Thursday, January 29, 2009

There is no escaping the daily structure

This one is tough for me to admit. After all these years of dreaming about and rebelling against the daily structure that going to work imposed on me, I now find that I need a daily structure.

Yes it is wonderful not to have any schedule whatsoever. It is fun to while away time alternating between reading, browsing and eating. But after a good amount of those, I am left with this feeling of dissatisfaction.

What I am also realizing is that very quickly, a structure gets imposed. One minor example: I am a fan of the TV quiz show Jeopardy! It airs at 3.30pm in my area. After a few days of regular viewing, I now find that I have pre-Jeopardy and post-Jeopardy things that I do. Even viewing a 30 minute show lends a bit of structure to my day.

I know that it would be a lot cooler to tell everyone that I have no schedule whatsoever. But the fact is that without at least a few daily rituals, I am left a little disoriented, feeling that I am not in control. So I actually seek some regularity and structure in my days.

There is no escaping the circadian rhythm, I suppose.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Retired CEO, yet very productive

Rupal asked me to read this article in Fortune magazine. There's a CEO who is worthy of being a role model for everyone. If people can attempt such things with their time, then early retirement becomes more than justified.

The article's last thought was on target.
Second, as we leave the season of giving and enter a challenging new year, we're reminded that the most valuable thing each of us has to give isn't money. Barnevik has given about $17 million to Hand in Hand, but that isn't what has made it so effective. For him and for the rest of us, the most serious gift - arguably the only serious one - is our knowledge, abilities, and passions.
Read the full article here.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Retirement inspiration from Steve Jobs?

Steve Jobs : "The only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking. Don’t settle. As with all matters of the heart, you’ll know when you find it."

The “work” that Jobs refers to may or may not be our day jobs. One reason to ‘retire’ is so that we can seek whatever it is that we were meant for.

There are 10 more of these ‘insights’ from Steve Jobs in Rajesh Shetty’s ever-upbeat blog, Life Beyond Code.

A friend of mine pointed out that the second one in that list, the one about Socrates, was rather odd. Does anyone know the story behind Steve Job’s fascination with Socrates?

Be sure to check it out the post.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

50 Ways to Improve Your Life In 2009 - US News

My wife showed me this list of '50 Ways to Improve Your Life in 2009' in the paper version of the U.S News and World Report magazine. I can’t imagine anyone reading this list and not finding at least 5 things to consider doing in 2009.

In my case the following were intriguing or relevant:
  1. Watch TV online
  2. Keeping a ‘clothes-hanger’ journal
  3. Use glass to store food
  4. the concept of hyper-miling
  5. Starting a Nonprofit
Do check it out.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Is Excel like bicycle riding?

To phrase the question more accurately: Do we remember and retain the MS Excel things we learned all our lives, the way we are supposed to be able to ride a bike forever, once we have learned it?

I started thinking about this while updating some year-end finance spreadsheets. Back when I was working, until six months ago, I used Excel regularly every day. I was not an expert by any means, but I worked with people who were very good at VB and I learned from them. In the last six months I haven’t used VLOOKUP, haven't created any new macros, haven't even used 'AutoFilter'.

All the retirement books seem to obsess about the money outlasting the person. I feel that for someone who is taking a sabbatical the biggest fear is not about money. If my financial net-worth dwindles, I can offset that by getting a paying job. But if my cerebral net-worth starts to diminish, I am done for.

To stay cerebrally fit means to be able to use tools. And for number-crunching that means Excel. And since I don’t want to take any chances regarding the amount that I will retain, I signed up to receive Excel Tips daily by email. It is short and I scan the email tip quickly. I am not aiming to become an expert, just want to stay familiar with all that Excel has to offer.

My bicycle riding won’t be anything fancy, but I want to be able to get home.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Reasons to take up 'retirement' mid-career - Take 2

Last year, I picked up and read Elizabeth Gilbert's 'Eat, Pray, Love.' In one year, the author lives for 4 months each in 3 countries (Italy, India and Indonesia) and writes about her experiences. The time structure and the idea intrigued me very much. Gilbert writes with charm and wit, and often offers up interesting little insights. As an aside, the book has been especially popular with women.

I jotted down 3 sentences from the book, which seem to also articulate my reasons for leaving my corporate job in search for something else that is at the moment intangible.
"The Bhagavad Gita – that ancient Indian Yogic text – says that it is better to live your own destiny imperfectly than to live an imitation of somebody else’s life with perfection."

"I will say that the same thing which has helped generations of Sicilians hold their dignity has helped me begin to recover mine – namely, the idea that the appreciation of pleasure can be an anchor of one’s humanity."

"You abandon your comforting and familiar habits with the hope (the mere hope!) that something greater will be offered you in return for what you’ve given up."
All three are from various parts of Eat, Pray, Love.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Trading-In Money for Time

Every week, in my emails and phone calls, I find myself defending my decision to walk away from my job. With each variation of my response, I now realize that I am also articulating it for myself.

The underlying question is a tough one: If I am not independently wealthy, and I loved my job, why did I give it up mid-career? Every version of the answer involves time. I craved time-freedom so much that I gladly paid for it with my future earnings.

The succinct response, with apologies to the bard:
Not that I loved money less, but time more.

Related Posts:

  1. What they think of time
  2. Financial Self-help via T-shirts slogans

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Empty Bowl Meditation

I apologize if this sounds New-Agey, but it is plain old gratitude. I am pretty sure it didn’t happen before but these days, every time I sit down at the table before a meal I feel that I should be expressing gratitude.

