Life Planning Tips

Life Planning Tips Item #1 — That Summer Feeling

Jonathan Richmond wrote a song by that name. I thought it was a great title because it is evocative of something that we all have experienced but that most of us have not put a name to.That summer feeling is the feeling you have when you are eight years old and there are no limits to what you can do with your life. When you experience that summer feeling, life is a giant groove waiting to be experienced.

Life Planning Tips

We become more skilled over time, we become smarter over time, we become wealthier over time. But we often lose access to that summer feeling. It’s not something that you should expect to be able to feel all the time. But I think you are missing out on something important if you never experience it anymore.

You can’t remain stuck at age eight, of course. The things that excite you change with time. To reexperience that summer feeling, you need to go looking for it in different places.

When you are in your 20s, you get that sort of feeling when you develop a crush on a new love interest. But what then? How do you gain access to that summer feeling in your 30s, your 40s, your 50s, and your 60s?

Through the work you do.

That’s why it’s a mistake to work solely for money. You need to work for money at some stages of your life. Most of us are not lucky enough to be able when we are young to earn all the money we need to live doing work we absolutely love. But you should be striving to spend a larger percentage of your time doing work you love as you age.

As you age, you attain higher levels of financial freedom, and attaining higher levels of financial freedom should translate into gaining the freedom to spend more of your time doing work you love. During those hours when you are engaged in the tasks that you were put on earth to do, you enjoy a grown-up version of the emotion that Jonathan Richmond was describing in his song. All the walls fall down. The room is filled with light. Work becomes play.

Life Planning Tips Item #2 — What’s Your Passion?

Ten questions that can help in identifying your passion:

1) What toys did you most like to play with when you were young, and what feature do most of them have in common?

2) What sorts of success stories cause you to feel pangs of jealousy or regret?

3) If you turn off the television, put down the newspaper and any magazines you keep around the house, and take the telephone off the hook, what is it that you are drawn to do with your time?

4) What job assignment that you have worked on in the past six months did you get most excited about?

5) Imagine that you were your best friend and that you were trying to cheer yourself up because you were feeling down. What would you point to as the trait you possess that is most unique, most you, most important, most likely to make a difference?

6) What is your favorite song? What is your favorite movie? What sorts of jokes do you like? What is it in the mix of answers you give that makes your answers different from the answers to these sorts of questions that would be given by most others?

7) What was the first job you looked into when you finished school (regardless of whether you obtained the position or not)?

8) If you won $20 million in the lottery, what would you do with your time?

9) What sorts of articles do read first when you pick up a newspaper or magazine?

Just Do It

10) What nicknames have friends used to refer to you by? Why did they choose the ones they did over the hundreds of other possibilities?

Life Planning Tips Item #3 — “I’ve Been Awake in the Middle of the Night A Lot Again Lately…

…because a few weeks ago I started down an unfamiliar road.” So says Lisa Belkin in her “Life’s Work” column in the New York Times.

I very much related to Belkin’s story of how she worried about making mistakes in her articles when she started as a reporter. It used to be my job to find out what changes in the tax law were being placed into tax bills in those closed-door meetings where much of our most important legislation is written. I wrote for a daily publication, and it often wouldn’t be until 30 minutes before my deadline when I would learn the news that I needed to write up as my day’s work. That meant pushing the button before I had a chance for too many reviews of what I had written. There were occasions when, an hour or two after I got home from the office, the thought would pop into my head: Did I phrase that the right way?

The title of the column is “The Motivating Power of Fear.” I like it that Belkin takes something bad and points out the good side of it. No one would deliberately put herself through the sort of stress that she describes feeling when she stretches herself to rise to a new level of achievement. The reality, though, is that it is in conquering the fear that you know you have done something important. Belkin got over her worries about making mistakes in her articles and I got over my worries about mistakes I might make when forced to turn out copy quickly. We sharpened new skills, and, by doing so, overcame the fears that we experienced at the time when we were not confident in our use of those skills.

The other important point made in the column is that the fear itself never really goes away. As you learn new skills, the things that provoke fear change. But there is always some new skill that you need to learn, so there is always some new fear to be conquered. If you ever get to a point where you feel no stress at all, it will probably be because you’re dead.

Manageable stress is a good thing, compared to the alternative.

Life Planning Tips Item #4 — “In a Maybury World…

…there would be much less pressure to retire early.” So argues a poster going by the name “Mountain Mike” in a thread at the Early Retirement Forum examining whether it is changes in the unwritten contract between employers and workers that have caused so many of us in recent years to begin looking for a way out.

