Friday, May 27, 2005

Where do you see yourself in 10 years?

Where do you see yourself in 10 years?

First, real estate, which, by no coincidence, involves both change and where we might see ourselves in 10 years. Knowing my audience, I’ll focus down to residential real estate for young, single, career adults with a dog. Also, let me get the old real estate truisms out of the way, which include…

  • Buy low, sell high
  • Location, location, location
  • Buy lower end in a better neighborhood rather than top end in a worse neighborhood.
  • Look for “potential”; the simple things to fix up that can make a big difference in curb appeal or livability. A lot of people have less imagination than you do.

That’s all the truisms I know. The rest of what follows I made up. Here goes…

  • Know your limitations, financial, skills, time, and inclination. This means don’t become “house poor” unless you are very confident you will grow into more resources within the next several years. Don’t buy a “fixer-upper” unless you have the skills, time, inclination, and extra money to devote to the needed projects.
  • Don’t let the house consume you. I’ve always stretched to the edge of my means when buying a house. This does not mean that the way dad did it is always the way it should be done. A house can be a nice hobby and diversion from career stresses and provide a good sense of satisfaction when you enjoy the improvements you’ve made. But a house is just another set of material possessions that can consume us out of all proportion to its worth if you let it. I hate trying to keep a balance in life. Being obsessive-compulsive about some things some of the time is so much fun.
  • This real estate market! We are in a spectacular market…for the speculative investor. Most of us are not speculative investors. We need a house to live in, not to gamble on. It’s nice that we still have very low mortgage interest rates. But, unfortunately, in this market at least, low interest rates also allow people to raise housing prices to “whatever the market will bear.” And that is quite a lot in some parts of the country. I’m not familiar with housing inflation in your neck of the woods. I’m sure it’s not anything like the inflationary vortex we’re experiencing in the southern coastal areas – up an average of 100% in two years! But in your case, selling one home and buying another within a few miles in the same general market area should be a wash – except for one thing. If prices have inflated 10 or 20%, your taxes and homeowners insurance will probably increase that amount in your new home compared to your existing one. New assessments and new insurance policies are triggered by the purchase of the home you are moving into. These costs would have remained stable in the old home.
  • Be diligent, be wise, and have fun doing it. The journey is the destination.
  • Renting can be more appropriate than buying under several circumstances: Being uncertain about your job or future; being in a wild real estate market you don't trust are just two.

These changes in location, houses, and financial obligations can be stressful, which leads to the next topic, “change.”

First, the truisms about change…

  • Change can be either good or bad. (duhhh)
  • Change is inevitable and constant; we just don’t notice it or pay attention to it most of the time
  • And, of course, the inimitable “serenity prayer”: “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.” (Generally thought to have been written by Reinhold Niebuhr)
  • Change consciously made is a growth experience. Yes, I know, please, no more growth experiences!!!
  • Change unconsciously made is sticking your head in the sand. But we will become conscious of it sooner or later. Later is harder.

That’s all the change truisms I know. And I think I made up that last one. Here is more “change food for thought”.

  • We have limited control over change, but we do have some control. Oh, another change truism: “If you don’t know where you want to go, it matters not what road you take.” We need to know where we want to go to be able to influence change. The road we take does matter.
  • The joys of “the road less traveled” is often a myth. There is often good reason why it is less traveled. It may seem like a shortcut to what you are after at the moment. There may be beautiful scenery along the way. But it may be a road full of ruts and potholes, or even a dead-end. It may not take you where you intended to go.
  • The “wisdom to know the difference” is an interesting thought where the “serenity prayer” rather keeps us hanging. What is “the wisdom to know the difference” between what we can change and what we can’t? Between what we should change and what we should leave alone? One writer calls this wisdom “discernment”. A synonymous concept is having well-established standards of conviction for your life. Having principles that you virtually automatically invoke whenever opportunities for change come your way. These convictions put you in a position so that you don’t have to agonize over which change to accept – these decisions will be automatic. Your conscious emotional energy can be reserved for the decisions between the better of the best options rather than being wasted on options that may lead down the wrong road.
  • Change can be exciting, fun, and deeply fulfilling when it is directed toward your most deeply held aspirations and based on your most cherished convictions.

