Definitely Not Purpose


Disclaimer.  Yet again, there’s no talk of finances in this one.  Instead I’m discussing some of my post-working life in a very casual, journal-y way.  Additional warning:  It’s intensely personal.  If that doesn’t sound interesting to you, well then, absolutely no worries.  That’s what the back button on your browser is for.

My mom called last Sunday night.

She’s sixty eight, and kind of an old sixty eight, a purple-wearing, hippie-type who hasn’t had a job in seven years. Her list of likes includes singing folk music spontaneously in public and making her own jewelry and not thinking too carefully about what time it is.

I’ve always considered myself to be more the boring rational sort, at least by externally measurable attributes.  I’m reliable, conscientious, and steady.  Being retired for three quarters of a year hasn’t done much to change my fundamental nature.

So it’s safe to say we’re very different.

I typically don’t share much with her during these weekly conversations.  Like most older people, she’s very opinionated and has absolutely no intention of keeping her thoughts to herself. I guess when you reach that age, you think: Oh hell.  The world might as well know what I really believe.  No sense holding it all in.

I’ve learned that it’s generally easier to listen, letting her talk herself out without revealing much about my own life.  This seems to make her happy.  After a few Rants, she typically transitions to Aches ‘N Pains, then, finally, concludes our conversations with Deaths in the family, some pending, some actualized. Then we’re all good.

Extremely Abbreviated Example: Trump is an asshole, my knees are feeling a little better with the physical therapy, and Great Uncle Alloys flatlined last Tuesday.

So when I picked up the phone, I steeled myself for some totally R.A.D. monologuing on the other end.

But this night, she surprised me.  She does that sometimes.  (This is why I keep her around.)

I was sorting through old boxes and came upon a whole bunch of your stuff from college.  Do you want it?

Not really, I said.  That was an awfully long time ago.

Oh, well — I just thought you might.  I went through it and some of it’s neat.

Oh yeah?  Like what?

Papers, mostly.  History papers, a couple from theology, and a large stack from your English classes.

It’s probably time to drop it all into the recycle bin.

I think you should read them.  You know, it’s good for older people to remember who they were when they were younger, sometimes.  I keep all my stuff from back when I was in nursing school myself. Exams, class photos, nice notes from a patient.  

Mom, I know you’re just trying to be thoughtful but we don’t have the space.  It’s not as though we live in a full sized home anymore — we’re in an apartment.  Plus, on a like ideological-type level you know I don’t believe in having a lot of junk around.

This isn’t *JUNK*, Doom. This is part of your history! Stop being so practical.  You know when you were younger you weren’t this rigid. Sometimes I think I liked you better back then. You were a lot sweeter.

Okay, okay.  There’s no need for the personal attacks.  Just drop it all off the next time you come visit.  I’ll take a peek.

And when’s that going to be?  I haven’t seen you in a week!

Tomorrow.  You can come tomorrow, all right?  I’ll check with [Mrs._Doom’s_Name] and let you know if it’s not OK.  Like usual:  No news is good news.  See you soon.

Great.  Love you very much Doomie.

Love you too, mom.

The next day, my mom came over and I found myself sorting through things that I barely remember, papers that have long since ceased to take up storage space in my brain, the contents completely zeroed out.  I skimmed part of an essay I wrote about modernity, and it was like reading something written by a stranger, a dusky silhouette of myself set so far in the past that it was impossible to properly illuminate him.

Buried in the pile was a copy of my college transcript, still sealed.


I broke it, examining the list of courses I’d taken over my four years.


Ahh, dot-matrix printouts. This particular sheet was run several times through the printer, once per semester. You can tell from the inconsistent section angling of text.

My mom leaned in next to me.

See, she said with a triumphant grin on her face.  I told you that you’d be curious!  

Okay, okay — no need to get too excited, mom.  It’s just a transcript.  I know it sounds crazy, but I’ve heard that they’re issued to people who attend schools.

I immediately noticed my C in General Chem Lab II.  And the accompanying B in Chemistry II.  I wondered aloud why I didn’t do better.

That’s the trouble with you, Doomie.  You’re just like your dad.  All you care about is performance.  I never cared how you did.  I cared about how happy you were.  I remember you didn’t like chemistry much.

How about my major, then?  How about Computer Science — what did I think of that?

You liked it okay.  I remember you showed me a video game you made that was like Pac-Man that took you two straight weeks to make.  I was proud of you for sticking with it.   You said it gave you a lot of trouble.

Now this thing I remembered just fine.  I’d ported an old Macintosh game called Happy Weed to Java to satisfy an end-of-semester large project requirement.  You play an anthropomorphized cannabis leaf, running around a maze picking up various types of drugs (instead of dots), all the while avoiding cops (rather than ghosts).  I thought it would be a noble goal to get this sucker running on any hardware that could launch a java virtual machine so practically everyone could enjoy this absurd waste of human talent.  The Java slogan is write once, run anywhere.  I was determined to change that to write once, get high anywhere.


I’m very lucky that my professor had a good sense of humor about all of this.  Also, I feel obligated to state that a) I do not condone drug use and b) I do not do drugs.  

Even though you liked computer science, you know what I think you enjoyed most?

No, what, mom?

Writing.  You always did.

That’s not true.  This is something you’ve made up, a fantasy of yours. You wanted me to be artsy or something because you never appreciated the sciences.

It is SO true.  Here, read this paper you wrote for your writing seminar class.

Not right now, mom.  I’m not in the mood for this.

Fine, fine.  But I remember when you first got that paper back, you called me and read your teacher’s comments aloud over the phone.  You were more excited than I’d ever heard you.

More excited than that time I told you I’d successfully overclocked my 486 DX chip by a factor of 3?

I don’t even know what you’re talking about, sweetie.

Okay.  I’ll just have to take your word for it.

So we had that meal. My mom used the opportunity to give us that R.A.D. update that she’d been holding back for at least a couple of days.  While she was going on like this (and my wife was doing her best to be polite and attentive), I involuntarily tuned out the present.

And in my space-cadet mental cocoon, what I found myself thinking about was why most older people look back so fondly on college.

It has a lot to do with variety, creativity, and identity.

I conjured up a vision of a fictional transcript of my working life.  And instead of looking much like the document my college provided to me — that sucker had theater and chemistry on the very same page — this one looked pretty homogeneous, flavors of the same thing repeated far past the borders.


It kind of hurts to look at this.


And all of the training and certifications I’d received after graduation were all concentrated in this narrow silo of knowledge known as software engineering and infrastructure. No doubt about it:  I became an expert in my field, but at what cost?

No one was challenging me to learn anything other than subjects that related directly to my job.  At a liberal arts college, the admissions people will give you a line about cultivating the whole person, which is why they have core classes.  They want every graduating student to know something of history, the arts, sciences, and philosophy.

Your company?  Not so much.  They want you to keep learning insofar as it helps you stay current and successful in your job function.  No more, no less.  They encourage this kind of unbalanced growth, where part of your brain becomes very specialized at doing whatever it is you do, while the rest atrophies into a glob of mush.

