Saturday, August 31, 2019


I went looking for a photo to illustrate this blog post, and this was the first one I found. It's from almost a year ago. Sunrise of a new day.

I'd mentioned that during a trip to the Spirit Hills winery we stopped in Black Diamond for lunch and a visit to Blue Rocks Gallery. I picked up several books, including this one.

What a great read! I've always been a non-conformist, but I wish I'd read this when I was a teenager. No problem, though, I've been cheerfully walking my own path most of my life. Still doing it now. Working part time in my so-called peak earning years. Getting out of the photographer's tour van to see them all point their lenses at whatever the advertised attraction is, so I go looking in the other direction.

Chris talks a lot about travel and alternative ways of making a living. You might not want to do these things or do them that way, but it's great to read about them and perhaps reconsider some of your own choices. All my readers, of course, are winners, smart, sensible, and good-looking, but there are lots of people that are struggling. They are in a job they hate, they are buried in debt, they feel trapped.

I've talked about the money part in several other rants, so I won't do that today, other than to say stop spending hard earned money on cheap shit you don't need made by slave labour in China. Lets talk about work for a minute.

I was trapped in a job I didn't like for years. The place was interesting, in a slow-paced sort of way, but the shift work involved was killing me. Not kidding. Towards the end I didn't have any appetite. I wasn't sleeping well, but I was always tired. It was to the point my brain wasn't storing memories.  At first I didn't believe it, but then we documented several holes in my memory. The first one was being with some friends at a video store talking about what movie we'd like to rent. (Remember renting video tapes from an actual store?)

I suggested a recently released Bond movie, (It was The Living Daylights, the one with the ride in the cello case down a ski hill.) and my friends looked at me funny. They all said we had seen it together in the theatre not that long ago. I had no memory of it, or any of the related events. Later on I rented the movie and watched it. There wasn't even a trace of, oh yeah now that I see it I remember. It was a completely new experience. I started making plans to get out.

The first step was to give up about $10K in income a year in 1980's money to take a day shift job. From there I started trying to get my head and body working properly again. It took 5 or 6 months to start settling into a regular schedule again. When I started shift work I'd been a night owl. When I settled down again, I was a morning person. One side effect that has haunted me ever since, is that it's really difficult to sleep more than 6 hours at once. Often that's enough, but not always, and sometimes I don't sleep well at all. My advice about shift work is don't. If you are, get out. Do what it takes, but get out. Your life will thank you.

Then I left that employer. If I'd stayed, I could have retired at 55 with full pension. If I was still alive that is; there were several scares with falling asleep at the wheel after night shift. The worst one was stopping to see them launch a balloon from the Anderson LRT station. I fell asleep and woke up about noon. I got home to find a furious and terrified Linda.

Then it was back to school for a while, but there were some adventures along the way and we ran out of money quicker than expected so I had to go back to work. It's all worked out well since then, but that was a major fork in the road and I didn't really see it for what it was. At the time I thought I did, but I was still thinking in terms of getting a job and earning money.

I have often wondered about the paths we take in life, how various people end up on the moon, in the swanky corner office, toiling away in a cubicle, reading National Enquirer on night shift, scrounging for bottles to return for deposit to buy cigarettes and hope that the homeless shelter still has a bed when you get there. What choices did those people make? What choices were forced on them? Or perhaps more importantly, what choices did they accept being forced on them?

Chris talks about people being given choices a and b, and either not being told or not realizing there are choices c, d, and e, and maybe more. It's hard to choose an option you don't know about. That might lead you into making what turn out to be poor choices.

The important thing to remember is that you are not chained to your previous path. You can choose to make the changes necessary to go a different direction. It might not be easy, in fact it probably won't be. The people in your current life might object. (The prison guards will certainly object to you leaving before your term is up.) You might be addicted to drugs like heroin, cocaine, tobacco, coffee, adulation, or attention. You might have to give up some income or shed possessions, or do without things our society thinks are important. (Consider that driving your oversized car to a place where it and you sit in a line to get crappy coffee handed to you through a window, and then become part of the traffic jam on the way to work, is one of those things that society seems to think is important.)

Once upon a long time ago, I was spending some time watching my father lose money in the stock market. I hung around the office and watched a grownup world I didn't much understand. But I still remember a conversation with a nicely dressed man, chatting about the stock market, and earning money, and working jobs. I was old enough to drive, but probably not old enough to vote, and he could have been anywhere from 30 to 60.

I was astonished to hear him say that at the moment I certainly had more money than him. That in fact he was just coming out of declaring bankruptcy and had nothing. I asked did he have a job or what sort of work he was looking for. He said he wanted to be wealthy, but didn't want a job, that wasn't the route. The trick was trading value for money, and knowing what to risk.

A job was trading time for money and there's never enough time in your life. (I didn't understand that then, but I've got it now, which explains the part-time gigs.) He said the main difference between us, aside from our age, was that I didn't know I could become wealthy, and he did because he'd done it, and knew he could do it again. He'd learned a few lessons about hanging onto it that he would apply next time. I never saw him again, and have sometimes wondered what happened to him.

Some of my jobs have been to trade time for money. That shift work one, for example. Other jobs have been providing a deliverable that nobody else handy could supply. I could tell people what needed to happen to fix their data, and either do it, or direct the doing of. I could migrate their data from place to place. I could write custom reports that answered the questions they actually had, as opposed to what was easy for the canned report writer to assume they had.  I could draw them a diagram of some particular business process, and then another diagram of how to make it better, and help them with the transition. I could train people to use software better.

