ‘as little as possible so I can save’. So it’s like starting anew, but with the wisdom of hindsight from the previous experience. Not all consumption is bad – the consumer society didn’t get where it is today by never offering value. What I want to win from the hiatus is the discrimination to spend well, to get value on my terms rather than other people’s. So it still means a ruthless avoidance of advertising in its many forms, and I still don’t have time or inclination to watch TV 😉

    One of the I’m going to do with my return to a regular income is to enjoy some of the interests and hobbies I used to do before I made the decision to get out ASAP. Some of these I simply put on hold because they cost money to pursue on needed travel I didn’t want to spend money on, some of them I quite because I didn’t have the energy. All of these fall into interests; they are firmly in the Wants category and not in the Needs. So canning Wants when I Needed to retire early was an entirely rational thing to do.

    Sadly the rational thing to do isn’t always the right thing to do. In hindsight maybe I should have got that amplifier fixed and saved a grand or two less, because I missed decent sound, the sound systems I have with my computer and in the bedroom are okay but nowhere near as clear. I know everybody else uses Spotify and good for y’all but I like being able to listen on speakers and it not all blending to mush. So I should have pushed the boat out here, but the other interests etc, well, the time was better spent on learning and honing my art. When I was working and short of time it was always about the next great thing and gizmo that was going to turn me into a great photographer/recordist/birdwatcher/writer/whatever. In the long lean years I discovered that I was usually the weakest link, and learning to use the stuff I already had and more about my targets, to learn about what I was interested in and just damn well slow down and listen and observe FFS was often the secret sauce I was missing.

    One of the conclusions I have come to is that any sort of pastime I do in future needs to definitely not be primarily stuff-consumptive, it needs to involve some sort of challenge, or creative expression. I don’t necessarily have to have an audience, but I do want to be changed by the experience, have some element of mastery. So that’s no to the beach, anything that ends in -collecting, yes to things that involve some sort of art and craft, or reward for effort. So of course the first thing I go and do to celebrate is purely consumptive, but in experience

    The Swan hotel in Lavenham

    The Swan hotel in Lavenham

    I stayed a couple of days the Swan at Lavenham with Mrs Ermine for a short break. Apparently much used by London types up for a weekend, from Mrs Ermine’s chat with the spa staff. I drank coffee and spent time in the peaceful courtyard reflecting, reading and listening to the birds.

    the courtyard

    the courtyard at the Swan in Lavenham

    The Londoners clearly know a thing or two about demanding high standards for the grub, because it was excellent on both nights in at atmospheric half-timbered hall. I then had got Mrs Ermine a couple of hours of owl flying experience with Lavenham Falconry. She’s mad on owls, and you get to see them close

    Barn owl

    Barn owl

    though personally I’d say getting up this close to this great big lump was too close for my liking.

    Steve the proprietor with Bonnie the owl

    Steve the proprietor with Bonnie the owl. That’s one big owl IMO…

    I ducked every time this one came close 😉

    Inside the Guildhall

    Inside the Guildhall

    Lavenham is a nice part of Suffolk and the Guildhall was worth a gander (does a very decent afternoon tea and cakes too). I was taken by the mummified cat, there to ward of evil spirits coming down the chimney, a common feature of mediaeval Suffolk buildings – there’s one hanging from the ceiling in the tiny bar of the Nutshell in Bury St Edmunds too.

    Rameses

    Ramesses

    The NT have a nice feature that you aren’t hit by the grisly sight from the off, he’s respectfully covered in some cloth, but the temptation to peek is too strong…

    1605_ramcoverP1070556

    The village itself is all wild jaunty angles of the ancient half-timbering in many places.

    1605_rakish_P1070585

    A couple of weeks later we stayed three days at a dedicated spa, because this is something that Mrs Ermine really enjoys, and we went to Norfolk for a couple of days. Some of this I have to pack in in a short while because it so happens this is a better time of the year for her to be able to get away from the farm for a bit because of the vagaries of the growing season. While I have the time and now the money, she finds it harder to go away for more than a few days, which favours the fast and furious sort of decadence rather than slowly ambling along on a journey of discovery which I will be able to do on my own.

    a requiem for The Firm’s sports and leisure association

    One of the things I will mess around with again is amateur radio, despite the fact that the Internet happened between when I was a youth and now and has pretty much destroyed the whole point. But it’s an excuse to climb some of Britain’s hills 1 and make contacts and gawp at the scenery, a little bit of the experience and being changed by the challenge. Now when I joined The Firm, as a joint full of electronics engineers pushing the boundaries at times there was a very active amateur radio society. I never did much with it then because you need time. So many recreational interests are like that, you need time in the field to get any good.

    POTUS with a Blackberry - in Nov 2014 WTF?

    POTUS with a Blackberry – in Nov 2014 WTF?

    And time is something we don’t have while working, and it got less with the always-on way work drifted after 2000 as mobile phones poisoned the work/life balance after the Crackberry (who remembers that from 2004, eh?). Time is not just the total number of non-work waking hours, it’s also about how many contiguous days of them them you can string together.

    I joined The Firm in the late 1980s as a twenty-something pup. In a research lab you are surrounded by clever people and there is always something more to learn, but The Firm was more than a workplace, it was a community, albeit a somewhat strange community. It was intellectually biased and technical/electronics engineering biased. Let’s face it, at times there were issues of personal hygiene in some places where guys spend too much time thinking, I actually switched job t at one time because I couldn’t stand the hum in the office from one fellow, though he was brilliant at what he did. And the girls in the town did get to know that while the odds were good (engineering facilities tend to be very male-biased) the goods were odd…

    But for all that it was still a community, and a vibrant community in that the social and leisure association had a dizzying array of clubs and societies, on all sorts of things. I used to borrow records then CDs from the music club, I spent lunchtime for a few weeks trying to learn Japanese. With a deep loathing of sports and particularly team sports that started in schooldays and persists to this day I was never going to see the point of half the clubs, but it was good to know they were there.

    In browsing on the Web I saw traces of The Firm’s radio society, but it’s a pale reflection of its former self, last significant news from 2009. I looked at the website of the umbrella leisure and social society and there’s a whiff of tumbleweed around there too, of the 19 clubs all are sports apart from the radio society, photography, angling, sailing and golf. There were three times as many when I was there, and it’s only been four years… Not only that but the link to the radio society goes to a lapsed domain. I still clearly remember the all hands meeting when a head of department said ‘although we are closing many of the labs we aren’t turning this place into a jobbing shop’ and while I subconsciously picked up that he was lying because I remember the oddness of the statement and shiftiness still now.  I failed to consciously pick this up, nor to take the corrective action which would have been easier to do from 2000 that it would have been ten years later. Oh well.

    It’s all a sort of creepy independent verification that this particular outpost of The Firm is a pale reflection of its former self. It’s also a signal of a wider malaise, where form is prized over function, which seems to weaken physical communities. I was talking to a bunch of people at the Aldeburgh Food and Drink Festival. They’ve been going round schools showing kids how to grow stuff to eat and all good things like that, but they were now getting stonewalled as schools cut out everything that doesn’t go into pumping up something called SAT scores. These are primary schools, by the way. And people used to bitch about the eleven plus FFS, but now we measure the little tykes twice in primary school, comparative to each other. Well, I suppose you have the groom the youngsters for the ghastly world of performance management at work, though it seems a little bit tough to do that at primary school. School is a larger part of a child’s world now than it used to be, with parents working and commuting long hours. You’d have thought eliminating the broader education of how they fit into society and where their food comes from for example, in favour of the misery of metrics draining the meaning out of life is a regressive move. But fortunately this is not my problem, though it looks like a rum way to run a school to me. My primary school, in the 1960s urban wasteland of inner London, found a way to take us ankle-biters out to see nature. And still get some of us to pass the eleven plus despite the shocking digression into the sordid realms of General Knowledge.

    I’m reading Nicholas Carr’s The Glass Cage, where automation is leading us, and he seems to make a cogent case that our thought processes are becoming shallower, that the hive-mind or the Big G will fix things for us. I mean hell, Amazon will sell you a gizmo 2 that we used to know as a bug. For the convenience of ordering pizza you livestream everything said in your house to Amazon for their computing hardware to parse and answer your questions. They will of course, so not parse everything else you say to use in evidence against you feed into their algorithms so they can upsell you more consumer shit that you will have to spend more hours of your life earning money to pay for. George Orwell was absolutely wrong, we will buy the telescreens ourselves and demand to be heard, doubleplusfeelgood social media indeed.

    Something else I learned is that while I take information in from the Web, I don’t gain deep understanding, compared to learning the same thing from books. Indeed, I’d also challenge the assumption that learning ability inherently decays with age. I was trying the understand the craft of designing aerials, and I spent way too much time on the Web, getting conflicting opinions. Then I pulled out a textbook that I had bought as a teenager. I had passed the radio test as a way to try and expand my application to Imperial College, though we didn’t have personal statements in the late 1970s there was some sort of CV and it helped to add bits to it. I had never understood that chapter, because I didn’t have the ability to imagine the electric and magnetic fields travelling through space. It was much easier to grasp this time, though I am 35 years older. By rights the younger me should have had no trouble, but it was the older me that made the grade, and turned some of the learning into action. Of course perhaps that is because I am a Physics degree and thirty years worth of experience later. But it is an interesting insight into knowledge learned from the Web can easily be, to pinch the words of Lord Kelvin “of a meagre and unsatisfactory kind”.

    That’s not to knock the big G, after all in a fast moving world often you don’t have time to go deep, you simply need some sort of heuristic rough guess right now. But it was an interesting insight in how all too often the Web tells me how but not why. Somehow that doesn’t seem to be improving my understanding of the world, though it an get a specific thing done. I am not sure that the answer to this conundrum is to spend more money on Freedom to ice this chatter, as opposed to learning to switch it off more, but that is much easier for a retiree I guess than if you’re working, so maybe Freedom is onto something!

    It’s one of the odd things about the cornucopia of information and stuff that we have around us – to use it well we must still know ourselves better, to know what do we want, how to gauge value and how to qualify the opportunity cost of doing one option of buying something, because every road travelled is a bifurcation with the road that was not taken. I once navigated that path by the need to avoid running out of money each month. I now want to navigate it more intentionally. It was necessary for me to escape the rat race that was freedom from. Living and consuming intentionally is part of the freedom to, not the freedom from. It’s inherently more pathless. I will no doubt spend money on crap in the future, what I want to avoid is doing it more than once, through deliberation, reflection and knowing myself. The only increase in spending I’ve done so far is these trips out with Mrs Ermine, because I have time enough to work out what I want where it doesn’t involve other people. I will change things slowly, only a few things at a time, because living intentionally can’t be rushed.

     

    Notes:

    1. most things radio work better with more height, which is the relevance of hills
    2. Amazon Echo is not yet available in the UK at the time of writing
    15 Apr 2016, 1:01pm
    living intentionally personal finance reflections
    by

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  • Journey’s End

    Another day, another tax year, and an Ermine finishes a long, slow glide path running off my cash savings, the ancient sunlight of the fossil wealth accumulated over my 30-year working life. I now return to the regular pay of the salaryman I was but now without selling my time or skills for money – using Osborne’s pension freedoms to front run my works pension that I will draw in five year’s time at its normal retirement age.

    In that respect the financial problem is solved for me at the moment. Of course it’s always possible to imagine scenarios of desperate governments taxing everything, war, pestilence and social disorder. But the end of the world has occupied people past midlife since Roman times. So I will park worrying about the things I can’t change and do the Money Mustache Shuffle. I built up a six-figure ISA since 2009/10, but in the end it was Osborne’s pension freedoms that saved my ass. That ISA will, of course, give me options and some tax-free income, which is nice. But I never learned properly how to live off capital without converting it into some sort of income statement, so that I had an answer to the Micawber question. In that respect I am Poor Dad out of Rich Dad, Poor Dad. I learned Rich Dad’s vocabulary, but never learned to speak the language fluently; I cannot determine if I am overspending or underspending until I can measure it against an income. I found it possible to improve as an investor, largely through learning to sit on my hands on the selling side, and learning to acknowledge that luck does not equal skill.

    The evidence is probably that I was underspending, you don’t fearfully husband an ISA stash across three years and then go WTF do I do with this now at the end if you have the cojones of Rich Dad. The job of that ISA now lies both near and far. Far as in 10 years out or so, where my pension may start to be overtaken by real inflation (as opposed to the official measure RPI) and/or a rise in general earnings relative to inflation, although this is hard to imagine at the moment. Near because I may use the dividend income thrown off to augment running down my SIPP at the personal allowance less any earnings, I really must get out of this working malarkey, since I’m not working for the government any more, which limits my pension + income to the personal allowance. The reason I’m not dropping working isn’t the money, it is that I don’t want to drop people I care about in the shit. 30 years of paying tax is enough, that’s a mug’s game when you have wealth, eh, Dave? At least I earned mine 1 rather than getting it from Daddykins…

    Like RIT I made mistakes along the journey, but like him fortunate enough that none of them was terminal. Unlike RIT, most of the heavy lifting for me was not Saving Hard 2, but Investing Luckily. I was standing next to an open goal of the stock market in March 2009 and that Monevator fellow gave me a kick up the backside that seemed to make sense. Maybe I had a guardian angel who got him to write then and me to look at the right time, when the student is ready the teacher will appear.

