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.


  1. Wow. Thank you for writing this. I have only been following your for a few months, but your posts have become my favorites. This post has given me almost too much to think about. I wish you well - hope the daylight and warm weather help. I have always loved Wisconsin - but I only visit friends there - I don't have to live through the winter. Life is always a struggle, I think.

  2. Yeah, I love your posts, this is one of my new favorite reads.

    Random suggestion: Do you like riding bicycles? Forgive me if this is totally obvious to you, but Milwaukee is a national bicycle hub of sorts. In fact living in CA, I order bike stuff from these guys from time to time:

    Cycling is one of my favorite activities, being a cube-bound 9-5er too. Fits nicely with my peak oil leanings, and there is lots of small American manufacturing to nerd out on. You can make it as weird and adventurous as you want. Just pitching a suggestion. Best of luck!

  3. I have been following your blog for a very long time but never posted. I know what you are going through. I have been stuck in an upstate NY town with little opportunity for a very long time serving as a caregiver for my father. I have a degree in Applied Math and years of IT skills but now they've atrophied and I am stuck in mcJobs. Since my father passed away I have to deal with his house and am unsure whether I should just sell it and move or stay in my mcjob. I am middle aged, male no wife(and no prospects) and no kids. Go to grad school? sure run up a ton of debt and maybe get stuck in the same mcjob. a part of me says screw it go out to arizona and worst case scenario end up on the streets--at least it will be a much better place. My dad never finished high school and ended up working at the same factory for 42 years...not the best work maybe but stable and with a good pension. This country was so much better when you had job security and the relative ease of finding new jobs. maybe you just have to follow the advice of andy dufresne in the shawshank redemption "get busy living or get busy dying". Besides i think we both know the system as it is...with automation replacing jobs, globalization, climate change, an economy based on bubbles etc etc.. is not sustainable so why not just live for the moment?

  4. I'm also from Wisconsin, and moved to the west coast for job opportunities. The first couple years were rough, I think I took knowing everyone in town for granted! Wisconsin is a very special place... but if you're seriously thinking of leaving, add Bellingham WA to the possibilities! Both our Cross fit & transition communities are active!

  5. Good to hear your health issues have been resolved.
    Best of luck....

  6. Sorry to hear you are in this situation. It seems to be increasingly common amongst people of a certain age especially those that are aware that the foundations our "world" is build on seem to need some inspection.

    I find myself in a similar situation, I changed my job last year and I'm struggling to take my new role and the business I work in seriously now. It is my first experience of working in an American multinational although the majority of the management seem to be Scottish and if it typical I really have no idea how most of them survive. I find the world of industry and engineering increasingly absurd, short term thinking, no focus on building relationships with either suppliers OR customers, just grab, run then try and keep ahead of the shit storm. It's actually at the point where Dilbert no longer seems far our enough to pass as satire.

    I also considered some retraining but I'm old enough to know that more likely than not that will bring me right back to where I'm sitting just a little poorer and a few years further down the line unless I do something off the wall like train as a blacksmith.

    After some consideration the only solution for me seems to be going freelance and trying to put together something new from the experiences I've gotten over the years. Taking that step is a big one though, especially with a comparatively young family.

    I also found refuge of a sort in exercise although in my case it involves the rather more relaxed activity of rowing, racing hurts, but not the daily hurt of crossfit.

    Maybe it doesn't help to know you are not alone, there are others out there. I think as the assumption of progress starts becoming untenable we will become an ever increasing minority.

  7. Sounds clear that you suffer from SAD and in fact don't belong in Wisconsin. You don't have connections or job prospects elsewhere...but since, like me, you're not the hypersocial type who lines up connections elsewhere without having to go there, you probably never will, unless you DO move. Maybe scrimp for awhile to create a nest egg you can live on after moving to wherever seems congenial. Then, in the course of job hunting, you may find friends--or in the course of making friends, you may find a lead on a practical livelihood. Since the friends you have where you are are not enough to make you happy, you need to get off the pot and get started building a new life somewhere else.
    My opinion.