Yes, there were times I was a bit of a loose cannon. There were times I got cranky and refused meetings if they didn't supply an agenda. I've told bosses that not only were they wasting my time, they were wasting the time and resources of everybody in the company they came in contact with. I generally preferred to work by myself with only a loose association to a team. There was one job I wanted and didn't get it because of that attitude about teamwork. I've spent lots of time where I was the bridge between two different teams. Engineers and software developers having trouble understanding one another, and me getting both, imagine that!

After the school adventure it took a few years of humping another time for money job, then things got better. The upside is that I was doing work that was (mostly) interesting to me. The downside is that it was often difficult to explain to recruiters or HR people or the new boss what exactly I did and why it was useful. As a contractor it's smart to assume there will be some time between contracts, and to plan your finances accordingly. As a side note, my shortest transition was over a weekend, and the longest was more than a year. Think about doing without your income for a year, and see what clenches. Our life didn't change significantly.

So if you don't like the path you are on, start working to change it. Nobody else will. In fact, most people will try to keep you there, mostly likely because you changing means they have to change something. If people can kick heroin, you can find a way to a better life. Think about the baggage you are carrying, and decide what you can drop. One of the key questions to ask yourself is who is expecting you to carry the baggage, and who will be upset if you stop? If the answer is your spouse or your children, you probably need to have a serious conversation. If it's anyone else, drop it and carry on.

No, seriously, drop it. Much of our consumer culture is driven by advertising and societal expectations. Screw them. When was the last time buying some trinket gave you long term happiness? You spend HOW MUCH a day because you think it's important to be seen at Starbucks or carrying their branded cup? That thought was planted in your brain by an insidious and ruthless world that wants to keep you stupid and poor.

Start making a list of things that are holding you back from achieving your dreams. Right beside that, start building a plan to get those things out of your life. Then start doing it. Begin with small stuff, things that people won't notice. Get into the habit of examining your assumptions. Constantly ask, does this help me move onto the path I want to be on, or keep me on my current path?

No, you don't get to know if your path will actually take you to where you think you want to go, or lead you somewhere else, or into a bramble filled ravine. You'll learn lots watching for that ravine, but don't obsess about it. You'll learn lots more climbing out of it. Yes it's lonely sometimes, but if you don't want to be walking in cow shit, stop following the herd.

Make a list of the things you actually need to get onto the path you want to be on. You probably think lots of money is a requirement, and you're probably wrong. Chris talks about traveling with little money. There's lots of ways of getting things done without a lot of money. In fact, if you can buy it with money it's probably not going to be terribly valuable to you. It's the things you get with skull sweat, late night planning, tenacity, and other intangibles that you will value.

You will run into gatekeepers everywhere. These people exist to say no. Whatever the question, they will say no. You can spend time and energy forcing them to say yes, or where possible avoid them, and figure out how to get what you want anyways. If you want a piece of paper with fancy writing on it saying you have a degree, you probably need to deal with gatekeepers and bring lots of money. Good luck. I was astonished to find in my early 30's that a university had to have a high school transcript to even think about accepting me as a student. I could not understand why education from a decade and a half ago was relevant, and figured if that and their degree had the same relevance, I could do without. But if you want an actual education, the book gives the high points of how to accomplish that. Few or no gatekeepers, and not a great deal of money in the overall scheme of things.

There are some universal things that will make life better no matter what path you are on. If you aren't doing these, start. Start today, and when I say today, I mean put down the Cheetos and finish the blog, then start.
-Eat better food, and probably less food overall. More plants and less meat, and no meat that comes from one of the big commercial slaughterhouses. (I'm working on the less meat part.) People say buying at the farmer's market, or buying organic or fair trade is too expensive. Bah! This is what is going into your body, and isn't the place to skimp. Real quality, not branded quality like the Trump (so-called) steaks.
-Move your body more. Do something physical every day. Going for a walk for a half hour to an hour every day costs nothing. Watch that much less TV. In fact, give up TV entirely. It's full of terrible messages that probably helped you onto that path you want to get off.
-Move your mind more. Spend that TV time weeding out things keeping you on your path, and finding or creating the things that will help you onto your new path. A library is a curated repository of all human knowledge, complete with people to help you access it. Convert TV time to library time.
-Get more sleep. Don't ever hit the snooze button. Figure out what time you have to get up to do all the things you need to do to get to wherever you need to be a few minutes early. Build in a bit of time to deal with the inevitable cat or toddler recreational vomiting or it's equivalent in driver incompetence. Set your clock for that time and get up then. Get up, get there on time, ready to go. Your new path has a gatekeeper as well, and getting going on time is one of the major ways to prove to the gatekeeper that you are serious. Hint, that gatekeeper is you.
-Say 'no' a lot more. Say no to activities that don't take you towards the path you want. Say no to emotional vampires that drain you, and it doesn't matter if it happens in person or on social media. Say no to being a passive lump eating what you are fed. Yes, this may mean serious conversations with your spouse or children. Every day you wait is another day closer to death.

Even those simple things are going to have people thinking you've gone nuts. Screw them. Have fun!

Peony of the Day
July 16, the promised pink peony in the back yard.

Driftwood of the Day

1 comment:

Looking forward to reading your comment!