The Path To Freedom
I called old friends from college, people who made it through a bachelor program alongside me.
Long story short, they were all in the same boat. Some of them were already on job number two. The common issues were overwork, lack-of-balance, and powerlessness.
I heard variations of the following: It’s not so bad, and besides, even if it is, you can’t do anything about it. And being that this is as good as it gets, you should take what you can out of life during your 12-15 days off every year, go on cruises and get drunk and fly to EU and get drunk and go to Vegas and get drunk, and just make the best of it.
Live hard, play harder, spend money hardest.
Although I didn’t say this directly to anyone, it appeared to me that work was the primary source of misery in their lives, rated above problems with a significant other, or family members, or lack of money.
Once I started asking people about the nitty gritty details of their days at their own SoftwareCompany or any other place of employment, I found the same running themes of overwork, boredom, stress, frustration, and intense dissatisfaction. Folks were always quick to point out whatever positives there were, too — (e.g. I really love coworker X, My salary is terrific, I occasionally solve a tough problem or finish a challenging project and feel good about my contributions momentarily) but the overwhelming sentiment seemed to be something along the lines of I actually live for the few days off a year that I’m granted.
I felt lucky to have friends who were so open and honest with me, instead of giving me the standard PC reply of “Yeah things are going well, the work is fine,” which is what most of us reflexively (and correctly!) do when asked. Their honesty helped to cement my opinions regarding work and my industry — it wasn’t just me who felt this way, saw the insanity, felt trapped and hopeless about being a part of a system which expects us to work until we’re 65, basically straight through after graduation.
And then I reflected. My friends’ comments completely finalized my personal goals. I would not be working for four and a half decades. Period.
I thought about my sister’s words. We had spoken during my low-point in Year 3 of employment. She’d asked me what I really wanted in my own life. I answered her questions anew.
Freedom. Flexibility. The means to do what I please. To pursue my own interests.
And what are those interests?
It doesn’t matter right now. Let’s work on freedom first.
How do we earn our freedom?
We make enough money so that we can live on passive income.
And how can we speed this process up?
Cut spending while increasing earnings.
Right. I’ll get on that.
The second part to the question’s answer — what do you want out of life — was to be happier every day, even while I was working.
In practical terms, I needed more than just the damned job.
And what made me happier on a day-to-day basis? Connections to other people. Specifically people outside of work. You know, like, relationships and stuff. The good ones make life really awesome. Duh.
My family was on the east coast, in New England. If I targeted jobs in the area, I could see my mom and my dad again.
The other big thing was my old girlfriend, the one I’d left in Year 1 when I set out to San Francisco for work. We’d done the long-distance thing for the first two years or so, but then it petered out because, as every adult knows, that form of relationship always breaks over time. But I never got over her.
So I called her, nervously, to see what she thought about me moving back to the Boston area.
Was she single? Would she be interested in seeing the scoundrel known as <livingafi> again? We hadn’t spoken in a year and the last time we’d seen one another, we had not parted on great terms. I expected a response along the lines of go-fuck-yourself but instead she warmly asked me to call her once I was in town.
Let’s get together and catch up, she said. We’ll see how it goes.
I was ecstatic. Things seemed to be lining up for a return to my college stomping grounds, my friends, an ex-lover, and my family. I had a plan to take both my life and my freedom back, bit by bit.
Now I just needed a job.