What a silly blog post title!?!
It is January 1st, so absolutely Happy New Year. 2021 was such an interesting year. Much struggle (COVID, diverging social structure and on a personal level – health and my continued evolving relationship with work). AND a wonderful amount of adventure. This whole Blog is dedicated to our evolving adventures, so enough on that.
I’m in as good a “place” as I’ve been in many, MANY years heading into 2022. For most of the last 40 years the turn to a new year always brought the prospect of what we refer to in my business as Busy Season. It is only in recent iterations that I have grown to love Busy Season. Admittedly that is contributed to by my diminishing role in the ultra grind of tax and financial statement compliance. So, there is that aspect, yet it also feels like so much more. I’m learning to let go and let my baby (TYS, LLP) grow up without my heavy handedness. I have children, yet I didn’t birth them. Chris York and I (with Tim Shortsleeve coming later) birthed TYS, LLP. At least emotionally. Having the confidence that your “baby” can go out in the world free of one’s heavy handedness is a truly wonderful feeling. AND letting go is so incredibly hard.
So, what is this thing about FIRE. Well, FIRE is a thing. It is an acronym for Financial Independence Retire Early. Read about it if you are interested. There are some wonderful guides out there that will help you ask the right questions.
I’ve been living this since I graduated college at 25 in 1983 and entered the “professional” workforce. My grandmother, whom I have written about extensively, was a huge influence on this part of me. First, I am an accountant, so I like to measure things. It’s what we do. From day one I always maxed my contributions to retirement accounts. AND when JDT and I got together / married in the mid to late 80s we continued to use various vehicles AND to become habitual savers. Our savings goals always had equal seats at the table with our plans for vacations / adventure. I somehow knew there would be benefits from this path, I just didn’t yet call it financial independence.
Life always presents us opportunities. The only questions are do we have our eyes and ears open AND are we receptive to them as opportunities? In 1993 I was fortunate to have met someone who became an incredibly important part of my life. Jim Gebhardt and I met on a golf course at a trade association golf tournament. At the time Jim had recently moved to the Bay Area from Western NY (whole separate story). Jim was working at Aetna Surety as a surety bond underwriter. So we had mutual client interests and could therefore get our employers to pay for some or most of our early golf boondoggles. Jim’s career evolved to become a financial advisor, first with Merrill Lynch, then with Smith Barney and finally where he is today – owner of his own independent financial services firm, Gebhardt Group, Inc. (GGI). I became a client of Jim’s from his early days at ML. To make a real long story short, I am a RAVING fan of Jim and GGI. If you want someone to partner with in your financial life, there are many really good options available. However, if you want a partner in your life who happens to use financial tools, seek out Jim and GGI. It will make a difference. For the Thomas family, it is foundational!
I refer to myself as a “recovering planner”. It’s meant to be a bit of a humorous spin on “recovering alcoholic”. My point is, left to my instincts, I will create a plan for most everything. Early in our relationship JDT and I were polar opposites in this respect. Live in the moment versus plan for everything. Our progress has been meeting in the middle. I believe I was a good guinea pig for Jim to play out much of his vision for how to run GGI. If results matter in the judgement of success, well you get my point.
The real point of this post is to discuss my “struggle” with FIRE. All of the above was to create a context for the discussion that follows.
Previously, I’ve blogged extensively on my views of struggle. Simply, it is the good stuff in life. Or, maybe more accurately, usually the precursor to the good stuff in life.
I see there being two, clearly separate, yet highly connected aspects to FIRE. Financial Independence AND Retirement Early. Yes, we have had a fair bit of struggle with the FI part of FIRE. There was a time in 2008 where we considered bankruptcy as an option. But outside of that difficult time, it has been a steady, slow slog. The only way I know how to eat an elephant is one bite, one day at a time.
AND the RE part of FIRE has been a wholly different experience. In many ways I consider myself to have two very different lives – pre and post cancer. I still consider February 17, 2009 to be my 2nd life birthday. It was the day I was declared “free of disease” or as lay people like to say, cured! It was such a huge mental shift for me. I began to live more in the current (less, but more strategic planning), I started to think more deeply about life after work. I was unable to work for 4 to 5 months while in treatment. Work was taken from me. AND I realized how much my work meant to me. How much I LOVED it! I even began to contemplate a date for “retirement”. Then in 2015 while doing some deep planning with my TYS partners, I first used a date – June 30, 2020. Everything I did at TYS from that point contained an element of June 30, 2020. At first it was on the periphery. AND as we got closer it moved more to the middle of the room. Frankly, TYS did a wonderful job of preparing itself as much as possible. Me? The results have been more spotty. My early efforts involved exploring things I could do that would plug one passion in place of another. This included teaching at Chico State. I even “co-taught” a couple of sections of Principles of Financial Accounting. I also explored starting a cancer support group. Each of these efforts are on pause, as in fall of 2020 I learned there was other work to be done first.
I’ve not blogged about Jim Kelley. Hardly believable for me as not more than a couple days goes by that I don’t think of Jim. He entered my life in 2003 or 2004. We shared a mutual client. We collaborated on that client. Jim was a life coach. Jim had a very interesting background. He touched my life in ways few have. Jim passed 8ish years ago. I still bring him with me to most important meetings. Jim’s life partner is Jennifer Kelley. Jennifer is ying to Jim’s yang. They were magical together. I was talking with Jennifer about 3 or 4 months after June 30, 2020. She, like Jim is a great questioner AND even better listener. She asked me how I was doing. Normally, I would have said something like fine, and gone on to what would have likely been an unfulfilling conversation. Not this time, I said a was struggling. Jennifer knows me well, and knows TYS, etc. She asked a few more questions that I tried to hold myself together to answer. Then she asked me if I wanted her opinion. Swallow hard, YES! She went on to offer that it might be possible that I had suffered a loss on June 30, 2020. AND that before I could effectively move forward that I needed to grieve my loss. LOSS? Hell, nobody died. As a matter of fact, this was THE PLAN! So, how could it involve loss. We talked for another 10 to 15 minutes and it became clear my loss was of my career (life long love affair), my relationship with my partners (no longer in THE ROOM where the MAGIC is created) and that my baby had grown up and was ready to leave the nest. WOW! And from this point improvement occurred. Yep, it has been a bumpy road when one tapers off of habits. I’ve always been a cold turkey person. I went off Oxycodone (part of pain management during treatment) after 4 months cold turkey. With my relationship with TYS, I was tapering.
Why am I so optimistic now? Well, when we got back from BK in November I found myself back in old tired habits. This got to the point where JDT called me out on it. As a conflict avoider, it takes a lot for JDT to confront. So WHY? I’m coming to realize I have reached another bump in the road of tapering. This one was again my mindset. I was still connecting, or making everything dependent on my perception of TYS doing what I believed they should be doing to guarantee success. I wasn’t, in my mind and framework, letting them have their own struggles and believing in their successes. I don’t need to solve their problems. I should focus on ME. They will be fine. They are fine. They are GREAT! So, I am working really hard at decoupling my life from TYS all the while creating all the joy possible from the work I do at TYS. It feels somehow different. Hence my optimism as we enter 2022.