Brexit damage limitation

We have decided to quit the EU. It was a democratic decision with a gap of over a million between the sides, so it’s pretty clearly what the majority wanted. Unlike many Remainers and a large part of the London/finance set that make up the PF blog community, I have sympathy for the part of the Leave community who say their wages and jobs pushed down by the free movement of people after the A8 accession of countries that were much poorer than the UK. I believe their choice is not in their long and medium term interests nor in mine, but I can see where they came from.

The little Englanders and harkers back to Empire I have little time for. Let’s hear it from Boris Johnson on this

We used to run the biggest empire the world has ever seen, and with a much smaller domestic population and a relatively tiny Civil Service. Are we really unable to do trade deals?

We used to run the biggest empire in the world because we industrialised first and had the edge on being able to clobber other places into submission. Things have changed in 100 years peeps. The modern predilection for everyone’s a winner would have no truck with the entrance exams for the Empire Civil Service.

I want to preserve my capital against the own goal that is Brexit. I may have sympathy with many of the people who voted Leave, but I don’t want to sponsor their decision any more than I have to.

You wouldn’t start from here (after the Brexit result)

as the classic joke says. Fortunately I am not coming from a standing start. I started a while ago. In 2009 my HYP was largely FTSE100 based, I’m fortunate in not having great exposure to banks because I can’t value them and only a small exposure to property/housebuilders because UK property scares the bejesus out of me. But I didn’t like the geographical bias and started to shore it up with an outer circle of index funds in emerging markets, Dev world exUK and more recently VWRL world equity trackers. I was aiming for focusing less on finance and more on Life, because I was dealt a good hand by Osborne in being able to use my DC pension savings to front-run my main pension.

My main problem is that I hold sterling assets. And the big problem is that sterling will become increasingly worthless as trade and foreign investment falls. We’ve already taken a massive hit in the financial crash. I am particularly exposed to this as people still working may see their wages rise with future inflation, where as my networth is the accumulation of previous earnings. On the other hand I have advantages – redundancy is not a threat to me and I don’t owe anyone any money.

XDRs are a basket of currencies, against the £
XDRs are IMF Special drawing rights,  a basket of foreign currencies, against the £. I use XDRs because individual currency pairs just show relative changes, XDRs are the luminiferous aether of forex which gets us away from all this relativism…

Okay so a lot of it (more than half) are foreign assets denominated in sterling, so the fall in the pound will merely give me a false impression I am a great investor by raising the numbers on the screen  rather than make me fundamentally poorer in these assets, but in the end my pension is in Sterling which is most of my effective networth. Unlike some I don’t consider my house in my networth so I am neutral on that and I don’t own any rental property, so if house prices fall I don’t feel that is a bad thing.

price of gold in pounds
price of an ounce of gold in pounds

Oh and I bought a lot of gold last year, because the ermine is a skittish creature and the 2015 valuations of the UK stock market and the US stock market, together with the infinitesimal chance of Brexit[ref]as perceived at the time, but you should always bet a bit against your prejudices[/ref] scared me, and people thought gold was trash, witness the GBP/XAU chart. OK so I sold some of it before the referendum to half-split the profits which was a bad move in hindsight, but I still took a profit, and I will hang on to the ballast of the rest for a while. Unfortunately I also hold a lot of cash because I have only recently crystallised my SIPP. My dear fellow countrymen have made me 25% poorer in real terms last week, this will come through in the price of imported goods like food and fuel and pretty much anything I do if I stick a paw outside this sceptred isle.


Harold Wilson was quite right in my schooldays when he said the pound in your pocket will stay the same. It’s what you can get with that pound which changes, so I really need to do something about that cash. I have already started with some of it into VWRL, and will drip feed some of the rest as I extract it below the tax threshold into VWRL. I will accept the risk of a market crash in five years time when I will have run the SIPP flat; I will start coming out of the market in four years time and if I take a hit on the SIPP I will start to take income from the proceeds of the ISA. And if it all turns into tears in falling rain, well, that’s just the way things pan out.

