“A perpetual holiday is a good working definition of Hell.”
- George Bernard Shaw, The Horror of the Perpetual Holiday, 1914 Parents and Children
This quote should be in every retirement book there is. I know it will be in the book I write. George Bernard Shaw was an Irish playwright among other talents.
He captured the truth in 1914 in this brief saying. He knew something few people know today. The value in life is having something to do and a useful purpose in life. Without that bigger vision, life is empty. My first tag line for my business was, “Great Financial Ideas Start with a Vision.” I still believe that important fact. I encourage my clients to move toward something. This makes your financial life better. Yes, even those who want to get out of debt need a bigger vision than simply the clear task to make it happen. Otherwise, the numbers trip you up because they are not enough. They are only facts. Numbers are not powerful enough to move us to be proactive and consistent. We need a vision of what is going to be accomplished in our life after we are debt free or in our retirement or whatever our goal is.
I first experienced this in my early twenties. Experience is a great teacher. I had reached a milestone in life after college graduation with my first job. Like many millennials today, I was itchy and not content with the 9-5 situation. There was something more I wanted, but I had not even fully conceived of what I wanted for my career direction. I had inklings and I was exploring, but nothing was clicking in.
There was, however, something I always wanted to do. That something was to go out West to live and ski. My roommate was making plans to do just that before she headed to graduate school. She was looking for someone to go with and I quickly volunteered. “But you have a job,” she protested. “I can leave it," I said "I've always wanted to go out West and be a Ski Bum.”
Plans were made and systems put in place. Joining her and then her sister was easy even when a few snags threatened along the way. This was something I really wanted to do.
Being out West and skiing every day was a dream come true. Yes, I worked two jobs most of the time so I was not a true “Ski Bum.” But skiing was the goal. The days were sunny, the snow glorious and the small time ski vibe was perfectly inviting. In summary, I loved it.
I met people at work, in town and on the ski lift. Always practical, I did ask visitors what they did for a living. Being Irish, I guess I had two things going for me: the practical perspective and the gift of gab. I wanted to know if they liked their job and if it was something that might appeal to me. Even as I enjoyed the sunshine and freedom, I was still reflecting on my next career move though I had no plans beyond the next week’s work schedule. Aside from these interactions, the local conversation was always around weather and snow and skiing. And fun.
Then, one sunny day after a great ski morning, I was walking home from the post office and heard the life changing news on January 28, 1986. The Challenger had blown up. I remember being equally stunned by the immense loss of life and the invasion of the “Real World” into this tiny mountain town.
I'd loved the space program ever since I'd visited the location as a child. One could say that I had NASA pride. Added to that was the New England pride of Christa McAuliffe's mission. Christa was from New Hampshire.
Later in the day, I wanted to talk to friends about it. After a comment or two they would change the subject. …”How was skiing today?” “Did you have good runs?” “ Which ones were best?” Another day in a ski town. Short-term pleasure was the focus.
The same happened the next day. No one around me seemed to value the immensity of this loss. I wanted to be somewhere and do something that impacted more than the current day.
At that point, I remembered an older UVM alumni I'd met who was a kind mentor. When I'd told him my parents’ horror of my choice to go West, he'd been so helpful. He had told me at the Parker House in Boston over lunch a few months earlier, “Go and enjoy. Just know when it is time to leave.”
That day in Sun Valley, I decided it was time to leave the idyllic town. It would be so easy to be there still, yet I wanted more out of life than sun, ski and snow. I began to make my exit plans. To where I was not sure, but I knew what did not work anymore for me.
In that short time, as I was in the West less than a year, I learned more than I ever imagined. That took me to an understanding of clients as my career progressed. Because I had lived a semi-retirement of sorts without a bigger vision, I had an understanding of others who inherited money and could do nothing but needed more in their life. None of this made me envious. Rather, it made me thankful for the experience I had out West. Life is multilayered and complex.