Ten Years Stalled

Belated realization.

I recently blogged about the feeling I got walking through my new home under construction. It was a feeling of happiness at moving forward again, a feeling of achievement, a feeling of a good future ahead of me. In that post, I mentioned that my life had been stalled not for the 2 years of my ongoing divorce battle but for at least 10 years.

It was back in the mid 2000s that I began hitting hurdles erected by the man who called himself my “partner” in life, the man I was foolish enough to marry after 23 years together.

At the CabinI bought a truck to leave at the cabin so we could come and go by helicopter. Back in those days, I had plenty of money to burn. My wasband never stopped me from spending my money on things he could enjoy.

It all started when I couldn’t get him to work with me on putting a vacation home on our Howard Mesa property. We had two separate sets of drawings made, spending well over $1,000 in the process, before he admitted that he “couldn’t live up there” because it was “too remote.” This was after dumping thousands of dollars into a fence, septic system, and water storage tanks. The compromise was a “camping cabin” that we bought and had brought to the site; I spent much of the summer of 2005 insulating it and framing out the wall between the kitchen and bathroom, joined by him on weekends for other construction work. The resulting structure was used infrequently over the following six or so years — but I still cherish great memories of weekends and holidays there with him and our dog and our horses.

Jack at Howard Mesa
Our dog, Jack, at Howard Mesa. I was always a sucker for a good view; it was the views, the privacy, and the silence that sold me on the 40 acres we bought north of Williams, AZ.

In the years that followed, he continued to hold me back from moving in one direction or another. I wanted to move out of Wickenburg, which had become a sad retirement town that almost all of our friends had already abandoned, but I couldn’t get him to work with me to find a new place. I wanted to expand my business so we could work together, but although he occasionally went through the motions of helping me out, his contributions were so minimal as to be non-existent — and I usually couldn’t rely on him when I needed him most. I spent a lot of time waiting for him to do what he said he’d do. Lots of promises, no deliveries. I was patient — too patient! — but by the winter of 2011/2012, my patience was wearing very thin.

I also wanted to help him achieve his goals — opening a bike shop or developing solar energy products or becoming a flight instructor — but he kept dropping the ball. How many business cards and web sites did I create for him? How many letters did I edit? How many brainstorming sessions did I share with him? I wouldn’t mind if they led to something, but they only led to dead ends. I became tired of putting time and energy into projects that he never took to completion. He wasn’t just holding me back, he was holding himself back.

He was stuck in a rut and he apparently expected me to stick there with him.

Although I didn’t realize it at first, my summers in Washington doing cherry drying work not only made my business prosper but they were a welcome relief from a boring life in a dying town with a man who seemed satisfied to live out his existence in his own daily grind. I made new friends, I did new things. I learned about agriculture and wine-making. I experimented with video production. And I fell in love with the area — with the mix of happy people of all ages, the wholesome farmland attitudes, the river and mountains, the recreation possibilities. There was life in Central Washington — a lot more life than there was among the angry old people in Arizona.

One of the last times I spoke to him, in July 2012, I brought him by helicopter to see the place I wanted to buy and make our summer home. I envisioned him opening that bike shop he claimed he wanted to open along the bike trail in Wenatchee and working there with him on sunny days to rent bikes and maybe even do Segway tours. (I even had $25K saved up and was willing to spend it to buy 5 or 6 Segways.) I envisioned me flying on rainy days, drying cherries, and perhaps doing the occasional wine-tasting flight. I envisioned afternoons spent on the deck together with a glass of wine overlooking the Wenatchee Valley. I envisioned returning to Arizona in the winter, hosting couples with horses in the guest rooms of our house via Air BandB, making a little money while he continued his flight training and realized his dream of becoming a flight instructor.

It was all possible. It was all doable. With our financial situation at the time — a paid for house and very little personal debt — it would have been easy. I saw a great life for both of us — a sort of semi-retirement in our 50s, moving with the seasons between two beautiful homes and realizing our dreams instead of grinding away at unfulfilling jobs and dealing with company bullshit.

Jake
Jake, the horse I bought for my wasband before we married. Does he need to see the cancelled check for $1,100 to remember who paid for him?

On that day in July 2012, I didn’t realize that he’d already made his bed with another woman and was planning to cash in on our marriage to finance his life with her. I was a fool to think that he loved me and he wanted a good, honest life. In reality, I was nothing more than a meal ticket, the provider of horses and helicopter trips and fun toys to play with. And because I didn’t play by his restrictive rules, he was finished playing and ready to cash in his chips.

And that’s my big realization.

I realize now that he married me for my money — I was earning a lot of money right before we married in 2006 and had accumulated quite a portfolio of assets. His attempts over the past two years to claim ownership of my personal and business possessions, investments, and retirement funds prove this without a doubt. There was no love, at least not when we married. He was locking himself in, banking on community property law to half of everything I owned, earned, or acquired. Everything he’s done since he asked for a divorce on my birthday in June 2012 proves it.

Phoenix Sunset Flight
Flying over Phoenix at sunset. Who’s he flying with now? He sold his plane so he’s not even flying himself around.

