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Is There A Right Way To “R”etire?

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My “R” word. Retirement.

There. I said it.

For me, saying Retirement is akin to verbalizing “Voldemort”, you know, Harry Potter’s deadly nemesis… “he whose name shall not be spoken“.

Shits and giggles.

Last night, I “worked” again after 6 months time away.

Bartending.

Pouring Pinot Gris, popping Budweisers, mixing Lamb’s Navy Rum with Coke, concocting a pretty Caesar.

Paid work.

It was fun to be back in the alcoholic saddle once more.

Now technically, I’ve been retired for almost 4 years (how did that time go by?).

But really, gosh darn it, I’m not even close to being retired. I’ve rejigged and rebranded, but retired? Nope. I’ll delve into this a bit further on.

Most people I meet in my age category are either retired or thinking about pulling the plug soon’ish.

I love it when I come across a 70 or even 80 year-old who still gets up most days and journeys off to an office or whatever, where they continue plying their trade, working their knowledge and experience because they love and need that stimulation and enjoyment.

Retirement, Schretirement.

Hallelujah for them.

working 80 year old

I suppose that each of us at some point searches within, finding what retirement could mean in our own life.

Used to be that folks worked til 65 and then collapsed on a couch or a rocking chair and died a year or two later on. Now, not so much…

  • For some, the retirement ideal means a day filled with nothingness.
  • Others retire to a life of leisure and play.
  • For yet others, retiring is quitting the 9-5 aspect of work, but then taking on consulting work in their same field, scaling back the time input but not changing the focus of their efforts.
  • Some folks parlay a fun hobby or treasured interest into a new career more enjoyable than their lifelong vocation.
  • There are the ones like Linda at my gym who take a scattershot approach to each day; a hybrid blend of various pet interests, paid work, and volunteerism. Linda divides her days into about 4 or 5 segments where she exercises (gym, curling, golf), volunteers at the school, reads a library book, takes a yoga class, attends a local lecture in the evening.
  • And sadly, for some, the thought of retirement is an unattainable dream, at least along the lines of what marketing dreamcatchers would have us buy into. Either a lack of savings, or employment income that rarely soared above a minimum wage, leaves a gaping hole of cashlessness where a monthly cheque of passive income (dividends, company pension, dividends) would be desirable.

You may know that I have a few pet peeves… things like the totally subjective (might I say “fake”!) meaning of words like moderation, or middle class, or retirement.

When we say these words, every person has a different version of just what that means. You know, potato, potahto.

Example? I’m running in a half marathon race in two weeks. At this stage of my training, a 15k run is a moderate run distance. In your world, a 5k walk may be crazy big, or… if you’re crazy (in my mind) perhaps a 42.2 k run is your everyday. Moderate? Who knows… Same goes for retirement.

Moderation?…….         or ……        Moderation??

My personal definition of retirement means deciding what each day will look like because I have the freedom to chart my course. The point of leaving work isn’t so that I’ll will never earn money again because that’s somehow bad. The point of it all is to have control over my time. TIME, more valuable than BITCOIN or Gold.

I work most days but it’s a rare day when someone pays me to do something. There’s a different feeling, a different philosophy and approach to work when there’s a $$ figure attached.

I liked my job as a medical lab tech/database miner and reporter but I didn’t love it. Or at least I didn’t love it after doing it for 30+ years.

I enjoyed the people I worked alongside, but the work itself? Well, it lost its luster and uniqueness and excitement years ago. The adrenaline rush I would get when called in at 2 am to do blood tests and crossmatches on car crash victims had long passed.

I suffer from boredom anxiety. It’s a blessing and a curse.

I need newness and creative expression. I need to be doing something different on a regular basis. That’s just me.

My “retirement” story is a lot like Linda’s, above. I exercise daily. I cook and play guitar. I garden and tutor English. I chop vegetables at the soup kitchen, I read and write blog posts. I savour warm sunny days and feed the chickens. I puff a cigar from time to time and renovate bedrooms. I bartend.

The retirement story we’ve been hearing about in our society is still relatively new.

People haven’t been retiring in droves for much more than a century now, but that’s still plenty old in terms of our personal memories.

Our memories have strong mental pictures and associations with retirement that mostly have to do with people in their later years. People with lots of gray hair. Grandparents, elderly neighbours, aging parents. Those are the stories we know, so those are the stories we attach to retirement.

But, powerful as these stories may be, they don’t dictate what retirement is, or what retirement could be. Those stories are changing, and dramatically, for those who retire younger and healthier.

When your day comes, or if it has already come, you’ll need to decide what your retirement story will be. It’s your book, your story.

There’s no “r”ight way, no wrong way…

There are so many possible visions and choices… like playing some gentle music in a care home for the elderly…

I decided it would be a great retirement “gig” to play my guitar occasionally at seniors’ homes.

So first, I went online, looked up and practiced playing some of my parents’ and grandparents’ old tunes. 

Then, I was able to get myself hired by a Penticton nursing home to sing for patients by their bedsides.

After serenading one cute, bedridden older lady for a little while,  I got up to leave and said, “I hope you get better soon.”

She smiled sweetly at me and replied, “I hope you get better too.”

Willie.jpg

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Screw Retirement…

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Here… would you like a cup of fragrant coffee, a steaming green tea, or one of my… ahem… superb lattes?

You might need one because I feel a “sermon from the mount” moment coming on…

Look out, here it comes …

IF you’re retired now … get out!

Hurry!!

Or… if … IF … you’re thinking of retiring… think again.

Lose the word retirement from your vocabulary. Just chuck it out the window of life’s fast-moving train. Clickety-clack… clickety-clack… gone.

Escape like super-stud Steve McQueen on a motorcycle jumping razor-sharp barbed-wire Nazi fences in The Great Escape.

mcqueen_motorcycle

Retirement is a crappy word and a shitty concept. Truly-retired people die. Fast.