And many people find the lack of variety suffocating after some number of years.  We sleepwalk through days.  We find things are easier at work after a time.  Boring, even.  Our jobs can be stressful due to pace or political pressures but simultaneously retain this fundamental quality of dullness because, well, after a while we’ve seen basically everything, solved similar problems with a slightly different twist, worked closely with all of the different personality types in our field.  We’re not challenged anymore.  It can be difficult to stay awake.

It is precisely at this point — the point at which we are experts and things come easily to us but we are growing tired of the sameness — that capitalism steps in and Ultra-Rewards us for our tenacity, seniority, and specialization.  In most industries, gurus get paid.  They are promoted to Uber-Mega-Principal-Backline engineering and architecture positions. Or other leadership roles — manager, director, vice president. Lawyers suddenly see partner — and the insane income that comes along with it — is within shouting distance.  In medicine, doctors purchase a share in a lucrative practice.  A torrent of benjamins flood your bank account on a bi-weekly basis.

You now feel a multitude of external pressures to keep doing what you’re doing. You also find that your status is increasing – you’ve got a better title and probably a nicer car and a larger home.  You go vacationing all over the place and love talking about your experiences when you see other people.  You become less concerned about how satisfied you are professionally. Because hey anyway work is work and everyone has to deal with it and do you really have it so bad?

Nossir, you do not.

At this point you are making a transition from questioning what you are doing with your life to just doing the work.  You think about work a great deal of the time, and learn how to enjoy your time off for what it is — a break, an opportunity to recharge — and that’s fucking that.  You’re no longer conflicted.  You’ve accepted the rewards that work has to offer and come to terms with the shortcomings.

Then I realized:  Most people no longer really want to go back to that college state of being challenged and unsure of the future or their identities, even though those years of uncertainty, intense questioning, and social exploration remain some of your most fondly remembered years. Because that shit was hard, actually.  Harder than cruising through your profession, where you already know what to do, how to do it, and how often it needs to be done.

What you really miss is the excitement and challenge.  Obvious:  Those things spice life up.  But you want those things to come without any risk or fear whatsoever.  The thing is, you can’t decouple the two features.  A large part of why college is intense and challenging is precisely because of the risk — the unknown, the looming possibility of failure, the hazy clouds settled firmly over your future.

In your current state, as a twenty or thirty or forty something professional, you’re not always happy, but neither are you unhappy. And you’ve internalized the profound benefits that this situation has on your life; you feel safe and secure.  So what if you’re bored or frustrated a great deal of the time?

You’re not alone.  This is the typical progression for white collar workers.  I’m not guessing here.  I recently finished reading Stud’s Terkel’s Working,  in which the author interviews dozens of people with all sorts of different professions.  These themes are depressingly common. Very few people are called into a profession.  Most of us stumble into one and find we can manage all right, and goddamn, we need the money, so we trade our time for temporary financial stability, paycheck after paycheck, despite a growing sense of malaise that’s hard to pinpoint as the years pass.

Because you know that things weren’t always like this in your life. Back in school, your schedule changed every four months.  You had different courses.  Different teachers, different classmates. You were constantly meeting new people and being asked to perform in different ways.

I remember the feeling of excitement that filled me every time I collected supplies for the new sessions.  I’d walk around the bookstore and find the required texts for my classes, wondering all the while.  Wondering if I was prepared enough, if I’d enjoy the coursework, what the professor would be like.  Wondering if I’d already know someone or would need to put myself out there and make some new friends.

This excitement virtually disappeared after a few years in my field.  The first four or five years, absolutely, I occasionally became tweaked and ‘into’ some new technology — single sign on infrastructure solutions and performance profiling agents and RESTful APIs.

But within a few short years, I found it all tedious.  The majority of so-called new technologies are actually a rehash or repackaging of older stuff. Yes, including the mystical cloud, which is, in reality, Just Another Datacenter.  Sorry.  These things are definitely not new.

Now that I’ve fixed the so-called money problem in my life, though, by becoming FI, I can return to that state of flexibility and creativity, if I so choose. (This is one of the main reasons people want to achieve FI, actually — it isn’t that they hate their jobs. They just can’t see doing the same thing for the rest of their lives.)

But returning to that state is easier said than done because you probably feel a lot more safe continuing to do whatever it is you’re doing.  I should know — I’m speaking for myself here.  I’m no longer pushed from both inside and out, told by my parents that I’ve got to find some way to make it through the world, ordered by our culture to discover my purpose with a capital P within the next four years, told by myself that if I don’t learn skills that allow me to make bank that I’m a worthless husk of a human being.

Back then, your very survival was at stake.

If you’re FI, not so much.  You may remain interested in exploring new subjects and areas of life, but at the same time, you probably don’t have the same do-it-or-die-tryin’ stubbornness backing up that interest.

Once the urgency is gone, it’s much easier to say screw this and not do anything at all.

On Creativity

People are, at their cores, creative beings.  We want to shake things up.

And this drive isn’t limited to the things people most people associate with creativity: Drawing, painting, composing, performing, writing and so on.

It manifests in a variety of other ways.  Some of us like to build structures.  Others invent new things by taking old stuff apart, analyzing the inner workings, and then making improvements — or combining two things that hadn’t previously been combined.

We can be creative by growing things, by altering the earth underneath us, terraforming, encouraging new life to take root in the plots and fields.

We have children and attempt to shape their personalities, values, and ideals.

We all seem to find outlets.  Without the expression of our creativity, most of us feel bottled up.

Scientists like to argue their creative superiority.  What we discover benefits all of humankind!  We are the ultimate forces in this game.  We alter the very foundations of culture and thought.  Without us, there’d probably still only be 100,000 people alive, and we’d all be living short, brutish lives in or around Africa.

Artists respond:  Maybe so.  But you don’t understand the human heart.  And the more you alter the natural state of the world, the more you synthesize our existences, the more the world needs us.  We help people return to their emotional roots and derive some satisfaction from the sphere of blackened industry that you’ve turned the Earth into. We speak to the soul.

I see both sides.  And what I think is most interesting is that many of the so-called Rational Creatives — the scientists, the programmers, your IT geeks, your EEs and MEs and Chem-Es and your accountants (yes, we all know they can be creative too, see:  Corporate Inversions) — Well, I think many of them went into their fields and wound up sublimating their more natural artistic creative drives directly into rational professions because hey, it’s much easier to make a living that way.

I suspect a decent percentage of them didn’t originally want to do <sciency-thing> at all.

External Control Over Creativity

Last Saturday I watched my nephews, roughly aged 9 and 11, fuck around all day.  It went like this.

8:00 AM:  Blew bubbles in milk via straw in an attempt to delay the consumption of Eggs N’ Toast.

9:00 AM:  Played an online game called where you control a planet-eating-planet, harnessing the incredible twin powers of Gravity and Mass to become the largest entity in the galaxy.  During this period of time, my nephews learned how to team up to absorb the planet I was controlling, adding my my own mass to theirs. Death to Doom, Every Single Time.

9:45 AM:  Drawing.  The most important sketch to come out of this session was a sloppily constructed rendering of me suspended in midair by two young boys who can fly.  These two dudes — and of course we have no idea who they are, they could be anybody, really — are planning to drop me into a lake to see if I will live.


11:00 AM:  Walked through a graveyard located across the street.  Commented on how probably lots of zombies were about to rise from the earth to consume us and how we might need to sacrifice one of us to the horde — probably the adult, because our old-assed lives are not worth much — so that the others could escape.

