I have never met a strong person with an easy past

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Donkeys are said to bear a heavy burden

‘I have never met a strong person with an easy past’

I came across this quote recently, although I can’t find anyone to attribute it to and started thinking about it in terms of my own life.

I am not claiming that the past I have experienced has been particularly tough but I can see how the usual tough times have helped me to grow and become someone with the resilience to manage difficulties in a positive way, learn from my mistakes and maintain an inner strength.

To give readers a short history of some of those challenging times.  At the tender age of 21-years I had a few months when three events happened; my first husband left me for a new life with a mutual friend, the grandmother I loved very much and who lived next door died suddenly and my parents divorced.  For a while I coped with this badly and mooched around feeling sorry for myself and seeking sympathy from my friends.  However, I was young and I bounced back and as my attitude changed I felt stronger for the experiences I had been through and could see these had been life changing events.

I have now reached the age of 56-years and can’t help but be aware that this is the age my mother was when she died.  But although this rumbles in the background of my brain it feeds my optimism, rather than pessimism; I only carry some of her genes and there is no indication that I am going to drop off this planet in the near future [touch wood.]

We are shaped by our past and it makes us stronger and I think the death of my mother at a young age (and also the death of Mr BOTRA’s mother also coincidentally at 56-years) have made me the person I am; that is one who is determined to retire before I get too old to make the most of it.  These experiences have helped me set a course for financial independence.

I am not trying to give you a sob story but in the past I have also been made redundant from jobs I have given all my energy and enthusiasm to; been bullied by work colleagues that are just inadequate individuals and fluffed more job interviews than I care to really remember.  I have regrets; I have sometimes not been the friend I would like to be and I have tolerated people in my life who have sucked out my joyfulness and spat it in to the gutter for longer than I should have.

I don’t regret these experiences, they have all contributed to the person I am today and help me to enjoy today, taking control where I can, trying to accept what comes along and planning for the future that I want.

Working up to retirement

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Children playing in the river Torridge at Bideford

To update my previous blog post about the  uncertainty of my salaried work, this is now sorted and I am so pleased that I won’t have to travel to the windowless cave-office [yipee].  Instead I have managed to negotiate home-working from the end of June.  This means I can carry on working up to my retirement at the end of the year.

It is still a period of change in the office, as my co-workers are all being transferred to the precariousness of a new organisation that will be delivering the service or have successfully found different jobs to avoid the fun and games of the reorganisation.  Either way, I am going to miss seeing them all every week, hearing their news and helping them plan their holidays [I can’t help taking on this planning role for people whether they want it or not – I really missed my vocation as a travel agent].

So now my mind is turning to the pros and cons of home-working.  Will I lose the plot and miss other people so much that after just a few weeks I am talking to myself and have forgotten all my social skills [those who know me will ask what social skills]?  Will I miss the regular requests for money for leaving presents, wedding presents, new baby presents etc?  Will I be the person that sits in the local cafe relying on their WiFi and making one cup of coffee last hours just so that I can be around other people?  Or will I love the freedom to be able to put the washing in the machine as a break from the PC and rustle up our evening meal at lunch time?  Will I rattle through my work load and be even more productive because there are no interruptions?  Who knows.

I already work from home two days a week as a travel writer and so I have my home office space organised and I think I have the discipline to stop work, pack it all away and not look at it again until my next working day.  I will be able to keep in touch on the telephone but I will also meet with my manager and other colleagues at least once a month and I hope that will be enough to stop me being too isolated.

On the finance and savings front I think it is a win-win.  Although I will have heating costs from working at home [unless I spend lots of time in the cafe] I won’t have travel costs plus I will be earning money that I wasn’t expecting to be earning just a couple of months ago.  I always take in my own lunch [but no more office microwave for heating up left overs] so that cost won’t change.  Currently my employer generously pays for the numerous cups of tea and coffee I drink during the day, so I will miss that perk.

And yet every day I am working at home I will remember that at least I have a window and a view of our gardens.

 

Just the two of us …

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Splashing out on cocktails

It was Mr BOTRA’s birthday a little while ago [apologies this blog post isn’t as up-to-date as it could be].  We have always been frugal with presents and don’t buy expensive gifts for birthdays [we either need things and buy them or it is just stuff we don’t need] but I did buy him something to read and some of his favourite chocolates.

