Here We Go Again

“A thousand moments I had just taken for granted―mostly because I had assumed that there would be a thousand more.”
~ Morgan Matson

One thing I have discovered is that as much as I intend to follow a particular path or course of action, all too often the original idea evolves and the details change. Fortunately, I am pretty good at “going with the flow” so I tend not to become overly frustrated. I do however, have an issue with “flakiness” – in others and in myself. So making a public commitment to doing something and then not following through is something that causes me a great deal of angst and I tend to get down on myself.
The point of all this is that some months ago, knowing that I would be retiring at the end of May, 2019, I wrote a blog post in which I committed to a process that I would follow to help guide me to “meaningful and purposeful activities” that would fill my days after leaving a 30 plus year career in education. It would surely be seamless and a veritable “walk-in-the-park”, as it were. . . . . HA!

The reality is that every single work day whether as a teacher, counselor, dean of students or principal (all roles that I fulfilled at one time or another) contained within it the possibility of making a (at times significant) difference in a life. That was particularly true for students but may also have been the case for parents, teachers or even other staff members in the school. To be completely honest, there were many days that, for whatever reason, I took this for granted.

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t for a moment believe that my presence in the lives of others didn’t make a difference. I do believe that I made a difference. I think this was especially true once I realized that I belonged in the middle school. Working with early adolescent kids, their parents and teachers, I was definitely able to make an impact.

The last six years of my career have been spent working at a middle school in Lagos, Nigeria. My wife and I decided to make a journey out of our return trip from Africa to the Pacific Northwest, where we now own a condo. We spent two weeks in Spain, visited a dear friend in Beirut, Lebanon and then spent our two final weeks in the Philippines. Since arriving at “home” we have spent the last month settling into our new home, taking care of medical and dental appointments, establishing same time zone contact with friends and relatives and enjoying long, daily walks.

Despite the obvious priority these items take in everyone’s lives, I must admit that I have a nagging sense that something is “out of whack” here. Shouldn’t I be rejoicing in the fact that I no longer need to collect a paycheck to afford to live anymore? If so, why do I feel this hole? Shouldn’t feel just a tiny bit smug when I see our friends’ social media posts about heading back to work, with the accompanying stresses and strains of getting ready for a brand new school year?

One thing is certain, I don’t miss the insane craziness that is part of a new school year, especially in a third world country where I spent the last 6 years of my career. I do, however miss being a part of a team of first class educators who give a part of their heart and soul every day in the best interest of the kids in their care!

I am becoming more and more at peace with the idea that nothing will ever take the place of being an educator. I was so proud of and loved being able to reply to a person who asked me what I did for a living with the proclamation, “I am a Middle School Principal”. Having to add the word ‘retired’ in front of these words only serves to feed my sense of loss. Hopefully, I will get past that soon and having an open mind and an open heart will lead me in the direction of some new and exciting opportunities. I’m sure there are activities that will provide the meaning and purpose that I am longing for. But for the time being I admit that I am enjoying waking up without the assistance of an alarm most mornings.

In love and intense gratitude,

Dan

PS Thanks to everyone who has helped to add to my sense of loss. Had you not given so much to my life, I may have never known what I was missing.

Finding Our Tribe

FIRECracker of Millennium Revolution October, 2018

“In everyone’s life, at some time, our inner fire goes out. It is then burst into flames by an encounter with another human being. We should all be thankful for those people who rekindle the inner spirit.”  ~ Albert Schweitzer

Maybe it’s not quite as dramatic as in this quote, but I think Mr. Schweitzer pretty much nails what it means to find your tribe.

Chautauqua Greece was that for me. To be sure, I don’t fit the profile of the typical attendee. I am about positive I was the oldest participant at the conference. The speakers were all living their amazing FIRE lives (maybe that’s why they were picked as speakers 8-^).

Despite the fact that my wife and I are just around the corner from bidding our jobs a fond farewell (as I write, we dropped below the 200 day mark), we were fatally attracted to this event right from the get go.

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Why Did We Attend?