1:00 PM:  Wrote portions of short stories and passed them around.  The older nephew typed a paragraph to start, and I continued the story with another paragraph, and so on.  We ended up creating a spectacular tale of a mind-reading cat that wanted to destroy all of humankind — starting with me, of course —  but was so distracted by a persistent need to lick his butthole that he never could take action on his dreams. (At this point I could no longer ignore the repeated themes. These boys want me dead. Like, not as a joke.  They really do.  Please send help.)

3:00 PM:  Lego time.  One of the two boys unfolded a set of pictorial instructions and built a motorcycle.  The other went in his own direction, ending up with a giant multicolored paperweight.  At first I thought this was a positive development, as I’d made it through this activity with zero no references to my death. Then he declared “I made this to brain you with.  I think it’s big enough to take you out, don’t you?”  Sigh. Yeah, kiddo.  It sure is.

You see a pattern here?  Hint:  The pattern is that there’s no pattern.  They do what they want to do, and they’re pretty happy with this arrangement. There are few external controls — I mean, I might have stopped them from, say, wanting to drill holes in the walls just for the fun of it, but for the most part, they can make their own choices regarding what to do with that natural underlying drive to play.  They are creative, they create.  No one tells them what is OK or not OK to do with that energy.

But as we get older, we find society puts guardrails on our creativity.  You are still allowed be creative, but only within strict controls.

Business needs creative people, though.  Creative people manufacture all of the images that you see online, in ads, in movies, in video games, everywhere, from the stock photos of people trying to sell you dental cream on sidebars to the Coors Light train that barrels through the Rocky Mountains delivering liquid joy to the hot twentysomethings paid to cover the slopes.

The modern world does not allow artists to do what they want — to be truly creative. Instead your creativity is squeezed out of you into a very specific direction.  It is the direction of making money.

If you do not like this and want to forge a path on your own, society has established the punishment for all but a very few of us:  Poverty.

If you are a musician, then, you are no longer writing your own songs.  No, the song you are creating must be about cars.  Specifically, it must be about the Nissan Altima. Or you’re composing for some murder-based television program which demands the same theme, over and over again, dark-and-ominous, then a little more dark-and-ominous, and oh yes, this scene — another murder or dismemberment — well this probably requires dark-and-ominous background music, too.

If you are a computer graphics artist, you’re no longer making your own characters. Instead, you are animating a little green geico gekko that someone else originally created. You make his lips move to frame the sequence of words “save fifteen percent.”  It’s so cute, is what you tell people in the office.

You pretend all day that you find this to be an absolutely terrific use of your time, then you go home and grab a bottle of Wild Turkey and cast Obliviate, Hermoine Granger-style, except on yourself instead of your parents.

Because memories:  Don’t want these anymore.


Yes, Catelyn Stark really is Hermoine Granger’s mom.

In my own career — even though it’s science-y — we tell ourselves similar lies.  This programming job is fulfilling in a creative way.

As Jonathan Coulton sings in Code Monkeythis is a load of crap.  (He’s a neat guy, an ex-programmer turned songwriter because he couldn’t stand his job, and wanted to harness his inner creative badass to do genuinely fun things instead of writing web pages for a company.)

The controls stifle and restrict us. We learn business frameworks and manufacture within the boundaries of what is required to make our company more money than what they are paying us so that they can profit off of our efforts.  We produce on the company’s terms.  What they want.  When they want it.

An example of what we do not produce: HappyWeed.

This is, I believe, why most of us feel flat so often at work.  We are these massively inventive creatures, and yet all we are allowed to do and invent each day is dictated by others.  We get blueprints — specs, i.e. requirements — and fill in the blanks, like filling empty spaces in paint-by-number outlines.  If you are great at what you do, someday you are invited to make the stencils for other painters to blot in.  If not, you may be invited instead to set quotas and give orders to the peons with the brushes and ink, because hey, you don’t have to be good at painting to do that.  (You don’t have to be good at much at all.)

Worse, if we are doing paint-by-numbers as a profession, we are no longer allowed to write essays or design an entirely new type of continent-hopping rollercoaster or make the world’s first ever Purse-Hat combo, the multipurpose Hurse, not to be confused with the type of vehicle that will carry me to my final destination once my nephews follow through and finish the job of ending my life.   It’s official.  You are pigeon-holed.

Somewhere along the way in the development of our society, the quote serious people amongst us decided that the best use of our creativity is in the name of production.  And, in most cases, production for a company.  Our creativity is sublimated into new iPhone apps and how to circumvent those pesky EPA laws and, most importantly — always most importantly! — to sell people products they don’t need.

The only way we — and I mean the collective we, the Western World we, the serious adult we — value creativity is, apparently, if we’re getting paid for our efforts.

And we certainly don’t pay others for the same.

Why do that when you can buy a new tablet instead?

By the time I’ve finished this fantastic voyage into human proclivities and the modern day restrictions imposed on them, dinner’s over.  I’ve returned from that brain-warp state that we sometimes fall into when we’re with other people but lost in our thoughts.

It feels like I’m waking up.  My mom’s talking and I’m tuning in again.

Doomie, don’t just think I’m going to let it go.  Read that paper I wanted you to read from your writing seminar class.  There are a couple of others, but read that one first.

I absorb the text on the couch while my wife cleans up the kitchen.  (I’d offered to do it but she was insistent:  Do what your mom wants, dude. She came down here to see you.)

On the surface, it appears I’m reading fiction, but as I get into it, I recognize that it’s really a thinly veiled autobiographical story about my experience playing baseball in my early teens.  I had a miserable time — I’m uncoordinated and have bad reflexes and I was ribbed constantly, mostly for my batting average, which was a total o-fer, a .three-egged .000 line even at the very end of the season, not a single, solitary hit to nudge that line of zeroes off the mat — but it’s about more than that.  It’s about how, despite the overall shittiness of it all, I enjoyed having the excuse to not be home with my parents, who were in the middle of a divorce and fighting all the time.

There was red ink all over the place from where my professor penned her comments.

open, honest

great observation

tremendous flow

is it absolutely necessary to swear here?  (Fuck yes it was.)

style reminds me of Dahl’s adult fiction, raw but controlled

skillful combination of themes

And at the end, a few sentences, all in a row.

Doom, I don’t know if you’re aware of it, but there’s talent here.  You should nurture it.  I hope your major is  English.  You need to write.  

I read it.  Then I read it again.

Then I remembered.

I remembered the joy of writing whatever I wanted back then. The possibility of it all. The incredibly satisfying feeling of getting the right sequence of words in place to convey a thought.

And then I remembered my Dad.

I was seventeen when my Dad told me that I shouldn’t write.

I’d been working through the college application process in the beginning on my senior year.

Part of this process involved selecting a major.

I talked it over with him. And it had come down to a battle between English, Computer Science, and Math.

Go into science and engineering. You won’t make a dime in anything else.  Life will be hard.

I don’t know if I’ve come right out and said it in this blog — I’m not sure why I would have, given that this is ostensibly a place to talk about the intersection of work and finance — but my Dad is kind of a dick.  At the very least, he has a lot of dick-like qualities.  (I should know.  Many of them are now a part of me.)

