“Instead of wondering when your next vacation is, maybe you should set up a life you don’t need to escape from.” – Seth Godin
Living in a conventional way works great for many people. It works great, and it works out great too, at least by outward appearances. Good for them!
It never really worked for me. I’ve made my share of unfortunate (bad) choices of course, but a significant problem turned out to be that I just have to enjoy how I earn a paycheck. If my job is challenging and draws upon my innate skill base, I’m happy. You can’t keep me away from it. I’m actually eager to get to work and get going. If it’s seriously frustrating or doesn’t fit me in some significant way, it’s wearing and stressful.
I found that I can’t seem to continue living a life dictated by “cultural expectations” that have never seemed to fit me very well. There’s no conspiracy – it’s just that you can’t mimic “normal” if it doesn’t come easily. For some people it works great, but for me it’s always been like ill-fitting shoes. Plus, I’ve been spoiled. I had a good and rewarding career back in the days before NAFTA and the methodical dismantling of our country’s manufacturing base. In those times, when you got your work done and done well, there were recognition and perks, and life was good. But then the business climate gradually upended in one way after another. For many, nearly all that’s left now are menial jobs at below-subsistence level wages. For me, it became just too punishing a way to live. It felt as if some part of me was dying.
I’m the type who always tried to minimize risk, but I slowly discovered along the way that there is no “safe” path through life for most. Circumstances change. I’ve found that if you engage with people outside your insulated clique, you’ll discover that a rather impressive number of good, talented and hardworking career people fall through the cracks of the American Dream every week. I’ve met many, and my astonishment at meeting the next unwilling dropout never seems to end.
When conventional living works for someone, that’s great. When it becomes a siren call to evolve the course of your life away from what you were born and equipped to do, toward a life that points toward any paycheck at any price, that’s about where I feel compelled to stop marching and start asking questions. There’s certainly nothing wrong with doing what you must to provide for yourself and your family, but it seems a tragedy of sorts to spend one’s life in an ill-fitting harness.
American society today demands specialization and singularity of task as never before and, more significantly, no longer allows wholesale career changes. If you can do three dissimilar things well, the tendency now is that you must pick only one for the rest of your life. Should your initial choice eventually become unneeded, the gatekeepers of opportunity for your other skills are, at best, unlikely to ever allow you to contribute them to their ventures.
You must employ yourself, which demands broad skills in running a mini-business that will most commonly fall well outside your talent base. Some can accomplish it, while many cannot. It is an accepted maxim that someone with, say, some exceptional creative skill will starve as an individual entrepreneur, while someone with merely an average or mediocre skill level will flourish if he’s adept at the demands of running a business. Successful entrepreneurs and freelancers spend 80-90% of their time in business-related matters, and the remainder exercising the subject of what the business is about. If all you have are your non-business skills, you must pick up whatever employment harness you can find and pull as hard as pain allows. I believe that that’s not good for one’s soul.
Too many people somehow endure what they dislike, investing decades of disagreeable work for a “someday” of freedom from it. How they manage to endure it is still an amazing mystery to me. Why? Because when you have a natural talent for something, you accomplish it more easily than others can (and often with better results), and the doing of it blesses your inner self, so to speak. When you’re having to operate outside the fringes of your natural abilities, it can be a long, frustrating slog of mediocrity. And, it compounds: a manager in this situation tends to frustrate and demotivate those he oversees, preventing even the well-placed ones from accomplishing the kinds of tasks they are innately geared to do. The Peter Principle tends to take others down with it. In my own experience, good managers either know they’re good or figure they’re just lucky. Mediocre managers do their best, but are riddled with doubt and fear that they’ll be discovered. Astonishingly, bad managers are the most arrogantly self-assured of their prowess while they set time bombs within the company that assure its eventual destruction, taking all hands with it.
Regardless, it’s time for a change, because time is precious, and life is finite and unpredictable. Life needs to be about more than enduring one’s working life in order to eventually earn relief from it and then waste it in idle leisure. For some, their job is their life, and the prospect of facing retirement from it is the calamity of a sudden lack of purpose and meaning. For a few, the “someday” of having the freedom to live deliberately or significantly never comes.
I’m starting now – not that creating a blog about living full-time in a decrepit old travel trailer reflects that. This blog’s purpose is merely to convince family and friends that I’m still alive and haven’t yet skidded into a ditch or burned down the camper. It’s also to let them – and any other curious reader – know what living this particular way is like, at least for one particular guy who has led a supremely conventional, sheltered suburban life. If you begin reading and thinking about how you might do your life differently if you had the chance, then I’ve done my job. Your life is not mine, but still, like mine, it is limited by time and is the only one you will ever have. It is in your hands. What are you doing with it? Hoping merely to survive the wind and waves around you, or setting a deliberate course?
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