Freedom to, not freedom from is what retirement is about

Be careful what you wish for. You might just get it.

recent Western proverb that puzzles the occasional Chinese speaker

Over at SHMD1 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-image2, 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 retired3. 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 traits4

Each person seems to be energized more by either the external world (extraversion) or the internal world (introversion).

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.

Stephen Garrett, London City Psychotherapy

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 lab5making 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 perceived6 as being selfish, narcissistic, pathologically shy or even psychotic. You know the sort, the shy, dangerous loner with the gun.7

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 player8, 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, dangerous loner9 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 run10 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.11

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 captors Work, sometimes to the point of defending and identifying with the captors Work.

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 grave12. 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, 13 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 14 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.15

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 kids16, 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 age17, 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

Carl Jung

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 18. 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?

And then?

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.


  1. 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 
  2. 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. 
  3. 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! 
  4. 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. 
  5. 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. 
  7. 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. 
  8. 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 
  9. 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 
  10. 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. 
  11. 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 
  12. in which case his work is usually what he died of, so it’s relevant 
  13. 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 
  14. 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 
  15. 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. 
  16. I passed on this one, it wasn’t for me 
  17. I am talking 20, 30 years ago, it is a much more balanced though average crew now they shut the laboratories down 
  18. 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) 

Retirement isn’t like a long weekend, or a long vacation

Something I’ve discovered is that many people who have been working for some time find it hard to imagine what life is without work, and occasionally fear the void. I’m not talking about someone who has found their vocation and genuinely enjoyed most of it. I observe that most often in the self-employed at the entrepreneurial end of things, be that in DW at The Oak Tree Farm, or the driven creative entrepreneur, or hell, even Diamond Geezer Bob ex of Barclays ;). That’s fine – but some of the rest of us wage slaves occasionally look at our lives, look at the bits that aren’t work (weekends, vacations) and subtract work to think ‘is that all there is’? with a little shiver down the spine at an imagine life of long weekends and extended vacations. For some, it seems to lack meaning and purpose.

It isn’t how it will be, but it’s an understandable mistake. When you have retired, life is not like one long weekend, or even a long vacation. Yes, the weekends are less different to the working week, obviously, but therein lies the clue. For people working 5 days a week, the two-day weekend is a brief respite, a chance to recharge the batteries, to take a break. You don’t need to do that when you have control of your own time, so your weekends are different! it still staggers me how I became almost zombified as energy drained, whole swathes of weeks merged into grey blocks of time compared to the kaleidoscope of variety. Don’t get me wrong, there was much more busyness then, but the ancient Greeks identified the problem with their concepts of Kairos and Chronos. You must live time, not just watch the hands sweep over the face of the clock. That means paying attention and doing things with respect.

Retirees still have to take some regard of the weekends, of course, because meeting up with others who are working is usually easier. Just as steam gives way to sail you need to respect other people’s time pressures. Nevertheless, life retired isn’t one long weekend, because there’s no need to decompress from the stress of work or to pack all the stuff into the two days that you couldn’t do in the other five days. It’s hard to say exactly how that is different, but it is – it is much more relaxed and more fun. Your weekends are no longer the bassline to the strident demands of work, they are part of a greater harmony.

It’s not one long vacation, either. Unless you’re very rich 😉 Even if you are, ask yourself whether an endless vacation isn’t perhaps the grown-up version of the kid who only wants to eat ice cream all the time. A life well lived has dynamic contrast, moving between different poles. A lot of your vacations while working are expensive because you are packing in a lot of stuff to make it as different from work as you can. You are usually time-constrained, too. I can’t really put this much better than GOP from this comment:

One change since I retired relates to travel. I used to go on far-flung holidays ranging from Bolivia to Bhutan which I thoroughly enjoyed but which also satisfied a need to get as far away from work as possible in every sense. Since retiring, although I can still afford to do it and my partner would be happy to let me, the need has somehow gone and I’m content with more local travel which, preferably, does not involve flying.

Now I am somewhat constrained at the moment in that I have no income, so I’m not going to spend large amounts on travel right now, but that won’t last forever. I still feel similarly to GOP – I travelled reasonably well with work when I was a single man and had a penchant for trying to take longer but travelling overland. Most of the time I love my fellow humans but that doesn’t extend to seeing them milling around in airports, or pretty much anywhere where a whole load of people have to line up all in one place. MMM may have put his finger on the problem with a Peak life is lived Off-Peak.