Chautauqua had been on our radar for several years. It’s a one of a kind event that seemed like it would a be crazy cool thing go to. It’s previously been held in Ecuador, too far away from where we are working in Africa. That, and it usually didn’t match up with our school holidays. Last year’s UK event didn’t work with our schedule either, but at least it was in the same hemisphere! This year, however was different. The first week of Chautauqua Greece (geographically reasonable) happened to be scheduled over our school’s October break. We leapt at the chance to attend this time, and I’m pretty sure we were the first participants to book. “Push the button!” I told Amanda after she showed me a photo of the hotel. Our registration confirmed, we were totally stoked about the idea that we would actually be hanging out with some of our BIG FIRE heroes.

What Did I Want From Chautauqua?

As it got closer to the time to go, Amanda started asking me questions. It’s what I love about her, but it can also be annoying as hell. Stuff like, “What questions are you gonna ask in the one-on-one sessions? You should probably write them down so you can remember them,” and “What are you hoping to get out of this whole thing?” As crazy as she sometimes makes me with her constant questions and out loud wonderings, I felt I’d better start giving it more serious thought. After all, this was not our typical October Break holiday. We were going to get to pick the brains of some of the awesomely successful bloggers who we’ve been following for quite a while –live and in person! This was going to be even better than “back stage passes”.

When it came right down to it, I decided there were really only three things I wanted to get out of our time at Chautauqua. First, I wanted affirmation. I wanted an expert to tell us that our FI number and withdrawal plan was sound, and if it wasn’t, I wanted to know what needed to change to make sure it was. Secondly, I wanted to feel confident that the real estate purchase we were about to complete made financial sense. Buying a condo is not always considered the most savvy idea. Lastly, I wanted to have a good time.

What Did I Get Out of the Chautauqua Experience?

So, “Were your expectations met?”, you ask. The short answer, is yes! The lid was utterly and completely blown off. It was a relief to get the nod that our plan was solid. Based on JL Collins’ advice, we did make an adjustment to our withdrawal strategy, one that we had not previously considered but one that would make a nice impact in a few years. His insights were perfect. AND against all Chautauquan betting odds, we were also given the rarely relinquished “stamp of approval” by Kristy (aka FIRECracker) and Bryce (aka Wanderer) (Millennial Revolution) for the condo we were about to purchase. I believe after reviewing our numbers, it went something like, “Hell yes. You guys can do whatever the Hell you want.” We were quite surprised, as they usually favor renting over buying. Win #2 for Chautauqua! 

The outcome of these two one-to-one sessions alone was worth the price of admission!

So Much Added Value from Chautauqua

Mrs. Chaos (fellow Chautauquan and now a new friend) may have stated it best in her blog post, The Reluctant Chautauquan : 10 Weird Things I Learnt About a Chautauqua when she said,  “all of the people there have the same value system. Speakers and participants alike see the world in a similar way, seeing money as a tool, not as an end.” She also noted, “These people are highly motivated to do something useful and productive with their time – if they have indeed ‘retired’ from a traditional job.” Where do you find such a concentration of financially independent people who are humble, down to earth and willing to help others without some sort of a catch? “What was in it for them” seemed to honestly be the satisfaction of offering their assistance (People helping people – what a concept!) and connecting with new members of the ever expanding FIRE movement.

The Throne of Zeus
The Final Answer

What did I really get out of my Chautauqua experience? The answer to that question may sound a little ‘woo woo’ but I’m gonna say it anyway. It sort of just came to me while I was looking across the the pool deck as everyone was informally hanging around, chatting like crazy during free time at the hotel. Maybe it was the influence of being in Litochoro, Greece at the foot of the Throne of Zeus and Mt. Olympus. I didn’t say it aloud for fear of sounding like a schmaltzy sap. But the words in my head echoed, “I am walking with Giants”.  Reflecting on what had transpired over the week – I got to spend time with people who delight in taking full responsibility for their lives and their futures. They are mindful and intentional about the resources they use and consume. They are optimistic and solution focused always looking at what is possible. They inspire and encourage others to pursue their dreams and to be their very best. What I gained was meeting and connecting with a handful of members of my Tribe. And I am truly blessed!

