“Are you independently wealthy?” he asked. It’s sad that people think in order to live the life I do, I must be independently wealthy. “No,” I said. “I just choose work and manage my money in such a way that I can do what I want.” I wasn’t going to get into it any further with this guy. I could see he could not at all relate to what I was saying. Most men of a certain generation can’t. I don’t fault them – they grew up at a time when people married young and therefore had a family to support, a home to pay a mortgage on. Sometimes I’ll say, “Well, I don’t have a family or a mortgage,” to try to explain to these men how I can do this. But I’ve stopped saying that recently because I know people with families and mortgages can follow their hearts, too.
I’m used to the money questions because I have a father of that same generation. He got married at 25, and by the time he was my age he had three kids and was building a house for what would eventually become a family of seven. It seems that money is the language is which these guys speak. Their language also involves security, and thoughts of the future – the very far-off future. It’s not that I don’t care about my far-off future. I’m just not going to let those thoughts stop me from doing what I want to do now.
Though I know I don’t have to justify my life to my father, I like the guy and can’t help but share things with him. I just hope I don’t give him a heart attack. I used to ensure I wasn’t the one who killed him by telling my ideas to my mother first. She would then present them to him and handle the brunt of his shock. Now I try to prevent his imminent death by preparing him for the inevitable changes I will make. When he gets excited about a new job I’ve taken up, he’ll say something like, “Oh – it sounds like you really like this. Maybe you’ll stick with this one, huh?” “Dad – you know the minute you say that I’m going to quit, so don’t get your hopes up,” I’ll respond. I’m not sure whether he’s adjusted or if I’ve just gotten better at handling his reactions and worries about me.
“I don’t know what your relationship is with your father, but as a father myself, I just feel I should tell you that they’ll come a time when you won’t be able to just up and go wherever you want,” said a man of my father’s generation to me the other day. He was dancing around what he really wanted to say: Has someone told you you need to save for retirement? I was in a room full of folks who had worked for 30+ years and were now “enjoying” their retirement. I got the feeling a lot of them didn’t enjoy their working lives nearly as much. I was the youngest one there by 25 years I’d guess. “I put money away,” I told this dear man. “I have money saved for retirement. I have health insurance, and disability insurance.” His face gave away his surprise. I told him my dad is adjusting to my way of life. “Well, he’s doing a good job,” he said. As in, “Thank God someone told you…”
I know these folks don’t mean to burst my bubble. And they don’t anymore. That’s because Barbara Winter’s words from her book Making A Living Without A Job have stuck with me: basically that people who don’t know a lot about something are usually it’s biggest critics. But that doesn’t mean you don’t talk to these people. It just means that if I’m talking to a guy who worked 30 years in the same job, he might not have a clue as to what to say to me. Or his advice might be completely off base. Or might be coming from a place so very different from where I am in life. And as long as I recognize it as such, it doesn’t stop me.