Saturday, March 29, 2014

The Early Retirement Extreme Movement

As a follow up to my post from last week, I read an interesting article on the Early Retirement Extreme (ERE) movement.  After I posted a link to the article on Facebook, one of my good friends, who is actually planning on retiring at 55, immediately responded.  You would think she would be supportive of the article. Instead, she seemed angry and questioned whether anyone could save 75% of their income without making 'a ton of money', considering 30% of her income goes to taxes and tithing. I pointed out that the ERE folks are simply suggesting that *ideally* we should try to save 75% of our income. For most folks, that's not feasible. But she couldn't seem to get past that 75% number.

Anyway, my takeaway from the article is that early retirement requires a lot of discipline and commitment on the front end, so you can enjoy more freedom and options on the back end.  But please, don't get hung up on that 75% figure. It's an aspirational goal, not an absolute requirement :-)

I like how the article ends by summarizing what it takes to succeed in early retirement: "Having meaningful activities to fill the day is key to successful retirement at any age..."  I guess that's what I was trying to say in my last post. I want to live my life with purpose and meaning regardless of my age or stage in life.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Thinking about Retirement

This post is going to sound as if I'm just complaining my downstairs neighbors.  And to a certain extent, I am. But it's also a reflection on aging well and living a meaningful life during our supposed 'golden years'.

I live in a fairly quiet community.  For the most part, the residents are close to retirement or already retired. And the couple living beneath me are will into their 80s, with children and grandchildren living nearby. Ironically, the condo development across the street is filled with young couples and young families, but having lived in a yuppie condo building in a busy neighborhood in the city, I was craving solitude and silence.

When I first moved into my current condo nearly 7 years ago, my neighbors were super friendly and upbeat. They would do little things for me, like bringing in my trash can from the curb and placing it near my garage door every single week while I was at school or at work. They stopped to chat with me whenever they saw me.  I admired them because they were extremely active, getting up early nearly every morning to go for a 3 mile walk. But then a couple of things started happening that made me think their lives were not so idyllic. I noticed that they were putting their trash in my garbage can, presumably to try to save some money (residents have to pay for garbage stickers vs. pay a monthly fee). They emailed me multiple times to ask me to print out coupons and plane tickets for them because the didn't have a printer. They called me to help troubleshoot and fix their WiFi network, which I found odd, since they have family, including adult grandchildren, living nearby. They asked me to pick up their mail for them every day, while they were on vacation, instead of asking the post office to hold their mail. And they told me that they do laundry for their adult daughter who hasn't been able to hold down a steady job for years because she struggles with anxiety and depression.

Because of my current job, I have a really long commute. So, during the work week, I get up at the crack of dawn to try to avoid traffic. On the weekends, I look forward to sleeping in. But every Saturday morning at 7AM, without fail, my neighbors start slamming doors and making a ton of noise.  It took me a while to figure out that they do their weekly cleaning and errands on Saturday mornings.  In my head, I was thinking, "You're retired. You could do this on any other given day, when no one is home and the stores are less crowded."  But my guess is that they grew accustomed to doing everything on Saturdays during most of their adult life, and now they can't seem to change their schedule.

And as for double standards, the husband is hard of hearing and the wife is extremely sensitive to noise and has a hard time falling asleep at night.  So, often when I get home from work, they have TV set at high volume.  But thankfully, they turn the volume off at 9PM, which is when they apparently decide that it's time to go to bed.  A few weeks ago, I turned my TV on to watch the opening ceremony of the winter Olympics and didn't turn it off until 10:30PM. Mind you, I rarely watch TV, and if I do watch a movie, it's with my headphones on. But the next morning at 6:30AM, the neighbors literally started slamming each and every door in their condo *multiple* times.  I mean, multiple times. Later that week, I used my hair dryer once at 10PM, and presumably the wife, started slamming doors to let me know that she was displeased.  I finally emailed them to 'apologize' for disturbing them and asking them to let me know if I'm being too loud.  To be honest, I was just tired of the passive aggressive behavior.  I guess I expected more mature behavior from them.  It's both disheartening and somewhat depressing to realize that my neighbor is effectively imposing her impossibly rigid schedule on someone who is literally half her age.