    The big tragedy of personal finance and FI/RE is that for most people it is a marathon, not a sprint, it is an accretion of a small amount, but steadily. All the projections you see, like the ones in MMM’s the shockingly simple maths behind early retirement

    show this marathon running steadily, either in their underlying assumptions or in the narrative. Now some people seem to swing that – take a look at RIT’s path to FI and while you can’t draw it with a ruler it’s not far off. Beats the hell out of me how he did that. I could never have saved £100,000 a year because I never earned that much, perhaps a higher savings rate makes spending disappear into the noise. I saved bugger all at the start – indeed by screwing up buying a house I anti-saved with negative equity for 1o years after 1989. Real lives have much more drama in them than the steady as she goes narrative. You can probably still do it with the marathon approach, but it won’t be a linear process and anybody in their twenties or thirties predicating FI on a stable savings rate for the next 20 years may rub up against some challenges to that assumption in the vicissitudes of Real Life™. Obvious challenges are Children, Divorce, Redundancy. And these are the external hits, although I guess children can be sort of planned, not so much the others.

    My biggest error was assuming I was a steady-state system. I wasn’t. You, dear reader, aren’t either. It is easy to make that assumption because once you enter your 30s you have passed the Turning Outward then the next transition you can see is your children coming of age or retirement. However, you may find along the journey what you want out of life and work may change. In particular you may favour more Life and less Work. Not necessarily the nuclear option on Work, but you might want to ease back. I am surprised at how few of the projections of FI/RE account for the life stages. Some written by DINKYs  don’t seem to account for the total devastation that having children wreaks on a DINKY couple’s finances. I don’t know that from personal experience but I saw enough of it at work, you have the double whammy of the extra costs of baby, and the suckout of losing one partner’s earnings, together with the concomitant damage that does permanently to their earning prospects if it’s a professional career. On the upside I guess the Government does sponsor the lifestyle a bit through the benefits system.

    A colleague at The Firm sometime in the mid 2000s was talking in the tea room about the opportunities presented by saving via salary sacrifice into pension AVCs, I guess I was 46 at the time. I was turned off the concept of pensions because they had just shifted the earliest age you could draw a pension from 50 to 55 and it all seemed way off then. However, one of his phrases did strike me “with these opportunities, you’re daft if you’re still working here after 45”. Obviously that’s going to stick in the craw, I was at the grand old age of 46.

    Funnily enough this fellow is still working at The Firm, so he clearly missed the boat too. There was nothing wrong in his reasoning, but one of the assumptions behind it is that you can take the axe to your consumer spending. The fly in the ointment for him was that his wife and kids quite liked the middle class lifestyle. You can’t spend more and save more at the same time without upping the Work monster, so I guess this fellow lacked the cojones to walk the talk, and turned into a walking wallet. The best laid plans of mice and men, eh? I could drive my pay down to a whisker of the national minimum wage using salary sacrifice because I had paid down my mortgage. OTOH presumably he and his wife and kids have some 5 bedroom executive house in a bijou village whereas I live in a crappy 3-bed semi in the better-off districts of Ipswich 3. But the walking wallet has to go to work whereas I get to listen to the birds and ruminate, you pays your money and you takes your choice 😉

    The non-financial error

    I failed to identify that I needed to stop working because work held no meaning for me any more, and I didn’t need the money if I stopped spending it on vacuous crap and empty experiences to compensate me for flushing my life away eight hours every day. The answer for me wasn’t to buy even more crap. It was to stop flushing my life away. I admit a sneaking admiration for several young people (well, in their thirties) I know who electively choose to work part-time because they value their free time. This was not my path – part-timers were despised at The Firm for being, well, part-timers, but it seems tolerated more nowadays despite being very hard to manage from the company’s point of view. Since I didn’t do that, effectively I saved all those days off these young ‘uns take during their working lives and get to take that all off at the end of my working life. Their pattern seems to be three days on two off (then weekends which I also had) so I guess I got the short end of the stick. If a normal working life is 35 years then a 2/7 taken off would imply a 25 year long full-time working life. Epic fail on my part. On the upside I have a lot more Stuff and capital assets, there ought to be something to show for all those hours indentured to The Man.

    It was easy for me to psychologically project much generic crap on The Firm. Modern performance management is a dreadful and stupid way to herd cats, all stick, no carrot and all tied up in barefaced lies for no good reason. You know the pack drill. And so the first three quarters of this blog is about how that sucks. Yeah, it did. Deeply. But in the end it wasn’t the fundamental reason I left, though I believed it was at the time. I had only one really bad half-year, and that was when the project I was on was canned due to a reverse takeover, and anyone who didn’t have enough billable hours was shot with a performance improvement plan. The poor sod instructed by HR a year or so after to try and patch the twisted wreckage up when The Firm needed my skills for the London 2012 Olympics work even said that they were rotating the piss-awful reviews round, because they had to reduce the marks profile.

    But something snapped within. Although others weren’t happy with being targeted I was unduly susceptible at that time and place. Once the mainspring is broken the dream can never be repaired because it has become a nightmare. I will never work for an organisation with a modern performance management system, and I focused all effort on making sure that I will never be in that weak position again. That meant three very lean years and seven lean years in all to to eliminate The Man from my life. The cloud had a sweet silver lining though – I paid my dues of angst about retirement upfront while I was working. I don’t miss the meaning and life structure The Man gives many people, it was weak in me from the off and got incinerated in 2009. But it took me three and a half years of running before I slowed enough to stop, look back and realise the footsteps I heard chasing me were the echoes of my own.

    a human being is never what he is but the self he seeks
    Octavio Paz

    I had to switch off so much of myself to fit in with work, and in the end the unused parts of my psyche needed the freedom. Initially the freedom from, and then the freedom to.

    I get the upside now. Kate Bush was right all those years ago.

    All the colours look brighter now. Everything they say seems to sound new

    I hear the robins and their territories spread across the land, a patchwork with the other birds interleaved. I hear the shifting dynamic tension between the calling males and the 3d spatial pattern of the territories, it is a thing of beauty to observe, as the others interleave their song. I pay attention more, and see and hear and smell things better. You aren’t supposed to gain any sensory acuity as you grow older, but by unrepressing parts of myself the grey matter does a better job of interpreting what is there. I was lucky enough to grow up when personal audio devices were uncommon, but most of the win is being present in the moment. You can do that actively most of the time, not just in bursts with the much-vaunted mindfulness. All you need is time…

    I did some tech stuff for the RSPB a little while back, and for the bizarre way they fund projects (this was not paid work as I was interested in the results) they wanted a guesstimate for the time spent. I was dumbstruck – I had no idea. The whole point of being retired is you don’t have time sheets and project codes and shit like that. I get up, think what moves me to do right there and then get on and do it, after some undefined time I go do something else or waste time on the Web 4 or go for a walk. Although Philip Greenspun made a decent case that the average person has zero drive and it is the strictures of school and employment that get them focused enough to make anything useful happen, I haven’t found that my days disappear into

    Suppose that the guy cashes in his investments and does retire. What do we find? He is waking up at 9:30 am, surfing the Web, sorting out the cable TV bill, watching DVDs, talking about going to the gym, eating Doritos, and maybe accomplishing one of his stated goals.

    I told the project leader to make it up. I’ll back up whatever he says. Nobody is going to sack me for it 🙂

    Along with not going to the gym, not eating Doritos etc I have done a fair amount of introspection, and came to the conclusion that Work and I grew apart. Retirement seems to be different for me than many others because of this. I’ve really struggled to get this across, and I think I now understand why. Work used to matter more to me, the status of earning decently more than my parents, and, okay, I may as well accept my heart of darkness, most other Brits, the sense of changing things. The sonofabitch work turned me into in my late 30s and 40s used to get a rush from saying jump and have people do stuff just because I said so 5. It’s hardly as if this was a big part of my life but after a certain level you have to lead teams and projects even though I cleaved closely to the technical axis. So I never got the rush that the big swinging dicks of finance  have. But a small dose of the poison coursed through my veins, and I became a worse person because of it.

    A Cock of the Rock. Basically wants everybody to do as he says

    A Cock of the Rock. Basically he wants everybody to do as he says. Primates are even worse, which is why you can never have too big a yacht

    If this is one of the reasons lesser BSDs carry on working until they are 80 fair enough, well, as long as they don’t ruin too many people’s lives playing Cock of the Rock. I started to outgrow this phase with the start of the Turning Inward at 45. Work, particularly the management structures, seem to increasingly demand and express the psychopathology of the extrovert writ large as you go up the greasy pole, so in the end I had to switch off so much of my nature to do that and it wasn’t sustainable.

    Since retiring the armour of bitterness and unkindness accreted over many years of competing and expectations of dog-eat-dog behaviour slowly begins to ease and fall away. I was not born for Work, and while I discharged myself acceptably I have now transcended Work 6. Rabindranath Tagore speaks of a similar transition, he’s more articulate than me

    “I travelled the old road every day, I took my fruits to the market, my cattle to the meadows, I ferried my boat across the stream and all the ways were well known to me.

    One morning my basket was heavy with wares. Men were busy in the fields, the pastures crowded with cattle; the breast of earth heaved with the mirth of ripening rice. Suddenly there was a tremor in the air, and the sky seemed to kiss me on my forehead. My mind started up like the morning out of mist.

    I forgot to follow the track. I stepped a few paces from the path, and my familiar world appeared strange to me, like a flower I had only known in bud. My everyday wisdom was ashamed. I went astray in the fairyland of things. It was the best luck of my life that I lost my path that morning, and found my eternal childhood.”

    Hermann Hesse and others have been similar places, indeed art and literature seem to be more in touch with the meaning of the changes of life than the dry narrative we have of  A Successful Career.

    I drew from Carl Jung in the last narrative, but in chasing some of the other references I came across several citations from to Gail Sheehy’s Passages, which is a good read. It is a more accurate read for my life than probably for Generation Y, who will probably be better off with the revised edition New Passages, though the original reads much less New-Agey.  Some of the stages of life are due to the natural life cycle of the human animal, and its physical development, but a lot of the transitions are across the stages society and world of work set, and these have changed dramatically since 1969 when she wrote the first book. The blurb of the revised edition explains some things that have changed –

    Seven years ago she set out to write a sequel, but instead she discovered a historic revolution in the adult life cycle. . .
    People are taking longer to grow up and much longer to die. A fifty-year-old woman–who remains free of cancer and heart disease– can expect to see her ninety-second birthday. Men, too, can expect a dramatically lengthened life span. The old demarcations and descriptions of adulthood–beginning at twenty-one and ending at sixty-five–are hopelessly out of date. In New Passages, Gail Sheehy discovers and maps out a completely new frontier–a Second Adulthood in middle life.
    “Stop and recalculate,” Sheehy writes. “Imagine the day you turn forty-five as the infancy of another life.” Instead of declining, men and women who embrace a Second Adulthood are progressing through entirely new passages into lives of deeper meaning, renewed playfulness, and creativity–beyond both male and female menopause.

    I’m not sure I am ready for the concept of a male menopause, presumably this is decadent metrosexual London/New York sort of thing 😉 Her narrative is very different from the Jungian descriptions I am more used to, but they are derived from observations of hundreds of people 7, though of course edited by their conscious selves in telling them to the author. The conclusions have great similarities despite the varying methodology, Jung gives more of a hypothesis why, Sheehy’s work is more observational Big Data before its time sort of thing.

    Sheehy’s book is a tough read at times if you’re over 45, any life worth living has error in it, and she distills some of the errors of people refusing to grow, it’s a harsh spotlight of some of mine. The increasing competitiveness of working life over my career due to globalisation and improved communications did not foster that sort of thing, I favoured the outer world over the inner, playing against my introverted type and failing to grow.

    The surrender of those career goals on the Turning Inwards and the overflowing of the Shadow and the unlived elements that are incompatible with careerism are also recorded in other narratives -I am not such a special snowflake after all 😉 Sheehy covers a decent range of adult passages, I see friends and colleagues in some of the others. Of course the details vary and some are dated, but the big pictures match. As Joseph Campbell’s Hero with a Thousand Faces described, the stupendous variation of individual life stories is woven from a surprisingly small number of different archetypal threads.

    But I feel have probably won most of the fight to turn that particular decade of life experience into wisdom, to clear out the baggage, and to disembark from the old vehicle and be ready look to the new beginning. That is the point of journey’s end for the Work phase, to change mode and start travelling the journey of Life in a new way at a new stage. Hopefully be a long and happy retirement full of people and things many of which I have no inkling of now. Of course there are no guarantees, a hundred and one ways it might all go titsup, but I will do the MMM thing on that.

    The financial errors

    Some readers may one day need to float ISA savings ahead of their pension savings simply because of the arbitrary age as of which you can draw a pension. It is very hard to do that right, because your money is in silos, and you can easily flatten one silo and find yourself short, even if others are flush. My solution to that was being prepared to borrow money but it is very, very tough  for the debt-free to make that mental adjustment, it caused me to underspend since retiring in 2012. It’s probably also hard for me to borrow money other than on a credit card offer by now because my credit scoring probably stinks, not from a litany of missed payments but from an absence of ‘normal’ credit 8. MBNA let me money a few days ago because it was just before the end of the tax year, I need to put all my earnings into a SIPP, fill up the last few thousand in my ISA and front-load £2880 into the SIPP just after the tax year, so I can maximise my tax-free SIPP PCLS. Since I was at  journey’s end I didn’t have enough money in my bank account to do all that, and I couldn’t sell unwrapped holdings because else I’d fall into capital gains tax. So I borrowed the money in the old tax year and just now I have sold some unwrapped shares without tripping the CGT limit  to pay them back when I get my T+2 settlement. Thank you, MBNA for your kind loan of 5.6% APR and no fee – for about two weeks I figure  that will be less than £100. There’s nothing wrong with debt if you invest it in productive assets which return more than the interest. I don’t need to do that any more, now I have access to the SIPP silo.

