Be careful what you wish for. You might just get it.
Over at SHMD[ref]I can’t spell Jim’s blog out because otherwise at least one of my readers gets banned from here at work for a while[/ref] Jim is reflecting on the meaning of early retirement for him. Intimately bound with that, of course, is what the meaning of work was for him. Retirement is the yin to the yang of work, it is often thought of in terms as a freedom from. If you’re looking for the PF angle in this piece, there isn’t one. It’s not about the how, it’s about the why, which is inherently subjective.
In looking at people who have retired, be it early or not, there are many common themes. Jim prepared himself far better for early retirement than I did, because I realised I wanted early retirement one day all of a sudden in 2009. Although it’s easy to infer that I really hated my job, I didn’t – it served me well for thirty years in all, and gave me intellectual challenge and a congenial atmosphere for 27 of those years. What I came to hate was the performance measurement system – it was the performance art in a panopticon I came to loathe – I have, in my entire 30 years at work only had one rotten quarterly appraisement. Because of other changes in my personal life, this shattered my self-image[ref]M Scott Peck, in the Road Not Travelled, sums up that often progression in life comes from loss. I had become brittle because I had thrown out elements of my psyche that I had rejected or couldn’t square with the requirements of the outer world. This is bad for the soul – rejecting capacities often pushes them into the unconscious, where they start to destroy and cause hurt.[/ref], and I initiated the escape program executed over the following three years. This post isn’t about that.
Looking back, it seemed I had two advantages on many people who retire, and find some part of themselves is going “yes, and now what?” it seems, when it comes to actually enjoying being retired[ref]The Internet Retirement Police will probably say that I am not really retired, since I earned over the £3600 pa you can stick in a pension as a true unemployed beach bum. The IRP can go stick it. I am probably the purest example of someone who genuinely doesn’t want to be working, but if I see people in the shit that I care about and I can fix it I will. There really is nothing about working that I miss![/ref]. One, being an introvert, is innate, but the other is conceptual – that of the cycle of life and its stages.
Introverts have a harder time at work. They have an easier time as retirees.
It’s not hard to see why. I somewhat simplistically mused if the difference showed in the amount of money each type needed. Yes, there probably is a difference in the amount of money needed, but this is an effect, not a cause. Let’s take a look at what Carl Jung said about the two traits[ref]The original reference is here, but Jung’s CW is dense and impenetrable. We should also remember that Jung’s patients came from the upper middle-class of his time (turn of the century to 1940s), and the women were typically SAHMs – some of the sexism in the description is probably from the sample bias. There appears to be less inherent difference in the capabilities of male and female humans than was assumed at the time. This bias affects more the description of the inferior functions than the concept of introversion and extroversion itself.[/ref]
Introverts are interested primarily in their own thoughts and feelings, in their inner world; they tend to be introspective. One danger for such people is that as they become immersed in their inner world, they may lose touch with the world around them. The absent-minded professor is a clear, if stereotypical, example.
Extroverts are actively involved in the world of people and things; they tend to be more social and more aware of what is going on around them. They need to guard against becoming dominated by external events and alienated from their inner selves. The hard-driving business executive who has no understanding of feelings or relationships is a classic stereotype of unbalanced extraversion.
Well, duh. Extroverts rock at work. They play well to the gallery which is an increasing trend of the metricised world of work and modern business theories of management. The whole point of work is to grab the external world by the balls and whack it around the chops to become a different shape. Western culture got where it got today by being extroverted and changing the world. That’s why when you flick the switch on your heating your house gets warmer – because legions of other human beings got to work pummeling the world into a different and very specific shape so that gas comes into your house, is burned in a controlled way, hot water goes round the radiators and you get warm. Previous generations had to go out and shovel coal or chop wood. I’ve spent a long time disparaging excess consumerism but it’s not all bad – central heating and vaccination against polio were not prevalent when I was born.
