Mothers won’t agree, but nine months sure flies by!

a clock with wings - time flies

Retirement is full of changes, and after nine months that isn’t any different. Nine months or around 40 weeks is regarded as the average length of a full term pregnancy for humans. From my own family’s experience, I wouldn’t say that those months sail by unnoticed. Expecting moms experience a seemingly never-ending series of changes, many of which are unpleasant or uncomfortable. A new addition to the family is of course a happy outcome and that makes it all well worth it!

This week marks nine months since I left the workplace and my career of 23 years. In most respects, it is hard for me to believe that it has already been that long! I believe that feeling would be even more so were it not for the existence of the COVID-19 pandemic and the lifestyle changes it has manifested for us all. But even in the atmosphere of lockdowns, reduced travel, and limited social interactions, I would say that time has passed quickly. Has there been a “birth” of some project or new venture that will define my next phase of life? Not yet, but as we’ll discuss, that isn’t a problem in the least!

What is the same and what’s changed after nine months?

As I did at the six month milestone, I thought it would be useful to review how things have been going across an array of categories. But I’ll try a new article format in the interest of keeping things fresh!

  • Schedule:
    • I’m still largely using mornings for a mixture of entertainment consumption, chores, and my daily walk. If I have a busy day ahead, I often cook dinner in the morning as well. For those who don’t know me – yes, I’m still up before dawn! That is seemingly just me and has nothing to do with whether I’m working or not.
    • Afternoons remain largely for skill-building and education that may yield my next project or business venture. Importantly, I’ve increased the overall time I’ve spent on this area!
    • I have a couple of Zoom happy hours each week and these remain an important outlet to stay connected to good friends, family, and former colleagues. I feel like I’m talking to the last group less these days, barring a select few people. I’m a bit sad about that given how many colleagues I enjoyed hanging out with. But from my reading I know this is common. Work tied those relationships together and with that gone and with little travel happening, it makes sense.
  • Skill building and making:
    • I’ve pushed much harder to make progress on my iOS development journey in recent months. I’ve now completed or made significant progress on three courses. I’ve also released a simple app on the Apple Store, and developed several others just for the entertainment of myself and some friends.
    • I’m still cooking a lot! I managed to make all seven of the Oaxacan moles (my recipe database is here), which was an extension of a long-standing bucket list item (make mole negro). But I’ve now moved onto Indian cuisine! I’m really enjoying this change and since we have no Indian restaurants in town, it’s rather self-serving. ?
    • I am learning tons about YouTube, video production, and a host of other things from the Two Sides of FI project that my friend Eric and I have begun. It’s still early days for the channel but I remain excited about the different directions it may go. I have much to learn so this needs to take even more of my time and I’m working on that presently!
  • Giving:
    • I had always planned to do more volunteer work in “retirement”, particularly since my financial giving is way down from when I was working. I’ve recently started volunteering once a week at our local COVID vaccination clinic and am really enjoying the gratification I get from it. I felt needed at work and volunteering is filling that gap!
    • I am also taking more phone calls from friends and former colleagues who are interested in early retirement, have financial planning questions, or related topics. At the core this is just being a good friend. I am happy that I now have the time to devote to such things without concern for what work or tasks are being put off, and I enjoy it.
  • Fun:
    • My family is still enjoying learning about our new home in the Central Coast of CA. We’ve continued to explore area hiking, as well as the many wineries and breweries in our town and close by. We are ever thankful for our temperate climate given the need for outdoor activities during COVID restrictions. Location, location, location!
    • Socialization remains as it has been for most of us – very limited. We have one couple we see occasionally and this has been a vital outlet. Moving away from friends and being geographically distant from family has been tough when combined with our present circumstance – and the opposite of what I’d planned after leaving work.
    • While I had been enjoying getting back into the World of Warcraft game, I haven’t played in a few weeks. First, a good friend with whom I enjoyed playing, has been busy with other things. Second, I’ve been enjoying my other pursuits so much that gaming time wasn’t a priority. Don’t worry: I’m far from being done with gaming, of course!
  • Emotional
    • As at the six month time point, my mental state remains… ever changing! Though I’m happy to report that the variability is now much less so. I still have days where my usual excitement about figuring out “what comes next” turns into concern or is otherwise unpleasant. On the whole those days are much rarer now, which is great!
    • I’m also working on taking time to clear my head and allow for uninterrupted thinking. I’ve realized that I have some bad habits to break, and some easy remedies have included taking my walks in silence and not bringing my phone. This is definitely a development area for me but I know it is one that will pay off many-fold!

So what’s next?

