Tuesday, December 23, 2008

The Sharper your knife, the less you cry

Love, Laughter and Tears at the World's Most Famous Cooking School

This book can be looked at as being about cooking, but to me it is about the courage to follow dreams.

I finished reading this a couple of days ago. The author, Kathleen Flinn takes advantage of the fact that she is laid off work to go to Paris and study cooking at Le Cordon Blue, something she’s always dreamed of doing.

Personally, this book was inspiring because I now have the time to pursue things I’ve always thought of, and here’s someone who’s done it and written about it.

But I am recommending the book because it is very entertaining (reading about school and classroom always is) and because Kathleen writes with a sincerity and vulnerability that makes the storytelling very compelling.

Monday, December 22, 2008

A Laundry List of Self-doubt

I seem to have neglected this whole aspect of ‘not working’ in this blog. I don’t want to imply that it is always roses.

On some days, I feel something resembling envy towards those who have a job to go to regularly. This is not as bizarre as it sounds because I loved my job when I left. (In part, I left because I didn’t want my job to become all-consuming.)

Then there is always a back-of-the-mind doubt about whether my savings will suffice. Many people know and understand this fear. In my case it is a carryover from my working days and over time I have learned to relegate it to the back.

Also, not working and sitting at home seems way too hedonistic. If other people are able to take care of kids, their homes, their other commitments and put in a full day’s work, why can’t I merely go to work?

Finally, there is the fear that not going to work is just a poorly thought out half-baked idea.

Fortunately for me, these doubts don’t all assault me at once. I am guessing that thoughts such as these are to be expected, especially for one who spends time alone. I am aware of their existence, but they haven’t impacted me in any adverse way that I know of.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Quotes relating to Time

A few quotes relating to time from the assorted books that I have been reading of late.

[From Rolf Potts' Vagabonding on being time-poor]
John Muir called these folks “time-poor”—people who were so obsessed with tending their material wealth and social standing that they couldn’t spare the time to truly experience the splendor of California’s Sierra wilderness.

[Harvard Professor Juliet Schor’s essay The Overworked American]
Employers ask for long hours. The pay creates a high level of consumption. People buy houses and go into debt; luxuries become necessities; Smiths keep up with Joneses. Each year, "progress," in the form of annual productivity increases, is doled out by employers as extra income rather than as time off. Work-and-spend has become a powerful dynamic keeping us from a more relaxed and leisured way of life…

The ultimate of being successful is the luxury of giving yourself the time to do what you want to do. – Leontyne Price

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Intellectual Stimulation

Last month, I had the opportunity to get together with a bunch of my grad schoolmates from UB in the Bay Area. The range of topics that got covered was refreshing. It reminded me of what I miss about not working.

Out of the three things I used to get from my work, I mostly miss only one. The income would help, especially given what the market has done to my savings, but I don’t miss it all that much. The gratification of hearing colleagues praise the work I did (psychic income) would be great as well, but I don’t miss that either. These days, I spend most of my time with my wife, and I have been married long enough to know that wives will never praise husbands the way they were praised at work.

So what I really miss is the intellectual stimulation. There were interesting problems (big and small) to solve, interesting tidbits that I would learn from colleagues during small talk and water-cooler chats. Over time people figure out what interests you and make it a point to mention that to you. That ‘food for thought’ is what I miss the most.

Theoretically, I know that I have to compensate for whatever it is that I am missing by actively seeking that out. I guess I can seek those out in websites, newspapers and magazines, but so far it doesn’t feel quite the same. It is the classic difference between Pull vs. Push. I liked having these things pushed to me.

Lesson: Before you retire or give up your work, try and figure out what you will miss. Maybe you can then figure out how to compensate for whatever that is.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

The Last Lecture – book

What do you write when you are 47 years old, bubbling with ideas and advice, have 3 young kids and 6 months to live?

Many of us watched Prof. Randy Pausch’s last lecture at CMU online. It made the rounds in September 2007. It was so popular that he followed it up with a small book, expanding on the stories behind his one hour lecture.

The book, which is full of anecdotes is essentially a how-to-live-your-life manual. It is not directly linked to retirement. For me, reading this book took me back to when I was in my late teens, when I read and reread two books by Feynman – “Surely, you are joking Mr. Feynman” and “What Do You Care What Others Think.”