Hanging around talking money and life on the pool deck

I can’t end this post without sending a HUGE shout out to all of the Week 1 Greece Chautauqua 2018 participants (our new friends!) for being so cool and so fun and for all the amazing conversations. Thank you a million times over to organizers, Alan and Katie, you didn’t miss a detail (And my foodie wife Amanda says the food was over the top!). Finally, our gratitude goes out to to JL Collins , Kristy & Bryce (Millennial Revolution),  and Carl & Mindy aka Mr. & Mrs. 1500. You all made this event a life changing experience for us with your invaluable personal advice and presentations. We can’t wait for a reunion. In the meantime, as we’re heading into the FIRE, our plan is to Go Be Invincible!

 

 

You’re Going Where?

“You are never too old to set another goal or to dream a new dream”~ C. S. Lewis

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As I mentioned in my previous post, once my wife and I caught the FI bug, the momentum was amazing. It was like launching a tiny snowball down a steep hill, watching it gather more snow…growing bigger and bigger and bigger. But instead of a snowball, this was a FIREball.

From a historical-financial perspective, we had previously fallen for the siren’s song of the banking industry and consumerism. Following my misguided mental model, I reasoned that because we made a decent income we, (OK, I), could buy  pretty much what I wanted, when I wanted it. We sometimes used credit and gave little thought to carrying a balance. My rationale was that the house would continue to appreciate in value and a quick refi would cover the accumulated debt when debt payments got too high. I argued that our annual salary increases would allow us to pay the higher mortgage payment. I was also resigned to the idea that Amanda (younger than me) loved teaching and wouldn’t want to stop until her retirement age. I had planned to just keep working until she was ready to retire. By then our pensions and Social Security would certainly be enough to cover our expenses…or would they??? (Oh how I wish I knew then what I know now.)

Coming to Agreements

I believe the key to success for a couple pursuing FI is that you have to agree on stuff. Once we started thinking about more ways to accelerate the process, neither of us could seem to turn off our brains. Tons of thoughts and ideas (and questions!) were flying around in our heads. In order to share and process all of it, we stumbled (no pun intended) upon a strategy that really worked for us: walking and talking. Fortunately for us a local walking path built around a nearby golf course ended up being a great place for us to get in some serious exercise and process tons of ideas at the same time. We used to joke that it was there that we “solved all the world’s problems” (well, at least those in our world, anyway). It was perfect. In the hour or so that it took to make the trek, we always managed to gain some clarity and logically plan for the road ahead.

Now They Call It “Hacking”

Clarity you say? Our walking and talking led us to consider what many of our friends and relatives thought was the polar opposite of clear thinking. We love to travel. Vacations are expensive. Our brilliant idea? What if we were to teach abroad? By this time both Cayden and Amanda were well out of the woods medically (previous post), and we were now empty nesters. The boys were busy doing whatever it is that 20 somethings do. And on average, we didn’t even see our extended families but once a year. We had paid off our debt a bit earlier than projected (by selling much of our accumulated stuff).  Our emergency fund was in the bank. “If we sell our house and move abroad,” we mused, “we’ll have Zero Debt!” What the heck. We decided to go for it.

We got ourselves signed up with a recruiting company and shortly after put our house on the market. It wasn’t long before we received a very appealing job offer from an international school. Lacking overseas experience, we expected our search would last awhile. It was our good fortune to have received the offer after just a couple of of interviews. Our new jobs would include an increase in salary from our public school positions, housing, annual round trip airfare for both of us to our home of record and outstanding healthcare benefits. Little did we know at the time that we had pulled off a Trifecta of Life Hacking: Housing, Tax Advantaged Income and Travel. (Heck, we didn’t even know what hacking was, yet,) Pretty cool, huh? We thought so.

Shortly thereafter, we had an offer on our house, only there was one problem –  our house would close before the end of our contracted school year. Yikes! Our plan was to be overseas for at least 6 years. Where were we going to live for just a couple of months? We needed to sell our stuff!  We were so ready to just unload it all. Luck continued to be on our side when some acquaintances from our church (now very dear friends of ours) offered to let us stay with them.  We moved into their furnished mother-in-law apartment with just 2 ½ months of school remaining and lived there until we finished out the school year. The quaint accommodations were small but lovely. Oh . . . and I should mention . . . the house was on a beautiful lake. Talk about all the pieces falling into place.

