Counting to 4 … seconds

One one-thousand,
two one-thousand,
three one-thousand,
four one-thousand1

My Granny Pearl taught me how to count seconds. I’m not sure how the lesson came about, although it was probably counting seconds playing hide-and-seek. Telling a kid to count to 10 is likely to have them running through the numbers rather quickly. Telling them to count to 10 seconds, and teaching them how, slows them down a bit.

I’m not certain how accurate my second-counting technique is, but that cherished reminder of my Granny happens every few days at the gym when I’m measuring time while doing planks — and brings a smile to my face.

How do you count to 4 seconds?

And in case the song didn’t spring to mind when reading the title, I give you Feist sings 1, 2, 3, 4:


1 Alternatively, “one-Mississippi, two-Mississippi, three-Mississippi, four-Mississippi”.

Retirement is wasted on the old

Youth is wasted on the young.
Retirement is wasted on the old.

Retirement

Retirement. It’s the goal to which we all aspire. To gain enough financial security such that we no longer have to work for the rest of our lives.

When I started working at IBM at the height of the dot-com boom I had visions of retiring by the age of 30. Six months later the bubble burst and I was fortunate to have a stable job. What was I going to do when I hit 30 and was able to retire? I don’t know, but I knew that “retirement” was the goal.

For many people in the US, the magic age for retirement is 65 when Social Security kicks in to supplement your income. For others it may be a decade earlier.

But stop and think about it: why are we waiting to live until we’re old? Why do we think that when we reach retirement that we will be content not working? As someone in their 30s who has taken six months off work test-driving retirement, I’m here to tell you that we’re doing it all wrong.

Living in the now

I love to travel and have always assumed that I would do much more of it when I retired. And perhaps I will, but after doing quite a bit of traveling over the past 6 months I realize just how taxing it can be. Fast-forward to 30 years from now and how much more taxing will it be when I’m 68? Will I still want to be gone from home for weeks at a time? Will I still be able to hike up mountains? Will skiing in the winter still sound like fun? Will the mountains still have snow 30 years from now?

I want to take every opportunity to travel and live in the now while my body still works. While my knees don’t hurt. While I can still see and hear. While I can still remember things.

Every year I use up every single hour of my vacation and sick time. Some years I come skidding into the last few months with virtually nothing left and throw myself on the mercy of my manager to work from home for a few days around the holidays.1

It’s not enough.

A few weeks of vacation a year is not enough living, it’s still pinning hopes on retirement, biding time until that fateful day. I have to learn to live outside of vacation time, get more of it, or both.

Doing nothing is boring

One of the realizations that I had during my sabbatical was that I love to work. Perhaps not the 9-to-5 job in front of a computer for someone else, but I love programming. Creating something useful. Working with a team. Who’s to say that I won’t want to continue doing something like this after I reach retirement age?

What if retirement wasn’t “not working for the rest of our lives” but “working differently or working less” instead? My good friend John Martin retired over a year ago and has been doing some contract work for his prior employer. Not because he must, but because he enjoys it.2

Why can’t we have a better balance between work and living and stretch out both for longer?

Perspective

My uncle died last month from pancreatic cancer. He was 69. He went from diagnosis to dead in 5 weeks. His father, my grandfather, died from pancreatic cancer at 83. My grandmother tells me that my grandfather’s father also died from pancreatic cancer. As you can guess, it can be hereditary.

From the American Cancer Society:

Almost all patients [who are diagnosed with pancreatic cancer] are older than 45. About two-thirds are at least 65 years old. The average age at the time of diagnosis is 71.

I may not make it to retirement to begin living; I have to live now.


1 Thankfully, every manager I’ve had has been most forgiving with vacation hours. Also, I love working around Christmas and New Years because no one else is around which gives me tons of uninterrupted Maker time.

2 He recently came out of retirement for some great reasons.

Celebrating with family

Yesterday was an amazing day for the gays. After the news broke, Facebook was all aflutter with posts and my phone was buzzing with texts from friends. It lasted all day. And yet at the end of the day it was very noticeable who I hadn’t heard from: anyone to whom I am biologically related.

That’s right, not a peep from any of my family-by-blood. Not even a ‘like’ on Facebook. This isn’t all that surprising, particularly from my parents, but it is noteworthy and reiterates to me, again, how much my family-by-choice is more a family to me than the one I was born into.

Papa’s plant is blooming

Papa’s plant is blooming.

My maternal grandfather, Papa Werner, died from pancreatic cancer in 2003. I remember this period in my life really well as there were a lot of important things happening. I bought my first house just months before he passed. Just weeks after he passed I met Benjamin.

After his funeral I took one of the live plants given to the family: a peace lily. I’ve no idea who gave it, but it’s been “Papa’s plant” ever since. It has travelled from Littlefield to Austin to 2 different places in Denver and finally up to Seattle. Often in those moves it had other plant company, but Papa’s plant is the only one still with me.

Papa Werner was a generous, hard-working man, loving man with a ready smile. I can still see him telling me a story, being interrupted and corrected by my grandmother, and him smiling at me with that “she always thinks she’s right” smile. I remember trips to the lake with him, early morning fishing, and getting pulled around the lake behind the boat.

Papa’s plant has had some rough spots since its trip from Littlefield. It thrived in Austin, but fared poorly in Denver — it was simply too dry I think. I had a scare last year when I left my blinds open on a trip out of town and the plant in the sun. It was a very wilty plant when I got back. Luckily after a lot of water it was back to normal. Papa’s plant is resilient and tenacious – just like my grandfather.

I never came out to Papa. I don’t think he would have taken it well. He had very strong opinions that men shouldn’t have long hair or wear earrings – and I imagine being gay would have been in his “not ok” column too. When I came out to my Granny she said Papa would have loved me no matter what. And no one knew my Papa better than she did.

Papa’s plant has never bloomed since the funeral. I’m fully aware that the plant blooming now has no spiritual significance, just all the right factors to favor that biological response.

It’s been almost exactly 9 years and Papa’s plant is blooming.