The Last Lecture is small enough that you can finish it in one or two sittings if you so desire, though it might be better to enjoy it slowly. Do take the small amount of time it takes to read it. This is a book that I recommend to one and all.

Quotes from the book:

-- We cannot change the hand we are dealt, just how we play the hand
-- The brick walls are there to give us a chance to show how badly we want something.

-- Time is all you have. And you may find one day that you have less than you think.

Dr. Pausch lost his battle to pancreatic cancer in July 2008. Sure, the book is sentimental, but it is a ‘How to Live’ book that is bound to have something for all of us to learn from.

Tip: This Holiday season, if you are at a loss when looking for a small gift to give someone, think of this book. You will not go wrong.

Monday, December 1, 2008

As If I were a Great Man…

While reading Michener’s autobiography The World Is My Home, the following two paragraphs resonated.

[[Michener resolves how he will live the rest of his life]] But as the stars came out and I could see the low mountains I had escaped, I swore: ‘I’m going to live the rest of my life as if I were a great man.’ And despite the terrible braggadocio of those words, I understood precisely what I meant: ‘I’m going to erase envy and cheap thoughts. I’m going to concentrate my life on the biggest ideals and ideas I can handle. I’m going to associate myself with people who know more than I do. I’m going to tackle objectives of moment.’

[[Michener listens to his inner voice]] I heard no voices other than the inward ones that warned me that I had come to the end of the line in the direction I had been heading and that I sorely required a new path. I had observed that certain men and women lived as if they had shorn away the inconsequentials and reserved their energies for serious matters, and I decided to pattern my life after theirs.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

NYT article - India Calling

For me, not working 9-to-5 can only be sustained by returning to India. My brother sent me this article in NY Times, where writer Anand Giridhardas does an excellent job of capturing the essence of the reverse émigré’s experience (those going back to their home countries after a stint abroad.)

He’s coined a great phrase for something that many of us have experienced, being part of multiple societies. Now I know that I am part of the ‘fusion class.’

India Calling makes great reading.

It might require you to register (free) and I highly recommend registering to be able to read NYT articles online.

Friday, November 14, 2008

So, how much do I owe?

From time to time, we all hear of these things. Whether those stories are apocryphal or not, there is a sense of low-octane injustice when we hear of, say, Russian surgeons (or Ukrainian chess GM’s) driving taxi-cabs in New York City. And when the in-laws will not allow certain well-educated and qualified daughters-in-laws to go to work, we feel that they are being incredibly retro. And then there are people like me and my wife. Qualified and able, but simply not working. In all of the above, a certain potential is not being realized.

In my case, I had 22 straight years of formal education. Though my dad paid for it throughout, I know that the Central government of India, various state governments and Universities heavily subsidized my schooling. It was the society as a whole, ‘investing’ in me. Like all investors, society also hopes for a good return on its investment. While my working for a corporation for 12 years was no public service, I did play a functional part, and I paid my taxes.

The underlying basic question that I keep asking myself, that Rupal asked me a few days ago (verbatim): Is it okay for us not to be productive to society?

My obligations still remain, I know. My difficultly is in fulfilling those obligations in ways that seem interesting to me.

Friday, October 31, 2008

For Richer or Poorer

I am surprised by the number of times people ask if I am independently wealthy. That’s what people ask when people hear from me that I have “retired.” Or if my parents are very well off, or if I have somehow ‘made it big’.

I simply laugh with the people who ask when I hear any of these. I worked in a technical department of a corporation for 12 years and had no other income. So I am not even remotely rich.

My main gripe about most of the retirement books is that they concentrate so much on finance and leave out all the other aspects of retirement. My wife and I did have some lofty “net-worth” goals when we started thinking of retirement. We started watching it month after month.

I started to get worried when my age was going up faster than our net-worth. Based on our expenses and my calculations, I started believing that these retirement books use ridiculously high numbers as the amount of dollars one needs in their ‘nest-egg’ to retire.

After a lot of discussions and internal debates, we quit knowing that we could probably get jobs again and earn what we needed. Time was what we really lacked.

This week, wandering around in Kauai, I was struck by Rule #8 in a fairly popular Red Dirt T-shirt that has 10 Hawaiian Rules. There are two ways to get rich. You can make more or you can require less.
Not having the aptitude or the desire for the former, I choose the latter.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Feels like Retirement

It’s been four months since I last went to work (my longest ever break in over 3 decades). And for the first time in all those months, this week, it felt like retirement. We all have images of what our retirement might feel like, of why it might be fun. This week my experience matched my mental image.