A May 2013 report published by the London-based Institute of Economic Affairs found that retirement increased the chances of suffering from depression by 40%, while it increased the probability of having at least one diagnosed physical ailment by about 60%. That impact was assessed after controlling for the usual age-related conditions.

Now, I’m not telling you to stay or to leave your current job. Nope. Not at all.

As a matter of fact, if you truly love what you’re doing in your work – if you feel a glow of enthusiasm about what you do (almost) every day when you awake that doesn’t relate to morning nooky  – then please DON’T move on because the world has told you that’s the thing to do… stuff like, “you should just relax, you’ve earned it“… “you’re 65 and should retire” … “you should make room for younger folks to have opportunities“.

Nonsense. Don’t let yourself be should upon.

But really… REALLY!! My message here is don’t quit life. Move on to a new world but don’t retire. Re-invent and renew.

Never retire.

I love the La-Z-Boy as much as the next guy, but let’s make it a restorative tonic to clear our heads on our way to the starry constellation of our passions.

Never stop learning and pushing to grow. Never stop finding new experience in your days.

Die soon list

The SIX FEET UNDER Club List …

A half dozen years ago my friend Jennifer gave me a cool Sudoku techie-machine to exercise my brain.

I packed it with me it to the high oxygen-thin Andes of Cusco, Peru, where my wife and I sat and mind-sweated Spanish immersion classes alongside other enthusiastic young travellers in a school for 4 hours each weekday for almost 4 months. Aye ay ay Dios Mio! Divertido, si!!

In a strange twist, this Sudoku “machine”, the exerciser that was supposed to pump heavy iron in my dumbbell mind became my go-to relaxation elixir.

The brain stimulator became the soothing pillow to relax my poor worn-out head at the end of a challenging session of verb conjugations and long vocabulary lists en espanol.

I… we… you and I? We need to exercise our brains just like we exercise our bodies. Four more, three more … A holistically healthy approach to life necessitates exercising our physical, our mental, and our spiritual bodies.

For me, one of the main reasons and benefits of writing this blog each week is the mental workout it puts me through. I’m – marginally – more coherent in my day-to-day life because I do my weekly “exercise”.

I was strongly reminded of this last week when reading a chapter in Neil Pasricha’s book The Happiness Equation: Want Nothing + Do Anything = Have Everything (what can I say… I’m a self-help junkie! HELP!!). (Aside: I try to have at least 2 books on the go at any one time… one a non-fiction one like the book above, and a fiction book to nourish and stimulate my creative side … my (pseudo-) fiction book choice currently is The Executioner’s Song by Norman Mailer)

Pasricha talks of the final column, written in 2005, of famed New York Times columnist William Safire. Offered as Safire’s “retirement” column, it really was something far more than that.

William Safire

William Safire

I’ll let Safire explain in his own words…

The Nobel laureate James Watson, who started a revolution in science as co-discoverer of the structure of DNA, put it to me straight a couple of years ago: “Never retire. Your brain needs exercise or it will atrophy.”

Why, then, am I bidding Op-Ed readers farewell today after more than 3,000 columns? Nobody pushed me; at 75, I’m in good shape, not afflicted with political ennui; and my recent column about tsunami injustice and the Book of Job drew the biggest mail response in 32 years of pounding out punditry.

Here’s why I’m outta here: In an interview 50 years before, the aging adman Bruce Barton told me something like Watson’s advice about the need to keep trying something new, which I punched up into “When you’re through changing, you’re through.” He gladly adopted the aphorism, which I’ve been attributing to him ever since.

Combine those two bits of counsel – never retire, but plan to change your career to keep your synapses snapping – and you can see the path I’m now taking. Readers, too, may want to think about a longevity strategy.

We’re all living longer. In the past century, life expectancy for Americans has risen from 47 to 77. With cures for cancer, heart disease and stroke on the way, with genetic engineering, stem cell regeneration and organ transplants a certainty, the boomer generation will be averting illness, patching itself up and pushing well past the biblical limits of “threescore and ten.”

But to what purpose? If the body sticks around while the brain wanders off, a longer lifetime becomes a burden on self and society. Extending the life of the body gains most meaning when we preserve the life of the mind…

… So I told The Times’s publisher two years ago that the 2004 presidential campaign would be my last hurrah as political pundit, and that I would then take on the full-time chairmanship of Dana (a research foundation). He expressed appropriate dismay at losing the Op-Ed conservative but said it would be a terrible idea to abandon the Sunday language column. That’s my scholarly recreation, so I agreed to continue. (Don’t use so as a conjunction!)

Starting next week, working in an operating and grant-making foundation, I will have to retrain parts of my brain. That may not make me a big man on hippocampus, but it means less of the horizon-gazing that required me to take positions on everything going on in the world; instead, a welcome verticalism will drive me to dig more deeply into specific areas of interest. Fewer lone-wolf assertions; more collegial dealing. I hear that’s tough.

But retraining and fresh stimulation are what all of us should require in “the last of life, for which the first was made.” Athletes and dancers deal with the need to retrain in their 30’s, workers in their 40’s, managers in their 50’s, politicians in their 60’s, academics and media biggies in their 70’s. The trick is to start early in our careers the stress-relieving avocation that we will need later as a mind-exercising final vocation. We can quit a job, but we quit fresh involvement at our mental peril…

…how many of us are planning now for our social activity accounts? Intellectual renewal is not a vast new government program, and to secure continuing social interaction deepens no deficit. By laying the basis for future activities in the midst of current careers, we reject stultifying retirement and seize the opportunity for an exhilarating second wind.

Medical and genetic science will surely stretch our life spans. Neuroscience will just as certainly make possible the mental agility of the aging. Nobody should fail to capitalize on the physical and mental gifts to come.

When you’re through changing, learning, working to stay involved – only then are you through. “Never retire.”

Yup. Never retire.

Find a new sport to delve into. Volunteer at the local college. Take an online course in winemaking. Sign onto a building crew at Habitat for Humanity. Study to get certified as an Undertaker. Join a theatre club. Join a book club. Join a bowling or golf club.

