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

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

5 Fundamentals of an Intentional Retirement

5 Fundamentals of an Intentional Retirement

Quick Note: I’m having a limited time, 50% off sale on our flagship product, The Ideal Retirement Design Guide.  Read more at the bottom of this post.

At Intentional Retirement, we look at retirement a bit differently.  So do our readers (You’re awesome!).  Those differences are woven through our DNA and they show up in the things I say and do at the site, but once in a while it’s a good idea to have a refresher.  Below are a few of the fundamental ingredients of an Intentional Retirement.  It’s not a comprehensive list, but it contains a few big ideas that can radically reshape your retirement.

You need to be intentional.  One thing is more important than any other when it comes to having a meaningful retirement (and life). That one thing is more important than money, health, Social Security or any other retirement related building block.  What is it?  You need to be intentional.  Wanting a great retirement isn’t good enough. Everybody wants that.  You need to actually do something about it.  You need to decide what you really want out life and then be very intentional about making it happen.

Retirement is more than a math problem.  Yes, money is important, but it’s not enough.  You also need meaning (e.g. relationships, activities, challenges, pursuits).  Money will help you sleep at night.  Meaning will give you a reason to get out of bed in the morning.  You need both.  That’s why everything at Intentional Retirement—from the weekly articles to the products in our store—focus on both money and meaning.   We want to help you achieve financial security, but we also want to show, teach and model how to use that money to live a meaningful life.

Retirement is a pie chart, not a timeline.  Too many people buy into the false assumption that retirement can only happen once you reach “retirement age.”  Why should living the life you truly want to live depend on how many birthdays you’ve had or whether or not you punch a time clock?  How in the world has it become acceptable to defer your dreams and push the best things in life to the very end?  At Intentional Retirement, we don’t think of life as a timeline where youth equals zero to twenty, working years equal twenty to sixty-five and retirement equals sixty-five plus. Instead, we think of life as a pie chart that is divided into time you control and time controlled by others.  The more time you control, the more retired you are.

Intentional Retirement is iterative.  So if retirement starts as soon as you begin to control chunks of your time, what does that look like practically?  Think of it like software.  When Bill Gates founded Microsoft, did Windows come out fully formed, with all the functionality that it has today? Of course not. He started with Version 1.0 and then continued to build on in it and add more features.  That led to versions 2.0, 3.0 and so on.

What does this idea of iteration look like when applied to retirement? What if, instead of waiting until 65 to have the retirement of your dreams, you started with a Version 1.0 at 45 (or your current age)?  That version wouldn’t have all the “freedom and control” functionality of future versions, but it would allow some rich experiences nonetheless.  Then you could take what you learned and apply it to creating Version 2.0 in our 50s. With a little more money saved by that point and the knowledge and experience gained from testing and implementing Version 1.0, you could likely design a fairly robust “product” that included things like mini-retirements, travels and learning new things. Even though work would likely still be a part of the equation, it would be done in service to an existing lifestyle rather than as a prepayment of dues for a club you hope to someday join.  Then when you actually reach that stage in life where your savings and circumstances allow you significant control over your time you would be infinitely better prepared to implement a feature packed, real-world tested Version 3.0. Rather than struggling with inertia and trying to figure out what you really want out of life (and wasting some of your best remaining years in the process), you would be ready to hit the ground running.

Delayed gratification is overrated:  No, I’m not telling you to stop saving.  Delayed gratification is great if it’s allowing you to work toward something.  Where delayed gratification becomes a problem is when it is used as an excuse for life avoidance.  Rather than allowing you to work toward something, it is keeping you from something.  For example, it’s hard to decide what you really want out of life.  It’s risky to pursue big goals.  Rather than rising to the challenge, we often tell ourselves we need a little more time or a little more money.  Not yet, but soon.  Someday.  Here’s the thing.  The longer you wait, the less you believe yourself when you say “Someday.”  Your dreams begin to atrophy.  Your opportunities begin to vanish.  You aim lower.  You talk yourself out of things.  Before you know it, it’s too late.  So don’t delay.  Decide what you really want out of life and get after it.  Start small if necessary, but start.

