Ben Franklin “retired” at the age of forty-two and became a Gentleman of Leisure. It was the start of the most productive and interesting time of his life. I don’t pretend to equal him, but his is a useful example as I transition to from worker to Gentleman of Leisure. I am coming to terms with what that means.
First, let me admit that it is a good thing, but then assert that it is not as easy as just not working. When you work, somebody decides priorities for you. A gentleman of leisure must do it for himself. A Gentleman of Leisure does not just sit around drinking beer and watching TV. That is an activity actually more suited to the working man who needs to unwind. The Gentleman of Leisure engages in useful and productive activities that are uplifting for him but which usually require significant commitment and effort. Life needs purposes. If the job does not provide them or there is no job, you need to supply them yourself. It is hard work. So GoL does not mean you just rest. It means you work hard toward goals you set yourself.
The FS prepared me to be a Gentleman of Leisure. It often goes in the other direction. Diplomacy is one of the preferred activities of Gentleman of Leisure. I recall once asked what I would do if I won the lottery and became fabulously wealthy. After some consideration, I answered that I would do pretty much the same things I did in the FS. I just would not have to do reporting or expense vouchers; I would not do VIP visits and I would never again fly tourist class. W/o those lottery winnings, I cannot do many of the things. For example, I cannot sponsor scholarships or organize speaking tours. But I can keep much of the personal lifestyle. A big part of being an FSO is the “homework” or reading and studying on the broad areas of your responsibly. This is still something anybody can do with the gift of time to do it. We complain that we never have enough time to do this work and I will do more of it as a Gentleman of Leisure than I did as an FSO. Another thing that I can do is travel with purpose. This means studying and observing more than the sights or the restaurants. It often means also attending symposia and lectures. This option is open to anybody who has the time and money to travel and it will be among of my Gentleman of Leisure activities.
We will continue to live around Washington, at least for the next five years, and Washington is one of the best places in the world to be a Gentleman of Leisure. There are so many things to do that are free. You can start with the world’s greatest museum complex. Smithsonian, its museums, gardens and cultural spaces, are all free. It would be beyond the means of even the richest Gentleman of Leisure to create what any citizen can have for nothing. There are also the myriad lectures and think tank presentations. These are often better than free; they often feature free meals and handouts. You can get a decent general education just by living in Washington and paying attention.
My main volunteer activities relate to environment and forestry and there is plenty to do in environment and energy. Since 2005, I have been on the board of the Virginia Tree Farm System, which gives me access to interesting people and events in forestry and wildlife. I feel bad that I have not always given them the attention they deserve and was often out of the country and did not attend meetings. As a Gentleman of Leisure, I can attend more of the meetings & conferences and better prepare for them. Of course, in addition to being a Gentleman of Leisure I am also involved in the related enterprise of Gentleman Farmer, or at least Gentleman Forester.
My twenty year goal is to maintain my healthy forests in general but specifically to work with longleaf pine regeneration, build and maintains an uneven aged stand of pine-oak-grassland (as covered much of southern Virginia in 1607) and build a pond with surrounding wetland. Much of this is ready to go. I already have five acres of longleaf that are now taller than I am. We are planting another ten acres next month. I have identified around ten acres of 30-year-old pine and hardwood to transform into the oak-pine savannah. And I know where I want the pond; I just have to get someone to do the digging and preparation.
My picture is something like what I envision for my open woodland. It is from a forest-farm near mine, so I know it is possible. It is good wildlife habitat and very pretty. .
Of course, maybe I will find some useful work that pays me some money. There are some good WAE jobs available. That could be perfect, discrete, episodic but interesting and useful. I favor money and would like to have more of it, and remunerative work can be a big part of defining the good life, but as a Gentleman of Leisure I can choose the work that advances other goals.
I am working through lots of ideas for my career transition. I am a little ahead of schedule, in fact, because I was planning to flee the workplace scene in March, but the State Department, in its wisdom, delayed my last promotion until … I am not sure when but after March. So I will go instead in August. It may seem foolish, since it has little material effect, but I want to have the final rank, so that I can truthfully say that I left when they still officially wanted me to stay. I was not cast out, which was always my fear and maybe even my expectation.
Anyway, I am looking forward to becoming a full time Gentleman of Leisure. It has been my part time job for a long time now and I think I already have most skills necessary to make a go of it and can develop those I lack.