One of the key Principles of Mustachianism is that any and all lineups, queues, and other sardine-like collections of humans must be viewed with the squinty eyes of skepticism. Because if so many people simultaneously decide to do something that they are forced to stand or drive in a queue to do it, there’s a good chance it is something that is not worth doing.

He’s got a point. Don’t travel at the same times as the rest of humanity if you can. Sometimes that means don’t travel at all 😉 Often it’s as simple as travelling midweek, sometimes it means travelling at night. Similarly if you have to queue to buy something, it’s probably a carefully orchestrated shortage (think anything made by Apple, Christmas toys where the supply, marketing and demand are carefully managed to engineer a shortage and pester power that keeps sales up well after Christmas).

Food. Overpriced and aspiration next to overpriced and junky. I'll pass on that, thanks all the same
Food. Aspirational but dearer than if you made it at home and brought it to work

Your life will change post-retirement. When you’re working more than half your time is owned by someone else, and in a hard twist that means you often have to pay other people to do things for you because you don’t have the time, be that Starbucks to get you coffee, some deli in London because you didn’t make sandwiches or calling in a plumber because you don’t have the time to fix the problem yourself or understand and learn what needs doing.

The other thing, for which I have to thank GOP for introducing me to, is Herbert Marcuse, and his critique of capitalism, which is even more true now than when he wrote it :

The people recognize themselves in their commodities; they find their soul in their automobile, hi-fi set, split-level home, kitchen equipment,” meaning that under capitalism (in consumer society) humans become extensions of the commodities that they buy, thus making commodities extensions of people’s minds and bodies.

You are not what you buy or use. Your soul is to be found in the space between your ears, in the web of life with other sentient beings, in your love of life, and of others. It has no barcode; there is none other like it. Never lose sight of that in the mesmerising maelstrom of marketing messages. Thoreau had some point when he said

“A man is rich in proportion to the number of things which he can afford to let alone.”

For a more direct dissection Jacob ERE gives it to us straight between the eyes with both barrels.

In general, if you ask the average consumer what enjoying life is all about, it distills to the following trifecta: buying tickets, going to restaurants, and shopping.

That’s it. Those three things are all there is to enjoying life. The uninformed opinion is that if you don’t have these these three things in your life, your life sucks. I know, because that’s what I used to think. And it’s also what consumers keep bringing up.

Gulp. The Ermine has been known to darken the door of a restaurant occasionally 😉

It is a little over three years since I started this blog. The first real transmission was this one. It’s hard to picture your life retired when working – I found even the financial issues hard to envisage and they are among the more tractable and quantifiable changes. Nobody bangs the drum for things after the change – because nobody has the experience of being retired before they are retired 😉 Looking at that post, it was quite prescient. Illich had a point when he said choose a life of action. I spend more on tools and things to investigate stuff and make things happen. I don’t spend money on DVDs and video games. I’m fiddling about with finding out how to post a graph of the temperature of some chickens, and a polytunnel on Cosm. Because it’s a challenge. The secret to retirement is to be curious. Become like a child, always ask the question why.


I took a rotten shot of some flowers I passed because I’ve seen them before, and I figure it’s time I knew enough about my world to know what they are called. It’s one of the things that the gift of time gives you – you don’t have to live life on autopilot any more. Take joy in the quotidian as well as the unusual. I hear the song of the blackbirds slowly becoming more accomplished as time goes on. I learned about how to use json for data interchange.

It was easier for me to not fear the void, because my work experience had deteriorated, and I was seriously stressed, not by what I was doing but by the stupidity of the system. In life you should generally try to run towards the light rather than away from the darkness. But sometimes it simplifies things. For someone who doesn’t have serious issues at work, there is much to be said for taking some time. I can’t recommend highly enough scaling down your expenditure to match what you expect to retire on, and do that for a year at least. The decision to retire, and if so to retire early, is one that is important, though not urgent. You have to make time to consider it. I was seriously motivated to retire early, but it still took me three years to get to the right point for me. The delay wasn’t for the want of trying to convince myself I could do it earlier.  And you have to be prepared to take some leap of faith, because you have no clear idea of what it will be like. Sometimes in life it is good enough to do the best you can with what you have to hand 😉

It won’t be an endless weekend, or even an extra long vacation. Like sculpting anything, crafting a good life free of ‘work’ is a matter of having a general idea in your mind’s eye, and then taking the first steps. It won’t turn out exactly like the mental picture, and that’s fine. It won’t solve all your problems either, because remember that every place you go, still yourself you see in the mirror, and it is still your shadow that the lamp throws on the wall. Issues that lie within will retire with you. You may have more time to ruminate on how to work on them, but you won’t leave them behind as you hand in your mobile phone, computer and access card. Possibly for the first time you will be in charge of most of your time. Carpe diem – and may it serve you well.