As a young man I had to fight the introverted nature to find success in the world. The first Turning Outward, around the mid twenties, is about the world of people and things. The world of work did once tolerate introverts in its engineers locked away in the lab[ref]I choose engineers because I was one. There are no doubt other occupations that had a use for introverts but I can’t think of any at the moment[/ref]making clever shit happen. In an increasingly connected and competitive world they get the sand kicked in their faces, one is because there’s always a cheaper guy in the massively expanded global labour pool, plus they are not team players in a business environment and people think of them like this:
Introverts have long been prejudicially perceived[ref]https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/evil-deeds/201205/essential-secrets-psychotherapy-jungs-typology-eudaemonology-and-the-elusive[/ref] as being selfish, narcissistic, pathologically shy or even psychotic. You know the sort, the shy, dangerous loner with the gun.[ref]this prejudice is not new, although it is being amplified by a culture that increasingly focuses on the outside form, sometimes at the expense of function. The young Ermine in a South London primary school was about to take the
eleven plus sorry, “independently set test” for grammar school, and there was a report from my primary school, which was generally favourable but included the term “is a lone wolf”. My mother begged the headmaster to take that out, which he did, because she understood how that sort of thing puts a red dot on your back. [/ref]
So the extrovert stops work, and all of a sudden a load of noise and hum goes quiet, the phone stops ringing, and after a while he goes WTF – get me outta here! It’s a lot more common than is given credit for, and indeed I have seen people who have gone back to work not because they needed the money, but they needed the meaning. There’s nothing wrong in that, indeed one of the hazards of FI is that at least the early retiree who goes back to work because he miscalculated and needs the money knows a good reason why he is there. Whereas the early retiree who is financially independent has some serious questions to ask themselves about why they are returning to work, because it isn’t for the money. The extrovert has to fight the extroverted nature to find success in retirement, because it is the turning inward, that complements the quarterlife turning outward. His other option is to stall the change, more of which later.
So the ermine, as an introvert, stops work, and all the noise and hum stops, and, well, peace at last. I did actually think about the web of life and connection with other people across the three years as I was getting out and took some steps to widen this, and some of it was eased by being involved in a community farm which gives me a ready-made community. I think it’s really hard for extroverts to realise that for the introvert, the whole frickin’ point of becoming FI is to go nuclear on your career. Take the battle to the enemy – work steals my time and stops me being me. I am working now not because I need the money, but because I am filling a hole efficiently that would need more resource to fill otherwise, and I care about the project and people. I don’t volunteer – 30 years of working for a living means if people want my time and commitment they can damn well pay for it, I would otherwise find it demeaning. I presume all the good people volunteering at bird reserves and the like are extroverts, as such they are getting something they need. It takes all sorts to build a world. But I’m not working for the money and as soon as someone or something better suited comes along to fill my shoes, great. Bring it on. I am Rhett Butler to the Scarlett O Hara of work
Turning freedom from into freedom to
Because it was reactive, I confess my search for financial independence was driven by freedom from. Freedom from the endless measurement, the criticisms, the you need to be doing more and more, you need to be team player[ref]Every company I have seen wants ‘good team players’. I have never been a good team player, but I think I delivered value, albeit in a less connected world[/ref], you need to sell yourself, you need to suck up this that and and the other to be good enough. I was already lethally individualistic and the shy[ref]everybody believes introverts are shy. As children yes, but if they make a successful transition across the first turning outwards in the mid-20s they are quiet, but not necessarily shy. I have led teams, and I can speak in public in front of hundreds of people[/ref], dangerous loner when, after splitting up with DxGF I heard one time too many in some ghastly all hands meeting the claptrap that there is no forced distribution, performance management is all about your individual contribution to The Firm. Like hell it is. It’s about controlling the pay bill while fostering the belief that employees have some control over the matter to encourage the hamsters to run a little faster, you sociopathic shits. It’s a zero-sum game from the employees’ pay.
Against a background of feeling hollow enough I didn’t give a damn but I demanded respect for my basic intelligence, I came to the conclusion that sometimes you have to lift the weapon, aim and fire. In amidst a hundred souls in a small lecture theatre, I stood up, and fixed the lying senior manager in the eyes. and said “Since there is no fixed ranking, as you say, you will, of course, be happy, in the interests of openness and transparency to publish the number distribution of the marks each quarter, and I will be pleased to collate this information. We will of course see the natural mean vary across time, while giving due regard to the central limit theorem over the long run[ref]the central limit theorem states that the arithmetic mean of independent random variables will be approximately normally distributed. I aimed this knowledge at this dude’s head, to acknowledge that this used to be a premier industrial research facility, and he and I had been in it long enough and we both had scientific degrees, and that we both understood that one can estimate the expected variation on the mean value of a normally distributed quantity. And guess what, the mean ain’t always going to be the same, and if it is the game is up! HR fixers usually apply this mean each quarter because it’s easier to do it that way, faking a quarter on quarter variation is possible but time-consuming. I had the advantage of having seen the spreadsheet some berk in HR had failed to remove before sending out an all-personnel email broadcast, and I knew what the quotas were.[/ref] when collated over many years, and we will expect some variance in the year-on-year means, and by inference the pay bill”. Finance obviously doesn’t want a randomly varying pay bill across departments, which is why you have a forced distribution per department. He said he would, but it never happened. Looked nervous when I caught his eye in an all-hands meeting after that, but at least the lie was not repeated.