Along with these gifts I wrote a note promising to buy him cocktails down at The Lime Bar on Salford Quays.  You might say one of two things to this;  it is either no big deal or an extravagance too far for two people who are saving up for early retirement.  However, it was a lovely and enjoyable gift for both of us, as we got to spend time together, just the two of us.

We eat out or have drinks fairly regularly in Salford and Manchester but always with friends, sometimes to celebrate something or sometimes just as an excuse to get together or before seeing a band or going to the theatre.  We enjoy these sociable occasions and want to continue being able to afford these luxuries [necessities].  However, going out for drinks or a meal when it is just the two of us is an indulgence;  after all if we want to chat to each other we can do this at home.

And we do chat and talk at home; we talk about what we have been up to during the day, our plans and hopes for the future, our friends and family, what we are reading, the state of the nation, our finances and little things we have seen that have amused us [of course we also argue sometimes].

But it turned out that being ‘out’, that is away from the flat, was different.  It meant that we weren’t distracted by chores or projects, the internet or the radio and so our time at The Lime Bar was special because I was able to just enjoy being with my lovely partner.  We enjoyed good cocktails and nattered and I remembered why I have been happily married to him for over 30-years.  Is that so extravagant?

Normality is a paved road; It’s comfortable to walk but no flowers grow

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A beautiful Italian sunset

Normality is a paved road; it’s comfortable to walk but no flowers grow

I am well aware that for many people even ticking along through life can be stressful and that life throws more tough times at some people than is fair.  I am sure these folk must feel irritated by trite sayings like this … so apologies if I’ve got your back up but perhaps you will still read on.

The quote is attributed to Vincent Van Gogh and it is one of those quotes that appears in the blogosphere now and then to start a discussion on taking an unusual or creative path.

Firstly I need to say that I have had times when too many awful things are going on and I will be heard to complain, ‘I just want a quiet and normal life!’  I don’t think there is any shame in wanting a carefree and stress-free life.  I also know that when I have survived a period along the rocky road and I return to the smooth path of ‘normal’ life I have a greater sense of strength and self-reliance … adversity can be character building.

What I also take from this quote is that sometimes I need to turn away from the easy paved road because it is taking me in a direction that will not make me happy in the long run, even if it seems the path of least resistance.  This policy has stood me well in terms of my working life and my happiness [although not always my pocket].  If you saw a copy of my cv you might be horrified at the number of organisations [over 20] I have worked for since I first started work at the age of 16.  This fickleness is partly because I am easily bored [the longest I have stayed in any job is five years] but is also due to my lack of patience with employers who either undermine me, pay me badly, set impossible targets, have ridiculous rules or don’t give me enough to do.  It is best not to mention any of them here by name but I have had some employers who have excelled themselves and are guilty of more than one of these things!

As an example, let me take you back in time to an office in a Midlands city in the 1980s.  I worked for a [very] short time for a company who insisted women [not men] wore tights even if it was 30°C in the office [this was before air-conditioned offices].  In addition, although the office of about 20 people was very busy processing wages for temporary workers Monday to Wednesday, on Thursday and Friday we were kicking our hosiery-clad heels.   These were pre-internet days and having nothing to do at work was exceptionally tiresome; however, my practical and money-saving suggestion to management that I work part-time was refused.  Needless to say, although staying in the job would have kept me on the smooth path of security, I soon left for the rocky road of short-term unemployment until the next opportunity came up.

I think this experience of constantly changing jobs makes me feel fairly confident that I will always find some kind of work if financial pressures mean that I need to because of some unforeseen catastrophe.  This certainly contributes to giving me the confidence to take retirement as soon as I can.

Further thoughts in 2021

It is interesting to read this post during the Covid-19 pandemic, when all I crave is a return to the life that I was calling normal!  Taking early retirement was certainly a good move and in the three years of expected early retirement I hung onto my resilience to cope with problems as they flew into my life without announcement.  Then along came Covid-19 which certainly put pressure on that resilience.  I am certain that lockdowns and this pesky virus are not the out-of-the-ordinary problems I was thinking about when I wrote this post.  Some readers are looking for the good to come out of Covid-19 but for me, I don’t feel that anything positive [or blooming flowers] has resulted from it, apart from progress in science.