And on this subject, he knew a little something.

I wanted to teach English myself.  I loved it.  Wanted to live on a farm and work outside and read in the summers, then teach kids in the winters.  Maybe write a book.  In my twenties, that was my dream.

Let me tell you: There are no jobs. Even if you’re lucky enough to get one, they don’t pay enough. Then, if by some miracle you find a way to make the money work, the day to day isn’t what you think it is. It’s not fun and exciting and exploratory every day. It’s drudgery like anything else after a while. I know that life seems romantic now, but when you’re living it, it’s just hard. I should know, I tried it, and I have nothing but regrets.

I didn’t get on track career-wise until my early thirties.  Your mom and I wanted to have you kids and we needed money, so I wised up.  Got a vocational degree so I could be a mechanical draftsman with Sikorsky Aircraft.

You may look at me and say my work is boring.

But I look at it different. I see work that supported my family. I see that I did something that helped America.  Do you know I had a huge role in redesigning major parts of the Blackhawk helicopter?  I’m very proud of that work.  Engineers are comparatively rare.  They’re valued and respected. Hack artists, people who want to write screenplays and stories — a dime a dozen.  Go into any advertising agency or newspaper office and ask how many of the employees are secretly working on their own novel.  They all are.  You’ll be competing with that.  Good fucking luck.

I read some of your papers over the years.  You’re okay, doom, you’re all right, but you’re nothing special.  I’m not saying this to be cruel, but it is true.  You don’t have any genuine talent. You’ll end up repeating my story, most likely, unless you come around.

I’m trying to save you that pain.  Working an engineering job is a decent way to live that didn’t hurt too much and kept me busy and out of trouble.

And I wish I made that choice earlier.  My life would be a lot better now.  I shouldn’t have waited until I was so old to make the mature decision.

Don’t wait, Doom.  Don’t make the same mistake I did.  You’ll have a lot more to overcome later in life.

I could hear his voice in my head, sitting on my couch with my mom.  It was like someone had pulled an old cassette tape off the bottom shelf of a rack in my brain, something that sat there, lost for two decades, then threw it in a boombox and pressed play with the volume jacked.  My body hummed.

Then another memory, another audio track, nested within the first.  It was my Dad again, this time yelling at me for reading fiction instead of going outside to play like so-called normal boys did.  why can’t you do what everyone else your age does?  why are you always cooped up inside with a book?

I remembered showing him this exact paper my sophomore year of college.  Proof that someone believed in me after all.  Proof that I could maybe do it.  I told him I was considering switching majors.

In response, he threatened to stop contributing to my college education.  I stayed the course.

I shuddered and my stomach wrenched.  It felt full of snakes, some of which were trying to crawl up my throat.  I heard a sound come out of me, something between a gag and a snort, and then shut my mouth tight, hoping whatever was happening to me would be over soon.

It’s really no wonder I’d been suppressing all of this.

My mom was trying to give me another paper to look at when I broke and did what grown-assed men are not supposed to do.  Something wet streamed down my face as I struggled for control.  I tried to look away, looking down, looking anywhere, trying not to puke up whatever was writhing around inside of me.

In the background I could hear my mom’s voice asking me if I was all right but she seemed very far away.  Then suddenly I felt someone else sitting down next to me, a warm arm across my back, fingers wrapped around my shoulder.  The paper left my hands, my stomach stopped wriggling, and I breathed.

And we sat there, the three of us on the couch, together.

It wasn’t awkward.  I don’t know what it was.  It was the opposite of my working life. In business you’re supposed to never feel anything.  You’re supposed to be an automoton, a fucking robot, at turns stoic and rational and good-natured no matter what the cost, always with the needs of the company at the forefront of your consciousness.

You’re supposed to pretend you’ve seen everything, felt everything this world has to offer you.  You’re supposed to pretend you are the master of everything, the one who’s practical and has it all figured out.  You have crushed your inner child, stomped on his ideals, fed that useless shit to the sharks.  Now that you are older, you are realistic.  You are pragmatic. You do what needs to be done.  And this attitude is a huge improvement over the wide-eyed, stupidly naive previous version of yourself.  You’ve become cold and cynical.  There’s a great deal of power and money available to the most hardened among us.

But this stoniness is all a grand act, staged by people who are playing out their idea of what adults should be.

I contend that deep inside, we’re all much squishier than we let on.  Somewhere down there, we’re all still feeling something, still dreaming.

God knows I am, anyway.

My mom wouldn’t let me completely calm down before speaking her mind.  That’s just the way she is, thoughts ejected without delay.

I know you’re not working anymore, Doomie.

Despite everything that was happening internally, this registered immediately.  I never wanted my mom to know that I’d retired.  She’s lousy with money.  I’d given her loans in the past and had not been repaid.  In my head, she was a risk.

What the fuck? How do you know?

Don’t swear around me, you know I don’t like that.  Nobody does.  Even your old professor said it.

Right, right, sorry.

It’s obvious. You sold your fancy house.  You have a lot of extra time, you see me more often. You’re a lot more relaxed. And you don’t spend money on anything.  I read the papers, I know what the googles make.  

Why didn’t you say something before today?

Well, I just wasn’t sure how to approach it or why you weren’t telling me.  And it doesn’t matter.  What I think is:  Good for you!  

I was surprised.  I genuinely thought it’d be a horrible thing if my mom knew.  I thought she’d ask for handouts.  She was proving me wrong.

Anyway I came over here tonight just because I thought you might need things to do with all of your time and I remembered that you liked writing.  That transcript, you know, colleges don’t just give them out.  I recalled you asked your school for one because you were thinking about doing something else besides programming or whatever it is that you do.  You thought you might go back to school for something else.  That’s all.

I didn’t remember that either, and I certainly didn’t know what to say.

Luckily my wife chimed in and told us there was still a lot of cleanup left to be done from dinner, and could we all pitch in?

Turned out, we could.

The Use Of It


I used to architect and maintain the full stack of multi-tiered infrastructure solutions running on a variety of software offerings to support derivative trading. And derivative trading is…. ahh…  nevermind.  I’m already way off the right side of that chart.

It’s been a few days since this whole mess.  And what I keep wondering about is meaning and purpose.  Do I really think it’s my purpose to write?

These concepts have real weight and tangible heft.  I find they make me uncomfortable because I don’t believe that it’s anyone’s purpose to do anything at all.

Most of my adult life, I’ve judged human activity by its fundamental usefulness.  I found my job lacking because so much of the things I was tasked to do were seemingly without any real benefit to anyone.  They failed to provide me joy or satisfaction or did anything to improve my personal well being.  

And even at a higher level, I couldn’t see that they were doing much for aggregate human happiness. See: paperwork, networking, etc.  See: The fact that the majority of software which is created is not used at all due to irrelevance or better options from the competition.  Or superfluous features.  Or <insert_other_reason_here>.  These facts render valueless the professional contributions of the majority of software developers to the world.  So many hours and professional lives wasted — it boggles the mind. And this is just my field.

I couldn’t convince myself that what I was doing mattered.  (What is the point of all of this?  I really wish someone could tell me.  I simply cannot answer this question.  The only technological innovation of the last 15 years that has meant anything significant to me is GPS, because being lost sucks.)