Those of you who have read my other divorce posts or have spoken to me about this know the personal pain my husband’s dishonesty and betrayal has caused — and continues to cause — for me on an almost daily basis. My biggest problem is that I simply can’t believe that a man I spent 29 years of my life with could turn on me as he has. I know he’s mentally ill — the things he’s done to me and said to others and in court are a pretty clear indication of that.

Every day, I face an unbelievable amount of sadness and pity for the man I love. And pretty regularly, that pity is rewarded with yet another personal attack through the court system — appeals, false claims, accusations, stalling tactics. It never ends.

Well, that may never end, but his ability to keep my life in a perpetual stall has ended. I’m moving forward with my new home and my new life. Since 2012, I’ve lost weight and regained my health and self-esteem. My flying business is going better than ever — mostly because I don’t have to say no to out-of-town jobs to keep my wasband happy — and I’ve refreshed my writing career with a series of new videos for Lynda.com. (Meanwhile, my divorce book is on hold, waiting for the end to be written.) I’ve made lots of new friends to keep me company and share my joy and adventures.

Legal fees for the divorce dealt a severe financial blow to me, but because I’m not dependent on someone else for my living — I never have been — and I live within my means, I’m recovering nicely. Although I don’t like living in my RV (the “mobile mansion”) — as my wasband absurdly suggested in a court document — it has enabled me to live cheaply so I can save money for my new home.

Getting ahead means working hard and making sacrifices. I understand that and am willing to do what it takes.

It’s sad that the man I married and still (unfortunately) love has never understood that. All his talk about “making things happen” was just that — talk. I took it to heart and made things happen for myself — and him, for a while.

I only wish that my love for him over all those years hadn’t clouded my view of the kind of man he really is. I could have prevented that 10-year stall by making my exit a lot sooner.

Bad Advice Ruins Lives

Sad to see the dreams of a good man destroyed by taking bad advice.

I got some sad news not long ago. A very close former friend of mine sold his airplane.

He’d owned the plane for more than 10 years and had often told me of the role it would play in his retirement: he planned to become a CFI (certified flight instructor) and use the plane to do biennial flight reviews and some flight training. It was a goal I thought suited him and I supported it to the best of my ability — although there was nothing I could do beyond offering moral support and advice to help him achieve it. My advice: fly as often as you can, build time, build experience.

He didn’t take that advice.

I thought he was serious about that dream — like so many of the others he shared with me. But he never moved forward with any of them beyond making some notes on paper and buying domain names he’d never use. Maybe he wasn’t as serious as he led me to believe. I thought aviation, which we’d discovered around the same time, meant something to him. But apparently, it didn’t.

When he pissed off a friend whose hangar he was sharing and got the plane kicked out, the hangar he got in Scottsdale cost him far more each month, making the plane suddenly very costly to keep. (Some people just don’t know a good deal when they have one.) I suspect that was a factor in the plane’s sale in November 2013.

Not long afterward, he sold a condo he’d bought in Phoenix back in 2008. He’d bought as the housing market was falling but hadn’t quite hit bottom. He got what he thought was a good price, but the thing came with outrageous monthly maintenance fees that, when coupled with the mortgage, was a real financial burden on him. And, in all honesty, the place wasn’t very pleasant — its windows looked out onto a courtyard so there was no privacy unless the blinds were closed — which only made it darker and drearier than it already was. Most of the other units were owned by speculators and either empty or inhabited by renters. I’d advised him to buy the other condo he’d been looking at, a bright and airy second floor unit not far away.

He didn’t take that advice.

When he lost his job and got stuck in one he grew to hate, it seemed to me that he was working primarily to make payments on that condo. He was miserable most of the time, living in the condo part-time instead of the house he owned half of and used as his primary address. The house was completely paid off and far more comfortable, and it had a heck of a lot more light and privacy.

In 2011 and early 2012, I advised him to sell the condo, despite the fact that he owed a bit more than the market value. The loss would help on his tax returns and the sale would stop the bleeding of money for mortgage payments and maintenance fees. It would relieve his financial burden so he could live within his means and wouldn’t be a slave to the job he hated.

He didn’t take that advice.

I even offered to buy the place for what he owed. I’d take the loss. (I was a very good friend.)

He didn’t want to do that, either. Instead, he claimed he wanted to keep it as an investment and rent it out. And he expected me to help him.

But I’d already gone through the nightmarish experience of being a landlord and wanted no part of it. My refusal to get involved was one of the things that began the destruction of our friendship.

When I learned in March that he’d sold the condo in December, it made me sad. I knew that if he’d sold it when I advised, before he turned his back on our friendship, we’d still be friends. I don’t think he ever put a tenant in there, but I really don’t know. I can imagine him stubbornly paying the mortgage and taxes and maintenance fees on the place, month after month, before finally giving up.

The sell-off of his assets doesn’t really come as a big surprise. Nearly two years ago, he initiated a costly legal battle to end a long-term partnership and take possession of assets that weren’t his. He misunderstood the law governing the case. The very last time I had a chance to speak to him directly, back in December 2012, I tried to reason with him. I tried to make him understand how the law would be applied. His angry and defiant response proved that he had no idea what the law was. I urged him to talk to his lawyer, to have his lawyer explain it. I urged him to take the counteroffer he’d received from the other party — a counteroffer I know that party’s lawyers thought was far too generous.

But he didn’t take that advice.

