I have tried to craft my work schedule in the model of Travis McGee, the star of 21 wise and entertaining novels by the late John D. MacDonald. McGee was a self-styled “salvage consultant” who lived in Fort Lauderdale (mostly) on a 52-foot barge-style houseboat won in a poker game (thus the vessel’s name, The Busted Flush). He was part old-school private detective, part knight errant, part philosopher, and part gin connoisseur.
McGee’s central work philosophy was to not save retirement for the end of his life, but rather to enjoy it in six-month (or thereabout) chunks throughout his life. On the flip side of the famous quote, “Youth is wasted on the young” (one of those quotes attributed to George Bernard Shaw but one for which I cannot find a solid reference), McGee apparently believed that retirement was wasted on those too old to fully enjoy themselves in it.
My work schedule can be like that at times, although I have yet to accumulate enough revenues or freedom from worrying about revenues to take a six-month break. I do, however, seek to minimize the duration of any given period of “real work”, preferring to take it in short bursts rather than in an extended, measured, balanced period. And yes, in college and grad school I was one of those students who would write papers the day (or night) before they were due, procrastinating throughout the semester and cramming for tests at the end. So far this approach hasn’t caused too much trouble for me, so I continue it out of inertia or habit.
Also, I really do like the idea of taking retirement now, rather than having to wait until I’m 65 or 70. Perhaps you might ascribe that to my reluctance to embrace delayed gratification; so be it. I prefer to think of it in Travis McGee’s terms, realizing that now is a better time for me to enjoy the pleasures of retirement rather than waiting until the end of my lifetime.
At the moment and for the next few weeks, I will be in one of those intense work times. My “day job” - what I “do for a living” – my “professional career” – is acceptable as such things go, but it is clearly not my passion-filled raison d’etre. That’s not as much of a problem when I’m only doing it on a half-time basis, but it does become a little more troublesome when I wake up early in the morning with several work-related thoughts and ideas bouncing around in my head and feel compelled to get up and work on spreadsheets detailing alternative scenarios for an upcoming trial in which I’m to be an expert witness rather than stay in a comfortably warm bed with my spouse and my cats. (OK, so the cats would wake me up to be fed pretty soon anyway; at least I could get back into bed after filling their food dishes.)
It’s at times like these that I reassure myself with Travis McGee’s philosophy of retirement as lifelong pursuit. And I suppose when I think about it with perspective, I am pretty fortunate to have been able to create that kind of work environment for myself.
I wouldn’t have arrived here without having taken some serious risks, though. I walked out the door of my previous job in April 2001, and I along with a colleague from there formed our own business. Had we known what the economy would be like in a few months, after September 11, we probably would have considered our new venture to be particularly ill timed. But we trudged onward, and in my household we got by on a blend of inexpensive food and cheap wine and credit card debt. Now that I can afford somewhat better wine and am paying down credit card debts, I can look back on those risks I took and realize that they really were worth it.
What about you? Are you stuck in a 9 to 5 (or worse) job that you feel is draining your soul? Do you define yourself by what you do, even when what you do isn’t who you want to be? Or have you found your life’s calling and are ardently fulfilling your vocation in your career? Or, alternatively, are you like me, realizing that your job is but a means to an end, working when absolutely necessary and structuring the rest of your life to live out your truer vocation? Wherever you are, I would encourage you to consider that now is the time to make the move you’ve been delaying. Follow your bliss, carpe diem, fortes fortuna adiuvat, and some other Latin phrases I can’t recall right now. Or, if you’d prefer a lyricist more contemporary than Virgil, try out this familiar U2 refrain:
You've got to get yourself together
You've got stuck in a moment and you can't get out of
Don't say that later will be better
Now you're stuck in a moment and you can't get out of it
Comments solicited – how have you managed to craft your life along these lines, or how are you frustrated in your inability to do so just yet?