So I started thinking about why this might be, and how I could get this feeling to last longer.

  • We are staying in a great place in Kauai for a very reasonable price. A place with a wrap-around balcony and great amenities.
  • I have access to tons of DVD’s, great books, cable TV and the internet.
  • Yes, those are the necessities. The important thing is that I am able to sit here (away from home and the accompanying “errand pressures”) in wonderful surroundings and savor these.
  • We are here in Hawaii from Monday to Friday. While my ex-colleagues and friends and relatives are off to work, I am reading books and watching the campaigning for the upcoming election.
  • For these last few months, when we go to places we haven’t been to, or may not visit again, we are under constant pressure to run around sightseeing. We have been to Kauai before. So sightseeing is not the goal, experiencing the Aloha spirit is.
  • And finally, yesterday the Dow shot up 800 points, its second highest single-day gain ever. No matter how many times I tell myself that I should be immune to daily stock fluctuations, I admit that yesterday’s run up added to my general feeling of good cheer.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Did my duty

I voted today. One advantage of sitting at home all week is that we get to avoid rush hours where possible. On a Thursday afternoon there was no line at all for advance voting.

We had to fill out a form with our name and address, which felt retro. In the touch screen version in our precinct there were 15 full screens to choose from. Except for the Presidential candidates and the Senator and a couple of other high profile offices, I unfortunately didn’t know anything about any of those sundry office or the candidates.

Before heading out to vote, I spent a good bit of time reading up on the candidates and looking at newspaper endorsements. I wrote those down in a small notebook and took that with me.
There was also a mind-numbing list of 70 judges that we had to decide whether they get to stay in office or go. This doesn’t make any sense to me. Since lay people don’t follow the judicial processes, why ask them to vote on this? Lawyers and others involved are much better-suited for the task. I looked at the recommendations of the different bar associations and voted based on that. (But an overwhelming majority of my ballot was No Vote. I simply didn’t know enough to make a choice.)

My final ballot printout was 3 pages long. I wish we didn’t have to waste so much paper but I guess the redundancy is needed. The whole voting process (once I was assigned a machine) took close to 10 minutes. Much longer than I anticipated.

Overall, I enjoyed this freedom to cast my ballot at my convenience. Advance voting is definitely the way of the future. I wonder if we can vote from our home PC’s in 2012.

Now I am ready to sit back and watch the results come in on Nov. 4th.

Friday, October 10, 2008

The 5-Year Change Rule

I used to be an evangelist for a rule. The rule was very simple: Every five years you should change your line of work completely and radically.

Do something different, re-invent your job. In my own case, I was following it. My Bachelor’s degree was in Chemical Engineering (4 years) and I switched my major for grad school. For the next 5 years I was smitten by the possibilities that Operations Research offered. And after that, I was doing programming and working on applied algorithms for an airline for around another 5 years.

It was in my early years at the airline that I would pitch the 5-year rule to whoever would listen. I felt that varied experience counted for more than deep expertise. I'd be telling them, "Variety is more important than success. Variety is success."

I was also influenced by books like Suzuki’s Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind, whose core message is to look at everything with fresh eyes.

Five years (give or take) seemed the right amount to be doing something before moving on. The first year was for learning, the next two were productive years to practice, and in the last two, we contribute in various ways and be a guide to newcomers. After that we hand over that job or role to others and move on.

This ‘rule’ allows us have 6 to 7 different facets in a 30-year career.

You don’t, of course, have to change companies. You can take up a very different role, something completely different in your own company. (This might even be better since the people at your company already know you and might be more tolerant while you are in the learning phase.)

On the flip side, one could change any number of jobs, work in a number of different industries, and still be doing essentially the same job. If that’s the case, it is time to invoke the 5-year change rule and try to make a bigger change.

I believed in this completely and was quite persuasive. I had quite a few converts back then. A lot of my colleagues and friends and classmates agreed with the 5-year-per-line theory and thought of applying it to their own careers.

However, once I got comfortable in my role, it turned out that I wasn’t practicing what I was preaching. The money was decent and the status quo was so very comfortable. I even got promotions which meant I had to do the decent thing and stick around a little longer. After some time I stopped mentioning the rule altogether. It felt phony to bring it up and eventually I even forgot about it.