I owe Monevator a few beers – my original HYP was heavily UK based with big fish from the FTSE100. But his diversification articles were compelling, and I shored the UK core up with Devworld Ex UK and emerging market index funds. In the HYP I was fortunate enough not to have a predilection for banks (how do you value a bank?) or house-builders, though my REITs look like sick puppies[ref]It’s not like these bad guys are underwater yet, but it’s getting that way[/ref]. For some perverse reason my ISA ended up on the week[ref]denominated in the increasingly worthless pounds[/ref] though it took a hit early Friday. But I have bought more gold and more VWRL. The obvious choice is in many ways Lifestrategy100 but the GBP version is too UK biased, hence a favouring to VWRL. World equities are tanking too, but the pound is tanking faster.

I’m interested in ideas though, what if anything do readers think as a way of losing less capital through the troubled times to come? Or is it as simple as sometimes you have to stick your head between your knees and kiss your ass goodbye… This one is big, and it’s bad.


Dude – where are my shares? Brexit across-the-board ISA fail

An ermine wakes to a new world and it appears I was on the losing side. The good thing is that at least the outcome of the Brexit referendum is clear; a four point lead isn’t handsome but it’s not a knife-edge. So I thought I’d open a bleary eye and perhaps buy some shares with my increasingly worthless pounds. At least I am not afraid of redundancy in the shitstorm to come, and it’s an ill wind and all that. So I whip out my TD ISA, and consider buying, to discover that my six-figure ISA has been looted – evaporated into thin air, pffft – just like that. The robbers only left a little smattering of cash, I ought to be able to buy a bag of peanuts with it on the world markets in a couple of months 😉


Bummer. So I yomp over to my Hargeaves Lansdown SIPP, and observe some shocking spreads, see if I can buy. I don’t actually want to buy in a crystallised SIPP cos of tax, but hey, any port in a storm?

HL - computer says NO
HL – computer says NO. I’m not actually sure I wanted to buy VMID at that price but it was the first code I could remember and I’ve never bought in HL before.

We’ll see later on in the day, eh? Update at 10am – TD have given me my shares back. I am amazed at the fightback – I have lost a whopping 3% which is neither here nor there for the market mayhem promised. I mean, for God’s sake, does nobody remember January? The VUKE I bought then is still 5% up, FFS. This could, of course, be because the pound is going down the toilet so fast that the weight of the foreign assets I hold are lifting the numerical picture. This is then an optical illusion – my fellow countrymen have probably made me 25% poorer in real terms. Thanks guys.

Now that I can trade I bought some VWRL. There’s a race going on here – the little matter of Brexit seems to have frightened the global horses more than I had expected, which makes it cheaper. As you can see it in USD

VWRL in the USD I haven't got
VWRL in the USD I haven’t got

So I bought some in the GBP I have

VWRL in the GBP I have got
VWRL in the GBP I have got

where you can see the pound falling faster than the assets. But to be honest I can’t actually see Brexit being such a huge deal for the rest of the world in the grand scheme of things, and if it’s good enough for Lars Kroijer it’s good enough for me. Yes, I paid more than I would have done yesterday, but then I thought Remain would win. Though I hold a lot of gold just in case 😉

About the other passengers on the Brexit bus, there’s more of them that I thought…

UKIP poster for leave says something to me, and I am not sure I like it
UKIP poster for leave says something to me, and I am not sure it’s a good sign…

The worst thing about the result is the thought of cocks like Farage and Boris running the country. Still, the will of the people has spoken, a primal scream against globalisation and austerity as well as a FU to the EU. Let’s hope the good people of the British hinterland who voted leave feel a bit more chipper about their jobs and public finances in a year’s time, eh. There were many good arguments to be made on both sides. One of the greatest wins of Leave would be the proletariat not having to support the landed gentry through farming subsides any more, but sadly that was promised away. It seems a curious own goal – the CAP is about 40% of EU spend and ceasing this redistribution of wealth from the poor to the rich would seem an obvious win 😉

