Anxiety superstorm around retirement, money and freedom

posted by Jeff | Tuesday, August 2, 2022, 5:34 PM | comments: 0

I enjoy talking to young people, especially the interns I've had over the years, because I have (hopefully) enabled them to think in terms of possibilities instead of plans. Possibilities are way more flexible than plans, and you've probably not considered them all. They are often enthusiastic about this slate of unknowns, seeing it as an opportunity, not a reason for fear.

As good as I am talking that game to others, my own mind isn't good at unlearning the customs. That's strange when you think about it, because I switched careers not long after college, got divorced and remarried, and moved six times in eight years. To say that things have not exactly gone to plan is a huge understatement. Counting all of that up though, you are correct if you assume that there has been a lot of struggle associated with all of that change. I often confuse the relative material success of my life, meaning I have a nice roof over my head, reliable transportation and physical comfort, with the relative volume of struggle. For a long time, I've used the comfort to dismiss any complaints about life as attributable to a character flaw. "Your life hasn't been so bad, suck it up!"

I think talking about the past struggle, that's another post, but right now there's a cascade of things causing anxiety about my future. It starts with retirement, for which I did not meaningfully start saving for until I was 35. That was cosmically stupid, and I can't make up for 10 plus years. And to complicate that, my financial awakening came in the midst of the recession, so I wasn't working half that time anyway. I'm maxing out contributions for tax-advantaged accounts, and trying to put away more on top of that, but not to the extent that we aren't having any fun in the present. But with economic uncertainty, which doesn't entirely seem warranted, that notches it all up a bit.

That leads to the next thing, which is wanting to retire early. Not sure how possible that is. Being a bit behind in saving makes that harder, obviously, but I'm also behind on the parenting cycle and we are not getting younger. Diana and I became parents ten months after marriage, at which point she was 40 and I was 36. We've not had a lot of purely adult time together. I love Simon dearly, and I'm grateful to be a parent regardless of its challenges, but we've had so little "us" time. I don't even know what I'd do with my time, but having endless possibilities sure is appealing.

I then trail off to concerns of freedom, which are of course intertwined with money and retirement. I think that's the thing that we're all really looking for in some way. There are varying degrees of freedom, and at the fundamental level we have reasons to be concerned about it because of the fascist and autocratic movements in the US. But we also associate money with freedom, and later in life, freedom not to work. All of that motivational poster bullshit about doing what you love is pretty silly. Even artists who get to do amazing things like live theater or work on movies still need to buy food and shelter. Some jobs pay better than others, some are more stable than others, some are more fun than others. "Follow your bliss" oversimplifies the way we have to participate in a functioning society. When we leave the nest, that freedom is hard to capture. See above concerns.

So these things suddenly weigh heavily on me, and it's hard to work my head away from them because I can't easily move any of those needles. They're so time dependent, and I can't do a significant number of things more to influence them. It is unlike me to be so future-oriented, especially compared to me at 35! But what I really need to be doing is looking at the possibilities and embracing that uncertainty. I've set the paths as best I can, but things have a way of changing. I have to get back to being OK with that.


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