Congratulations to Patrick Pichette of Google, 52 (ret)

The CFO of Google has achieved something that few high earners seem to do. In amongst all the Sturm und Drang of earning shitloads of money as CFO of Google, he heard the faintest sounds of the distant drum at 52, having climbed Kili. In itself that’s not particularly remarkable. What was remarkable, however, is that he took action. He switched the engine into neutral, and planned his glide path out.

say cheese, guys
say cheese, guys

Now the cynical Ermine observes a massive helping of cheese in this pic. Hopefully that photo is a mock-up – it would really, really piss me off to pay all that money and go to all that trouble to find such a ghastly contraption bringing unauthentic consumerism with a Capital C to a natural place. Las Vegas is fine where it is 😉 But if it’s really there, well, it takes all sorts, eh.

Be that as it may, and even if it’s a publicity stunt to promote the ailing Google Plus system, he’s outlined the fundamental problem. You’ve only got so much time in your life, and it’s running out 24 hours every day.

His valedictory post has all the usual things the rich retiree wants to do – travel the world, blah blah blah blah. It’s great- each to their own. It reminds me of the things I thought I would do lots of once I had control of my own money and time. And indeed I may still do. All these things are projected outwards, but retiring well is also an inner journey. I am reminded of the words of the Swiss psychologist Carl Jung

It seems to me that the basic facts of the psyche undergo a very marked alteration in the course of life, so much so that we could almost speak of a psychology of life’s morning and a psychology of its afternoon. As a rule, the life of a young person is characterized by  a general expansion and a striving towards concrete ends; and his neurosis seems mainly to rest on his hesitation or shrinking back from this necessity. But the life of an older person is characterized by a contraction of forces, by the affirmation of what has been achieved, and by the curtailment of further growth. His neurosis comes mainly from his clinging to a youthful attitude which is now out of season….

Carl Jung, 1929 CW 16, para 75

Translated into our times, in youth the ego is expands in strength and influence. Although the West has few rites of passage, the ego follows a well-signposted path, projecting and gradually gaining force and influence – job, career, relationships/marriage/kids. All this is promoted and is in the symbols all around us.

We don’t have many symbols for success after the turning point – look at the ads around you, they are to hang on to youth, to beauty, most commercial symbols of ageing are negative. The ads assume we want to look like we are between 25 and 29.

I lived some of Carl Jung’s neuroses in my 20s  – the young Ermine lived in a rented room in London, putting salt around the room to keep out the black slugs. I was in a decent job, 25, but I couldn’t buy a house and seemed stuck in all aspects of life other than work. I did finally sort my shit out and make changes. It wasn’t just me – the mid twenties seemed a really tough time for several of my peers too. Maybe it’s a London thing, or Imperial graduates. Maybe it’s birds of a feather sample bias. I have experienced worse lows in life since, but none as protracted. Bollocks to all the ads, I never, ever, want to be mentally again in the place I was in my mid to late 20s. For all the lows and the fortunately modest losses I have so far had since, the highs deepen and colour in with experience. That runs against the narrative of the Western Myth, and it is important to be prepared to surrender some of what was valuable in youth in order to deepen and grow. So far I have found Carl Jung’s map to be more true that that held up to me by the consumer society around me.

I did not dodge the midlife crisis[ref]I don’t really understand Jung’s chronology he termed the years from c. age 56 to c. 83 the “afternoon of life,” using the analogy of the passage of the sun through the sky from morning to night. This kind of sits ill with the typical allotment of three-score years and ten.[/ref] – arguably the forces that pinged me out of The Firm were stronger because my inner values began to diverge more an more from the values of my younger life. In particular I found it harder and harder to suck it up to The Man’s stupid metrics and bullshit ways – little empires of small desperate people doing what their immediate higher-ups said despite it being often wrong (in engineering terms) or simply against common-sense, nature and experience. The misery of mendacious measurement and metrics enforcing mediocrity and digital Taylorism continues unabated, but at least it isn’t my problem any more. There are some who simply carried on turning the handle, and good luck to ’em. I wanted to determine how I spend my days. And while I probably have the edge on Patrick on some of the inner changes, he has lived more intentionally, choosing to throw the switches of his life in a controlled manner, unlike my uncontrolled derailment from the Work strand of life. So hat tip to Patrick – a great exposition in how to retire well.