It was that sort of daily demeaning bullshit that I wanted freedom from, as well as having to fabricate SMART goals etc. The world is going in a direction where people compete for false badges of performance – the gamification of work, social media and all that malarkey. Rhett Butler again. For sure, for personal dignity I wanted to do a decent job and deliver value at work, but I didn’t want to play the mind games or take part in the casual lies. I don’t pay games like that because I am largely internally referenced. I don’t play computer games, and I don’t play sports, and I don’t do personal bests. For what it’s worth, I got a notable payrise after that quarter, either because I was identified as dangerous and they were calculating how to run me out, or because the same loner stood up in another meeting on some project where people were high-fiving themselves about how they were going to build a great delivery system. And asked them what legal basis they would have for actually putting programmes onto that system, and did they understand the principles of licensing TV programmes in the specific Asian country they they were going to do all that stuff. Yes, I was an engineer and knew how you design the transmission system, but I had enough awareness of the big picture to realise paying customers get bored of watching testcard real fast. Paying customers are what makes it worth doing.
You do sometimes need the loner in business, because groupthink means an awful lot of bad ideas get to run too far too long. That project would have been a white elephant. It needed shooting.
Work is not the point of Life
The point of becoming FI is to go nuclear on your career. I mean FFS, it’s a serious grunt to become FI, and you don’t go through that sort of hurt to back off on the project at a whim. Despite all sorts of propaganda to the contrary, Work is not the whole point of Life in some fundamental way. It only gets to look that way after 30,40 years because – well, heck, if you get to 50-something and have thirty years of working life behind you like I had, then you’ve been doing this shit for more than half your life. How many of you at school felt that the one thing that was missing in your life was work? Not many, I’ll bet. You work because otherwise you get to suck up to pipsqueaks in the DHSS or go to prison for lamping them as they tell you to jump through a squillion hoops to get your £73 a week. Or you look at all the ads for lovely consumer stuff and figure you want some. The universal income can’t come soon enough, IMO. We don’t have enough work to match the intellectual capacity of most of our graduate output as it is, and it’s time we stopped pretending that picking up a shitload of debt is a way to get work. It isn’t, for many people. It’s a way to pick up a shitload of debt. End of.[ref] Yes, it is effectively a graduate tax as well/instead, but you only get to really believe that when you are 50 and the option lapses so the dead hand is lifted. For most of your working like you think of it as a mahoosive loan[/ref]
The point of putting up with the deprivation of becoming financially independent is to become a gentleman/woman of leisure. If you want to go part-time then for God’s sake give yourself an easier ride. It’s a much smaller ask to become well-off enough to only need to work two days a week, or four months a year if your business works that way. If you are going to go for gold, then once you have FI, don’t take prisoners. You are running out of Life 24 hours every day, don’t throw them away on Work once you have any other choice. The Times’s Luke Johnson kindly cited by Jim to save us the paywall shows the horrific paucity of imagination that can happen after you have spent half a lifetime working. You get Stockholm syndrome with Work, you start to believe it is in and of itself A Good Thing.
hostages express empathy and sympathy and have positive feelings toward
their captorsWork, sometimes to the point of defending and identifying with the captorsWork.
Slightly adapted from Wikipedia on Stockholm Syndrome
Retirement is arguably the biggest lifestyle change you will have made if you stop working after half a lifetime – most people won’t have been married or had children for as big a part of their lifetime as they’ll have been working if they get to their 50s in the traces. And there is some dignity in working and not freeloading off your fellow people, but once you’re done, you’re done. Which is then time to get on with the rest of Life.
Ah, Life, what’s it all about
Big questions need big answers. If the meaning of of Life looks like Work, well, you’ve taken 30+ years of your ticket to ride and used ’em badly, chum. As the old saw goes, nobody gets to their deathbed and says ‘I wish I spent more time at the office’. So, quite frankly, Luke Johnson, you, sir, are running away from Life. Whom do you serve, what do you want? The numbers to go up on some spreadsheet? Seriously, that gives you a rush? I can see the gravestone now. Luke Johnson. He Had Two Careers. Big ‘king deal. You ever been to a cemetery, mate? The headstones say devoted father, son, wife, husband. Nary a whisper of what he did at work unless it’s a military grave[ref]in which case his work is usually what he died of, so it’s relevant[/ref]. Nobody remembers you at work two weeks after your leaving do.