One Part Luck, Two Parts Good Thinking

Before we left the US, we had fortunately set ourselves up on the path to FI. Our teacher’s retirement system required teachers to withhold 5% to 15% of their pre-tax salary. At least we had been maxing out our teacher’s retirement program. Upon retirement, this plan would provide access to the invested funds. 

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We had small Roth IRAs, but we were pretty fuzzy on our understanding of the nuances of investing (actually downright pathetic and confused). After realizing that we’d made some poor decisions in buying just single stocks,  we did our “homework”. As a result, we ran across some investment advice that made good sense. Andrew Hallam, who had been an international teacher in Singapore, wrote a book we found called The Millionaire Teacher. It was a good start and set us on our “investment way”. We soon discovered that people were actually blogging about this stuff and realized they reinforced Hallam’s ideas. People like Mr. Money MustacheGo Curry Cracker, JL Collins, Mr. 1500, and Millennial Revolution started appearing on our radar. They provided us with more motivation and strategies to accelerate our journey. Mr. Money Mustache, recently featured in a PBS news hour broadcast, was a huge influence as was JL Collins. Jim’s book, The Simple Path Wealth is a must read for anyone aspiring to reach financial independence. We recommend it to anyone who will listen to us talk about FIRE. It’s one of those books you’ll read multiple times just to make sure you “really get it”. 

By the time we left our public school jobs to head overseas, our lump sum was nothing to sneeze at, even with the poor returns and high fee structure. So, upon separation from our state system, we learned we could take our money out of the state plan. We jumped at the opportunity to roll over our funds into higher yielding IRAs.  We also decided to max out our current retirement options. With a lot of mentoring from the bloggers we’ve followed (many who have now become friends since Chautauqua), and despite our late arrival on the FIRE scene, we have reached our FI number. We’ll both be “RE” at the end of the school year.

Oh Yeah…That Overseas Post

Where did we go, you wonder? We ended up at the American International School in Lagos. No, not Portugal…Lagos, Nigeria. As you might imagine (or be thinking), the responses from friends and family ran the full gamut: “Why Nigeria?” and “Oh my God. Isn’t it DANGEROUS there??!” or “Are you gonna live in a hut?” with some added snickering. To be sure, living in Nigeria has had its share of inconveniences, issues and challenges (Remember Ebola, anyone?? We were there!).

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The truth is that the standard Nigerian greeting, “You are welcome” and the positive attitude of the Nigerians has always made us feel welcome. This has been our home for nearly six years. 

We have sincerely enjoyed living and working in Nigeria and have loved our careers as educators. Despite the joys that come with working with young people and those who teach them,  I am very much looking forward to the change of pace and the increase in self-directed activities that retirement will bring. I am equally aware of my internal need to spend my time doing things that are meaningful. I am ready to leave my job behind but I am not ready to leave behind my purpose. 

 

Not Your Typical FIRE Awakening

“It is possible to experience an awakening in this life through realizing just how precious each moment, each mental process, and each breath truly is.”
~ Christy Turlington

My wife, Amanda and I have been following the FIRE movement for quite awhile now. We don’t fit the typical demographic of the majority of the folks in the movement. We are a bit older but so very thankful that we discovered them when we did.

How it Began

It all began for us when my youngest son required a liver transplant at the age of 16. The transplant took place at Stanford Hospital/Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital in Palo Alto, California. Amanda (my wife/ his stepmom) served as his

“living related donor”. We stayed near the hospital for just over two months. (To read more about that experience you can read Amanda’s blogs linked here.) Nearly a decade later, my son enjoys a healthy liver and Amanda has experienced zero side effects from the procedure.

Prior to the “emergency”, Amanda and I kept very busy working as educators, being parents and chasing the “American Dream” (paycheck to paycheck). Oh yes, we had a house that was too big, with a refinanced mortgage that incorporated our consumer debt, including the purchase of the truck I “had to have” . . . that I “deserved” . . . because I “earned it” . . . Yada, yada, yada. Really?

