Occasionally, everyone experiences changes in priorities. For most of my career, I’ve pursued jobs because I was interested in the work. In this I’m perhaps a bit of an idealist or a romantic because I’ve been motivated by “love” rather than money. This past week, however, I found myself questioning those priorities. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing; it just requires serious thought because a change in priorities can change other aspects of one’s life as well.
What’s Causing the Rethinking?
I’ve taken to driving along some of Florida’s scenic highways on my weekends just to get away from my neighborhood for a bit. And I have to say that some of them really are quite lovely, either by virtue of the local architecture, flora, or landscape. Inevitably, my middle-aged self starts meditating on what it would be like to live in X location in my retirement, so I’ll pick up a real estate guide at a local realtor’s office. This is usually when sticker shock asserts itself.
Is This a Want or a Need?
I’ve talked about managing your money before, and you might be surprised to know that I don’t just pontificate from my keyboard, I actually live by the advice I dispense twice a week. On that note, as I walk or drive through pricey neighborhood after pricey neighborhood, I realize what’s painfully obvious: those quaint, attractive towns on the Florida coast or within the interior come with a price tag beyond my means…now or in the long-term future.
So I find myself engaged in an internal debate:
- Find a way to make the money necessary to afford some of the options that currently are not available to me.
- Back off on these charming, expensive little towns as retirement locations and file them under “nice to have” but not necessities. Divert the dream retirement location into the “want” category.
This is not to say I couldn’t find other sources of income. I could pick up more proposal work in my free time. Or software documentation work. Or online help writing. There are lines of technical writing that are much more lucrative and in demand than the stuff I do to pay the bills. I could go back and get a systems engineering certificate so I could be of more use to my space customers. (You do know that engineers get paid better than tech writers, right?)
Decision Making in Middle Age
While the shut-down pandemic environment has me restless enough to drive all over Florida looking for pretty places to visit, I’m not certain I have the time or energy to devote to another academic program at this point in my life. I’ve gotten a tad lazy and protective of my free time–that whole “work-life balance” thing. Plus, I’d have to put myself back into debt to go back to school, just as I was getting myself clear of all my long-term debts.
How long would a certificate program take? The UCF program is four classes–maybe five, if they make me take calculus. That means it’d take anywhere from two and a half to five years to finish out my coursework. I’d be as old as 56 by that point. Mind you, my financial advisor suggested that I might have to work until I’m 72 to afford retirement in a lower-cost place of living, so I’d be working for another 16 years anyway. However, would that be long enough at the higher pay rate of a systems engineer to pay off the debt, save enough for a fantastic abode, and not kill myself before I’m able to enjoy said retirement? Other questions asserted themselves:
- Would I be able to do engineering work in my 60s and 70s?
- Would I want to?
- How much of my free time would I lose? What would become of the creative projects I’d like to pursue?
- Would the effort be worth the alleged reward(s)?
When I set up my retirement plan with the financial planner, my goal was reasonably low-cost living so I could focus my discretionary dollars on travel, which IS a priority still. COVID makes international travel nearly impossible for now, but there are still places I’d like to see. I’d like to think that eventually a reliable vaccine will bring things under control…some day.
Anyhow, as I noted at the beginning of this post, priorities can change. However, if I want to act on those changed priorities, I’ll need to answer a few more questions honestly before I just jump into the next big thing.