Now I do accept that each of us are different, and some readers will be thinking that their descendants are what it’s all about or something else, well, that’s all good as long as you haven’t spawned axe-murderers or a dynasty of unpleasant dictators. Others, well, it will be their ideas that will be their legacy. Some people touch others through their ideas and inspiration, or their art. It’s the people whose lives you touch, ideally in a good way, that are your legacy. Whatever it is, great. But if you look in the mirror and Work is the best you can do, then, well, okay, each to their own. But since this is my blog, and I’m sick and tired of the tedious assertion that Work is the point of Life, I call that out for the shortage of imagination it is. Yes, it’s my opinion. I am an old man compared to many of the current PF community, some of you are at the gateway of the having kids phase, a third of the way through your working lives, some at at the very beginning, you are in that long period of Work and Family being what life is all about.
But what life is about changes with time, and if it doesn’t then you are in trouble, ossification has set in and Stasis is the opposite of Life. There’s time enough to do that when you’re dead. It’s easy to lose sight of the change when it’s slow. What was it all about 30 years ago? For many it will be some of the earlier stages of Erikson’s developmental series. You’re not bothered with that so much now, potty training and walking are prerequisites for a career 😉 But it took up an awful lot of your time and energy at some stage. So why the hell should Work not be one of those stages? Don’t dither in the crossways when the time is come, FFS, let it go. I’m of the opinion that early retirement is to get on with the process of individuation earlier. I was an early retiree, not the 30s-40s extreme early retiree, though I am still over 10 years from normal retirement age. Straight through, school-university-6months dole-work-work-work-postgrad-work-work-retire
So I have done my time with the harsh mistress called Work, and never took a gap-yah or a sabbatical. I didn’t come from a rich enough background to even think of a gap-yah, and these were unusual in the late 1970s. Millennials may bitch about the load of student fees with some reason, [ref]though they should note only 11% of school leavers went to university when I graduated – the taxpayer could probably do grants provided four out of every five putative Millennial students were rejected by their university for grades not up to scratch to control numbers and impose a defacto numerus clausus. Rationing the limited resource by academic ability is considered elitist these days, so we ration by financial backing instead. I am not clever enough to understand why having enough money is not elitist whereas having enough brains is[/ref] but the very fact that gap years are much more common now shows how much richer Britain has become in the intervening thirty-odd years. I haven’t done things like travel to find myself (hint: you’re looking in the wrong place. Julia Roberts looked great in Eat Pray Love but it’s a movie, a myth, a metaphor, not real Life) or climb Mount Kilimanjaro to show I am hard. I got out of work because I was sick of metrics, and I believe it’s worth putting the time in to become wise enough to know what you value without having to measure it up against an external reference all the time. You live life, you don’t measure it, or Facebook/Instagram it, the movie of the life you live is shot in the first person, it’s not reportage.
Over those 30-35 years I have learned that work ain’t all that. Don’t get me wrong, it can be fun, you can have a good time, do good and challenging stuff, and have some great memories and make good friends, and whip some small part of the world into shape. But really, Luke, if you find Life without Work empty and meaningless, you need to get out more. And since you were necky enough to intimate that you had the one truth, I’m gonna be necky enough to say you didn’t just fail to locate the bullseye, you’re not even in the same room as the target and you’re looking the wrong way. A second career at 60 is displacement activity. There’s a cycle of stages of life [ref]While I wrote the narrative in Jung’s terminology, Erik Erikson comes at it from a Freudian tradition, and there is much commonality in the stages to my untrained reading[/ref] from birth to death, and wanting to prolong the work bit is arrested development. Luke, you’re like those really clever guys who want to freeze their heads after death so they can live for ever, without having jumped to the elementary fact that the only way to live for ever is to avoid dying in the first place.[ref]There is no bootstrap BIOS in the human brain to restore state, even if the hardware survives the freezing process. And where the bloody hell is the hard disk preserving a static copy of the OS? It beats me that people like Ray Kurzweil who is about 1000 times cleverer than I am miss this inconvenient fact that a loss of dynamic living state is a pretty total loss of information and no backup. You’re better off believing in God or the Flying Spaghetti Monster than snappily freezing a cranium that has already lost the state called Life which is the bit you are trying to catch, FFS. At least God and the FSM are inherently unprovable and could be true, rather than missing the point by conflating physical form with function.[/ref]
Fortunately other people have been here before me, Carl Jung, but more accessibly perhaps, Joseph Campbell, he of the hero’s journey and the monomyth. Eat Pray Love, for an example was a narrative, not a recipe, that’s what myth is. Western culture is desperately short of rites of passage across the great transitions of life, but by observation there are at least two big ones of adult life IMO. Childhood is wasted on mastering some basic skills, puberty is a big one, but internally focused, and we don’t even have any rites of passage for that. But there are two big transitions after you have come of age, which mind-wise is usually > 21 from what I can see.