When I apply the usefulness rule to writing, the serious adult that lives in my mind declares this activity to be pretty dumb, too.  No one reads anymore!  You have nothing important to say! And even if you manage to say something interesting, someone else is probably saying it better!  There are no winning scenarios in this game!

And yet, there’s a conflict. Despite it all, I wonder if I might find writing to be of value.  If maybe there’s a way to make the act matter again.  I haven’t valued writing in a long, long time.

Since then I’ve wondered more than a few times how much different my life might have been if I didn’t listen to my father– if I’d followed my gut instead of going with my Dad’s suggestion to declare for Comp.Sci.

Would I have found some success in the field?  Or would I have lived out the mistakes and fears of my father: Would I be 38 and broke instead of done with work?

I’ve firmly decided give it a shot, though.  I can’t (won’t!) ignore my old dreams, now that they’ve resurfaced.

Don’t get me wrong.  I don’t consider this to be like a total epiphany, like awakening to a newfound sense of full-on purpose or anything similarly profound.  I doubt it’ll even change my life all that much.

But I have to admit it’s something.

It’s definitely something.

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98 Responses to Definitely Not Purpose

  1. Marianne says:

    This is a wonderful post, full of humanity. I feel that there is something to be said about being part of progress…things aren’t often manifested from the universe, but more often built incrementally on the mountains for paperwork and progress logged by the unsung.
    With that said, I’ve printed off the diagram you posted and taped it to my desk by my phone. I’m off to compile my 2015 net worth/spending digest to present to my husband and set the tone for 2016. Because, holy sh*t, I am DONE with incremental progress!
    Thank you.

  2. RootofGood says:

    Well, congrats to finding something slightly more purposeful than Fing around all day! 🙂

    I’m still looking for that and haven’t found much other than raising our kids so they can find their own purpose one day.

    There’s something about your writing that struck me. When you were just Qtrain back at the MMM forums I said “wow, this guy’s got a knack for writing. I might like to read more from him”. That doesn’t happen very often.

    Maybe you’ll be the next Studs Terkel or John Steinbeck. Any plans to go back to school and get a Masters in writing of some sort? A friend did that at NYU and said it was complete BS (who needs BS when you already have a BA in English?) and a waste of time and money. He’s in marketing for private equity and hedge funds now because he didn’t want to starve forever. 😉

    • Doug Nordman says:

      Hey, clearly Doom already has readers, so he must already be a writer!

      Going back to school… almost any school… would surely crush those aspirations under a pile of paper-submission deadlines. And he might develop a strange compulsion to snark off to professors who are younger and less experienced than he is.

      Or so I’ve heard.

    • livafi says:

      I don’t think I’ll go back to school. My plan is to join a like-minded writing group. I’m researching this weekend. I’ve heard a lot of people say there’s really no need to get additional “official” education if you want to be a writer. Success ends up being determined by the marketplace (readers) — not your credentials.

  3. Jeff says:

    I’d give you an A+ for this one.

  4. Deb B. says:

    Awesome post.

  5. Pamela says:

    If this means more writing from you then that is good, good, good!!!

  6. notbusygal says:

    If this piece is any indication, you do have a genuine talent for writing! I’ll be sad, like many others, to see this blog go for that reason.

  7. Mars Hars says:

    I found this to be very moving. Your Dad was right, even if dickish. Following his advice has given you a rare opportunity to create without financial pressure or second thoughts. Which you already BTW appear to be doing. Good luck!

  8. Sara says:

    Doom, I figure I am about 6 months behind you in all this. It is fabulous to know what is coming! Thanks so much for sharing your journey. It helps to know I am not the only one thinking this way.

  9. Adam says:

    I’m sure the comments on this post are about to blow up with similar accolades, but I continue to enjoy the hell out of your writing. I was actually reading some of your older posts earlier today and when I got an email indicating you had a new one, I was straight-up stoked. This post, in particular, was simply captivating! I know you’re not fishing for compliments here; I want to make that clear. I just really do think yours is one of the best blogs out there. From the detailed, analytics and logistics of the drawdown series, to the enthralling drama (too far?) of the Job Experience posts, I can’t get enough. Thank you for sharing this somewhat poignant, yet inspiring story with us.

    • livafi says:

      >> I know you’re not fishing for compliments here; I want to make that clear.
      I’m not? jk, of course I am not. I wanted to share what it feels like to reconnect with a part of who you were in the past, while also exploring how I felt about taking the ‘sensible’ path. (Which is, for the record, “mixed, but mostly good.”)

  10. Michael says:

    Absolutely fantastic blog. I got teary eyed when I read about the comments on your essay. That hasn’t happened to me since I read that Dumbledore died in 2005. Apparently mom is still worth listening to!

    We can never know what would have happened if you pursued English as a major in college. What I do know is that after binge reading your entire blog last month, I am wholly satisfied with the writer you turned out to be. Maybe you would have written the Great American Novel if you majored in English, or maybe your dad would have been proven right. Probably something in between these two possibilities would have happened. I don’t really care. I’m just glad (selfishly) that you were able to have the totally common experience of working in some of the cubicles, offices, and tech hubs of the world.

    Using this experience, you’ve been able to write engagingly and honestly about something relatively new: being an office drone. I think this is an incredibly valuable skill. Your unique perspective on office life, how office life affects Life Outside of the Office, and how having these two lives affects you psychologically and emotionally really resonates with me. Your ability convey this perspective accurately through writing is doing the world (me) a whole lot of good. It seems to me that all this must means you must be INCREDIBLY good at introspection! I laughed when you brought up the fact that you had “repressed” your desire to be a writer in college because your dad was “kind of a dick.” Maybe you had to repress yourself early in life to create the experiences that led you to being fantastic at the introspection that led you towards FIRE? That’s getting a bit deep… I’m not a psycholologist. What do you think about you introspection abilities?

    Thank you for writing. If you ever write a book, I’ll be right there reading it/recommending it to my friends. Also, the “Hurse” was funny as fuck.

    • livafi says:

      Apologies for jerking the tears. Damn, I still get sad thinking about the first time I read that Dumbledore — whom my wife affectionately calls “Dumbly-Dore” — died.

      >> Your unique perspective on office life, how office life affects Life Outside of the Office, and how having these two lives affects you psychologically and emotionally really resonates with me.

      I was reading some NYT article yesterday about team dynamics and how some teams are more productive than others. (The research is being done by google.) One of the main points toward the end of the article was that teams who “open up” to one another — teams who share personal details about their lives, like health issues and concerns about children etc — are more productive. Sharing the intimate details makes them more like family, and families are more willing to work well together, to compromise, to value each others’ opinions. So google is now promoting these sorts of closer-knit teams in an effort to improve communication and increase productivity.

      It scares me to think that there may come a day where there is essentially no life outside the office. The office will be everyone’s family. (I wrote about this a little in one of my leaving work posts — my cloying manager told me that he felt like he was losing a family member when I quit. I know he meant well but even so, it triggered a reaction of disgust.)

