3 days in France

3 days in France

France is a few days in my rear-view mirror, but I still wanted to share a few quick stories about my time there.  I flew from Hong Kong to London to Paris (HKG to LHR to CDG in airport parlance), picked up a rental car and drove a few hours to the charming town of Bayeux in the Normandy region of France.  I rented a little flat on a quiet back street and used that as a jumping off point for several days of adventure.

Just walking around the town was an experience.  I’m always awed by how old everything is in Europe.  The origins of the town of Bayeux can be traced back to a Gallo-Roman settlement in the first century BC.  It has survived a number of invaders over the years, from the Viking raids in the 9th century to Hitler in the 20th.  I was fascinated by the cathedral, which is 1,000 years old, and the central role it played in William the Conqueror’s invasion of England (Visit our Facebook page for a bit more on that story and to see a short video I took of the bells ringing one night as I walked back to my flat).

I chose Bayeux, because I wanted to tour the World War II sites around Normandy.  My wife and I were in Paris several years ago and my one regret from that trip was that we didn’t have time for a Normandy day trip, so I wanted to right that wrong.

D-Day sites

To make the most of my time, I hired an experienced guide named Colin McGarry.  He’s originally from England, but met and married a French girl years ago and has been guiding around Normandy since the 1980’s.  He met me at me flat the morning after my arrival and we drove first to Omaha Beach.  He spent time talking about the big themes of the invasion (e.g. strategy, logistics, etc.), but also took a deep dive into many personal stories and recollections of both Americans and their German counterparts on that day of days. I’ve read several books on World War II and watched a number of films like Band of Brothers and Saving Private Ryan, but nothing can quite bring that history alive like walking the beach where so many struggled ashore or running your hand over the broken concrete and twisted rebar of a German machine gun nest.

From the beach, we took the short drive up to the American Cemetery and spent time discussing how it came to be, the soldiers that are still missing and the upcoming 75th anniversary next year.  We also walked to dozens of specific graves where Colin told me stories of heroism and heartbreak from D-Day as seen through that particular soldier’s eyes.  Throughout the rest of the day, we visited a number of other sites around the area including Utah Beach, Pointe du Hoc, St. Mere Eglise, Brecourt Manor, St. Mere du Mont and Carentan.  The entire day was both fascinating and, as you might imagine, very moving.  If you enjoy history, I’d encourage you to add Normandy to your to-do list and if you want to do it with a guide, hire Colin.  He was wonderful.  Touch base with me and I’ll send you his contact info or you can Google his name and track him down on the internet.

Mont Saint-Michel

The next day I drove a few hours south and west of Bayeux to Mont Saint-Michel.  It is a small island, a few hundred meters off shore, that has a population of about 50 and is home to a famous monastery built in the 8th century.  Because it is relatively close to shore, the island is completely surrounded by water during high tide, but is accessible to visitors when the tide is out.  I paid a few Euro for an audio guide and spent time walking from building to building and room to room around the 17-acre site, learning about the hundreds of years of history that preceded my visit.  I finished around noon and was starting to get hungry, so I stopped into a small restaurant for lunch and ordered a meal that the island has become famous for: a very fluffy omelet.  When it first arrives, you think you will have a hard time eating it all, but when your fork slices through it, you realize it has an omelet texture on the outside and an airy fluff of egg bubbles on the inside. The best way I can describe it is to imagine the head of foam on a beer.  That is the texture of the inside of the omelet.

An unexpected surprise

Hunger satisfied, I returned to my car and punched in the coordinates for a little town called Villedieu-les Poêlles.  Before leaving home, I read an article about a famous cookware company in the town called Mauviel 1830.  My wife loves to cook, so I thought I’d swing by the town, tour the copper workshops and see if I could find her a gift that she would enjoy and, perhaps more importantly, would fit in my backpack.  When I got to the town, I stopped by the tourism office for directions and learned that Mauviel was not the only artisan factory in the town.  In fact, the town was loaded with craftsmen (and women) who, along with their predecessors, had been practicing their trades there since the middle ages.

