These Professionals Aren’t Retired, They Just Have Zero to Prove - Kanebridge News
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These Professionals Aren’t Retired, They Just Have Zero to Prove

Numb to raises and promotions, some people chase different kinds of success

Fri, Mar 15, 2024 10:17amGrey Clock 4 min

They came, they saw, they conquered work. Then they shrugged.

Some strivers who piled up money and status say they’re over the endless hustle and are embracing what they call a “post-achievement” lifestyle with family, health and passion projects taking priority over career accomplishments.

Another promotion? Too busy surfing. Deferred compensation that’s oh-so-close to vesting? Slipping the golden handcuffs is less painful than you might think.

Post-achievement professionals aren’t necessarily retired, even if they’re financially set for life. Many have transitioned to roles with fewer hours and responsibilities to make time for pursuits they find more meaningful such as podcasting, meditating and playing guitar.

Rather than grab every available dollar and accolade, Kevin Dahlstrom quit a seven-figure, round-the-clock job in 2018. He prefers to be seen as a bold, slightly mysterious figure who could have risen higher but opted out on his own terms.

“I’d be lying if I said that doesn’t stroke my ego,” says Dahlstrom, who left a chief-marketing-officer role and moved to Boulder, Colo., to rock climb. Professional acquaintances sometimes refer to him as a legend because he jumped off the corporate ladder in a way that most people only dream about. “Who wouldn’t like being called a legend, right?”

At age 53, he estimates that he passed up more than $10 million of future earnings but says he doesn’t need to make another penny. He recalls an executive meeting where he looked around the room, saw high-powered colleagues who seemed unhappy, and thought: What’s the point of grinding if it doesn’t bring joy?

He’s still ambitious and recently accepted a more flexible marketing-executive position at a smaller company that allows him to be on task as needed, and on a mountain whenever climbing conditions are good.

“To me, that’s nirvana because I still want to do hard things and work on fun projects,” he says. “But I also want that to be only one part of my life—and not the biggest part of my life anymore.”

Less money, more passion

Here’s the thing about getting to post-achievement status: You have to earn it by doing something impressive first.

The former go-getters I’ve met aren’t the types who could have coasted through middling careers from day one, despite being full of potential. (That would make them quiet quitters or, perhaps, masters of work-life balance .) They needed to prove, to themselves and others, that they could excel at high levels. Only then—with killer résumés and F-you money—could they make dramatic life changes.

Khe Hy , who helped popularise the term post-achievement on his website and YouTube channel , RadReads, says it’s hard not to look back. He left his job as a hedge-fund managing director in 2015 and still feels the occasional pang of envy when he considers the riches that former colleagues have accumulated. Hy, 44, says he’s sitting on about $5 million, probably enough to retire to a frugal lifestyle, but likely not enough to sustain his family forever in pricey, coastal California. Had he remained on Wall Street for a few more years, he might never have to work again.

Still, he moves past those feelings by remembering how numb he’d become to big paydays in finance.

“The key moment is when you realise that no next achievement will significantly change your baseline happiness,” he says. “I consider myself post-achievement because I’m not really striving for anything.”

That’s not entirely true. Hy is trying to bulk up but struggles to add weight to his 155-pound frame. Between running 25 miles a week and surfing almost daily, it’s tough to sculpt more than a lean six-pack, you know?

His RadReads business, which includes coaching for hard-charging professionals who want to rebalance their lives, generates about $200,000 annually. He works about 35 hours a week but controls his schedule and no longer fixates on career advancement.

Rachel Barek , 44, isn’t ready to step down as chief executive of Said Differently, the marketing agency she co-founded, anytime soon. But the majority stake she and her partner sold to a private-equity firm comes with a lifetime of financial security, she says.

“I could very easily fall into the trap of being a serial entrepreneur. I was born that way,” she says. “A lot of serial entrepreneurs are scared of the white space in their lives, and I’m really excited by that white space.”

In her future post-achievement phase, Barek plans to do something radically different: beauty school. She developed the interest while cutting her son’s hair at home during the pandemic and wants to offer pro bono barber services for children with special sensory needs and others who can’t afford to pay. But she concedes her clipping skills could use some work.

Avoiding the success trap

Kristopher Abdelmessih says he was six months shy of collecting about $1 million of deferred compensation when he walked away from his job as an options trader in 2021.

“Maybe it was rash, but I’ve replayed this in my head many times, and I don’t think I would do it any differently,” he says. “I was done.”

Abdelmessih, 45, was motivated to succeed by his modest upbringing in an immigrant household. There would be no safety net if he sputtered professionally, so he picked a field that paid well, played to his strengths and didn’t require graduate school.

But trading was never a calling. Leaving wasn’t so much about losing ambition as it was about a desire to chase fulfilling interests, like tutoring low-income students, gaining the confidence to play guitar on stage for the first time and traveling with his family six to eight weeks a year.

He and a business partner are in the early stages of developing a trading software tool that Abdelmessih hopes will become profitable. If it takes off and demands more of his time someday, that’s OK with him because it’s a passion project.

Jason Chow , a financial-services firm vice president, isn’t post-achievement yet, but he wants to be. Chow, 45, and many others say they’ve climbed high enough to realise each progressive rung brings new hassles and fleeting satisfaction.

“It resonates with me because my life is work, and I know there’s more,” he says. “I just haven’t found what that is yet.”


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Some chocolatiers and coffee makers say they will have to pass on the extra cost to consumers

Sun, Apr 14, 2024 4 min

Global prices for cocoa and coffee are surging as severe weather events hamper production in key regions, raising questions from farm to table over the long-term damage climate change could have on soft commodities.

