Thursday, September 29, 2016

Finding My Purpose

Last night I was reading a great blog, Our Next Life. A young couple, currently aged 39 and 41, is on the fast track to early retirement. They have done the planning and the math, and anticipate both of them being ready to retire at some point in 2017, this coming year. Wow -- I am impressed! I never could have retired in my forties.

In my online retirement reading, I have found that there is a considerable community of bloggers out there writing on Personal Finance (PF) and specifically on Financial Independence (FI). They discuss how to calculate the point at which you have accumulated sufficient savings and/or non-employment income to no longer need to work for pay for the rest of your life, and strategies for getting to that point. For most people writing on the topic, achieving FI is a goal that they have set as a prerequisite for retirement. With financial independence, your time can become your own. You are no longer obligated to sell your time in order to receive money to live.

A subset of younger bloggers have the objective of "Financial Independence - Retire Early" (FIRE). Many of these younger folks go to quite extraordinary lengths to establish a long stretch of future life for themselves unimpeded by the necessity of paid employment. One line of thinking is, why wait to retire until you are too old to enjoy it?

Mr. and Ms. ONL are on the FIRE path, and have written about their strategies and the process particularly thoughtfully. Browsing through their blog, I came across a post entitled: What Do You Want Your Tombstone to Say? // Defining Our Purpose. They make the point that retiring early is not just about escaping from unfulfilling or overwhelming work, but rather about the rich purposeful lives that they will be able to lead when the majority of the hours of the day are no longer committed to an employer. They present some simple exercises that they did (and that you or I can do) to help define their life purposes.

An interesting article I read recently related to this topic is: "Why You Wake Up Each Day" by Mike Drak and Jonathan Chevreau published in the Summer 2016 issue of Money Sense magazine (pages 27-30). In it they discuss the concept of "ikigai," a Japanese word that refers to having a sense of life purpose. They ask, "Once you have found your ikigai, why would you ever want to retire? What would you wish to retire to?" They argue that instead of working crazy hours and slaving to save for retirement, a better strategy would be to find your life purpose now, and re-balance your time and priorities to include a mix of purposeful work and increased leisure that will be sustainable throughout your life.

First, a couple of quibbles and asides. Many, and perhaps most people do not have work that aligns with their life purpose (assuming they know it) in a meaningful way. Second, it is devilishly hard to balance work and leisure, especially if you do have a satisfying, rewarding job. Our current economic system is designed as all or nothing: you have a fabulous well-paid job but you are expected to work 60+ hours a week at it, or you have no job at all (or a McJob). Finally, there is something deeply discouraging, even twisted, about young people and also our knowledgeable elders being so eager to divest themselves of work. There was a time when work was a primary way for a person to contribute their knowledge, skills and labour for the benefit of their family, community, and the world. How is it that our society has turned work into mindless drudgery, or into value-conflict-ridden excessive overwork, while the things we really care about must be pursued in our ever-decreasing leisure time?

Okay, now that I have that rant off my chest, my question is, what is my life purpose, my ikigai? I have to admit, that question fills me with anxiety. My gosh, I am sixty years old! Why haven't I figured out my life purpose yet?

Mr. and Ms. ONL's exercises have you start by generating a list of things you like to do and would do more of if you had the time, and then you work through to identifying themes, and ultimately your key life purposes. However, I have already done that. I have lists of what I would do more of (many of which I have written about in earlier posts on this blog.) In brief, if I were retired, I would write, paint, garden, travel, pursue outdoor adventures, volunteer for causes I care about/become engaged in community initiatives, and be more present in the lives of my grandchildren. I might "keep a hand in" at work, engaging in or continuing on with certain projects that I am very interested in.

That is not just one thing, a life purpose, but a whole bunch of things, none of which seem particularly earth shattering. I have tended to think of "life purpose" as something at a higher level, more significant. Long ago, I identified a "three-legged stool" that expresses my core directions and commitments: knowledge, creativity, and love. As I have revisited that stool over the years, it hasn't really changed. Perhaps I would add two more legs now, which are earth/nature, and health.