Retirement is changing.  Gone are the days when retirement was an age based, non-working relatively brief and sedentary period of life that doesn’t look a whole lot different from your working years, save for having a little bit of extra time.  Intentional Retirement should begin much earlier (i.e. during the working years), last longer, and be totally unique to your plans, dreams and priorities. It will be intricately woven into your life now, rather than being some far-off time you hope to eventually reach. It should be active, fulfilling, challenging and exciting.  If that resonates with you, stick around.  There’s plenty more to come.

Be intentional,

Joe

Half off Sale on the Ideal Retirement Design Guide: For those of you looking to start planning your own Intentional Retirement, I created a guide called The Ideal Retirement Design Guide.  I’m launching an updated version of the guide soon, which means I’d like to clear out the existing inventory.  Translation: Time for a sale!  The guide is normally $159, but if you order now I’ve dropped the price to $79.  To sweeten the offer a bit, I’ll also include a free copy of my book The Bell Lap: The 8 Biggest Mistakes to Avoid as You Approach Retirement.  As always, no pressure to buy, but there is a limited supply so grab a copy if you’d like one.  Click here for more info and to order.

Get the big things right

Get the big things right

“We try more to profit from always remembering the obvious than from grasping the esoteric. It is remarkable how much long-term advantage people like us have gotten by trying to be consistently not stupid, instead of trying to be very intelligent.”   -Charlie Munger, investing partner of Warren Buffett

Sometimes we make things too hard.  Retirement (and life) works pretty well if you get the big things right.  Things like a roof over your head.  A good relationship with your spouse.  Meaningful friendships.  Your health.  Satisfying pursuits.  A healthy spiritual life.  Freedom and independence.  We should all spend our time, money, brain power and willpower getting those things right.

If your life were a house, the big things we’re talking about would be the foundation and load bearing walls.  They are what gives the house structure, support and a secure footing.  Once those are in place you can worry about paint colors, furniture and decorations.  Those things are important too, but the color of your living room won’t matter much if the house is on the verge of collapse.

Get the big things right and then you can worry about improving things at the margins.  Too often we do the opposite.  We focus on the trivial many instead of the vital few.  Most of those details don’t matter much.  Yes, they can take something good and make it a little better, but they can’t take something bad and make it good.  Get one of the big things wrong, however, and no matter how good everything else is, life will be tough.

So today, as you live your life and plan your future, look for big wins.  There’s no prize for making life complicated.  In fact, it can be pretty simple.  As Charlie so eloquently stated above, often times you don’t need to be brilliant, you can have enormous success by just trying to be “consistently not stupid.”

Be intentional,

Joe

Easy choices, hard life. Hard choices, easy life.

Easy choices, hard life. Hard choices, easy life.

In life, we often have the option to do things the easy way or the hard way.  We can choose between the wide and narrow roads.  Paradoxically, choosing the easy way out often leads to a hard life while choosing the hard way often leads to an easy life.

Narrow, difficult decisions that require discipline and sacrifice usually pay off by leading us into a place where the road is wide and our options are plentiful.  On the other hand, taking the wide, easy path often ends up funneling you down a narrower and narrower chute until all good options are gone and all that is left are painful consequences.  In short:

Easy choices, hard life.  Hard choices, easy life.

Nowhere is this more true than with our finances.  We all stand at a fork in the road when making decisions on things like debt, saving, investing and giving.  Path A is wide and well worn.  Reach for that credit card.  Try to keep up with the Joneses.  Feed those desires.  The other path, as Robert Frost might say, seems a bit grassy and in wont of wear. Live within your means.  Give generously.  Save for the future.  Steward those resources wisely.

Perhaps not surprisingly, my advice on finances (and pretty much everything else) encourages you to take the road less traveled.  Sure, doing so will be difficult and take discipline, but it will ultimately lead you to a place of peace, security and comfort.