It frustrated me. He’d always been so reasonable. He’d always understood the difference between right and wrong. He’d always had morals and principals that I could respect and look up to. But now he was acting unreasonably, doing something stupid and hurtful that was so obviously wrong. What had happened to him?

It didn’t really matter. By that time he was no longer my friend and never would be again.

AdviceInstead, he listened to other, newer friends — including one he’d only recently met — friends who apparently either didn’t know the law or didn’t know the facts of the case. They told him he could get so much more if he just kept fighting. They fed him lies about the other party, convincing him that the other party had been using and manipulating him for years, convincing him that the other party was now an enemy and couldn’t be trusted.

So he kept feeding his lawyers money — tens of thousands of dollars, month after month. (I don’t know why the lawyers didn’t set him straight; maybe he wouldn’t listen to them, either?) And he kept harassing the other party with legal action, hoping that other party would give in to his outrageous demands.

And while all this was going on, my old friend began to take on the financial responsibilities of his new friend, helping her with mortgage payments and the like. He likely justified this by living with her, leaving the condo that was costing him so much money every month empty. She kept urging him to fight, to take one action after another to wear the other party down. She even began directly issuing orders to his lawyers and feeding them incorrect information that she misinterpreted from things she read online. She was rabid in her hatred, insanely jealous — or maybe, by some accounts, just insane.

But the other party in this legal battle was in the right and wasn’t about to give in, especially after investing in a costly legal defense. The other party needed to win. And unlike my friend, the other party was living within their means so there was money to pay lawyers for the fight. And to keep paying as long as necessary to bring an end to the battle and closure to the wounds it had caused.

In the end, my old friend lost his legal battle. The other party was awarded far more than the December 2012 counteroffer would have given. (After all, it really was a generous offer.)

I suspect my friend thought he would pay his legal fees with the proceeds from his win. I suspect he and his new friend looked forward to celebrating their victory over the other party.

But there was no win, there was no big settlement. Even later accounting for other matters proved disappointing. There was no windfall coming. My friend had acted on bad advice and had lost all the money he’d spent on legal fees plus the additional amount he’d have to pay over that original counteroffer.

Ah, if only he had taken my advice!

My former friend’s downfall fills me with pity for him. Not only do I care very much for him and value the years of our friendship, but I’m sad that he remains so close with the people who led him astray, friends and a lover so full of hate and anger and greed that they can’t see facts and listen to reason. I’m sad that they have his ear and are likely, to this day, giving him advice that will only cost him more in the long run. I’m sad that a man I once thought the world of has become a greedy and delusional puppet.

So he sold the airplane that would give him his retirement “job.” And he sold the condo that he claimed he wanted to keep as an investment. And now he’s trying to sell the house he has part ownership of. Liquidating his assets — one can only assume that he has money problems.

Meanwhile, he’s failed to comply with court orders regarding the case and has to defend himself against legal action related to that. More legal fees because he failed to do the right thing. What will happen next? Who knows?

It’ll be interesting to see if the friends who led him astray step up to the plate and help bail him out of the mess he’s in.

I know that I won’t.

Postponing Happiness

Could it be true?

LifeThe other day, I spent some time with a friend of mine who just happens to be a psychology intern at the local hospital. We talked at length about some of the things I’ve gone through in the past few years. Recent events have left me concerned that I might be suffering from PTSD from something seriously weird that happened to me when I worked at the Grand Canyon in 2004. My friend has been helping me work through those concerns, as well as the pain I still feel, over a year later, from my ex-husband’s betrayal and subsequent abuse.

My friend seems to think that I changed after the June 10, 2004 event. She thinks it affected my personality. But although that was a long time ago and my memory isn’t too clear, I disagree. While I admit that I thought about the event every single day for years afterward, I don’t think it made me a different person — at least not on the outside. It didn’t change my dreams and goals; it just made me angry. (Apparently, more angry than I realized.) Sadly, the only person I could talk to about a possible personality change back then — my WASband — isn’t allowed to talk to me anymore. (His new mommy won’t let him. Either that or he’s simply too ashamed of what he’s done to our lives to face me.)

What did change my personality, however, was the illness and subsequent death of my friend Erik. Erik’s sudden illness hit my hard; it made me realize that life can be taken from you at any time and that it was important to do what you wanted to do as soon as you could. Waiting for retirement was idiotic — I knew that better than ever before.

Meanwhile…

As I shed debt, my WASband accumulated it. He bought a condo in Phoenix with a huge monthly maintenance fee as the housing market went into decline; the monthly payments on that were more than our house mortgage payments. He bought a Mercedes sedan he didn’t need. He used the home equity line of credit for overdraft protection on his own personal checking account for years, thus increasing its balance by thousands of dollars while I was paying it down. He was a slave to his job — which he hated — because of the debt he kept building. In the 20-20 vision of hindsight, I realize that he resented me because I had more free time to do the things I wanted to. He didn’t understand that I had that freedom because I simply didn’t have such a huge debt burden forcing me to work harder or longer than I wanted to.

As for his promise to join me on the road…well, that was one of his many empty promises, something he told me to give me hope without actually doing anything to make a positive change in our lives. His 55th birthday came and went; my reminders of his promise were met with new promises that were also broken. I think the broken promises hurt almost as much as the lying and cheating that came later.