I was talking to Rob this afternoon, and he said he has never felt a need for a life purpose or any consequences for the lack of one. He is content to just be. (He is not an A-type personality.)

I, on the other hand, am an A-type controlling controller perfectionistic over-achiever. Deep down, although I know this may sound silly, arrogant, and unrealistic, I really do feel a huge sense of responsibility for doing my part to contribute to a better world, and a sense of duty to keep at it, retired or not. Whatever "it" is (that elusive life purpose). Certainly it's not just indulging myself in painting landscapes, writing fiction, or having fun playing with my grandkids -- is it?

Maybe I am thinking of life purpose in a way that is too grandiose and hierarchical. In fact, I have always had a wide range of eclectic interests and pursuits. Perhaps it is enough to have shorter term goals and pursuits that feed my brain, my heart, and my creative soul, and let the world look after itself. Maybe I need to take a page from Rob, and learn to just be (a little, from time to time). What could be better than really getting to know my grandchildren and being part of their lives as they grow up?

Maybe, if I do this, when I am 95 it will all come clear in retrospect: "Aha! So that was my life purpose!" Just as long as my epitaph does not say: "She always worked really hard."

Saturday, September 17, 2016

Home Again - Let's Clean the Fridge

Our House on Wheels

We have returned from our seven week epic camper trip, and have been home for a couple of days. The last few days of travelling were focused on driving and getting home, rather than seeking out new adventures. We both felt sad that our holiday was coming to an end. We had visited friends and family, and spent lots of time in towns where we used to live. As we turned our truck east towards the prairies, it felt almost like we were leaving home rather than returning home. It was hard to say good-bye.

Cousins Having Fun at the Fair

And yet, after seven weeks of living in our tiny little house on wheels with a floor space the size of the bed of a pickup truck, we were starting to become tired of living in the camper. (I never thought I would say that; I love the camper!). Certainly, the fact that our refrigerator stopped working halfway through the trip didn't help matters. There were no more gourmet camper dinners for us as we became dependent on a cooler and ice. After awhile, the novelty of roughing it with brief camper showers and a hair wash only every second day, begins to pale.

I must mention that our friends and family cooked us some wonderful dinners in those last three weeks, and we also had some great family restaurant meals, not to mention delicious fare at my women's retreat. So we didn't suffer lack of nutrition due to the broken fridge, as our waistlines will attest. 

Still, we both felt ambivalent about coming home. We do not have a big network of friends where we live now. Even after four years of living here, we still feel like "come-from-aways." We know that when I retire, we will be moving back to British Columbia, our home province where all of our family and many of our friends live. So we haven't tried very hard to set down roots here. In fact, our holiday felt a little bit like a fact-finding mission: would this town be a good place to move to, or this one, or this one?

Last Night on the Road

So when we rolled into our driveway, I was surprised at how happy I felt to be home. Our lawns looked green and lush, and our gardens were still thriving. Our house seemed huge, luxurious, and welcoming. Our pets were delighted to see us, and happy to be released from pet jail (the kennel). A big shout-out to our son, who looked after the house, yard and pets all summer, except for the first bit of September when he left for university. It was so nice to return home to a clean house, healthy gardens, and happy pets. 

Of course, there was the drudgery of unpacking the camper, which does not have the same fun factor as packing to go away. Doing the laundry, listening to the phone messages, dealing with a huge pile of bills and other mail, watering the gardens, mowing the lawns, as well as restocking the groceries were all immediate tasks. As happens to me every time I return from a trip, I took one look inside the refrigerator, and decided that I would not put any food into it until the fridge had a good cleaning. So we spent our first morning back emptying and cleaning every part of the fridge. I went into a frenzy of doing laundry, and Rob vacuumed and washed the kitchen floor, and mowed the lawns. 

I've rejoined my evening art group. We made plans to go to a concert tomorrow and invited a friend to join us. I have been to the farmers' market to stock up on organic veggies, baking, and locally raised meats. I have spent an afternoon at my office, setting out a plan for some the work that I will accomplish during this study leave. We have gone for a couple of long walks, and will do a bike ride this afternoon. It feels good to be home. 