Be Intentional,

Joe

My 10 word definition of retirement

My 10 word definition of retirement

Quick note: This past week I’ve been up in Sequim, Washington visiting family and enjoying the great outdoors.  Today we meet up with some friends and drive south toward California where we’re going to be hiking and camping along a rugged section of coastline called The Lost Coast.  Cell reception will be spotty, but I’ll try to post some pics and videos to our Facebook page and (newly created) Instagram page.  Tune in if you want to see some beautiful scenery or are just interested to see if I get eaten by a bear.  Now on to today’s post.

The traditional definition of retirement contains 4 key elements:

  • Age (65+)
  • Work status (not working)
  • Money (you need millions)
  • Idealized pursuits (take those millions and buy a vineyard)

Not surprisingly, I’m not a huge fan of that definition.  Among other problems, it puts you on the deferred life plan.  You push your dreams off until “Someday” rather than living life to the full now.  Not only that, but it doesn’t give you much time.  If you retire at 65 and stay healthy and active until 75 (a stretch for many) then you’ve got 10 years to do everything you’ve been putting off for the last 40.  Ten years is not enough.

Seneca did a good job pointing out these shortcomings over 2,000 years ago:

You will hear many men saying: “After my fiftieth year I shall retire into leisure, my sixtieth year shall release me from public duties.”  Are you not ashamed to reserve for yourself only the remnant of life?  How late it is to begin to live just when we must cease to live!

A better definition

My definition takes a different approach and attempts to deal with the problems I mentioned earlier.  It has evolved over the years and will likely continue to do so as I live, learn, test and refine.  Here’s my 10 word definition of retirement:

 A system for living that optimizes for freedom and fulfillment.

Let’s unpack that for a minute:

It’s a system…  I mean two things by this.  First, it’s a system in the sense that it’s a set of connected parts forming a complex whole. Retirement has a ton of moving parts that need to work together to produce the results that you want.  Those parts include things like money, relationships, pursuits, Social Security, Medicare, health, housing and insurance to name a few.  Those parts work together in a complex system.   If the parts work, the system works.  If one or more parts isn’t functioning properly, the system breaks down.

Second, retirement is a system in the sense that it involves a set of principles or procedures for doing something.  Your retirement should involve actions that you do on a regular basis with a reasonable expectation that doing them will get you closer to the life you want.  Read this for more.

For living…  There are no qualifiers here.  It’s not a system for living once you hit 65 or have a certain amount of money in the bank. It’s a system for living now. Today.  Retirement is not a life stage that you automatically arrive at after a certain number of birthdays.  It’s an iterative process that starts today and evolves as you proactively work to gain more control of your time and then use that time in very intentional ways.  Read thisfor more.

That optimizes…  Your system should be optimized to produce the results you want.  Otherwise it’s a bad system.  It should move you efficiently and effectively toward the life you want.  Fortunately, optimization is a natural byproduct of the iterative process described earlier. Rather than waiting until “retirement age” to figure out what you really want out of life (and wasting some of your best remaining years in the process), you’re testing and refining now.

For freedom…  You can have all the plans in the world, but if you don’t have the time and money to get your dreams off the drawing board, then what’s the point?  So yes, money is an important ingredient to a successful retirement to the extent that you use it to buy your freedom.  Just remember that your goal isn’t to have more money for money’s sake. Your goal is to have a better life.  Ralph Waldo Emerson said it well: “The desire of gold is not for gold. It is for the means of freedom and benefit.”

And Fulfillment…  Retirement is more than a math problem.  Yes, you need money (as we just discussed), but don’t forget about meaning.  Money will help you sleep at night but meaning will get you out of bed in the morning.  You need both to have a fulfilling life doing the things you want with the people you love.  So decide what you really want out of life and then get very intentional about making that vision a reality.

How about you?  I’d love to hear how you define retirement.  Feel free to share in the comments.  Have a great weekend!

Be Intentional,

Joe