But a word in your shell-like Patrick, from someone else who retired at 52. Remember the question posited by Erich Fromm in To Have or To Be. What you do may matter less than what you become. Much heartache and angst waits for those who listen to the messages from their inner world with the coarse equipment that listened well to the messages from the outer world. We don’t help ourselves with that second half of life by trying to hold on to outdated forms. I liked this article on the adventure inward  – this passage speaks to me

In youth the ego is expanding in strength and influence. Typically, it follows the well-posted paths of society, perhaps gathering accolades along the way. But at midlife the ego is challenged to become a servant of the larger personality and soul. This is why men often encounter a feminine guide–and women, a masculine guide–in their dreams towards midlife. These figures are manifestations, or symbols, of the soul[ref]The translation of soul from German into English is hard. It has religious connotations in English which I don’t believe are in the German original[/ref]. They invite and would guide us to an understanding of our deeper nature and a more personal spirituality. Thus, we could say that in youth the ego is educated mostly by family and society, at midlife and beyond, by the soul.

One of the characteristics of the last two and a bit years is that I see that I made far too many simplifications in my model of the world and how it worked, they had served me okay in work and career. But they blinded me to faint signals from within, and also faint signals from the future too. I come to know much more how much I don’t know, and learning from others becomes easier to do but more daunting as I see the further mountains to climb in the search for wisdom.

To take one example – writing this blog has helped me, both in the obvious way that articulating something makes it clearer and throws light on inconsistencies, but also I have learned from many of readers in the comments – sometimes I have been plain wrong, but all too often there are nuances I may have missed, things I’ve been unaware of and it is always good to refine my mental models closer to the territory.

In this time I have perhaps focused on the inner journey. Maybe the time will come that I balance this outwards, though I’ll probably pass on Kilimanjaro, a quick google search still gives me the feeling of pumped up consumerism

If you’ve ever wanted to do something truly amazing, something that’s as far removed from a lazy beach holiday as possible, then Mount Kilimanjaro is calling you! Join the great explorers and mountaineers in scaling Africa’s highest peak, hiking through lush rainforests, alpine deserts and glaciers that have been there forever. With our Kilimanjaro treks, you can take on a challenge and do something awesome in Africa.

STA travel

It seems a fave for mid-life crises – a fifty-something I know did it to make himself feel better after a divorce. Good luck to y’all, whatever floats your boat.

For some reason I’ve focused on the inner journey in the first couple of years, but life has an ebb and flow. Maybe the time for travel and looking outwards is soon to come, to integrate some of the changed perspectives, to play across the strands of life. Patrick’s message is cheering, because it runs against the Calvinist Work is Good for you meme. Work is a means to an end, but it’s also good to know what enough looks like – when to consider a switch from having more to being more. Happy retirement!


13 thoughts on “Congratulations to Patrick Pichette of Google, 52 (ret)”

  1. Whilst I wish nothing but the best to anyone wise enough to embrace retirement as soon as they able to take it, I do wonder whether many in their early 50’s are actually able to flip that switch from “having more to being more”. It is hard to make that break if you feel that you still have more to give, and that you would actually “be more” if you continued to work. Timing is all, and something a lot of “able to retire but should I?” people seem to struggle with.

    Disengaging properly does require that we look inwards first, as you have done, and find fulfilment independent of the validation of work. Good luck with now turning your sights outwards, if that is where you do decide to take your next steps.


  2. I was interested to note that the Google guy mentioned that he was going globe trotting with his wife, whom he felt he “hardly knew” as they hadn’t spent that much time together due to his work! The social aspects of retirement don’t get as much attention as the financial ones, but arguably they’re more important. I think we’re all, as we grow older, going to have to focus on what we do to build those external social networks as much as our own internal ones.