Cultivating cocoa and coffee requires very specific temperature, water and soil conditions. Now, more frequent heat waves, heavy rainfalls and droughts are damaging harvests and crippling supplies amid ever growing demand from customers worldwide.

“Adverse weather conditions, mostly in the Southern Hemisphere, have played an important role in sending several food commodities sharply higher,” said Ole Hansen , head of commodity strategy at Saxo Bank.

The spikes in prices are a threat to coffee and chocolate makers across the globe.

Swiss consumer-goods giant Nestlé was able to pass only a fraction of the cocoa price increase to customers last year, and it may need to adjust pricing in the future due to persistently high prices, a spokesperson said.

Italian coffee maker Lavazza reported revenue of more than $3 billion for last year, but said profitability was hit by soaring coffee bean prices, particularly for green and Robusta coffee, and its decision to limit price increases.

Likewise, chocolatier Chocoladefabriken Lindt & Spruengli said in its 2023 results that weather and climate conditions played a major role in the global shortage of cocoa beans that led to historically high prices. The company had to lift the sales prices of its products and said it would need to further raise them this year and next if cocoa prices remain at current levels.

Hershey ’s chief executive, Michele Buck , said in February that historic cocoa prices are expected to limit earnings growth this year, and that the company plans to use “every tool in its toolbox,” including price hikes, to manage the impact on business.

In West Africa, where about 70% of global cocoa is produced, powerhouses Ivory Coast and Ghana are facing catastrophic harvests this season as El Niño—the pattern of above-average sea surface temperatures—led to unseasonal heavy rainfalls followed by strong heat waves.

Extreme heat has weakened cocoa trees already damaged from heavy rainfall at the end of last year, according to Morningstar DBRS’s Aarti Magan and Moritz Steinbauer. The rain also worsened road conditions, disrupting cocoa bean deliveries to export ports.

The International Cocoa Organization—a global body composed of cocoa producing and consuming member countries—said in its latest monthly report that it expects the global supply deficit to widen to 374,000 metric tons in the 2023-24 season, from 74,000 tons last season. Global cocoa supply is anticipated to decline by almost 11% to 4.449 million tons when compared with 2022-23.

“Significant declines in production are expected from the top producing countries as they are envisaged to feel the detrimental effect of unfavourable weather conditions and diseases,” the organisation said.

While the effects of climate change are severe, other serious structural issues are also hitting West African cocoa production in the short- to medium-term. Illegal mining poses a significant threat to cocoa farms in Ghana, destroying arable land and poisoning water supplies, and the problem is becoming increasingly relevant in the Ivory Coast, according to BMI.

The issues are being magnified by deforestation carried out to increase cocoa production. Since 1950, Ivory Coast has lost around 90% of its forests, while Ghana has lost around 65% over the same period. This has driven farmers to areas less suited to cocoa cultivation like grasslands, increasing the amount of labor required and bringing further downside risks to the harvest, the research firm said.

The Ivory Coast’s cocoa mid-crop harvest—which officially starts in April and runs until September—is expected to fall to 400,000-500,000 tons from 600,000-620,000 tons last year, with weather expected to play a crucial role in shaping the market balance for the season, ING analysts said, citing estimates from the country’s cocoa regulator. Ghana’s cocoa board also forecasts a slump in the harvest for this season to as low as 422,500 tons, the poorest in more than 20 years, according to BMI.

Neither regulator responded to a request for comment.

Meanwhile, extreme droughts in Southeast Asia—particularly in Vietnam and Indonesia—are resulting in lower coffee bean harvests, hurting producers’ output and global exports. Coffee inventories have recovered somewhat in recent weeks but remain low in recent historical terms. Robusta coffee has seen a severe deterioration in export expectations, while Arabica coffee is expected to return to a relatively narrow surplus this year, said Charles Hart, senior commodities analyst at BMI.

The global coffee benchmark prices, London Robusta futures, are up by 15% on-month to $3,825 a ton. Arabica coffee prices have also surged 17% over the last month to $2.16 a pound in lockstep with Robusta—its highest level since October 2022. Cocoa prices have more than tripled on-year over these supply crunch fears, and risen 49% in the last month alone to $10,050 a ton.

“Cocoa trees are particularly sensitive to weather and require very specific conditions to grow, this means that cocoa prices are especially vulnerable to extreme weather events, such as drought and periods of intense heat, as well as the longer-term impact of climate change,” said Lucrezia Cogliati, associate commodities analyst at BMI.

Cogliati said global cocoa consumption is expected to outpace production for the third consecutive season, with intense seasonal West African winds and plant diseases contributing to significant declines.

Consumers hoping for a return to cheaper prices for life’s little luxuries in the midterm may also be in for a bitter surprise.

“There is no sugarcoating it—consumers will ultimately be faced with higher chocolate prices, products that contain less chocolate, and/or shrinking product sizes,” Morningstar’s Magan and Steinbauer said in a report.

“We anticipate consumers could respond by searching widely for promotional discounts, trading down to value-based chocolate and confectionary products from premium products, switching to private-label from branded products and/or reducing volumes altogether.”

The record-breaking rally for cocoa and coffee is likely more than just a flash in the pan, according to Citi analysts, as adverse weather conditions and strong demand trends are likely to support prices in the months ahead. The U.S. bank estimates Arabica coffee futures in a range of $1.88-$2.15 a pound for the current year, but said projections could be lifted if the outlook for 2024-25 tightens further.

At the heart of it all, climate change is set to play a major role, as the impact of extreme weather events could exacerbate the pressure on cocoa and coffee supplies, according to market watchers.

“I don’t expect prices to remain at these levels, but if we continue to see more unusual weather as a result of global warming then we certainly could see more volatility in terms of cocoa yields going forward, which could impact pricing,” said Paul Joules, commodities analyst at Rabobank.