I explained all this to my friend, telling her about how the sudden urgency I felt about living my life changed what I did. At the time, I was working two careers — as a writer and a pilot — and was struggling in both, working harder than I ever wanted to and having little time off. I explained how I realized that debt ties us to jobs we don’t really like or want — or, in my situation as a freelancer and business owner, working harder than we want to on jobs we do like — making us slaves. The solution was easy: get out of debt. I stopped buying expensive things I didn’t need, concentrated on investing in my business, and paid all credit card balances in full every month. I made extra payments toward our mortgage and the home equity line of credit to pay them off quicker.

I also told her about the promise my husband had made to me back in 2006, right around the time we married after 23 years together: that when he turned 55, he’d leave his job and join me on the road half the year, spending the summer doing work with my helicopter in a place we could avoid Arizona’s brutal summer heat. One of my business investments had been for a 5th wheel RV, the “mobile mansion,” that was big enough for both of us and our dog. We’d work together and play together all summer long. He’d be able to chase down some of his dreams with the free time we had every winter back in Arizona.

Out of the blue, my friend suggested that I was postponing my happiness.

Of course, I denied it — a knee-jerk reaction to the suggestion. Postponing my happiness? How could I be? After all, I’m happy now. I’m living in a beautiful place I love, surrounded by friends. My business is doing surprisingly well — even in this economy at this time of year — and I have plenty of free time to enjoy the activities I like: hiking, wine tasting, writing, making a new home on a blank slate of 10 acres of my own land.

But then she reminded me about how I’d worked so hard to get my finances in order. Had I been happy then? I thought about it. I told her I was laying the ground work for the future. Besides, I was waiting for my husband to join me.

“Exactly,” she said. “Postponing happiness.”

There was nothing I could say to deny that.

“What about now?” she asked me. “What are you doing to postpone your happiness?”

I could think of just one thing: delaying the construction of my new home. But there were reasons for that and there was nothing I could do to change them. I had to wait.

In the meantime, I was working on my land, settling in my bees, making a pathway, prepping for next season’s garden, planting wildflower seeds. I had friends over for dinner at least once or twice a week. And I did lots of other things that made me happy, including getting out with friends and traveling.

I knew that I wasn’t happy when I was married. I knew that my WASband was part of that problem — during that last year we were together, he was never happy and he seemed to constantly disapprove of anything I wanted to do. I knew that in that last year, my happiest times were the times I was away from home, in Washington, free to do the things I wanted to do when I wanted to do them. Free from the man who seemed to try so hard to make me feel guilty about my life decisions and the happiness they gave me.

I’d never thought of my marriage as something that was postponing my happiness, but it so obviously was.

So the question remains: am I still postponing my happiness? I don’t think I am. But her suggestion has planted a seed in my mind. You can bet I’ll be thinking about it in the months to come.

News I Could Use

I’m finally free.

Regular readers of this blog know that since the end of June 2012, I have been going through an extremely ugly divorce.

I won’t summarize the outrageous chain of events again here. If you want to get an idea of the crap I’d been dealing with for more than a year, read “The Divorce Book” post and follow some of the links in it. Then read any post tagged divorce that was posted afterwards. Give yourself about eight hours — there’s a lot of material to wade through.

Our case went in front of a judge in May. The second of two half-day court dates was May 31. As I left the court with my lawyer, family, and friends, we were happy, in a weird sort of way — more relieved, I guess — that it was finally over.

But it wasn’t. They dished out some more crap, like fish that had flopped themselves out of water, thrashing a few more times in a futile attempt to — well, I really don’t know exactly what they expected to accomplish with that final bit of harassment.

The Wait

The judge told us on May 31 that it would take 2 to 3 weeks for a decision. I waited anxiously, completely unsure of my financial future.

In the meantime, I was chomping at the bit, eager to get on with my life. I’d been in escrow for 10 acres of view property since late March. I couldn’t get financing without a divorce decree. I couldn’t put in a septic system or enter into a contract with a builder until I owned the land. I was living in a fifth wheel travel trailer on a friend’s land. That was fine during the summer months, but what would I do later in the year if I couldn’t get my home completed before it got cold and the snow came?

My anxiousness over the waiting was a strange thing. At first, my attitude was hopeful, sure that my future would be decided any day now and prepared for the worst.

Then, when the third week rolled along, I started getting worried. It would be this week. What would he decide? Could I really deal with the worst? Would that be what I faced?

When the third week passed without the judge’s decision, I felt sort of relieved. And even though I expected the decision any day, I continued to feel sort of relieved every day it didn’t come.

But time was not my friend. No matter what the judge decided about the division of assets, I needed that piece of paper to get on with my life.

The Deadline Approaches

The law gave the judge 60 days to make a decision. As we got closer and closer to that deadline, I started to stress out again. Had the judge forgotten us? Why did he need so much time? I called my lawyer and he had his assistant follow up. That was on Friday. That’s when I did the math on timing. The 60th day would be Tuesday.

By Tuesday morning, I was a nervous wreck.