I didn’t like the people on the Leave bus, and it turns out the represent the slight majority of my fellow countrymen. I will investigate if I can get German citizenship by jus sanguinis – sadly it is through the maternal line so although it will help me I am not automatically entitled as it would be had my Dad been German. I was able to easily pass the citizenship test from my general knowledge of the principles of a democracy and a decent guessing of the German character, but my German is not good enough at the moment. I am in no hurry to cease being British, but I would like to see if I can get dual nationality and become a citizen of the EU. Some of the ugliness of the Leave side, in particular the potent racism and xenophobia, makes me a little bit scared about the Britain I will grow old in. I would like to have the option of somewhere to run to[ref]It’s always good to have options, I’m not giving a view on what will happen. [/ref] should some of the heart of darkness I have seen recently begin to rise – neither of my parents was British by birth. When my mother came to Britain in the late 1950s, she had some trepidation, because of course only a decade before Britain and Germany had been at all-out war. She found 1950s Britain was a kind and tolerant country, and while there was the odd piece of hostility it was far outweighed by the gracious and kind welcome she encountered. I hope this is still part of our national character, because it was not overly apparent in the referendum campaign on either side. In general while there have been remarkable increases in tolerance and acceptance of differing lifestyles in the 60 years since she came, tribalism and incivility seem on the rise in a lot of areas.

But perhaps I am seeing through a glass darkly; I didn’t get what I voted for. Britain is still a rich country with stupendous natural beauty and I believe a basically decent people. Perhaps they showed more wisdom – after all, I viewed this referendum as running against the tide of history, I would be surprised if in 20 years the EU were the monolithic mass it is now. I would be very surprised if the Euro were still used by as many countries as it is now, indeed if it still existed at all. I am not omniscient – there is heart of darkness enough in Europe, perhaps I will grow to be fond of the English Channel again from the vantage point of Das Inselreich.



Imperial College sends me an indirect message from Oswald Spengler

Half a lifetime ago I went to Imperial College to study Physics. I then took some of this knowledge and used it in the world of work, I got to use stuff like Laplace transforms etc in filter design, and generally applied a bit of it. However, perhaps the biggest win was learning how to learn. Imperial reflected to me just how much the world has changed in a shade under 40 years, with an offer of free drinks too!

Imperial in the City: Networking event for alumni working in finance
29 June • 18:30 – 21:30 • Corney and Barrow, Canary Wharf E14 4EB

This networking event is a great chance to connect with other Imperial alumni working in finance. Your first two drinks will be complimentary, courtesy of Imperial College London, if you register in advance of the event. Please also bring your business card for the chance to win a bottle of champagne in our prize draw. Spread the word among fellow alumni in the finance industry.

Peter Thiel, Donald Trump 2016 supporter and personal grudge holder extraordinary[ref]Gawker shouldn’t have outed him, but that’s pressing his case with extreme prejudice and outside the rule of law[/ref], summed up the reasons why the West’s economies are faltering and returning less on investment. Now while Thiel is a pretty odious character IMO, he is a brilliant guy and a sharp thinker. There’s no law that says character has to go with smarts.  I share his view on why the West has lost its mojo.

We used to think the future was going to be better that today, and we used to have a damn good idea of how to go about it. We were often wrong, but we rolled up our sleeves and wrangled the world to make it more like how we wanted. It brought us decent sanitation, heated homes, longer lifespans. It also brought us reality TV, fast food and corporations too big to fail, but there has to be collateral damage in any enterprise. Thiel called this definite optimism – you’re optimistic and you know how to go get it. The young Ermine went to school in that world, all that jazz about people on the moon, much of the advances following the world wars made science and technology an interesting place to be, and I went to Imperial College to go learn Physics. Then I took some of this into the world of industry to go and make a few things happen, some of which were actually new.

Something changed, I would say in the 1980s though it had nothing particularly to do with Thatcher. Somehow we lost our nerve, , and also some of our vision for the future. It’s understandable in Britain – ever since the 1920s Britain’s influence in the world fell away, particularly after the Second World War, and the US wanted the top dog slot anyway. But I didn’t expect it, and the problem affected the US too. I suspect the seeds were sown in the 1973 oil crisis.

We became indefinite optimists – we thought the world was going to be a better place but we didn’t know the hell how. The answer to that is to corral financial resources – and let’s face it, everyone aiming for financial independence is an indefinite optimist. If you know what would work to make the world a better place you’d do it or buy it. But if you don’t, then in Thiel’s taxonomy you become an indefinite optimist – you accumulate general purpose capital because you then keep maximum optionality in taking advantage of whatever things will make the future a better place than today. You become a good passive investor, because you’re damned if you know what will work, but that something will if you diversify enough, because you are indefinitely optimistic about the future.