One in particular that sounded fascinating to me was a bell foundry that is the source of the bells for many of the famous cathedrals in France and around the world.  A tour was 8 euros, which ended up being the bargain of the trip.  Touring the foundry and learning about the process (little changed for hundreds of years) that goes into making a bell was fascinating.  When hired to produce a bell, the craftsman chalks the weight of the bell and the name of the church onto the wooden beam above his station. Then, using a mixture of clay, horse manure and goat hair, he crafts an interior and exterior mold for the bell that, when fitted together, leave a cavity inside where the molten brass is poured. That all sounds difficult enough, until you learn of the complex math involved in calculating the appropriate shape and thickness of the bell so that it will ring the desired note (requested by the church) in perfect pitch over its 250-year life.  Today, the calculations are performed by computer.  For the hundreds of years prior, the craftsmen had only their brain power, pencil and paper to do the math.  Again, it was all really fascinating.  Visit our Facebook page for pictures.

After the tour, the day was growing short and I still had a 4-hour drive back to Paris, so I hit the road. I made it to the airport around 10 pm, dropped off the rental car and took a taxi to my hotel.  After a few hours sleep, it was back to the airport for an early morning flight to Italy and the next leg of the trip.  More on that soon.  Thanks for following along.

Be Intentional,

Joe

What are you afraid of?

What are you afraid of?

What are you afraid of?  Be honest. We all have stuff that scares us. Maybe it’s something big.  Maybe small.  Regardless of what it is, the outcome is often the same: Stasis.  Fear acts as a roadblock that keeps us from doing something.  Fear is often the great preserver of the status quo.  It keeps you from having that uncomfortable conversation with your spouse or friend.  It keeps you from going to the doctor.  Or asking for a raise. Or joining the gym.  Or dealing with an addiction.  Or moving to a new town.  Or changing jobs.  Or starting a business.  Or making new friends.  Or traveling. These fears, big and small, stop us in our tracks and the longer we allow them to persist, the more insurmountable they seem.

But here’s the thing. Almost every fear that you and I have—those things that have been holding us back for years and that are keeping us from the things that we genuinely want from life—can be overcome with a few seconds of uncomfortable action.  It reminds me of that quote from Matt Damon’s character in the movie We Bought a Zoo:

“Sometimes all you need is 20 seconds of insane courage.  Just literally 20 seconds of embarrassing bravery and I promise you something great will come of it.”

This is true because fear isn’t something that persists for very long in the face of action.  Once you start, the fear subsides and you focus on the action at hand.  In that sense, inaction is much more uncomfortable than action because the fear and anxiety of inaction is a long-term state.  We marinate in it, sometimes for years.  Once you start, however, and push through the fear with a short burst of bravery, the fear subsides and your focus shifts to whatever it is that you’re doing.

I’m writing about this idea because I’ve had constant reminders about it on this trip.  When traveling, especially internationally, there are dozens of little fears that crop up.  Not being able to speak the language.  Driving a rental car in a strange city.  Figuring out the subway.  Those things can make you want to curl up in a ball in your hotel room and cry.  Fortunately, inaction isn’t really a choice.  Scared of driving?  Too bad.  You’ve got 100 cars behind you.  Subway make you nervous?  Unless you want to sleep at the airport, you’d better take a stab at it.  So you do.  And…hey…what do you know!  You figure it out.  Maybe you didn’t do it perfectly, but you survived.  You learned something and built a bit of confidence that you can keep in your back pocket for the next challenge.  More importantly, fear vanquished, you get to do the thing that you’ve been wanting to do.  String a bunch of those together and you have a life that is rewarding and untarnished by regret.

So I’ll ask again: What are you afraid of?  Whatever it is, you have a choice.  You can let it fester and keep you from the life you want or you can muster 20 seconds of bravery and take the first step toward resolution.  Choose the former and you’ll likely be miserable.  Choose the latter and you’ll wonder why you didn’t do it sooner. Good things are just on the other side of an impermanent barrier that can be breached with a few seconds of bravery. What are you waiting for?