Monday, September 12, 2016

Women's Rejuvenation Retreat

As I lay naked on the table under a blanket in the attic of a former fish cannery, Sunflower, the massage therapist, assessed my body with her deft, strong hands. 

"I sprained my thumb on my left hand and it is still quite sore," I informed her. "And I broke the fifth metatarsal bone of my left foot last year, but now it has healed." I wanted her to know about these injury sites so that she would be gentle if necessary, and so that she could work her healing magic. 

"How did you sprain your thumb?" she asked. 

"I crashed my mountain bike," I answered, feeling sheepish. 

She gave a sudden laugh. "Were you riding down a mountain?" 

I admitted that yes, I had been riding down a steep trail, although it was more of a big hill than a mountain. Surprised, she wondered how old I was. 

"I am turning sixty this month."

"You don't look sixty. You look much younger. Are you someone who enjoys extreme sports?"

"No," I said. "But I do love all kinds of outdoor activities." 

We went on to talk about how I broke the bone in my foot (I stepped in a pothole and turned my ankle), and about hiking, skiing, and cycling, sports that I regularly engage in, and soccer, one that I have had to give up on because of my knees. In the course of the massage, Sunflower told me that I had strong muscular legs, and that I had beautiful feet with high arches. She asked whether I had developed the strong muscles in my arms by working out in a gym. 

I said that no, I had strengthened my arms by walking with crutches for four months. More recently, my arms have been exercised by carrying my grandchildren about. 

Sunflower, who looked like she was about my age or a little older, also is a skier. She said that she was much like me in terms of the outdoor activities that she enjoys. As we get older, we learn to do the same activities in a more gentle way she suggested. (This is something that I need to learn. I haven't quite accepted that I am not in my twenties any more.) 

It was an excellent massage. I came away from it feeling very relaxed and calm. As well, I felt a sense of love for my body (my beautiful feet!). I seldom think about my body, but just take it for granted. I usually treat my body as if it is merely the vessel that carries my head around so that my brain and ears, eyes, and mouth can do the work they need to do. My experience last fall of injuring my foot and being unable to walk for so many months caused me to begin to question my neglect of and lack of respect for my body. I have begun to open up to learning ways to honour and be kind to my body. 

I am presently attending a women's rejuvenation retreat weekend. On the first day of the retreat, we meditated, did yoga, went for a walk in the rain, dyed silk scarves using natural plant dyes, had a cooking demonstration, and I had the massage described above. As well, we ate lovely, healthy food prepared by a calm, capable chef, and enjoyed a glass of wine or two. 

The retreat is being held at the Cassiar Cannery, near Prince Rupert, BC. There used to be many fish canneries in and near Prince Rupert and Port Edward, and at the mouth of the Skeena River. This cannery was one of the last to close, in 1983. It is a wild and beautiful place. The owners have begun to restore the old buildings, and this is the first year that they have hosted women's retreats. 

Last night and during the morning, there was a wild storm of wind and rain. A mudslide on the the mountain nearby has blocked the road and knocked down the power line. We now have no electricity, cell service, landline, or Internet. We ate dinner by candlelight. The train roars by on the tracks a couple of times a day. We will flag down the train and board it when the retreat ends. It is an adventure, and a wonderful opportunity to meet new friends.

It is also a chance to develop a more holistic awareness and appreciation of my self in this world. Kathleen over at The Best Is Yet To Be blog* has been writing a series of posts on learning to love oneself. For me, perhaps a first step is to acknowledge the physical and spiritual aspects of myself. Those are the parts that I routinely have neglected in favour of intellectual, emotional, and creative components. 

I have strong legs and arms. I have a youthful body. I have beautiful feet. Sunflower says so. 

*As I am writing this on a tablet using battery power and a bare-bones app, with no internet access, I can't provide a link, but the blog is listed in my blog roll.