Detaching from the Matrix…Small steps to big rewards
We are in a mess. We got this way because people forgot that the power brokers of the world treat life like a chess game, and we think of life like a daily or hourly experience.
We all go through transitions during our lives. Whether it is going to college for the first time (either as a student or as the parents of the student), moving out of the house into our first place, moving due to a job, a job loss, marriage, divorce, economic hardship or economic wins, leaving employment, self-employment, retirement, financially free…. It is all about transitions. In this episode I want to talk about how to cope through transitions and what often are the side effects and underlying issues at stake.
The one thing you can always count on in life is change.
It isn’t restricted just to we humans. All species go through it. The most noteworthy illustration is the scene of the mother bird kicking the chicks out of the nest, forcing them to fly for the first time before they head out and have their own adventures.
I’ve spoken before on the concept of the four quarters of life. From initial identity to the building quarter, to optimization and finally to the final quarter, it is a journey through change. Some changes are small and inconsequential. Others are major and leave a permanent mental record etched in one’s memory. The one thing that is constant here, however, is that without change there can be no growth. As much as many of us fear change, it is inevitable and being prepared for it mentally can make a huge difference.
Unfortunately as we have learned by studying statistics, the older one gets the harder it is to embrace change. The Boeing study tells us that if you stay in the same job until the age of 65, your life expectancy is significantly cut when compared to the person who retires at 55. I have this statistic validated by many people I come in contact with, but I have personally validated it – having had to bury my own father at the age of 67, after he retired at the age of 65. I guess it is understandable why I hate the concept of retirement.
I always wondered why fate befell him that way. I thought it was some health issue related to the workplace illness he had generated from his time in corporate Australia, but as I have gotten older & wiser, I believe that the issue wasn’t as much about that, but about not having the psychological skills ready and prepared for such a change. When you define who you are through your work, and your work is taken away from you, well…. Your identity is too.
Without some sense of identity we are ships floating out on the ocean but with no destination. Any large storm will capsize us. Sometimes even the minor ones. We need purpose, and that comes from knowing who you are.
This brings me to a tangential topic I wanted to cover on this episode – learning who you are and knowing what you want from life. This came up recently in a discussion I was having with one of my Twitter followers. He wanted to really understand the concept of education and why I’m not a 100% supporter of it en mass. I ended up coming up with this definition to help him understand my point:
I wrote that out and sent it to him quickly. It wasn’t until the next day when I read it back, that I realized how powerful parts of it were. Especially the last paragraph, and specifically this sentence: “The truth is that most that make money will spend it all to find temporary pleasure to overcome the empty truth that they can’t answer the question, “Do I know what I want?”.
I’m sure you may resonate on that. We all get shoved into a system that tries to give us options to find who we are. The institution that is tertiary education doesn’t promote that though. This is higher education, where you learn the academics required to become “enlightened”. But I think even the most learned professors know that enlightenment doesn’t come from just books. It requires participation and it requires physical engagement. You won’t learn to surf studying it in a book. You won’t learn to be a great race car driver in a book. You need to get out there and do it. And you won’t be good at it until you have done it enough and it becomes part of you. When that occurs, then you can begin your journey to becoming enlightened.
Yet our society has these unwritten rules about needing a degree to get an interview at some corporation. I argue, however, that before you know what path to study and to find any form of return on the hundreds of thousands of dollars of costs for those student loans and education fees, you need to know ahead of time with some degree of certainty, what you want to be, and that comes from having some understanding of who you are.
The answer to that question lies inside of you – not outside of you. And to draw it out, you must face the unknown, reveal your own problem solving skills and expose yourself to many things that help you seek out evidence of what “feels right” in your gut. That’s never going to come from someone else telling what you should be, or some YouTube video or Blog or whatever. It comes from you participating.
Which means you must begin the growth process – the transition from where you are now, to where you should be. That journey only you can define for yourself, but the risk you should really fear isn’t the short term journey. It is the point at the end of one’s career, when you realize that you became the job someone else told you to do, and when they take that away from you, what do you have left?