Whatever… wherever…whenever… you find that youthful lightning bolt of enthusiasm or excitement? That will be the magnet that pulls you out of “retirement” and into a sense of usefulness and aliveness in your days.

Make sure your brain sends new signals through the synapses of discovery feeding the fires burning inside you as surely as your heart pumps life-giving blood to your active muscles.

Reach toward that crimson sunset of each day with an eager anticipation of a beautiful sunrise to greet your morning eyes.

Yup. Screw retirement! Oops! Sorry about the language.

How thoughtless of me.

Your cup is empty. Can I offer you a refill?

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The Retirement Race?

Reinventing Ourselves by Changing Underwear

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underwear men

PENIS PARAGRAPH!

Yup, that’s all. That’s what a friend said to me in response to “Vagina Monologue” in last week’s blog title.

Penis Paragraph … snicker snicker … funny … Ha Ha

Funny – not Ha Ha – is growing older, developing wrinkles and sagging skin but not being tuned in enough to see it.

It’s funny because inside myself I’m the same kid who jumped out of bed this morning (it is 1967, right?) when I smelled Mom cooking bacon in the kitchen. Thanks Mom, you’re the best!

After I eat the crispy delicious bacon I run to the bathroom before school starts and I look in the mirror.

OMG!

YIKES!

How the hell did my Dad hijack my face while I was sleeping? Back To The Future. Balding … hair sprouting from my ears and nose. Yup, it’s pretty clear that I’ve changed.

After absorbing the shock that I look different … I begin to realize that NO, I’m really NOT the same kid inside that I was back when JFK was shot … or JR was shot … or Reagan was shot … I’ve changed and my label has changed.

I used to deliver newspapers and flip burgers as a youngster, then migrated onwards to growing smelly bacteria in a lab. All different labels.

Now I pour shots in my new job as a bartender. That’s putting on a new label.

old time bartender

When you retire or quit a job, or are fired or downsized, you peel off all the labels …

I’m an architect, I’m a chef, I’m a doctor, I’m a plumber.

Labels get peeled off like dirty old underwear.

You shower and all the remnants of who you once were are washed away, ready to pull on a clean new pair of whatever.

The old way of retiring meant you went commando, no fresh underwear, no changes, just sitting on the front porch waiting for the Grim Reaper to waltz up your driveway in the twilight of your day …

Nowadays, most retirees put on some sort of crisp, fresh underwear. My latest pair says BARTENDER on the front.

I’ve been alive for 21,265 days… at this point, I’m a dim spaceship travelling through the galaxy and one day my light will be extinguished.

One of the great things about modern medicine is that our light can burn dimly much longer than it could 100 years ago… we have better telescopes so we can extend our reach. Most of us want our light to burn a bit longer so we can try on a new pair of underwear.

Re-invention, whether at my age, or much younger, is about extending our reach from inside ourselves.

... Adapt and you might get a fresh pair of underwear

… Adapt and you might get a fresh pair of underwear

A hundred years ago, you were born to a farmer, or a butcher.

And if you were a boy you lived your life as a farmer or a butcher and your obituary was a short one. One pair of underwear.

If you were a girl? Well, you awoke each day as a homemaker/farm wife, looking after your husband farmer or husband butcher, making all the decisions that mattered without him every realizing it. One pair of underwear.

Today is different and exciting and scary because we’re not only choosing to change our underwear but in many cases, we have no choice.

Job security is spinning wildly out of our galaxy and we can’t bring it back. Reinvention is happening, like it or not.

I began my lab technology career sticking needles in peoples’ arms, sucking out tubes of blood and then testing it in an Auto-Analyzer machine that took up half a large room. I finished my career 37 years later sitting in front of a powerful computer, sucking data out of a machine that was smaller than my desk.

CH-CH-Changes! We all adapt in one form or another, like it or not.

And if we want the most from our lives… the most contentment, the most satisfaction, the most happiness … we need to be adaptable enough to accept and embrace (most) change … none of us is so strong as to hold back the surging tsunami of technology.

Wrinkled crows-feet eyes or smooth as a baby’s bottom forehead, change in each of our lives is perennial as the sun rising.

Attitude is the distinction.

A fresh change of underwear always feels good… like crisp, clean sheets. Mmmmmmmmm.

Everything and anything seems possible.

And that my friend is this week’s PENIS PARAGRAPH!

Penis costume

Shake It Off … Set The Expectations Free

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horse leaving barn

Spring the horse from the barn.

Let the dog out of the house.

Scoop the shit out of the henhouse.

What are we waiting for…?

I spent a whole lot of my years trying to be something … to be someone and do things that my parents and the neighbours would have approved of.

I was always secretly watching from the corner of my eye to see if they were clapping their hands or frowning. Even after they were long dead.

Expectations weigh on us like concrete boots strapped onto our feet by the Mafia. We just stand still with a silly grin on our faces as they pour the concrete to send us to sleep with the fishes. DUMB.

cement shoes

I’m trying to live my life now like I have feathers instead of concrete attached to me.

I used to blame my father for being cold and uncaring and perhaps making my life more difficult than it really should have been.

I was young. It was useless energy expended on being negative and finding a scapegoat for my sorrows.

We all have sorrows. We all have tribulations. We all have miracles.

Hell, I was born into a rich, peaceful society with limitless possibilities. Billions don’t have that luxury.

My Dad wasn’t perfect and neither am I, nor will I ever be. But that doesn’t give me any reason to dwell on the negative when I can use that energy and forge onwards doing things I enjoy, hopefully helping others who are struggling.

As a parent, I imposed the same sorts of ideas and values on my kids that I grew up with, forcing the sweet little round critters into square holes where they didn’t want to go. It’s a shame that we learn so many lessons about ourselves by inflicting our raw character on our innocent little offspring.

