At this point I’m closing in on the end of the year. Unfortunately I’m essentially back to where I was just prior to joining Friendface’s team. It’s as though I’ve lost six months of my life.
This means I need a change. Big time. It is precisely at this point I realize that no one is going to take control of my life but me. If I don’t do it, I will be ground into dust. And not just any dust — dust with serious depressive issues. This would be dust that needs prozac and zoloft mixed with booze and opiates just to make it through the day.
I finally started treating my unhappiness with my employment like the ultra-serious emergency that it was. After being returned to Mr. Data’s team, I immediately took a full week off of work, which was most of the time I had available. (We only received 12 days a year.)
I called my parents and told them I was unhappy. I called my friends.
I wasn’t complaining, exactly. I was looking for advice, of which I got a broad range.
Dad: Work is a misery and you’d best get used to it. I been at it twenty five years and nothing’s changed.
Mom: You should quit. No son of mine should be so unhappy. God has a plan for us all and it’ll work out.
High School Friend: Dude you should totally just go to work but don’t do anything, don’t travel, just sit around and surf netscape until they lay your ass off. Make them dump you, then collect unemployment. That’d be pretty kick-ass.
I rejected all of these options because they sounded ridiculous. I did not want to live my life in a state of misery as my Dad suggested. I wasn’t sure I’d make it. I also didn’t believe that there was a higher power guiding me through all of this. I’m not saying God does or does not exist, but rather that if he does, he doesn’t really give a flip about what one of his little humans is deciding to do, career-wise. Besides, if He did care, how had I ended up in such a crap job in the first place?
I started thinking that maybe part of the reason I disliked my job so much was because I didn’t take control of my professional life when seeking employment. I had called a head hunter and passively left the selection process up to chance. I took the first interview that came, and accepted the first offer made, without a single thought spent on whether or not I’d like support. And I discounted my friend’s suggestion to do nothing out of simple pride. I didn’t want to do nothing. I wanted to work. I just didn’t want to be so crushingly unhappy.
I finally got some good advice. It came from my sister, who is a bit crunchy if you catch my drift? She didn’t beat around the bush.
You’ve been doing what other people told you to do your whole life. You’ve got to figure it out for yourself. This is the time.
She went on to say that I should start reading self-help books and exploring my own wants and needs. I asked her what she recommended, she said Anything — whatever catches your eye, just go to the library or a book store and stay there all day.
I did one better, taking a full week off of work, spending it in the San Francisco public library. It was an incredible week, frankly, and reminded me of college. Just three years ago, my mind was allowed to think about things other than work — philosophy, art, history –but since graduating and taking this job I hadn’t been feeding it much other than tech talks. It was fascinating to get back to other subjects. I found myself reading all sorts of stuff on career building and entrepreneurial pursuits. I read about Buddhism and the mind-body connection, about desires and wants, about co-dependence with work, co-dependence with management, and workaholic-ism in general. After a while it all started to run together.
Toward the end of the week, I found Your Money or Your Life, by Joe Dominguez and Vicki Robin.
With most of the books, I read a few chapters and moved on to something else. Not with this one. This one I sucked down cover to cover.
It had a message like none other. At the time, I interpreted the primary lesson as follows:
You don’t have to find a perfect career fit. You may never find something that you love. That might not even exist for you. Instead, focus on saving money. Once you save money, you have freedom. And that freedom includes the option to never work again. If you want to work, great! You can spend time finding something more meaningful to you, with absolutely no risk or obligation whatsoever. If you get a new job and don’t like it, you can leave it.
If, on the other hand, you simply don’t have a calling in the business world, you can raise your middle finger high to corporate america and say goodbye forever.
You’ll never feel trapped again.
I was sold. It took me a while to internalize some of the lessons and implement them in my real life, but everything about the message felt right to me.
For the remainder of the week, I read books on personal finance, since I had to start a) understanding where my money was going, b) reduce spending, and c) determine how to best invest so I could start generating passive income.
There was a lot to learn, but I didn’t mind. I felt better than I had in months.
Suddenly, I had real hope again.
The next year — Year 4, starting in September of 2002 — I began to excitedly implement the lessons I’d digested in YMOYL.
I’d bottomed out. My trendline of happiness started to march steadily upward.
Year End Financial Summary
Net Worth at Start: -25K.
Net Worth at End: -10K
My salary went up from 66K to 70K, despite the fact that we had a wage freeze. This was due to my so-called promotion to Friendface’s team. As it turned out, HR never did dial my salary back down to its former level, even when I returned to work for Mr. Data. Lucky me.
I dumped another 15K into my Orange Savings account, giving me a total of about thirty thousand dollars in positive cash assets.
Still owed the 40K balance on my loans, and no 401(k) account.