This might be because when I was working I felt that I had somehow ‘earned’ my daily food. These days, in stark contrast, after having been very self-indulgent – reading & browsing -- I still get my food. Meanwhile, there are a billion people who are toiling hard and still going hungry.

Perhaps that’s why when I came across this simple ‘mealtime meditation’ practice by Thich Nhat Hanh, it resonated. (I found this when I was browsing the Nov/Dec 2008 issue of Spirituality & Health magazine at my local library.)

My bowl, empty now, will soon be filled with precious food. Beings all over the Earth are struggling to live. How fortunate I am to have enough to eat.

Aside: In the same magazine, I found the following quote by Mandela.
“It is what we make out of what we have, not what we are given, that separates one person from another.”

Friday, January 9, 2009

Your Dopamine, Your Retirement

There is a simple experiment with very significant consequences mentioned in Tim Harford’s ‘The Logic of Life,’ the book I am currently reading.

The Experiment In one case, experimenters offered a group of subjects a choice of a snack: fruit or chocolate. Seven in ten wanted the chocolate. A different group of subjects was offered the same choice, but with one small variation. They were told that they’d be given the snack one week after the question was posed to them. 75% of the subjects chose fruit.

What is happening here? The impatient part (the dopamine system) of our brain craves the chocolate right now, but the more sedate cognitive side opts for the healthier fruit because it is good in the long run. Harford very aptly dubs this ongoing tussle between the cognitive system and the dopamine system a ‘mental civil war’ that’s going on in all our brains.

The Relevance I first came across the various implications of the dopamine system in Jason Zweig’s excellent book Your Money & Your Brain (read it!). The book covers several interesting discussions around dopamine and the role it plays in the financial decisions we end up making and how we feel about them.

For me, personally, the cognitive side is able to assert itself over the dopamine side. When my dopamine side starts salivating at something, the cognitive side is quick to chide it saying things like “Don’t you remember? When you bought that other gizmo you used it for all of two times?” or “You know that in just two weeks you will outgrow it.” Consequently (most of the time) I am able to quell the instant-gratification urge. I will also try and wait six months to see if I am still interested in something.

This one aspect of my genetic lottery ticket has, I really believe, played a significant part in my being able to resist frivolous purchases, save up some money and be able to go with zero income for some time.

Though I haven’t seen it mentioned explicitly in the retirement context assertiveness over the dopamine system has to play a huge role in who is able financially to retire early. (Whether they choose to do so or not is a different matter.)

So if you are itching to give up your job and your current financial situation is the one thing that is stopping you, then start getting that dopamine system of yours under control.

Saturday, January 3, 2009

A Review of the first Six Months of ‘Not Working’

As of Jan 1st 2009 I have not been working for 6 months.

The one question that I get asked over and above everything else is:
How are you spending your time?

It is mildly disappointing to admit that I am doing nothing radical, just spending my time doing the same things I enjoyed while I was working, but lots more of it.

I miss (many aspects of) work. I have posted before about the intellectual stimulation and interactions that I miss. At some level it hasn't sunk in fully that I am not working. Often, it feels like I am on a 2-week vacation and that I have to get back to work on Monday.

Travel featured very prominently in these past six months. We were out on the road for well over 50% of the days with a few trips out of the US. Planning for and recuperating from these trips took up time. We tried out a cruise (Alaska's Inner Passage) and liked it so much that we went again for a Caribbean cruise.

Thanks to not having to be at work, I got to spend a week traveling in Singapore and Malaysia with my parents. I am very glad that I got to do this.

The Books that I read in last six months happened to be solely non-fiction, many of them travelogues and travel anthologies. Though I read whenever I could, I was not able to average more than one book per week in these six months. For the whole year 2008, I read 37 books, which works out to 3 per month. (These are the books I read fully. I end up finishing only about 1 in 4 books that I start. I skim through several because there simply isn’t enough time to read them all.) Yes, 37 is a decent number, but I am hoping this number would be higher in 2009. Getting to read to my heart’s content is a big reason for why I am sitting at home and not at work.

The Movies that we watched were mostly documentaries and foreign films. We are focusing on seeing movies that we imagine would be difficult to obtain in India. I averaged over 2 movies per week for 2008. I am happy with anything higher than 1 a week. We are also ending up going to the movie theater a lot more. (When we were working, we had to actively make time to go to a theater, and popping in a DVD was easier. But now, since the opportunity cost of my time has come down, the pleasure of watching interrupted in a theater outweighs the ease of a DVD.)

TV: I was never big on watching TV, before or now. However, during the Olympics and the run up to the Presidential election, I did watch a lot of TV.

I had assumed that a 6-month hiatus would be sufficient and that I would get bored, but it doesn't at all feel adequate. I can easily take 6 more months. In the coming months, my wife and I are looking to setting up a base in India and dividing our time between the US and India. That is the general plan for the 1st half of 2009.

I am fully aware that not everyone gets time off, at least in this stage of life. And though it sounds corny as I type this, not a day goes by that I am not grateful to have this gift of time.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

A Resolution Against Anchoring

I can’t remember the last time I actually made a new year’s resolution. But this year I am making one, just one. My resolution for 2009 is to try and actively refrain from Anchoring.

Anchoring is the phenomenon (technically a cognitive bias) wherein a person makes an initial estimate from very little data and starts to insist that all new evidence or data points towards their initial estimate.

I have caught myself being a victim of anchoring, defending untenable positions. My theory is that I won’t let go of my initial hypothesis because it hurts the ego to be so wrong.

Rather than pooh-poohing new data or rationalizing it away, my resolution for the coming year is to re-frame and recalibrate. I am looking forward to quickly admitting that I was wrong.