I spent a lot of time thinking about the money aspects of retirement. I overshot somewhat – I don’t spend now as much as I’d get if I drew my pension early right now. Getting the money straight is a prerequisite, and I would urge anybody thinking of retiring early to inform themselves about the financial aspects of retirement as much as they could. But money isn’t the whole story.

Finance is necessary to crafting a decent retirement. But it isn’t sufficient. Your setting is just as important – who you will spend your time with, where you are, who is in your life, what your connections with the wider community is. Early retirees have some extra challenges in this area (most of their current social circle will probably be still at work) but they have other advantages unique to them too. They are younger, and probably more adaptable too. In the end I only retired eight years early, so I am not that unusual, compared to, say, Retirement Investing Today or Mr Money Mustache. There is a big difference in retiring in your early forties compared to early fifties. While the principles are the same – basically spend less than you earn, the scale is very different.



What is your number? How much do you need to live on?

I swiped some of the title from this thread on Money Saving Expert, which is about how much you need to live on in retirement. Don’t start reading the thread from the beginning, because there is a lot of bad humour and flame wars to start off with. The link I’ve posted gets you past the worst of that, and all credit to the OP for persevering in the face of adversity!

It was an interesting tale, as it was the estimation from a whole bunch of real people independently trying to estimate how much a couple would need to live on in retirement. Clearly there will be a range of responses, but there was a surprising commonality eventually settling on around £27,500

The £27,500 can be broken down into:
Food £6,000
Car/Transport £5,000
Bills/Utilities £5,000
Holidays/Leisure £6,000
Clothing/Cash/Other £3,000
Repairs/replacements £2,500

This figure is predicated on a owner-occupier couple who have paid off their mortgage and have no dependents living with them. This figure is roughly corroborated by real retirees living off a similar amount; in practice real retirees seem to be able to shave a little bit off their estimates.

Although hard to express analytically, I get the feeling that those posters who have had children (ie those mentioning DD, DS in MSE-speak) are at the lower end of the Number targets, the child-free at the other end. No huge surprise there, I suppose 😉

Something that surprises me is that for a single person the costs are only a little bit less, there seem to be significant economies of scale for couples. I operated a household as a single person for over a decade early in my career, I wonder if perhaps this set me back more than the extra cost of having children, as when I compare myself with my colleagues they tend to live in slightly more fancy houses, although they are often still carrying a mortgage at the same age.

Poster Loughton Monkey made the good point that you can overcook focusing on how much you need to retire. His alternative, which is closer to the ERE approach is to drive your running costs to below your income, which is broadly how I do it. I then save the excess. There is more drama in my approach, particularly now where I am saving > 70%, but LM has been more consisent throughout his working life. Slow and steady wins the race, fortunately I also have the benefit of a company pension scheme to keep me in the slow and steady for all the years where I didn’t save explicitly. In favour of my younger and more profligate self, I did pay down the mortgage 😉

Loughton Monkey retired at 56, and he saved about 25% of his income. This roughly squares with ERE’s calculations when you add in the State pension later on  and he also seems to be saving more than he had originally anticipated. The trick to early retirement is living below your means. There isn’t any other way that doesn’t depend on scarce luck or criminality.

Unfortunately for me, there are significant differences in my lifestyle which make me wonder whether either I am wrong or I may end up short of money or having to work a little bit longer. These differences are:

Firstly, all these people are assuming that industrial society carries on in much the same way, so the past is a reasonable guide to the future. My view is darker, and therefore some of the assumptions about the world they live in are different for me. The MSE posters may be right, but I have to chart my path according to my own lights.

To be honest, I am amazed at the implicit assumption that everything carries on as normal. The best I can imagine for the UK economy is that somehow Peak Oil and other resource crunches are shown to be a chimera, the result of more industrialising economies drawing on resources that have a limited rate of production instead of a Limits to Growth type of brick wall. Even then I still see many years of grinding decline deleveraging the stupendous UK debt overhang in government, in households and in companies. Alternatively we can deal with the results of defaulting – currency crisis, skyrocketing inflation and horrendous unemployment. In my view the PIIGS have already bought their tickets for this one-way ride out of the Euro, and Britain is only separated from that scenario by having a currency it can devalue.

