Challenging the Retirement Paradigm Case Study I: Matt, the Promising Marketing Manager

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.
–The Road Not Taken, Robert Frost

I’m not a financial expert and I’m not a life coach, so the way I’m going to answer the “yes buts” about the retirement paradigm that I said that I’d talk about in the last post is to let the real experts take the floor by providing a few links.

Over the next few posts I’ll discuss some hypothetical people marching toward retirement:

Matt is in his late 20s and has been entrenched in his job for a few years.  He had gone to college and changed his major a few times, but finally settled on Marketing, after trying classes in history and anthropology.  He loved his classes in anthropology and thought it would be great to go to places and uncover hidden secrets about man and society, but he wasn’t ready to rush into grad school, and he was sick of being a broke student.  So,  he shifted to a more practical major, upon his dad’s advice, and his personality and better-than-average grades won him an interview at a Fortune 500 company.   He and his parents were thrilled when he got a job offer after only three months of searching.  In this economy, he considered himself really lucky.

But, some realities of 9-5 came as a rude awakening to him the first year.  Not that he dislikes his job as an entry-level manager.   He really enjoys the camaraderie and the challenge at this job.  Plus he’s optimistic about his future.  His boss thinks he has a lot of promise, and has indicated that he could be promoted within the year.  Matt’s friend Ashley started a couple of years before him and she is already a vice president!  She recently got rid of her college car, a Ford Focus, and bought an entry-level Audi.

However, Matt sometimes finds it overwhelming because he knows he has to work 50-60 hours a week at his job to continue to impress his boss.  With those hours, and his 3-hour a day commuting time into the City, he’s pretty exhausted on the weekends.  The worst thing is, he feels that two–weeks vacation a year is pretty constraining.  He has to choose carefully how to use each day.  His college dreams of traveling to exotic places has been pushed to the back of his mind.   He doesn’t think about it most of the time, because the thought of having to wait decades to do those kinds of things is kind of depressing.

In the meantime, he hangs on out Thursday nights with his friends at trendy bars and joins a really great gym, spending some of his cash on a personal trainer.  Because of his commute, he’s thinking of leasing a Lexus SUV.  There’s a great deal going on–only $396/month for 24 months.

Matt might want to read:

Your Money or Your Life:  This classic by Joe Dominguez and Vicki Robin will be on the list for all my friends here, because it simply asks you to take a good hard look at your life and evaluate how you are spending your life energy.  Nothing is worse than not being true to your values, and YMOL (as it’s affectionately called by its fans) takes you through the consequences of spending mindlessly, and provides 9 steps to transform your relationship with money and achieving financial independence.  An updated edition was published in December 2008.

Chris Guillebeau’s blog/book:  The Art of Non-Conformity:  Before Joe’s Golden Handcuffs get locked on, he might want to prod the fires of his dreams of travel by reading alternative lifestyles, such as Chris’s.  Or, Tim Ferriss’s The 4-hour Workweek.   Or, My Exile Lifestyle by Colin Wright.  Reading books and blogs that show how other young people have shaped their lives might help challenge the paradigm Joe grew up with and soften his loving parents’ advice to work hard and get a good secure job.   After all, isn’t that what his dad and mom had done?   That was fine, but Chris and Tim and show Joe another way.  Joe’s boss said he is smart, a great communicator, and has great ideas, so Joe could easily be another Chris or Tim if he wanted to.

Poke the Box by Seth Godin.  Since Matt is a marketing guy, this book will come in handy for both work and life.  It asks you to shake things up.  Don’t accept what you see.  Have the courage to take initiative.

Dave Ramsey’s Total Money Makeover:   Before Tim leases that Lexus he might want to read Dave’s book.   But since most people read TMMO as triage after financial damage has already been done, let’s leave Dave alone for a moment.

Matt needs to ask himself the following questions:

  • Why am I working at this job?  Do I really feel fulfilled, or did I grab it out of fear nothing better would come along?
  • Was I also listening to my heart when I took my parents’ advice, or was I leaving it behind?
  • Why am I coveting Ashley’s Audi?  What are my real reasons for wanting to lease an SUV?
  • If I never get around to traveling to cool places until I retire, how will I feel about that?
  • Am I following a path because it’s the path of least resistance?  Or because it’s the only path I’ve had a model for in my life?
  • Do I really need the perceived security of a “good future” at a corporate job?  Why?  Is “security” even real in the workplace?
  • If I really do like the challenges of my job, are there any ways that I use the same skills but modify the work schedule?
  • If I really do like the challenges of my job, how can I ensure that I don’t compensate for my hard work by spending hard-earned money on stuff I don’t really want or need?
Matt has two paths in the road in this particular scenario:  He can either continue on his path in marketing for a major corporation, or he can revisit his interest in travel and anthropology.   How will his thought of the future be changed for each one?  What are the possibilities for shifting the retirement paradigm for each pathway?