Perhaps we should live our lives backwards and emerge into the world as elderly grandparents filled with knowledge and wisdom of what makes people tick. Maybe there’d be less violence, fewer wars. More love. More kindness. I don’t know.

life lived backwards

I’m working more hours as a bartender this month than I’d like to. I want to work one or two shifts each week for the pleasure of being around people and doing something totally different than what I’ve done before.

Putting in four or five stints a week is like taking mind-blowing sex and making it a chore. Orgasms are always better when there’s some waiting and delicious anticipating space between.

A paycheque and tips at the end of the night are kind of nice, but that’s not the reason I chose to do this.

I have to remind myself that I made this choice.

If others try to slap concrete shoes on me because that’s what they have on their feet, then I have to step away before the concrete sets.

I’m choosing to work where I want to work because I love it, to play at what I love to play. The expectations of others should have no control over me. My expectations shouldn’t control you.

As always, I’m a work in progress.

I have my own expectations.

I want to be creative in all areas of my life, and live large, or at least larger than I have for many years. There should be luscious internal music meandering like a river through the days of our lives.

That’s my expectation for me. Just me, not you or anyone else.

Not my parents’ expectations. Not the neighbours’ expectations.

And when people look at me and my expectations, that’s what I hope people see.

No lectures. No finger wagging. No disappointed looks. No fretful expectations.

Just me shaking it off, letting that horse run free out of the barn.

horse-shaking

 

Plan Your Escape Route …

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Barbed wire freedom

I’m Canadian but maybe, just maybe, I should be an American…

It’s because I love freedom.

Isn’t freedom what America’s all about?

All of the magnificent swelling anthems, all of the heartfelt oaths you have to take to be an official U.S. citizen offer up the compelling and appealing idea that you live in the best country in the world and that’s because you have freedom, both personal and collective.

By the way, and this is important … if you really want to hear about the U.S. as the world’s best country, I suggest you listen to Jeff Daniels’ character Will McAvoy skewer the whole idea on the TV series The Newsroom … I’m not sure there’s a more powerful political moment in TV history as this soliloquy 

America Greatest Country

Freedom is so important – we tell ourselves we possess it, but really?

Just saying it doesn’t make it so.

Personal freedom is something that each of us yearns for, but really… really … those of us who are more Downton Abbey downstairs staff Carson and Daisy than upstairs aristocrats Lady Mary and Lord Grantham –  have to earn our freedom little-bit by little-bit.

I feel a little burn inside when someone tells me what I should be doing – little infringements on my personal freedom. There have been countless times in life where I needed to suck it up and just do it. It’s called survival. I accept that and have played along nicely.

But … Is that freedom?

Truly, I prefer to just tune out and pretend they never said anything. I long to be my own boss. I’m not talking solely about workplace stuff here. Friends, relatives, store clerks, stoplights … they all – at times – want to be my boss.

Today, finally, for most intents and purposes – not all – I’m my own boss.

Of course, there are degrees of freedom. Compared to a slave worker in any era of history (including today), I have enormous freedom.

But I’m greedy. I want more.

greedy

 

My freedom, my free choice, my power has been earned over many years. And in looking closely at why this is, it comes down to dollars and cents. Yup, the almighty DOLLAR.

I began my working life as a cute little 5 year-old paperboy. A few years later after being accused by one of my elderly newspaper customers of car theft (I was a modern version of elfin’esque Oliver to nasty Fagin) I graduated to becoming a McDonalds’ burger flipper in a hippie-refuse-to-cut-my-hair-short-wig.

Then began my extended 30+ year lab tech career that has brought the “retired” me to today where I enjoy more freedom than ever before.

But… the freedom I carry with me now like a smug smart-ass is part of a slow-moving plan I hatched way back in my early working years in William’s Lake.

In 1980, I left a lab job in frigid Yellowknife to follow my love south to British Columbia’s interior region called the Cariboo.

The town of William’s Lake is cowboy country. I loved the chill snowy winters, cross-country skiing in the deep snows outside my back door in January, the crystalline blue lakes and camping close by in the wide-open Chilcotin area in the summer.

I won’t mention fishing at Anahim Lake here, because how many folks can claim to fish on a lake where EVERYONE and his 3 year-old sister catches their daily limit of trout in an hour, and get out of the boat empty-handed (or hooked!), like I did?

chilcotin

It was in William’s Lake that I had an epiphany of sorts.

NO, it wasn’t while I visited with my wiry long-haired neighbour Dean who grew and smoked pot while his wife Rita tended their 2 little kids.

An no, it wasn’t while attending the William’s Lake Stampede and watching famed Canadian folk-country singer Ian Tyson competing on his quarter horse in the rodeo ring.

And it wasn’t even while enjoying the azure blue skies and cheek-pinkening air while swish-swooshing between the trees of Boitano Park on my skis.

Nope.

It happened in the lab at Cariboo Memorial Hospital where I worked.

A normal day in the lab began early in the morning when a group of us techs and lab aides circulated through the overnight faeces-and-fetid-pus-scented wards to collect blood samples from in-patients for testing. Routine stuff.

I sucked a few tubes of blood from a young woman labouring with her 3rd child when she first arrived at the hospital. Routine stuff.

My co-workers and I returned to the lab and began processing and testing the blood and urine samples we had collected on our morning rounds. Routine stuff.

About 9 am, all hell broke loose and the rest of the day was a total whirlwind. Not routine stuff.

The young woman in labour whom I had needled earlier, delivered a healthy baby through her vagina. And then …

… the blood began flowing … and flowing … and gushing.

It was determined quickly that this was an undiagnosed case of placenta praevia – a normal placenta attaches to the uterine wall above or to the side of the opening of the cervix so that it does’t interfere with the baby as it passes out of the uterus during birth. In placenta praevia, the opening to the cervix, and hence the exit door, is covered over by the placenta. The placenta can shear off either during or before birth – this is when the bleeding begins.

Placenta-Previa

One of my colleagues received a phone call from upstairs saying they needed blood … NOW!!