  3. @ermine I agree with you and Jung.
    Speaking personally I went through the morning crisis at age 30 when I was living in Quebec during one of the numerous separation from Canada crises, and wondering just what the heck I had accomplished in life up to then. The afternoon crisis came when I had enough “career development” BS to suit me at age 58. Now I just want to be.
    @Cerridwen It was never difficult for me to get out of the work world when it was time.
    I have one bucket list trip we’ll undertake soon – a TransPacific cruise from Sydney to Vancouver – and after that I’d like to take a break and watch my grandchildren grow.
    I believe it’s easier for introverts to spot the change from morning to afternoon than it is for extroverts to do so. That might be a good topic for another essay.


  4. @Cerridwen in some ways

    “It is hard to make that break if you feel that you still have more to give, and that you would actually “be more” if you continued to work”

    is part of Carl Jung’s point. Everyone is of course different, and it’s possible that Jung’s narrative is one more tuned to the INTJ personality.

    My exit from the workplace wasn’t as controlled as Patrick’s, but in hindsight if I’d worked to 60 (NRA for The Firm) it would have been a dreadful waste of my lifestream. I didn’t know that beforehand, and there are elements of mourning for what seems lost, this is part of all psychological development.

    It’s usually better to accept the loss than to fight it if it is part of the pathway of Life – we are not a stasis. In this respect Patrick is more self-aware and living intentionally than I. It’s probable that the neurosis that precipitated my early retirement was part of the process Jung described – if one resists necessary change, it risks polluting the subconscious realms and forces change that way.

    @JimMcG – I’d agree the social aspects are very important – early retirees often have more challenge as part of their existing social networks will be still working. That’s not so bad for 50-somethings, but younger ‘extreme early’ retirees may find many of the people they know dreadfully time-poor with work and raising children.

    @Ray Interesting that you also experienced the ‘morning crisis’ – I had never come across it in the 1980s but it seems an almost recognised thing now and Dan Gilbert’s talk in this TED playlist is a lovely light-hearted critique of the human condition 😉

    It would have been nice to have cultural signposts at the time – I didn’t recognise it in The Graduate or The Paperchase, although I saw those before reaching the quarter-century.


  5. @Greg – that is interesting. One thing that stands out is the serious variation in TR across countries. The performance of South Africa, NZ and Oz are all remarkable in their (equity) returns and the timescale consistency of those returns. Denmark, Norway, Sweden and Canada all come in with creditable returns and reasonable consistency.

    I can’t work out if the equity returns are somehow currency normalised, however.

    In the UK, engineering stinks in terms of equity return. And sin pays, particularly in the US.

    More widely, I didn’t realise that Russia occupies more than a tenth of the inhabited land area of the globe and is the largest oil and gas producer according to CS!


  6. Oh I don’t know. I’d be very wary of anything based on the ideas of Carl Jung. I used to be really in to him when I was much younger but now look back at that time and realise I was conned.

    Meaning? As you say, whatever floats your boat. In later life I realised the values of the Enlightenment, of the scientific method – for which blood was spilt – are where you can find “meaning”. These values are under continued attack. We all see science under attack in the global warming “debate” but the values of the Enlightenment are coming under increasing attack in the part of the world where I live. Attacked by a powerful, rising, authoritarian, one-party state who the petty commercial interests of the west have fallen over themselves to do business with.

    You are so right about the commoditisation of the travel/adventure “experience”. It seems that climbing a remote, nameless mountain that no-one has ever heard of is somehow of less value than one with a famous name. I’ll take the nameless one every time and avoid the crowds.

    For meaning I like to read Lawrence Krauss, who pretty much states that there is no meaning and, in fact, it’s impossible that there can be any meaning. Or John Gray’s “Straw Dogs” (should be read every year) or Kurt Vonnegut, “Slaughter House Five”.

    For a decade I found deep meaning in the mountain valleys, peaks and villages of a remote part of the edge of the Tibetan plateau until someone drove a bulldozer through it was effectively converted in to a garbage dump. So it goes.