Yes, Monevator may have been right when he said Britain is booming again when viewed though the selective prism of the stock market. But it isn’t going to feel like that for the average punter on the street. It will take decades, if it ever happens, to pull out the survivors from the twisted wreckage of the British and Western economies, and all the time wealth will probably concentrate towards capital rather than labour.

That means more jobs haemorrhaging away, more unemployment and a domestic economy stuck in low gear for years. The shattered education system of Britain which was the result of our failure to man up to the hard task of telling some children that they are less bright than others won’t help our economy in that case, and will take many years to repair with money we may not have. Hopefully most of the problem is in the perverse value systems that seem to have have confused equality of outcome for equality of opportunity.

Another difference in my circumstances compared with the MSE folk is that I may start one project that may add more expense to my outgoings for a while, which again is different from the normal pattern of living.

So I am a little bit off target. My outgoings are significantly lower than most of the posters, and my savings are probably higher than many. My “number” is about 18k, which given that I have a darker view of the future, possibly slightly greater outgoings than the typical retired couple shows that either I am wrong, or that I have no accurate way of evaluating my attempts to get myself less exposed to the money economy by saving energy and producing food.

Loughton Monkey is probably the closest approximation to the trajectory I would like to take. He is older than me, and worked for 34 years. Although I have 31 years of NI contributions I don’t think I have worked for 31 years; I believe that when I went to university NI stamps were accrued though I wasn’t earning any significant amounts of money. If I retire in 2012 I will probably only have clocked up 30 years of working, so I am 10% short of his earning years.

Something else that I learned in reading that thread is that I am lucky so far in terms of physical health for my age, I have no significant issues there, apart from the minor slights and injuries one accumulates through life. I have visited the doctor considerably less than once a year and aim to keep it that way. Part of retiring early is to to try and preserve that.

I am entering a time of life when I lose some resilience physically, and looking at colleagues at work the stress of the workplace can cause some serious ill-health. I have been lucky there too, the way this has manifested for me is that it is easier to pull muscles for things that really shouldn’t be over-exertions and that the resultant aches take a long time to clear. It is observable that this is much more likely to happen when the working environment is being particularly bad, though since I am in an office job the exertion is always outside work. But it is a warning, and I only have to look around me to see that others have been less fortunate indeed. One guy, who was lived a healthy lifestyle and was into walking and hiking on his holidays with his wife was saving into AVCs like mad and hated the work environment. He looked a lot fitter than me, but he didn’t even get to see his 55th birthday…

So it’s important to remember that quality of life isn’t all about lifestyle and it isn’t all about the number. I would rather run out of money than run out of health.

The Quiet Man reckons we want to all work till we’re 70? Dream on…

Iain Duncan-Smith has all the charisma of a dead fish, but he does come across as genuinely thoughtful, which is why he made such a poor candidate for leader of the opposition all those years ago. That thoughtfulness seems to have deserted him when he comes up with the assertion that “Most workers want to work on when they reach 65”

Well, Iain me old chum, this worker has no desire to do that, and there’s not much call for it amongst my colleagues either 🙂 I guess it all depends what IDS means by “want”, obviously if their personal finances mean that due to his raising of the State pension age they will be skint then people will want to work on, in the same way as if he points a gun at your head you are likely to “want” to do whatever the nice man says…

Then of course what people want and what people can actually do are not always the same thing, and as Fiona Phillips is trailing in Finished at Fifty they may not get the opportunity. If you are one of the finished at fifty, this graph will show you why

UK Population distribution by age

Now look at the lump in this at 46 and add three years (because it was from 2009) and you can see that there are an awful lot of people in their 50s in the next decade. Now they will probably not all be dying off in the next decade, so they will still be there 😉 An awful lot of these will be KO’d in the public sector cuts – of the expected 400,000 60% will be over 50, so about a quarter of a million over 50s will flood the workplace.

So if you’re over 50, you need to look at this situation and start building some resilience into your personal finances, because realistically, if you lose or leave your job you aren’t going to be working for an employer again. Period.

