Expect The Unexpected

I didn’t expect to be in Cleveland this week.

She didn’t expect to work 100 hours a week.

He didn’t expect to retire yet.

Three unrelated stories of unexpected change, all interwoven in an unexpected dinner in Cleveland. Expect The Unexpected. Click To Tweet

I didn’t expect to write this post.

On the morning after the dinner in Cleveland, I woke up with a thought that the “Three Unexpected Stories” and the interwoven nature of the dinner interactions may make an interesting story.  At 6:30 am in my hotel room, I took out my iPhone and started to type with my thumbs.  The words flowed, and this unexpected post was finished prior to my departure from the Cleveland airport on Monday evening.  Surprise!  A second post this week.

That was unexpected, right?!

Expect The Unexpected

It all started a week before my retirement when my phone rang.  A friend’s name from my industry popped up on the Caller ID.  I wasn’t expecting the call.

I answered the phone, expecting that he was calling to wish me well in retirement. We had a nice chat.

Then, unexpectedly, he said, “Fritz, I actually did have a purpose for the call”.

“Great”, I thought (a bit sarcastically), “he’s probably going to offer me a job or a consulting role.”  I wasn’t interested in either but listened respectfully as he began to talk.

What he said next was completely unexpected.

I accepted.

The Trip To Cleveland

After I said “Yes” an unexpected series of events followed, which led to my flight to Cleveland to attend my first quarterly Board Of Directors meeting. (Note From Fritz:  More on my decision to join a Board in a future post, perhaps. Suffice it to say I consider it a true honor and appreciate the unexpected opportunity).

An Unexpected Dinner With A Friend

Since I knew I’d have an unexpected free evening in Cleveland, I called my friend Jim at RouteToRetire.  We’d met last Fall at FinCon, and totally hit it off.  I knew he lived in Cleveland, so I decided to surprise him with a phone call and a dinner invitation.

He wasn’t expecting my call.

He picked me up at the airport, and we had a nice dinner (A Reuben at Slyman’s in Cleveland, what could be better?).

An unexpected reunion in Cleveland with Jim @RouteToRetire

The Waitress

Our waitress at Slyman’s was amazing. She had one of the best attitudes I’ve ever seen in the service industry, an area which is sorely lacking in folks with positive attitudes (and a personal pet peeve of mine).

She asked about the permanent smiles plastered on our faces, and we explained we were personal finance bloggers who were celebrating my early retirement, and Jim’s planned early retirement later this year.

She said, “My husband retired last year, and he’s only 56.”  No tone of regret, and no indication of where this was heading.

What She Said Next Was Unexpected

Jim and I sat in awe as she continued the story. With that (oh so rare) positive attitude, she told of his unexpected retirement due to a disability suffered on the job, and his inability to work. He’d been a Union worker in a physical pipefitter job and had two injuries which took him out of the workforce.

It was unplanned and unexpected.

Sure, he was getting disability payments from the Union, but it was well below his working wage and was mostly consumed by his $900/month insurance payment.

Turns out, our friendly waitress was working 2 full-time jobs at different restaurants to make ends meet. 100 hours a week serving tables, in her mid-50’s, with no end in sight.  And, amazingly, with a smile on her face. I’ll never forget that waitress, and I’ll never forget her story.

She never planned to work 100 hours a week, and he never planned on getting injured. Expect The Unexpected. Click To Tweet

I tipped her well.

She deserved that.

Be Thankful.

The unexpected can be either positive or negative, and Jim and I both recognized at that moment how fortunate we are that our surprises went in a positive direction. So many folks have negative surprises outside their control, like our lovely waitress.

There’s good reason to be humble.

There’s good reason to be thankful.

He Didn’t Expect To Retire Yet

The third of the three interwoven stories of unexpected changes in life revolves around my friend, Jim.

During our dinner together in Cleveland, he explained his decision to retire One Year Earlier than originally planned. Most folks struggle to retire by their targeted date. Yours truly, for example, worked “One More Year” to ensure the numbers would work.

