A long time ago, I made the decision to not be defined by my job. I was working full time as a web application developer and teaching full time at a technical college. I was putting in around 300 hours a month and getting paid for 180 of them, and I had the epiphany that work was ultimately not the purpose for my life, it was the thing I did to pay for the life I wanted to lead. I had missed too much of my life for work. Years later, I would sum the whole thing up in one of my rants on the old Johnny Incognito web site:
Let’s do a little math, all of which was inspired by my grandfather.
Let’s say you live to be a hundred years old. You die on the day you were born one century before. Forgetting about leap years (because at night figuring out leap years is stupid) that means you’ve lived 36500 days. That’s a good long time.
Just for argument’s sake, let’s just erase the days from the age of 70 as being for most people a time when your body and mind start to deteriorate and you really aren’t living the life we all dream about. We’ll just erase those days and pretend they don’t count, shall we? That leaves us with 25550 days to work with.
And those first 24 years are really years we invest in becoming the person who we’re going to be for the rest of our lives, so let’s cut those ones out of the equation too. That leaves us with 16790 days to work with. Suddenly, that’s not so much.
Now let’s say that we are like most people and work too hard. Lots of times we come home tired, eat some dinner, crash in front of the tube and wait to go to bed. Let’s say we do that four days a week for the remaining years. That leaves us with 7222 days to work with.
Forget yard work. Forget helping a friend move. Forget shopping for vegetables. Forget taxes, dinner with the boss, and dinner at Great Aunt Ruth’s house. You’re down to just 20% of your life to actually enjoy yourself. And you won’t even use that. Chances are that the number of days the average person really enjoys themselves are far less than that.
So what in the screamy blue hell is wrong with us? Why do we spend so much of our life on really unimportant things? Why do we work overtime on a salary, in essence giving our lives away? Why do we invest time in relationships that don’t work? Why do we give our life away by the handful?
When I did that math, it really creeped me out, and it goes along with what I’ve been saying for a while now. Life is too bloody short to just shit away on the unnecessary bits. It’s why I do all the things I do. Life has to mean something, and if we’re ruling 80% of it as being wasted, developmental, or deterioration, that doesn’t leave us with a whole buttload to work with. Work that buttload, baby. Work it for all you’re worth.
Now today I’ve been for a few weeks mulling over my future and trying to get my head around what exactly I want to do and how I’m going to go about doing it. I have plans, but the process of them is daunting. This afternoon I read the following quotation from my friend Jerry Auld‘s book, Hooker & Browne. For the record, it’s a great book about a guy working as a trail guide in Athabasca and trying to come to grips with where his life is heading, and I highly recommend you read it. It even got nominated for the highly prized Boardman Tasker award! I’d give you mine, but Jerry autographed it, so just go order one from his web site. Anyways, the quote:
“See, that’s the power of stories: warriors fight because someone convinces them with a tale. Most people are not motivated by some Valhalla or Elysian Fields anymore, now it’s retirement.”
I’ve got a real problem on my hands. I’m totally not motivated by retirement. Quite honestly, I don’t see myself ever retiring. I’m sure I will at some point, but the idea of retiring at 65 leaves me cold. At 65 I’m hopeful that I’ll have an abundance of knowledge and wisdom that would be a shame to waste on retirement. And what would I do with myself? I plan on living a good long life. My grandfather, mentioned in the long quotation above, died at the age of 99. It was only months before his death that he and his wife finally moved from their apartment to an assisted living facility; before that, they were both operating under their own steam. I cannot imagine what 35 years of living retired would be like. It just seems weird.
In the book, the main character comes up with an idea that we all have two peaks, two things that we strive for, and always one is greater than the other. For me, my peaks are knowledge and contentment. I think knowledge is the greater, but not by much. I have always had a thirst for knowledge, and that hasn’t changed. What has ultimately been making me think of this of late has been the fact that there’s so little knowledge at my present employment (at least in my current role) that I actually feel the desire to achieve. That’s not a knock on the company, they’re great to pay me (and keep me contented in many ways, thus helping with good ole’ peak number 2) but it’s clear that the other peak is just sitting there out of reach, smiling down at me. So it’s time.
I got into the realm of computers on a whim, not because I wanted to do it as a career, but because I knew that I would eventually figure out what I wanted to do, and I didn’t want to be broke working lame jobs while I waited to figure it out. It took me more time than others, perhaps, but I feel that the direction I am going to embark in will constantly offer me adventures on my two peaks. It’ll take me a decade of schooling part time, maybe more, but that just means a good climb is ahead.
I don’t care about retirement and I don’t care about Valhalla. I care about climbing those mountains of mine. So what are your peaks?