The first unrecognised turning is the turning outward (Erikson’s stage 6, Love), when you have established who you are to yourself and immediate peer-group, and begin to refine the face you present to the world. I look at the Guardian Millennials primal scream, and I see two conflated forces. One is some issues have genuinely become harder, because greater communications have concentrated work and power to the Imperial core of decadent London. We have also become far more antisocial – there are more single households than there used to be, which is a serious problem for housing. The other is the angst of being 25 – the quarter-life crisis and the intimacy vs isolation thing, which is as old as Mankind. Your twenties are when you shift focus on getting control of who you are to you to who you are to everybody else. There is seriously no fun in that at all, there’s no damn roadmap – the milestones for my parents and me are hoplessly out of date in today’s society. For me it was (not in exactly that order) get a job, get a girl, get a house, get kids[ref]I passed on this one, it wasn’t for me[/ref], retire, die. We will all get to die. Not every fella goes for the girls, that’s cool, but most want somebody to love. Not all by a long chalk – a third of us live on our own, and having kids is not the must-have among college-educated women. You aren’t supposed to stereotype because every one of us is a special snowflake, but in the round that first turning outwards is tough.
In our individualistic Western traditions, of course, we don’t acknowledge this is tough because the Individual is King, we are masters of all we survey, and we have the myth of the endless more. In my mid twenties I could have slapped every jerk who told me “you are young, the the world is your oyster and this is about as good as it gets” So why the hell am I finding life pointless, girls just want to be friends, and I am stuck with endless choice and no damned idea of which way is up and where to allocate the meagre fruit of my labours? Oh yes, and why I am in a crummy bedsit in London and can’t afford to even think of buying a ‘king house? The oysterpeople lied, it does get better, but I’d deserve that slap if I tried to snap some young Millennial out of it with the same words because, well, the process of transformation is not a spectator sport. You must do it to integrate the learning. This turning outwards is tougher on introverts, I mean FFS, it is the turning outwards, the intimacy vs isolation phase. Introverts tend to flunk this, the archetypal geek who has no date for the prom. Engineers seem to be a particularly maladjusted and introverted crew, the Firm had way too many single guys all the way through late middle age[ref]I am talking 20, 30 years ago, it is a much more balanced though average crew now they shut the laboratories down[/ref], despite the fact many girls in the town seemed to be quite happy with the fact that the odds were good but the goods were odd. That’s tech and geeks for you.
But the guy who easily got the date for the prom and steams through at the top of their game through work tends to flunk the second call 30-40 years later, the turning inward, because he is now playing against type (Erikson’s Stage 8, where he takes the typical retirement age of 65, but early retirees get to do this earlier, assuming they have offed the kids that is). It’s another stage for which the modern world has no rite of passage, for sure we’ve been to enough retirement ceremonies where we see the old boy, and glad-hand him, wish him well, and ignore the dead eyes that see an endless routine of gym trips, shopping and daytime TV. Or, heaven help them, you could be Luke Johnson, and flunk the call to the turning inwards, because hey, success looks like work -spin the old hamster wheel again. Because, as the lovely lady once sang, every place you travel through, still yourself you see.
Who looks outside, dreams. Who looks inside, awakes
Retirement is a curious reversal of the forces that endless favour the extrovert in the Western world. It can be an awakening, but the likelihood of this is less than 50% by observation. If it isn’t an awakening, it is a stasis or a decline. Luke wants to be a serial entrepreneur because he can’t direct his gaze to the next stage in his life because he clings to old forms, in the way Donald Trump clings to the memory of when he had hair. You can run, Luke. But you can’t hide…every place you travel through, still yourself you see.
I missed the point of retiring too, but in my favour I did not stand in the way of progress, and it was easier tor me to rattle across the switch of the Turning Inwards without the brakeman seizing the wheels at the horror of running on a single track. For two years I slowly recovered from cutting off parts of my being to be able to face the external world and to become FI. Getting to FI may be easy for London-based finance people to do, but it is a massive ask for ordinary grunts or even relatively lucky mustelids. But even that was not enough, I restored myself to roughly what I was as a worker drone in 2009, after 27 years of work. The recovery was slow, because it was passive, always falling back and falling back waiting for Time. I thought I was done after two years, but I was wrong, because personal growth is not a spectator sport – the journey transforms the traveller who looks how they are changed inside by the landscape they pass through, not the tourist who looks only out the window at the scenery.
