Mental Health and Work/Life Balance

Have I Got Your Number?

When you get old like I am and hang out with people who are also getting long in the tooth, the question, “What’s your number?”  is frequently asked.

No, this is not about getting picked up. I am not talking about phone numbers. I am referring to the amount of invested assets that folks who are looking to exit the rat race think that they need to have to retire.

The answer of course is always ‘more than I have,’ and that insecurity leaves many of us on the treadmill longer than we want to be there.

I will leave it to the financial planners to explain how much money you actually do require to retire. I would like to share the epiphany that allowed me to make the jump from the stress of practicing law to my present (and much better) life of writing for my own amusement, a bit of teaching, a touch of mentoring, and cruising the world.

It all started on a vacation that I took to Ecuador a few years ago, one of many that I used to take to de-stress and try to become temporarily healthy before returning to working too hard and under too much pressure. We were on a tour organized by a company which specializes in educating foreigners about retiring in Ecuador.  In the small village of Puerto Lopez, I remarked to our tour guide, whose name was Jonathan, that I could not see myself living there because of the poverty. Jonathan asked, “What poverty?” to which I replied, “the small houses without windowpanes and the mud on the streets.”

Jonathan replied that the residents of Puerto Lopez do not consider themselves to be poor. He explained that the climate is such that windowpanes are not a necessity, although the wealthier villagers had them. The occupants of those small houses work in the town or on fishing boats, earn enough to support their families, and enjoy their lives. 

Like many of my peers, until then I had also focused on reaching ‘my number’ so that I could afford to retire. And like them, I always seemed to be a few years away from getting there. After that trip my thinking changed. I decided that it was time to retire while I was still healthy and that rather than wait until I could support the perfect retirement lifestyle, I would retire sooner and scale my lifestyle down to what I could afford. I moved to the country (which I wanted to do anyway) where I could buy a house for half of what my house in the GTA sold for and banked the rest of the money.  I drive nice but not luxurious vehicles, and I don’t buy a lot of expensive toys.

On the other hand, at this moment I am on an extended cruise in the Pacific.

I do understand that I am privileged and that it takes some gumption to talk about retiring and scaling back my lifestyle while I travel the world. But I made some choices, and that is the point. And unless it all goes bad and I end up having to eat dog food in my waning years, I think that I will be damn pleased that I got out before I hit my number.

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