I had a charter on Tuesday morning. I had to be at the local airport with the helicopter at 9:30 AM to fuel and wait for my passengers. They had a meeting at 11:00 AM 60 miles south. I was trying very hard not to think about what I should learn that day. I was trying to stay focused on the charter flight before me, thinking about the TFR we’d have to avoid on our way south, thinking about my fuel load with four people on board on a warm, humid day.

My phone rang at 9:17 AM, just as I was heading out to the helicopter. It was my lawyer’s assistant.

“I got the judgement,” she said. “Do you want to hear it?”

I immediately began to cry. It was finally over, but did I want to hear what the judge had decided?

“Is it good?” I asked through sobs.

“Yes,” she replied. And she began to read.

The Result

It was good. The judge had done the right thing, the fair thing, the thing we expect judges to do.

Throughout this entire ordeal, I had been plagued by unfairness, dishonesty, and a complete lack of ethics and morals from a man I’d loved and trusted for more than half of my life. As I prepared to turn my fate over to a judge, I feared that the legal system would fail me, too. I knew the law, and I knew what was fair. How would the judge interpret the law in our case? Would he allow my husband’s lawyer to wield the law as a weapon against me, forcing me to give up so much that I’ve worked hard for my entire life? That was my fear.

But the answer was no, he would not allow it. He made a decision based on the reality of the situation. He did what was right and fair.

As my lawyer’s assistant read each paragraph of the divorce decree, I sobbed. I cried for joy, mostly — at least I think it was joy. I cried to release the anxiety that had been building up for the past few weeks. I cried because I knew that my year-long ordeal was finally over and that I could get on with my life.

And I cried from sadness. I cried for the man who had been tormenting me for the past year, the man I still loved, knowing full well that he would have been so much better off financially if he’d simply accepted my very generous counterproposal back in October. I cried knowing that if he’d just sat down with me in October with our lawyers and we’d hashed this out then, we could have gotten on with our lives — perhaps even as friends — without the heartache and financial burden he’d forced on both of us. I cried knowing that the man I’d spent 29 years with had a sense of morals and ethics that would have prevented any of this from happening — and that that man had been smothered out of existence by the greedy and vindictive old woman he’d chosen to replace me. I cried because she’d made his bed — by running his side of the divorce for him — and he’d slept in it — by letting her have complete control — and now he was paying the price. I cried because I knew he hated me for reasons they had cooked up to justify his treatment of me — delusions that had taken over his mind. I cried because I felt so sorry for him.

Yes, I cried for the inconsiderate bastard who had asked for a divorce on my birthday, the man who’d locked me out of my only home, the man who had been harassing me for the past year, the man who had dragged me through a costly legal battle to protect what was rightfully mine.

Love is strange.

When my lawyer’s assistant was finished and I hung up the phone, I cried a little more. Then I pulled myself back together, dried my eyes, and headed out to the helicopter. I needed to put the past behind me. I needed to stop thinking and worrying about a person who didn’t give a damn about me and get back to the business at hand: making my new life.

Ball and ChainAt 9:45 AM, I was on the ramp at the airport, waiting with my helicopter for my passengers. It was the first day of my new life as a free woman.

I Love My Life

Why I love my life — and how you can love your life, too.

I love my life.

That’s the thought that struck me last Saturday afternoon, as I walked across the transient parking area at Lake Havasu Municipal Airport, from the FBO office to my helicopter, swinging a plastic bag full of BBQ takeout.

I love my life.

The sudden thought amazed and exhilarated me. It put a skip to my step and made me smile.

I love my life.

This was near the end of a busy day when I’d spent 2-1/2 hours flying an aerial photographer and videographer over six different target vehicles in the 2013 Parker 250 off-road race. It had been hard, challenging flying, sometimes dangerously close to the ground, performing maneuvers that pushed the helicopter’s capabilities as much as — if not more than — I’d ever pushed them before.

This was the same day I’d been up at 5 AM and had gone out with just a half a cup of coffee and some oatmeal in my belly on a 31°F morning. The same day I’d preflighted my helicopter and pulled off its doors in the predawn gloom with just a Mini Maglite to light the way.

This was the day after I’d spent the night in a houseful of strangers — all men — sleeping in a bed on sheets that someone else had slept in the night before.

And it was only 24 hours — almost to the minute — after being offered the aerial photo gig 80 miles across the desert from my home.

It had been a most unusual and challenging 24 hours.

And I had enjoyed every minute of it.

I love my life.

I realized, as I walked across the airport ramp, smelling the aroma of my BBQ dinner and looking forward to the fried okra I’d nibble in flight on the way home, that I needed to blog about this sudden realization, I needed to document how and why I felt the way I did. I needed to capture the moment in my blog to remember it forever, just in case the feeling should fade due to events in the days or weeks or months to come. I needed to share it with others who may also love their lives but not really know it. And to share it with the folks who are missing the point of life — the meaning of life, if you will — in an effort to help them understand and set a course that would enable them to love their lives, too.

What I Love about My Life

In thinking hard about this, I think what I love most about my life can be broken down into several things: freedom, time, variety, travel, challenge, and friends. Bear with me while I address how each of these affect my life and personal philosophy.

Freedom.
Because I don’t have a “regular job” and I don’t have kids or a husband to answer to, I have the freedom to do pretty much whatever I want. If I feel like getting up at dawn to photograph first light over the desert, fine. If I feel like eating leftover Chinese food for breakfast, great! If I feel like hopping in the car with my dog and spending the night in Prescott after a pot-luck dinner with friends there, wonderful! Anything goes. My only limits are time (see below) and money.