Finance is indefinite optimism

Indefinite optimism, writ large – in some ways finance is indefinite optimism encapsulated.There’s nothing wrong in working in finance – but thirty years ago Imperial’s graduates tended to go into industry.

Money is a claim on future human work, and you have to be optimistic that there will be future humans and they will be prepared to put in the work for your symbolic tokens when you get round to cashing them in at an exchange rate that is acceptable to you. And good luck to y’all in your networking event.

Someone got there before Peter Thiel, however, the German historical philosopher Oswald Spengler, whose magnum opus The Decline of the West paints the picture. All cultures experience

“its childhood, youth, manhood, and old age”. “Each culture has its own new possibilities of self-expression, which arise, ripen, decay and never return”

Spengler contrasted the earlier vital stages of a culture (Kultur) and the later stages when all that remains is a Zivilisation of people preoccupied with preserving the memories of past glories. Part of the essential myth of the West in continuous growth, it is a bedrock assumption and in contrast to some of the cyclical principles of Eastern thought – cyclical reincarnation had no place in the religious ideas of the West for instance.

Declinism is, of course, an eternal draw to those in the second half of life – they project the micro onto the macro. And yet I see similarities in Spengler’s narrative, and in the Economist’s thoughtful Bagehot overview of the tribal debate otherwise known as the EU referendum, which hopefully we will be shot of in a week’s time. Perhaps it is all part of the bigger picture – the Gramsci quote cited by Bagehot

“The crisis consists precisely in the fact that the old is dying and the new cannot be born; in this interregnum a great variety of morbid symptoms appear.”

was quoted three years ago in the New York Times riffing on the same sort of thing. We are living through remarkable change on many fronts, and many aspects of the old order, assumptions that held throughout my childhood and most of my working life, are changing .The balance between labour and capital has shifted dramatically in Western societies. The assumptions of capitalism are also weakening in the presence of very large corporations who can dominate important sectors globally. Facebook and social media has largely reduced the open Internet and Web of the 1995 to 2005-ish to a lowly transmission mechanism. The British press is owned by press barons with a very similar outlook to each other so a monopoly of sorts – once we had regulations to control how much of the fourth estate was in one individual’s hands but of course deregulation meant the end of such dirigiste thinking. The nation-state itself is too small to tackle some of the global issues of our times. None of these problems are insoluble, but Gramsci’s observation is apposite, because the old is dying faster than the new is being born. This is inherent in the passage of history, because otherwise the old will try and strangle the new at birth, but it does mean there will be an transitional period. Transitional periods tend to be interesting times, and not always in a good way.

I will grow old in the gathering interregnum, you dear reader, may have some chance of seeing the distant shoreline of the New. We do not know how long it will last, or if the sleep of reason will end before the morbid symptoms overtake the light. I made the mistake of following a link after the dreadful killing of a politician which led to Twitter. I don’t know what social media does to our brains, but the boorish lack of civility doesn’t give me hope. Intelligent discourse and civilised disagreement is necessary to feel our way to a new order. It’s been in terribly short supply over the last few weeks, in the vacuum the monsters seem to be multiplying.

Goya's darwing from 1799
Goya’s The Sleep of Reason Produces Monsters

We could use some definite optimism, but maybe Spengler and Gramsci are right – the West has had a good run but it is time to pass the baton on to other civilisations, perhaps yet to be born. We have some attempts in the direction of definite optimism.

1969 Apollo mission 47 years ago

Perhaps the cynical me has not thought as a child for too long and I do admire the motivation behind Tim Peake’s work, but I recall what watching the Apollo moon landing in July 1969 was like. I was at primary school and less than half the households had a TV, but the school rigged a black and white TV in the assembly hall to watch this at lunchtime. There was none of the vox pop of schoolkids asking cheesy questions – we kids were amazed at adults doing really amazing stuff that captured the imagination. There was a much greater distance between the adult world and children’s world then, and I’m not so sure it was all a bad thing, it gave something clear to aspire to. I learned electronics as a child from books written for adults, not the facile handholding and visual props of the kid-oriented maker space[ref]only some of the maker space is child-targeted, but descriptions are much more process-orientated  rather than teaching the principles of operation and designing from them. It’s a ‘here’s this picture, now go lay out these exact parts in this exact way’ rather than ‘here’s the schematic, go make this happen somehow'[/ref] now.

