Kate's Listography this week is really HARD! She has asked us about the top five decisions we're glad we made.
Why do I find this hard? Well not because there are so many to choose from. The opposite. I'm not one for making big decisions. That's partly I think because I've been lucky and not been forced to make many big decisions, but more because I'm not one for planning my life and career. I've drifted; gone with the flow. OK, maybe I could have got a higher-powered job, a better salary & pension, a bigger house, whatever. But drifting has been a lot less stressful and kept that work-life balance, well ... balanced. And drifting wasn't a conscious decision, so I can' even count that! It's just the way I am – lazy, avoiding and procrastinating.
OK, so here are five good decisions I'm glad I made, in no particular order.
Staying at University. For me it wasn't the going to university that was the decision. That was more or less a foregone conclusion. The decision I'm glad I made was to stay on and do several years of post-graduate work. They were the formative years. And the most fun years. So much fun I nearly didn't get my PhD and then left my post-doc job because I was doing too much of everything else and not enough proper work. I'd love to have those years all over again and do it all properly this time, knowing everything I do now. Maybe it's a good thing one can never go back.
Marrying Noreen. I guess the decision was in asking her to marry me. Neither of us can remember how it came about, or exactly where/when we were when she (finally) said "yes" – having said "no" initially. We know roughly when it was – the week or so leading up to Christmas 1978 – but not the exact day or place. Unusually, Noreen says even her diary doesn't divulge. That's maybe a reflection of the fact that we've always talked and communicated, so decisions often just evolve rather than being momentous occasions. And yes, you did read it right; I did say Christmas 1978. We were married just 9 months later (no, not for that reason!) in September 1979. And we're still together! Scary or what?!
Taking Early Retirement. I took early retirement at the beginning of 2010, just days before my 59th birthday, after 33 years working for the same multinational IT company. I was given the opportunity to go before they totally screwed up the final salary pension plan. Despite not getting a golden goodbye, (indeed scarcely a goodbye at all; more likely "thank God we got rid of him") it actually worked out well for me. I had originally planned on retiring at around 55, but this got delayed as Equitable Life and then the financial markets hit the buffers. But sometime this year (2011) I would have hit the maximum I could get out of the pension scheme, so I hardly lost out. And am I glad I went: I think another year of the huge IT restructuring project I was running would have killed me; it was too big and with too much management interference. It's taken me a good year to surface again.
Buying Our House. 30-odd years married. 30-odd years working for the same company. And at the time of writing just weeks away from 30 years in the same house. We moved here in July 1981 from a scruffy rented flat. This is only a small 1930s terraced cottage in an unfashionable area of suburban London, but it is a welcoming house; it just felt right to us from the moment we first saw it. We bought just before the height of the high interest rates (6 months after we bought we were paying 17.5% on our mortgage; and that was normal!). Luckily we slightly under-mortgaged ourselves and were able to ride out the storm, eventually managing to pay off the mortgage some 7 years early! And we're still here. There has been no imperative to move, except maybe to find more room for our ever-expanding mountain of books. There are only the two of us and two cats; we've never had kids (by choice); so why have a bigger house? And, now were both retired, we've decided that we're staying here if we can rather than move. Yes there are other places we'd love to live, but none is as convenient for everything we want to do.
Don't be like Father. I'm not sure whether this counts as a decision or not, but I'm glad I realised that I didn't have to be a miserable old git of a Victor Meldrew character like my father. I know my father had many good qualities, not least giving me an intelligent and bohemian upbringing. But he was always negative and one of those people who fights life, rather than embracing it. Totally risk averse (there I do take after him and it has largely paid off for us) he was someone "they" were always out to get, especially financially. He was a Luddite and totally anti almost all technological developments – to him they were all an unnecessary con. I'm not sure quite when I realised I didn't have to be like him and worry about everything; it probably wasn't until I was the wrong side of 40. But somehow, once this dawned on me, I learnt, unconsciously, to let things wash over me. I still don't know how I did it. But it doesn't half make life easier. I still don't exactly hedonistically embrace life (I'm not extrovert enough) but at least I'm not now worrying myself into an early grave.
So there it is. How I got to where I am by not making decisions!