The medical recovery process forced us all to S-L-O-W  . . . . D-O-W-N. So we hit up the local library and bookstore and caught up on A LOT of reading. Avoiding all professional reading, we read books, articles, blogs, etc. focused on our personal interests.

Reflecting back on this time, Amanda and I believe that this humongous life event was the catalyst that led us to our major ‘shift’.  Our ideas about what was really important in life would never be the same. And, as much as I loved being a principal, there were more and more days in which job stress completely overrode any joy that I otherwise might have felt. I remember saying to Amanda more than once,  “I really don’t want to die in my office chair.” I felt trapped by the need for the paycheck and frankly was beginning to feeling defeated.

Shift Happens

Fast forward through what was in reality a more gradual process, we came to the conclusion that serious changes were needed in our life – especially with regard to money. We became keenly aware that living a more reasonable and affordable lifestyle would allow us to save some money. Having money saved, in turn, might buy us some much needed freedom, or at least some space. Perhaps we could take a year off. Maybe I could move out of administration or maybe, just maybe I would be able to retire on time.

Behavior Change

In a book (sitting for years on our bookshelf) by Dave Ramsey, part of his system for helping people “build wealth” is referred to as the 7 Baby Steps. The underlying premise of this (and most every other) approach to financial security is that a change of behavior is required. Albert Einstein is commonly given credit for the quote, “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results”. Soooo, one of the first acts of our sanity was to develop a budget we could commit to. We made a plan to become debt free and made a solemn oath to stick to it. We tried Dave Ramsey’s “debt snowball” idea and scheduled  weekly “budget meetings”. We spent every dollar coming in with intention and agreement. It was painful at first but we found ways to make it fun. We built in a budget line item labeled “fun money” that we sometimes didn’t even spend. Somehow knowing we could, made a world of difference. It wasn’t long before we really started to enjoy the whole process.

You People are Crazy

Don’t you find that when you make major changes in your life people start treating you like you’re crazy?  A fond example happened during a grocery shopping trip one Sunday at Trader Joe’s. To help control spending, we planned cheap meals ahead of time and only bought items that were on our shopping list. When we got to the checkout stand, we were both staring at the digital display on the register. Once we saw that our total was just under $50.00, we “high-fived” right there in line. Yes! We were under budget, only by a few cents, but we did it! Other patrons’ eye rolling and head shaking were a clear sign that they all thought we were a tad bit crazy, BUT we were hell bent on working our plan, staying within our budget and frankly, we didn’t give a rip what anybody else thought. 8-^)

Pursuit of Purpose

From these humble (albeit a bit tardy) beginnings, we had begun down a new and exciting (one way) path, called FIRE. Understanding that FI is not just about money or a number but about lifestyle and creating freedom to choose, I knew I still had a lot of work to do. Ensuring that I never turn my back on my purpose and desire to make a difference continues to be a guiding principle on this journey. 

Reader Beware: My next post may provide additional evidence that we are indeed crazy. But using Einstein’s definition of insanity, you will soon clearly see that, at least we didn’t “do the same thing over and over again”.

Living For Today

April 23, 2018

John Lennon is often attributed with the quote, “Life is what happens when you are busy making other plans”. This is because he included these words as lyrics in a song he wrote about his son, Sean called “Beautiful Boy”. However, nearly two decades earlier these same words were used in a newspaper comic strip, “Steve Roper” written by a person by the name of Allen Saunders. Regardless of origin I was reminded of this quote again during the past week and the impact was greater than ever before. Because I recently promised myself (and made my promise public) that I would spend time planning my future (after work). My resignation from my current position is effective the end of May, 2019. Part of the reason I started writing my blog again was because when I publicly express my intentions I stand a better chance of following through. Although I have not changed my mind, two events and a blog repost occurred in the recent past that have given me pause and reminded me of the critical importance of balance in life and being present in each moment.

The first event of note was that I traveled with a group of 30 – 7th grade students on their annual international trip to Norway from our school in Lagos, Nigeria. I was with two other adults serving as a chaperone. The second event was the passing of a good friend of mine over the weekend when we were away. Jim was 4 years my junior. He was also a principal and was highly respected and loved my many (including me and my wife).

