Saturday, February 18, 2017

Letter to Self

It has been slightly over ten years since I gave up a regular paycheck.  After a number of years of consulting, I gradually wound it down and settled into what I guess you would call semi-retirement, basically I recreated myself. It has proven to be a very fruitful time in my life, devoted to meaningful work of my choosing. My work now consists of genealogy consulting, writing, artwork and public speaking, but I do it on my schedule and on my terms. Awhile back in this blog,  I wrote a letter to my 22 year old self, telling the then me what I would later learn in life. Then I was on the threshold of my work life. It occurs to me that there are many times in our life where we could benefit from a word from our future self. So with that in mind, I offer a letter to my 52 year old self, the age I was when I was considering taking the plunge of leaving my job. It was a decision accompanied by some trepidation.  

Dear Self,
Life is good from where I sit.  To get there you are going to have to learn to let go, be open to the unknown and let life unfold, all things at which you are not very good. Don't worry, you'll learn and the rewards are great. You've done a good job of preparing for your future.  The hard thing is knowing when to say "It's time," to let go of titles and paychecks and start to reinvent yourself.  It takes a while to let go of the idea of a paycheck, even when it is more psychological than necessary. If you can't go cold turkey, either because you need the income or merely think you do, do some consulting or part-time work. You'll know when you are ready to let go. When you get a call on a project, ask them to describe it. If it interests you, you will know. You will start wrapping your brain around it, considering how you would tackle it. You will feel a zing. When there is no zing, it will be time to move on.  

But what about income you ask? You forget, I know you, you are a bit of a worrier, a belt and suspenders type. The savings you socked away and a lifetime of living within your means will pay off. By the time the zing is gone you will have learned to trust the time value of money. It really does grow, that's not just theory you know, even if market shocks cause it to drop precipitously now and then.  Just a heads up, it will tank right after you leave your job.  Yep, you'll be examining your portfolio every time the market dips that first year. Relax, everything will be fine. Just stay diversified and live modestly. 

Now you can begin to fully take control of your life and your time. When you are still consulting, you are always attuned to work emails and not fully attuned to yourself. When you leave that behind,you will start by settling into your natural rhythms. You've always been a night owl by nature so pretty soon you'll be pushing lights out to 2 AM, reading well into the wee hours of morning, just because you can.

As a result you will ban morning meetings before 10 AM, yet another reason to reject consulting jobs where they want you in the office in the morning.  If you're invited to serve on a board that meets over breakfast you will coyly tell them that it won't work for you as it sounds slightly impolite to say "I don't do morning meetings" to someone who doesn't have the luxury of that choice.

When the world turns topsy-turvy, you will get involved politically, stating your opinions freely on social media and in your blog. Oh almost forgot, you will join Facebook in 2008 and begin a blog in 2009. I'll explain later what those are, suffice it to say that you are more public than you ever imagined.  Anyway, it will dawn on you one day that you would have felt a bit uneasy being so open about what you thought when you were receiving a paycheck. When you had a work persona you were more careful about expressing political views, even though they tended to leak out around the edges. You were never very good at hiding what you thought. Now you will find that it feels freeing to be open about who you are and what you believe.

You will rediscover a sense of possibility. You remember when you were first starting in your career, how you always felt such a sense of anything can happen, as if opportunities lurked just around the corner. The world felt like a magical place and you discovered your ability to create something from nothing. It was exhilarating. Along the way, that got tamped down. That sense of adventure began to wane as you were called on to perform specific functions. Creativity wasn't the priority and you discovered that a well-paying job, while it has its rewards, doesn't encourage you to use all your talents. You began to wonder if that early creativity was still there. Happily you will discover it is. Your sense of possibility will be reawakened and you will feel re-energized.

Sometimes you will hear of different careers that sound interesting. You will think for a moment "I could go into that!" Then you'll remember that you've already done the career thing and typical careers eliminate flexibility in your life. That of course doesn't mean you can't dive into something new. You can be a writer or an artist or a genealogy consultant or a public speaker or any number of flexible roles. In fact you'll begin all of those paths, sometimes amping up an existing activity, sometimes discovering a whole new direction. Often you will be surprised to discover new abilities you didn't know you had. You will feel freer to experiment with new things because you have nothing to lose, no perch in a corporate hierarchy to preserve. 

You've always done a lot of volunteer work. Now you choose your commitments carefully, engaging in things that have meaning to you and where you can use the skills you enjoy using. If things don't meet that test, you bow out or take a pass. One day you look at your involvements and realize they accurately reflect your interests and values.

You will be surprised to discover many avenues to creating new friends, every interest has a community that accompanies it.  You will be out in many different circles and accumulate new friends easily, friends who share your interests, not just your career path. Writing and speaking publicly introduces you to people you might never have met otherwise.

Now the bad news, that study or closet that you've always figured you'd clean up when you had time. Not going to happen. Stop pretending. Just because you have more flexible time, doesn't mean you will commit it to things you don't like doing. Oh you might do a bit around the edges, enough to hold the chaos at bay, but when you've successfully built your new life, you will much rather spend your time exploring it.

And yes, you are getting older. On a good day, one might say you look good for your age, always that damn qualifier.   All in all though, this is a pretty good time in your life, a growing time. You can almost hear the synapses snapping.

Your Future Self

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