    It’s not easy qualifying a withdrawal rate

    Nominally the safe withdrawal rate is 4%. It’s easy to know that, but I was just not able to bring myself to do spend at that rate. I am fortunate that most of my pension is expressed as an income – effectively an annuity. It’s that Rich Dad Poor Dad thing. I have no mental model of personal finance that works with Capital, rather than income when it comes to spending. I never built that mental model in 30 years of being paid a monthly salary, so while I did okay on the investing front I was horrendously conservative in my use of that saved cash – in 2012 I thought it would last one or two years. For each of those three years I saved the max into my ISA, which made bridging the gap much harder. Now as it was, that was a lucky sort of error, because after a while that Osborne fellow came along and totally turned my retirement plan around. I was going to have to draw my pension early about now and eat a 25% actuarial reduction due to it being paid five years early. Then Osborne comes along and tells me I can burn up my AVC savings before the main pension. I saved those AVCs in the last three years of working, and because this was a combination of 40% taxed earnings and salary sacrifice I only gave up net income of about 40% of the amount saved. Thank you Osborne, and goodbye to actuarial reductions. The Firm can bloody well pay me what it contracted to for the amount of time I was there and my final salary. And I can leave my ISA be, and indeed add to it over a few years.

    networth from that fateful appraisaement in 2009 (it doesn't include house or main pension)

    networth from that fateful appraisement in 2009 (it doesn’t include house or main pension) The ISA is less than half

    Most of the variation post 2012 is stock-market variation on the ISA, my spending is in the noise at this scale, indeed I failed to spend more in total than the stock market gained (in reality I should deflate this by the rate of inflation, though that hasn’t been terribly high over this period, the aggregate fall since 2012 is about 10%). Now that I have a basic income that is fine for my needs the 100% equity invested ISA looks more reasonable although it would be considered madcap aggressive in an IFA attitude to risk assessment.

    If I invest my PCLS  in the ISA then perhaps I should draw the natural yield of the ISA and spend more. I have never drawn money from my ISA, but it will probably be better if I increase the capital and draw the return rather than leaving the ISA static and running down the cash across five years. The annual cash income from the SIPP is enough to keep the wolf from the door and a few treats, which is just as well, at current valuations a stock market crash is pretty much guaranteed some time in the next five years. Shame the mini-crash earlier this year didn’t really get its boots on now I have a load of cash.

    I don’t know what to do with cash, it is the asset class I most loathe, though inflation hasn’t been as high as I once feared. You seem to have loads of itty bitty aggravation to make it work. Yes, there’s P2P but after the kicking Osborne doled out to the scalpers of the young otherwise known as Britain’s army of leveraged BTL landlords there’s one thing I know from experience, and that is that negative equity is a bear, and faced with keeping the overpriced house or paying back the P2P loan which one are people gonna do? I have some P2P, but no more than I can afford to lose. Matched betting, I didn’t stop work to try and grind out a living trying to arbitrage the fine difference between lots of big numbers on a screen. And I’m always scared by wizard wheezes where I can’t see what value is being rendered to the world by introducing myself as the middleman, P2P falls squarely into that category too. Too many methods of making cash turn a return these days have a whiff of financialisation and arbitrage rather than value-add. We’re fighting central banks if we want a return on cash, and let’s face it, the punters are the small guys in that fight. Gimme a stock market crash, and pronto, guys, the same forces are inflating equity prices.

    The move from a definitely optimistic to an indefinitely optimistic outlook

    I read Peter Thiel (one of Paypal’s  founders) ‘s book Zero to One today – had to read it in the morning because the library wants it back. He had an interesting taxonomy of views of the future, he was applying this to civilisations, not individuals, but it holds true in the micro as well as macro scale. His taxonomy had four quadrants

    Definitely optimistic

    This was the western world I grew up in, Thiel classes this as the US up to 1982. If you are definitely optimistic you expect the future to be better than today and you have some idea of what that will look like. So it makes sense to understand it in advance and apply yourself to making it happen. You spit on your hands, roll up your sleeves and get to work – moon landings, railway electrification, Arpanet, satellite communications.

    Indefinitely optimistic

    Thiel classes this as the US post ’82. You expect the world to be better tomorrow, but you’re buggered if you know how. Thiel says

    indefinite attitudes to the future explain what’s most dysfunctional about our world today. Process trumps substance: when people lack concrete plans to carry out, they use formal rules to assemble a portfolio of various options […]

    A definite view favours firm convictions, instead of pursuing many-sides mediocrity a definite person determines the one best thing to do and then does it

    You can be definitely pessimistic (China – you then take what worked for others and do more of it, but don’t innovate) and indefinitely pessimistic (Europe since 1970 – you know tomorrow will be worse than today but not how quickly, so you party while you still can and kick cans like Greece down the road.)

    On the micro scale of my career, I used to know one definite way of adding value – engineering. The young Ermine switched my career in this direction, against the backdrop of the definitely optimistic time when science and engineering were sorting a lot of problems 9. I have surrendered that – I have moved to being indefinitely optimistic, and that means

    they use formal rules to assemble a portfolio of various options

    which we otherwise know as index investing, indeed the name passive investing already kind of flags Thiel’s point. I am slightly definitely optimistic in that in my HYP I use individual stocks, but there’s still a lot of the indefinite optimism that lies at the heart of diversification. Peter Thiel sticks the knife into the Efficient Market Hypothesis with verve and doesn’t take prisoners –

    “The efficient market hypothesis is the idea, that people can’t have ideas.”

    it is a poster child for for the wider way the West has lost it’s mojo and the way productivity is flatlining as more and more human effort is going into finance and lawyering. Maybe he has a point. If you look at what Physics graduates of Imperial College do after graduation 10, IT, banking and accountancy take over 25%. You don’t particularly need a Physics degree to do any of those.

    I now have time for reflection – no longer the desperate trying to build an ISA which throws off an income I can believe in, to compensate for an actuarially reduced pension. My plan didn’t survive contact with the enemy, but in a good way. In financial terms, I have reached journey’s end. I crossed the three and a half years without an income and without destroying my liquid capital, because I had enough cash savings, inflation was low, the markets were kind to me, and I learned to be less of a damn fool in them than the first time round. I got roughly a 50% uplift in the unitised value as of 2010, rabid indexers will tell me I could have got roughly that with VWRL and they’re right – I have a big hole in my asset allocation of the US, because it’s been too dear throughout my investing time. So I’ll give that point. OTOH I will load up on the US when they take the sucker punch at some point. And the VWRL dividend yield at 2.8% is too low for me 11, I get about 4.8%, though it’s a moot point as I don’t draw from it yet.

    I have work to do now. To know myself, to roll back the years of activity without thinking, unpick the characteristics amplified in my Shadow by the increasingly competitive nature of work 12. To deepen, and grow, to experience things that transform me. That is for me. It’s not for everyone, vive la difference and all that. For sure, I am poorer in money than if I were still working. I will never be worth a million pounds in today’s money. But I am richer in Life, and accreting these riches of experience faster as I return to shape after the straitjacket of three decades of working life. Although I am far more comfortable with Jung’s concept of individuation, Sheehy’s description of the midlife gateway is more generally understandable

    dangerous years when we confront the loss of youth, the fading purpose of old roles, career changes, spiritual dilemmas, but also find the greatest opportunity for self-discovery and renewal

    It’s not a bad description of the point of retirement. Getting the money sorted is necessary. But it isn’t sufficient. You have to roll with the change of that stage of life too, and grow, otherwise freedom to will turn into dissipation, decadence and decline.

     

    Notes:

    1. There is an argument to be made that the investing gain wasn’t earned, I guess, but it’s still not risk-free unearned ancestral wealth of the sort that exercises the Torygraph’s old buffers
    2. discharging my mortgage before I started saving to get out had been a topsy-turvy form of saving, you can of course save a lot more if you don’t have a mortgage to pay
    3. the rules of real-estate still apply – a bad house on the right side of the tracks beats a good house on the wrong side, because all the others residents are carrying the cost
    4. I am slowly cutting that down, but there is a fine line between intellectual curiosity and rabbit-holing for the sake of vacuous novelty
    5. Mrs Ermine tells me this is a guy thing, but look at the caricature of this writ large that is the CEO and officer class – think Robert Fuld, Fred Goodwin and anybody with a yacht in the harbour that is driven by ‘staff’ rather than skippered by themselves
    6. I am still young enough that much may change within and without. One should never say never. But it’s my current state
    7. Carl Jung’s observations were derived from his patients, by his hyptheses merged these, Sheehy cites individual lifestreams, and they are closer to our times than Jung’s
    8. I have no mobile phone subscription, I pay most things cash upfront or on a credit card cleared each month, I have not had a car loan for 25 years, I have no mortgage, compared to normal Brits I am a debt cleanskin
    9. later in Thiel’s narrative he says that the Baby Boomers experienced the world getting better for the first 18 years of their life though it had nothing to do with them , and extrapolated this to be just the way things were, whereupon the mainspring of innovation in the West ran down because they switched it from definite optimism to indefinite optimism
    10. Why Physics? Because I did Physics at Imperial. I would have been classified in technical consultancy/R&D, after a period in manufacturing and Others
    11. yes I know, in theory there’s now’t wrong with running down your capital. You try doing that and feeling good about it though, once you aren’t accumulating
    12. It all seems a terribly long time ago, but once upon a time it was possible to progress at work by simply becoming a better engineer, learning from others and sharpening the saw which showed as skill in action, showing up in better, faster or cheaper work. Skill in action takes time to accrue and show, years not months. The change to performance management meant you have to tell a story each quarter that is better than the last, and to pump up minor successes into major triumphs, and shout louder than everyone else – a microcosm of the short-termism of quarterly reporting by companies. That sort of thing emphasises form over function. Real Life doesn’t show monotonic progress on a quarterly basis.
    24 Mar 2016, 1:45pm
    living intentionally:
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  • Freedom to, not freedom from is what retirement is about

    Be careful what you wish for. You might just get it.

    recent Western proverb that puzzles the occasional Chinese speaker

    Over at SHMD 1 Jim is reflecting on the meaning of early retirement for him. Intimately bound with that, of course, is what the meaning of work was for him. Retirement is the yin to the yang of work, it is often thought of in terms as a freedom from. If you’re looking for the PF angle in this piece, there isn’t one. It’s not about the how, it’s about the why, which is inherently subjective.

    In looking at people who have retired, be it early or not, there are many common themes. Jim prepared himself far better for early retirement than I did, because I realised I wanted early retirement one day all of a sudden in 2009. Although it’s easy to infer that I really hated my job, I didn’t – it served me well for thirty years in all, and gave me intellectual challenge and a congenial atmosphere for 27 of those years. What I came to hate was the performance measurement system – it was the performance art in a panopticon I came to loathe – I have, in my entire 30 years at work only had one rotten quarterly appraisement. Because of other changes in my personal life, this shattered my self-image 2, and I initiated the escape program executed over the following three years. This post isn’t about that.

    Looking back, it seemed I had two advantages on many people who retire, and find some part of themselves is going “yes, and now what?” it seems, when it comes to actually enjoying being retired 3. One, being an introvert, is innate, but the other is conceptual – that of the cycle of life and its stages.

    Introverts have a harder time at work. They have an easier time as retirees.

    It’s not hard to see why. I somewhat simplistically mused if the difference showed in the amount of money each type needed. Yes, there probably is a difference in the amount of money needed, but this is an effect, not a cause. Let’s take a look at what Carl Jung said about the two traits 4

    Each person seems to be energized more by either the external world (extraversion) or the internal world (introversion).

    Introverts are interested primarily in their own thoughts and feelings, in their inner world; they tend to be introspective. One danger for such people is that as they become immersed in their inner world, they may lose touch with the world around them. The absent-minded professor is a clear, if stereotypical, example.

    Extroverts are actively involved in the world of people and things; they tend to be more social and more aware of what is going on around them. They need to guard against becoming dominated by external events and alienated from their inner selves. The hard-driving business executive who has no understanding of feelings or relationships is a classic stereotype of unbalanced extraversion.

    Stephen Garrett, London City Psychotherapy

    Well, duh. Extroverts rock at work. They play well to the gallery which is an increasing trend of the metricised world of work and modern business theories of management. The whole point of work is to grab the external world by the balls and whack it around the chops to become a different shape. Western culture got where it got today by being extroverted and changing the world. That’s why when you flick the switch on your heating your house gets warmer – because legions of other human beings got to work pummeling the world into a different and very specific shape so that gas comes into your house, is burned in a controlled way, hot water goes round the radiators and you get warm. Previous generations had to go out and shovel coal or chop wood. I’ve spent a long time disparaging excess consumerism but it’s not all bad – central heating and vaccination against polio were not prevalent when I was born.

    As a young man I had to fight the introverted nature to find success in the world. The first Turning Outward, around the mid twenties, is about the world of people and things. The world of work did once tolerate introverts in its engineers locked away in the lab 5making clever shit happen. In an increasingly connected and competitive world they get the sand kicked in their faces, one is because there’s always a cheaper guy in the massively expanded global labour pool, plus they are not team players in a business environment and people think of them like this:

    Introverts have long been prejudicially perceived 6  as being selfish, narcissistic, pathologically shy or even psychotic. You know the sort, the shy, dangerous loner with the gun. 7

    So the extrovert stops work, and all of a sudden a load of noise and hum goes quiet, the phone stops ringing, and after a while he goes WTF – get me outta here! It’s a lot more common than is given credit for, and indeed I have seen people who have gone back to work not because they needed the money, but they needed the meaning. There’s nothing wrong in that, indeed one of the hazards of FI is that at least the early retiree who goes back to work because he miscalculated and needs the money knows a good reason why he is there. Whereas the early retiree who is financially independent has some serious questions to ask themselves about why they are returning to work, because it isn’t for the money. The extrovert has to fight the extroverted nature to find success in retirement, because it is the turning inward, that complements the quarterlife turning outward. His other option is to stall the change, more of which later.