I remembered this old rule a few days, probably because I've made a big change recently. (I am no longer working.) But I think the rule has a slightly different application in the context of retirement. I am now beginning to believe that anyone who adopts the 5-year change rule won’t feel such a strong urge to “retire.” It seems like a strategy to stave off routine and boredom before it even sets in.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Crowdsourcing and Retirement

At present, there’s a reasonably clear separation between working and retirement. They are two distinct states, and generally speaking, one moves on from the working state to the retirement state.

Crowdsourcing will, I am convinced, change that. It will further blur the line. One effect of crowdsourcing in the future will be to serve as the perestroika, the restructuring, which will bring down the Berlin wall between working and retirement.

If there are as many crowdsourced projects and companies in the future as I imagine there will be, then one can ease into whatever degree of semi-retirement one is comfortable with. That’s been my thinking after I finished reading Jeff Howe’s book, Crowdsourcing. (highly recommended.)

Listed below are some bits from the book I jotted down as reminders for myself.
  • The best person to do a job is the one who most wants to do the job; and the best people to evaluate their performance are their friends and peers who, by the way, will enthusiastically pitch in to improve the final product, simply for the sheer pleasure of helping one another and creating something beautiful from which they all will benefit.
  • “No matter who you are, most of the smartest people work for someone else.” Bill Joy, co-founder of Sun Microsystems. […] Given the right set of conditions, the crowd will almost always outperform any number of employees – a fact that companies are becoming aware of and are increasingly attempting to exploit.
  • This diversely talented, highly skilled workforce must toil away in a labor market that requires ever-greater degree of specialization. This leaves people feeling overeducated and underfulfilled, with job satisfaction rates reaching all-time lows. Is it any wonder they’re seeking more meaningful work outside the confines of the workplace?
  • [On Opensource code] “The GNU GPL ‘converted’ software it was used with to its own license, an extraordinarily clever approach to propagating freedom,” notes Glyn Moody in his history of open source movement, Rebel Code. This little trick has come to be known as “copyleft” as opposed to copyright.
  • What makes open source so efficient? In the broadest of strokes, it’s the ability for a large number of people to contribute. The open source evangelist Eric S. Raymond famously summed up this fundamental truth when he wrote, that, “Given enough eyeballs, all bugs are shallow,” – which is to say that no problem is too thorny if enough people take a crack at it.
  • [On newspapers tapping into the community’s knowledge sharing through comments.] The [news]paper becomes merely the room in which the conversation takes place. Or to use Maness’s word for it, newspapers have entered the age of the ‘polylogue.’
  • [On The Billion, referring to the one billion people who have access to the internet.] “They may have between two and six billion spare hours among them, every day.” (Yochai Benkler.) The onus, then, isn’t on the crowd; it’s on companies, entrepreneurs, and anyone else with a good idea to figure out how to put that to work.

Monday, September 22, 2008

IQ, Wealth and Income

The lecturer made a remark that was impossible for me to ignore. He said, "IQ has some correlation with income, but almost no correlation with wealth."
It didn't shock me, but I found the part about wealth difficult to accept at an intellectual level. So I checked the Web to see if there was truth to what the lecturer was saying. It looks like he was right. When the journal intelligence plotted IQ against net-worth, they found no real correlation. (See graph.) This is a difficult concept to come to grips with, especially for all those who suspect that their IQ is well above average. The accepted correlation of IQ and income seems to be around 0.4 to 0.5 (Wikipedia.)

In the context of retirement (or more accurately, financial indepence which is one facet of 'retirement') the lesson for most of us is fairly straight forward. If a certain net-worth is a goal, then work towards it diligently.

Thinking damn, I am quite smart, so I should be a lot richer than I currently am might actually be counterproductive.Your net-worth won't balloon all by itself just because your IQ is high.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

One-Person Projects

I now realize that I was making excuses back then. From time to time, we all come across instances where one person, through sheer perseverance and not much else achieves something remarkable. Confronted with those examples, I was able to go easy on myself by thinking 'if only I had more time'. The thing is, I now have the time and so that excuse doesn’t work anymore.

I recently saw a documentary titled Nobelity, a one-man effort. Since I am also currently reading about Crowdsourcing (and getting very excited about the possibilities), I am realizing that both ends of the effort spectrum -- group effort or single person actions -- are equally interesting and potent.