Next post:  Matt’s road(s) to the future

5 Ways to Work Less and Love It


Is this how your job makes you feel?

Is this how your job makes you feel?

Work is love made visible.  –Kahlil Gibran

The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation –Henry David Thoreau

I just got back from vacation in Vermont.  It’s our annual family vacation, and we all crave the time that we can get together up there, chill out, have fun, relax.  

One of my favorite things to do in Vermont is to read.  While perusing the books that were left in the house we were renting, I found The 4-Hour Workweek by Tim Ferriss.  I’ve seen that book all over, of course, since it’s a business best-seller, but the title had always put me off because of its “too good to be true” title.  But, I brought out to the Adirondack chair on the deck overlooking the lawn and dirt road, and started reading.


Another book that I really, really like–reading it was actually the straw that broke the camel’s back to my own freedom from the Golden Handcuffs of corporate life–is Work Less, Make More by Jennifer White.   At the time I read it, I was feeling that working in my job was like being out of sync with my personal values.  It wasn’t a bad job–in fact I’m very grateful for it because there I was able to acquire skills that gave me confidence to break out on my own.  And I loved the people I worked with, I had great benefits, and was highly respected and rewarded in the company.  

So what was the problem?

The treadmill.   The feeling that I had no choice but to put in 70 hour work weeks–either to meet my boss’s expectations, or my own.  We were short-staffed, and I fell into that trap in which I felt that if the work was going to be done right, I was going to have to be the one to do it.

Of course, that was all self-imposed bull.  I had other colleagues who were able to manage others, delegate, and get the work done and still leave their Blackberry at home for a two-week vacation (boy, did that bug me!).  

But I also felt like I was a product of the Peter Principle–I had been promoted to my own level of incompetence.  I loved my job–the JOB part of it, not the management part of it.  I wanted to do what I was truly good at.   When all was said and done, I realized, with some surprise, that I wanted to be the DOER, not the teacher, mentor,  or manager.  

Plus, the money part is not a big reason for my working.  I do not aspire to Prada bags or BMWs.   Money, as my uncle said, is a means of exchange, nothing more.  So why work 70 hours a week chasing it?

So, I took the leap and quit my job.  I DO work less and make more now.  I DO feel fulfilled in my job.   Yet, I still have a lot to learn from Tim Ferriss and Jennifer White, and I am grateful to them.

Here is a compilation of some of their lessons in five points:

  1. CHANGE YOUR THINKING:  Many of us operate on outdated values from the past built on post-Depression-era industry, career-long loyalty to one company, having to give your all, and more, to the company store.  But there are new values today.  Can you innovate?  Can you communicate?  Can you produce results?  These are the things that matter now.  Doesn’t matter whether it takes you 4 hours a week or 40 or 60.
  2. ELIMINATE:  You can have more time for yourself in direct proportion to the stuff you can off-load.  Systems and routine are important.  White says to focus on what you do best, and delegate the rest.  Ferriss says to find virtual assistants online–either in North America or India–to get rid of tedium and any other stuff someone else can do.  You do the rest.   Pay attention to the 80/20 Rule.  Both Ferriss and White invoke the Pareto Principle, which says that 80% of results come from 20% of the causes or tasks.    So, in a nutshell, use this rule to figure out the 20% that’s working for you and delegate or abandon the rest.
  3. BE BOLD:  Just do it.  Quitting your job, or changing the parameters of your existing one, is like deciding to have children.  There’s never a “right” time, so you might as well go for it–especially if you’re not happy!  Why give your happiness over to the status quo if it’s not working for you?
  4. EXAMINE YOUR RELATIONSHIP TO MONEY:  Money is often the culprit that gets us in these traps.   What are you afraid of?   That you won’t be able to get your kids through college?  That you’ll wind up a bag lady?  That you won’t be able to keep up with your friends’ latest status symbols?   The funny thing is, you become what you fear.  Many of those who have pushed through those fears discover they are unfounded–they find that they do what they want to do and wind up with the money for all those things that are important to them.   That is part of the Law of Attraction, and there are many, many books that can give you the courage to overcome that barrier.  Try old masters like Napoleon Hill or Catherine Ponder, or newer Law of Attraction gurus like Wayne Dyer or Rhonda Byrne.
  5. FOLLOW YOUR GUT:  This is my own rule, although White and Ferriss also imply it.  There are books to get us from Point A to Point B and help us to Find Our Bliss, Discover Our Passion, Color Our Parachute.  But sometimes life takes us down roads that we have not mapped out, and, surprise! we wind up at Emerald City. When you are trying to figure out what is going to provide fulfillment, don’t think too hard, don’t analyze too much, and most of all, get your ego out of the way.  If there’s any tinge of pride in your decisions, you taint them.    On the other hand, if you open yourself up to the Universe and vow to honor it with your good works, it will all come back atcha.