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As I work out the configurations of my semi-retirement plan, I’ve noticed my focus in this blog shifting in the past month from the specifics of art and my career towards issues relating to personal finance and my bedrock of Voluntary Simplicity. I’ve also noticed that you can’t turn a corner in the blogosphere without running into a blog on these topics. This is an amazing development. I love the fact that there are financially and ecologically conscientious entrepreneurs out there making their incomes off living and breathing and reporting back on the tenets of Voluntary Simplicity. And the fact that the rest of us can read their blogs and contribute is an ideal manifestation of Voluntary Simplicity in the 21st century. And considering the fact that waste and consumption are anathema to V.S., no longer do we have to publish and consume copies of a limited number of books on these topics.
My main blogroll reflects my career resources. However, in the sense that Voluntary Simplicity informs the choices I make in my life, I think it’s fitting to post the personal finance/”consciousness” blogs I visit on a daily basis. Here’s the basic list:
Giving my notice this week was part of the plan. There was an anticlimactic inevitability about the whole thing after planning for it for so long. Though bittersweet, it went very smoothly. My co-workers were all supportive and encouraging, and it was great to talk about my dreams to friends and colleagues and get so much positive feedback.
My financial perspective, or perhaps my luck, has shifted a bit. In my quest for housing I can afford and still keep my cupboards stocked with saltines and ramen noodles, I came upon a Craigslist ad for an apartment in the foothills of the Sandias, about 20 minutes from Albuquerque, and I made the trek to check it out. It is surrounded by incredible views and hiking trails, and access to the main house most of the time when the owner is out of state. The best part? It’s FREE, in exchange for keeping an eye on the place and doing some light cleaning. Obviously the owner got plenty of responses to this ad, and it felt like a job interview. It is a job in the sense that it will allow me to forego other, less appealing jobs. Luckily my borderline OCD tidiness comes in handy in certain situations, and I blew away the competition. So now that particular albatross has been dismembered and I have another piece of my financial puzzle in place. According to the permanent budget calculator implanted in my brain, between the GA stipend and the housing arrangement I have my needs covered. Whatever creative means and schemes I pursue beyond that goes towards savings and discretionary spending. I’ve already maxed out my Roth for the year, my emergency fund could last me 2 years, and savings account rates are in the Arctic. Additional savings is not high on my list of priorities.
Die Broke by Stephen Pollan and Mark Levine is not one of my favorite personal finance books. Not that I disagree with the premise or some of the points made, but I don’t like how it is geared towards the rich and much of the advice (such as leasing a car being a wise financial move) is pretty ludicrous. However, the authors do make one point that has always stuck with me: “Your work is not your life. Your work is what you do so you can have a life.” In other words, we’re all independent contractors. I feel like I am finally embracing my inner independent contractor and making my own rules.
There is great freedom and there is frightening personal accountability in this situation. I feel like I am entering into a period of “retirement” in the sense that I have my financial needs covered without the bonds of a traditional job. Like anyone facing such a period of liberation, there is the pressure to make the best use of my time and opportunities, for exploration, for learning, for creativity. I have grown so accustomed to working according to the schedules and proscriptions of others, and now I’ve been hired on as my own boss. Am I up for that role?
I’m pondering something Tyler Tervooren listed on his “5 Pillars of Awesome Risk Taking” over at the Advanced Riskology blog: “throw away Plan B.” The idea being that we all know deep in our infinitely wise and visceral hearts exactly what it is that makes us burn with energy and desire, and we should do whatever it takes to achieve that Plan A, because, as Tyler puts it, “If you know deep down what you want (and I think everyone does, but most are afraid to allow themselves to believe it) then you should avoid having a Plan B at all cost. If you already have one, you should do everything within your power to dismantle it. Plan B is a major distraction to Plan A.” He also distinguishes plans from dreams. In other words, the dream is the bedrock that does not change. Plan A is just the current course to achieving it.
I can see evidence of this in my own journey. The dream has not changed – doing research and working with cultural resource management. That’s the bedrock. The rest is the detritus of uncertainty, past and future speculation. What I take Plan A to mean in this context is the present. Seizing the moment and what it can do for the dream. And, importantly, the dream is not the same as the “dream job.” That can manifest in a variety of unexpected ways.
Obviously this is part of my wake-up call to stop getting ahead of myself. I hate waiting for decisions outside of my control. I hate the sensation of getting energized about an opportunity that fizzles out. That feeling of discomfort does not mean it’s a negative experience, however. I have experienced enough significant synchronicity in my life to realize that the proper unwinding of experience is not the way I envisioned it in my daydream.
As the waiting game continues on my fellowship applications (and my practical side is already resigned to the fact that they most likely went to Ph.D history students as they have in the past), I realized I’ve been coming back again and again to the same mantra. Rejection is always opportunity. Is this counterintuitive? It feels that way. Of course our ego tells us we want the perceived “dream job,” and the sooner the better. But if we always get what we think we want in the moment, who knows what opportunities are unrealized?
In my case, I still revisit the disappointment of coming so close to my “dream job” at the Museum of New Mexico 2 years ago. Then I dig a little deeper. Even if I had decided to pursue my MA at that point, would I have had the flexibility in that position to take classes? Probably not. And if I felt like I had reached my intended destination, I probably would not have followed the instinct to continue my education. In doing so, I discovered a passion and proclivity for art historical research that infuses me with meaning and flow. I don’t know if I would have figured that out in my “dream job.” And now, I’m not sure that would have been my dream job after all. I really want a job where I can apply that drive towards research and scholarship. That’s the real dream for me, the real life-long pursuit.