Time.
Not having a “regular job,” kids, or a husband also means I can make my own hours and do things when I want to do them. Obviously I’m not completely free — I still have work to do and appointments to keep — but my time is extraordinarily flexible. For the most part, I make up my day and week and month as I go along. If something I’m doing needs more time, I take it. The only time of year when my time (and freedom) are restricted is when I’m on contract for agricultural work — but that’s only 11 weeks out of the year. (I don’t know too many people who would find that a hardship.)

Variety.
Back in 1987 (or thereabouts), I took a job as an auditor with a large residential developer. I did construction project audits. Every single audit took about two weeks to complete and was exactly the same. After two months, I started looking for another job. The lack of variety in my work was driving me insane.

I feel the same today — I thrive on variety. I like the fact that every day of my life is different. I wake up at different times, I do different things, I see different people, I eat different things, I go to different places, I go to bed at different times. Unless I’m elbow-deep in a book project that consumes 10 hours a day, no two days are the same. And that’s very nice.

Travel.
One of the benefits of time and freedom is the ability to travel. I love to travel, to get out and see different places. When things get dull — when I feel as if I’m slipping into a rut at home — I shake things up with a trip. I’ve been home in Arizona since September and have managed to take at least one trip every single month since I’ve been back: Washington (twice), Las Vegas, California, Florida, and Lake Powell (by helicopter). That doesn’t count the day trips and overnight trips I’ve squeezed in on a whim: Prescott, Phoenix, Winslow, Parker, and Tucson. And I already have my next three trips planned out.

I don’t travel as a tourist, ticking off items on a list of things to see. I travel to experience the places like someone who lives there. It’s a much better (and usually cheaper) way to experience the world.

Challenge.
What can I say about challenge? Simply put, a life without challenges is simply not a life worth living. I need goals — realistic and achievable goals — and I need to be able to work toward them.

My entire life has been a series of challenges and achievements, some minor, like learning to ride a motorcycle or horse, and some major, like building a successful career as a freelance writer or building a profitable helicopter charter business from the ground up. I’ve always got a handful of goals in my back pocket and am always working toward achieving the ones that mean most to me at the moment.

I’m fortunate to have a good brain and good work ethic — two prerequisites for success. I’m also fortunate to have good health, which makes everything else a lot easier. But I know plenty of people who have all these things and still don’t challenge themselves. They skate through life, doing the least they can do to get by comfortably, never challenging themselves to go the next step. I simply couldn’t live like that.

The best part of always having challenges and goals to work toward? I never get bored.

Friends.
It wasn’t until this year, when my marriage fell apart, that I realized how much my friends mean to me.

When I was married, living with my husband in Wickenburg or Phoenix, I didn’t have many good friends. I couldn’t. There was no room in my life to build and maintain friendships.

But when I went away to Washington for my summer work, my husband stayed behind. I began building strong friendships with some of the people I met. I also kept in touch with other friends from all over the world by phone, email, Twitter, and Facebook. This network of friends was amazingly helpful and supportive when my husband called me on my birthday in June and asked for a divorce. And they were even more supportive when I discovered, in August, the lies and the woman he’d been sleeping with. The pain of his betrayal is sharp, but my friends help ease that pain.

Even now that I’m home, dealing with harassment from my husband or his lawyer on an almost weekly basis, my friends have been extremely helpful, showering me with invitations to get out and do things together, offering me their homes as destinations for trips, or simply sharing words of encouragement and support. They not only take the edge off my divorce ordeal, but give me a great outlook on life.

Without good friends, no one can truly love their life.

How I Got Here

I got where I am the way most people get where they are in life — but with an abrupt turn and an important realization along the way.

The abrupt turn: career change
Raised in a lower middle class family, divorced parents, stepdad that brought us all up a notch and offered my family the financial security we never really had. High school, college. 9 to 5 job with a good employer and good benefits. A new job that wasn’t a good match (see above) followed by a better job with a Fortune 100 corporation. Things seemed pretty sunny for me.

But they weren’t. I wasn’t happy. I didn’t like the work I was doing. I didn’t like the way the hour-long commute — each way — was eating away at my life. I didn’t like corporate politics and game-playing. I was good at my job, I made good money, I kept getting raises and promotions, but I dreaded getting up in the morning.

Been there? I bet you have. Many people have.

Trouble was, I made a bad decision back in my college days. I always wanted to be a writer, but I was convinced by my family that I needed a better career path. I was the first in the history of my family to go to college, so it was a big deal. I was good with numbers and math so we figured accounting was a good course of study. I ended up with two scholarships in a great business school, Hofstra University on Long Island. But in my junior year, at the age of 19 — did I mention I started college at 17? –I began realizing that I really didn’t want to be an accountant. I wanted to be a writer. I called home and told my mother I wanted to change my major to journalism. She had a fit and told me I was crazy. That I’d never get a job. That I’d be giving up a great future. I listened to her. I was 20 when I got my BBA degree with “highest honors” in accounting.

I’ve always regretted listening to my mother that day. Indeed, that was the last time I took her advice on any important life decision.