A number of great points are made in the early portion of the thread:

1) The workplace has always been a place of struggle, but in recent decades there are places where the heightened level of competitiveness has turned the workplace toxic;

2) It’s not entirely the fault of any particular bosses or any particular companies. Bosses and companies are feeling pressures too that are forcing them to adopt policies that de-emphasize the human side of the work arrangement;

3) Regardless of whose fault it is, it is only natural that smart and successful people are in time going to catch on to the reality that the game being played in the new workplace is a game that few can ever really win in a permanent sense. So they are going to begin a quest to take matters into their own hands by developing higher levels of financial security and thereby creating richer and more interesting work games to occupy their time and energies; and

Don't Let the Bad Guys Get You Down

4) The same factors that are causing the problems also point the way to the potential solution. The problem is that super-competitiveness is placing strains on families and individual workers who want a life outside of the office as well as the opportunity to experience the satisfaction that comes from facing up to a work problem and overcoming it. The other side of the story is that competitiveness has increased the size of the paychecks received by many of the workers living in today’s industrialized economies.

Save a portion of your Productivity Bonus, and you might be able to buy your ticket out of the craziness and into a life of soul-satisfying work. Fail to save, and you leave yourself at risk of being crushed by the relentless push to do more, more, more work in less, less, less time.

Saving is not something you do just to provide for your old age. Saving is something to do to enhance your enjoyment of life in all the years to come before you turn 65 as well.

Life Planning Tips Item #5 — Hammering Nails Into a Life Plan

Last Wednesday night my boy Timothy asked me whether wood would float on water. I said that it would.

On Thursday he had a follow-up question: Would wood float if it had a person on it? I explained that this was the idea behind a raft.

On Friday, I noticed that there were several pieces of wood nailed together sitting on our porch. I asked my wife about it. She explained that Timothy had decided to build a raft that he could float on the next time we took a visit to a nearby creek.

I explained to Timothy that the raft he had built was not large enough to hold a person. I said that it might be large enough to hold a stuffed animal.

On Saturday morning, I saw Timothy at work hammering nails into new pieces of wood to make his raft larger.

Timothy loves his work.

He doesn’t love all work, of course. He doesn’t love having to pick up his toys before he can watch Scoobie-Do.

But he loves doing the work that something inside him tells him he was put on earth to do.

This is true of all of us. Work is not by its nature fun or not fun. There are some forms of work that are no fun at all. And there are some forms of work that are lots of fun.

Over the course of life, you should become more free to be able to do the work you love rather than the work you must do to put food on the table. Why? Because you become more skilled and have more to offer the world. So you should have more options. And because you should have more money saved and thus be less dependent on a paycheck to cover your costs of living.

That’s the way things should work. However, it’s not the way that things work for most people following the Sacrifice Saving approach to money management.

That’s why we all need to work together to learn how to build ourselves strong and steady and long-lasting rafts–er, I mean Life Plans.

Life Planning Tips Item #6 — What Are You Going to Be When You Grow Up (Again)?

For most of mankind’s time on this planet, the idea of not working was not an option. It’s only since the 1930s (when Social Security was enacted) that middle-class Americans have aimed to leave the world of work behind when they turned 65. The Productivity Bonus we have enjoyed in the decades since has put us in a position where there is now a web site (this one!) that informs people of strategies for winning complete financial freedom in their 50s or 40s. It’s a big change that requires a rethinking of lots of things we once took for granted.

A New Day, A New You

You don’t have to work to keep body and soul joined anymore. Not if you don’t want to. Not until you get old. You can do other things. You can read. You can have long conversations with friends. You can putter around the house. You can sleep in.

Can you work?

That’s a question that comes up a lot in Financial Freedom Community conversations. There’s a split in our community re this one. Some think that the purpose of gaining financial freedom should be to escape work altogether and that to engage in any activity that can be done for money after you achieve financial freedom would ruin the experience. Others (I’m in this camp) argue that work you do primarily because you enjoy it and not because you need the bucks is one of the great joys of life.

I think gaining financial freedom early in life is wonderful. I think making use of your financial freedom to make a shift to doing the work you truly love is wonderful too. I never even imagined not working after my “retirement” at age 43.

Whenever I hear someone denigrate the idea of work, I think of Bob Dylan. This is a guy who does not have to work for money. Yet he maintains a touring schedule in his 60s that I don’t think I would want to have handled in my 20s. The guy is tough. The guy has a serious work ethic. The guy loves performing songs for people.

I once read an interview in which a friend of Dylan from a long time ago said that he has held this work ethic for a long time. The person being interviewed said that Dylan told her in a conversation from decades back that she should never stop working. There was no explanation given for this advice in the interview, and my guess is that Dylan didn’t give one. It’s something that he had come to believe and he was just passing along the advice without feeling a need to explain why he felt that way.