In Jim’s case, he paid for a pro and realized he was being too conservative with his analysis. After some serious discussion, he and his wife realized they would be able to leave one year earlier than planned, and he recently told his employer he’d be retiring in December 2018.  They’re planning on moving to Panama in the summer of 2019 (check out his blog for more details on his story)

Jim, I could tell that you enjoyed making the announcement to your boss – there was a glimmer in your eyes as you told me the story.  The glimmer was there for good reason.  Jim’s going to have an unexpected extra year of Freedom than he thought he’d have just a few short weeks ago. Congrats, Jim, I’m happy for you.

The Lesson Of 3 Stories

So, there you go. 3 stories of unexpected twists Life, all interwoven around one unexpected meal in Cleveland.

The reality is that all of us face unexpected things in life, some good, some bad. Expect The Unexpected. Stay Flexible. Click To Tweet

Expect The Unexpected.  Don’t be so rigid in your life that the unexpected changes knock you off course.  Unexpected things will happen in your life, so build them into your planning process and don’t be surprised when an unexpected change affects your plans.

Some examples:

  • Have an emergency fund for that unexpected hot water heater going “On The Fritz” (side note: I never understood that phrase. What do folks have against Fritz?)
  • Have a plan for your life, but accept the unexpected. Watch for opportunities in unexpected places.
  • Take that unexpected phone call, and think about the opportunities that develop as a result. You can always choose to ignore the opportunity, but keep your options open.

If you get dealt a bad hand, keep a positive attitude about it. Trust me, if our waitress can smile given what she’s been through, so can you.  Choose now to have a positive attitude, and choose to be content regardless of your circumstances.  Who knows, your next unexpected twist may lead to a better outcome.  If not, at least you’ll still enjoy your life to the extent that your circumstances allow.  That sure beats being downcast and depressed through the limited days you have on Earth.  Got lemons?  Try to make some lemonade.  At the very least, don’t go around trying to squirt lemon juice in other folks’ eyes.  They won’t like it much, and you’ll be the one who suffers in the end. 

Intentionally adopt as cheerful an attitude as possible.  You’ve only got one life, so live it fully.


No one’s Life follows a straight path. Be prepared for some unexpected twists in the road. Embrace the curvy road with open arms, and keep a positive attitude regardless of your circumstances. Your circumstances will change, and they’ll most likely change in a way that you weren’t expecting.  Keep a smile on your face.

Who knows, you may end up having a memorable meal with a friend in Cleveland. That unexpected meal may lead to an unexpected blog post. That post may impact folks in an unexpected way.

Life brings unexpected twists and turns.

Enjoy The Ride.

Expect The Unexpected.

What About You?

What things have happened in your life that were unexpected?  Were they positive or negative? What suggestions would you give to others about how to handle the unexpected changes in life, or to keep a positive attitude in spite of your circumstances?

Let’s chat in the comments…


  1. I laughed at your final question…. pretty much everything in my life has been unexpected. Some were positive, and some not so much. I’m just riding this ocean like every other boat, hoping to stay on top of each wave and keep the sails full of wind!

  2. Okay, I work and live right around the corner from that Slymans! Oh my goodness! And I didn’t know Jim from Route to Retire lives in Cleveland, I will reach out.

    You just made my morning with how unexpectedly small the world is.

    Congrats on being on a new board and thanks for tipping that waitress so well.

    1. Huh oh, hope I didn’t get in trouble by revealing Jim’s hometown! (Then again, he DID see a draft of this post and didn’t scream, so I guess/hope I’m ok!). In a year, it won’t matter anyway, since he’ll be in Panama, right!?

  3. Last time I was in Cleveland the Cuyahoga river caught fire. You were probably still nursing your mom and in diapers.

    1. 1969. Since I was 6, I most certainly hope I wasn’t still nursing on my mom! 🙂

      Cleveland’s come a LONG way since the 60’s! We lived there 3 times during my career, for a total of 13 years. It was actually one of our favorite locations. Beautiful suburbs, and the rolling hills to the East make it feel almost “New England-ish” (is that a word?).