Our blood bank fridge had a normal supply of blood on hand so that a typical patient needing transfusion would have timely access to about 4-6 units of blood, maybe 8 if they were lucky.

Without going into a huge amount of lab detail, our blood bag supply of suitable Red Cross-collected blood was exhausted for this woman before the hour was out.

She continued to gush from her vagina as fast as they could squeeze the blood through the needles in both arms.

This is when the lab took on the look of an army MASH unit as we called in local donors to give fresh blood to stem the tide of this woman’s losses.

She clung to life as we set up cots in the middle of the lab and jammed thick-bored needles into our local folk, filling blood bag after blood bag, doing the most remedial cross-type testing and then sending the bags upstairs to the operating room where surgeons and OR nurses worked feverishly to halt the tsunami of blood.

At one point I rushed to the OR to deliver another couple of bags of blood and entering the OR suite, I saw large pools of dark-red brown, sticky blood covering the floor. Surfaces of the bed on which the pale, unconscious woman laid were drenched in crimson, the staff passing wads of blood-soaked dressings back and forth like a fire brigade shuttling buckets of water to put out a fire.

Blood soaked OR

The day was a total panicky blur until finally after about 8 hours the wound was closed – the blood flow slowed to a trickle and the woman was – amazingly – still breathing and pumping blood, none of it her own.

Everyone I worked with throughout the ordeal was exhausted but relieved, most of all the family of the poor lady who had received somewhere in the vicinity of 35 units of blood over the course of the day, or about 3 full human bodies equivalent of blood.

…………

FREEDOM.

Yes, I wanted to talk about freedom.

That day … that event… was traumatic not just for the lady involved but it affected me deeply as I realized that I might not be able to handle the stress and trauma of these life-and-death scenarios for 40+ years (I was about 23 years old at the time). I began thinking and reflecting.

I realized that I had to take some control over my life so that I could walk away if circumstances turned ugly or undesirable. We all have days in our working lives where we can barely stomach the idea of continuing on because of workload, or co-workers, or bosses or any number of stressors.

I decided then that I would refuse to be held captive because I had no other choices. And I figured the larger the sum of dollars backstopping my life, the greater amount of freedom of choice and decision-making would be in my hands. I wanted the power.

And so that day, I became a saver and an investor. 

And that day I began telling people I’d retire by the time I was 35 … which turned into 40 … then 45 and well … here I am at 57 and I’ve just “retired”.

It has become a long running joke with many of my colleagues over time that I should have retired years earlier, given my bold predictions.

Well, my optimistic financial scenarios took a while to mesh with reality, but that’s OK. In my final years and days in lab work, I enjoyed going to work, I embraced the camaraderie of my colleagues.

But now, I can make the choice of whether to arise at 5 am (as I usually do to visit the gym) or 7 or 8 or 9. I can go to a movie or concert on a weeknight without worrying about getting home early to sleep for tomorrow’s workday. I can eat my lunch at 10:30 am or 3:30 pm if the feeling strikes.

Choices. My choices.

FREEDOM.

Let’s be real. I can’t do anything or everything I want, when I want… I’m not a BDSM billionaire like Christian Grey. I’m not powerful in the same way that Oprah Winfrey is powerful. But I have power over the little things, the little things that are important in my little life.

And because I began saving and investing early on, I struck a healthy balance of enjoying the moment while at the same time saving and looking outwards to the day when I could make the important decisions about how I want to live.

I planned an escape route because freedom is knowing that you can make your own choices.

FREEDOM

 

 

How To Go Out At The Top While Growing A Pair …

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HAPPY SAD

I’m struggling to write this blog post this week.

Happy Sad Knees

 

You know that game we play with infants? Yeah, the one where we pull an open hand across our face – we start with a big smile and then … as our hand slowly passes over our face the smile turns magically into a sad sad frown.

That is the week that was.

Normally each week, I unearth a blog topic that intrigues me and the words begin flowing slowly and then the current of the river picks up in pace and rhythm. The muse kicks in and it just happens.

For me, this is a jumbled week of emotions, both positive and negative. It’s all about departures.

There are doors and windows flinging open and slamming shut for me in the windy maelstrom that is life.

As I write, someone close to me is edging silently, unstoppingly, towards the exit door of life. Cancer is having its way and it’s not pretty.

Do you have one of those people in your life that you can’t believe will ever die?

They’ve always seemed invincible, and like a 250 year-old majestic cedar in the rainforest, there is no wind or lightning storm that can cause them to topple.

Until they do, suddenly, tragically, mysteriously.

All that’s left after the fall is an ugly hole and a ragged scar in the earth until the ache slowly subsides and healing begins to take hold – eventually all returns to a new normal, a normal that never quite feels like the old normal.

Cut Cedar Stump

In the same week as this happens, my long – yes, 25 crazy years long – “planned retirement” has taken place. My co-workers happily razz me as I’ve threatened to retire since I was 30 years old.

Anyway, after 37 years as a medical lab technologist, I’ve chosen to push the employment door open and leap into the thin air … thin because there’s no longer a bi-weekly parachuting paycheque providing a security cloud to reassuredly float upon. Thin too, because it’s a major upheaval to the world I’ve always known.

I said in an earlier post that the only thing we have to do is die.

All we have to do is … die.

Everything else is optional, a choice, a decision that makes us think about where we want to be and where we want to go.

It sounds simple on the surface and utterly rational, but making choices is really one of life’s more difficult assignments.

I don’t want to expire in my office chair … either literally or figuratively. I’m not the drag-him-out-by-his-boots kind of guy.

Workwise, I’ve been expiring little-by-little as the IT role I fill loses the challenges it once held. A few years ago I woke up each morning with enthusiastic thoughts about the problems I would conquer and the great feelings associated with overcoming the blockages.

But the demanding obstructions grew fewer as I began to master the part (I guess I was approaching 10,000 hours of practice!). I slowly began to give off those fouls smells of stagnation – I still enjoyed going to the office, but now mainly for the social outlet of the wonderful people I worked with.