      At any rate, maybe at some point in the future there will be absolutely no need to separate the two (work and family.) Maybe that will solve the disconnect I felt throughout my career, a disconnect which a surprising number of readers relate to. it seems to be where things are heading generally speaking: Continuous reductions in privacy, autonomy, creativity, and freedom, made in the name of money, security, productivity, and stability.

  11. Lucky Girl says:

    All great writing has something that many people can relate to–it references the human condition. And you do it again here. Seeking purpose is I think a key part of the FIRE process not discussed in all the math/finance heavy posts.

    I am wondering how you are processing you’re Dad’s very forceful advice at this point, because as a parent it is something I consider. You were able to put yourself in your current position because you went the computer science route. Which means you can now go back to the writing, and not worry if it pays any money.

    I never had a significant passion, but I did ignore the “become an engineer” advice–perhaps only because my parents chose not to lay down an ultimatum. And I have often wished I hadn’t. I eventually was able to rise to a good salary, but it has been a much longer road. Without a spouse in a STEM field I would not be FI any time soon.

    I hope to teach my kids to do both–get an education that will provide a strong career path, and continue to pursue passions outside it. Then, once they are FI, they can just continue with the passions and drop the work.

    • livafi says:

      >>I am wondering how you are processing you’re Dad’s very forceful advice at this point, because as a parent it is something I consider.

      I think it was good advice, and certainly well-intentioned. I am not going to live my life with regrets — The truth is that I could have switched majors even after he threatened to pull funding. He guided me, sure, but ultimately I agreed to be guided. I think as long as you allow your children the authority to choose their own path there is nothing wrong with being very firm and clear with your own advice. You are doing what parents do — using your experiences to help your children make informed decisions.

      The things he said to me are ultimately true. The artist’s path is a difficult one. It’s impossible for me to be mad at him for telling it like it is — for sharing his experiences and thoughts and trying to do what he believed was best for me. I don’t blame him at all for any of this.

      And I find I am in a great spot now. I am safe and secure — as is my family. This is a pretty terrific outcome as far as things go. I can give the writing life a try.

      But I do wonder if my best energy was given to corporate America. I wonder what the energy and urgency I felt in my 20s and early 30s might have produced had I taken the alternate path. That’s part of what I was trying to get at, even though I didn’t directly state it: The urgency is gone, and undoubtedly affects creative output. Dumas wrote like a madman because he was constantly broke — no doubt the need of money fueled the flow of words.

  12. ForestBound says:

    Of course you are a writer, why do you think we all read this?

    FYI, an graphic designer here. You nailed it with the Geico part. My “college paper” is a drawing from 8th grade. The teacher made a point to let me and others know how good I was at art. Now I just animate other people’s gekkos. My unwritten tagline for my business, “You want fries with that?” I’m working on getting out, and finding inspiration from you and others. Keep writing, maybe in long form?

  13. InvestedLife says:

    Beautiful post. Been reading your blog for a while now and I really enjoy your writing. Half of what you wrote made me feel like I was looking in a mirror. CompSci degree, software engineer, suppressed creativity. It felt like looking at my own life a little bit. I hope you keep writing; I’ll surely keep reading.

  14. Pablo says:

    Newsflash! You already are a successful writer, and a damned good one! This 50 year-old enthusiastically awaits each and every post you produce.

  15. Well said. That feeling of being a cog in the wheel… I feel it, my friends feel it, even the creative types making movies in Hollywood… Documentary filmmaking about topics that don’t interest them. Kind of takes away the magic once filling their hearts as aspiring college filmmakers. One day. One day..

  16. Rick says:

    Very enjoyable read Doom! Did you ever think your Dad may have had the gift too – but just didn’t believe in himself enough to follow through? Just a thought.

    • livafi says:

      I’m not sure. He likes to read quite a bit but I’ve never seen him write anything other than emails and post cards, and those are very stiff. He’s not all that sensitive — at least by externally measurable traits.

  17. This post has value. Lots of it. I teared up right along with you. My dad, too, was a dick. And he, too, discouraged a writing career. I tried to be practical about it: I was a journalism major. He talked me into shifting to a business degree. He used the same line on me as your dad used on you: “You’ll never make a living at that.” Maybe he was right. I don’t know. Maybe I’d have been poor and happy. Instead of semi-successful and deeply unhappy (and you said it, bored out of my mind) with my profession. The only silver lining I see: some day soon I will be FI, and I’ll be able to write whatever I want. And not for money, but for the sheer joy of it.

    I am thrilled to hear you will continue writing. I agree with your teacher: you have talent. Through your writing, you connect on a deep level about things that matter. Yours is my favorite FI blog because it digs deeper. It gets to the heart of the matter. You get to the heart of the matter. There is much value in that.

    • livafi says:

      >>Maybe he was right. I don’t know.
      Yeah, this is what it comes down to — the ambiguity. We don’t know. Was my Dad right? Maybe. If you purely focus on statistics, we can change that to “probably.” It’s hard to be poor and happy, though.
      I’m super glad you are planning on writing yourself. Maybe you don’t have to wait. It sounds like you are very aware of your goals even now.

      • I am giving my path short shrift in the sense that law school and practicing law vastly improved my writing. Even if it did muffle my creativity. I think we’re both in a fine position to explore the craft and the pleasure it brings us.

  18. lily says:

    Adding to the chorus…you are quite the writer and I hope you keep it up so I get to keep reading it!

  19. edifi says:

    Amazing how mom knows best, even years later. You ever thought about having her build a get-a-life tree for you?

    • livafi says:

      Hahaha. Mom did know best in this instance, absolutely. Fact: Not once did writing come up on my own tree.

  20. Lou says:

    Echoing the comment above about how exciting it is to see a new post update from you ping into my email. I know it’s going to be long, and always profound and thought-provoking in some way. Much as I loved the scathing comedy of your working life series, and find your finance posts very useful, it’s this post-work series that’s really resonating with me as I try to find a new identity for myself after 15 years as an at-home parent and trailing expat spouse. Do please keep writing.

  21. Mies says:

    Great post! Your dad was pretty harsh, but sadly he was right. I got a fine arts degree and it’s worth about as much as a pitcher of warm piss. I wish I had gone in to engineering or computer science when I was in school. If I had, I’d be a couple of years away from retirement instead of 20.
    The good news is, you can devote your time to writing without stressing about whether it can pay the bills. Go do your thing 🙂

    • Mies says:

      Just to clarify, your dad was not right about you being an average writer. I think you have a gift. Usually after a few paragraphs of most people’s blog posts, I’m done. I don’t even care how the story ends. I powered through every single post here and wasn’t bored at all.

      • livafi says:

        It’s OK, I understood. I do agree with most of what my father said. It remains good advice and I’m reasonably happy with the path taken. It’s natural to wonder, though. Thanks for the warm comment and good luck on your own journey — stay positive. The choices we made in the past seemed like the best decisions at the time they were made. No need to beat yourself up about it!

  22. Juice says:

    Yours is the only blog that I drop everything to go read when there is a new post. Please keep them coming! Parents give lots of advice, it’s part of the job. Generally, they have more wisdom than the 18 year-old. It’s of course debatable if he was “right” but I think your dad had your best interest at heart. He may have also had a bit of selfish motivation, but who can blame a dad for not wanting a 26 year-old jobless college grad living at home again.