The process is slow, but it is steady if undisturbed. I gained some childish playfulness, I listen up to the sound of the birds singing, I live more in the moment. And gently and faintly I hear a change from minor to major key in the sound of the distant drummer. The change in key is from freedom from to freedom to. Many of the crises in a life long enough have a natural diastole and systole, the first part is passive and undirected, the passage of Time. I had to fall back and fall back and fall back until the unconscious processes of repair achieved enough that the system can take the strain of the active part, the freedom to picks up from the freedom from.
Like Luke, I too was running away, but unlike Luke, I was not running away from myself, so once there was enough distance from the noise and hum of Work I could hear the still voices that whispered to me what I wanted to do. I called it out okay in About when I started this a few years ago
I have seen too many days from inside office windows, I want to hear the birds, live more simply and frugally and drink in the days, rather than sleepwalk my way through them
So, extroverts of the world, you’ve had your glorious time in the sun, you’ve earned more money than I did if you had the same talents as I, and you absolutely stormed it at work, which is why some of you have this problem of what a successful early retirement looks like. And now the tables have turned. My time has come, because in the Turning Inward I am in my element. Let’s hear it from Carl Jung again [ref]Unfortunately I haven’t got a primary reference for this, I hacked it from the Net years ago. Suffolk Libraries doesn’t subscribe to the Sunday Times digital archive. I believe it was an article in the Sunday Times on the 17 July 1960 by Gordon Young, possibly titled the Art of Life and Carl Jung (who was 84 at the time)[/ref]. I want a similar level of wisdom in my eighties, should I be graced to get that far, and I have 30 years to understand myself well enough to get to where he was at his age 😉 Of course I am different, I will see things he missed, and I am sure I will miss things he saw. It is no matter. That is the point of retirement, the freedom to gain understanding and wisdom – and it’s personal. Freedom from the time sink and outward perspective of work is a necessary, but not sufficient condition to retire well.
[…] After all, we try to equip young people with all the education they need for the building up of a successful social existence. This kind of education is valid for about as far as the middle of life—say, thirty-five to forty years. Man nowadays has a chance to live twice as long, and the second half of life has for many people a structure which is thoroughly different from the first half. But this fact remains just as often unconscious. One does not realize that the rising tide of life carries young people forward to a certain summit of safety, fulfilment, or success. In this period one can forget bad experiences; life is still new and fresh, and every day renews its hope that it may bring the desired
things which one has missed hitherto.
It is when you approach the ominous region round the fortieth year that you look back upon the past which has accumulated behind you and the silent questions approach you, stealthily or openly: Where am I standing today? Have my dreams come true? Have I fulfilled my expectations of a happy and successful life as I imagined them twenty years ago? Have I been strong, consistent, active, intelligent, reliable, and enduring enough to seize my opportunities or to make the right choice at the crossroads and produce the proper answer to the problem which fate or fortune put before me? And then the final question comes: What is the chance that I shall fail again in fulfilling that which I obviously have been unable to accomplish in the first forty years?
Then, with the beginning of your life’s second part, inexorably a change imposes itself, subtly at first but with ever-increasing weight. Whatever you have acquired hitherto is no longer the same as you regarded it when it still lay before you—it has lost something of its charm, its splendour and its attractiveness. What was once an adventurous effort has become routine. Even flowers wilt, and it is hard to discover something perennial which will endure. Looking back slowly becomes a habit, no matter how much you detest and try to suppress it. Like the wife of Orpheus emerging from the underworld, who could not resist casting the forbidden look behind her, and consequently had to return from whence she came.
This sort of thing is what you might call the “way of life a revers,” so characteristic of many people and which at the beginning is adopted quite unawares: to continue in one’s accustomed style, if possible more and better—to improve on the past, as if your disposition, which accounts for all your past failures, would be different in the future. But without your being aware of it your energy is no longer attracted to its former objectives in the way it was before: enthusiasm has become routine and zeal a habit. The backwards look will not fail to show you sides and aspects of yourself long forgotten and other ways of life you have missed or avoided before. […]
Soon unconscious fantasies begin to play with other possibilities, and these can become quite troublesome unless they are made conscious in time. They may be mere regressions into childhood, which prove to be most unhelpful when one is confronted with the difficult task of creating a new goal for an aging life. If one has nothing to look forward to except the habitual things, life cannot renew itself any more. It gets stale, it congeals and petrifies[…]. Yet these insipid fantasies may also contain germs f real new possibilities or of new goals worthy of attainment.