    Sort of on the topic of Google, the word “debunked” is a wonderful search term when you’re looking for the other side of some argument, particularly an idea you have taken completely on board. “Carl Jung debunked” yields some interesting reading for a former Jungian like myself.

    Now I go walking in the mountains not to find meaning but because I like walking in the mountains. That is enough.

    Sorry for the long post!


  7. Jim,
    I spent several years in my twenties searching vainly for ‘meaning’ and trying to make sense of the world. That was before I’d heard of ‘enlightenment values’ or humanism. It was also before I realised, that, in addition, my temperament is such that I’m incapable of suspending disbelief.

    Your comments invoked long-buried memories of past experiences, intellectual exploration and adventures.

    Anyone here familiar with Van Morrison’song ‘Cleaning Windows’? It’s probably worthy of a long post in its own right.


  8. Of course, ‘invoked’ should have been ‘evoked’. The act of typing requires so much effort on my part that the output suffers. That’s dyspraxia for you.


  9. @Jim You’re welcome – it’s an interesting post 😉

    As an illustrative narrative for some of the key stages my development Jung works well enough. The myth doesn’t have to be right, it has to be close enough. Like the 4% SWR or that indexing works 😉

    I certainly never realised how much Jung had bothered those of a religious temperament until I followed your suggestion! And the library has Noll’s book that looks worth a gander.

    I came to Krauss’ conclusion early over too many beers in the Imperial College bars, the existence of absolute truth really mattered to some of my pals. It may well exist, but I could never understand how the hell we would know, even if we met it.

    > the values of the Enlightenment are coming under increasing attack

    The Enlightenment is a method rather than values IMO. It is a highly effective method for a massive class of problems to which previous methods have been shown to be inconsistent and wanting. The best tool for a lot of jobs, though flawed in some areas (the bias to publication of positive results seems to distort statistical analysis, f’rinstance)

    The scientific method describes the how. It stops short of the why. It is to messy humans that it is left to imbue value to the range of possibilities that are logically possible.

    Franklin’s “what use is a newborn baby” kind of summarises it – this is a noisy and messy future serious consumptive load on the environment, but it also is meaning and hope invested in a human future.

    I appreciate Straw Dogs probably counters most of that, I will take a look sometime.

    Many of the pathologies we have now are because we follow numbers without asking ourselves ‘is this where we want to go’.

    Slavishly following numbers often prioritises the good of the many at the cost of seriously hammering the interests of outliers, and where it is exercised by power it favours strength over justice and compassion (whatever they may be). The economic trends that are concentrating wealth more and more at the expense of the 99% becoming less able to afford the bottom part of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs in the shelter and having children department are perhaps also an example of following numbers without asking what this actually means.

    > Now I go walking in the mountains not to find meaning but because I like walking in the mountains. That is enough.

    For you 😉 Other people may still seek meaning. And in the absence of that calibrated standard of absolute truth there’s no saying whether one is more accurate (or whether accuracy has any more meaning than ‘meaning’)

    Since I’ve ventured dangerously into post-modernism I rather like Jacob ERE’s requirement for a philosophy to have respect. His most pithy summary was in his comment

    Repeat after me: Nomo Pomo (no more post-modernism). I don’t think we can deconstruct respect to mean whatever is convenient and I do think respect is necessary to make a culture viable and prevent it from disintegration.


  10. That brings back some memories, I climbed Kilimanjaro back in 2004. I guess in some respects you’re right it is quite commercial, the main (Marangu) route up is called the Coca-Cola route because the scandinavian accomodation huts built along the trail have it available for sale.

    But having said that it’s still very beautiful, unspoilt and remote. You normally climb the last 10 hours to the top overnight when the scree is still frozen, so seeing the dawn break from the top is a pretty amazing experience. From our group at least 4 or 5 came down with quite serious altitude sickness so while the packaging of it does take away from the authentic experience, it can be very useful too depending on circumstances.

    Work and marriage means I have concentrated heavily on saving, and working harder in recent years. I’m not sure I’ll have quite the same means and time when I retire (still a long way off), but I hope I can still find ways to learn and experience things like this, and hopefully share them with friends and family.


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