“Do not be too timid and squeamish about your actions. All life is an experiment. The more experiments you make the better. What if they are a little coarse and you may get your coat soiled or torn? What if you do fail, and get fairly rolled in the dirt once or twice? Up again, you shall never be so afraid of a tumble.”    ― Ralph Waldo Emerson

Next destination

I wrapped up my time in France yesterday and hopped an early morning flight to Naples, Italy.  From there I came to a little seaside town on the Amalfi Coast called Positano.  I’ve got four days here with a few concentrated on work and a few for activities (e.g. visiting Pompei and Vesuvius, hiking the Sentiero degli Dei (Path of the Gods), etc.).  I’ll get a post up soon filling you in on my time in France.  Thanks for following along!

Be Intentional,

Joe

3 days in Hong Kong

3 days in Hong Kong

Greetings from Hong Kong! The trip has been great so far.  The flight from LA was a bit of a marathon (I slept for eight hours and still had time to watch four movies), but the payoff has been worth it.  The city is a super interesting mix of people, cultures and activities.  In many ways it is one of the most developed cities in the world.  The public transportation system is the best I’ve ever used, the cityscape is jaw dropping and the restaurants and shopping are top notch.  In other ways it feels a bit exotic.  You can haggle for goods at local street markets, buy unusual food at street stalls or spend hours just exploring the endless streets and back lanes.

There is so much to do, that three months wouldn’t be enough to do it justice.  That’s good news though, because no matter how long your itinerary, you’ll have plenty to fill your days with enough left over to warrant a return trip.  I only had three days, so I hit the ground running.  I landed about 8 in the morning, went through immigration, picked up my pre-purchased train pass from the MTR counter and headed into town.  The airport is on an island outside the city, but the train whisks you from that island to Kowloon and then to Hong Kong.

I found my hotel with no trouble, but it was too early to check in, so I just dropped my bag (“Excuse me sir.  Is this your only bag?”) and went out to grab some food.  My brother-in-law is a pilot and told me about a local chain called Tim Ho Wan that has good food at a reasonable price.  As luck would have it, there was one nearby, so I walked there and managed to order a tasty lunch by pointing at things on the menu and hoping for the best. The food was good, but I also ended up having company.  The restaurant was crowded and I was sitting by myself at a small table when a woman and her daughter walked up and asked if they could sit with me because there were no other seats.  That’s not something you’d expect in the US, but it was great.  The woman was originally from Hong Kong, but they now lived in London and were just back visiting her mother.  They were kind enough to help me plan out my day and gave me some recommendations for things to see and do.

I eventually got checked into the hotel and spent some time in the upstairs lounge catching up on work and communicating with clients, friends and family back home.  That done, I went out for more exploring, the highlight of which was probably the Temple Street night market which is block after block of stalls selling everything from electronics and paintings to souvenirs and street food.  I’m traveling light, so I didn’t buy any souvenirs, but the atmosphere was great.

My big activity on Day 2 was a hike called the Dragon’s Back that I booked on Airbnb.  I met my guide (an ex-pat from Australia named Alex) and fellow hikers at the Shau Kei Wan MTR station and we took a bus outside the city.  The hike follows a jagged ridge line that looks like a dragon’s back for about 5 miles and it ends at a little beach town called Tai Long Wan (Big Wave Bay) where we had a cold beer and a swim in the South China Sea to cool off.  It was a fantastic experience.  Thanks to Rory, the founder of Wild Hong Kong and our guide Alex for offering such a unique adventure.

Today I’ve got some work I need to do in the morning and then this afternoon, I plan on visiting Victoria Peak (great views of the city).  Tonight I’m going to the horse races at Happy Valley where races have been held since 1846.  I’m told that it’s THE place to be on Wednesday night.  From there, I’ll hop the train to the airport where I’ll catch a midnight flight to London and then another flight to Charles de Gaulle airport in Paris.  I’ll pick up a car there and head west to Normandy (I saw Paris on a previous trip) where I’ll be staying in the town of Bayeux.  I hired a guide to take me on a tour around the beaches, cemeteries and other sites related to D-Day and World War II.  It should be fun.  Thanks for following along.