    So the ermine, as an introvert, stops work, and all the noise and hum stops, and, well, peace at last. I did actually think about the web of life and connection with other people across the three years as I was getting out and took some steps to widen this, and some of it was eased by being involved in a community farm which gives me a ready-made community. I think it’s really hard for extroverts to realise that for the introvert, the whole frickin’ point of becoming FI is to go nuclear on your career. Take the battle to the enemy – work steals my time and stops me being me. I am working now not because I need the money, but because I am filling a hole efficiently that would need more resource to fill otherwise, and I care about the project and people. I don’t volunteer – 30 years of working for a living means if people want my time and commitment they can damn well pay for it, I would otherwise find it demeaning. I presume all the good people volunteering at bird reserves and the like are extroverts, as such they are getting something they need. It takes all sorts to build a world. But I’m not working for the money and as soon as someone or something better suited comes along to fill my shoes, great. Bring it on. I am Rhett Butler to the Scarlett O Hara of work

    Turning freedom from into freedom to

    Because it was reactive, I confess my search for financial independence was driven by freedom from. Freedom from the endless measurement, the criticisms, the you need to be doing more and more, you need to be team player 8, you need to sell yourself, you need to suck up this that and and the other to be good enough. I was already lethally individualistic and the shy 9, dangerous loner when, after splitting up with DxGF I heard one time too many in some ghastly all hands meeting the claptrap that there is no forced distribution, performance management is all about your individual contribution to The Firm. Like hell it is. It’s about controlling the pay bill while fostering the belief that employees have some control over the matter to encourage the hamsters to run a little faster, you sociopathic shits. It’s a zero-sum game from the employees’ pay.

    Against a background of feeling hollow enough I didn’t give a damn but I demanded respect for my basic intelligence, I came to the conclusion that sometimes you have to lift the weapon, aim and fire. In amidst a hundred souls in a small lecture theatre, I stood up, and fixed the lying senior manager in the eyes. and said “Since there is no fixed ranking, as you say, you will, of course, be happy, in the interests of openness and transparency to publish the number distribution of the marks each quarter, and I will be pleased to collate this information. We will of course see the natural mean vary across time, while giving due regard to the central limit theorem over the long run 10 when collated over many years, and we will expect some variance in the year-on-year means, and by inference the pay bill”. Finance obviously doesn’t want a randomly varying pay bill across departments, which is why you have a forced distribution per department. He said he would, but it never happened. Looked nervous when I caught his eye in an all-hands meeting after that, but at least the lie was not repeated.

    It was that sort of daily demeaning bullshit that I wanted freedom from, as well as having to fabricate SMART goals etc. The world is going in a direction where people compete for false badges of performance – the gamification of work, social media and all that malarkey. Rhett Butler again. For sure, for personal dignity I wanted to do a decent job and deliver value at work, but I didn’t want to play the mind games or take part in the casual lies. I don’t pay games like that because I am largely internally referenced. I don’t play computer games, and I don’t play sports, and I don’t do personal bests. For what it’s worth, I got a notable payrise after that quarter, either because I was identified as dangerous and they were calculating how to run me out, or because the same loner stood up in another meeting on some project where people were high-fiving themselves about how they were going to build a great delivery system. And asked them what legal basis they would have for actually putting programmes onto that system, and did they understand the principles of licensing TV programmes in the specific Asian country they they were going to do all that stuff. Yes, I was an engineer and knew how you design the transmission system, but I had enough awareness of the big picture to realise paying customers get bored of watching testcard real fast. Paying customers are what makes it worth doing.

    You do sometimes need the loner in business, because groupthink means an awful lot of bad ideas get to run too far too long. That project would have been a white elephant. It needed shooting.

    Work is not the point of Life

    The point of becoming FI is to go nuclear on your career. I mean FFS, it’s a serious grunt to become FI, and you don’t go through that sort of hurt to back off on the project at a whim. Despite all sorts of propaganda to the contrary, Work is not the whole point of Life in some fundamental way. It only gets to look that way after  30,40 years because – well, heck, if you get to 50-something and have thirty years of working life behind you like I had, then you’ve been doing this shit for more than half your life. How many of you at school felt that the one thing that was missing in your life was work? Not many, I’ll bet. You work because otherwise you get to suck up to pipsqueaks in the DHSS or go to prison for lamping them as they tell you to jump through a squillion hoops to get your £73 a week. Or you look at all the ads for lovely consumer stuff and figure you want some. The universal income can’t come soon enough, IMO. We don’t have enough work to match the intellectual capacity of most of our graduate output as it is, and it’s time we stopped pretending that picking up a shitload of debt is a way to get work. It isn’t, for many people. It’s a way to pick up a shitload of debt. End of. 11

    The point of putting up with the deprivation of becoming financially independent is to become a gentleman/woman of leisure. If you want to go part-time then for God’s sake give yourself an easier ride. It’s a much smaller ask to become well-off enough to only need to work two days a week, or four months a year if your business works that way. If you are going to go for gold, then once you have FI, don’t take prisoners. You are running out of Life 24 hours every day, don’t throw them away on Work once you have any other choice. The Times’s Luke Johnson kindly cited by Jim to save us the paywall shows the horrific paucity of imagination that can happen after you have spent half a lifetime working. You get Stockholm syndrome with Work, you start to believe it is in and of itself A Good Thing.

    hostages express empathy and sympathy and have positive feelings toward their captors Work, sometimes to the point of defending and identifying with the captors Work.

    Slightly adapted from Wikipedia on Stockholm Syndrome

    Retirement is arguably the biggest lifestyle change you will have made if you stop working after half a lifetime – most people won’t have been married or had children for as big a part of their lifetime as they’ll have been working if they get to their 50s in the traces. And there is some dignity in working and not freeloading off your fellow people, but once you’re done, you’re done. Which is then time to get on with the rest of Life.

    Ah, Life, what’s it all about

    Big questions need big answers. If the meaning of of Life looks like Work, well, you’ve taken 30+ years of your ticket to ride and used ’em badly, chum. As the old saw goes, nobody gets to their deathbed and says ‘I wish I spent more time at the office’. So, quite frankly, Luke Johnson, you, sir, are running away from Life. Whom do you serve, what do you want? The numbers to go up on some spreadsheet? Seriously, that gives you a rush? I can see the gravestone now. Luke Johnson. He Had Two Careers. Big ‘king deal. You ever been to a cemetery, mate? The headstones say devoted father, son, wife, husband. Nary a whisper of what he did at work unless it’s a military grave 12. Nobody remembers you at work two weeks after your leaving do.

    Now I do accept that each of us are different, and some readers will be thinking that their descendants are what it’s all about or something else, well, that’s all good as long as you haven’t spawned axe-murderers or a dynasty of unpleasant dictators.  Others, well, it will be their ideas that will be their legacy. Some people touch others through their ideas and inspiration, or their art. It’s the people whose lives you touch, ideally in a good way, that are your legacy. Whatever it is, great. But if you look in the mirror and Work is the best you can do, then, well, okay, each to their own. But since this is my blog, and I’m sick and tired of the tedious assertion that Work is the point of Life, I call that out for the shortage of imagination it is. Yes, it’s my opinion. I am an old man compared to many of the current PF community, some of you are at the gateway of the having kids phase, a third of the way through your working lives, some at at the very beginning, you are in that long period of Work and Family being what life is all about.

    But what life is about changes with time, and if it doesn’t then you are in trouble, ossification has set in and Stasis is the opposite of Life. There’s time enough to do that when you’re dead. It’s easy to lose sight of the change when it’s slow. What was it all about 30 years ago? For many it will be some of the earlier stages of Erikson’s developmental series. You’re not bothered with that so much now, potty training and walking are prerequisites for a career 😉 But it took up an awful lot of your time and energy at some stage. So why the hell should Work not be one of those stages? Don’t dither in the crossways when the time is come, FFS, let it go. I’m of the opinion that early retirement is to get on with the process of individuation earlier. I was an early retiree, not the 30s-40s extreme early retiree, though I am still over 10 years from normal retirement age. Straight through, school-university-6months dole-work-work-work-postgrad-work-work-retire

    So I have done my time with the harsh mistress called Work, and never took a gap-yah or a sabbatical. I didn’t come from a rich enough background to even think of a gap-yah, and these were unusual in the late 1970s. Millennials may bitch about the load of student fees with some reason, 13 but the very fact that gap years are much more common now shows how much richer Britain has become in the intervening thirty-odd years. I haven’t done things like travel to find myself (hint: you’re looking in the wrong place. Julia Roberts looked great in Eat Pray Love but it’s a movie, a myth, a metaphor, not real Life) or climb Mount Kilimanjaro to show I am hard. I got out of work because I was sick of metrics, and I believe it’s worth putting the time in to become wise enough to know what you value without having to measure it up against an external reference all the time. You live life, you don’t measure it, or Facebook/Instagram it, the movie of the life you live is shot in the first person, it’s not reportage.

    Over those 30-35 years I have learned that work ain’t all that. Don’t get me wrong, it can be fun, you can have a good time, do good and challenging stuff, and have some great memories and make good friends, and whip some small part of the world into shape. But really, Luke, if you find Life without Work empty and meaningless, you need to get out more. And since you were necky enough to intimate that you had the one truth, I’m gonna be necky enough to say you didn’t just fail to locate the bullseye, you’re not even in the same room as the target and you’re looking the wrong way. A second career at 60 is displacement activity. There’s a cycle of stages of life 14 from birth to death, and wanting to prolong the work bit is arrested development. Luke, you’re like those really clever guys who want to freeze their heads after death so they can live for ever, without having jumped to the elementary fact that the only way to live for ever is to avoid dying in the first place. 15

    Fortunately other people have been here before me, Carl Jung, but more accessibly perhaps, Joseph Campbell, he of the hero’s journey and the monomyth. Eat Pray Love, for an example was a narrative, not a recipe, that’s what myth is. Western culture is desperately short of rites of passage across the great transitions of life, but by observation there are at least two big ones of adult life IMO. Childhood is wasted on mastering some basic skills, puberty is a big one, but internally focused, and we don’t even have any rites of passage for that. But there are two big transitions after you have come of age, which mind-wise is usually > 21 from what I can see.

    The first unrecognised turning  is the turning outward (Erikson’s stage 6, Love), when you have established who you are to yourself and immediate peer-group, and begin to refine the face you present to the world. I look at the Guardian Millennials primal scream, and I see two conflated forces. One is some issues have genuinely become harder,  because greater communications have concentrated work and power to the Imperial core of decadent London. We have also become far more antisocial – there are more single households than there used to be, which is a serious problem for housing. The other is the angst of being 25 – the quarter-life crisis and the intimacy vs isolation thing, which is as old as Mankind. Your twenties are when you shift focus on getting control of who you are to you to who you are to everybody else. There is seriously no fun in that at all, there’s no damn roadmap – the milestones for my parents and me are hoplessly out of date in today’s society. For me it was (not in exactly that order) get a job, get a girl, get a house, get kids 16, retire, die. We will all get to die. Not every fella goes for the girls, that’s cool, but most want somebody to love. Not all by a long chalk – a third of us live on our own, and having kids is not the must-have among college-educated women. You aren’t supposed to stereotype because every one of us is a special snowflake, but in the round that first turning outwards is tough.

    In our individualistic Western traditions, of course, we don’t acknowledge this is tough because the Individual is King, we are masters of all we survey, and we have the myth of the endless more. In my mid twenties I could have slapped every jerk who told me “you are young, the the world is your oyster and this is about as good as it gets” So why the hell am I finding life pointless, girls just want to be friends, and I am stuck with endless choice and no damned idea of which way is up and where to allocate the meagre fruit of my labours? Oh yes, and why I am in a crummy bedsit in London and can’t afford to even think of buying a ‘king house? The oysterpeople lied, it does get better, but I’d deserve that slap if I tried to snap some young Millennial out of it with the same words because, well, the process of transformation is not a spectator sport. You must do it to integrate the learning. This turning outwards is tougher on introverts, I mean FFS, it is the turning outwards, the intimacy vs isolation phase. Introverts tend to flunk this, the archetypal geek who has no date for the prom. Engineers seem to be a particularly maladjusted and introverted crew, the Firm had way too many single guys all the way through late middle age 17, despite the fact many girls in the town seemed to be quite happy with the fact that the odds were good but the goods were odd. That’s tech and geeks for you.

    But the guy who easily got the date for the prom and steams through at the top of their game through work tends to flunk the second call 30-40 years later, the turning inward, because he is now playing against type (Erikson’s Stage 8, where he takes the typical retirement age of 65, but early retirees get to do this earlier, assuming they have offed the kids that is). It’s another stage for which the modern world has no rite of passage, for sure we’ve been to enough retirement ceremonies where we see the old boy, and glad-hand him, wish him well, and ignore the dead eyes that see an endless routine of gym trips, shopping and daytime TV. Or, heaven help them, you could be Luke Johnson, and flunk the call to the turning inwards, because hey, success looks like work -spin the old hamster wheel again. Because, as the lovely lady once sang, every place you travel through, still yourself you see.

    Who looks outside, dreams. Who looks inside, awakes

    Carl Jung

    Retirement is a curious reversal of the forces that endless favour the extrovert in the Western world. It can be an awakening, but the likelihood of this is less than 50% by observation. If it isn’t an awakening, it is a stasis or a decline. Luke wants to be a serial entrepreneur because he can’t direct his gaze to the next stage in his life because he clings to old forms, in the way Donald Trump clings to the memory of when he had hair. You can run, Luke. But you can’t hide…every place you travel through, still yourself you see.

