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Friday, July 31, 2015

What’s the Point?

Posted by Tim Stobbs on July 29, 2015

I was chatting with someone the other day regarding my plans for early retirement and he asked a basic question: what’s the point of early retirement?

Ironically, the person asked that in a more general sense and I of course pointed out that the reason why people go after early retirement is hugely personal.  There are thousands of reasons to go after this goal, but in the end the only one that matters is your reason.  Why do you want to retire early?

There doesn’t have to be a single reason why.  In fact, I think the most successful people planning to retire early have more than a single reason.  The more reasons you have the more motivation you can bring to your plan to help you see it through.  Getting to early retirement is very much similar to training and running a long distance.  At the start you can’t go more than a few blocks before being exhausted, yet over time you get go further and further towards your goal.  But unlike running, the changes to get to an early retirement may span a few decades.  It isn’t an easy feat to do, so you have to be very sure of why you are doing this otherwise you can give up on that dream.

To me personally the best way to summarize my why is: freedom.  I love that feeling on vacation when you do what you like, when you like within a broad context of the amount of time and money you have put aside for the trip.  I just want to expand that feeling to have nearly unlimited time and a modest amount of money to do things.

For me the time is worth more than the money.  Also putting it into context when I am on vacation, like right now, I tend to focus on doing things that interest my family and me.  A lot of the time these things don’t have to be very expensive like a hike in a provincial park to see a few waterfalls then swimming at the base of the falls.  Of course this doesn’t mean I don’t spend some money on things that we want to do, we just keep in mind the fact we can’t do everything at once.  Besides, I sort of like taking things easy while on vacation.  I hate rushing around so the idea of jamming in as much as possible in a week isn’t fun.

Yet there are other reasons to seek out early retirement for me that include but aren’t limited to:

  • I like to write, but know it doesn’t pay that much. So it takes a lot of time to write a book, but your hourly rate usually sucks.  So I can’t afford to do it full time right now.
  • I dislike waking to an alarm.  Really, I never sleep in that much so why should it matter if I’m 20 minutes late some days for work anyway. (Work has a different opinion, so I keep the alarm clock for now.)
  • I dislike working full time at my day job.  I don’t hate my work, it just loses some of the fun when you have to do it for the majority of your week.
  • I love to read books and watch movies, which with a library is a fairly affordable way to entertain myself.  Add in Netflix and I could happily stay entertained for years.
  • I like to slowly fix things.  Doing a little project over two weekends rather than cramming it into a long weekend.  I like to get things right the first time and have time to think about the project.
  • Savings is natural to me.  Early retirement just defines a bit more of a goal for that money.

Are these great reasons?  Not really, but they don’t have to be as long as they make sense to you.  Find your own reasons and don’t worry if they seem silly.  After all, you only have to convince yourself.  So what are a few of your own reasons?

The Unknown Road

Posted by Tim Stobbs on July 3, 2015

So I finally started down an unknown road at work, figuratively speaking.  During my mid-year performance review with my boss I planted an idea with respect to my career goals.  I actually wrote on the form for near term goal (1 to 3 years): retirement or reduced hours to approximately 50%.  Then I submitted it to my boss to see if any fireworks ensued.

Oddly enough, the entire conversation was oddly civil and straight forward.  From my boss’s point of view he wants to keep me around as long as possible, so if we need to look into options to make that happen he is at least willing to explore them and ask how it could potentially work.  If we can find a compromise that works for both of us, why not look into it.

I made it clear I don’t expect changes immediately (after all I’m still working on building my savings), but I would like to know what options may exist.  Currently we are exploring a few different ways to make something like this happen including:

  1. Cut back to half time.  This would be using the same policy that let me drop down to 90% currently.  The issue here is figuring out how picks up some of the work that I’m no longer doing.
  2. Cut back time and reuse the budget to pick up another employee.  This one is a bit trickier to pull off and requires some help from HR on what is possible and what isn’t.  The idea would be to free up enough budget from my current position to allow another person to come on board and pick up the remaining work.  In effect splitting the budget from my job into two.
  3. Shift to a contractor role.  I had thought of this idea myself a while back but somewhat discounted the idea as the work involved to setup and obtain clients while still working.  This way would be easier as I would start with one client right off the bat, which would make the shift easier.  The downside of course if contractor budgets are often the first things to get squeezed out during budget cut backs.  So my income would be more unstable and there is a risk of me being hung out to dry.

Of course I’m not sure where this is going to end up, but I figured that it would be worth the time to at least explore semi-retirement with my current workplace.  Oddly enough I sort of discounted this idea in the first place as I thought they would shoot it down at once, but the reaction has been more hopeful than I would have guessed.