      1. Still a great town! Loved Shaker Heights. Loved Rocky River. An easy drive from there to the Chautauqua Institution in NY. Also, turned down both the Cleveland Clinic and Case Western Reserve School of Medicine. Why? I married a South Carolina lass who never heard of Ohio or Cleveland. Also, her mother warned her about live above the Mason-Dixon Line. Her mother also warned her about marrying a “Yankee” from “Chicargo” of all places.

  4. Great post, Fritz.
    Attitude is indeed everything.
    With all the disciplined planning we all do for retirement, your advice to stay flexible – and open to new experiences – is valuable.

  5. Always good to hear your stories and excited to see what Board you joined. My motto is you can plan life but not predict it. So go with the flow and be open to change. There are many great things that can happen when preparation meets opportunity.

  6. Love it, Fritz! Life’s always going to throw curve-balls at all of us and the best we can do is jump at the opportunities and try to roll with punches and adapt with the bad times.

    The most important part of our dinner was that you bought… a frugal guy’s high! Thanks for that! It was awesome to get together with you again. Too bad I still can’t convince you to make it to FinCon again this year during your “no obligations” first year or retirement! 😉

    — Jim

  7. Sometimes I read posts and think “This couldn’t be any more timely!” and this post was no different. Have had some interesting opportunities present themselves over in the land of waffles and we’re trying to figure out what to do about them. One of the biggest lessons that I have learned while on the path to FI is to be open and allow for opportunities cause you’ll never known where one might take you. Expected the unexpected, I love it!

    1. Nothing better than a timely post! I almost waited until next week to post, but decided to go with it today since next week’s a holiday and I suspect most folks will be offline. Interested to hear about your opportunities, good luck figuring out your best options!


    If so, that is freaking impressive. My thumbs would fall off completely!

    #2 – What an amazing story this was. I try and tell those in my close circle all the time to stay humble at all times, no matter if you are in good or bad times. Times can ALWAYS get a lot worse for you, and they currently are for someone out there. Life can change in 1 second, so make sure you never get to high on yourself when you’re succeeding, because it can hit anyone at anytime.

    I would say something unexpected in my life has actually been my burning passion for personal finance and FIRE. Even when I was 22 (4 years ago) and graduating college, the idea of becoming a millionaire (or financially free) was something I NEVER thought was possible for me. Money was a complete foreign topic to me, and I took the chance on an investing book. That book changed my life completely, which ultimately changed my career trajectory! I was all ready to go into the Navy before this passion ignited itself in me, so that was definitely unexpected.

    Great post!

    1. #1: YUP. The entire thing. (20 years of thumb typing in corporate america has, apparently, perfected the skill!).

      #2: Indeed, count your blessings when things are going well, and keep a positive attitude if things go poorly. Regardless of your situation, it’s about to change!

      You’re a wise man for your age. Curious, what was the name of the book that changed your life?

  9. i was working at and upscale lobby bar in new orleans during my mini-retirement. we had a bunch of guests from a patent search software company including some v.p.’s. i jokingly asked them if they needed a chemist (which i was) and one of the v.p.’s leading the sales meeting said “yes, where do you want to have the interview?” then he suggested austin, he had never been there and neither had i. they flew me there a few weeks later to interview for a west coast sales job over a steak dinner and a bunch of cocktails. i didn’t get the job but had a great time with mike and j.p. and a trip to austin just for making conversation.

  10. Did you just unretire after 2 weeks? That was fast. 🙂
    You’re so right about life. When I was young, I thought it’d be a simple straight forward path, but it didn’t turn out that way. You just have to embrace the chaos, be adaptable, and go with the flow.

    1. Kinda sorta. It’s only going to require a meeting once per quarter, and was an intriguing opportunity, so I went with it. I wouldn’t call it Unretired, since I’ll still be “retired” 89 days out of each quarter! Go with the flow, indeed!