Many of us are wondering about how the pandemic will change us.  I have written about how I have been cruising in neutral and feel I have lost a precious year of my life as so much has been on hold.  My normal is to be travelling and exploring and I long to return to my travelling life and for my own version of that comfortable paved road of normality at the moment!

When is it time to tell our employers?

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I am not suggesting by the photograph that this discussion will be unpleasant and I have no illusions about being irreplaceable but I have been wondering when I should tell my employer that I intend to leave and enter a non-working state of retirement very soon.  The company I work for won’t be expecting my retirement just yet as I am [only] 56 and most of my generation are expecting to work at least until they are 60 years old.

Before the chaos of the forthcoming reorganisation I had been thinking that I wanted to give my employer what I consider sufficient warning [about three months] but as my leaving date is now up in the air I had decided to keep quiet until I know if I will be offered a suitable working base beyond the summer.

I have concerns that once they know I am leaving they will treat me differently in some way, maybe give me all the jobs no one else wants to do or just cut me out of business discussions.  However, keeping quiet brings its own problems.  I have recently been given a new area of responsibility that takes up about three days a month, as a colleague has moved on.  I have no doubt I wouldn’t have been given this responsibility if they knew I was leaving in the foreseeable future.  This change to my role suggests my employer doesn’t intend to make me redundant but leaves me feeling guilty.  I have now been trained up to carry out an important and vital role within the company and as I work in a fairly small organisation and I am the only person that is trained to carry out this task and only I know that I am planning to leave in at least eight months time [and counting down].

This new responsibility has left me feeling even more that unless I want to leave the company in the lurch [and I don’t] I do need to give a few months notice so that I can train someone else in all of the tasks I carry out but the options relating to the re-organisation continue to confuse the picture.

Things are a bit more stable and straightforward for Mr BOTRA and he plans to inform his employer in December, giving them three months notice.  This decision is partly dictated by practicalities, as he holds a company credit card and will need to stop using that in enough time for all transactions to be processed before he leaves.  But also like me he wants to keep his cards close to his chest for as long as he can, just in case …

 

 

Planning to quit or stay through a reorganisation

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Clock watching at work – is it worth it?

I had a plan; a fairly foolish idea when I work for a charity in a dynamic sector that is reliant on public sector funding in austerity Britain.

Nevertheless, I can’t help planning.  My plan was to finish work from my three-day a week admin post in about eleven months time in 2017.  In this plan I would get a card signed by my lovely co-workers all wishing me well and I would then retire in to the happy land of financial independence.  This wasn’t a plan I had shared with my employer and now I hear that a company reorganisation is in the pipeline for the summer and I am feeling out of control.

This reorganisation means that I will be moved from my friendly and relaxed office that is just 10 minutes walk from home [the best commute ever] to a new [and windowless] office where I will be the ‘new girl’ who has had to cycle for 30 minutes through the chaos that is Greater Manchester traffic.  In the new office everyone else is at the other end of the corporate spectrum to me; instead of turning up in my scruffy hiking gear, putting the radio on and just getting on with my job at my own pace, I will be expected to wear business clothes, get involved in office politics and become part of the corporate machine.

Some background.  I gave up senior management roles some years ago when we took our 50-year-old gap year.  I took on a role that I can easily achieve with my skills so that I don’t have the stress and responsibility that goes with a senior position; although this means we have less money, it also means I have head space for other projects and being so near to home I wasn’t wasting time commuting.  Working three days a week also means that I have time to devote to my other work as a motorhome travel writer.

As far as financial independence goes, the money for our retirement in 2017 is in the bank [hurrah] and a little bit more besides.  By next March the plan says we will have both enough saved and sufficient pensions to [hopefully] get us through whatever post-retirement throws at us.

I am lucky that our financial independence gives me is the freedom to walk earlier than I planned if I don’t like what I am offered by my company and Mr BOTRA supports me in this, although resigning will mean we eat in to our emergency savings that help him to feel secure.  I am therefore trying to take back control and have a negotiating position and a fall back position.  I am hoping I can get agreement to work from home [no nice colleagues to chat to but no pressure to corporately-conform either].  If this Plan B is allowed I can go back to Plan A and carry on working for a few more months.  [Hope you are you following this?]  If this negotiating position fails, I will offer to reduce my hours  [thus saving the company money] so that the longer commute doesn’t eat in to my non-corporate working time … so I have a Plan B and a Plan C.