    I missed the point of retiring too, but in my favour I did not stand in the way of progress, and it was easier tor me to rattle across the switch of the Turning Inwards without the brakeman seizing the wheels at the horror of running on a single track. For two years I slowly recovered from cutting off parts of my being to be able to face the external world and to become FI. Getting to FI may be easy for London-based finance people to do, but it is a massive ask for ordinary grunts or even relatively lucky mustelids. But even that was not enough, I restored myself to roughly what I was as a worker drone in 2009, after 27 years of work. The recovery was slow, because it was passive, always falling back and falling back waiting for Time. I thought I was done after two years, but I was wrong, because personal growth is not a spectator sport – the journey transforms the traveller who looks how they are changed inside by the landscape they pass through, not the tourist who looks only out the window at the scenery.

    The process is slow, but it is steady if undisturbed. I gained some childish playfulness, I listen up to the sound of the birds singing, I live more in the moment. And gently and faintly I hear a change from minor to major key in the sound of the distant drummer. The change in key is from freedom from to freedom to. Many of the crises in a life long enough have a natural diastole and systole, the first part is passive and undirected, the passage of Time. I had to fall back and fall back and fall back until the unconscious processes of repair achieved enough that the system can take the strain of the active part, the freedom to picks up from the freedom from.

    Like Luke, I too was running away, but unlike Luke, I was not running away from myself, so once there was enough distance from the noise and hum of Work I could hear the still voices that whispered to me what I wanted to do. I called it out okay in About when I started this a few years ago

    I have seen too many days from inside office windows, I want to hear the birds, live more simply and frugally and drink in the days, rather than sleepwalk my way through them

    So, extroverts of the world, you’ve had your glorious time in the sun, you’ve earned more money than I did if you had the same talents as I, and you absolutely stormed it at work, which is why some of you have this problem of what a successful early retirement looks like. And now the tables have turned. My time has come, because in the Turning Inward I am in my element. Let’s hear it from Carl Jung again 18. I want a similar level of wisdom in my eighties, should I be graced to get that far, and I have 30 years to understand myself well enough to get to where he was at his age 😉 Of course I am different, I will see things he missed, and I am sure I will miss things he saw. It is no matter. That is the point of retirement, the freedom to gain understanding and wisdom – and it’s personal. Freedom from the time sink and outward perspective of work is a necessary, but not sufficient condition to retire well.

    […] After all, we try to equip young people with all the education they need for the building up of a successful social existence. This kind of education is valid for about as far as the middle of life—say, thirty-five to forty years. Man nowadays has a chance to live twice as long, and the second half of life has for many people a structure which is thoroughly different from the first half. But this fact remains just as often unconscious. One does not realize that the rising tide of life carries young people forward to a certain summit of safety, fulfilment, or success. In this period one can forget bad experiences; life is still new and fresh, and every day renews its hope that it may bring the desired
    things which one has missed hitherto.

    It is when you approach the ominous region round the fortieth year that you look back upon the past which has accumulated behind you and the silent questions approach you, stealthily or openly: Where am I standing today? Have my dreams come true? Have I fulfilled my expectations of a happy and successful life as I imagined them twenty years ago? Have I been strong, consistent, active, intelligent, reliable, and enduring enough to seize my opportunities or to make the right choice at the crossroads and produce the proper answer to the problem which fate or fortune put before me? And then the final question comes: What is the chance that I shall fail again in fulfilling that which I obviously have been unable to accomplish in the first forty years?

    And then?

    Then, with the beginning of your life’s second part, inexorably a change imposes itself, subtly at first but with ever-increasing weight. Whatever you have acquired hitherto is no longer the same as you regarded it when it still lay before you—it has lost something of its charm, its splendour and its attractiveness. What was once an adventurous effort has become routine. Even flowers wilt, and it is hard to discover something perennial which will endure. Looking back slowly becomes a habit, no matter how much you detest and try to suppress it. Like the wife of Orpheus emerging from the underworld, who could not resist casting the forbidden look behind her, and consequently had to return from whence she came.

    This sort of thing is what you might call the “way of life a revers,” so characteristic of many people and which at the beginning is adopted quite unawares: to continue in one’s accustomed style, if possible more and better—to improve on the past, as if your disposition, which accounts for all your past failures, would be different in the future. But without your being aware of it your energy is no longer attracted to its former objectives in the way it was before: enthusiasm has become routine and zeal a habit. The backwards look will not fail to show you sides and aspects of yourself long forgotten and other ways of life you have missed or avoided before. […]

    Soon unconscious fantasies begin to play with other possibilities, and these can become quite troublesome unless they are made conscious in time. They may be mere regressions into childhood, which prove to be most unhelpful when one is confronted with the difficult task of creating a new goal for an aging life. If one has nothing to look forward to except the habitual things, life cannot renew itself any more. It gets stale, it congeals and petrifies[…]. Yet these insipid fantasies may also contain germs f real new possibilities or of new goals worthy of attainment.

    […]

    One might advise old people to live on with the times, and realize that time would provide them with all necessary novelties. But such easy advice takes it for granted that an old individual is capable of perceiving and agreeing with new things, ways, and means. But this is just the trouble: new goals demand new eyes which see them and a new heart which desires them. In all too many cases life is disappointing and even the most cherished illusions do not last forever. It is all too easy to reach the conclusion: plus fa change, plus fa reste la meme chose. That is a fatal conclusion, however: it blocks the flow of life and causes ever so many troubles of a physical or mental nature. Your pure rationalist, who bases his expectations on statistical verities, is thoroughly perplexed when he has to deal with such cases because he ignores the one important practical fact that life is always an exception, a “statistical random phenomenon.”

    It is so because it is always the life of an individual, who is a distinct, unique, and inimitable being, and not “life in general,” since there is no such thing. Then what do you advise this inimitable being to do once he passes the ominous age of forty?

    An ever-deepening self-knowledge is, I’m afraid, indispensable for the continuation of real life in old age, no matter how unpopular self-knowledge may be. Nothing is more ridiculous or inept than elderly people pretending to be young—they even lose their dignity, the one prerogative of age. Looking outwards has got to be turned into looking into oneself. Discovering yourself provides you with all you are, were meant to be, and all you are living from and for. The whole of yourself is certainly an irrational entity, but this is just precisely yourself, which is meant to live as a unique and unrepeatable experience. Thus, whatever you find in your given disposition is a factor of life which must be taken into careful consideration.

    I can honestly say that I have never missed Work in the last three and a half years. I’ve been at the odd celebration and drinks with ex-colleagues since then, but these were the People, not the Work. Work is massively overrated, and I can say that so far retirement has just got better and better with time 🙂 I am still slowly peeling pack the repressed inner elements that found no expression in 30 years of working , and possibly even before-

    Repression is a process that begins in early childhood under the moral influence of the environment and continues through life.

    [“The Personal and the Collective Unconscious,” Carl Jung, CW 7, par. 202.]

    Now I am perfectly open to the charge that extroverts will view the process of understanding myself better and deepening. the process of individuation,  is a narcissistic endeavour. That’s fine with me, but I don’t have their angst about missing work. Each to their own. Luke’s welcome to his serial entrepreneurship. I become a better listener and sounding board for people, and I gradually improve my general education and openness to different ideas. Overall I’ll try and take becoming a better and deeper human being over starting yet another company, but hey, whatever floats your boat. Gnothi Seauton will do for my gravestone, reads better than He Lived. He Worked. He Died 😉 Indeed, I will go further – many entrepreneurs and pretty much the entire CEO and officer class show the psychopathology of the extrovert writ large. They charge around like big swinging dicks changing this that and the other, they close offices because thy can and put swathes of grunts out of work, they introduce pathological employment practices like zero-hours contracts and all that performance management shit because it gives them a feeling of being alive. We’ve seen this movie before – I don’t normally like punk, but “Keith Joseph smiles and a baby dies on Beasley Street” sums up the same attitude from the 1980s.

    I was unlucky enough to start looking for a job in the next year, Thatcher’s first recession. It was a dirty job, and some of it did need to happen, Scargill’s rent-a-goons did need taking down IMO, but the ensuing scorched earth policy is why there will not be a Northern Powerhouse three decades on – the social fabric wasn’t just razed, the ground was salted too.

    An awful lot of CEO types pump themselves up like peacocks telling themselves they are so great and like the Wolf of Wall Street. The obvious question then, is why is productivity flatlining and exactly why are they looting the shareholders for their own self-aggrandisement. If I spend the next 30 years trying to gain wisdom and it doesn’t amount to a hill of beans, it is probably less damaging to Britain that is some arrogant CEO forgoes the golf course to perpetrate more destruction of shareholder value. Ogilvy Mathers who was Luke’s cause celebre spend 50 years in advertising  getting us to buy crap that we don’t need with money we don’t have to please people we don’t like. Mind you, I have a sneaking suspicion the old boy was with Carl Jung in some ways

    Big ideas come from the unconscious. This is true in art, in science, and in advertising. But your unconscious has to be well informed, or your idea will be irrelevant. Stuff your conscious mind with information, then unhook your rational thought process. You can help this process by going for a long walk, or taking a hot bath, or drinking half a pint of claret. Suddenly, if the telephone line from your unconscious is open, a big idea wells up within you.

    but I don’t think he left the world a better place.

    This is why the  point of becoming FI is to go nuclear on my career

    Jung’s narrative is stated better than I can say, but basically, my career was getting in my way. There are more important things for me to do with my life now, and I don’t have time for Work. At first I believed it was about freedom from, but I have not stayed still across the intervening three years, and gradually accrete some wisdom, and I came to see that I was wrong. Freedom from is necessary, but it is only when retirement becomes freedom to that I can embark on the next stage of the journey.

    Younger folk can’t understand that, because they are not yet at that stage of life. Older ones may not understand it because this is not part of their calling, or perhaps they are refusing to progress -stasis is not an option. I am not saying that everyone is like me, we diverge more and more from each other as we get older, I know many people for whom the meaning of life is the way of the hearthfire and children and grandchildren are what it’s about for them at the early retirement stage of life.

    Others volunteer for positive reasons, not to run away from the still, silent voice within but to lend their energies to making the world a better place. But many regress, they cannot surrender the lamps that illuminated their early and middle adulthood, they search without for what is probably to be found within. Far too many people vegetate, they lack the courage or the awareness to throw the switches of their life and it descends into endless dissipation, daytime TV and travel that is about novelty rather than experience. I have seen this failure in relatives from two generations of my own family, though in fairness to these people when you have worked from 14 to 65 work has been what you have been doing over three-quarters of your life, perhaps the failure to adapt to the change is more understandable.

    What I am saying is undoubtedly wrong for some people, but in general I think Carl Jung had a lot of point. Our society has become dramatically more outward-focused, extroverted and lauds external success more than in the 1960s of that article. But for all that, and the stupendous improvements in the physical fabric and quality of nearly all material goods and services, why do we have such disaffection and widespread issues with mental health? We have symptom-addressing fixes like mindfulness masquerading for inner knowledge and wisdom. Mindfulness is probably necessary, but I would venture it is insufficient for any deep self-awareness, and people turn to it to try and address stress issues – freedom from, not freedom to.

    Even the very rich extreme early retirees of the PF community aren’t so far from having to answer some of these difficult questions and operate the switches of their lives with intent, or stagnating. If you retire ten years earlier in life than I did, in your early forties, then Jung’s turning point will be on you in ten years – there’s a case to be made that modern living has retarded these stages of life compared to earlier generations because we live longer than they did; as a practical illustration people tend to have children in their mid thirties now rather than the mid-twenties of my parents’ generation. I missed my own turning point, it is clear looking back in the rear-view mirror occupying the early to mid forties.  The turning inward is important – because it integrates many of the experiences of the first half of life, to become whole. I have seen that in some, though by no means all, of the elderly people around me when I was a child – even at a young age I could tell that they knew something that has special, and different from other people that age who did whatever the 1960s equivalent of going to the gym and watching daytime TV was. You lose some physical capacity as you age. It is when you catch yourself not gaining wisdom as you age that you know that you are on the wrong track.

    Carl Jung note

    I have borrowed from the ideas of the Swiss psychologist Carl Jung extensively in this post. I find his map of the world useful for my psyche, in particular the psychological types and the archetypes have a resonance for me. However, as this article shows, his ideas are often at variance with modern psychological principles, and some of the concepts make people with certain types of world-view which are very common in the PF community choke on their beer.  You know the pack-drill, it’s the same as for finance- – DYOR, I may have it all wrong, what works for me may not work for you etc,

    On the whole modern psychology has not viewed Jung’s theory of archetypes kindly. Ernest Jones (Freud’s biographer) tells that Jung “descended into a pseudo-philosophy out of which he never emerged” and to many his ideas look more like New Age mystical speculation than a scientific contribution to psychology.

    However, whilst Jung’s research into ancient myths and legends, his interest in astrology and fascination with Eastern religion can be seen in that light it is also worth remembering that the images he was writing about have, as a matter of historical fact, exerted an enduring hold on the human mind.

    The more accessible version is Joseph Campbell’s The Hero with a Thousand Faces which had some influence on a young fellow called George Lucas when he wrote a well-known mythical tale in the 1970s. It is possible that Jung’s map is not general but has a resonance for people of my mindset and that of a fair number of people I know. Since I am not a clinician there to sort out the problems of the world in general I am happy to run with a map that may only cover my part of the territory if helps me understand or at least orient myself. The process of individuation is not a spectator sport. You have to live it to do it.