You and I have been conditioned from our earliest infant breaths to go to elementary school, high school, college/university, get a job, marry and settle down, have kids, grandkids, then … lie down on the sofa watching the 10 o’clock news and sucking in our last inhalation … The Story of A Life.

But it’s just one story and just one path.

Make it your story and not the one handed to you like it was the only card in the deck. I’m pulling another card from the deck. You’ll be hearing more about this in my blog posts as I stumble along.

YellowBrickRoadFork

There are forks in the road, and the right decision is taking the fork that you want and not the want being pressed on you by those around you. This is harder than it looks and it’s subtle.

What does your heart say?

What does your stomach tell you?

If you wake up and don’t remember the last time you felt like skipping to work on Monday morning, then listen very carefully because the signs are whispering in your ear.

Sure, the fear is there too. But inside of your fear is a message. It’s a cry for change.

Hear the cry. Feel the tears.

Find a creative way to take a step beyond –  where you reach forward, as if stretching precariously out over the Grand Canyon and suck in the rarified air that so few have sampled.

If and when you accept the fear and move forward anyway despite the risks, you have the best junkie high ever.

skydiving

I’m starting my new life this coming week as I absorb the painful passing of someone I love.

The only thing I have to do is die.

And when the day comes that I’m lying in my deathbed, I want to know that I loved and feared and lived.

The emotions – the good, the bad, and the ugly – have all been accepted and embraced. I’m growing a pair.

For better. For worse…

… ’til death I depart.

 

 

Become the “Master of Your Domain”

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the world owes me nothing

The world owes me nothing.

The world owes you nothing. Your mother owes you nothing. The lottery corporations and casinos especially owe you nothing.

Whatever freedom or flexibility or security you can gather in your world ultimately comes down to one thing. YOU!

I’ve almost retired from my job, oh, I think it’s six, no, 7 times now.

You would think I hate my job, but I don’t. For me, retirement is all about male ego and delusions of investing grandeur. It’s about dreaming.

In my little Walter Mitty mind, I’ve always been a supreme investor à la Warren Buffett and the way that one knows they’ve arrived through investing smarts, is by retiring from productive, human-helping, paid work. The important stuff.

…………….

I’ve never made a particularly good income in any job I’ve worked.

I delivered the Hamilton Spectator newspaper for years as a kid — made pennies, maybe a buck or two each week.

LARRY SPEC CARRIER TIFF

Yep … my first job …

At 15, I made a huge leap forward in income. I got a McJob — REALLY.

Starting in 1973, I flipped burgers at McDonald’s for 4 and a half years at a starting pay level of $1.55 per hour. A full 8 hour shift poured $12.40 into my bank account. It took a lot of late night shifts and weekends to pay $1,000 car insurance on top of college expenses.

But I was a good McDonald’s man; I was an All-Star McDonald’s man, and yes, there truly are such things.

McDonalds All-Star

After 4+ years of saturating myself a few times a week in beef fat and dehydrated onions, I concocted my last Big Mac, hugged my teen co-workers so long and walked out the door. Finishing pay rate?  $3.40 per hour.

I graduated from Mohawk College with a certified-sharp hypodermic needle in hand and headed north to begin work as a Medical Lab Technologist. My first professional position at Stanton Yellowknife Hospital in the chilly Northwest Territories  — $9.69 per hour.

I was rich … for almost a week.

Then I had to pay grown-ups bills like rent and heat and groceries. Have you checked the price of milk in Yellowknife? Alta 3.9 Beer and Black Tower wine are cheaper than their more nutritious counterparts which perhaps explains why I remember so little of my time in the NWT. If only I had figured a way to milk a caribou.

I’ve moved on to other lab jobs in small B.C. communities like William’s Lake and Comox and now in Penticton and Kelowna. I won’t tell you what my hourly pay rate is today because my co-workers who make $25 per hour would be right ticked off knowing that I make 8 times their take. That’s not true, but I like to think that I’m worth that much.

Suffice it to say, I make a reasonable wage for living a moderate North American middle-class lifestyle. No complaints but I’m a good many Ironman-length distances from the elite 1% so frequently bandied about in today’s news reports.

I’ve always thought I would be in the 1%. Or at least have a bank balance that pushed close to 8 figures. So why not?

…………….

The answer? I didn’t understand the 10,000 hour rule.

I was never going to strike it rich on the employment income side of the ledger, so I decided that investing what little I did earn was the fast track to untold wealth.

In my 20’s, I believed I could just waltz in, read a few magazine articles and books, and answer the phone when my broker-friend Rick called:

“Larry, buy as many shares of JuJube Inc. as you canIt’s a certain triple in 3 months“.

Soon, buckets of investing dollars would pour over me like runny No-Name catsup over steaming, fragrant French fries.

You’re not stupid. You know how that worked out. Broker-Rick got Rich, Client-Larry got broker.

But a LOT of people invest in just that fashion.

Over years, nay decades, I discovered that money was actually Heinz ketchup and flowed slowly. Cash needs a few wallops on the back-end until it begins to pour and some compounding momentum is gained. I learned that the best one to trust in making important investment decisions is myself.

Investment success is like masturbation, only YOU truly know what feels and works the best.

I had to read the investment books, re-read the books and then live the experience and learn from the experience. And continue learning from the experience.

Every minute. Every day. Every now. Over a period of years.

Blue Chip stock investing is the perfect thing for an easily distractible fella like me. I can apply myself for an hour or two, and then walk away for the rest of the day and come back to it refreshed… tomorrow.

Today,  I’ve finally spent the requisite 10,000 hours learning my investment chops. The learning will go on and maybe before I die I’ll gradually turn green and become Investment Yoda. But I doubt it.

give-me-all-your-money-you-will

Most of us spend most of our adult lives working, saving, and investing to find a lush oasis of financial security and a fountain of funds to make our days more pleasurable. For some it means monster homes and luxury vacations, for others it means freedom to serve and assist those in less fortunate circumstances.