As I wrote above, there is no “birth announcement” about what comes next – YET. At times I find myself feeling like that means I’m somehow behind the curve. But it is at these times that I remind myself of my plan – I now have the freedom to take the time (or not) required to figure out what comes next. Skills building and pure educational time is a central and essential aspect of that! Importantly, there is no pressure to keep to any specific schedule. The hallmark of achieving financial independence is a lack of any requirement to “do something” that will generate income. I’m seeking the “next thing” because I want to, and am excited to create / do / experience something new!

I remain absolutely convinced that one of my many wandering paths will yield the fruit that will manifest as a central element of this next phase in my life. As my good friend Eric reminds me, most often you have to try and “fail” at a variety of things before you land on the one about which you are truly passionate and that will produce what you are seeking. This is so different than what projects in my work life were like, so it’s no surprise that at times I find myself forgetting that is indeed the nature of the beast! But I’m getting better about remembering that. I’ve got a few irons in the fire that could turn out to be that thing – but I’m totally OK if they are not! It’s all learning, growth, and yes – fun.

Once again, I am thankful for all those who are experiencing this journey with me – whether through the blog, the YouTube channel, or just in conversation. Your input and guidance means a lot. Most of all, I am grateful for my family. This is a huge change for all of us still – even nine months later. I am so thankful for the strong support I get even in my most uncertain of moods. I am excited for all that is still to come and know that it will be a great adventure!

image credit: “time flies” by Robert Couse-Baker is licensed under CC BY 2.0

It’s hard to break bad habits developed at work

Kyocera smartphone device

Yesterday I was setting out on my daily walk, during which I generally listen to audiobooks (I’m currently enjoying If It Bleeds, by Stephen King). As I was putting on my headphones I started thinking that I didn’t yet have a blog post topic for this week. I generally have a few ideas percolating but as yet hadn’t come up with anything I thought was compelling. I decided to take the highly unusual step of leaving my headphones and my ever-present iPhone behind to avoid being distracted. That would help me focus on topic generation, right? I didn’t get 50 feet from my front door before I realized that I already my idea! Once again, I’ve realized that I’m still adapting to leaving the workplace just eight months ago.

The tethering begins! 20 years of my life with smartphones

As has been widely reported, many of us spend a lot of time with our smartphones. As an early technology adopter, I’ve had one as long as they’ve been available. In fact, I had one of the very first: the Kyocera smartphone model 6035, shown in the picture above. It was released in 2001, meaning I’ve had a “pocket tether” for 20 years! It looks like not much more than a Palm Pilot PDA (for those who remember those), but it had text messaging and even a simple web browser! Early on it was definitely just a novelty and not something that “owned me” in any way. Given the cost of cellular data and the very slow speeds of the same, that’s pretty understandable. No one else had one at work, either. So there was no pull coming from that source – yet.

In 2006, two jobs later, I started using a company-supplied Blackberry for work. Things were fine using it that first year. I was still working in R&D and while having access to email at all times was convenient, I felt no compulsion to use it much outside of work. Besides, Blackberry apps weren’t very compelling barring a few simple games. However, once I moved into a new role where I was supporting customer collaborations using not-yet-released products – generally high risk and short timeline, things changed. I began checking my email and text messages much more often. My team was working at odd hours sometimes and I needed to stay in touch with them. My boss wanted to be kept up to speed. My habits shifted to manage these expectations and needs. I started doing a bit of work-related travel again, and the Blackberry made it convenient to keep in touch with my coworkers and customers. This began increasing once I left R&D for a Product Management role. I soon learned that this was only the beginning…

The iPhone and my downward spiral into bad habits

The real step-up didn’t happen until I got my iPhone. In 2010 I joined a startup biotech company leading a nascent customer support organization. We were doing some truly exciting work, but it was also early days for our technology. Not everything went to plan for our customers and my team was out there training them and fixing anything that went awry. I needed to stay in touch with my team, my customers, and the management of the company. As I my remit was global in nature, text messages and emails started coming at all times as well as on the weekend, and I was obliged to deal with them. Time is money and nothing takes a simmering situation to an explosion faster than someone having to wait “too long” for a response. I was one of the key links in the chain that had to stay intact, and my behavior only got worse as our customer base grew. Few things get you moving faster than messages from the CEO of your company, I can assure you!

In that job and in my final role before leaving the workplace, I traveled a lot – most of which was international. This coincided with the true explosion of social media. That combination meant my iPhone increasingly became a tool to keep in touch with family and friends. I was on planes, in airports, hotels, and taking other transit often. Apps like Facebook, Foursquare, and Instagram became ways to spend idle time as well as to share my experiences with my network. Combine that activity with all the texting and emailing I did for bona fide work purposes, and you have an awful lot of time staring at a small screen. It never seemed “bad” to me, but it was certainly something I spent a lot of hours doing. It makes sense, right? I generally traveled alone and that meant filling the hours and hours of space between work obligations.