One might advise old people to live on with the times, and realize that time would provide them with all necessary novelties. But such easy advice takes it for granted that an old individual is capable of perceiving and agreeing with new things, ways, and means. But this is just the trouble: new goals demand new eyes which see them and a new heart which desires them. In all too many cases life is disappointing and even the most cherished illusions do not last forever. It is all too easy to reach the conclusion: plus fa change, plus fa reste la meme chose. That is a fatal conclusion, however: it blocks the flow of life and causes ever so many troubles of a physical or mental nature. Your pure rationalist, who bases his expectations on statistical verities, is thoroughly perplexed when he has to deal with such cases because he ignores the one important practical fact that life is always an exception, a “statistical random phenomenon.”
It is so because it is always the life of an individual, who is a distinct, unique, and inimitable being, and not “life in general,” since there is no such thing. Then what do you advise this inimitable being to do once he passes the ominous age of forty?
An ever-deepening self-knowledge is, I’m afraid, indispensable for the continuation of real life in old age, no matter how unpopular self-knowledge may be. Nothing is more ridiculous or inept than elderly people pretending to be young—they even lose their dignity, the one prerogative of age. Looking outwards has got to be turned into looking into oneself. Discovering yourself provides you with all you are, were meant to be, and all you are living from and for. The whole of yourself is certainly an irrational entity, but this is just precisely yourself, which is meant to live as a unique and unrepeatable experience. Thus, whatever you find in your given disposition is a factor of life which must be taken into careful consideration.
I can honestly say that I have never missed Work in the last three and a half years. I’ve been at the odd celebration and drinks with ex-colleagues since then, but these were the People, not the Work. Work is massively overrated, and I can say that so far retirement has just got better and better with time 🙂 I am still slowly peeling pack the repressed inner elements that found no expression in 30 years of working , and possibly even before-
Repression is a process that begins in early childhood under the moral influence of the environment and continues through life.
[“The Personal and the Collective Unconscious,” Carl Jung, CW 7, par. 202.]
Now I am perfectly open to the charge that extroverts will view the process of understanding myself better and deepening. the process of individuation, is a narcissistic endeavour. That’s fine with me, but I don’t have their angst about missing work. Each to their own. Luke’s welcome to his serial entrepreneurship. I become a better listener and sounding board for people, and I gradually improve my general education and openness to different ideas. Overall I’ll try and take becoming a better and deeper human being over starting yet another company, but hey, whatever floats your boat. Gnothi Seauton will do for my gravestone, reads better than He Lived. He Worked. He Died 😉 Indeed, I will go further – many entrepreneurs and pretty much the entire CEO and officer class show the psychopathology of the extrovert writ large. They charge around like big swinging dicks changing this that and the other, they close offices because thy can and put swathes of grunts out of work, they introduce pathological employment practices like zero-hours contracts and all that performance management shit because it gives them a feeling of being alive. We’ve seen this movie before – I don’t normally like punk, but “Keith Joseph smiles and a baby dies on Beasley Street” sums up the same attitude from the 1980s.
I was unlucky enough to start looking for a job in the next year, Thatcher’s first recession. It was a dirty job, and some of it did need to happen, Scargill’s rent-a-goons did need taking down IMO, but the ensuing scorched earth policy is why there will not be a Northern Powerhouse three decades on – the social fabric wasn’t just razed, the ground was salted too.
An awful lot of CEO types pump themselves up like peacocks telling themselves they are so great and like the Wolf of Wall Street. The obvious question then, is why is productivity flatlining and exactly why are they looting the shareholders for their own self-aggrandisement. If I spend the next 30 years trying to gain wisdom and it doesn’t amount to a hill of beans, it is probably less damaging to Britain that is some arrogant CEO forgoes the golf course to perpetrate more destruction of shareholder value. Ogilvy Mathers who was Luke’s cause celebre spend 50 years in advertising getting us to buy crap that we don’t need with money we don’t have to please people we don’t like. Mind you, I have a sneaking suspicion the old boy was with Carl Jung in some ways
Big ideas come from the unconscious. This is true in art, in science, and in advertising. But your unconscious has to be well informed, or your idea will be irrelevant. Stuff your conscious mind with information, then unhook your rational thought process. You can help this process by going for a long walk, or taking a hot bath, or drinking half a pint of claret. Suddenly, if the telephone line from your unconscious is open, a big idea wells up within you.
but I don’t think he left the world a better place.