I had to have a laugh at the tosspot Digby Jones’ solutions:

older workers are at real risk of being forced out of the workforce into an unwelcome – and under-funded – retirement before they are ready after enjoying a bountiful job market throughout their 30s and 40s.

He said that while the economy continues to shed jobs at every age and level, he believes many older workers have become set in their ways and that could turn into a barrier to finding employment.

“Have any of them thought of emigrating? What about being mobile within Britain?”

He also said some need to think of retraining and volunteering as a way to keep in the habit of going to work. Perhaps more painfully, he said the idea of accepting substantial pay cuts cannot be ruled out.

Digby, me old mate, you’re a bright chap so there’s much truth in what you say, but a lot of BS too. Let’s deal with the BS first – the reason these guys aren’t emigrating or moving around the UK is perhaps because they have children and family commitments 😉  You’re 55, Digby, perhaps the absence of any fruit of your loins means you miss that bit of the typical human life cycle, but I have enough feeling for my fellow-men that I can see it though I haven’t had kids! If you are going to emigrate or move around, do it in your 20s or early 30s, not in your 40s or 50s. Or do it in your 60s, when you’ve done with working for a living.

On the other hand some of the other stuff he says has some point though. You get more cantankerous and intolerant of BS as you get older, partly because you’ve heard the same lies too many times before – hello “empowering employees”, “performance management”, “corporate social responsibility”, “this reorganisation is unlike the others that failed and will change everything”. And partly because you come to realise work isn’t all that. It pays the bills, it isn’t a reason for living. Repeat after me, Diggers, “people work to live, they do not live to work

The increasingly rotten state of the workplace as digital Taylorism expunges most of the joy in doing a good job takes its toll, in some ways having started work where this was not so prevalent makes me kick against the increasing systematisation and deskilling of the workplace more because I know what has been lost, whereas someone starting now at least doesn’t have the reference point.

Perhaps ’twas ever thus. President Obama called out this rotting of the modern workplace independently of me. He’s 49 so perhaps he is one of these crabby old gits too 😉

“some need to think of retraining and volunteering as a way to keep in the habit of going to work” Digby, you show your evil Calvinist heart of darkness there. How about the alternative, get a hold of your personal finances, save, retire early and enjoy life out of the rat race?

What the hell is the point of keeping in the habit of going to work when you ain’t going to get any? By the time you are 50, the sands of time are running out, and you don’t want to waste those grains on empty promises. There will never be full employment again in Britain while globalisation and industrial capitalism holds sway.

Digby, you may well be part of the solution but your sort and the CBI are a huge part of the problem too.  You have been busy automating and deskilling and downsizing and outsourcing. No one of those things is necessarily wrong in any given situation but it all adds up the the great sucking force of British jobs as capital accretes power and seeks to maximise its return. Yes, it’s what I am also trying to do with my share portfolio but I don’t stand up and claim that I am trying to improve the British employment scene, or spout garbage to try and offer solutions in places they aren’t to be found.

In your late 40’s or 50’s? Batten down those hatches, nobody else is going to look after you

If you are in your late forties or fifties and in employment, then you are in danger territory. Your best hope of a solution to being downsized or made redundant isn’t to find another job at a similar salary. It is to rightsize your life and downsize your financial commitments. Live smaller, cut the foreign holidays and Jemima’s ballet lessons. She’ll prefer it if you’re able to carry on paying the mortgage after you get the push.

Your job as the head(s) of your household is to keep a roof over your family’s head and bread on their plate, and people like Digby Jones and his CBI chums are busy trying to eliminate your job if you work in the private sector. If you work in the public sector then you already know that the Coalition is trying to destroy your job to save money. Volunteering isn’t the solution, rightsizing your financial commitments and maximising your savings is.

Hark, listen out to that distant ringing over-50s, and send not to know for whom the bell tolls. It tolls for thee, so cut the needless expenses from your life and buy yourself some freedom. Don’t be a chump and just because you may be sitting pretty at the moment like Lord Young said, don’t ignore the precariousness of your financial situation.

Iain Duncan Smith is the harbinger of doom. He’s telling you what is going to happen to you if you don’t take corrective action. Your job is show him where to stick it 😉 Unless, of course, you agree with him, and do want to carry on working till you’re 70, but even then don’t necessarily think of earning your current salary…

Why I don’t want to work till I’m 70

The original case for retirement was that people were in manual jobs and were physically worn out by 65. Digby Jones reckons people ossify and fail to adapt to change as they get older. I’m not sure either apply to me.

