Monday, April 20, 2015

The Cost of Fear

At the Hipcrime Vocab I don't often write about personal stuff, but I hope you'll allow me a brief indulgence. I suppose whether you find this a welcome or break or not will depends on you, but personal stuff seems to popular on blogs for some reason.

Anyway, If you've been following this blog for a while, you may have gotten the impression over the past year that I am becoming increasingly dissatisfied with where I am, both geographically and in life in general. One of the things I realized during my trip(ping) in California was that my failures have a great deal to do with where I am. Every day my heart and my gut tell me that I just don't belong here. The cold and gray skies and endless winter envelop me in a gloom that is palpable. I know that everyplace has its downsides, but increasingly I feel that there is nothing here for me anymore. I feel it every day. Listening to Chris Ryan's podcast among others has also altered my perspective.

Yet I'm afraid. I've only ever lived here, and I have no real friends or connections anywhere else.

On the C-realm last week, KMO read a comment from the Friends of the C-Realm on Facebook, and I was struck by this in particular: "I'm reminded of an interview with Scott Adams, the cartoonist who does Dilbert. He was asked why the two smartest people in the strip, the paperboy and the garbageman, aren't engineers. He said something to the effect that really smart people don't allow themselves to be used by others like Dilbert is by the pointy-haired boss, Catbert, etc.  Instead they live their own lives, according to their own rules."

Notice how those professions are considered "low status." But I can see that being a high-status "professional" isn't all its cracked up to be, from the endless stress, to the boring meetings to the the nonstop personality politics. Without a litter to put through college like me cow-workers (sic), I can't help but wonder why I'm putting myself through this.

Intrigued, I decided to look for the interview. I didn't find it, but I did find another interview with him. I picked up his book from the library.

The first thing that struck me was the fact that Adams had gotten on plane and moved out to California from New England with no job, due to an incident where he nearly froze to death in his car. I can relate, especially since it's been 10-30 degrees colder than the average year round for the last four years (and we are already the second coldest metropolitan area in the country after Minneapolis).

Adams also realized that his small New England town didn't have much to offer in the way of opportunities. On the plane to California, a businessman sitting next to him told him that the thing to do when you get a job is immediately to look for a better one, that is, your job is not what you do; your real job is to look for other jobs.

Adams' philosophy is basically that success is a matter of luck, but you can make the odds much better by following system where your odds of succeeding are higher than they otherwise would be, much like a hunter going to a bird blind in a marsh to hunt ducks rather than sit in his backyard.

Adams famously held a series of corporate cubicle jobs that later formed the basis of his work, but his real goal was to be a CEO or entrepreneur. He pursued a never-ending series of harebrained business ideas and get-rich-quick schemes to free himself from cubicle serfdom. We all know what happened of course - one particular harebrained scheme to be a cartoonist took off. Adams self-effacingly points out that this is despite neither his writing or humor skills being particularly terrific, and he points out all the coincidences that made Dilbert work when there were such long odds against it. Believe it or not, Dilbert did not start as a cartoon about office life. Because he was one of the first cartoonists to make his email public (email being new back then), people unanimously told him that the office strips were their favorite, and the format changed to what we know today. And the timing was perfect - Dilbert came along right as neoliberalism was turning workplaces into downsized dystopias, and it quickly became the symbol of the absurdity of corporate life that we know today.

Even after the comic took off, Adams continued to invest in one scheme after another, often failing (including a TV show, a series of restaurants in California, and the "Dilburrito."). This is in keeping with his philosophy that the key to success is not being afraid to fail often. Other ventures, such as writing and speaking were more successful, but also due to serendipity. There's lots more, of course, but I'll save that for another time.

Last week, a woman at work decided to pursue her lifelong dream to move to New York City, "while I'm still young," (she's probably like 20-21). (Seriously, what is it with young women and NYC, I just don't get it). Anyway, she already had a job lined up. When I asked her how she did it, she said connections and  networking. Not much help for me there, I'm afraid.

In a weird note from above, the firm I left to come to my current one, where I was treated very poorly and left under not the best terms because of it, is relocating from the far northwest side to literally a block away, just down the street. Every day Mordor is moving closer to completion, and I have to walk by it every day on my way to work. You can imagine how that makes me feel. Those people are going to be in my neighborhood very soon, and I do not want to see them.

Like Adams, I've grown increasingly disenchanted with my cubicle-bound existence. It seems that architecture is just another desk job full of drudgery, overwork and stress for all but a lucky few. I increasingly feel like my architecture career is over. I just don't enjoy it anymore. The reasons could fill a post in and of itself, and someday I may do that. But with only a four-year degree, it seems like I'm pretty much unhireable. I just don't feel like spending two more years of my life on expensive and useless education jumping through more arbitrary hoops when I already know what the "reward" will be. As the saying goes, "if you liked school, you're going to love work." I'm also reminded of the old adage about law school - "a pie-eating contest where the first prize is more pie."

That means the thing I've done for the past twenty years I can no longer do. I'm scared of having to start over at my age. It seems that the economy "naturally" wants people unemployed rather than employed, and places all the burden on you to rectify that situation.

Clearly I'm not going to succeed in the office environment. It takes a "special" type of person that I'm just never going to be. It's also the most homogeneous place you can imagine. Bland, boring, upper-class professionals with the suburban house and the minivan and the 2.5 kids discussing spectator sports and golf all day long (seriously, the guys who sit near me spend their weekends watching professional golf on TV). I feel so alienated, and trading in one cubicle for another doesn't seem like a good plan. There are just so few architecture jobs here to begin with, and they're much worse than even the status quo.

Given Adams' advice, it seems like being around people more like me will give me a better change at friendship, romance, and carer advancement in whatever career I end up doing.

As a sidenote, the past few weeks I unexpectedly encountered a couple of people who to my great surprise, are actually from here. I've been watching the brilliant Wolf Hall on PBS. Mark Rylance, the lead, is considered to be one of the best classical actors today. He also grew up in Milwaukee (his parents were teachers who moved here from England to teach). And I listened to this interview with Ginger Kern before discovering at the end that she is also from Milwaukee. Ginger's dream was to live abroad, and now she coaches other people on it too.

Anyhow, to cap this off, I've been thinking about signing up again at my local Crossfit gym. With the weather warming up and my health issues seemingly behind me, it seemed like a good time. I used to go there a few years back. The thing is, when our 6-month winter hits, I am literally CRUSHED. I'm a physical and emotional wreck. It takes everything I have just to get out bed and make it through the day for at least six months out of the year. Everything hurts, I have cold and flu symptoms nonstop, lethargy, no energy, fevers, headaches etc. continuously for months on end. Working out is totally  out of the question. However, during our brief 3-4 month summer, I'm extremely active and outside or in the gym as much as possible.

Anyway, it look like the box is closing down, and here's why:


The nice, sweet older woman architect who I've sat next to has been battling cancer for years. She still showed up every day whenever was physically able. She loved to travel. We regularly talked about foreign places, the Middle Ages (she used to be in the SCA) and all sorts of other topics. She was our longest-serving employee, there from the very inception of the office - over 20 years. She had not been in for several months. Last week her cubicle was totally cleared out in a day. She would not be returning to work. Another architect was moved in immediately. Life is short indeed.

Anyway, I've rambled long enough. It's been an odd few months. I still don't know what to do. But it appears I keep getting hit over the head with messages. I just wish I had some sort of guidance.