2016 Tim Peake addressing some schoolkids

I haven’t yet worked out if in the intervening 47 years we have gone in the direction of bread and circuses or advancement, but good luck to them all on getting more people into science. Definite optimism or bust I say…

create your future with journalling

Creating your future with a journal is a bizarre idea, but the art of creative visualisation is a mysterious beast. A lot of the problem with doing something long-term, like reaching FI, is that it is made up of an awful lot of small steps, and it’s easy to lose the way. Many years ago DxGF[ref]Dear Ex Girlfriend – the glossary system I used died in a software update a couple of weeks ago :([/ref] bought me a copy of The Artist’s Way at Work. Bless her – she had only known me when I was a good worker bee and hadn’t reached the Turning Inward which meant that I was so done with work as a concept, but that’s a different story. TAWAW is partly about recovering the spiritual and internal drive in connection with creative expression, this is the function that in many people expresses in work giving them meaning in life. This drive was reorientating in me to different parts of life, and as a result TAWAW was flogging a dead horse and merely began to piss me off. However, it has helped many people and has a big following, though I guess not so many of them are engineers.

TAWAW is all about getting back your mojo at work and being more successful and creative. It may well work if you are self-employed and in charge. I was going to toss this book out a couple of years ago but fished it back out – I had a feeling that it still has a song to sing to me[ref]There’s a version for new retirees, although it’s kinda wrongfooted from the off for me with This book attempts to address many taboo subjects for the newly retired: boredom, giddiness, a sense of being untethered, irritability, excitement, and depression, to name just a few but you never know – perhaps it has an answer for some folks asking themselves the question So what do you do all day[/ref], but it wasn’t right for that time. One of the big things in that was about “morning pages” – go get a piece of paper in the morning, before you turn your damn computer on and before you look at your phone and write down what you think, what you want of this day, year, life – whatever comes to mind.

It’s good stuff, and sort of worked for me for a while, at least I saw odd little wrinkles that I wasn’t consciously aware of, in those parts of the scribble that I could read. They were adamant you do this longhand. I am still capable of using a computer without automatically firing up the Web at the same time so I did switch to using a journal program I had used on and off as a work tracking notebook, Rooksoft’s Blog [ref]Don’t use that now, it doesn’t work right with anything post WinXP[/ref]. That way I get to actually read what I have written. Although it’s called Blog and could make static web pages, a diary/journal has no business being on the open Internet, although the blog format came from online diaries. Just like a teenage girl with her red diary that nobody, particularly her mother, should read, you need the freedom to think the unthinkable without criticism and repercussion. And articulate it. There is a case to be made that a journal is a write-only medium, but if you are trying to create your future then you need to read it back every so often.

Journalling is a big thing in the self-help niche, but the tragedy is you only get to see its value after you have been doing it for five years or more. I was recovering some of mine from the old program, to use Jekyll to give me some data future-proofing [ref]remember this has no business being outside your four walls, so it has to work on a standalone system, preferably without a database, and definitely no Cloud[/ref], and I came across some entries that reminded me of the value of this.

A bit over seven years ago a despondent Ermine was sitting in the office looking for a way out. I had been hit with a performance improvement plan and interpreted this as the writing on the wall. In looking at some of the simple living and frugality websites, I’d come across Creating a Five Year Vision on before they realised you can’t make money to frugalistas selling books. To the cynical me five year visions and particularly the way they advocated in imagining you were looking back from then seemed either very Soviet Russia or alternatively smacked of cosmic ordering and greaseballs like Deepak Chopra. Although in a purist world you shouldn’t garner information about the destination from your fellow passengers on the bus, I can’t help it, if Deepak Chopra is on board I’m getting off at the next stop. If cosmic ordering worked we would have a country full of Lottery winners and inflation running a bazillion percent.

Ariadne giving Theseus the red threat to retrace the Minotaur's labyrinth
Ariadne giving Theseus the red threat to retrace the way out of Minotaur’s labyrinth

However, we humans are frail and sometimes need the guidance of Ariadne’s thread across the pathless way once we have lost sight of our origin and the destination has yet to come into view. And I needed that bad after taking a massive hit to self-esteem and seeing the prospect of a shortened career crashing and burning ten years short of my planned retirement date. So inspired by that post I wrote this some time in 2009.