     

    Notes:

    1. I can’t spell Jim’s blog out because otherwise at least one of my readers gets banned from here at work for a while
    2. M Scott Peck, in the Road Not Travelled, sums up that often progression in life comes from loss. I had become brittle because I had thrown out elements of my psyche that I had rejected or couldn’t square with the requirements of the outer world. This is bad for the soul – rejecting capacities often pushes them into the unconscious, where they start to destroy and cause hurt.
    3. The Internet Retirement Police will probably say that I am not really retired, since I earned over the £3600 pa you can stick in a pension as a true unemployed beach bum. The IRP can go stick it. I am probably the purest example of someone who genuinely doesn’t want to be working, but if I see people in the shit that I care about and I can fix it I will. There really is nothing about working that I miss!
    4. The original reference is here, but Jung’s CW is dense and impenetrable. We should also remember that Jung’s patients came from the upper middle-class of his time (turn of the century to 1940s), and the women were typically SAHMs  – some of the sexism in the description is probably from the sample bias. There appears to be less inherent difference in the capabilities of male and female humans than was assumed at the time. This bias affects more the description of the inferior functions than the concept of introversion and extroversion itself.
    5. I choose engineers because I was one. There are no doubt other occupations that had a use for introverts but I can’t think of any at the moment
    6. https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/evil-deeds/201205/essential-secrets-psychotherapy-jungs-typology-eudaemonology-and-the-elusive
    7. this prejudice is not new, although it is being amplified by a culture that increasingly focuses on the outside form, sometimes at the expense of function. The young Ermine in a South London primary school was about to take the eleven plus sorry, “independently set test” for grammar school, and there was a report from my primary school, which was generally favourable but included the term “is a lone wolf”. My mother begged the headmaster to take that out, which he did, because she understood how that sort of thing puts a red dot on your back.
    8. Every company I have seen wants ‘good team players’. I have never been a good team player, but I think I delivered value, albeit in a less connected world
    9. everybody believes introverts are shy. As children yes, but if they make a successful transition across the first turning outwards in the mid-20s they are quiet, but not necessarily shy. I have led teams, and I can speak in public in front of hundreds of people
    10. the central limit theorem states that the arithmetic mean of independent random variables will be approximately normally distributed.  I aimed this knowledge at this dude’s head, to acknowledge that this used to be a premier industrial research facility, and he and I had been in it long enough and we both had scientific degrees, and that we both understood that one can estimate the expected variation on the mean value of a normally distributed quantity. And guess what, the mean ain’t always going to be the same, and if it is the game is up! HR fixers usually apply this mean each quarter because it’s easier to do it that way, faking a quarter on quarter variation is possible but time-consuming. I had the advantage of having seen the spreadsheet some berk in HR had failed to remove before sending out an all-personnel email broadcast, and I knew what the quotas were.
    11. Yes, it is effectively a graduate tax as well/instead, but you only get to really believe that when you are 50 and the option lapses so the dead hand is lifted. For most of your working like you think of it as a mahoosive loan
    12. in which case his work is usually what he died of, so it’s relevant
    13. though they should note only 11% of school leavers went to university when I graduated – the taxpayer could probably do grants provided four out of every five putative Millennial students were rejected by their university for grades not up to scratch to control numbers and impose a defacto numerus clausus.  Rationing the limited resource by academic ability is considered elitist these days, so we ration by financial backing instead. I am not clever enough to understand why having enough money is not elitist whereas having enough brains is
    14. While I wrote the narrative in Jung’s terminology, Erik Erikson comes at it from a Freudian tradition, and there is much commonality in the stages to my untrained reading
    15. There is no bootstrap BIOS in the human brain to restore state, even if the hardware survives the freezing process. And where the bloody hell is the hard disk preserving a static copy of the OS? It beats me that people like Ray Kurzweil who is about 1000 times cleverer than I am miss this inconvenient fact that a loss of dynamic living state is a pretty total loss of information and no backup. You’re better off believing in God or the Flying Spaghetti Monster than snappily freezing a cranium that has already lost the state called Life which is the bit you are trying to catch, FFS. At least God and the FSM are inherently unprovable and could be true, rather than missing the point by conflating physical form with function.
    16. I passed on this one, it wasn’t for me
    17. I am talking 20, 30 years ago, it is a much more balanced though average crew now they shut the laboratories down
    18. Unfortunately I haven’t got a primary reference for this, I hacked it from the Net years ago. Suffolk Libraries doesn’t subscribe to the Sunday Times digital archive. I believe it was an article in the Sunday Times on the 17 July 1960 by Gordon Young, possibly titled the Art of Life and Carl Jung (who was 84 at the time)
    11 Mar 2016, 6:21pm
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  • It’s easy to feel poor in decadent London

    I took a short visit to a foreign country last night. No passport needed; that country was the city-state once known as London. It was time for a piece of gratuitous decadence, an Ermine trip to visit the heart of the Imperium, to go see Philip Glass’s Akenhaten at the Coliseum. I fear the Ermine lacks culture, so I enjoyed this as music and performance art, with no idea of the plot 😉 Mrs Ermine however is of more refined tastes, and actually understands WTF is going on, but so be it, it was still a fine experience for my unsophisticated fur. I’ve seen a Mozart opera there once before when I used to live in London and recalled the venue as being microscopic, and it still is. I was used to listening to music in places like the RAH and the RFH. I don’t do theatre because I lack the education/refinement to avoid getting bored or losing the ability to suspend disbelief – I never understood why people bother with theatre after movies and television were invented, so I wasn’t familiar with the bijouness of the venues, presumably the limits of human visual acuity constrict size so the punters get to see what’s going on on the stage.

    The Coliseum is of course deep in the heart of this foreign country, and we penetrated the defences of the city from the provincial backwaters. I have gotten sick of having to barge out before the final curtain to catch the last train to Ipswich that usually leaves London  at 11:30 pm, so we drove to Colchester, as you get another hour to sort yourself out by the time the very last train leaves at a quarter to one.

    Centrepoint. Still there, still not a thing of great beuty

    Centrepoint. Still there, still not a thing of great beauty. ” Some things just need time to be loved” errr – no Kathrin Hersel, I think when it comes to revamping Centrepoint the expression you’re looking for is “putting lipstick on a pig”. 1960s concrete prefab. ‘Nuff said

     

    I grew up and went to university in London, and the basic street plan of the inner city hasn’t changed much, but they are always building stuff. We took the Tube to Tottenham Court Road to walk down, and at first when we got out of the station I thought they had demolished Centrepoint, but it was something else nearby that they’ve turned into a two-storey high lump of rubble. Damned if I can remember what it was.

    We couldn’t really stick more strap-hanging than absolutely necessary in the commuter underground crowds – this is something that has got a hell of a lot worse than when I commuted to near Broadcasting house – and this was the shortly after 5 rush hour and travelling into the city rather than out of it.

    Seven Dials some 10 years ago

    Seven Dials some 10 years ago

    We drifted down towards Monmouth Street and then via Seven Dials where I used to like browsing the bookshops and oddball shops. The place has been transformed, it seems, in the last few years – it absolutely stinks of money, everything has been turned into a bewildering array of restaurants catering to every niche taste, in minimalist glitzy bright lights and whatnot. I even got to see people queuing to get into a restaurant, since when has that been a thing? We had time to kill to wandered towards Leicester square and had a couple of drinks in the Bear and Staff, which bent a twenty pound note well out of shape. Having said that, at least they kept the beer decently, some of those pricey pubs used to serve a pretty ropey pint because they knew they could get away with it. And of course the people looked beautiful and young, even in the pub. Then it was time to wander back to the Coliseum and hoof it up miles of stairs it seemed, way up into the Gods.

    After the show we got to see that rough sleeping in London has got up to Thatcher’s first recession standards. The whole thing was a bizarre counterpoint of the eye-watering reek of incredible amounts of money and the fact that you can’t move or do anything in London without spending shitloads of money. Which is fine for tourists, domestic and foreign, because they aren’t doing it all the time. But London seems to be such a great sucking force, a workhouse for the young as the Telegraph put it. But it also sucks money out of them, in housing, in living, you can’t even go for a dump in the city 1 without being shaken down for the privilege, I have no idea how you live in the city without becoming inured to paying far too much for all sorts of things, because raw and garish consumerism is all out there and right in your face. Do people even have kitchens in London these days, you can probably make the business case that the rent you’d pay on the space will get you a year’s worth of nouvelle cuisine, or at least more fried chicken than is good for you?

    It’s a different place, this post financial crash London – and it made me feel poor. Not poor as in dossing down in a doorway – while I have slept in the open in London I did it in some 1980s summer, not in early March. But I looked at all the money changing hands and the overpriced this, that and the other, the shocking price you get charged for a cup of coffee 2, and it was impossible to get away from the fact that this is a place that makes you feel poor if you don’t have at least a million pounds in investible assets. And I don’t.

    And yet I saw the dark underbelly of this beating heart of the Imperial centre as the trains started to draw out towards the provinces, because there is a strange onion-ring effect. Once you are past the recently-gentrified Stratford 3 you see row upon row of shabby High Streets with rows of dirty chicken shops, fast food joints, betting shops and places that advertise they take Western Union. I’m sure they sent a search party out for a legit way to use Western Union sometime in the late 1980s but they never returned. They may as well call the place a laundromat for money with the strapline ‘ask no questions, tell no lies’. We take Western Union is just not the sign of a good part of the ‘hood.

    Now I grew up in south east London, which was the arse end of the universe back in the day because the tube didn’t go there. It’s still the wrong side of the tracks, but in a different way now, I know a couple where he works somewhere in Canary Wharf though they live sarf of the river. I don’t know where the horny-handed sons of toil live – or do Londoners just throw stuff out when it stops working – looking at some of the trash at the end of the day it seems perhaps. One day there will be a company trucking this shit out to the provinces where children will heat up the circuit boards over coal fires to recycle the parts in some part of Britain-that isn’t-London and they will make a mint. Or scavenging gangs coming in on the last in train and leaving on the six am out trains with their rubbish booty. On the other hand it’s good to see that the London Evening Standard is all for the idea of a basic universal income, there’s hope yet.

    London Stone to City of London Corporation - I was here before you, and will outlast you. I am Ozymandias to your hubristic soul

    London Stone to City of London Corporation – I am the Omphalos of London. I was here before you, and I will be here when you are long gone. I am Ozymandias to your hubristic soul

    And there’s even more hope from the paper – perhaps the pimps, oligarchs and spivs will be ejected from the city when the original Omphalos of London is to be restored to its rightful place. Be careful what you wish for, vainglorious City of London Corporation, because London Stone was there before you.

    So long as the Stone of Brutus is safe, so long will London flourish

    Inscription, apparently – I’ve heard of the legend though never seen it written 4.

    This new city state has gone rogue, it’s a really weird place, and somebody in London town has got to be eating a serious amount of generic fried chicken to support all those dirty chicken shops. As the train cleared the city limits I felt less impoverished 😉 After all, unlike all those strap-hangers and the beautiful people in the pub, I didn’t have to get up to go to work today. It’s not a million pounds, but it’s worth something, and that something is called Time…

    Oh and I was chuffed that people listened/watched the performance entirely with their own eyes, rather than through the screen of a smartphone. Didn’t realise that sort of thing still happened. I didn’t actually see people being shaken down for ambulatory telephonic apparatus, and it’s not like the bulbous thingy at the top of the Coliseum houses an EMP device to fry the works of every smartphone within 100 yards of the building. One day these things will be available, hopefully, but refreshingly no need this time.

    There is, of course, the irony of going to the gratuitous decadence of an an opera making the financially independent feel impoverished, but London has become a really, really, strange place since the financial crash. It’s as if the crash never happened, indeed, it feels as if the financial crash was good for London is some bizarre way, though I am sure it sucked for people who worked for Lehman’s and the like. As to whether what’s good for London is good for Londoners, well, that’s a totally different question. The way the Grauniad has been talking about Millennials who nearly all work in London 5 they are hosed, though I observe even now Millennials are earning more in real and relative terms than when I was the equivalent age working in London in 1986. Which has something to do with why I got the hell out. That’s not to say that there hasn’t been a hellacious suckout compared to recent times, it looks like you were truly  charmed if you reached 30 in 2007. And, surprisingly, SOL if you are 45 to 49 – you’d have been relatively better being 30 years older, monetarily, though you can take cheer that you are still better off in real terms. But as the London experience shows, being rich isn’t about how much you have, after a certain point is reached which Britain reached long ago. It’s about how much you have relative to other people, and that’s a bear. Because while many of us live like kings of old in absolute terms, doing the ‘I’m king of the castle and better off than everyone else’ is still as hard as it always was.

    Notes:

    1. on further research, this is apparently not the case – more free bogs
    2. I resisted. I can live with being overcharged for beer, but not coffee, particularly when the coffee has as many calories as beer
    3. I knew someone who lived in Stratford in the late ’80s. Their parents flat out refused to let us go to the pub round the corner on the principle it was that rough they may as well call the cops when we stepped out the door in the dark
    4. This PDF from the Museum of London has more
    5. Earth to Guardian – while your interns may think the M25 is the edge of the world there is a fair amount of territory beyond
    28 Jan 2016, 9:05pm
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  • it could be you, but it’s incredibly unlikely

    That’s of course the motto of the UK National Lottery, but it is increasingly the mantra of a lot of other ways capitalism is making use of the way we humans can’t get statistically small chances. I was reminded of this when I read a curious article on the Guardian about a chap trying to become a pro video gamer. To be fair to him, at least he got an article out of it and presumably the Guardian paid him, but in addition to the WTF factor, I am amazed that a reasonably intelligent fellow even entertained the idea.

    a modern-day Mark of the Beast

    a modern-day Mark of the Beast

    The rules are different for people with good contacts or those with a net worth of more than about £10million, because you can then buy the government, or at least influence the rules. You can even convince yourself you’re not being evil when you pay corporation tax at 3% rather than 20%. For ordinary grunts ways to make a living come in several classes other than selling your time for money in traditional employment.

    fifty ways to make a living

    you can make a product or service, that is likely to provide an income of sorts if you can find buyers at the right price. That’s because you are changing the world in some way that others find of value, that for some reason they have neither the skill or inclination to do. Such honest toilers include builders, cleaners, doctors, gardeners, some ebay traders, people who work in the shop round the corner.