  11. If I knew then what I know now…. You are so right. The path that has lead to here and even here weren’t even on my map a short decade ago. Here’s good too of course just not expected. Roll with it.

  12. The unexpected for me was a younger brother who got sick in last year with leukemia. Boom. The thought of why am I really working hit hard. Will saving enough by working 4 more years to generate an extra $10-15k in retirement really make that big of a difference? What if I just adjust my lifestyle expectations a bit and get on with living while I am still mobile?

    Still do not have a definite target retirement but I think I may be able (I should pay someone to get me to think less conservatively, too 🙂 ). We are all terminal – just a matter of when. I’d rather not end up with the largest bank account. Stopping early definitely requires a relocation from CA, though.

    OBTW, brother is emerging from a City of Hope experimental program and had a marrow transplant 2 weeks ago – actually looking up. Thanks for asking.

    1. Kev, so sorry to hear about your younger brother. You’re certainly not the first to rethink their retirement timing after having someone in the family fall ill. Glad to hear your brother was able to get into an experimental program, hope things continue to move in the right direction for him.

  13. Loved this unexpected extra post this week!!! Excellent advice to embrace the curvy road!

  14. How you react to the unexpected is what counts. Some people can’t handle it, other people just go with the flow! You’re obviously one of the latter.
    I find that 2 or 3 days a quarter on a board is fine. It’s good for the brain! But when it grew to 2-3 days a month, 9 months of the year, I reduced it again – it was too restrictive!

  15. There’s a song from the mid 1990s called “This is the Stuff (life is made of).” There appears the following line, “All the things that mattered most caught me by surprise.”

    True, true, true, in my life.

  16. I love the idea and the way you weave the story.

    Now that you are traveling in the 5th wheel, you may want to apply it there. We were in Napa area, on our way up the north coast of California, when our SUV broke down. We could drive it, but only a couple of miles on the loud transmission. Several people in the little town of American Canyon helped us into a storage area, and it was over 100 degrees that 4th of July weekend two years ago. But the lady at the desk helped us find a parking spot with electricity, and my husband and parrot moved in. I went with the car to be towed home and back 2 days later. When I returned, my husband told me of the great time he had there, hiking and enjoying the wine area. When we looked at the map, we found no RV or camping nearby. He literally enjoyed the best of that area. We payed for a month and nearly went back!

    1. Funny how sometimes the unexpected things are best, right Susan? Great story, hope we never face a roadside breakdown in our RV, but if it does we’ll remember your story and look for something positive!

  17. If I knew then what I know now…. You are so right. The path that has lead to here and even here weren’t even on my map a short decade ago. Here’s good too of course just not expected. Roll with it

  18. Fritz,

    Funny enough we met on the plane to Atlanta from Cleveland that evening, I was in the same row on the other side of the aisle! You gave me your card and here I am, unexpectedly reading your blog and making a comment (although I believe you expected me to). You are a pleasure to talk to in the short time we had and I appreciate your blog and will continue to follow it!

    Good luck in your retirement and your blogging future!

    1. ERIN! I remember you! (I even told my wife we need to do a better job of checking any future medical bills!). Thanks for stopping by and leaving a comment, much appreciated! Funny that you were actually on a flight associated with this story!

  19. A lot of unexpected bad things have happened to me and those close to me in the past year. Young lives were lost, traumatic experiences, job instability and stress, etc. Really changed the way I view a lot of things, life and people. Made me re-evaluate my personal and professional life. As bad as things look or as sorry we can feel for ourselves, I try to be grateful for what I do have and understand that there are many worse off than me. Even those that do seem to have it all, likely have their shortcomings as well. In any case, I try to ignore the outside noise and focus on myself and people/things important to me.

    1. Wow, JSA, sounds like you’ve been dealt a tough hand over the past year. Congratulations on keeping a good attitude through the tough times, and focusing on being grateful wherever/however possible. (And yes, many folks who seem to have it all certainly have their shortcomings, AKA The Facebook Syndrome).

      Here’s hoping that you get some unexpected surprises to the positive over the year ahead.

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