I was into engineering as a kid – it was a world where science and technology were changing things rapidly, I was in primary school when they landed men on the Moon. I loved it, and did well enough at school and university, I wanted to work in a electronics design/research facility. Britain still had those everywhere then. I worked for a small company, then the BBC and then moved to my current company.

The structure of the big companies was great for a young tyke learning – there were guys who were fantastic experts in their field and if there were issues you could tap these guys up. In my early to mid days of working, companies had teams of expertise in different areas, at the BBC there was audio, RF and video expertise in designs and it was fascinating and exciting to learn and improve the art, from the design folk all the way to craft skills like the guys who wired things with a precision and elegance that I can’t even match today. And a hat tip to my current company, which had world-leading experts from whom I also learned, and a graceful working structure where expertise was acknowledged and the young pups were nurtured.

I still love engineering, though in the passage up the greasy pole I inevitably do less of it, but I have retained a far more hands on and specialised presence, because I didn’t race up that pole, so I didn’t go say the project management route.

So on that basis I’m with IDS – it is something I love, I can’t imagine not looking for better ways of doing things just because the day comes that I reach my 65th (or 70th) birthday. So why the hell do I want to finish off in my early 50s?

It is because I have seen a toxic and evil cancer seeping through the structure of my company, the foul stench of Digital Taylorism. The previous world of divisions aligned by expertise was stable enough that you could build skills and a reputation. Engineers never make great line managers but they do admire competence, and so it was possible to advance and do more challenging work.

Some of this changed with digitisation of audio and video, but that opened up new areas one could hone one’s craft, and there was the whole world of software to go into. But management of people began to change, with the emphasis on interchangeable skills, treating people as tools in a toolbox, anonymous numbering by ‘skill sets’. There were even three, yes, count ’em, three attempts over ten years to have a skills database so that work would come in and the database could tell you who was due to become available wheen, the emphasis began to shift to accredited skills and tosh like that. Before, the group/divisional head would know who was good at what, and allocate work accordingly, of course always balancing the usual issues of too much work and not enough people. It was a human sized operation and it worked well, but the shift to ‘resource allocation’ on workpackages broke the whole system, and there were a couple of insane attempts to separate line management from job management. This totally changed the working environment.

The last straw was the perversion called performance management – where you have to fill in a form claiming evidence of particular characteristics. How I yearn for the old ways where my work stood for my competence. As Matthew Crawford said in Why Office Work Is Bad For You, you can tell a good carpenter by the way his doors move smoothly and are set well in the doorway. A good electrician’s lights come on when you throw the switch and aren’t accompanied by a shower of sparks.

My work can speak for itself, by the time you are in the last decade of your working life you have got enough competence to know what you’re about. But because the line management structure has been smashed I was line managed previously by a twit who had no idea of what I did. He was a box-ticker and wanted me to fill in boxes with competencies and rubbish like that.

I have no respect for that sort of way of carrying on, and in the search to automate and systematize and outsource all integrity has been lost – I have occasionally had to pound on desks and raise a stink to stop things happening that for engineering reasons simply will not work. And I’m sick of it, I’m sick of the stress, I’m sick of the lack of reward, I’m sick of the pettifogging paperwork, I’m sick of the stupid attempts to get databases to do things that people should be doing, and above all I am sick to the back teeth of all the jobbing caretakers that infest the management of large organisations now, who know the price of every function and the value of none of them.

To those that say I should move, why the hell should I? I like living here, I don’t want to drive miles every day in a world of increasing oil prices, and anyway, the cancer of management consultancy reeks across the land. Rather than having the balls to stand or fall by their own skill and experience the overpaid caretakers that are senior management in companies today pay McKinsey et al to do their work for them while drawing their bloated pay packets for parroting what they are told, rather than rolling their sleeves up and trying to understand the companies they manage.

These CEOs have hardly got time – their tenure is only three or five years. What a rotten way to run a company. Why do they get away with it? Because of scale – once it gets enough capital behind it a company can make things happen and pay for favours that make life easier for it, particularly in a globalised world. You don’t need to excel in skill or knowledge, you just need clout. Microsoft aren’t widely used because they’re the best, they are widely used because they are the biggest.

And that, Iain Duncan Smith, is why I don’t want to work till I am 70. I am not going to hang up my tools and my boots, but I want out of the rat race.