This is a good segue to the topic of “where you see yourself in 10 years.” Interesting thought. How to approach this one. Hmmm.

First off, I’m not going to speculate where I see my daughters in 10 years because I have trouble speculating even where I see myself in 10 years. This question relates a great deal to the previous two topics, change and real estate. Our aspirations and convictions, roads taken resulting in present circumstances, opportunities and limitations – all bring us to the potential for our future. Even real estate is included in this question because we have to occupy space, land, and we have to pay someone, somewhere, to occupy it.

Speaking for myself, I will be in my late 60’s. I will be either working part time in something I enjoy doing, or fully retired. I will be physically located either where I am, or in Tennessee, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, or Alabama. (Confirmation about not knowing my future: Two years after this is written, I find myself retired in none of these locations!)

This raises some questions about my current preferences - What are they? What kinds of limitations or constraints do or will I have? Is it possible to know what is best 10 years from now based on what I know now?

My broad choices are…

  • Keep my head in the sand and let these changes creep up on me and surprise me – the “whatever will be will be” mentality (it could be interesting); or
  • Agonize over these choices without identifying principles and convictions that serve as the shining lights that identify my aspirations; the “whatever feels right at the moment” approach; or
  • Raise my level of consciousness of the things that are most important to both my wife and I; our values, our convictions, and use those as the basis for the incremental decisions we make each week, each month, along the way to where we want to be in 10 years.

Any of these three options work to varying degrees. The third option takes the most work., but it will most likely achieve the best results. This third option takes tons of continuing dialogue with those most affected by the decision…requires an investment of time to read, to visit, to experience different options that seem attractive as to lifestyle and location. But most of all, it requires, collectively, knowing and accepting who you are, what you want, what you can tolerate, and what you can’t. To the extent that these things, these personal desires, are moving targets, you will be inefficient in your quest. I was going to say to the extent that these things are moving targets, you would be wasting your time. But this is not true. Again, I believe the journey is the destination. We can have satisfaction in the journey. In fact, if our focus is laser pinpointed on the target, and all our life’s energies and priorities are focused on achieving that target, what happens when we finally get there, which surely we will with that kind of focus? After a momentary self-congratulation, can you imagine a greater let down? “Now what do I do with my life?” you might ask.

Just for the sake of dreaming, here are some of my current, subject to change, preferences.

  • Retired - year unknown – depends on finances, additional planning, and adjusting expectations for a realistic retirement standard of living, i.e. do we begin lowering our expectations and standards now, or do we wait for the shock of retirement?)
  • In a lower cost of living area than I am in now so resources go further;
  • In a small town near a larger city;
  • Nearer our adult children, by plane or car;
  • With interesting topography and flora and fauna;
  • Near a college or university and a lake or large stream;
  • With the ability to have a small motor home to travel about (this could be a part of the process of seeking out this retirement place);
  • Involved in my church and encouraging others in hope;
  • That my wife is happy in the process and the destination.

Nonetheless, we all want “the best” for our future. But “the best” can be so many different things, and so changeable. Certainly, clear priorities, commitment, consistency, and action are required. The question “where do I see myself in 10 years” raises many other questions. I am looking forward to dwelling on these questions, knowing that, as stated in the previous blog, “we become what we consume”. Stated in other words, we can become what our mind dwells on. This certainly influences where we will be in 10 years. To the extent we really want something we will think about it a lot, dwell on it…every road we take will lead us toward it (note lyrics of Emmy Lou Harris’ “Someone Like You” except substitute a place or circumstance for the lover). The excitement and motivation will continue to grow as our goal comes more clearly into view as the obstacles clear away. Other interests will always compete. But those can be the next priorities. That’s where constant awareness of and dedication to priorities is so important – if the original vision of where you want to be in 10 years is what you really want.

The interesting thing is, we can end up in circumstances totally different than what we planned and still be very happy. Even happier than what we planned. I guess that means happiness can't be planned, just lived.

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