My wife Amanda and I decided to pursue international education about 7 years ago. We were hired to work at the American International School of Lagos, Nigeria (AISL) beginning in the 2013-14 school year. Amanda teaches first grade and I am the middle school principal.

An amazing tradition in the middle school at AISL is that in late April or early May, each grade level travels internationally. Grade 5 travels to Huntsville, Alabama to Space Camp, Grade 6 to Village Camps in Leysin, Switzerland, Grade 7 to Hardangertun School Camp, Kinsvarik Norway and Grade 8 to Washington, DC. The trips are tied to the curriculum but equally or more importantly students get to experience another culture and region and practice other skills. Critical thinking, communication, collaboration, and creativity are affectionately referred to by many as the 4 C’s of 21st century learning. They are said to be the characteristics and dispositions that will help to make students academically successful, contributing members of society and employable.

Despite supervising and watching over my group of 10 – 12 year olds (passports, luggage, money, medications, etc) in transit from Lagos through Amsterdam to Bergen, Norway, we arrived in a place of such awe-inspiring beauty and majesty that it nearly took my breath away. Even in the midst of their full-blown adolescence, our 7th grade students were equally enchanted by this place. Without cell phones, laptops, tablets or even textbooks to distract them, we hiked, canoed, rock climbed, took a boat ride on a fjord, a train ride up to the top of the mountains, and experienced snowshoeing and archery. We were each responsible to prepare our own breakfast while living in 4-person cabins for the week. We also made and packed our own lunches before heading out in the morning.

The second event was the antithesis of the above. The loss of a friend. My friend Jim was 4 years younger than me. I found out rather recently that Jim was diagnosed with liver and pancreatic cancer on January 23, 2017. Ironically January 23rd is my mother’s birthday. We lost my mother to metastatic liver cancer of unknown primary origin, 6 months after her diagnosis. She died just over 14 years ago. Jim’s death has been particularly difficult for me. Maybe that is because he was so full of life, had a contagious laugh and sense of humor and was actively engaged in schools making a difference in the lives of kids. The fact that we have similar ways of connecting with people and are in the same profession makes it feels closer to home.

My wife, Amanda and I were both friends with Jim. In fact, jim was the principal of the school where Amanda was teaching before we moved to Africa. Amanda came across and sent to me a blog entry from his 1500 Days to Freedom Blog site that Carl Jensen reposted entitled, “Are You Happy”. He opens the entry by asking the question, are you happy? and then asks the reader to consider yesterday. He continues, by asking:
How many times did you smile?
Were you happy, sad or just going through the motions?
Did you say “Hi!” to strangers or look away?
How did you spend your day? Did it bring you fulfillment?
Did you go to bed content or did worry keep you awake?
Yesterday was Sunday, so you may not have been at work. However, think about your last day at the job. Was it mostly positive or negative?

Carl is part of a growing group of people in the FIRE movement. FIRE stands for Financial Independence Retire Early. It is really a fascinating movement and many of its more prolific members are authoring blogs and social media groups to share thoughts, ideas strategies and tips and much, much more.

So for three entirely different reasons I have been hit squarely between the eyes with the stark realization that, once again, I have not been living in the present moment. Like many others in the FIRE movement, setting goals and counting down is great fun. Planning what will take the place of the job that I current do for a living is a rather important process to ensuring meaning and purpose in that which comes next. But happiness is not a destination, happiness is the journey. My happiness is my daily responsibility. To be sure that I am happy when I am able to live without the financial security provided by my current employment situation, I must practice being happy every moment of every day. It is not something to be put off for retirement, whether early or late.

Today is Sunday and I will be going to work tomorrow. I will carry the beauty of Jim’s smile in my heart, put it on my face and give it away to everyone who looks my way. I will remember that just because my surroundings here at my school in Nigeria are nothing like what I experienced in Norway, but that the relationships that were forged came home with me. By remaining present in each moment I will find the charm, grace, loveliness and elegance that exists wherever I am.

So, I ask myself, are you happy? Why yes, I believe that I am.