    Not everything of value is of course tangible – artists create expressions of their view of the world which others of us can use as a framework to hang our hopes, dreams or fuzzy insights on, we pay them. Market makers of various sorts can sometimes add value – in the past wholesalers and distributors parcelled up small purchases into bigger ones. Music, childcare, dance classes are services. I passed Dial-a-Dog Wash a while back. I guess the product is a cleaner and less stinky hound.

    Arbitrage works – skimming a bunch of other people because you have superior resources, knowledge or connectivity. The entire financial industry is a case in point. It doesn’t make anything, but it amplifies dreams. For instance it lets foolhardy house buyers overpay for houses. I managed to buy a house as a single man on a entry-level white collar salary nearly thirty years ago, that’s not really possible now. I’m not quite sure why that is considered success, but we all conspired to make it happen, with the benevolence of organisations able to create money out of thin air. But finance does do good stuff too. It lets us insure against low-likelihood but high impact risks. It puts money in the hands of people with talent but no capital. On the way it fleeces many of us shitless. This kind of way of earning a living on a freelance level depends on contacts and chutzpah, and it is lucrative.

    There is, however, a Dark Star of enterprises, these are ones where we have a zero-sum game with a huge number of punters and an extremely low likelihood of getting fame and fortune.

    Deep Throat was right. Follow the money

    In the early 1970s, the Washington Post reporters trying to break the Watergate story were given a sage piece of advice by their informer, although the principle dates back to Roman times. Follow the moneycui bono in its classical form. It’s still a decent way of qualifying a financial opportunity someone sticks in front of your nose.The ermine has some simple rules about this:

    • If the opportunity comes to me of its own volition, it’s not something I want to pursue. Exeunt doorstep sellers, all advertising flyers, cold callers on the phone. It’s why I run ad-block plus. If I didn’t ask to know, I don’t want to know. End of. I am perfectly capable of getting novelty from the world myself – be curious, and aim to know more when you get to bed than when you got up. Even if in includes that pro video gamer is a thing.
    • If I can’t see what a financial opportunity produces or adds to the world, it’s likely a scam. Even if it isn’t a scam, I am not smart enough or too lazy to be able to tell it apart form a scam. I don’t want to know. You can get rich through things like this if and only if you get out at the right time… Madoff made people rich. Until he made them poor.
    • All sellers are liars and charlatans who promote their interests at my expense. Be careful out there. It isn’t universally true but it’s a good starting guess.
    • Very few things in a market economy are truly free. For example, you pay for coupons, Topcashback and Quidco with dedicating headspace to getting a little bit of the money you overpaid back. There’s an opportunity cost of time and attention. The more you think about shopping, the more you are likely to shop.
    • If somebody wants you to sign on the dotted line now without thinking it over, it’s a very bad deal. If it were a good deal, it would survive the scrutiny of sleeping on it. Walk away.

    In general, follow the money. If this transaction goes ahead, who wins? If you were unaware of this outstanding lime-limited opportunity this morning, then the winner isn’t likely to be you.

    The Seventies discourse on media  was surprisingly prescient about our times – Andy Warhol’s 15 minutes of fame anticipated the vastly improved communications we have, breaking down the layers that graded performers’ access to the audience. On a small scale it costs me virtually nothing to reach you, dear reader, and I hope it costs you virtually nothing to read. Before the turn of the millennium that simply wasn’t possible.

    This massive increase in communication and the reduction in costs makes us all potential performers now, the hierarchy of gatekeepers that qualified which subjects were worthy to be represented has been eliminated. They were only there to guard access to the expensive medium of communication, their function of grading out the dross was a secondary, not a primary function. You probably have more than 100 channels on Sky TV at home. They probably aren’t worth 30 times more of your time than when we had three TV channels in the 1970s. more »

    14 Jan 2016, 3:49pm
    living intentionally personal finance reflections
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  • I want to learn to spend a little more, with grace, with gratitude and with a new map

    Everyone is on the New Year’s resolutions track, and most PF folk want to save more. I am going to take a different line this year, because I am in a new territory. That needs a new map. It’s been a long time coming, over six months between when I started the process of transferring my DC savings to Hargreaves Lansdown and actually seeing the numbers tick up. It has happened now.

    That'll be a nice Lamborghini, and to hell with the money

    That’ll be a nice Lamborghini, and to hell with the money. Secondhand, in my case, as I am using five years worth of pension, not a lifetime’s worth.

    So the long period of coasting between my last pay packet in June 2012 and the first appearance of a regular income in the new tax year worked. I will enter the new tax year with some working cash to spare, and all the earnings from this year to toss into the SIPP on March 31. It has been a very different perspective, living on the fossil wealth of my erstwhile career to living on an income. That period felt like a limbo – yes I had retired but there were hazards that meant I might have had to work. Now it is very likely that I will never work again, at any rate at the level of most of my working life. Sticklers for accuracy will, of course point out that a pension is also fossil wealth, but living with it expressed as an income is different to living off saved capital. The amount in the SIPP is such that I could rush out and purchase a Lamborghini – I’m quite taken by this red one  – I am not rich enough to buy the quarter-million jobs but I am good to follow through on Steve Webb’s recommendations for the lower end of the secondhand market.

    Passing through the turning point is difficult – there is a big  difference between living off capital and using income

    I was always a salaryman, not an entrepreneur, and so as I left the workforce and the income tap turned off, I lost my main financial navigational instrument, the first law of Wilkins Micawber – spend less than you earn. This has guided me across thirty years of working life, but once the annual income falls to zero, this waypointer spins in a pathless land and knows no North. And at the same time the source of accumulation ceased. That I was able to still accumulate is tribute to an ageing bull run that seems to have finally reached senescence. I am not complaining, as someone who now has too much asset allocation to cash 😉 I am disappointed in RBS’s definition of cataclysmic year. WTF is the use of a fall of 20%? 50% is what I want 🙂 OTOH this fellow has he S&P at 800, 1200 will do me.

    For three years the answer on how much can I spend always came back ‘as little as possible’. I struggled initially because I couldn’t serve two masters, and eventually accepted the slow fall in working capital.

    Decline and fall

    The turning point

    Some of that struggle was simply not acknowledging that I had passed the accumulation phase, had reached the apogee of my earning power and accumulated wealth. It felt wrong because for thirty years previously it would have been wrong. The switch to living off capital may be doubly hard for people in the PF community who have focused on accumulation for many years. I am lucky and perhaps privileged – my main pension is expressed in terms of income not capital and I am burning up a Lamborghini’s worth of DC savings ahead of it to avoid the penalty of drawing it early.

    Everybody else’s New Year’s resolutions are how to save more or earn more. Mine are about learning to spend more 😉

    Over at Quietly Saving Weenie is sensibly looking to push her savings rate up. FFB40 has set himself a plethora of goals broadly aiming to earn 100k this year and presumably save a fair chunk of it. ERG is doing forex trading and matched betting.

    I now have the answer to Micawber. For the next five years I can spend up to £14k a year and not fall behind 1, which roughly matches Mr Z’s Goldilocks spender‘s disposable income. If I drew an income from the ISA I could push that to 18k. That’s the equivalent to earning 20k gross p.a. which is apparently the white collar minimum in London according to FvL. God knows how people do it – I left London 28 years ago earning more than that in real terms because I was pissed off with being skint all the time and living in shared accommodation. I must have been a terrible spendthrift, because nothing indicates to me that London living has got cheaper in real terms over those three decades. But I obeyed Micawber’s rule, so while none of it stuck to the sides I was debt-free.

    I have not been spending anything like 18k p.a. across the last few years. I don’t aim to take it with me into a next life, so I need to become a curious combination of Mr Zombie’s Jones’ and frugalistas. I need to keep his chart on the level, not go for the networth increase and accumulation that has been the watchword until now, otherwise I will be rich in the graveyard but poor in life. That is a big change in perspective.

    We went to Orford to celebrate the milestone where Mrs Ermine bought me lunch at the Pump St Bakery  and I finally managed to crack open the wallet and blow £20 on some fine products from Pinney’s smokehouse, after observing this fine piece of cold war brutalism across the river in the January breeze.

    Orfordness radio station, erstwhile site of the failed Cobra Mist Cold War over the horizon radar

    Orfordness radio station, mothballed in 2012, erstwhile site of the failed Cobra Mist Cold War over the horizon radar.

    The village seemed totally quiet, I guess this second weekend of the new year isn’t a time most people are on the razz. Unlike Steve Webb’s exhortation, I’m not going to go mad, but it is a significant change to my situation. I need to reflect upon the upside of spending, without being suckered into the stupid consumerism that promises but doesn’t deliver. I spent so much effort over the years to shoot needless spending, and I find I don’t know what to do here.

    Then last night we went out to the Fox at Newbourne to celebrate some more, and in returning we passed the Firm and I recalled the first time I had come there twenty-seven years ago, also in the night, and it felt as if the circle had turned now fully, when I change from being a retiree to being a pensioner 😉 The pub has positive memories from the Firm – many project topping out celebrations as well as a fair few summer lunchtimes dreaming up project ideas or setting the world to rights in the distant early years before the dotcom bust. It was a different world of work then, much more creative and less micromanaged routine paint by numbers…

    I froze all my SIPP savings in cash as of March 2012 because I believed I was leaving then and would have needed to liquidate that AVC fund as a pension commencement lump sum. It happened to be a local high for  the FTSE100 around the 5900 mark. I occasionally cursed myself in the intervening period for not leaving it invested, but I lived by the old rule of thumb – don’t have capital you expect to call on in less than five years in the markets. If the period is longer it’s worth taking the volatility of the markets because inflation will also be eating at the value. And as it turned out the FTSE100 is within spitting distance of March 2012. Had I kept it in the 50:50 FTSE/global fund I would be notably better off now. But what the hell. At the moment the stock market can’t hurt 2 my SIPP or main pension, and I’m okay with giving up the upside. I will take market risk all in the ISA and soem unwrapped equity holdings.

    I am now an oddity in the PF universe

    because I have crossed to the other side of the accumulation/decumulation divide. Most writers are in the accumulation phase. Indeed the only other exception I can think in the PF blogs I read is Jim. As such my aims and risk profile have changed in a big way. There are many standard FI/RE things on my old map that I will not need to do –

    no need for pension saving (beyond the £3600 to get £720 p.a free money for a few years). Having earnings has buggered this tax opportunity up somewhat anyway.

    While on zero income I carried an emergency fund of several tens of thousands in cash across the three years, because I needed to be my own lender of last resort in an emergency. Nobody lends money to someone without an income 3, but I have an income now. I was lucky – no emergency happened. Some of this erstwhile cash reserve needs to get invested and start working for me now that I have an income and could borrow against the future income stream again, in the same rationale as Jacob ERE. Of course I will still need an emergency fund of sorts, but much less. I will retain my NS&I ILSCs and shift the rest into a new S&S ISA. I don’t need the three-years expenses cash buffer to smooth investment income, because I won’t be living off investment income.

    I am nominally working in this tax year, it will be my 35th and final year of National Insurance to pay. I will electively pay that NI, to become fully paid up.  I asked for a State Pension forecast which is about £7100 p.a. It’s not quite clear to me where I got this good fortune, as I have been contracted out for 20 years, and the last time I asked for a statement in 2009 the amount was £5700 p.a. I am not sure I can rely on the existence of a State pension – it’s still another 12 years before I’d get it which is 12 years for some government to decide to means test it. If I were to get that then I personally would have an income of the typical UK household. That is more than enough for me.

    I have an ISA originally designed to compensate for the actuarial reduction to my pension from drawing it early, which is no longer required because I won’t draw early. A source of tax-free income is always nice, and I will continue to build this up, though the market crash will no doubt make this smaller in the near future. In the long run (10 to 20 years) it will compensate for the erosion of my pension relative to workers due to earnings inflation outstripping RPI, and gives me some buffer against modest strings of bad times. If peak oil happens, zombie apocalypse or other shocks to the system I am still stuffed of course. Otherwise I am like this Telegraph pensioner, I will never be rich, but I will never be poor. Thirty years is a long time – for perspective thirty years ago I was still working in London… Things will change.

    That ISA may begin to compound. I am not a great believer in compound interest in helping you get to financial independence. But once you reach FI, and in particular if you don’t need the income from a lump of capital, it starts to snowball. In its short life of about six years of contributions and no withdrawals, the accumulated dividend income has put in about a year’s worth of ISA allowance into the pot on top of my contributions, which is being reinvested. The ISA needs splitting and part transferring to other platforms, because it is now way over the FSCS guarantee 4.