I always wrote — I kept journals and wrote novels and short stories that were never published or seen by others. And I always remembered my dream of becoming a writer. So in 1990, when the Institute of Internal Auditors was looking for someone to author a 4-1/2 day course about using “microcomputers” (primarily 20-pound “laptops”) for auditing and there was a $10,500 price tag attached to it, I sent them a proposal and got the project. I asked my boss for a leave of absence to do the work but was turned down. So I quit.

And that’s when I began my freelance career.

Believe me, leaving a job that paid me $45K/year plus benefits (in 1990) at the age of 28 was not an easy decision. As you might imagine, my mother absolutely freaked out.

Looking back at it now, this abrupt turn in my career path marks the day I stopped skating through life and started challenging myself to do better.

And I did. I had some rough patches along the way — the first full year freelancing was pretty tough — but I worked hard and smart and picked up momentum, mostly by working multiple jobs as a per diem contractor while writing articles and books. By 1998 I had my first best-selling computer book; the second came the following year. By then, money was not a problem — I finally made more money than I needed to live comfortably. I saved, I invested, I put money away for retirement.

And I used my excess time and money to challenge myself again: to learn how to fly helicopters.

By 2001, I’d bought my first helicopter and was trying to start a business with it. In 2005, I took that to the next level with a new, larger helicopter and FAA Part 135 certificate. In 2008, I found the niche market — agricultural work in Washington State — that finally enabled me to turn a profit. As publishing began its death spiral, I was already prepared with a third career that could support me.

People say I’m lucky. I disagree. The only thing I’m lucky about is having a good brain and good health — and even that’s something that I work at. It’s my work ethic — my deep-rooted philosophy that the only way to get ahead is to work hard and smart — that made everything possible. I truly believe that if you have a reasonable goal and you work hard and smart, you can achieve it.

Being able to make a living doing what I really love to do — writing and flying helicopters — makes it possible for me to love my life.

The important realization: the meaning of life
On my journey through life, I also made an important realization that changed everything: I discovered the meaning of life.

No, it isn’t 42.

As far as I’m concerned, there is no meaning to life. Life just is. But there are some undeniable facts about life and careful consideration of those facts should guide you to get the most of your life.

I guess I can sum it up my realizations about this in a few bullet points:

  • Life is short — and your life might be even shorter than you expect.
  • You only have one life. (I don’t believe in an “afterlife” or something like reincarnation.)
  • You should live your life as if you’re going to die tomorrow. That means not putting off until tomorrow what you can do today. It also means skipping the “bucket list” and doing what you want as soon as you can. And, by simple logic, it also means not waiting until you reach retirement age to start doing all the things you’ve wanted to do. You might never reach that age.

I think the light bulb came on back in 2008. When my friend Erik got sick and died unexpectedly at age 56, I realized that life can be taken from you at any time. I decided that I wanted to live life nownot when I turned the standard retirement age of 65. I realized that I never wanted to retire — that I wanted to do some kind of income producing work for the rest of my life. But I also knew that I didn’t want to be a slave to my work, now or ever.

I realized that in order to really enjoy life, I had to ensure my current and future financial security. That meant shedding assets I didn’t need and the debt that went with them. That meant paying off debt on important assets I’d always need, like a roof over my head. That meant building my business while paying off debt on its assets so that the business could support me without taking over my life.

And I’ve done all that. My house was paid off last February; I made the last payment on my helicopter earlier this month. I haven’t bought a new car since 2003 so I have no car loans or personal loans. Everything I buy now is by cash or credit card and, if by credit card, it’s paid off in full at the end of the billing cycle. I live within my means. I have no debt.

Do you know how cheaply you can live when you’ve got a paid-for roof over your head and no debt?

Go back to my discussions above about freedom and time. I mentioned that I don’t have a “regular job.” I’m proud of that fact. I worked hard to become debt free so I’d never have to get a regular job. Being debt-free gives me time and freedom.

Being debt-free makes it possible for me to love my life.

Don’t Get Me Wrong — My Life is Not Perfect

I don’t want you to come away from this blog post thinking that my life is perfect and that nothing ever goes wrong. That’s simply not true. My life might be good and I might love it, but it’s far from perfect. It’s worth taking a look at what’s not quite right.

Personal failures
I mentioned above that I need challenge to enjoy life. You might think that I always succeed at what I try. The truth is, although I have a pretty good track record, I don’t always succeed in what I set out to do. Sometimes it’s my fault, sometimes it’s the fault of others I trusted or relied on — which is ultimately my fault for trusting or relying on them. Sometimes it’s just the fact that what I was trying to achieve wasn’t really possible for me to achieve.

One example is my stint as a landlord. Back when I starting making good money, I started investing in rental properties. At one point, I owned a condo, a house, and a 4-unit apartment building. The idea was to run these as a business that generated enough revenue to pay the mortgages and possibly a little extra. But try as I might, I simply could not succeed in keeping the units full with tenants who paid the rent on time and respected my property or their neighbors. There was never enough revenue to cover all the expenses. There were headaches with complaints and repairs and cleanup. It was a miserable ordeal that I hated. I wound up selling my properties before the housing market tanked. One of them resulted in enough of a profit to put a healthy down payment on my second helicopter, so I guess I can’t complain. But as a landlord, I was a complete and utter failure.

