Mr. Fates retired several years ago. An executive for a Fortune 500 company, he left millions of dollars in future earnings on the table in favor of a life of freedom.
As fate would have it, there’s been a fair amount of turmoil in his post-C-suite life. A health crisis. An end to a marriage. An ongoing pandemic. Moving to a new state.
How has he navigated life’s twists and turns that could not have been foreseen?
This Friday Feature originally appeared on Fates on FIRE.
“It is late, so there is no line for the fortune teller.
While outside the cool night air is scented with caramel and smoke, this tent is warm and smells of incense and roses and beeswax.
The fortune-teller’s face is hidden behind a fine black veil, but the light catches her as she smiles.
She has no crystal ball. No deck of cards.
Only a handful of sparkling silver stars that she scatters across the velvet-covered table, reading them like runes.”
Reading them like magic.
The Future, Only Backwards
I adore the above passage from Erin Morgenstern and find it to be quite a fitting prelude to sharing my recent ruminations after 3 years of early retirement. Oddly, it’s as poignant now as it was on my first day of retirement. What would – what could – those sparkling silver stars reveal about our future, about the endless cavalcade of joys and disappointments that comprise our lives? The real magic is that the future cannot be coaxed to share itself, even by the most accomplished of fortune-tellers.
The true beauty and magic of living a life is the constant uncertainty. The not knowing.
As the classic adage goes, “timing is everything,” and indeed it has certainly been a profoundly interesting time to have recently retired. Moreover, my initial retirement plan was somewhat anomalous, thereby making it a trifle more stress-laden than many others, but I’ve still made it through to tell the tale.
Regular readers know that immediately upon my retirement, I began the process of building Fate Estate up here in the Washington countryside. In addition, I was simultaneously prepping my home in Southern California for sale. I would consider these both to be somewhat large-scale endeavors with each having massive financial implications.
The fact that I had done neither previously made it all the more challenging and time-consuming. In essence, it rendered my first 14 months to being a project manager, rather than the typical ‘International Man of Leisure’ that many envision as the lifestyle for the recently retired.
Moreover, the former Ms. Fate’s health took a turn for the worse which was an unexpected tribulation that required all manner of suffering through the Byzantine bureaucracy of the healthcare system with seemingly endless trips for diagnosis and then treatment. This was assuredly difficult, but made excessively worse with certain entities choosing not to do the right thing which ultimately required me taking several legal actions. We made it through the process, but it was a colossal and emotionally horrific experience that dragged on until the middle of last year.
So, as one might imagine, after nearly a year-and-a-half of “retirement” I was elated to finally get moved in to the new home. It had been a long, hard, but rewarding road as the house turned out brilliantly. It was late February 2020 when I first arrived. Finally. It was time to get out and play a bit and live a little.
Then the world shut down 13 days later. Such began all our collective “lost year” amid the COVID crisis. Ain’t that some sh1t?
Okay, so what was that about timing again? Oh, last, but not least, I also ended my marriage earlier this year, adding yet another major life change. So there you have it. All of this comprised the first 2.5 years of my retirement. Whew!
When I was contemplating all of these changes, I did discover Dartmouth University had developed a “Life Change Index” wherein 30 or so items are assigned a numerical value, the total of which correlate to the likelihood of a major illness. I scored over 300, thereby putting me at 80%, the highest (read: worst) score.
Strangely, I’ve actually never felt better than I have over the past 9 months. In fact, I can confidently state that this time period has been among the best times of my entire life. My health, my head, my heart and spirit are all soaring on unprecedented highs. Spring, summer, and now, fall have been profoundly dazzling and 2022 is shaping up to be one of the best years yet!
What’s the Sequency, Kenneth?
One of the most frequent, and frankly legitimate, fears that aspiring retirees have is the complete uncertainty of what type of market into which they are retiring. As such, we all pay close attention to and model out numbers attempting to somehow get those shining silver stars to assess what our real sequence of returns risk might actually be.
This is, unequivocally, one area where fortune has shined. In fact, she’s shined so very hard. I’ve not done the research, but in terms of market performance, it’s arguably, one of the best times in history to have retired. And for that, I am very, very grateful. It’s been such that not only has the risk of returns sequence been entirely obviated, it has actually had the opposite outcome of not only ensuring solvency, but will, likely, result in a healthy legacy.
I recently had the privilege of being interviewed by personal finance cool-cat and bon vivant Freddy Smidlap, wherein I received a question about what, if anything, I’d do differently. My response? If I knew that the market performance was going to be what it’s been, I would have retired 5-7 years earlier, but, alas, there was no black-veiled fortune-teller with a handful of sparkling silver stars about. Ces’t la vie.
All that said, it is a relief to no longer consider early retirement returns as well as experiencing historic market highs. I feel a bit like Theseus after having conquered the Minotaur in the labyrinth. Definitely some excellent timing on this front.
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Clarity of Vision, Clarity of Dreams
Throughout the past 3 years, I have stumbled on a few interesting revelations that have fundamentally shifted my perspective in a positive way, allowing me a level and depth of clarity that I previously lacked. They weren’t necessarily large, one-time events or moments, but more of a gradual, almost imperceptible, awakening of sorts.
Like many of us, prior to retirement I lived a very hectic and busy life, particularly professionally with a big job, weekly plane travel, and large amounts of responsibility. Aside from that were all of the other facets of my life with relationships, friends, family, hobbies, and the usual domestic chores. Of course, I was keenly aware how busy I was and that life was, principally, focused on managing by the minute. Not unlike a bee, relentlessly flitting about from flower to flower. Basically, I was in a perpetual state of distraction.
Despite all of the sundry initial retirement activity above, I slowly started to become less distracted and, as a consequence, more aware. Again, it was a very slow process and the revelation manifested itself this past summer. Assuredly, it’s easier to become more philosophical when there are very few demands on your time, but I’ve really become more aware of the universe, its vastness and my fleeting life in it.
While it may sound morose, I am far more aware of my own mortality. I’ve come to realize that even with my 30 statistically remaining years, there’s not enough time for me to experience, do, and see all the things I would like to. However, it really has served to be an inspiration and motivation for me to aggressively get out there and truly live life to its fullest because this journey’s only a one-way ticket long.
My pal Dave over at Accidental Fire recently published a similar article reflecting on his 4 years of semi-retirement. In the article, Dave shares a few of the things he continues to wrestle with, including, “I’m still struggling with crafting big dreams for my second act in life.” When I read this, I did find some solace in the fact that I am not the only one challenged by this knotty issue.
In fact, I have difficulty even defining what this means to me. Part of me recognizes and appreciates that all of my big dreams, be they academic, professional, artistic and financial, have all been realized, so is it even reasonable to expect any more? Another part of me questions if living a life of fulfilled dreams is, in fact, the actualization of a big dream in itself – the ability to live a life on my own terms in a purposeful and intentional way?
But, as Dave espouses, it is the activity of dreaming big that is the key to much of success in life — more a way of being than a thing achieved. However, as I’ve thought about the above, I’m convinced, particularly in the context of my volunteering, that my next big dream is not about me; it’s about others. What does that mean, specifically? I don’t know yet. But I do know if I continue to dream big, those sparkling shining silver stars will show the way when the time is right.
All in, I must confess the first 3 years of retirement have been a wild adventure, just like the rest of my life has been, and likely will continue to be. I’m curious to see what the next 3 years brings.