Be Intentional,

Joe

Around the world in 18 days

Around the world in 18 days

A few years ago, my family and I took a one month mini-retirement to Ireland and England.  Before that trip, we applied for two British Airways Visa cards (one for my wife, one for me).  Each card gave 100,000 frequent flier miles for signing up and meeting a minimum spend.  We used some of the miles on that trip, but most of them have been sitting unused (dumb!).  I recently got an email that said the miles were about to expire, so I did what most people would do.  I booked an 18-day, 25,000-mile trip around the world.  I’m leaving soon and I’d love to have you follow along.

A bit about the trip

I’ll keep the specific destinations under wraps for now, other than to say I’ll be leaving home and flying west.  My itinerary has 10 flights and I’ll be spending time in 4 countries (plus two more for connecting flights).  That’s waaaaay more stops than I would normally recommend for a trip of this length, but I’m not really looking at the trip as a relaxing vacation.  Instead I’m viewing it as a bit of a combo between a work trip and a lifestyle experiment that will give me some interesting things to write about at Intentional Retirement (as well as our Facebook page).  I’m able to connect into my work computer remotely and I have a phone plan that works seamlessly in 170 countries, so I’ll be communicating with clients and working a “normal” day most days.  I also have some fun activities booked at each destination, so I’ll be writing about those, as well as about things like how I plan trips, how to pack, demystifying travel, spontaneity, being proactive in retirement, designing your ideal lifestyle, taking risks, finding your purpose, location independence, remote work, overcoming excuses and living an intentional life.

Why?

The expiring miles were a good excuse, but truth be told, the trip has a bigger purpose.  My goal with Intentional Retirement is not just to sell books or write articles, but to help people actually make positive changes in their lives.  To nudge them from apathy to action.  So I hope the trip is fun and interesting, but mostly I hope it inspires you, in some small way, to get your own dreams off the drawing board.

Up next

Next week I’ll post an article or two about how I plan trips and what I’m packing for this trip (hint: almost nothing).  Then I’ll hit the road.  I’ll be posting articles to the site as I go, but I’ll also be posting some pictures and videos to our Facebook page, so follow along there to see the good, the bad and the ugly of how the trip is going.  And if you have any friends who might be interested in following along (or who, like you, want to live an intentional, meaningful life), please email this article to them or share it on social media.  Have a great weekend!  And as always…

Be Intentional,

Joe

Success secrets: Moving from vocation to avocation

Success secrets: Moving from vocation to avocation

As you enter retirement, the temptation to do nothing can feel pretty strong after years of drinking from the fire hose of daily life. Unfortunately, doing nothing is not a good strategy for long-term fulfillment. It can be rejuvenating for a while, but it will get boring.

Your goal should not be to do nothing. It should be to do what excites you. If you’re feeling spent and burnt out, by all means take some time off and recharge your batteries. But after that, you need a plan that will keep you challenged and provide meaning and fulfillment. You need something that will help you stay active and use your gifts.

During your working years, that “something” was, to one degree or another, your vocation.  Your job.  That thing you did every day between 8 and 5 in exchange for money.  But most people jettison their job once they retire.  And when you subtract things—work, obligations, commitments—you create a void in your life where those things once were. That void can open you to self-doubt, regret, lack of purpose and boredom.  The solution?  If you take something out, you need to replace it with something else.

What is that something else? Leisure has a role to play (travel, relaxation, sipping mojitos at the beach), but it isn’t enough.  As someone once said: “Leisure is a beautiful garment for a day, but a horrible choice for permanent attire.”  My suggestion?  Replace your vocation with an avocation.

A vocation is something you primarily do for money.  You do it because you have to.  An avocation is something you do because you want to.  Because you’re passionate about it and it gives you a sense of purpose.  It often has all of the positive aspects of a job—challenge, learning new things, social interaction, purpose—with one important exception: you probably won’t get paid.  That might sound like a bad thing, but it’s actually good.  First off, in retirement you don’t need the paycheck.  That’s being handled by your portfolio and other sources of income (pension, Social Security).  Second, when you remove the pay requirement, it opens the door to almost any hobby, activity or pursuit you can think of.  If I had to feed my family based on my ability to create and sell paintings, we’d all starve.  Remove the financial constraints, however, and I can paint for the pure enjoyment of it. I can take as long as I want to learn, practice, grow and develop without the pressure to monetize it.