Like many people, these behaviors spilled over into my personal life when I wasn’t traveling. My wife, Lorri and I had a number of conversations over the years about “being present” when I was at home, particularly in those years when our daughter was young. I only had weekends and evenings when I wasn’t traveling to spend time with her. She had a great point, of course! I found it next to impossible to put the emails and texts from work aside, but surely she was right. I tried some of the usual remedies like leaving the phone somewhere else during meals, and also attempted not to use it before going to bed – with mixed success, admittedly. My never-ending device time was having a negative impact on my family not to mention myself. Nothing prevents you from going to sleep (or causes you to wake early) like receiving a bad work message at bedtime! Surely these habits stopped when I ceased working eight months ago, right?

Post-workplace realizations

While I no longer have the work-related emails and texts to manage since retiring early – which is great! – I realize that I still spend far more time with my phone than I should. On the plus side, I do use more of that time productively than I used to – audiobooks have been really great for me as one example. However, I realized yesterday how far I still need to go. I’ve developed a bunch of bad habits and I need to change them. I previously turned off most app notifications and that’s been great. Facebook is no longer on my home screen so I can’t see the notifications count badge. That’s not enough. I can and should do more!

Walking without my phone yesterday I realized several important and perhaps obvious things. First, left with only my thoughts, my mind wandered lots of places during that hour walk. I didn’t just think about the blog, but also about some potential business ideas. I also thought about next steps with my new YouTube channel, Two Sides of FI. I also must admit that normally I don’t just use my phone to listen to audiobooks during my walk. I’m often receiving text messages while walking, many of which I answer. What a distraction! Couldn’t I just use Do Not Disturb mode? Of course I could. But I’d still be able to pick up the phone and Google something I saw on my walk, or take a photo and maybe even post it online. Maybe I can’t be “trusted” to have a phone during these times? (I can’t – yet.)

My plan of action

I’m going to stop listening to audiobooks during my walk – at least for now. The core issue is that I am still driven to fill empty space with “stuff”, rather than taking time to just think and experience the world around me. I don’t mean to suggest this is some profound realization I’m making for the world here. Many others have come to the same conclusion! But for me this is an important step in dealing with a long-standing issue. I’m so attached to technology given my nature, and I love having ready access to my phone. But I don’t need it at all times.

With this behavioral change, it will mean I’ll be delayed in responding to some things and I won’t be the first to share others. I know that will be OK and as a result, I’ll have more “technology downtime” in which I can think about more important things. I’d say “or think about about nothing at all”, but that’s not how my brain works. It’s a noisy place but that’s who I am and I’m comfortable with that. I do think my mind could benefit from a lack of competition with audiobooks, text messages, and apps sometimes. I didn’t think about this topic at all during my “9 Secrets to Success in Retirement” article but I’m realizing these changes may be essential to my own success and well being!

How about you? Have you come to similar realizations and done anything in response? I’m open to suggestions! They would surely be of help to me and others, so please share. Thanks!

image credit: https://www.canadianbusiness.com/kyocera-6035/

What role does luck play in determining one’s success?

fortune cookie - fortunate about luck

I saw this image on social media early this week and immediately knew I wanted to write about this topic. Merriam-Webster Online defines luck (noun) as “a force that brings good fortune or adversity; the events or circumstances that operate for or against an individual” and “favoring chance”. There are certainly some clear-cut examples of how luck can be transformative by any measure – winning a massive lottery payout comes to mind. On the other hand, some among us suggest that barring exceptions like this, you are solely responsible for your success in life via hard work and persistence. But is it really that simple and there is no role at all for luck to play? Like most things, the truth is a bit more complex, and that is the subject of today’s post.

If you are reading this, you are among the lucky!

At a foundational level, there are a host of factors outside of our individual control that provide each of us with a starting point in life. This includes where and when you are born, your genetic composition, who is responsible for your upbringing, your access to clean water and good nutrition, and the nature of your early education. However, this short list is made up of truly vital elements that play an essential role in defining who we are, and what advantages we have starting out in this world. Just the fact that I am writing this article on my laptop and that you are reading it, means we had a number of things in our favor that the majority of human beings living now did not. So right here it seems there is a very real role for luck or good fortune to play.

It’s easy to underestimate or wholly set aside this fact, and it can also be a bit uncomfortable to think about it. While I didn’t come from a wealthy family, I had so much going for me right from the beginning: I was born in the United States in the 20th century, had two parents who cared for me, I had easy access to good medical care, healthy food and water, and was able to take advantage of public education from 5-18 years old. These things surely set me on a path with a higher likelihood of success in life, and I consider that to be a very fortunate circumstance indeed. Can you make it in this world without these things? Yes, and it always makes a good story to highlight those amazing and inspiring people who do. But surely those individuals are outliers, right? I absolutely consider myself to be a lucky person to have had these early advantages in life. I try to be mindful of this fact but it is so easy to take these things for granted.