There are brief periods of time in life when you have opportunities. One of those is at the end of either high school or college, before you commit yourself to someone else’s direction and become the apprentice to them. That time is yours. Your expenses are low and your opportunities vast. It is for that reason that it used to be common that most European students would take a 2 year period to travel the world. A “gap year” x 2 so to speak. Where they can seek out the world and what it has to offer them. They can try and climb the Himalayas, or venture into the Amazon jungle, hike in Alaska, or hang out with a tribe in Nambia. Some choose to ride a motorbike across the planet. Others want to work in a bar in Tokyo. They stay with like minded travelers in hostels. They buy some beat up car, drive it around and dump it or sell it for scrap when they are done with it. Every day is an adventure that tests their skills and they learn, by participation, who they really are and what they want.
Imagine if you never did that. Maybe that is you. Maybe you left high school and went immediately into college. You choose a field of study, but if statistics tell us anything 65% of most graduates will not work in that field at all. But the adventure of the world was put aside due to the demands of the 21st century western lifestyle. That lifestyle is sold well to us in glossy magazines and in the malls of our cities. Yet that isn’t who we are – that is just some of the physical trappings we can procure while we are really trying to find out who we are.
The problem is that if an employer takes 50% or more of your waking life from you, what is left is devoted to the normal building & optimization quarters of our lives – raising a family, securing our financial future, etc. These things are needed, sure. But they are a double-edged sword because they are also the distractions that divert your attention from looking inward towards the answer to who you are, and you never have to face it. Many of us welcome that diversion, but we know deep down that is against our better interests.
Then the transition comes. Maybe it is the end of a career. Maybe it is a career cut short due to some adverse event. Maybe it is a divorce or failure in a relationship. Maybe it is our own biology or some flaw or failure in that. Maybe a close family member’s demise. Maybe it is some national or international event such as civil war, or regime change, that risks to enslave us. Often these things come unexpectedly and often they are totally expected. But in those times, we stop. We put aside all the work and the devotion to someone else’s goals, and we are forced to look inward.
When that happens, what do we find? Do we find someone we already knew who deep down has the answers on how to get through these things? For me, that seminal moment was when I woke up from a major car accident, in a wreckage, being cut out of it with the jaws of life. That awakening is etched in my mind. I immediately went through a checklist of things to take inventory of what was left of me. Did my fingers work on both hands? Yep. Check. Could I wiggle my toes. Yep. Check. OK, I can deal with this. That’s what I thought. And for that reason, I gave up my worries to fate since I couldn’t control what was going on at that point. There was no sense in expending energy to battle against it. It was what it was, and I could get through it. That’s good enough. Now the hard work begins, but I’m up for a challenge. After all, I know who I am and what I am capable of. How? Because I was already tested.
It is at that time that knowing who you are gives you the ammunition to combat the transition. You know that no matter what happens, you know who you are. You know your inner strengths. You know your weaknesses. It is for those reasons that if you have never faced adversity before, you are poorly equipped to handle it when it comes again. And it will. To preach to others about life, the universe & everything having never stepped out into that life, never fallen down, never faced real adversity, etc. means you are a not authentic. I’m not saying that many of the people that we listen to are like that. But those that have actually lived through adversity, embraced transitions, found who they were and then used that knowledge as a tool to get out of the adversity to safer ground, have something to really offer and should be heard. Some YouTube celebrity that has never been through that process won’t provide you with any form of tools needed when you encounter it yourself. Maybe some entertainment, but nothing of substance.
I began my own transition out of the field of what most would call a “career” for me which was software development, around 2015. Since about 1995, I left employment and always was a self-employed practitioner or a consultant. I had developed so many systems and helped so manæy companies transition an idea into a technical reality, that it became quite boring after a while. Each new project was like the previous project. It might have been in a different field or with different clients – even in a different country, but the same process applied. The predictable nature of engineering meant that I could just apply the same technique each time and get a relatively predictable result. Sure, there was always someone better out there – someone could code better, someone was better at user interface design, etc. but they lacked other inter-personal skills or the over focus on one skilled area left other areas empty. They would be great on teams but never solo artists. So I filled the gap as the hired mercenary that could get something going and often the clients never left what had been built for them.