Then there were the aerial video projects I attempted back in 2008. I hooked up with a video production company based in the San Diego area. I’d worked with the owner and liked his work. He came up with a proposal and I signed up, giving him a chunk of money. I then spent at least another $10K on flying and related expenses to gather footage. And paid another chunk of money for him to start turning it into something. Then I saw the footage and what he was trying to pass off as a “trailer.” I realized that he was simply not capable of creating the products he had contracted with me to produce. I threw another $2500 at a lawyer, trying to get some of my money back, but the video guy was unreachable and I soon got tired of throwing good money after bad. Finally tally of money lost: about $40K. Ouch. That was an expensive lesson.

I’ve also had failures getting contracts for book ideas and books that simply didn’t sell very well. I’ve failed to get certain writing or flying or web creation jobs I wanted. I’ve made bad (or at least regrettable) decisions on purchases of RVs, vehicles, and property. I’ve trusted people I shouldn’t have trusted and said things I shouldn’t have said. I’ve dropped the ball when it was my turn to play it, thus making a successful outcome impossible. And I’ve even let other people down when they expected or needed my help. I’m not proud of any of these things, but I can’t pretend they didn’t happen.

There are two things I need to say about personal failures and bad decisions:

  • There’s no reward without risk. If you don’t take chances, you will never achieve anything. This all goes back to the idea of skating through life. People who skate do so on a flat surface, never moving up or down. Nothing ventured, nothing gained (or lost). People who take risks can either climb or fall — by taking measured risks and putting the right effort into achieving goals, they’re more likely to climb.
  • We must all take personal responsibility for our own decisions and their outcomes. While others might advise you based on their own experiences or agendas, it’s up to you to make the final decision. Once made, you must take and keep ownership of the decision. Yes, I’ve made some bad decisions in my life that have led to disappointment or failure, but I alone am responsible for them. And I can live with that.

Life partner
And that brings up the second big thing that’s not perfect in my life: I don’t have a life partner.

I did — or I thought I did — for 29 years. We met in 1983 and hit it off almost immediately. We began living together only six months after we met. He liked to use the word “partner” to describe our relationship, but the partnership began to get tenuous not long after we got married 6 years ago.

It took me a long time to realize this. For years I think we were life partners, a real team that shared the same interests, dreams, and goals. But as time went on, that changed. The man who had been my leader became my follower and then my ball and chain. It happened slowly over time — so slowly that I didn’t even realize it was happening. And even when I began to realize it, I couldn’t believe it and remained in denial. I loved him too much. I didn’t want to believe it. Even today I’m having trouble believing that the man I’m in the process of divorcing is the same man I fell in love with and began sharing my life with 29 years ago.

I think part of the change had to do with our outlook on the future. Where I wanted to shed unneeded financial burdens to gain freedom and live my life now, my husband didn’t share either goal or philosophy. His purchase of a second home in Phoenix put a huge financial burden on him, but he refused to sell it. (And I won’t even go into how his living there with a roommate four days every week drove a wedge between us.) His worries about saving up for retirement and paying his bills put him in a string of dead-end jobs with employers who didn’t appreciate his skill set or compensate him properly. He’d become a slave, working primarily to satisfy his huge financial responsibilities and refusing to take steps to improve his situation. He was frustrated and miserable — and, in hindsight, probably jealous of my freedom. He took it out on me, with a never-ending string of put-downs and arguments and “the silent treatment” that wore away at my self-esteem and made me bitter and angry.

Even after visiting a marriage counselor (at his request), when I went back to Washington for my summer work last May, he immediately began to look for my replacement. He found one on a dating website: a typical desperate, middle-aged woman who would do or say (or share photos of) almost anything to snare a man who could ensure her financial future in exchange for sex and ego-stroking. His birthday call to me included the announcement that he wanted a divorce and a series of lies I honestly didn’t think he was capable of.

The transformation of life partner to vindictive and hateful enemy was complete.

And while the pain of his betrayal is probably — hopefully — the worst pain I’ll experience in my life, it does free me from the only thing still preventing me from loving my life: him.

But it also leaves a void in my life, an empty space I thought I had filled. While I enjoy my life, I think I would enjoy it even more if I could share it with someone. Still, I know I’ll be very careful about who I invite to share it with me; I’d rather go through the rest of my life alone than to trust and rely on the wrong man.

Been there, done that. Ouch.

I Love My Life

But as I walked across the tarmac at Lake Havasu Airport last week, swinging my bag of BBQ takeout, I wasn’t thinking about the things that kept my life from being perfect. Indeed, thoughts of such things never entered my mind. Instead, I felt a surge of happiness — exhilarating and exciting — that overwhelmed me when I suddenly realized that I love my life for what it is.

Sure, I have some rough patches ahead of me. My financial situation will take a bit of a hit when I lose half the house and have no place else to live. But I still have my brains and my good work ethic and my health. And I have the business I worked so hard to build over the past ten years. And I have my imagination to think up new ideas and new challenges. And my willingness to take risks to move forward and up — and accept the consequences of my decisions and actions. And I have all those other things: freedom, time, variety, travel, challenge, and friends.

My life is ahead of me — not behind me. And I embrace it because I love it.