This is why the point of becoming FI is to go nuclear on my career
Jung’s narrative is stated better than I can say, but basically, my career was getting in my way. There are more important things for me to do with my life now, and I don’t have time for Work. At first I believed it was about freedom from, but I have not stayed still across the intervening three years, and gradually accrete some wisdom, and I came to see that I was wrong. Freedom from is necessary, but it is only when retirement becomes freedom to that I can embark on the next stage of the journey.
Younger folk can’t understand that, because they are not yet at that stage of life. Older ones may not understand it because this is not part of their calling, or perhaps they are refusing to progress -stasis is not an option. I am not saying that everyone is like me, we diverge more and more from each other as we get older, I know many people for whom the meaning of life is the way of the hearthfire and children and grandchildren are what it’s about for them at the early retirement stage of life.
Others volunteer for positive reasons, not to run away from the still, silent voice within but to lend their energies to making the world a better place. But many regress, they cannot surrender the lamps that illuminated their early and middle adulthood, they search without for what is probably to be found within. Far too many people vegetate, they lack the courage or the awareness to throw the switches of their life and it descends into endless dissipation, daytime TV and travel that is about novelty rather than experience. I have seen this failure in relatives from two generations of my own family, though in fairness to these people when you have worked from 14 to 65 work has been what you have been doing over three-quarters of your life, perhaps the failure to adapt to the change is more understandable.
What I am saying is undoubtedly wrong for some people, but in general I think Carl Jung had a lot of point. Our society has become dramatically more outward-focused, extroverted and lauds external success more than in the 1960s of that article. But for all that, and the stupendous improvements in the physical fabric and quality of nearly all material goods and services, why do we have such disaffection and widespread issues with mental health? We have symptom-addressing fixes like mindfulness masquerading for inner knowledge and wisdom. Mindfulness is probably necessary, but I would venture it is insufficient for any deep self-awareness, and people turn to it to try and address stress issues – freedom from, not freedom to.
Even the very rich extreme early retirees of the PF community aren’t so far from having to answer some of these difficult questions and operate the switches of their lives with intent, or stagnating. If you retire ten years earlier in life than I did, in your early forties, then Jung’s turning point will be on you in ten years – there’s a case to be made that modern living has retarded these stages of life compared to earlier generations because we live longer than they did; as a practical illustration people tend to have children in their mid thirties now rather than the mid-twenties of my parents’ generation. I missed my own turning point, it is clear looking back in the rear-view mirror occupying the early to mid forties. The turning inward is important – because it integrates many of the experiences of the first half of life, to become whole. I have seen that in some, though by no means all, of the elderly people around me when I was a child – even at a young age I could tell that they knew something that has special, and different from other people that age who did whatever the 1960s equivalent of going to the gym and watching daytime TV was. You lose some physical capacity as you age. It is when you catch yourself not gaining wisdom as you age that you know that you are on the wrong track.
Carl Jung note
I have borrowed from the ideas of the Swiss psychologist Carl Jung extensively in this post. I find his map of the world useful for my psyche, in particular the psychological types and the archetypes have a resonance for me. However, as this article shows, his ideas are often at variance with modern psychological principles, and some of the concepts make people with certain types of world-view which are very common in the PF community choke on their beer. You know the pack-drill, it’s the same as for finance- – DYOR, I may have it all wrong, what works for me may not work for you etc,
On the whole modern psychology has not viewed Jung’s theory of archetypes kindly. Ernest Jones (Freud’s biographer) tells that Jung “descended into a pseudo-philosophy out of which he never emerged” and to many his ideas look more like New Age mystical speculation than a scientific contribution to psychology.
However, whilst Jung’s research into ancient myths and legends, his interest in astrology and fascination with Eastern religion can be seen in that light it is also worth remembering that the images he was writing about have, as a matter of historical fact, exerted an enduring hold on the human mind.
The more accessible version is Joseph Campbell’s The Hero with a Thousand Faces which had some influence on a young fellow called George Lucas when he wrote a well-known mythical tale in the 1970s. It is possible that Jung’s map is not general but has a resonance for people of my mindset and that of a fair number of people I know. Since I am not a clinician there to sort out the problems of the world in general I am happy to run with a map that may only cover my part of the territory if helps me understand or at least orient myself. The process of individuation is not a spectator sport. You have to live it to do it.