Wandering

Working On Happy

Working On Happy

Depression… Anger… Sadness… Despair…

Before the pursuit of my “new life”, these were the emotions I endured every day.  I made “good money”, as they say, but I felt empty.  Hundred hour weeks weren’t uncommon. I have a solid technical skill set, a drive to excel, and a mind that lets me process information quickly. Between all of these things, I have always been in demand.  I have never found myself out of work or without opportunity, as so many others appear to have experienced.  Part of my so-called success involved the sacrifice of traveling.  I would go to where the money was, imposing a distance between me and my wife and kids.  When I came back home, friends and family would ask, “So how was Nashville?” (or wherever I went for that particular gig), and I would have no idea.

Angry Bird
Things aren’t all they were cracked up to be for this bird. He needs to work on his happy.

Traveling for work often involved researching a new client, preparing for (or documenting the results of) meetings and presentations, and participating in “mandatory fun” with clients and peers who feel alienated when an invitation to a night on the town is ignored. The crappiest part about the mandatory fun is that, while socially expected of you, you don’t really have a choice in the matter, and certainly you don’t get to bill for that time — after all, this is fun, right?  Having a handler plan 112 hours of your week, while getting paid for 40 of it isn’t fun. It actually sucks, even when you’re paid a lot for those 40.

Extroverts have no idea how draining it is for an introverted person to be drug from one crowded bar to another through the teeming streets of some bustling metropolis in search of the perfect night spot.  I would rather get up at dawn than stay up until its arrival. It’s far quieter then — downright placid.  Even Manhattan at 5am, just as the sun is peeking over the horizon, is a far different beast than she is at 1am, when everyone’s peacocking and strutting, trying to find someone to love, if even for just the evening.

As a result, I would come home from a work trip feeling miserable and exhausted. Between the travel itself on both ends and the 15+ hour days of prepping for then performing the actual work, I had nothing left to give when I got home to my family. I would pretty much pass out once I got home, for nearly the entire weekend, until I had to go off again the next week and repeat the process. I was useless to those for whom I sincerely thought I was working so hard.

What was it all for?  What was I truly gaining?  Money?

Mental Preparation for Happiness

My situation at that time reminds me of this story I heard repeatedly along my travels about a consultant who, while on holiday, stumbles across a fisherman. The consultant imposes his first world perspectives and ideals of success upon the fisherman, only to realize after his circuitous logic fails, that the fisherman is already living his ideal life. This causes the consultant to rethink his life.  This little parable is so commonly used, I can’t remember where I heard it first, but I’ve certainly heard it a few times.  Each time, like some books, such as Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, the story can take a different meaning and trigger different insights, depending upon your maturity and context of your existential journey at the time of reading.

Love birds grooming.
It’s important to work. As long as it’s something you love.

It became obvious I was living in a gilded cage. I started searching for an answer to improving my health, my relationship with my wife, and my overall happy.   Was I working too many hours?  Was I working inefficiently?  Should I change my career?  Will working always demand this much of me?  I knew I needed a way out, but I didn’t know exactly what I was doing wrong or how to get “out”.  After all, I still had to make payments on my gilded cage, see my kids through college, and all of the other things for which I was working so much.

Along my journey, I read (through audiobook while driving back and forth across the state to work and school), Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand.  Her work really hit home for me, as I was often one of the key producers in an organization or on a project, and there was generally little correlation between effort and reward. These sacrifices were often made in exchange for the perception of safety. In the end, I’m always and only employed at the convenience of my employer/customer.

While I might produce ten times as much as the next person, I was making fractionally more than the lowest paid member of the team.  Imagine working on a help desk, cranking out 25 tickets an hour, while everyone else squeezes out two or three.  In exchange for this production level, rather than any type of reward, imagine receiving  a reprimand to “pace yourself” and even threats from co-workers that if you didn’t slow down, there’s going to be some vigilante justice to impose group norms and protect their jobs.  This situation isn’t all that unusual or uncommon.  If only I could find myself a way to escape to Galt’s Gulch, where everyone worked at their capability and was directly rewarded for their work.  This seemed like part of my ideal life, rather than watching some folks skate by and cash in on the efforts of the few with ideas for working smarter and the wherewithal and downright gumption to make a plan and stick with it until it becomes reality.