The role for luck in the workplace

Let’s accept that the above circumstances are out of our control, and move on to the topic of our work lives. I’ve written a series of posts on what I view as the keys to success in the workplace. While the bulk of those articles concern behavioral choices we make, a number of times I made reference to the idea of luck and timing. It is my assertion that there absolutely is a role for good fortune to play in one’s career success. You can do all the right things, follow great practices and work hard, and yet your eventual achievements may well be quite different from someone else who follows similar (or even worse) practices, or who works not nearly as hard as you. I’m certain you will agree with this sentiment!

In my own career, I can think of a number of times where luck clearly had a role to play in my success. One that comes to mind is simply being in the right place at the right time, so that I had the opportunity to take part in a conversation, in which I suggested an idea that turned into a career-changing job. Another time, I emailed a former coworker out of the blue to meet for lunch after not seeing him for nearly two years. A week later I had a job interview at his company. As a result of that, I got the role, met my future wife, and found myself on a new fork in my career path. Numerous great and several very unlikely outcomes manifested from that one email! And of course there is the stock market. Like many, I’ve benefitted from market conditions, where the value of company equity I held proved to be very high (or in other times, not very much at all) due to factors having nothing to do with my own work or my company’s performance. We just rode along with the performance of the sector or the market overall.

Luck and the value of taking more shots on goal

Ice hockey phenom Wayne Gretzky is credited with the quote “You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take”. I recently learned that his full statement continues on to “even though there is only a 1-5% probably of scoring”. That’s pretty impactful, no? Applied to the workplace, I believe you can absolutely create opportunities for good things to happen by your efforts – or as the picture for this post suggests, via hard work.* While you cannot “make” unlikely events happen, my assertion is that you can increase the chance that you will benefit from them when they do.

In my own experience, some of the ways I have most deliberately done so is via embracing change and developing practices where I can not only work hard, but smartly as well. This is a form of trying to “make my own luck” or more accurately, providing opportunities for lightning to strike – more shots on goal. I don’t mean to trivialize something so important, but I do think this is an apt analogy. By creating more opportunities for things to happen, my experience shows you will have a higher likelihood of being able to take advantage of the situations when they arise.

Real examples of putting it in practice

One of the simplest things I’ve found of benefit is just making sure people keep you in mind for opportunities. Most roles don’t go to “the best” candidate out there. Practically speaking, more often they go to “the best candidate that presents themself”. In my work life, I tried to leverage this in several ways. First, I ensured people at my company knew who I was and what my capabilities were. Part of that is indeed working hard and leveraging your strengths, but the rest is just networking. In addition, I’ve always actively maintained my network of contacts. LinkedIn makes that even easier, but even prior to its existence I always kept up with people. Merely by ensuring that I stayed abreast of what former colleagues were doing, I created new job opportunities on a number of occasions. Couple that with a willingness to embark upon new ventures, and you will create more opportunities for luck to impart its magic!

Another essential pursuit in my mind is to never stop learning. Constant skill-building and personal growth is vital towards creating chances for good fortune to strike. Not everything I’ve done individually was necessarily successful or yielded great outcomes. However, in combination, those experiences have certainly led to good things. While I was trained as a scientist and worked in that capacity for the first half of my career, I didn’t stop there. I moved into product management to build my commercial skills and broaden my experience. This had the benefit of enabling me to become a viable candidate for new roles, while also expanding my network. That led to a series of new job opportunities for me, several of which proved to be both lucrative, and also positive in terms of experience and job satisfaction. That’s not to say I wouldn’t have found success had I continued in R&D. But I definitely accelerated my career advancement and was able to take some additional shots on goal via these new paths.

One further thought: I had long planned to retire early from a traditional career, and took a variety of deliberate steps to enable this goal. I achieved financial independence in 2019, and left the workplace about a year later (8 months ago). While the path I followed would have taken me to that aim as planned, in reality I achieved my goal several years earlier than I had originally projected. Some of this is certainly due to good luck – very favorable stock market performance in recent years was one major factor. But other reasons included precisely what I’ve described here. I created opportunities for good things to happen by the choices I made. Those lucky events still needed to occur, of course. But I ensured that I had a better chance of being able to benefit from them when they did.

In conclusion

Does luck have a role to play in one’s career success? I absolutely believe that it does, and a good deal of this is out of your control. However, the ways in which you work can also increase the likelihood of your individual ability to benefit from unlikely things! We may not wholly “make our own luck”, but we can certainly stack the deck in our favor along the way. I would assert there is tremendous value in doing so and have been fortunate to experience the positive outcomes that can result. I hope that you have too and will continue to do so in the future!

* With apologies to my British readers – here the image refers to the US expression “busting your butt” i.e. working hard