History is replete with examples of people who pursued both vocation and avocation.  Copernicus was a cleric by day and astronomer by night. Sir Edmund Hillary paid the bills as a beekeeper, but you likely remember him for his avocation as a mountain climber and the first person to summit Everest.  Franz Kafka was an insurance assessor, but you probably remember him as a writer.  Tolkien was a philologist, but you probably remember him for his novels.  Harrison Ford pays the bills as an actor, but he moonlights as a pilot and a carpenter.

How about you?  What would you do if money weren’t an object? If getting paid wasn’t a precondition? Not sure?  Test some things out.  Start experimenting.  Maybe you want to go back to school or start a second career. Maybe you want to volunteer or start a small business. Maybe you want to learn to bake, paint, cook, collect something, write, garden, take photographs, draw, birdwatch, make pottery, scrapbook, sew, play a musical instrument or do woodworking.  Maybe you want to become an amateur dietician, actor, archeologist, beekeeper, computer coder or songwriter.  The possibilities are endless.

Again, the goal is not to do nothing.  That just creates a void. The goal is to do what excites you.  Yes, you may look forward to the day when you can quit your job, but just because you don’t want to work 60 hours a week anymore, doesn’t mean that you don’t want something that will give you satisfaction and a sense of accomplishment.  If you want your retirement to be remarkable, have a plan to replace your vocation with an avocation.

Be intentional,

Joe

What do you have to show for it?

What do you have to show for it?

Money

I did an interesting exercise this week.  If you’ve ever looked at a copy of your Social Security statement, you know that page 3 shows how much you’ve earned each year throughout your life.   As I looked at mine, I was suddenly curious about something, so I grabbed a calculator and added up my lifetime income. Then I opened my financial plan to get a quick snapshot of my net worth and I divided my net worth by the total of what I’ve earned.  The result was a rough calculation of what I have to show (financially at least) for twenty plus years of work.

This was at once both encouraging and discouraging as well as illuminating and thought provoking.  Encouraging because I’ve managed to hang onto a decent percentage of that income over the years and then invest it in a way that has caused it to grow.  Discouraging because there’s a larger percentage that we didn’t manage to hang onto.  Sure, part of that went to feed and clothe us and part of that went to fund experiences and memories I wouldn’t trade for the world, but I know that a not insignificant portion went to a category I’ll charitably describe as “non-essential.”

Time

The interesting and enlightening part of the exercise came when I widened the aperture a bit and rather than just thinking about my lifetime earnings, I thought about my lifetime instead. Or more succinctly, my time.  How have I spent, saved and invested my time? I’ve been “paid” 45 years of time. How much of that have I used wisely and intentionally?  Alternatively, how much have I just allowed to slip through my fingers?  Have I used my time at work to create a career that is enjoyable, rewarding and useful to others?  Have I used my free time to invest in my family, develop my friendships and pursue interesting things?  Have I used my time and attention to invest in my health so that I can “earn” more time? The answers to those questions aren’t necessarily as black and white as a bank balance, but if you put “time wasted” on one side of the scale and “time well spent” on the other, you can get a pretty good idea of which way it leans.

Similarly to when I did the financial exercise, the time exercise was both encouraging and discouraging. Much of my time was well spent and much (either by omission or commission) was poorly spent.  If I’m being honest, there are days, weeks and even years where I wish I could get a do-over.  There’s nothing I can do about that now, however, except learn from it. So I’ll internalize those lessons and do my best to be a better steward of my “time wealth” going forward.  I’ll try to be a good steward of my finances too, but I suspect that the closer I get to the end of my life, the less I will care about how I invested my money and the more I will care about how I invested my time.  You too? Then do something about it so when you come to the end of your years, you’re not left wondering, “Where did it all go?”

“It’s not that we have a short time to live, but that we waste a lot of it.”  ~ Lucius Seneca

Be intentional,

Joe