Piece this together with a few other books I would read along the way, and my mental kettle was quickly accelerating from tepid to overboil.

The Four Hour Work Week: Again, this book was actually consumed in audiobook form. The first and longest part of the book is about some relatively standard small business “hacks”, if you will. Ultimately, you should stop working “in” your business and start working “on” your business.  It’s good stuff if you’ve never learned these lessons. I’ve grown accustomed to consuming books, blogs, and so forth that merely repeat a thousand things I’ve already heard in hopes of learning one meaningful new tidbit.  Timothy Ferris did not disappoint.  What really struck a chord for me was the “Now What?” section.  I’ll paraphrase a few points that really hit home and made me rethink my path in life:

You’ve done it.  You only need to work four hours a week to keep the money flowing in that allows you to live the life of your dreams.  Now for the hard part, what IS that life?  What do you do, when you can do whatever you want to do?  Ultimately, who are YOU?

One in four couples over 50 divorce (aka grey divorce).  One theory is that their previously divided lives fail to converge successfully with the increased free time that retirement brings. Earlier, the spouses had completely different paths, evolved separately, and specialized in order to succeed at the game of life. While one focused on children, the other on career, and now that’s it’s time to spend time together, they hardly know (or like) one another.

To wrap this up and shorten what might otherwise be a long and arduous tale. My introspective journey went pretty much as follows:

    • Who am I, really?
      • That’s a huge question.  Let’s start with something easier…
    • What do I really enjoy doing with my time?
      • It certainly isn’t “work”, is it?  Admittedly, I enjoy being productive, but I wouldn’t volunteer somewhere just to do my “job”, would I? (more on that later)
    • What would I do if I could do anything I want to with the rest of my life?
      • Travel
        • Hiking
        • Biking
        • Flying
        • Seeing new places
      • Cook
      • Spend quality time with my wife
      • Take pictures of cool stuff
        • Nature
        • Architecture
        • Animals
        • People watching (Is that covered by “animals” already?)
      • Make movies
      • Teach people stuff
    • What’s keeping me from doing those things, even if just a little bit, right now?

Once I got past the hard part (the first three questions), it dawned on me that the biggest hurdle to start doing what I wanted to do and being who I wanted to be, was me.  I just needed to put my mind to it, and start working on these things.  I needed to stop working on “my job”, stop working on “my education”, stop working on “moving up the ladder” and start working on happy.

 

Grand Tetons
It’s almost within reach. We can see the top of the mountain from where we are now.  Many small steps, and we should make it!

And so I started moving in the right direction… a few years down the road, I see a light at the end of the tunnel.  I’ve had some good times, learned quite a few things, patched up my marriage, and truly believe in my work for a change.

Since one of my life goals is to teach people stuff, I thought I’d start a blog, vlog, or whatever the  kids are doing these days, as a mechanism to integrate all of my life goals.  By sharing what I’ve learned, maybe someone else will begin a similar journey. If just one more person were to start working on happy because of something I did or said, it would make me feel more accomplished than any of the superficial “success” rungs I’ve ever climbed before.

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Photo Credits

One of my key aspirations is to express my creativity through capturing the beauty of nature through photography and videography.  All of the photos on this site were taken by me, The Happy Camper.

Anonymity

Because my wife and I still work for our wage slave masters, while I viciously attack the concept of such servitude in this medium, I will use a pen name and refrain from being directly visible in any of the photos or videos.  This is because “the man” isn’t terribly interested in having people work for them who aren’t in it for the “long haul.”  Just as companies can fire someone when it’s right for them, I reserve the right to quit my job when it’s right for me, and would prefer not to gain any unwanted attention from the overlords until then.

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