What am I?

“What are you, a semi-retired college professor?” asked a high school friend whom I have not seen in many years,

And then I realized. I don’t really know what I am. When I explain who I am to people I meet on the road, I usually say something like “Well, I lost my job, my house burned down, and now I’m traveling around in my camper.” One thing I like about this answer is the wide range of responses it gets. A friend who lives in an affluent southern suburb when she first saw Walden said “Oh. My. God. You really do live in a van.” People out west were more often to say something like “Right on” or “I lived in a van for three years. What’s the big deal?”

Another close friend has taken to telling people that I’m independently wealthy. In a sense, I suppose that is true, though I don’t really feel that way. Though I have chosen not to worry much about money for the past year or so, I am keenly aware that I cannot sustain the rate of spending and the rate of income that I have since last May when I moved out of The Rental. As Thanksgiving approached, I started getting more concerned about finding a job. In October, I had even applied for a job with a Major Company, a job that I think I would have been really good at, and would have really enjoyed. I didn’t get an interview.

I was starting to think that I should settle down. Straighten up and fly right. Find a place to call my own and try to fix up. Start a brand new day.

And then I read The Four Hour Work Week. (Disclaimer: if you click that link and buy the book, I get money.) This book is utter brilliance. Or crass opportunistic snake oil. There are plenty of things in this book that I find distasteful, but it has given me the courage to make decisions that I might not otherwise have been able to make. One point that the book makes is that fear often keeps us from making good decisions. I was getting afraid about what I would do if I was without a job for a year and did not continue to pursue my career as a university professor.

One of the tools he recommends is to consider worst case scenarios. What would be the worst case scenario if I continued traveling as I have been? I did a little math. If I keep burning through money at the rate I did for the first six months after I moved out of The Rental, my cash would last two to three years. The worst case was that in two or three years I would have nothing left but my somewhat meager retirement accounts. I would be penniless. Penniless in a country where lots of people are in debt or are upside down in mortgages is just not a bad place to be.

Fifty years old and penniless. As it turns out, I was penniless at forty when I got divorced. It wasn’t that bad. I had a modest apartment. I did without internet or cable. I entertained friends at home, which was cheaper than paying for only my own meal if we had gone out. Because I so regularly fed my friends really good food, when we did go out, they would often pick up the check. If my worst case scenario was to again live as I lived during one of the most fun times in my life, getting a job right away just is not that important. I have two years to come up with a way to earn the salary I earned as a university professor. Do I like having enough money for a down payment on a house and buy some furniture? Yes. Would my life be a disaster if I had to start from scratch? Not really.

The other thing that this Snake Oil Salesman recommends is what he terms a “muse,” that is, a business that generates income that requires minimal maintenance once it is set up. It needs to be a product whose production can be maintained without hands-on work, either because it is electronic or because its production is outsourced. Part of the key is to start small with something that has minimal up-front risk. You obviously do not want to end up with $50K worth of pet rocks to learn that someone else already thought of it. Better to have those rocks produced after they have been ordered if at all possible. I considered a few ideas before coming up with one. I am not ready to announce it yet, but I think that the idea holds some promise. I don’t expect that this business will be enough to live on, but if it generates some cash, and I can learn to live on less, it could sustain me for a while.

So what am I? For now, I am temporarily retired.

An alternate career

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4 Responses to What am I?

  1. Ken says:

    I see what you got for Christmas. Sweet.

    I came to the same conclusion about the snakeoil salesman.

  2. Tim says:

    5 years ago, I walked away from a great paying job. Only with the stress, the crap, and the politics involved, I walked out and still making it by “not having a real job”. Instead I’m still doing some bookkeeping, substitute teaching, and doing displays that came from my craft work. I’ll never be rich, and while I worry at times about money, I’ve made it this far. I still have the house, two vans, a good wife (whom I married two years ago, after 5 years of being together). While there’s months that are tight, you realize what you don’t need. Things like cable, a house phone, credit cards, lots of clothes, etc. Imo, continue your adventure for the next year or so and see what happens. At age 56, I’ve decided I want to go back to school to teach elementary school. A career change for sure but after substitute teaching for the past 2 years, I realize how much I enjoy teaching the younger students. I’ve enjoyed reading your postings. Good luck in your ventures.

  3. pfaffman says:

    Wow. Thanks, Tim. That’s gutsy. I had it easy in comparison. And, if you want to talk about hard things to do, being an elementary school teacher is damn near the top of the list. And, as someone who used to give out master’s degrees in education, I’m here to say that I’m not sure I could get a degree in education, either.

  4. Kathy Rankin says:

    I so respect what you are doing at this point in your life. Why wait for heart disease or cancer to take away all your worldly possessions! Which would leave you broke and unable to travel as you can now. I take it you are not really a religious person, but give you the benefit of a spiritual place, particularly after you have seen and experienced God’s wonderful world you live in. Your kindness to others also shows your spiritual side. Lets not tell anyone, they might not understand or appreciate it! LOL
    You have touched so many lives as a university professor and with that a positive
    impression is a gift you possess. You will be guided to do what (God) has in mind for you, if you stay open to His guidance (God stands for Good Orderly Direction for me). I just know each of us has a gift and a direction, I hope you now can follow yours!

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