    I don’t really know where I’m going with the ISA because the original aims has been overtaken by events and Osborne’s changes. But I will have a lot of cash looking for a home from that large emergency fund and the PCLS, and Fortune seems to be smiling on me by beating up the stock market for me in advance for 2016. I bought a lot of gold ETFs in stages in 2015 to try and get more defensive in the face of a frothy market, and up to RIT’s 5% asset allocation. This is the first and only of my 2015 purchases to turn a profit now. The less said about HRUB, oil, mining and emerging markets the better for now, though I confess to a temptation to double down on some of those. Every dog has its day 😉 OTOH if the market continues to take even more stick then that is a time to build the HYP too – you can’t build a HYP cheaply  in the heady heft of a bull market.

    What can go wrong

    There is always lots that can go wrong. Let’s face it, in the 1960s of my early life we had Kennedy and Khrushchev glowering across the Cuban Missile crisis and B52 bombers on 24/7 watch over the North Pole with nuclear bombs. Somehow, despite frequent accidents we survived. The 1970s had the oil crises and the Winter of Discontent as the unions manipulated the government like puppets on a string, and 26% annual inflation in 1979. The 1980s had two harsh recessions, a lot more Cold War sabre rattling, Thatcher’s goons in running battles with Arthur Scargill’s goons. The 1990s had the implosion of Russia and all the hazards that entailed, the slaughtering of UK housing as a can’t fail asset class and the Asian financial crisis which was the birth pangs of capitalism trying to adapt to a tripling of the world workforce as the Iron Curtain and other barriers to trade began to fall. The 2000s had the dotcom bust and some of that increasing world workforce weakening the power of labour versus capital in the West; we are still trying to work out where all the rubble is ongoing to fall. The 2010s seem to be about more geopolitical risk, and ugly confluence of mediaeval religious tenets with 21st century technology, along with a lot of chickens freed by the neocons coming home to roost. On the subject of religion, in one generation the West lost all the moral and intellectual principles that were lauded by Niall Ferguson for making it such an effective economic machine with its shared values from the Enlightenment – we are all consumers now. Those shared values had their problems too – they ossified the class system and justified a lot of actions we would now disapprove of, but they were a common myth of perhaps a different nature from our current one of continuous growth. We seem to be still working on a replacement story for how/why to be better at being human, which is probably not purely a materialistic enterprise. That’s a drag given our economic creed knows the price of everything and the value of nothing.

    So far we have survived. There will be change across the next thirty years, some of it welcome, some of it unwelcome. I think I have made a reasonable fist of hedging what I can. I do not have enough to hedge wars of all against all, zombie apocalypse or even the sort of aggravation Moneyweek has been trying to scare its readers shitless about to sell more magazines.

    There are far too many people in the world for us all to live the American Dream of the 1950s never mind like the Wolf of Wall Street, although I hazard that we could all live like kings of old materially.  But I have come to see the wisdom of accepting the uncertainty without dwelling on it – coffee for the things I can do something about, red wine for those that I can’t change. The bearish argument always sounds smarter. But as a way of living life to the full it sucks – it raises your blood pressure and makes you miserable. So I am going to park that. Yes, I may one day regret not having a bug out bag and guns and ammo. But hopefully I will also have missed living ten or twenty years thinking about the bug out bag and the ammo. Humans need to be careful gazing long into the abyss, because else the bastard will blink and look back into you.

    What I know will go wrong

    There are some things we do know. Brexit or not will scare the horses, and it’s an intricate mess from which it’s hard to see which way is up. Taxes will rise, because they have to, we’ve lived beyond our means for a long time and are still at it. For all the bellyaching income taxes are in fact at low levels in living history, which is part of the problem. The young Ermine at the start of his career paid a much bigger proportion of his pay in tax and national insurance 5 than the old Ermine in the last three years of his career. The solution to paying high taxes is be no tall poppy – live a reasonably economical life, because then you have the push-back of lots of people on your side. If you are going to live more than  a third up Fire V London’s scale you are going to pay a shitload of tax until you get into the upper reaches (whereupon you will pay clever people to avoid tax for you in creative and highly inventive ways). Likewise if you want to live in London and decide your children are special flowers who need private education, then this decision creates a fierce money burning furnace that you need to continually feed. You will find it difficult to minimise taxation and need to focus on increasing income to feed the fire. You takes your lifestyle choices and you pays your money.

    There may, however, be trouble in raising taxation. I can imagine the integration of NI and income tax, which would hit me with a tax hike on pension income. Reducing tax exemptions are another way. Pundits are screaming blue murder about tax relief above the basic rate on pension contributions. In the UK 15% of people pay over half the income tax take. Monevator is talking about going Galt with dark mutterings about  “supporting other people’s lifestyle choices, rather than the essentials of State and a worthwhile safety net”. This was a large part of my hitting pension savings hard too.

    On the other hand I find it hard to view people spending less time at the office as a bad thing. They really should spend more time with their children and see them grow up – my working class parents saw more of me growing up in the employment environment of 40 years ago than typical middle class parents both working to pay for their consumption do now. The latter of course have far more and better Stuff and numerous fast and furious fancy foreign holidays, but time isn’t a renewable resource. The days are long but the years are short. If the robots really are going to come for our jobs then more free time is an upside, not something going wrong 😉 The trouble is a lot of people won’t have that choice, the power structure is such that extra productivity will likely increase the return on capital rather than increasing overall human happiness. The solutions Asimov’s Solarians took to arranging their society so the humans had a high standard of living in a work-free world always cause palpitations in right-thinking people, so I don’t know how that will pan out.

    ambitions in things other than finance too

    There seems to be a big thing about goals and metrics in the PF community. Personally I think goals and metrics suck the joy out of life and work, so I don’t do that. But a total amorphous mess isn’t effective either, so I have some ambitions. January is a terrible time of year to try and start anything – we really should be starting our year somewhere between February and May so you get a bit of a leg-up in cheer and hope from Nature. Although if we are all going to sit behind screens in a virtual world like those Solarians perhaps that will become irrelevant in the years to come. We will become Spacers all watched over by machines of loving grace with “All other contact accomplished by sophisticated telepresence viewing systems”  – with the smartphone as the fore-runner of the technology.

    So rather than goals I am going to go for ambitions, and I will change my mind frequently and give some of them up ere the month is out in the time-honoured tradition 🙂

    No thanks. Unlike the rest of the country, I am lighter and richer in January ;)

    No thanks. Unlike the rest of the country, I am lighter and richer in January 2016  than in December 2015 😉

    I don’t need tosh like this – the joy of owning my own time is that life is more chilled, and as a result I eat better and less. It also helps that a lot of what I eat comes from the ground, not from the industrial food system, for that I have Mrs Ermine and the Oak Tree farm to thank.

    Chris with the squash harvest. There are no Clubcard points on this lot...

    Chris with the squash harvest. There are no Clubcard points on this lot…

    Unlike it appears the rest of the UK, I managed to lose weight in December, and have been for some time since retiring. It is within the realms of possibility that I may one day see the same weight as when I was 21, before I draw my main pension. This is an aspect of health that I persistently and continuously screwed up while working – retire and I discover the forces of natural equilibrium slowly shift to the right target. I have still never seen the inside of a stinky gym and I’m not going to. But I have the time to walk and bike to places within the town, I don’t usually drive unless I am going to leave the city limits or shift heavy stuff. It should be noted that average people like me 6 are way, way too lazy to lose weight through exercise. You can’t outrun a bad diet.

    I want to do some hillwalking, to see prehistoric stones, to travel more slowly, to cycle in interesting places 7 in the UK.

    Living frugally simplifies some decisions. I want to still live well and intentionally even if this simplification is lifted.

    I’m not drinking homebrew again.

    I want to learn morse code.

    One thing I want to do in 2016 is to bust some of the media junk out of my life and to read less crap. Before the millennium people wrote books because they had a story to tell, and publishers were valuable gatekeepers because they had to take a financial risk to publish. Increasingly it seems people write ebooks because it’s seen as a way of making money, rather than telling a story, they trade websites because they want to buy the clicks and SEO without adding value. Movie companies trot out sequels and prequels because they’re safe. All in all the media and information space is trending towards arbitrage and extractive rentierism, and the quality of material online and the signal to noise ratio of search results is falling. I spent perhaps too much of the last three years, looking at the world through screens. It was cheap and I learned a lot, but I noticed an increase in clickbait and content farming and a material decline in quality.

    I want to originate, and to co-operate with creative people. I want to tell stories because I think they are worth telling, and to create and shape things because I think they are interesting. And I am privileged enough to be rich enough that I don’t need to try and make a buck, I want to pursue the intellectual freedom to craft and leave my work to speak for itself.

    man-with-savingsI want to leave the world of grubbing for money behind, it is coarsening a lot of discourse as it becomes always-on. In the gig economy work spreads like velveeta into all waking hours. I occasionally talk to people and see the hungriness in their eyes as they are trying to compute whether I am a networking opportunity. I can save them the trouble. I am an introvert, a retiree and of independent means. My networking value to the gig economy is bugger all, I’m not swimming in the same ocean.

    I will engage if something interests me, but people find it hard to understand that it is difficult to incentivize an Ermine with money, despite it being the universal currency of making people do what you want. There are surprisingly few people of independent means in the modern world, despite that fact that Britain is a far richer country than we used to be. The ever-hungry money furnace of consumerism is making most of us poorer faster than human ingenuity and the accumulated capital and knowledge of generations is making us richer.

    I want to preserve the sweetness of this freedom from the rat race, expressed well in this 1960s ad. For thirty years I was motivated by earning more, before I was challenged by events to ask myself why. The learning and the wisdom gained in the crucible was hard won, to change the ‘just because it’s what everybody else does’ to ‘I need enough, and enough more than enough to match my risk perception and view of the world, and then stop and get off this hamster wheel’. Work is overrated – even a frugal Ermine could live like a king of old.

    On the flipside, I don’t do some of the things retirees do to fill their days. I don’t volunteer, because if you want a commitment from me you have to pay, to express some appreciation for the commitment. Otherwise you may get assistance from me, but on my own terms and with no strings. That’s just me, it’s not a criticism of other people living by different values.

    I can pursue some interests I mothballed because they were expensive, travel, birdwatching, recording and photography 8. I may buy the oscilloscope I considered a while ago.  In general it’s yes to experiences and tools and to things I use to make and do things with other people, no to the beach and no to ‘this XYZ (mobile phone, gizmo, whatever) will transform your life’ – it never does.

    I want focus. I want to do one thing at a time and pursue flow. I want to listen to music again as I did years ago – in the dark and on my hifi once it’s been repaired. I want to get off the modern trend towards doing three-and-a-half things badly rather than one thing well at any given time. I have trialled some of this with books – when I read books I read exclusively. And if the book bores me enough that I feel I want to do something else then after about five minutes I stop reading and decide this is not for me. I don’t listen to music or audiobooks when I am on my bike. I listen to the birds and try and be aware of the traffic around me, not immerse myself in a e-bubble. Consumerism being what it is, it is trying to turn this into the modern self-help religion of mindfulness. Two generations ago, parents and schoolteachers knew all about mindfulness with the two simple words – “pay attention” 🙂

    I want to keep regular use of smartphones out of my life. They have their uses, but they should not become a vade mecum, despite everybody else feeling that way. If Steve Hilton can run a tech startup without a phone a retired Ermine can resist becoming a gormless zombie illuminated by the blue glow of the latest iPhandroid whatever. It is very very hard to originate anything on a smartphone, but it is a fabulous tool for passive consumption and tethering to the Hive Mind. If I want to take pictures I’ll use a camera. If I am recording I will use an audio recorder. I don’t want to tote a device that does sixty-seven things all at half cock. Jennifer Lawrence was absolutely right. You can’t live your whole life behind your phone, bro

    That’ll do for ambitions for now. Across the lean years I learned how to bridge the gap with not enough, and now I want to learn to live well with enough, and live intentionally, and with grace and kindness. I am a different me from the mindless consumer, and I will handle the change slowly and carefully, because the world has become even more talented at invoking mindless consumerism, and presumably some of my inherent flaws are still latent. The challenge now is to spend wisely under my control, rather than being constrained by resources.

    So yes, I want to spend more this year than last. But I want to claim the gift of the seven lean years, and spend it to enhance the quality of my life and that of those I care about, rather than to fill my house with consumer trash and my time with empty manufactured experiences. And I’d like to learn to do it with gratitude. Because for all the challenges and the doomsday razamatazz on the news, I live in a special time and place, where humanity has solved a lot of tough problems and it’s working on more. I want to tip my hat to the giants on whose shoulders we all stand, and not waste that gift in the time I have left.

    Notes:

    1. this is conveniently and by design roughly the maximum rate I can draw keeping below the tax threshold, plus 25% from the PCLS
    2. obviously an unending economic crash would take me out like everyone else
    3. this is not strictly true, there are all sorts of bottom-feeding lowlife scum that lend money to people who don’t have incomes. I’m just not prepared to swim in that foetid pool
    4. note this is £50,000 on S&S ISAs not the higher £75,000 level for cash deposits. This is protection against your platform going bust, not against you making bad investment decisions
    5. the single person’s personal allowance was appallingly low in 1982, less than a quarter of a modest pay level, then tax on the rest at 30% plus NI at 9% means the youthful Ermine paying 39% was closer to a modern HRT taxpayer at 42% marginal than a BRT taxpayer at  32%, and paid that high tax on much more of his modest salary than the old Ermine, although that was distorted by pension contributions of the latter
    6. I deeply detest all sports and have done ever since school, and yet it is quite remarkable that a sport-loathing Ermine is in fact a lot less inactive than much of the adult population of the UK. Just nowhere near active enough to shift the needle on the dial regarding weight
    7. taking the bike most of the way there in my camper van 😉
    8. I actually turned a profit on the latter two over the last three years. But I was using fossil wealth in terms of gear bought while working, and was limited in opportunity by limitations in finance
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