    • livafi says:

      >> He may have also had a bit of selfish motivation, but who can blame a dad for not wanting a 26 year-old jobless college grad living at home again.
      This made me laugh, thanks! Trust me, I’m not blaming my Dad for anything. What I feel is more complicated. (Besides, I have other, much more cut-and-dry things to blame him for. And yet, I love the old dude anyway. That’s the way it goes with parents…)

  23. I think Doom is faster than I am. He FIREd at an early age. And he is progressing through making sense out of not working much faster than I am. I’m a little more than 3 years FIRE and just now starting to think about what I want to do with all this time. I’m 43 years old and somehow, I don’t know what makes me happy (but I know it wasn’t Accounting).

    Anyway, I’m thinking part-time work as assistant director for some kind of non-profit. Something that lets me keep my idle time (which I am convinced I value) but also make a difference at something. Not in the way accounting makes a difference (does it?) but in some kind of tangible form. I don’t think I’ve every created anything lasting that you can break with a hammer. It haunts me.

    • edifi says:

      If building something physical sounds attractive, Mad Fientist toyed with Habitat for Humanity for the same reasons.
      Personally, a lot of purpose is found in growth, and growth (and self-discovery) from challenge. There’s not many things that offer the proper blend of positive impact, challenge, and (lack of) stress, but non-profit director is also on my list. I just need to make sure I’m ready to apply a healthy dose of “happiness by subtraction” should the time come.

  24. Clare says:

    Thank you for this–such a thoughtful thing to read after my long day working with America’s youth. Yes, you should keep writing. And do you ever think of working (if only part-time) with kids? I think you’re good w/them.

    p.s. Your parents seem really different from each other.

    • livafi says:

      I do enjoy spending time with kids — even through the rough periods. It’s fascinating to listen to them and try to understand how they see the world, which is always so different from adults.

      You’re right about my parents. I was very glad that they separated. They were hopelessly incompatible. And yet, I have parts of both of them in me — the laid back hippie and the intense rational. Fascinating.

  25. StockBeard says:

    Not sure if this helps, but I’ve pretty much read every single article you’ve posted on this blog and I’ve enjoyed the vast majority of them. There’s definitely value (for me) in your writing.

  26. Shu says:

    I will follow what everyone else said here and say thank you! You are a writer and I’ve enjoyed reading all your posts. As someone who has tried to write blog articles before- it isn’t easy! I fully agree with the idea that paid work just doesn’t allow someone to fully use their creativity and all of their abilities. I used to be in a creative profession and left because of lower pay and that I wasn’t really using my creativity at the end of the day, just satisfying clients. And now that I’m in a higher paying career I still want creativity and the ability to just do stuff I want to when I want to. I guess that’s all why we’re trying to get to FI.

  27. John says:

    Yay! Good for you! I love your writing, and happy to know that more is on the way.

    I feel in many ways like your twin… Bay Area software engineer, very similar work experiences and stresses, FIRE’d last month (good timing, huh?). A wonderful English teacher in high school strongly encouraged me to major in English, but I ultimately chose Comp Sci because it seemed like a solid career. I am lucky to be married to an English professor who teaches creative writing. I’ve always wondered what I could write if I had the time, and now I’ll find out. Exciting!

    Good luck!

  28. DMM says:

    I thought this was your best post, by far, since you quit work. Thanks for sharing your story.

  29. less4success says:

    Not sure if you’ve seen it yet, but this very day Mad Fientist posted that he just applied to become an astronaut at NASA. It’s really encouraging to see you pursuing writing, MF pursuing space, and MMM, well, becoming MMM post-FIRE. I think the world is better as a result.

    • livafi says:

      I did notice MF’s new path. Very glad that he’s charting a new course, hopefully off Planet Earth. 😀 Totally awesome. He’s a very goal driven guy, more so than me, I suspect, so it’s great for him to have a specific objective to focus on.

  30. Paul Jackson says:

    Great post Doom. This is one I’m going to bookmark and read over again at a quiet time.

  31. Markola says:

    I like your blog because, as in this post, you are the only writer I know of who is exploring the reality of daily FI critically, but in a writerly, entertaining way. Some of us progressing far along the path toward FI appreciate more insight into what it is really like – what FI doesn’t change and what new challenges emerge – than to be told to “buy index funds and don’t spend any money”. Personally, I am looking forward to following your discoveries, so thanks.

  32. Tim says:

    Oh bloody hell, that post could have almost been written by me and still be true. Similar story, just a few details are different.

    1) No one told me not to write – They perhaps implied engineering was a solid choice and then I saw the average income stats from writing…it was horrible. I mean the latest numbers for Canada is the average writing makes less than $11k/year from their writing. So I picked the better income potential and also went with chemical engineering.

    2) I kept doing some writing – I always played around with writing as a bit of a hobby. Took some classes or workshops here and there and did a bit of writing now and again, but not much on any consistent basis.

    Then I started my blog back in 2006 and kept writing, eventually I wrote a non-fiction book which I self published back in 2013 and to my utter shock it sold. I mean not bestseller, but I broke even on the entire things which in publishing is hard to do. I even got some good reviews from some people.

    Yet I’m also going for FIRE (in two more years) to give myself more time to write what I REALLY love: fiction. I know it pays horrible, but I love to develop stories and now I’m giving myself permission to do that more. I finished my first draft of a full novel last year and am half way done novel #2. I’m not good yet, but I’m getting better.

    So Doom, I hereby invite you to join the former (or almost former) engineer turned writer club. You didn’t make the wrong choice, you made a choice and now you can be the best writer you can be without worrying about selling out for some income. In some regards you are better off for being FI first and then writing afterward. So bask in the glow of finding something you love and put all your passion into with without holding back. I can’t wait for your first book.

  33. tcast5000 says:

    Doom, You are definitely a very talented writer. There is a reason I always come back to this blog to see if you have posted something new. It’s because your writing is highly readable, very entertaining and you definitely have something to say! To be honest I prefer your blog over many others including MMM, I just can’t relate to that guy. But with your writing I can relate to it because its just so personal. I hope you keep writing, it would be a shame to see this blog go. I cant wait till you release your first book.

  34. Bilgepump says:

    The purpose of life? To eat. To shit. To breed. We’re animals leaving tiny footprints in the dirt. They will be washed away. But you can make a fleeting impact. You can inspire and enlighten. You can touch your fellow animals with the truth. You can make heads nod with your words. Every time I read your writing I find myself drifting away in thought about myself. It takes a long time to get through your stuff because you provoke this mental ricochet, “Why did I become an accountant even though I got a D in Accounting II?” “Why did I waste all that time trying to win awards in advertising?” “I really owe my R.A.D. mom a phone call.” The journey inward concludes and I feel compelled to leave comments. You are the voice of a generation. You are Paul Feig X Mike Judge X Douglass Coupland X Doom. You are always worth reading. Now, I’m up for a little foreshadowing here. So I can’t wait to here how your nephews storm your blog and ultimately bring it to its death.

  35. Cheri says:

    Your mom sounds pretty great.

    And I can relate to your decision to do the ‘practical thing’ with your career. I remember being happiest in school when I was writing or being creative, but I also remember being afraid of being broke all the time. So I stopped looking at the creative writing classes in the course catalog and decided to major in something more practical.