This post is about three feature-length documentaries that I saw this year, all of which are essentially one-person efforts.

Nobelity has 9 interviews with 9 different Nobel prize winners in disparate fields, shot on location in several countries. Without exception, all these laureates are very good communicators, capable of communicating directly to the lay person about powerful ideas and concepts. (I highly recommend that you seek out and watch this on DVD.)

Turk Pipkin conceived of this project (worried about what the world would be like 50 years from now, the world his two young daughters will grow up in) and took the time (over 3 years) to follow through. It is an opportunity for us to hear Nobel laureates speaking to Turk, one on one.

Peace One Day is one Jeremy Gilley’s attempt (he almost succeeded) to see if the whole world would set aside one day each year when there would be no wars, no fighting. A world ceasefire, just for one day. Obsessed and consumed by this idea, Jeremy meets with students, NGO’s, politicians, the Dalai Lama, presidents of countries and Kofi Annan, trying to convince them to give it just a try. Again, do watch the DVD if you can get hold of a copy, if only for this guy’s persistence.

Finally, Scared/Sacred is one person’s visit to around ten places of major catastrophes (think Bhopal Union Carbide, think Chernobyl, think Cambodia’s killing fields, think Hiroshima). In these places, interviews people, hangs around and allows us to share in his personal journey. His goal is to look for lessons and to communicate hope even in these places of oppression.

All three movies are extremely rewarding, and I recommend them all. Be sure to also watch the story behind the making of these DVD in the special features sections.

Again, the humbling part all of three documentaries is that they are all one person efforts – real-life reminders of what one person can do, if only they took the time.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Caution: Time sink ahead

When I was working, my TV viewing used to average well under one hour per day (I think). An occasional sitcom (The Office or The Apprentice), 30-minutes of BBC World News, and a few PBS travel shows (Rick Steves' Europe, GlobeTrekker) now and then. There were also many days when we wouldn’t turn on the TV at all. And I was very diligent about turning off the TV so that I could make time for books.

Now that I don’t have to go to work, I am seeing a steady increase in my TV viewing. It is so easy to give in when there is the illusion that there’s plenty of time. There are always interesting (and interesting-sounding) TV shows on. The trick (for me) is in not even turning on the TV so that I don’t fritter away my time instead of using it for all the things I was hoping to do if only I had more time.

A quick web search reveals that this fact is well known and studied: There is increased TV viewing in the retirement community. When you stop working, keep this in mind and keep from reaching for the remote.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Project: No more IC engines

Now that I have been vegetating and traveling for 2.5 months, I am just starting to look at things that others are working on, the type of projects that sound interesting.

I read this article in the paper edition of Wired Magazine today, and was very impressed with what Shai Agassi is attempting to do. I don’t know if his plan is even feasible, but the sheer audacity of the idea is what impressed me the most. Imagine doing away from Internal Combustion engines altogether. No wonder Shimon Peres called his guy's phone directly.
Agassi dealt with the battery issue by simply swatting it away. Previous approaches relied on a traditional manufacturing formula: We make the cars, you buy them. Agassi reimagined the entire automotive ecosystem by proposing a new concept he called the Electric Recharge Grid Operator. It was an unorthodox mashup of the automotive and mobile phone industries. Instead of gas stations on every corner, the ERGO would blanket a country with a network of "smart" charge spots. Drivers could plug in anywhere, anytime, and would subscribe to a specific plan—unlimited miles, a maximum number of miles each month, or pay as you go—all for less than the equivalent cost for gas.

A couple of quotes from the article that resonated:
Shimon Peres: My great advantage is that I'm ignorant. My own mentor was David Ben-Gurion. He used to say all experts are experts for things that did happen. There are no experts for things that may happen.

They were joining the cause, not just the company. "Once you have a mission," Agassi told me over dinner one night last winter, "you can't go back to having a job."
Be sure to check out the article.

Addendum: When I read the following quote by Buckminster Fuller, I immediately thought of this article.
"To build a new system you don't compete with the old one, you build a new system that makes the old one obsolete."

Crowdsourcing and whales

I am currently reading Jeff Howe’s book Crowdsourcing. (Definition: outsourcing tasks to an undefined large group of people.) I find the concept both fascinating as well as very promising. While reading the book, it occurred to me that I had actually witnessed an example of crowdsourcing just last week, while I was on a cruise in Alaska.