Anyways, worse case scenario it doesn’t come to anything, I finish my savings and just leave in about two more years.  Best case would be dropping down to 50% by next year and staying in semi-retirement mode for a three or more years until I get enough savings to leave entirely or just get sick of the entire thing and pull the plug.

Has anyone else had much like convincing their employer to allow you to go part time?  Any tips or ideas?

Musings on Power

Posted by Tim Stobbs on May 20, 2015

I was watching the first Harry Potter film the other day with my kids and I was struck by a statement made towards the end of the movie when Harry is confronted by Professor Quirrell “There is no good and evil, there is only power and those too weak to see it.”

The first time I read that phrase it stuck in my head a bit, but at the time I considered it typical bad guy drivel to justify what they have done.  Now that I’m a bit older and cynical I have to admit…he is actually very accurate in that phrase.  Pardon?!?

Ok, bear with me for a minute or two.  You see the use of any power (political, economic, hierarchy…you get the idea) is only limited by two main factors: the morality of the user of said power and the potential consequences of the action.

The first limit of morality is basically only a construct in the mind of the user which may or may not align with your particular version of morality.  So this is why you have some managers who inspire their staff and try to improve the outcomes of the people under them and other managers use their power to inflict suffering on others.  In both cases, the user of the power feels justified in their actions by virtue of the morality that only exists in their own head.  As such, there really isn’t any universal good or evil but rather instead only your particular perception of those concepts.

For example, would you accept the idea that killing another human is a evil act?  Ok, let’s say you agree.  So if you then killed someone while defending your wife and children from an attacker, is that evil?  I would guess you would think not, but again consider that initial sentence…if killing someone is evil does the context of the act matter to make the act good?

Now consider if we can muck up something that should be straightforward as murder, just image how much grey area exists in the rest of the world.  For example, is any of the following behaviours good or evil?

  • Taking a second serving of dessert.
  • Picking up money off the street.
  • Feeding a homeless person.

The answer in each case depends on the context of the situation and your personal morality.  I can easily imagine in every case where the action could be evil or good.  For example, feeding a homeless person might be considered an easy good action, but what if you are enabling the person to continue their drug habit and beat their spouse and children.  Do you still feed them?

In the end, good and evil are simplistic constructs that only exist in our heads.  They don’t have any existence in reality other than what we imagine them to be.  So the first part of that original quote by Professor Quirrell is correct: there is no good or evil.

Now we move on to second limit on power: the potential consequence of the action.  Since good and evil only exists in our heads we decided to try to direct other’s morality by writing it down into law or in some cases we use social acceptance to drive certain behaviours.  Yet there is a flaw to this line of thinking…after all, it is nearly impossible to find someone who at some point has broken a law?

For example, have you ever in your life jay walked?  Odds are yes, and yes it is illegal, but you still did it.  Why?  Because you likely at the time you thought the potential consequence of the action was so minor there was limited risk of getting caught.  Or when was the last time you went just 1 km/hour over the speed limit?  Yesterday, last week by accident…regardless you broke the law, but just didn’t care about the consequence or didn’t think you would get caught.

Therefore the risk of getting caught and punishment are drivers in your mind on your actions and a limit to any power you wield.  Yet the irony of this is in fact the odds of getting caught on most things are actually fairly damn low.  There are not cops on every street corner handing out tickets to jay walkers, they only have so many resources and thus focus on other things first.  The same exists just about everywhere…so if you don’t fear the consequence of your action you don’t have a limit to that power.

For example, at your job they get to direct you to do lots of things (when to show up, when to leave, how long to work on something…etc), but they have very few options of actual consequence to motivate your actions.  They can only really:

  • Assign you undesirable tasks
  • Offer disapproval for an action
  • Alter your rate of compensation
  • Fire you

That’s it.  So when you cease to be fear those consequences the power they can wield over you becomes almost non-existent.

So now that you are free of your fear of the consequence of your action (or at least of getting caught in many cases) and you are free for your notion of good and evil since it only exists in your head in the first place…you start to agree that there really is: only power and those to weak to see it.

In effect this is what having enough retirement savings grants you: economic power.  At which point your application of that power is only limited by your imagination (what is possible and what is good/evil to you) and the consequence of the action.  If you no longer need your job, you can tell them to go screw themselves.  Or if you want to live somewhere else you can move.

Yet there is a downside to this power.  Once you realize the limits of it are largely self imposed, you options to wield it become nearly limitless and your choices in life become infinite.  But a large number of choices makes it harder to pick an action or result, so using that power becomes actually fairly damn hard to do.  It takes considerable effort to think about a larger number of options and narrow them down to a more manageable scope.  Often this is where your fear of change kicks in and people get stuck in the one more year of work syndrome…they are in effect trying to delay change to avoid making that final decision to quit.

So what do you think about power?  What changes have you noticed in yourself as your economic power has grown?