Monday, January 25, 2010

Picasso was born to paint, Armstrong to ride and Tiger Woods to…

Well, I guess the answer to that was a lot more obvious until recently.

This post is going to be very personal, so I am warning that if you continue reading, be aware. I will ultimately get around eventually to cycling, but it may take me a while.

When I moved to Seattle to be with Tracy on 1/1/2000, the only people I knew in the state of Washington were Tracy and her parents. In addition, I had just retired from the investment business (Goldman Sachs) at a pretty young age. I had never been married, and had not even lived with anyone, so I went through a lot of change all at once. I guess it was an opportunity for a person to re-invent themselves, or explore the “true meaning of (their) life.”

When I was 31 or 32, while travelling for business I picked up a book that changed my life. At the time, I was living the large life, working hard, making money, and acquiring things. I owned a 3500’ square foot house, a Porsche Turbo, Acura, and a Honda CBR 1000 sport bike motorcycle, despite the fact that I was out of town on business for three days most weeks. I paid cash for all of those vehicles, and also for a snow blower, lawn mower, pool table, Rolex and God knows what else. I was living by myself in an affluent suburb of Denver, in a house large enough that I never even saw most of it. Never much of a partier, I spent a lot of my free time being a womanizer, and living what retrospectively was a very shallow life.

About the same time that I picked up the book, my furnace failed during a cold snap while I was away on a trip. A pipe burst, and I returned to find a foot of water in the basement. I had a lot of time to read and think during the 5 weeks I spent in a hotel while my house was being repaired. During that time, I listed the house for sale, and over the next few years I sold most of the toys I had acquired.

I forget the title of this revelatory book, but it could have been called “Money is Time.” Basically, the author described a plan to liberate oneself from “things”, focus on making a living, invest wisely, and retire at a young age. In his opinion, money was only good for what it could give you (time), and not for any type of intrinsic value. The author wrote of the freedom to discover and pursue your true passion once the shackles of the job were removed. Spend your energy doing things for the Greater Good, and simply enjoying anything you like.

I changed my spending pattern, met my financial goals, and have now had just over 10 years of “freedom,” yet I still have not figured out how to make a difference on the grand scale. I have done some volunteering, but I have not discovered my “true calling,” what I was born to do. Perhaps I am more the norm that the exception. How many people are actually born with some super specialized talent that matches up with a super specialized drive or goal? How many of those actually discover it? Is Tiger Woods really the best golfer to ever walk the face of the earth, or is he just the best one that was lucky enough to be born with the right set of circumstances?

I was fortunate to be in a business during a period of strong growth, and in a profession where top achievers could make a lot of money. Rather than ponder philosophical career changes, I focused on my plan, which was to accumulate wealth and retire as young as I could.

If I could go back to the age of 17 when I entered college knowing what I know now, what would I do differently? I don’t really have any better idea of what I would focus on now than I did then. If I could go back to college graduation, what type of career or post-grad schooling would I pursue? Was there something I would rather have done, regardless of whether I could earn a good living? Uh, I don’t think I have a clue. What would I do differently if I could go back to age 30, or any other age?

I imagine that the ideal situation would be to embark in a profession that you truly love, that makes a valid contribution to society, and that pays lucratively. At some point, you would be wealthy enough to stop working, but more importantly, you would be able to make the difficult decision as to whether you wanted to stop. I imagine a few of those careers exist, but I honestly can say that I don’t think I personally have met anyone that would claim to meet all of the criteria.

There are people who may have played a sport well in high school or college, and ever since they have wondered what life would have been like if they had just had the talent or opportunity to become a successful professional athlete. Dwelling on a “dream” is often counterproductive, but is the lost dream life really a dream? Think of all of the elite level professional athletes in many different sports that seem to view their profession very much as a high pressure job, and far removed from the sport that they once learned to enjoy. Did Jan Ullrich ever look like he was really enjoying himself?

Some people feel like they were born to be a mother or father, and that the kind of job they have is secondary to the ability to support their family. I’m fine with that, but I never have had those types of feelings.

I believe that Tracy was indeed born to be a professional educator. Her mother was a teacher, and Tracy says she knew what she wanted to do as a little girl. Tracy is an elementary school principal, and just received her Doctorate in Education. We both hope that her new degree will give her a lot of flexibility down the road, possibly to become a consultant or writer. It’s hard to imagine that Tracy won’t be involved with education in some way, even if it is doing pro bono consulting or volunteering in a school system. Not only is Tracy extremely good at what she does, she claims to find her work rewarding and actually enjoys it about 90% of the time. She comes as close as anyone I know to achieving the ideal of finding that talent/goal/enjoyment interface.

I spent my career in the financial services industry. Goldman Sachs, the firm I was working for when I got out of the business, is in the public eye a lot right now. It’s always been a place with strong culture, and a common thread that runs through the firm’s culture is the desire and ability to earn a lot of money. When I was there, many people I worked with really tied their entire identity to not who they were, but to what they did. Most people I knew at Goldman couldn’t even fathom what I was going to do when I walked away. But walk away I did, and I have never for a second looked back and thought I’d made a mistake. For me, Goldman was a great place to work as far as helping me meet my financial goal of retiring young, but my identity was never tied to my paycheck, or to the title on my business card. When the checks stopped coming, and I started living off of investment income, I never once missed those checks.

I like to say that younger people I ride with have age on their side, but that I have time on my side. So if money really is about time, and it is for me, then having money to free up all of my time is a wonderful thing. I spend about 30-60 minutes a week on my “job” of managing my investments, but I could leave the country for an extended period at any time, and just put things on auto-pilot.

Other than being farther from my ultimate demise, I can’t think of a reason to go back to being 20, or thirty, or any other age. I very much enjoyed some of the pieces of my past life, but I enjoy my present life so much more. Timing is everything. My health has never been better, I’m in better aerobic shape than at any time of my life, and I feel like a person much younger than my chronological age. Lack of stress and plenty of fresh air and exercise will do that for you. I have been in a committed relationship for over ten years, and I have a wonderful life.

Of course, one always must contemplate the next step. For me, the next step was becoming a professional cycling coach. Cycling is what I do, it’s my passion, and it seemed logical that I should find new ways to help others enjoy it as much as I do. I had thought of coaching as a volunteer, mostly because I likely won’t earn enough to make filling out the government paperwork worthwhile. While I was having trouble figuring out a platform to make that work, a great opportunity came my way. I became affiliated with a Seattle professional coaching company with an impeccable reputation and credentials. I was able to define my role, and focus on specific areas of the business. Hopefully, I can make a contribution to the growth of the business, as well as to the growth of my coaching clients. I won’t be saving the world like Bill Gates (and I say that with tremendous admiration for the man’s vocation), but I’ll do my part the best way I know how.

Technically, coaching is a “job”—the first one I have had in a long time! Obviously, I don’t see it that way, or I wouldn’t be doing it. I don’t know if I was born to be a cycling coach, but I do know one thing: I’m trying to be the best coach I can possibly be, and I think I’ll be smiling a lot more than when I was flying around on all of those airplanes.

4 comments:

癢癢 said...

我只知道,假如我去愛人生,那人生一定也會回愛我 ..................................................

Derek said...

Nice post. I've quietly followed them for a while. Thanks.

Tom Meloy said...

Derek,

Thanks for the nice words. I really enjoy writing my little cycling blog.

.:[theone29]:. said...

Tom,
What is the name of the author? And yes, I have been following your blog for over a year. I'll try a little harder this year to go out and ride with you guys. thanks.