There were over 2000 passengers and a good number of them had excellent (foot-long) telephoto cameras. From the ship's decks, they’d shoot photos of whales. The ship staff included a naturalist and in a presentation she explained that each whale’s tail had unique designs (its finger-print of sorts). She then asked that anyone who had managed to get decent photos of a whale’s tail consider uploading those photos to a marine database in Seattle. The volunteers and professionals there would then use scanning software as well as the date and time of sighting to track the movement of the whale herds worldwide.

After returning home, I looked it up and sure enough, even USA Today had run an article about this back in May 2008.

The reason I mention crowdsourcing in a retirement blog is that I believe that just a few years down the road, retirement won’t be the step change it is today, a phase of not working after a 9-to-5 corporate job. Rather, people will slowly transition into participating in ever more ‘crowdsourced’ projects and activities, some of which may augment their incomes and many that won’t. A much more diffused version of retirement.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Books to read (while in India)

In our current thinking, my wife and I plan to move our base to India starting in 2009. Since neither of us is working and we don't own a home here in the US, there isn't that much reason for us to continue to live in the U.S. So, after nearly 2 decades here, we are hoping to try out living in India.

In light of that, everything for us these days falls into one of two categories -- before-India or post-move. Where we travel to, what we buy, which restaurant we choose are all governed by this.

When it comes to reading books, the ones that I feel might be easier to get in India, I am saving to read later. I decided that I would maintain my list of books to read in India here, just in case anyone else might be interested.

* Maximum City
* Unaccustomed Earth
* A Million Mutinies Now
* Shashi Tharoor (Riot or The Elephant, the Tiger & the Cell Phone )
* The White Tiger (Adiga)
* Rushdie (perhaps The Enchantress of Florence)
* Q&A by Vikas Swarup

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Timid variations

In the same vein as my previous post, here’s something I found in Paul Theroux’ book “Ghost Train to the Eastern Star.” Again, it reminded me of how I was starting to feel at times about my day job towards the end.
“I can tell that I am growing old,” says the narrator in Borges’s story “The Congress.” One unmistakable sign is the fact that I find novelty neither interesting nor surprising, perhaps because I see nothing essentially new in it – it’s little more than timid variations on what’s already been.”

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Goals that didn't bring happiness

This morning, I read something that the famed Japanese author, Haruki Murakami said. He was referring to the time in the 90’s when Japan (he felt) sort of lost its way after dominating the world market with cameras, cars, and TV sets. Referring to the Japanese people’s beliefs as a whole, he said:
“But hard work didn’t bring us to a better place. We found that money is not the answer. We had our goals. We achieved them, but the achievement didn’t bring us happiness.”
I read that and thought it was perfect. If anyone asked me why I wasn’t working anymore, I could paraphrase that.

Friday, September 12, 2008

The Last Cup of Coffee on the Last Day at Work

An Imagined Rendezvous
Sunday, June 15, 2008

On my last Friday afternoon at work
I walked alone to the office coffee club
The same walk that I’d made hundreds of times

I was anticipating the whole ritual
Dropping my quarter into the Folgers can that doubled as the coin-box
shaking those NJoy canisters of sugar and creamer
and then pouring
and stirring slowly
for one last time.

And then the first sip, the most pleasurable one.
That night, I planned to retire my long-serving coffee mug.

At the lounge, of all people, I ran into him.
Hey, I heard you were let go, he said
I was probably imagining the glee in his voice
It was actually a mutual letting go, but I nodded yes.

He had never thought too highly of me
Our disrespect was mutual.
Because of that we were overly courteous to each other.
He took over and started to pour the coffee for me
robbing me of my ritual.

So do you have something lined up already? he asked.
I am not looking for a job, I said.
He paused and drank in that information.
But, but what will you do with all the time you will have? he asked,
his tone betraying confused curiosity.
Well, I haven’t read a single Rimbaud or a Baudelaire, I said.
He looked up from pouring the coffee,
question marks in his eyes.

He had always suspected that I was slightly off
and now I was confirming it.
My response had made him visibly uneasy.

Okay, I’ll see you around, he said
though we both knew we wouldn’t.

And with our coffee mugs full,
we both walked away
each smugly sympathetic of the other.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

A little history of the World

One reason I decided to give up working a regular job was the hope that I would have time to read a lot more. (There were many reasons, but this was a contributor.) On days when I am at home, I am managing to read about 4-5 hours a day.