A few days ago, when it snowed early in the morning, I noticed that the wife was outside shoveling the snow....even though the predicted high for the day was 40 degrees....and the snow had already started melting.  As I pulled out of my garage, she waved at me, and I waved back.  But inside, I was just shaking my head in amazement.

All of this has prompted me to think about retirement (i.e., how I want to spend my twilight years). Admittedly, elderly people are known for having difficulty sleeping and craving predictability.  But other than a handful of roommates, I've lived by myself for most of my adult years. And I'm in even more danger of falling into a habit or routine and doing things just for the sake of doing them or because I've always done them that way.

I've been asking myself the following questions:

  • Will I be able to maintain a close network of family and friends I'll be able to call upon when I have problems rather than begging acquaintances for help?  
  • Will I be flexible enough to shift my schedule so that it takes advantage of the freedom that I'll have when I no longer need to commute to work? 
  • Will I be able to do things a different way when it makes sense?  Will I try to impose my schedule on other people?  
  • Will I finally focus on doing some of the things that I've been putting off for years?  Or will I engage in meaningless busy work, just to fill the hours and days?

In contrast to my neighbors, my parents (in their late 60s, early 70s), made the decision to move to CA last year, after having lived in the Chicagoland area for 40 plus years.  And after a few rough months where they complained incessantly about everything, they're now happy with their new life. They live next door to my brother's family, they take long walks each day, and they drive my niece to and from school.  They've developed new friendships with neighbors, and they're super involved at church, having started a new ministry to help mentor some of the younger couples and families. In addition to all that, in her early 60s, my mom started learning about day trading as a way to keep her mind active and earn extra income in her 'spare time', and she's become progressively better at it each year. Likewise, in his early 60s, my dad discovered that he had a gift for teaching and public speaking, and for a while, he was a regular teacher and guest preacher at church.

All this to say, I don't know what the future holds for me, but I know that I can start making some decisions now as to what my retirement years will look like.  And although there are many things that my parents have done wrong, they've also been a great example to me of how to live my life with meaning and purpose in the back nine.

Saturday, March 01, 2014

Open Office Environments

Studies have shown that rather than increasing collaboration, open office environments actually decrease productivity.  And after Susan Cain's TED talk on The Power of Introverts, it seems as if the trend is finally shifting away from the emphasis on collaboration and more towards contemplation. 

That being said, the CEO of the company where I'm currently working is a huge fan of Google.  Never mind the fact that we are not an innovative technology company. But in the past few months, he's actually been doubling down on the open office environment.  So, the new video conferencing rooms that were recently built out don't have doors.  Just imagine how disruptive that would be for the poor folks who sit in cubicles next to those conference rooms.  For someone like me, who has to do a lot of reading, writing and critical thinking, that would be sheer torture.

Nevertheless, this week, I was reminded that as in every situation, there are both pros and cons to an open office environment. On Monday morning, I squeezed some honey into my mug and immediately heard a coworker say 'Ewww!' before she realized that what she thought she heard wasn't what actually happened. Sigh.  But later that day, I had a nice conversation with my manager and two other guys with whom I share a cubicle wall.  And then Thursday, I overheard an older coworker use the term 'shag' repeatedly during a conference call.  I kept cringing every time he said it because I kept thinking about the movie 'Austin Powers' (as in 'shag, baby').  Yesterday, I overhead him use the term again. So, I finally walked over and asked if he know what the word 'shag' really means. He said he thought it meant 'to chase something down'.  And technically he's correct. But then I showed him the definition of the word from  He turned beet read and thanked me profusely for letting him know. Apparently, two of the guys on his conference call made snide remarks the first time he said the word, and everyone laughed, but the jokes went straight over his head. All this to say, he agreed that he should probably use a different word in the future.

So, on balance, I still hate the lack of privacy and the amount of noise and distractions that are inherent in any open office environments. But there are some redeeming moments that come from being in close contact with coworkers.