Wednesday, February 13, 2008

The Joy of Not Working

I went on a field trip with my daughter's middle school class yesterday. We took a bus to Đồng Nai where the kids had fun repelling (abseiling if you're an Aussie), riding the zip line, and doing team building exercises. It turns out I was the only parent along on this trip. Of course this made me a bit of an oddity. It's unusual for middle school parents to come along on field trips it seems. Once the kids are this old, the parents aren't really needed. If parents do come along, they are more likely to be the mother than the father. I did have fun hanging around with the kids and the teachers though. I've been retired for about six months now, and I'm still not used to the what do you do? question. When I say I'm retired, it confuses people. If I leave it at that, they often think I need help finding a job. Often, they kindly try to think of job leads for me. This is cute and nice, however misguided.

I recently ran across this article where Philip Greenspun has dead on observations on the challenges of early retirement. I particularly resonate with the part about time management. It's true that when you have a job, it keeps you in line. The structure of a regular job gives lets you focus on something (work in this case) for at least eight hours a day or so. When you're retired, the lack of schedule can really lead to sloth.

Before retiring I read The Joy of Not Working, which stylistically is a bit painful to read, but does have some great insights. One point I remember is Zelenski's Easy Rule of Life:

The Easy Rule of Life tells us that when we always do the easy and comfortable, life turns out to be difficult and uncomfortable. When we do the difficult and uncomfortable, however, life turns out to be easy and comfortable.
I think there is a lot of truth in this. If you've retired and solved the money problem by learning to live within your means, you need some other challenge to make yourself happy. When I moved to Vietnam, I tried taking up tennis and spent a couple hours a day learning Vietnamese. I didn't find this very interesting so I've mostly given up. I know enough Vietnamese go get by and my wife has found other expat wives who love tennis, so I'm off the hook there.

However, I'm still searching for ways to challenge myself. My latest are kite surfing and coding. I'm at the stage with kite surfing that I can almost stay upwind, assuming I don't fall off the board too often. In terms of coding, I have at least ten ideas I'm working on. Here the challenge is time management. This is where I need to tighten things up a bit. With coding projects you really need to spend some concentrated time on them to make progress. The typical multitasking way of working won't do. Time management with kite surfing is pretty easy. In Mũi Né, the wind starts getting good around noon, so you just wait for the wind and go until you're exhausted. When you're exhausted from kite surfing, the Easy Rule of Life is on your side, it's time for a beer and a smile.