Of course, this amount of reading is grossly inadequate. It is inadequate because my mountain of ignorance is made up of huge boulder-sized gaps in my knowledge.

No one seems to be mentioning this, but one side effect of traveling is that it serves to cast my ignorance into sharp, sharp relief. Every country and city I visit reminds me of how little of history and general knowledge I know. I go to Egypt and realize that I have only juvenile knowledge of their 3000 year civilization; in Mongolia I realize that I know hardly anything of the conquests of the great Genghis Khan; and every country seems to have Nobel laureates I haven’t even heard of, catchy folk songs I haven’t ever listened to. The list is endless.

One small candle of flame against this huge darkness is the book I am now reading. It is called ‘A Little History of The World’ by E.H. Gombrich. It was written in 1935, when the author was just 26 years old. The English version came out fairly recently. In under 300 pages and 40 chapters he manages to succinctly cover the entire history of the world. Since Gombrich’s publisher intended it for children, the book is immensely accessible.

Here’s what Patricia Schroeder says about the book: "Imagine the full story of human habitation on our planet being told in such flowing prose that you want to read it out loud. If you can't imagine that, read A Little History of the World and experience it!"

Check it out.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Leisure Class on both ends

There is a seductive quote in Jon Krakauer's book 'Eiger Dreams.' (That book is, in my opinion, just as readable as his very well-known Into Thin Air.)
A guy, who just lives to ski and rock-climb claims that
"At either end of the economic spectrum lies a leisure class"
The idea of people enjoying leisure (rich in time) even while being on the financially-poor end of the spectrum fascinated me. I remember mentioning this sentiment to SR, a close friend and a colleague of mine at the time.
"Ram, this sounds very cool but is not true, man" he insisted. He was probably right in his pragmatism.

But even now, after all these years, I wonder if there isn't something to that quote after all.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Me? That can't possibly apply to me. Or can it?

Sunday Neurosis

Victory Frankl (author of Man's Search for Meaning, creator of logotherapy) is thought to have coined the term Sunday Neurosis referring to a form of depression resulting from an awareness in some people of the emptiness of their lives once the working week is over.

Friday, August 8, 2008

Where does the time go?

Now that I have not worked for over a month, this has been the longest break I've had since the summer I finished my Bachelor's degree and headed for grad school 18 years ago.

In the month that I didn't work, my wife and I have been on the road for well over 3 weeks, traveling around. The travel has been pretty hectic, even though we are attempting to slow it down some. (We've never stayed in the same city or hotel for more than 2 nights in a row.) Therefore, it still doesn't feel like a real break.

The lesson for me has been that there isn't as much free time lying around as one would imagine. And that I have to consciously plan activities into my days if I don't want the time to be simply frittered away.

Saturday, July 26, 2008


I have never been a morning person. In fact, while working, I would stay up late hoping to squeeze a little more juice before letting go of each day. So I figured that when I didn't have to go to work, I would be sleeping in late every day.

The exact opposite has been happening. I am up at around 6am, which is very early for me. For around 3-4 hours (6am to 9am) I get to sip coffee and read uninterrupted. There is no pressure to get ready for work. So this has become my favorite time of the day, something I simply couldn't have predicted. In fact, I would have bet money against it. But for now, I am enjoying the mornings.

Friday, July 25, 2008

The Sufis have a saying for everything

Like many of us, I too am constantly looking for evidence that confirm the correctness of my decisions. Maybe that's why the following quote struck a chord.

“When the heart weeps for what it has lost, the soul rejoices for what it has found.”
-- Sufi

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Why John Wood left Microsoft

You could call it serendipity. I first spotted the book last August in Richmond airport’s bookstore, while waiting to board a delayed flight. I jotted down the very catchy title, got it from our library and gave it to my wife for her to read. The book really resonated with her and it definitely inspired her to give her notice at work. After finishing each chapter she was urging me to read it too.

She quit her job in February of this year and went to live in India for a few months. While living alone in Chicago, sometime in early April, I checked out the book from the library again. I read it quickly, staying up well into the night wanting to read just one more chapter.

Though I have no illusions of changing the world, I can confidently say that the book played a role in my decision to move on from my job.

