FOR MUCH OF MY ADULT life, I’ve read about marriages in turmoil because the wife earns more than her husband. That’s always bewildered me, because I spent most of my career being a very happy trailing spouse.
My wife and I met in our early 30s while trying to rescue a three-year-old stuck on an elevator. This was more than three decades ago. I was divorced and working as a journalist, and had taken my son with me when I needed to drop by the newsroom early one weekday evening.
TWO YEARS AGO, at age 59½, I thought I was on the verge of taking a major step toward retirement. At the time, my usual zest for my work as a physical therapist was waning. Though I don’t think the quality of my patient care suffered, I found it took more effort to maintain the energy needed to complete a day at the clinic, and concentrating on work became tougher.
In addition to the tension building on the inside,
SAMURAI WERE EMPLOYED by feudal lords in Japan. They were skilled in the art of combat and highly trained—the best of the best.
A ronin—meaning a “drifter” or “wanderer”—was a samurai who’d left his clan, usually when his master died. Upon leaving, he was free to use his skills to seek similar employment elsewhere or even to choose a completely different profession. A ronin then relied entirely on himself and his skills to get by.
MY PARENTS WERE products of the Great Depression. Dad was the frugal one. He was also a pack rat. He’d save pieces of wood for that shelf that he would build “someday.” For years, those pieces sat under the ping-pong table in the basement.
One night, Mom dragged the wood out to the street for the garbage collector to haul away. Later that night, Dad dragged the pieces back into the basement. Mom was the type to get rid of things that were no longer needed.
I DON’T FIT THE USUAL profile of a HumbleDollar reader. I don’t have what I’d consider a high net worth, nor am I a college graduate. Still, I hope my story shows it’s possible to reinvent yourself.
Around 1920, my dad’s family moved—with few belongings but a willingness to work—from Tennessee to northwestern Ohio. My dad met my mom while working at Hostess Bakery, and he later worked at Willys-Overland, welding together Jeeps during World War II.
WHEN I WAS AGE SEVEN or eight, I had a glass piggybank where I saved all the small change that came my way. I loved the sight of all this money that I could save or spend as I pleased.
One day, my mom needed to go to the grocery store for some bread and found she didn’t have enough cash. She asked to borrow from my almost-full bank. I gave the money to her,
I BEGAN MY FIRST JOB out of college 38 years ago. A newly minted electrical engineer, I was assigned by Philadelphia Electric Company to work at its Peach Bottom Atomic Power Station in Delta, Pennsylvania. As a young child, I had visited the Peach Bottom Unit 1 Visitor Center, never anticipating that I’d someday return to the site as an employee.
My concentration in college was power engineering, so I fully expected to be working in the transmission and distribution side of the electric power business.
I’M OLD ENOUGH TO remember when companies rewarded employee anniversaries with lapel pins. The number of years you served determined the quality of the metal and how many jewels were embedded in the pin.
I also remember when two different hospitals where I worked moved away from this practice in the 1980s and 1990s. Human resources departments came to realize that many employees didn’t value the pins. Perhaps there had been a day when pins were something people wore,
WE USUALLY HAVE Chinese food every Wednesday. It’s our weekly night out for dinner. While waiting outside our favorite restaurant for a table, I heard my wife call out, “Hey, Doe, our table is ready.” That’s what my wife calls me. It’s my new name. She used to call me Dodo. Now, she’s shortened it to Doe.
How did this nickname come about? One day, I called myself a dodo for a silly mistake I’d made.
THERE IS NOTHING special about my story—no amazing tales of picking stocks, no glorious path of salary increases. Instead, there was just the challenge of living well below my means and consistently putting my money to work for a better tomorrow.
Growing up, I don’t recall any major family financial issues. Of course, my parents would likely have shielded me from any challenges that they endured. I know that they sacrificed to make college available to all four of their children,
WHEN I WAS BORN 80-plus years ago in Madathumpady, it was one of the remotest villages in India. The country was ruled by the British and the freedom struggle was underway, led by Mahatma Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru.
My parents hadn’t attended school because there were no schools in the village when they grew up. But they weren’t illiterate. Both learned to read and write. In fact, my mother taught me how to read and write before I attended school.
I WAS RAISED IN a small town in Iowa. My mother died of breast cancer when I was two years old. My father struggled to cope with her death, but he paid the bills and made sure my basic needs were met. Indeed, when I look back, my upbringing seems pretty normal.
I survived high school, but had no clue what I was going to do with my life. One day, my father decided to give me a nudge.
ONE RECENT TREND among newly minted retirees: unretirement. According to an AARP study, some 3% of retirees are back in the workforce one year later, taking on either fulltime or part-time jobs. Often, unretiring wasn’t part of the retiree’s original plan—but we shouldn’t assume it’s necessarily about needing money.
Starbucks’s Howard Schultz, quarterback Tom Brady and Disney’s Bob Iger are poster children for unretiring. Even our HumbleDollar world includes many examples of those who have reinvented,
HOME DEPOT COFOUNDER Bernie Marcus made headlines late last year with his claim that capitalism may not survive because “nobody works, nobody gives a damn.” I respectfully disagree. While Marcus has one example—people not wanting to work or work hard enough at the stores he founded—I believe America has a terrific future based on four observations:
I was a Boy Scouts leader for 16 years. I like to think that Scouts teach leadership and independence.
IN GRADE SCHOOL, when my mother asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up, I recall saying “entrepreneur.” I’m sure she would rather I’d said “doctor” or “lawyer.” But the thrill of building something new and providing something of value to others has always appealed to me.
My first entrepreneurial memory was selling Entenmann’s donuts and coffee to captive motorists waiting on long gas lines during the energy crisis of the 1970s.