In Five Years0905mountain_sunrise

I want to pursue interests, be inquisitive, to learn about new things for the sake of it. I want to be able to recognise trees, and birds. I want to listen to the song of the city as well as that of the countryside.

I want to be the weight and waist size I was at 21. I want to read, for joy, to be lost to books. I want to be kind, to be open to others, to lose the insularity and harshness that sometimes imprisons.

I want to explore the inner world, though I wonder if I have drifted too far from it to see that distant shore. I want to build sensor systems, to see stoats in the countryside, and watch a hundred sparrows line up on a wire one day.

Then, of course, there are all the things I don’t want to do. I don’t want to work for The Firm, at least the unreformed Firm as it currently is. I don’t want to hear the corporate bullshit and to be able to simply turn my back on anybody who uses the phrase “raising the bar” and a hundred and one perversions of the English language. I want to have nobody other than me or people that I respect criticise what I do and have a money input as a result.

I got most of the way there – the one fail is the weight. I drank far too much red wine to dull the everyday pain in the three years after I wrote it, and while I have pulled my weight below what it was in 2009[ref]retirement is infinitely better that working for physical activity, and Ipswich is a relatively compact town where anywhere I want to go is in walking distance or bike distance.[/ref], this is still a work in progress. I have no idea of if it is realistic – it is perfectly possible that a 55-year old body with the same weight as my 21-year old self will have a different waist size. I believe I will find out, in a couple of years.

I have seen a stoat in the countryside, but I haven’t seen a hundred sparrows on a wire yet. These are all metaphors for the freedom of the natural world – this was a wage slave that once resented the song of a charm of goldfinches on a June morning because they were free and I wasn’t. But overall, even though this was written at a low-water mark in my life, it mostly came good. All the freedom from goals were achieved.

The rest of the narrative of that period in the journal is also a record of the three-year final push to FI – the endless grey days of just putting one foot in front of the other, the small victories of reaching Friday and a brief respite of the weekend. I still can’t believe I was prepared to drink homebrew, FFS! But the red thread held – it is all too easy to lose the big picture as you fight the day-to-day battles. Perhaps there is something to Cosmic Ordering, provided you focus on the things you can change, like saving up to win financial independence as opposed to changing the balls of the National Lottery.

I had always looked at journalling as a record of the past, but perhaps it is also a way to create some of the future. I am closer to what I wrote in 2009 in all respects, and much closer than I expected at the time, and all the direction of travel is in the right direction. Mr FinanceZombie wrote one of these too, and I wish his future self all the best and hope it works out well.

Don’t deaden the picture of your future self by writing a S.M.A.R.T description

You’re creating a myth, storytelling, it is all about the hero’s journey. The stoat and the sparrows were symbols for me to get out into the natural world more and appreciate it.Here are a load of sparrows. They’ll do. I don’t need to count 100, just have plenty, and a hedge will do instead of a wire.

Equally a whole bunch of lapwings would be a good substitute. What I wanted was more real nature, less office wall and fewer screens in my life

Lapwings near Felixstowe

The sensor systems are a metaphor for being creative with technology. You will recognise the place you sketched out if you got there, and perhaps life will throw you different opportunities and challenges on the way. It doesn’t matter – what seems to be inspiring is painting a vision of a better place. You don’t have to get to that exact place, but it has to be real enough. Business management is full of tosh about smart goals and rubbish like that. Smart goals are great for optimising one-dimensional problems, and absolutely terrible for inspiration, creativity or even civilised living which are a balance of many different variables.

Avoid making your vision conditional on things outside your control. I’ve heard far too many people spend far too much mental energy on “when I win the Lottery”. You won’t.[ref]and if you really must play it for some reason don’t think about what you’ll do with the money before you win it – at least you then just get to pay for your empty dreams in cash, rather than time as well. You can buy time enough to daydream with the winnings, should it really be you[/ref] And every minute spent on dreaming about splashing the Lottery cash are minutes taken away from creating a better life with the tools and talents you do have right now.

So consider articulating your hopes and dreams. You may just get there, because the inspiration of an imaginable picture keeps you from straying from the path towards it. Much to my surprise, it worked for me.

So what do you do all day?