    In the end I’m happy I took the path I did because it brought me to the life I have today and to FIRE at a younger age. But it’s heartening to gradually rediscover the aspects of myself I thought I had let go of. Those pieces of us never really go away, I think. They’re waiting around ready to be rediscovered.

    I’m glad you looked in the box. 🙂

  36. schyenep says:

    Thanks for sharing. I enjoy your writing a lot too. As someone who recently decided to take time off of work, it’s nice to know I’m not alone in what I call “random deep thoughts”.

  37. Mari says:

    2 things. 1) skip a masters and do writing workshops. find like minded writers and found a support group. “writing down the bones” is a godbookto start with. take a writing class at a local community college or community recreation center. find a mentor. apply for writing camps.

    2) the snake feeling in your gut? i have it too. from the times when my parents shoved their emotional shit down my throat when i was just a kid. you want to know how to get it out? therapy, like somatic or EMDR or sensorimotor. that snake feeling is someone important to you disvalidating who you are. you are a writer. it brings you joy. your dad smushed that hope inside of you. he was the opposite of support. writing makes you feel alive. find a liscensed masters in social work trained in somatic theraoy, sensorimotor, or EMDR. it might be a couple weeks or months. get the snake out of your stomach. release the sadness of 15 years of not writing, for not being who you are. you can do this. there are those of us who want to hear you.

    I found the Artists Way, Julie Cameron, helpful in finding my creative heart

  38. ugeauxgirl says:

    You ARE a writer- and you ARE doing a lot of good. When I found this blog (a couple of months ago) I devoured the whole thing. I didn’t even realize why I was so obsessed with it until I got to the therapy part- that’s exactly what was wrong with me. Thanks for saving me whatever that cost- and if you bump into your shrink tell him thanks for me too- (ha). Also it is nice to read that I am not the only one who feels this way- wanting to retire early and living beneath your means is so out of the ordinary that sometimes I think I”M the one who is crazy. So please don’t take the site down- I am going through what you went through a few years ago and your blog is immensely helpful. Also please post about how you talked your wife through this and how she is handling the transition to retirement. My husband is still rolling his eyes at me and I’d like to steal a few more of your ideas- thanks Doom!

  39. When I first found your blog, I went back to the beginning and read literally every post: all the 9-page job descriptions — everything. You’re a hell of a captivating writer and have managed to say something interesting and better spoken than anyone else. I’d pre-order your book, and I don’t buy anything. So please write!

  40. Kevin says:

    Your teacher was correct…. You do have a real talent for writing. Your ability to remember and convey external conversations and your internal motivations and responses to them are amazing. You and I have similar backgrounds, ages, career paths, and views towards the corporate world. When I had conversations with my wife about how I was feeling about the job that I am quite successful at…your articles on your conversation with your psychologist helped her understand in a way that I could not convey. That is something…because being inarticulate is not something with which I generally have a problem. Keep writing… because it is fascinating for us to read… and because the length of your posts already indicate that it is something that you enjoy.

  41. You ARE one heck of a writer, there’s no doubt about that!
    I have read almost all of your posts. Recently I keep referring back to the strategy ones a lot, then I saw there was a new one and ….this one truly captured me in a very different way! Kudos to your Mum for her gentle (ok, not so gentle) nudge to break open that flow!
    I was very touched by this post! Thank you for publishing it, you were probably second guessing a lot about whether or not to push that publish button.

  42. PowerMustache says:

    This has been my favorite blog for a couple of months. I open up a browser here often just to check if there’s a new post, even though I’m on the list to get emails when they come out. I just compulsively check. Like many others commenting, at one point I went back and binge read all of your posts from the beginning, and it was immersive and wonderful and reflected many of my feelings about work and life. Whether or not you decide to continue this blog, whether or not you tell us readers what you decide to write next…thanks for all the writing you’ve done here already.

  43. okits says:

    You nailed the “I’m an expert now” trap perfectly. More money, mostly knowing what to do (even if it sucks), being Kind of a Big Deal in the company. And the dullness that seeps into you. Yeah.

    As others have pointed out, you are already a writer. Your insight, clarity, description, and humour are uncommon. Nice to hear (but not surprising) that you always had it in you.

    A little anecdote for you: DH took a gap year after high school to ponder the artist vs. practical career choice. He went to university for the practical career and did the artist thing on the side. Still doing art part-time allowed him to enjoy it while seeing the price people pay to chase their dreams: smushing your creativity into the tiny box demanded by whoever is signing the paycheques, hustling for the same meagre pay (nominal figures) that artists were getting decades ago for the same work, having to deal with ridiculous people, and the very unglamorous aspects no one ever tells you about when you’re a starry-eyed kid with big dreams. Even established artists had to deal with regular B.S. and drudgery to earn a buck.

    DH tells me he’s glad he went with the practical career. He did eventually tire of the discouraging realities and repetitiveness of his artist life. When child and elder care responsibilities showed up he gave up the artistic stuff (says he doesn’t really miss it) to prioritize more important things. Meanwhile, his practical career (and what he earns from it) has been a huge safety net for everyone (him, me, kid, our parents.) I’m glad you have the opportunity now to write without needing to sell any part of yourself for pay.

    And yay for your mom, exceeding your expectations. 🙂 Now that I’m a parent I truly hope we’re not always as clueless as we seem. 😉

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  45. Huckleberry J. Fitzgerald says:

    fuck you doom now i’m crying

  46. Louis van gaal says:

    Dude, you have a god-giving talent to write and to put your feelings in words in a really elegant way. Don’t think you could become a write, you already are, and a very good one! I regularly f5 this blog just to see if there are any new posts and feel a good amount of joy when this is in fact the case. And it’s not only in the facts you state, but especially in the way you look at things and process data and convert it into personal opinions.

    You separate yourself from blogs like reddit/fire,ERE and MMM in the way you put your feelings and emotions in your posts. As a small example, the piece about you breaking down on the couch after reading that school report from the English teacher totally moved me, and I’m in IT for god sake, that’s a real accomplishment 🙂

    I would be very sad if you quit writing this blog, because you really gave me a lot of direction in my life, just by reading your so-called “blabbling”. On the contrary, I would buy a book about a biography in a heartbeat, so there’s that for financial motivation.

    So god speed (always wanted to quote Armageddon, another live goal accomplished !) on the writing career and thanks for sharing this post with us

  47. LMG says:

    I read all your posts but have never commented before–I just have to say this was a beautiful article. My favorite yet in the FI world.

  48. Adam says:

    You’re an amazing writer. There is definitely big-time talent there IMO. This post was such a joy to read. You’re my favorite FIRE blogger since you combine great writing with great content (like the Drawdown series, Gap Year, Vision of Life w/out Work). So I say keep it up! Even if it’s not this blog.

    You have the luxury now of being a writer on your own terms, which is a huge benefit of being FI. You don’t need to take shitty writing jobs just to pay the bills (like the musician writing car commercials) or deal with the stress/uncertainty of making a living as a freelancer.

  49. This is a beautiful essay with a lot of rich philosophy. Thank you for sharing.

  50. MBo says:

    No BS, this was an incredible post. Pushed all the buttons. I shed a tear or two but who’s counting. Thanks for sharing.

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