I made a good living out of it. But I knew that it didn’t define who I was. As time would progress and each project was less and less interesting, I knew in my gut that I was coming to the end of a 40+ year career. And I had to make a transition.
I started that process after the 2008 GFC. A year or so later, I had managed to get all of our finances in order and I was working on some interesting projects, building software for a handful of clients. My intentions were to optimize what I had built, improve our data centers and server hosting facilities, and just make it all continue to work. But I knew that technology has a shelf-life and after a while the income I was making from doing this would eventually run dry. It always does. There’s always something newer and better coming around the corner and unless I want to spend my life chasing that fleeting world of “what’s next”, I would eventually have to get off the train at the next station.
And that is exactly what happened. The work stopped. The clients left and a small handful that stayed around were never enough to pay the bills. So like all things in a transition, you start to tear down what had been built to reduce costs, get your burn-rate as low as possible and try and find a way to be sustainable. Well we saw that coming in 2010 when we bought our rental properties, and thankfully that provides enough cashflow to cover our costs. We are financially free, and have all the assets built up over the years to be worth millions. Not that we deserve the credit for that – when a building value goes up 20% and you didn’t do anything to deserve that, it is hard to take credit for it. I kinda cringe when I hear the term millionaire, because in the world of assets you can be rich one day and a pauper the next, depending on what the market things said assets are worth. But if they are providing you the cashflow to cover your burn rate, then you are truly rich. The wealth comes in the form of freedom and being unconstrained.
So this transition which has been gradual for me over the decade, and certainly accelerated in the past 3 years or so, has meant that I have had plenty of time to reflect on who I am, what I’ve learned and what I can do next. This is really why I’m doing this podcast and created beunconstrained.com. It is because I need to self-actualize upwards and that can only be done by helping others up the mountain.
But what I neglect to talk about is the emotional hardship that comes with transition.
I know right now that the world has gone through an abrupt and painful process with a pandemic. It has been 100 years since the previous one. I can only hope at least another 100 years before the next. But it has forced many to transition.
Job loss, or being forced to work differently than before has touched us all in some way. Few of us before the pandemic worked from home. Those that did had a pretty easy going process as things changed. But who knows what the future may bring.
In the United States, the government have been charitable with financial support – trillions of dollars of it. It has helped all of us – from those at or below the poverty line with unemployment welfare support, through to business owners with PPP dischargeable loans. To the corporations with financial support, etc. It seems that support has been flowing like champagne. The stock markets are at all time highs, and unemployment rates – once at more than 25%, are returning down to levels more manageable.
And now the vaccines are here. My wife & I are getting vaccinated next week, and my daughter already has had both vaccination shots. Although the process to return to the normal levels of 2019 might still be some way in the distance, it seems that we are eager to jump back to that. Hope is on the horizon.
But the transition back to what it was will not be to the same as it was. It will be to what will be, and that may not be great for many people. The costs of all that stimulus will have to be paid back. That most likely will come in the form of inflation where the buying power of our dollars are reduced way down to ensure that more money is needed to be made, to pay back the static loan levels of 2021. That means saving money for the future is doubly hard. You put money into some 401K or IRA, not able to touch it until you are 59 ½ and when you do, although it probably has grown by stock market, the real value of the $ is likely to be half of what it was when you put the money in. Yet your home values have gone up and up – great if you own a home and want to sell it, but not great if you want to buy a home. And let’s face it – we all need a roof over our heads.
The real secret here is flexibility and to look for opportunities that emerge as things change. For a contrarian like me, that is great. I’m sick of sitting on the bench, waiting for some economic downturn to start so I can buy something. But that’s me – for most, they are out there doing their work, happy to have employment and probably just happy that one day they won’t have to wear a mask everywhere they go.
But what about those that are transitioning from the loss of a loved one? How are they getting through this? Time. Time is only thing that gradually dulls the pain from that loss and the weeks, months and years that it takes to get a handle on life again from something as profound as a loss of a loved one is not going to be easy.