One of the common things wannabe early retirees and those around them seem to worry about is what are they going to do all day. It always struck me as the most bizarre thing to fret about, but it appears that many people define themselves by work, and the answer to ‘what do you do for a living’. If you do that, then yes, the question is valid, although perhaps you might want to take a step back and ask yourself how it came to be that you define yourself by what you do rather than what you are. There is even a small constituency of folk who define themselves by the level of their spending, these should never retire 😉 At least not until they have read Erich Fromm’s “To Have or To Be“.

It’s part of the class of issues generally going with ‘what others think’. Most people are actually too busy worrying about what others think of them, it’s part of the human condition. Jim has summarised the issues well

What will your response be if you overhear your other half talking about you “lazing around”, “putting on your pipe and slippers” or “knitting cardigans”, while they continue to bring home the bacon? Did you note a tone of pity in their voice as they try to explain why you couldn’t sustain the pace of the working life any longer? Were you really so unhappy in your job that you just couldn’t take it any more? Or were you fired? Made redundant?

to which I confess I initially though “Eh? Meh” but it’s clearly an issue for some. What I do all day as a retiree is fantastically more diverse and varied than what I did at work. It’s not that surprising – you tend to specialise at work, and specialisation trends towards knowing more and more about less and less, particularly in a globalised world.

Now at work you are constrained to do that because you optimise your ability to earn money, albeit at the expense of making your career more brittle due to its specialisation, and this tends to get worse as you get older. But if you lift that constraint, then I’m with Heinlein’s Lazarus Long

“A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly. Specialization is for insects.”— Robert Heinlein, Time Enough for Love

So which of these have I done since leaving work. I’ve designed buildings, balanced accounts, taken and given orders, acted alone and cooperated, solved equations, analyzed new problems galore, build compost and measured its heat profile, programmed computers, and microcontrollers. I’ve dug trenches and laid irrigation, climbed hills and walked many more miles that I would have while working.

Among others I’ve surveyed birds, built instruments, learned all sorts of stuff, gone for drinks with friends, explored places, got lost, found my way again. I’ve helped two groups raise more than £100k via crowdfunding. The invading and fighting and dying I’ve passed on, and diapers were never something I wanted to wrangle, but each to their own. The point is that there is a richness to experience as an early retiree relative to the working me for the simple reason that I have far more freedom of action, which goes along with the independence part of financial independence. For sure, you could just as well use the time to stare at the wall, watch endless runs of daytime TV or potter in the allotment. There’s nothing wrong in that if it’s the sort of thing that lights your fire. Independence is the independence to, perhaps more than the independence from after a while.

I was going to try and break it down more but fortunately Root of Good has done the job perfectly with the Early Retiree’s Weekly Schedule, and lives a more structured life so it makes more sense[ref]I am tracking this in Outlook to see what it looks like for me, but it’s much more bitty and broken up.[/ref]

Root of Good's early retirement schedule
Root of Good’s early retirement schedule

I don’t have the structure RoG has with the school run, nor the penchant for games and Netflix but it shows the freedom they have, and particularly the great comparison with the ghastly strictures of the work schedule later in their post. As they say, that schedule has way too much red, and was only 9 to 5 and didn’t include commuting.

As a retiree there is also the greater flexibility – a couple of days ago I was able to fit in a meetup with a friend from Denmark over on a short work visit to Felixstowe where he had a space because of a delay to his meeting. Once again, freedom to take up opportunities.

There is a joy in being a generalist again, to keep learning for the hell of it and the curiosity, indeed some of the exploration of a child but with the power of an adult mind rather than the simplistic incomprehension of a child. Of course learning some things are harder – it would have been easier for me to have learned Morse code as a teenager, or foreign languages as a child, and new motor skills in general. But nearly everything else is easier after a lifetime of learning how to learn, and resources to learn are far easier and cheaper now.

There’s no shortage of interest in the world – and it’s more interesting because of its variety, when you have the independence of choice. You don’t always have to do what you’re best at – I am going out this afternoon to shoot video for someone. I’m no Spielberg, but I have learned some of the rudiments of storytelling over the years, so I can do this to help someone tell their story, and get other people on board with their project. I get to do something different for a while, it helps the common weal a little bit and I get a little bit better at storytelling. It isn’t my greatest area of expertise, but then you don’t stop growing until they shovel the dirt in. Specialisation is for insects, and for work.