In loving service,

Dan

“You must live in the present, launch yourself on every wave, find your eternity in each moment. Fools stand on their island of opportunities and look toward another land. There is no other land; there is no other life but this.”
~ Henry David Thoreau

Unravelling the Fabric

April 7, 2018

If you are looking for a job that is laid back and easy going, working in a school is not a good choice. To say that education is or has become a fast-paced environment is an understatement. The pace varies from an active clip up to and including a frenetic sprint. With the constant bustling of high-energy kids, special events and activities, there is almost always a feeling of electricity in the air. I think because of that (and I believe I can speak for most educators when I say) we really look forward to holiday breaks during which we can enjoy some downtime.

Since my last post, my wife and I appreciated the pleasure of some SCUBA and beach time over our school Spring/Easter Break. Although I promised myself that I would remain out of “work mode” and enjoy our vacation, I admit to intermittent tinges of anxiousness. I really just wanted to wallow in an aura completely void of anything even resembling serious decision making. The act of looking at a menu felt ever so slightly taxing. I was however, quite proud to say that I successfully fought off most of my urges to think about work. The angst I realized, was all about figuring out what I am going to do with myself when I stop working. I find it so uncomfortable to use the term “retirement” that I am referring my last day of work as “New Beginnings Day”.

In my last post, I said that I was committing myself to a reflective process that I hope will help me to plan my future. I thought that by looking back over my life through the lens of some guiding questions, a future direction might become more clear. The questions are: “What has sustained me?” “What has served to put a smile on my face or to light up my heart?” “What has touched my soul?” “What really matters deeply to me”?

Although the guiding questions still “feel good” to me, where to begin the process has me a bit perplexed. The line of sight looking back over my life is anything but a straight one. Unravelling the fabric made from the many individual experiences of a lifetime, stitched together with a zillion memories is not a nice, tidy project to take up a lazy afternoon.

As I usually do when I come up against a sticking point, I did some research. Tanja Hester, the author of the “Our Next Life” blog, and her husband Mark, are one of the couples who are part of the Financial Independence Early Retirement (FIRE) movement. Although some of the issues being faced in early retirement (Ms. ONL was 38 and Mr. ONL was 41 when they retired at the end of 2017) are somewhat different than in our case (I will be collecting a small pension but Amanda will not). I think that there are many people who think of retirement as a future destination. As it gets closer I have come to realize that for my retirement to be as meaningful as been my career, I must avoid viewing it as a destination but instead must embrace it as a continuation of the journey. In a post entitled, “What Do You Want Your Tombstone to Say? // Defining Our Purpose”, Mr. and Ms. ONL asked themselves three questions: What do we want to look back on and be happy we did? What would we want to be remembered for? What do we want to contribute to the world? Next they created an excellent mapping tool consisting of a series exercises designed to help in identifying purpose. Follow the link to read their post and see what their map revealed.

A Google search will render literally thousands of books written about life’s purpose. Having spent an entire career working with kids, a sense that my work has had meaning and purpose is not at all in question. The regular opportunity provided by working in a school to form relationships with and to inspire students to become their very best has been extremely gratifying and fulfilling.

Now don’t get me wrong, working in schools is not all fun and games. Granted, the rewards have been plentiful, but they have also been interspersed with some very difficult and thankless moments and situations. The positive experiences have sustained me and spurred me on to face and endure the harder times.

Interestingly, the most meaningful (to me) aspect of my work life has been encouraging, inspiring, and energizing kids to boldly and relentlessly pursue their dreams and never give up. Being a principal, I have taken advantage of my turns at the podium to influence and promote the attitudes and character traits that I believe are required for young people to have the best chance to achieve the things of their dreams. This has been my passion.

I seem to have answered the questions “What has sustained me?” “What has served to put a smile on my face or to light up my heart?” “What has touched my soul?” “What really matters deeply to me”? in just a few paragraphs. The question that remains is, now what? So far, I am pretty satisfied that I have managed to live a fairly meaningful and purposeful life. For me, it doesn’t follow that retiring from my job also has to mean letting go of meaning and purpose. So for that, the search must go on.

In loving service,

Dan

“You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something – your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever.”

~ Steve Jobs