Money and Mike


I sit, computer open, word processor loaded.  I wait.  I can’t say that I’m waiting for great inspiration, I waiting for anything to get my fingers to move on the keyboard.  I try to quiet my brain, I try to access my subconscious. I think about my walk to Starbucks.  What did I see?  What did I think? What ideas were generated?   

Ahh… OK, something is coming in…

I feel that some chapters are closing in my life.  Some planned, others not. There is the retirement thing.  Planned and in process.  However, there are so many aspects of this process that were unanticipated.  At this late date, it feels like there are many loose ends.

I worry about my retirement, and that worry mostly centers around money.  I have planned for retirement. I have saved and invested.  Yet, this fear is prominent in my mind.  I have had the luxury of buying what I wanted for many years.  Yesterday a large flat box appeared on my doorstep.  It contained a particle board computer desk. Cost around $200.  The desk will replace one that is over 25 years old.  The former desk designed for the technology of the 1990s, not 2017.  My wife questioned me.  Julie, “Why did you buy a desk?”   Me, “I have two monitors at work that I’ll bring home. The current desk won’t hold them.”  Julie, “You have two monitors at work?” (rise in voice interpreted as critical of me).  Me, “Yes.”  Julie, “Well, what are you going to do with the monitor that you have now?” (somewhat higher rise in voice)  Me, “I don’t know, maybe I’ll use it in the telepsych studio.”  Julie, “hmm.” A simple transaction of words that happened over the course of about 30 seconds.  An exchange so simple that it did not require any additional thought. Yet, it impacted me.

“Doc, you are a psychiatrist. If the interchange bothered you, why didn’t you talk about your feelings?”  Dear reader, it is important to realize that we live in complex worlds.  If every interaction was deconstructed and parsed there would be no time for the process of living.  

Was Julie being critical?  Possibly, but possibly not.  She may have just been making conversation.  But what about her tone? She had just come back from the auto mechanic, a place where she feels out of place and inadequate. After 25 years of marriage, I understand that she tries to exert more control after situations where she feels less in control.  This was a trivial event that did not indicate a major problem in our marriage.

What was more important was my reaction to our conversation. I had to resist the urge to strongly defend the purchase of a $200 particle board table. My mind quickly came up with a variety of reasons why such a purchase was necessary.  Why I had made a wise and thoughtful decision.  Thankfully, I was able to shut down the process before the words left my mouth.

Everything in life can be a lesson, a learning opportunity if you allow it to be so.  Growing up with little, I wanted things.  I had to strongly justify any purchase, even when I was the person paying for the desired item.  With effort, I could get things, but there was always an undertone of foolishness.  “Do you really need that scientific calculator?” I would then have to justify why a college science major needed a scientific tool. The implication being that my purchase was somehow extravagant, selfish, and unnecessary.  

I have earned a good living and I have been able to buy most things that I have wanted at will.  I always had money to pay the bills, go on vacations, save for the future.  More importantly, I didn’t have to justify rational (and sometimes irrational) purchases.  It has been a tremendous relief for me. I can’t imagine returning to a life where I have to explain to someone why I bought a new T-shirt or a carton of sour cream.

So what is the bottom line, dear reader?  I will buy less because I will have less. However, I will not play the tapes of old.  My history has shown me that I have been a good steward of my finances.  My house is paid for, I have no debt.  I may purchase things that are unnecessary at times.  I may even regret some of those purchases.  However, I am who I am.  I won’t burden Julie with my past guilt about doing things for myself.  I won’t incorrectly interpret her comments based on my past history.  I will enjoy life.  

I expect the next few years to be a time of adjustment and a time of growth.  As stressful as it can be, I like the fact that I’m revisiting so many issues that I had thought long resolved.  It isn’t like I’m going back to the past, rather I’m refining past corrections and exploring new horizons.  Perhaps it is symbolic of the fact that I’m not looking at the end of my career, rather I’m exploring the start of my retirement. A good thing, I think.