We all want secure money for life and we’re all looking under every unturned rock to find it. There’s a multiplicity of ways to make, invest and keep money. But we each have to find one (or more) and then settle in faithfully for the 10,000-hour learning curve.

I found my niche and so I expect to keep getting rich slowly.

I might even retire on my 8th attempt.

Some believe that Jesus will save them. Or Allah. Or Buddha. Or Jehovah. Or a Lotto ticket.

Pray if you wish to a great higher power, but in the end, pick yourself up off the floor and make your luck happen.

You owe it to yourself.

Minion Dollars

WHEN I GROW UP … Sailing Away in Your Dreams …

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Ain’t never gonna happen –  growing up, that is.

They say that boys mature later than girls … well, we don’t truly mature … EVER!

I know I’m trying hard not to!

Most of us boys retain a big chunk of our childhood immaturity, especially when it comes to bodily-related things like farting, and sex.  Anyway, that’s not important here.

I want to talk to you about the childhood dreams we have for ourselves.

.

It’s not far to never-never land, no reason to pretend
And if the wind is right you can find the joy of innocence again
Oh, the canvas can do miracles, just you wait and see
Believe me      

Christopher Cross- Sailing

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As youngsters, we lie half-awake in our beds, the hall light peeking in through the door cracked a hair.  Our little heads are filled with swirling thoughts and emotions and longings that we conjure up ourselves or are implanted into our heads by our parents, siblings, friends, and probably more often the media.

All of those influences jumble together and after blenderizing for a few years, out pours the smoothie that is us.

Boy Dreaming

As a 10 year-old I wanted – like so many many others – to be a doctor.

I’m not sure where the idea originated for me (it may have been playing doctor with Diane Dawson when we were 4 years old), but by the time I was in middle school, I was fascinated (academically only!) by illicit drugs and resuscitation and excitements of the medical variety. I wrote and pasted school projects together about heroin and other hard drug overdoses. I wanted to wear a cool white coat and save lives.

The idea that medicine might be a financial goldmine didn’t even seep under the door into my thinking, it was strictly the lure of blood and hard-pounding excitement.

And then in the early 1970’s along came a TV show called EMERGENCY!.

It chronicled two Los Angeles paramedics roaring around the California highways and freeways, saving hundreds of poor helpless souls with their blend of IV’s, and oxygen bottles and CPR. It was super-exciting, wet-dream stuff to a young pubescent boy.

There was nothing more I wanted than to jump into a red and white Paramedic vehicle that resembled a Good Humor ice cream truck but instead of ice cream delights it would be loaded with cases of bandages, and splints and stethoscopes and drawers and compartments filled with life-saving devices.

I would race to the scene of a car accident. Sirens and flashing lights ablaze.

Rivers of blood and broken, shattered limbs would be scattered across the freeway. I would jump out of the truck in my pristine white uniform and spring into frenzied activity like a superhero. The adrenaline rush would carry me from victim to victim as I diagnosed and miraculously saved each in turn. And look, when all is done, my uniform is still white and pristine.

Beautiful, sexy women and pets would fawn like fleas on a dog over my abilities to save lives, God’s power in my hands.

emergency!! TV Show

Yup, it was either a doctor or a paramedic.

So I became a medical lab technologist.

Huh, you ask? What happened?

The swirling dreams of childhood were just that as I adjusted to my personal perceived reality. In truth, I was a good, but fairly lazy student.

Becoming a doctor required a diligence and dedication to study and long working hours that I wasn’t prepared to commit. I wanted the dream, but only if I could attain it by sending in 2 cereal box tops and $1.49, whereupon I would receive my special MD certificate and stethoscope in the return mail. Easy peasy, but my own reality show was made of fewer fantasies and more real world truth … maybe I WAS into hard drugs!

The paramedic dream was dumped into the trash can when I realized that Canada offered no such training (at the time). I could be a “lowly” ambulance attendant and pick up fractured bodies discarded by the side of the road, but there would be no IV’s and electrical heart-shocking paddles, no heroic resuscitation efforts. It was just scoop ’em and deliver ’em to the real doctors who did the fun stuff.

What to do, what to do.

X-ray technology?  Black and white images shining through on light boxes? BORING!

Pharmacist? No paddles or IV’s there either. BORING AGAIN!!

LAB? Hmmm… there were needles and blood, and machines that had flashing lights and beeped. This could be it. It was almost being a doctor without 5 extra years of school and countless study hours.

Just two full years of college training and you had a certificate that gave you permission to poke needles into people and attach wires to read their heart beating. This was sounding better by the minute.

The pay rates kind of sucked but the counter-balance was that a lot of girls were enrolled in the course… instant dating material.

Blood, needles, machines, heart wires, girls, sex in hospital closets with nurses in white-starched uniforms …YES, this was it!

Nurse-Corset-

Sign me up! I wanna be a lab tech…

I signed on and before I could take another breath I was living the dream. I wore a white lab coat. I poked people with needles. I hooked wires to people’s chests. I was surrounded by cute girls. I was living the dream and living in the far north of Canada, saving lives of the miners and Inuit.

Working in a lab has given me a good life and I’ve had many wonderful moments. I’ve had a ton of laughs with some great colleagues.

But mostly, for me, it’s a job.

Like so many dreams, reality crashed the party.

  • Hours and hours looking down microscopes at drops of urine and blood.
  • Smearing smelly stool samples onto agar culture plates.
  • Call-backs in the middle of the night were adrenalin rushes for my junkie fixes but sending cross-matched blood to real blood-gushing patients had its stresses.
  • Analysis machines that flashed and beeped frequently broke down and were often uncooperative. I remembered how unmechanically-minded I truly was.
  • Hooking wires to the chests of 300 pound elderly ladies with gooey, fetid growth beneath their breasts was … well … EWWWW!