Why did he? Why would someone advise a friend to never stop working even if she didn’t need the money? Because work is part of what we are, work is something that defines us. If we stop working altogether at an early age, there is likely going to be a price to pay.I don’t see that there is any need to work for money until one gets old. I think that volunteer work can give life a sense of purpose. So can raising children. So can pursuing hobbies if they are pursued with diligence and determination. So can lots of other things. But I do believe that we all need to direct our lives to a purpose.

Most have their purpose imposed on them from the work they have to do to support themselves financially. Those of us who win financial freedom early in life need to think through the question carefully, and come up with a later-in-life answer to the question “What are you going to be when you grow up (again)?”

Life Planning Tips Item #7 — Financial Stress

Three tips for overcoming financial stress:

1) Set a goal that can be achieved in a small amount of time (within a month) and make certain to check as to whether you have achieved it within that time. For example, your goal could be to save $100. Saving $100 will not in a monetary sense change your life. The feeling of empowerment you will gain from seeing a practical demonstration of what you are capable of may make a big difference;

2) Start a budget as a means of gathering information about what is causing the stress. Many people hesitate to start budgets because they see them as exercises in self-denial. But the primary benefit of a budget is the information it provides about where the money is going. Set up a budget not to cut spending, but just to learn where the money is going. Knowing where the money is going will help you overcome the stress because you will know what you are up against. Down the road, you will turn to spending cuts. The important first step is just to gather information; and

3) Focus on recurring expenses. Most of us devote more energy to examining the pros and cons of a large one-time expense (a new television) than we do to examining the pros and cons of small regular expenses (coffee at Starbucks every morning). It is often the small regular expenses that eat up the buying power we win through pay raises. It is only by focusing on the effect of recurring expenses that we can begin to see benefits in terms of reduced stress from pay raises. If each pay raise translates into more spending, stress increases rather than diminishes as pay increases (because we use each pay raise as a rationalization to spend more and feel more worry about whether we will be able to keep bringing in that amount of money).

Life Planning Tips Item #8 — The Informed Gut

Ride the Waves

I opened a fortune cookie the other day and learned that: “The greatest thoughts come from the heart.” That’s so. That’s very true!

I am a methodical person. Sometimes I think too much. I will go over something again and again in my head before committing myself to action. I am cautious by nature. I like to avoid false steps.

I am also rash. There was a poster on a discussion board who said that I had an unfair advantage over those who took positions contrary to mine because I am able to type so fast. I thought that was very funny. I type with two fingers. I type loud. I bang the keys, especially when the topic being discussed is one that hits me in a deep spot. But I very much hope that there are a good number of posters out there able to type quicker than me.

The reason I am able to turn out responses quickly is not that I type fast. It is that, when I am talking about a subject I care about, I have usually thought about it a lot before posting and can generate a response lickety-split. I often don’t feel a need to engage in lots of new thinking when preparing the posts I put to discussion boards. I let them fly.

So which is it? Am I a Nervous Nelly or a Dangerous Dan? I’m both! I like to think things through before entering a dark cave. But once I enter, I rush through. I figure there’s no sense hanging around in the darkness worrying about what is going to happen more than necessary. My motto is: “Think Before You Leap, But Once You Leap, Leap For Good.” Think first. Then go with your gut.

The thoughts that I generate by means of this Informed Gut Approach to decision-making are at least a decent percentage of the time good ones, in my assessment. When I rely on thinking alone, or on gut alone, I don’t feel as comfortable with the decisions I make. The best thoughts really do come from the heart. That’s a neat way of putting it. Good fortune cookie!

Life Planning Tips Item #9 — Patience

Human beings rarely live entirely in the moment. We live in part in the past (with regrets or good memories) and in part in the future (with anticipation or dread). Patience is a means of highlighting the good side of living partly in the future by experiencing a part of the joy to be had from future life in the here and now, thereby diminishing the desire to rush forward to actual experience of the future moment.

It All Works Out in the End

The best way to cultivate patience is to learn to enjoy anticipating something almost as much as having it. A non-patient person might see something dismal in the fact that his next vacation is twelve months off in the future. A patient person would see the wait as an opportunity to plan an itinerary, to look through brochures, to think about what activities to pursue on the vacation, and so on.

Patience allows us to enjoy the same experience more than once. It permits us to enjoy it both in the time leading up to the experience of it and during the experience of it. Patience enhances life experiences so long as it does not reach the point where it becomes stagnation, where the person is holding off the future out of fear rather than just avoiding a rush forward into it.

A consumer society discourages the cultivation of patience because the sellers of goods and services do not obtain additional profits when we enjoy experiences over a longer time-period than is the norm. It is up to us as individuals to see the benefits of patience and to cultivate it within ourselves. To do so, we need to take ourselves away from the distracting noises of the Consumer Wonderland. We need to have quiet time for reflection and contemplation in which we become aware of the benefits that patience has to offer us.