Part 1 — Part 2
And then I gradually retired and read Jan Amos Comenius' book The Labyrinth of the World and the Paradise of the Heart.
Gradual retirement was a considered strategy. Everybody wants to be freed from the foolish demands of work, but most of us are heavily invested in that environment. Employment does define who we are and what we do, both to ourselves and to others. Work even defines which particular kinds of foolishness we spend our energy complaining about. Cutting back my hours from full time to two-thirds time and then to half time allowed me to grow my definition of who I am in terms other than those of employment. Gradually decreasing my employment also let me test how prepared I was to be without the psychological support of regular hours and a predictable set of acquaintances.
I mention Comenius' book because it is a great book, but mostly because it was the particular great book that I read at the beginning of this process. The Labyrinth of the World struck me as being altogether too accurate a description of my life, especially that part of life dominated by my employer.
One of the tasks I set for myself in preparing to retire was to identify those experiences of life about which I presently felt some passion. One might say that I tried to enumerate some of the ways that the paradise of the heart was most available to me at this moment in my journey. Here is the list that I came up with.
|1||Programming||I can still sit and program for hours at a time. Nothing else can absorb my attention this way.|
|2||Writing||Especially Biblical commentary and sermons but sometimes social analysis and occasionally small bits of fiction.|
|3||Quaestiones disputae||Thomas Aquinas, in lingua Latina legens.|
|4||Preach/Lecture||Pontificating and sounding intelligent but with an expectation of diligence.|
Including especially (so far)
|6||New psych||Psychology is just now entering the era of truly quantitative research. Many of the experiments could be done in someone's kitchen — providing that the experimenter is rigorous in planning, conducting, and analyzing the experiment. For example, recent work has quantified the common observation that a person may make a better decision by turning attention to other things. (It depends on the complexity of the decision.)|
For most of my adult life, employers provided the resources to play at some of my passions, certainly to play at programming. Now I found that work was no longer providing opportunities to engage in any of these passions. I began to feel ready to move away from the Labyrinth of corporate employment.
Knowing that prudence is a virtue, and being risk averse to the point of anxiety, I undertook a careful financial analysis before making the commitment to abandon salary income. Life can never be risk free, but eventually my financial models all agreed that I would be unlikely to starve or become a ward of the state. The two professional financial planners who offered their opinions were far more optimistic than I.
Besides mere financial planning, my tactics included substituting post-employment activities for the gradually reduced work hours. I resumed tutoring local schoolchildren (first at the Salvation Army and then at West High School), added more volunteer duties at the railroad museum, and expanded my park photo archive, the Parchive, to include researching park histories. All in addition to continuing preaching and teaching confirmation at the local Moravian congregation.
July 15, 2010 Randy Kostichka Medco Health Solutions, Inc. 1400 Lombardi Ave. Green Bay, Wisconsin Working at ProVantage and its various subsequent identities has provided me with the opportunity to utilize my existing knowledge of claims data in RationalMed and closely connected applications. Our team redesigned and expanded the core application in a remarkably collaborative way, making effective use of a variety of different backgrounds to improve health outcomes as well as reducing the costs of providing health services. The process of successfully converting RationalMed from its natural environment (however poorly implemented that was) into an all-Teradata RDBMS environment was a fascinating technological challenge, one which I believe our team met with surprising success. In addition, I was permitted the interesting side project of creating a skunkwork software development process which I believe has the potential -- as yet unrealized -- to support an effective life cycle process for Teradata RDBMS-based development. More recently, my specialized claims knowledge has become stale and outdated for lack of continued contact with claims data and standards. The long-term goals for the RationalMed product and related applications are no longer as clear to me as I would like, while the relationship between the RationalMed applications and other corporate initiatives continue to be obscure. With the near dissolution of our collaborative team environment and the ubiquity of work assignments more suited to short-term contractors than to permanent, expert employees, and absent any clear sign of a change in management style, it seems to me that the more productive course will be to invest my time and abilities elsewhere. Peter Cardinal
[No work of literature should be allowed to exist
without critical commentary.
In the case of my resignation letter, the astute
reader will notice that the first paragraph says,
Working here used to be fun, years ago,
under a different corporate identity.
Since Medco took over, we've had to do things
which make very little sense, but at least
there were interesting challenges
and the hope of improving things.
The second paragraph says,
I liked doing
some of the extra-curricular activities,
but it none of that is really bearing fruit.
The third and fourth paragraphs say,
Now we've come to the point
that we're just thrashing about.]
Feeling that I was as prepared as I was likely to be, I informed my boss that I was going to quit working. Uncharacteristically, I even held a retirement party. Characteristically, I planned the party first and announced it as a celebration of my half-birthday and 25 years back in Green Bay. Then again, I wasn't so much retired as I was willfully unemployed.
Unaccustomed as I have become to making lifetime commitments, I was a bit surprised to find that turning in the letter reduced anxiety, improved the quality of sleep, and set Medco Health Solutions firmly into the category of the irrelevant.
I'm still a programmer — one could fairly argue that the real reason I quit my job was that the company no longer let me be a programmer — so in my new life as a willfully unemployed person I assigned myself as many interesting programming projects as I could. I wrote my own email client, I played with data about first names of children in the United States, I learned new software tools (such as gnuplot to graph the name data), and I invested considerable effort in improving my websites, making them more beautiful in my own eyes and more functional for myself.
Programmer and analyst, I should say. There are people who are natural analysts; the truth of this is proven by my having known one. Others who are less intrinsically analytical nevertheless are forever analyzing every problem, opportunity, and situation (sometimes to the consternation of non-analysts around us). I strategically analyzed long-term finances and long-term interests, as noted above, and I analyzed the components of a happy, fulfilling day as well. The conclusion was that, ideally, each day should include these 5 aspects:
|Maintenance: Cleaning, repair, yardwork|
|Mastery: Study, research, authoring|
|Creativity: Craft, artifice, technique|
|Culture: Books, movies, exhibits|
|Contact: Conversation, visit, exchange|
In 2014, I took another step in my life by founding The Pivot Rock Fund. I had thought to wait until full retirement age, when I would draw Social Security, but my factually conservative financial planning already provided an income 50% larger than I needed, so I had the choice either to start up the Fund or to take a trip farther away than I can bike. The Pivot Rock Fund has several goals.
As it turns out, the people who receive grants are quite willing to enjoy the parody at the same time, and placing the household pets on The Fund's board does not decrease applicants' eagerness to have a grant awarded. The Fund's application page did not obfuscate our third goal.
Like all grantors, we're pretty much full of ourselves. We know that small grants won't get us a whole building named in our honor, but we are open to smaller honors. For example, there might beThe Wheatley Cat Men's Rest Room Refurbishment,The Fluffy Kitty Children's Story Corner, orThe Buddy Dog Plexiglas Protective Display Case.
Within 12 months, The Pivot Rock Fund had awarded $14,132 to 4 organizations and I was fretting that I might need to learn the skill of turning down grant proposals.
By this time I was headed out of the
dosage class and into
geriatric. That is
to say I was turning 65. With that I was facing
Medicare; the next birthday, 66, is the one which
the Social Security Administration had defined as
full retirement age, the point at which
I would give up the self description as willfully
unemployed and admit to being
There are real financial changes which occur with these transition points, but I think the reflections incited by attaining this age are at least as valuable.