Exiting full-time employment – what was it like?

Farewell party in Al-Khobar, Saudi Arabia in March 2015 by Dow Chemical colleagues and friends. Joao and Martha performing their good-bye song!
Farewell party in Al-Khobar, Saudi Arabia in March 2015 by Dow Chemical colleagues and friends. Joao and Martha performing their good-bye song!

There must be more to life than making chemicals for a global corporation’ has been my credo for many years and was one reason we decided to quit the job in March 2015 while on assignment in Al-Khobar, Saudi Arabia.

We don’t get to decide when our time here on earth is up. In the last few years Francien and I have seen some friends and ex-colleagues pass away, friends getting seriously sick, not being able to enjoy life after full-time employment. This was another motivation to live our life to the fullest as early as we can. We had planned to exit working-life as soon as our financial situation would allow and that is what we did.

So now it is time to take a deep breath, look back and reflect:

2015 St. George celebration with friends in the Kamares Club house in Paphos, Cyprus

The boundary between working-life and private-time has always been blurred and hence leaving my job did not come like a shock. In-fact this last twelve months we had already planned when we were still working in Saudi Arabia. After we spent a few months in Cyprus, we arrived per containership in Kuala Lumpur in July 2015 and made this two million people city our next temporary home with the intention to explore this part of the world and enjoy its climate and lifestyle.

The Star Malaysian national newspaper article about our boat trip from Rotterdam to Kuala Lumpur published in December 2015
Kampong Bahru (one of the oldests parts of Kuala Lumpur) cultural tour.

Francien and I have cultivated many interests during our nomadic working life (running, scuba diving, golf, sailing, traveling, writing). The last year we didn’t develop any new hobby’s. Instead we devoted time in new meaningful relationships. Kuala Lumpur has a large and active expatriate community which made that possible for us. At dinners and parties we connect with other international people in a similar situation as us. It is refreshing that they come from all walks of live with different professional careers, and diverse life-experiences. We participate in meet-ups and outdoor activities like hiking, camping, rafting and cultural activities (Ramadan, Thaipusan, Chinese New Year, Indian wedding, Heritage, Cooking). Francien and I fully adapted to the life in Malaysia as we have done so many times in the past.

Frank reaching the summit of the Merapi volcano in central Java, Indonesia

This way of life constantly requires our own initiative. That has been the case for many years and continues. We set new goals and activities to motivate ourselves, determining our early waking hours as much as my full-time job did the past 35 years. Every day we have a reason to get up early!!! Francien and I had to give ourselves a direction which my job used to give our family all those years! Our pace of life has NOT slowed down, which suits our nature pretty nicely! We have not adapted a new daily routine and we do not intend to do so. Traveling when and as long as we like, meeting people when we feel like, going places outside holiday seasons: it all gives is a great sense of freedom!

‘You do not need to rush, you are on holiday!’, Marcella reminded us a few times. But there is too much for us to do to go slower…..!

Networking at Malaysian Dutch Business Council during the 2016 BMW Tennis Open in Kuala Lumpur

That is also the reason why we refuse to use the word ‘retirement’ for this new phase in our lives. This relic word refers to a lifestyle whereby you rest on your laurels with not much activity. We are not at an ending and this word is rather redundant. Well listen-up: 'we are too young and active to sit back and relax!'

Important to keep my brains challenged, I mentor young entrepreneurs, attend networking events, write (e.g. this blog), stay abreast of news, keep in contact with friends around the world and study the land and people of the countries we travel. Occasionally our daughters teach us back. Now and again I miss that I cannot use skills I used in my corporate job. It feels good that I manage to keep in touch with ex-colleagues I got to know in all those years, helping me to keep up to date.

Wine dinner with friends in Bangsar, Kuala Lumpur

I am proud of my career achievements starting back in 1980 in my hometown Heerlen, The Netherlands and that is an anchor for me. During a career in many different jobs and locations, I learned the relativity of status and authority. Each new international assignment I had to regain authority again and again within the local cultural context. Therefore, when I had to let go of my position in the company, I did not miss the public recognition which comes with that. I never associated my sense of purpose too much with my position in the company. However, being used to manage people and projects, now with more time at my hands, I tend to micro-manage our private lives more than before and more than I should, something I am working on.

Traditional Indian Wedding with Ela and Ash in the southern city of Johor Baru

It requires more effort than expected to take care of all the daily chores like our housing, insurances, utilities, visa’s and transportation (which Dow Chemical used to do for us). The company shielded us of from many of such rather administrative errands. That is how I became an utilitarian. I am still learning to enjoy doing the everyday things like paying the utility bills at the post office in Kuala Lumpur, maintaining the car, finding the right shelve in the local supermarket. Yes, when I now board a plane, I look with envy to the guys who are seated in the business class while Francien and I have to squash our knees in the back of the plane. But this time I know that for us a new adventure waits at the end of the flight instead of stressful business commitments!

Our time-horizon has changed. Past achievements and memorable moments leave Francien and me with a warm feeling of contentment. Now we think more about the time left to live. We plan for the future, putting things in more perspective. We started ticking off the first items on our bucket list, manage our apartments in Germany and Cyprus and always look for new challenges and experiences to be explored with our independent travel style. Writing my second book is firmly on my radar screen.

Francien Stand-up Paddling in Krabi, Thailand between Christmas and New Year

We increased our health regime simply because we have more time to do so and it makes us feel really good. We run, do regular exercises in our gym, swim in our pool, hike regularly and eat healthy (..oops, not always…). Fortunately we are both very happy with our health.

Friends keep asking us: ‘Where will you settle down and have your home?’.

Rafting on Selangor River with Klaus and Irma

Retirement has two phases: the active and passive phase. As long as we are in the active, we do not want to decide were our home is. We realise that we can’t keep traveling forever, but as long as we learn and experience new things by doing so, we will follow our ‘wanderlust’. When time comes that our bodies demand us to shift lower gears, we will decide either to stay here in Kuala Lumpur, move to our apartment in Cyprus or somewhere else. We worry about that when that time comes.

Winnie and Frank finished the Berlin half-marathon in April 2016

Francien and I never spent as much time together as now. We try to do things separately when possible because obviously we each need our personal space. It is working out very well! We are fortunate to have a close relationship with our two daughters: Marcella and Winnie (lives in Berlin, Germany); the foundations of our nomadic family.

It sounds like a cliché, but let me tell you that having enough time at your hands to do what you like to do makes time pass very quick. This is not only our own experience, but a feeling shared with our friends here in Kuala Lumpur and beyond.

With more time at our hands Francien and I continue to live our serial expatriate lives here in South East Asia. Our bucket list is still long and needs working on!

When we recently returned back from an Indian wedding celebration in Johor Bahru, Francien spontaneously said: ‘Walking into our apartment makes me really feel like coming home’.

We are contend and very much engaged with our lives.

The bucket list: - Our wish list of things we still want to do.