It’s been awhile since my last post, other than my usual monthly financial report. This post took a lot of thought and introspection, and I wanted to make sure I got it right.
I woke up early about 2 weeks ago with my son, and I was reading him the Dr. Seuss classic “Oh! The Places You’ll Go.” It’s a common graduation gift, but I think the story is worthwhile for both children and adults. As with many Dr. Suess books, this story painfully and accurately describes our culture and warns us of common human conditions.
The story talks about your future and describes the highest highs and the lowest lows. It doesn’t pretend that life will be easy, but it also has an optimistic tone. But the verse that stole my focus happens about half way through the book, where Suess warns the reader of the “most useless place” you could go: The Waiting Place.
You can get so confused that you’ll start in to race
down long wiggled roads at a break-necking pace
and grind on for miles across weirdish wild space,
headed, I fear, toward a most useless place.
The Waiting Place…
for people just waiting.
Waiting for a train to go or a bus to come,
or a plane to go or the mail to come,
or the rain to go or the phone to ring,
or the snow to snow or waiting around for a Yes or No
or waiting for their hair to grow.
Everyone is just waiting.
Waiting for the fish to bite
or waiting for wind to fly a kite
or waiting around for Friday night
or waiting, perhaps, for their Uncle Jake
or a pot to boil, or a Better Break
or a string of pearls, or a pair of pants
or a wig with curls, or Another Chance.
Everyone is just waiting.
And so I had to ask myself the question… Am I in “the waiting place?” After all, I’ve documented a very transparent account of my plan to retire in 2 years and start a new (retired) life. I have the desire and the means to retire immediately, and yet I wait.
But then the good doctor goes on and reminds me…
No! That’s not for you!
Somehow you’ll escape all that waiting and staying.
You’ll find the bright places where Boom Bands are playing.
With banner flip-flapping, once more you’ll ride high!
Ready for anything under the sky.
Ready because you’re that kind of a guy!
Yes, I am that kind of a guy. Yet, at the same time, I have to be honest with myself and admit that I’m waiting until May 2013 to retire. I have an ethical reason to stay at my job, and there are clear financial benefits – but how do I ensure that I’m not just sitting in the waiting place for 2 years?
So I came up with a new proposal for my job. Something new, unique, and kind of fun. Since I lead a program where the majority of my team is in Shanghai I proposed to my director that I work a few hours in the morning with my local co-workers, then take off around lunch and I don’t return. I don’t log in, I don’t carry my work phone.
I then log in after dinner and I work with my Shanghai team. No guilt of leaving the office mid-day, no guilt of only working 5-6 hours per day. It’s more efficient, gives me more quality time with my kids, and it’s different and fun. When it popped into my mind, I instantly felt like I had escaped the waiting place. I was no longer sitting around waiting 19 more months until retirement – I was paving a new path and doing things on my schedule! I’ve now been doing this for a little over a week and I’m really enjoying it.
More importantly, I realized an important lesson. Although I often talk about extreme early retirement as a goal, it’s important for me not to confuse a major milestone with a goal. In my case, the real goal is to do things my own way (freedom), to control my own destiny, and to spend more relaxed/quality time with my family. As long as I remember my true goals, it’s far easier to stay on track. This will be equally as important in retirement – since retirement will not guarantee these goals by itself.
My hope for anyone reading this is to make sure you have clear lifestyle goals- not early retirement, world travel, money, power, etc – but the real underlying and personally satisfying goals. And to ensure that you are not in “the waiting place” of those goals. Instead, somehow escape, because “you’re that kind of a guy.”
Think seriously about this. Are you in your own personal waiting place?
(You can read Seuss’ whole story here, but I strongly suggest you visit the library so you can experience it with pictures – it’s worth it)