The chocolate cake that looks so good in the TV commercial ends up tasting like thick shortening and chemicals. The crisp, refreshing beer that attracts girls in bikinis by the harem-load tastes like every other beer minus the hotties. The car with leather heated seats that zooms and screeches around corners with a ferocious roar, breaks down on the side of the highway.

Not all dreams play out perfectly in real life.

Our dreams are like candy. They give us a sugar high that is elating. They sustain us when we feel crushed or low.

We’re mesmerized by dreams, and as Martha Stewart might say, “This is good”.

Whether fulfilled or not, life should be filled with dreams and wonder. Hope and promise are delights of the human spirit. Dreams refresh and inspire us to carry on through tough, painful times and are as important to us as Santa Claus is to Virginia.

To paraphrase a little,

dreams exist as certainly as love and generosity and devotion exist, and you know that they abound and give to your life its highest beauty and joy. Alas! how dreary would be the world if there were no dreams.

Yes Virginia, there are dreams.

And we are the dreamers, both as children and adults.

And I promise you, good reader, that as long as there are dreams to be dreamed, I’ll continue to let a dim shaft of light enter my bedroom. I’ll enjoy the endless swirling eddy of thoughts and emotions and longings that sustain me through the long night with a child’s openness and sense of wonder.

I ain’t never growing up!

Santa and Virginia

Do We REALLY Have to Work?

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I have a strong tendency towards laziness.

I love to just sit and think or allow my mind to wander in whatever direction it desires.

I’m so lazy that I don’t even give my brain directions about what it should think about. It decides and I just watch and follow. It’s a stream that meanders in all directions with no riverbanks to restrict its flow.

laziness

The other day my brain decided that I’m going to stop working for a living.

Just like that, no job.

I’m not retiring, I’m quitting. And it’s not because I don’t like my job or my boss. My boss is great, and most days my job is pretty good.

So … What’s Up, you ask?

Jesus didn’t have a job.

Well, some say he was a carpenter, but I can’t find any pictures, descriptions, or drawings of his work, and I did a full Google search.

jesus_carpenter

Unlike Muhammad, he didn’t become a Dad, so he wasn’t a stay-at-home working parent while his wife was out making the bacon (she wouldn’t be Jewish I guess). Some suggest he was a bootlegger who turned water into wine and then sold it to his followers who grew in numbers because they liked his stuff, but that’s just idle rumour.

Jesus had a dream job of being a saviour. How many kids tell their Grade 2 class they want to grow up to be a Saviour? None in my school certainly.

But truthfully, I don’t want to be a saviour… too many liability issues and guilt. And then you end up crucified.

I’m seeking out a sunny field of tranquillity. It’s a kind of mid-life crisis of form and understanding, a nighttime retreat into the womb of safety and comfort.  To be childlike and carefree with only the smell of green grass and sand between my toes, swing sets in the park, ice cream on the beach. A job implies responsibility and worry over bills and leaks in the roof.

Engagement and enjoyment of life is defined both by what we do for a paycheque and what we do as passion. Sometimes they coincide and often they run separate roads.

I don’t think I’m alone in my thinking. After all, millions have read the 4 Hour Work Week and The Joy of Not Working . How many of the thousands of people working at WalMart are there because they love to work? –Damn, ANOTHER clean up in Aisle 7. Hell, even the CEO is only really there because he gets a HUGE paycheque that lets him do the things he really wants to do.

Money-spewing lotteries are over-the-top popular because the multitudes hope and pray that a few lucky numbers will give them their dream job of a life of no work. It’s an ubiquitous feeling that work is a penance we pay so that we can eat and have a boat to fish from off a sunny Caribbean beach for 2 weeks every winter.

4-hour-workweek

I’ll admit that jobs have their place. A job is an important source of social capital, it provides daily structure for many, a place to meet friends and kindle romances, a detouring path away from crime and prison for young men, an example of industriousness and duty to children and a source of self-respect for parents.

But really, nobody has a born purpose in life to buy and sell stocks. Or create an ad agency. Or ride a dusty tractor all day long. Or work in a cubicle. Those are tiny side effects of being alive. We’re conditioned in western society from Day 1 to build ourselves into a work machine that produces something of value that others are willing to pay something for.

No matter how much talent and ability and know-how we possess and want the world to beat a path to our personal toll booth, dropping gold coins into our pocket of wealth, unless what we have to offer is desirable at a reasonable price, we starve.

People start up businesses by the hundreds and thousands every week, and then a short year later they shutter the front door forever because their incredible (to them) idea for sponging up currency that couldn’t go wrong, didn’t connect. Dreams are shattered and bankruptcies are born.

The real purpose is to do the things you enjoy, with the people you enjoy and who inspire you, as much as possible. If this happens in a job setting, great. But for the majority in this world of billions of souls, work life is lived as Bob Cratchit under the heavy thumb of their own Scrooge.  Work is a necessity, undertaken as a servitude for a turkey on the table at Christmas and some coal in the winter stove.

So we’ll continue working to survive like we always have. Maybe someday we’ll devise a way to put a million dollars in each baby’s bank account at birth and the work week will become a relic of an ancient era. Robots and technology will run our factories and our supermarkets and our transit and sewage systems.

Robot in home

I wish I could live to see such a day, but I consider myself lucky to see this moment in history when I can push a switch and my house is instantly made cozy warm, or refreshingly cool. In winter, I can fly like a bird to an exotic beach with loads of fresh, juicy fruit and cold bottles of beer laid out for my picking. If I want to read any magazine or book, I can open an electronic gizmo and have it sent instantaneously through the electronic ether to my lap. While I sit in front of a huge entertainment centre in my living room with 1000’s of movies and other media delights at my fingertips.

Most of my weekly blog posts are about 1,000 words long.  It’s a good length that doesn’t usually tax you, the reader, too much.  I was going to quit at 800 words today and just relax on my sunny, warm deck.

But this luxuriously wandering, creating mind that wants me to quit my job just wouldn’t listen and take direction from me.

I guess I’ll go on being lazy, starting tomorrow…

Lazy cat