What can you do now to prepare for the inevitable transitions that your life will give to you?
First, is health. You must use your time to get healthy. Completely review your diet and nutrition to find the most optimal things to put into your body and outright reject the things that are not. We live in a world where corporations sell us poison and then pretend the responsibility away by some plausible deniability stating that no one put a gun to the customer’s head to smoke that cigarette or eat that fatty burger or drink that sugared soda beverage. No, but everywhere we go we are overloaded with advertising for those very same goods (with some exceptions of course). It is hard to make informed decisions in life when the information provided is misleading or misrepresentation of actual truths and our social culture is hypnotized to do the polar opposite of what is healthy for it.
I would suggest to anyone to turn off all advertising into your lives. If you must watch TV, get something that strips out the ads. The Tablo TV box that I have does just that – let’s you record free over the air TV to a hard disk, play it back through their apps and the ads are stripped out (most of the time). But the same could be done with a Tivo box, etc.
Switch from radio shows with advertising to podcasts. At least with podcasts, you can FF through the ads if you want. Or find a feed that is ad free (like our Patreon subscribers get).
Most importantly, get to a gym. You need aerobic exercise for heart health. The current breed of most smart watches will tell you if you are meeting the American Heart Association recommended weekly levels for exercise. I know my watch and Google Fit does that. I’m sure all the other alternative brands do as well.
Then there is mental health. This is where you have to realize that what you did in your youth to help you find who you are, will determine how strong you are to deal with transition. If you know yourself, then you should be ok with this. You know what you can do because you’ve been through worse before. That confidence gets you through the heartache and pain. If you haven’t been through anything like this before, stop. Take a breath and realize that you are an insurmountable force that can get through anything and once you have passed through this firestorm, you will be stronger on the other side of it. “What doesn’t kill us, makes us stronger”. Just remember that.
The one thing that has always helped me through transitions is to think that I may not be able to control the things around me, but the one thing I can control is my reactions to them. If I can discipline myself in how I react to things, then I can probably get through it. I would suggest that anyone should embrace that. Remember, the one thing you have control of in chaos is your reactions to the chaos. Train yourself to react positively, and you can get through anything.
I’m no perfect saint here. I get anxiety. I can have times when it cripples me – stops me from doing anything, I panic over things that haven’t or won’t happen. I worry about my responsibilities and despite doing everything I possibly can, things happen. I wear those things, but that doesn’t mean that because I can, I don’t have anxiety over them. I do, and I’ve learned to deal with it. Again time seems to help. If I can just detach for a while it will eventually subside.
But with all of this, it eventually ends up coming down to one thing. Know yourself. And that is a life long journey that should have started in your first quarter and never stopped. If you are one of the majority that put that mission aside in favor of your bosses goals, then you will eventually pay the price for it. When the work stops (and one day it will, either because you physically can’t do it anymore, or your employer doesn’t want you to do it anymore), then you come face to face with transition. If you don’t have a sense of self, understand who you are, your purpose, etc. then you are poorly equipped. And that means you may not get through it. My father didn’t, and according to the Boeing study, it is a common thing.
Just a few weeks ago, the CDC revised their annual life expectancy numbers in the USA. They are shocking. What I thought was an average US Male life expectancy of 79.3 now has plummeted to 75.8 years. And sure, you could argue that COVID is the thing that brought it down, but what is super scary is that the numbers were closer to 76 years in 2019 – BEFORE COVID.
If you plan to work until you are 65, you get 10 years on average from the day you stop working. And if you are poorly prepared for transition, it could be far less than that. The shock of no longer being able to identify yourself with your work because your work is gone, is severe and hard to take. Trust me – I’ve done that. It requires time to pivot and change your path and it requires a lot of deep thinking and discipline to be able to do it. You find yourself returning back to things you did way back in your formative years that helped you find who you truly are. And that’s when I return back to my conversation with my Twitter friend on that very same subject and that sentence:
“The truth is that most that make money will spend it all to find temporary pleasure to overcome the empty truth that they can’t answer the question, “Do I know what I want?”
So do you know who you are, and what you want? Your life may depend on it.