My Self-Destructive (but Goodly Intentioned) Skepticism


Looking back on my life from the vantage point of being 65, it occurs to me that I have been quite skeptical, for what I still believe to have been good reasons, at the exact times such skepticism would hurt me most.

It does not help that at least as frequently, I faced life with an incredible amount of credulity. I either trusted the wrong people, or I trusted them in the wrong ways.

Perhaps both sides of this have been playing tug-of-war in my mind and my decision-making processes all my life, with me dealing with the end results of that tug-of-war, from the middle of the rope, suspended over, and sometimes dropping into, the mud puddle.

I have long been suspicious of advice from high up in the management chain, as a professional, and from the corporate world, as a citizen and consumer. This is because, again, at one time I bought into the “glittering prizes and endless compromises” with pie-eyed optimism about A World Looking Out for Me. Now I grouse seemingly endlessly about corporate greed and manipulation, and the deleterious effect of those big firms’ legally declared Personhood on our Government and Politics.

But even back when I was a Federal civilian direct-hire working for the Department of Defense, it took me not very long to take everything Upper Management told us with a great big grain of salt. My cost for this skepticism, and for expressing it out loud in my trademark oversharing way, was a career second half that, despite improving my productivity tenfold with a self-motivated skill field change and a well-timed Cross Training Program in that field, saw no raises for me at all. I was paying child support for over a decade and a half at that time, in excess of $1000 a month, and it was the “separation agreement” kind of contractual payment, not the court-mandated child support that is what people usually mean by “child support.”

*Sigh.* There I go again.

It was also distrust of the system of lawyers and lawsuits and other legal tangles that gave me too much skepticism to look for better angles for my own lawyers to pursue during my first marriage’s separation and divorce… but also not enough skepticism to sniff out when a solution that would bring both parties the relief of finally being done with the lawyers would also bring me years and years AND YEARS with those monthly grand-plus payments to make, and no government raise to cushion me from that.

Skepticism is truly the proverbial Dry Rock of Principle when you’ve been unable to save toward Federal retirement. A Grade 13, which everyone said is an enviable pay grade to have achieved, can still get whittled away, and the percentage of one’s “high three” years of income that the CSRS gives you as your pension is a drop in monthly pay you definitely feel, whatever your lot, whatever you’ve done. And you’d better have saved.

Did I say CSRS? Again, my skepticism did a number on me. The people promoting FERS, with its automatic enrollment in the Thrift Savings Plan so that I could have supplemented my retirement earnings all along, seemed like such a hand-waving sales pitch back when it was encouraged – back when it was open season to switch to it – that I decided the Civil Service Retirement System, old and reliable, would do me as much good if I just stuck with it. There it was again, that mixture of skepticism and credulity, with not enough active brain cells in my head able to grasp realities to make the best, or even a particularly good, decision.

Having to land a second job (I have my wife to thank for finding it) after retirement to help stretch the money to last to the end of the month, and finding it too, too easy for me to make mistakes that put me and my family further in the hole, with needed projects now needing to be put further off, seems an agonizing and high price to pay for too much skepticism here, too much credulity there.

But hey, that’s real life, and I intend at least partially to raise a warning flag to others: Save, save, save when you can, putting money away that you must not touch until your “golden years,” and yes, get some financial advice. Don’t just go with a gut feeling. A great many of the gut feelings I went with turned out to be pure crap. Even if I wasn’t one of the millions who got manipuated by shrewd and powerful forces of the super-rich to make absolutely disastrous political decisions.

Maybe I should ask for a cash prize because my skepticism did lead me to resist THAT.

Riiiiiiiight. This world system gives no cash prizes for anything like that.

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