Check it out – it is almost a given that you will like the book.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Not the sharpest knife in the drawer

Just a few days ago I ran into an ex-colleague of mine (Ravi G.) at a dinner party. He was mentioning his addiction to sudoku and he said that he would stay up late at night until he was able to solve a ‘medium’ difficulty websudoku.com puzzle in under 5 minutes. Now, that’s mighty impressive to me because I have only managed under-five-minutes on Easy puzzles and on rare occasions.

That got me thinking. Now that I don’t go to work and my life is devoid of the problem-solving that my day job entailed, I am really worried about my brain atrophying. Surely mental acuity drops due to disuse.

My plan to combat this (plan only, no action yet) is to get back to solving tactical chess problems, to actually attempt some of the problems from the many brain-teaser books that I own, and to find and visit web sites that are targeted at exercises for the brain.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

It's all about timing

Going purely by market performance, this has got to be one of the worst times that anyone could have picked to stop working. All my savings are in S&P500, and in the last month alone, it has dropped >10%. If this trend continues, my "experiment in retirement" would , I am afraid, have to be a very short-lived one.

A quote that resonated

Middle age went by while I was mourning for my youth.

- Mason Cooley – 1927-2002

Friday, July 11, 2008

If I hadn’t stopped working, I wouldn’t be typing this in Moldova

Just wanted to use that sentence as the title of a post. Am writing this in Chisinau. Moldova is a country that isn’t very well-known. It is a bit out of the way, and if I still had a job in Chicago to go back to, I simply wouldn’t have the vacation days to go visiting places like these.

Of course, your retort could well be, but why would anyone want to visit Moldova at all? I don’t have an adequate response to that question, or at least one that would satisfy those who ask.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

First Monday Blues

So what does someone who's just retired do on a Monday morning?

Like many, I have wondered about the same question. I was actually a little wary of facing my first Monday without work. (Aside: When I mentioned this 'fear' of Monday morning to a few others, they gave me looks of incomprehension. They were off to work and I would be free and to them it was silly that anyone would 'worry' about having nothing to do. So I stopped mentioning this to others, but I was actually not looking forward to the first Monday.)

I was hoping to sleep in late, but I was up at 7.30am, much earlier than even my normal waking time, thanks to a sense of general unease.
In order to be sure that I had things to do, I had gone overboard and packed my day with things to do. We had a trip coming up. To get ready for it meant travel planning, a visit to the airport to get some tickets, working out a way to extend our lease with our landlady by a few months, getting provisions for the trip. So in the end, except for the fact that I wasn't at work, the day went by in a blur.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Prepare your parents

My dad didn't take it well at all.

And here I was, thinking that I had prepared them very well. I had talked about it several times when I visited them in India over the Christmas holidays. And I had mentioned over the phone that I was quitting.

And when I called them to let them know that it was over, the first question my dad asked was, "Will you be able to get a job in Chicago itself?" For a brief moment, I was afraid I would get upset and say something to my dad that I would later regret, but I managed to stay calm.
"I am not looking for another job in Chicago," I told him.
There was silence on the phone from his end. I sensed that he was a little puzzled by all this. Now, I know why this would be. It is one thing for a father in India to tell others, "My son works for a Fortune 500 company in Chicago." It is quite another for him to say, "My son is, ahem, sitting at home in Chicago." Doesn't quite have the same cachet, I know.

"Well, with your qualifications, you will get a very good job in India," my father said, no doubt to reassure me. It became very clear to me that I had not prepared him at all. The simple truth is that I don't want a job in India or anywhere else for that matter. But things have to be taken slowly.
"Yes, you are right," I told him. I will burn that bridge when I get to it.

But here's my first lesson for all of you contemplating leaving your corporate job mid-career and sacking out: Prepare your parents, over and over again.

Saying goodbye

I sent a fairly bland goodbye email to a lot of my colleagues. I said it was a pleasure, thanked them for our work together, wished them luck and left.
Though I was quite tempted to send this spoof of a motivational poster (see above, from despair.com) along with my email, I didn't. It would have been in poor taste.

But I admit that I was sorely tempted.

Okay, jump already

One day, I jumped. I gave up a corporate job that I absolutely loved. After staring down and visualizing jumping off for years, to the point that I was even boring myself, I finally jumped. All in the name of the vague notion that there was something better out there, something I wouldn't find unless I jumped.

It was time to act, and so I did.

My hope is that I will post without romanticizing this whole notion of taking time off/early retirement.

So how does it all turn out?
This blog attempts to answer that.