  8. I've been reading this blog for a few years now and I've never commented before, but this post makes me want to.

    I feel you and I have very similar backgrounds. I too was born smack dab in the middle of generation X, with massive job seniority before us, and a huge throng of digital natives behind us, ready to work for peanuts. I too was born in the frozen north, northern Minnesota in my case. I too am an intelligent, although not super social male who has managed to dodge the mortgage death-grip. Just a few weeks ago, I paid off my student loans, and find myself free of debt. I want to take the leap, as it sounds like you do as well, but...

    I was born poor; we were the white rural poor that is rendered invisible in the stories this nation tells itself about itself. I remember the cold winters very well. I remember the endless chopping, stacking, and burning wood in the basement furnace. It was never enough to actually get warm.

    Memories of the shame and dysfunction of poverty will never leave me. I feel paralyzed to take a chance a move to a part of the country where I may meet those who share some of my beliefs, because I know the brutal, meat-hook realities of the late stage capitalism we live under. If you are not economically independent, you are a cow, and someone will take you to slaughter for whatever money they can wring out of your carcass. There is very little societal concession for a run of hard luck, much less for someone taking a risk on a new start. This is where we live.

    It sounds like the Seasonal Affective Disorder hits you pretty hard. I don't have this condition, but I've personally known those who have, and for one individual in particular, it was crippling, despite the 1,000,000 watt bulbs he had in his apartment. He now lives in Texas, and said he never suffers from depression.

    I'm not sure I really had a coherent message for this comment, but I would like you to know that you're not alone in your reluctance to take the big leap to another part of the country. Something else to keep in mind is that in a lot of places in this country, especially the cities, there are a lot of transplants, and they are just as likely to be looking for kindred souls as you are.

  9. I too had been enjoying your blog for some time. I am sorry to hear that you are hurting. The pain of being out of place can be unbearable. But that discomfort is what you can use to move to a better life—when we're comfortable, we don't have the motivation for change. You seem to have a good sense of yourself, of what isn't working for you. The next step is to start moving towards what DOES work for you!

    If you haven't already done so, start writing your Plan of Action. As an architect you understand the value of detailed planning—it clarifies the goals of the project. Write down what sucks about your life, point by point. Write what you think (or know!) would address each of those pain points. Don't worry right now about whether it is 'doable' or 'practical,' just let your dreams run wild. Even if you can't make a change immediately, working on your Plan will help you make it through the days as you will begin to see yourself moving towards the life you really want to live.

    I know A LOT about starting over. After high school I tried to go the mainstream college-career-marriage-kids-golf-retire route. It never worked for me, and I found myself floundering for many years, working (literally!) at McJobs just to survive. But from that I learned: I'll never starve, because I'm not too proud to take any job, no matter how menial. (My job is not who I am, even though this culture makes us think that's so.) I left the town I grew up in with next to nothing, moved to a new state where I knew no one. It was terrifying but I didn't die.

    I was married for 12 years and walked away with nothing. It was heartbreaking but I didn't die. Gradually, I learned to trust myself and my ability to make the life I want. Now at 55 I am happier than I have ever been, and when I imagine what my life would have been like had I done the mainstream things I know I would now be miserable at best, and very possibly dead by my own hand.

    It's NEVER too late to start living the life you want to live! Best wishes on your journey!

    P.S. Please don't be shy about using your blog to share your personal struggles. You have friends here.

    P.P.S. On a practical note... California is not a good place to be right now, and is breathtakingly expensive. As you well know the future of the entire arid Southwest is looking rather bleak. I live in the Pacific Northwest, and while we have rather gloomy winters it's never very cold and Spring comes early! Folks here are active outdoors all year round. I would second the idea of Bellingham, Washington: it's a college town with a great outdoors vibe, it's much cheaper than Seattle, and has a good range of amenities.

  10. Hey there, long time reader, infrequent commenter, kindred spirit..

    I was in an uncannily similar situation to you from 2008-2012. I tried so hard to make my 'professional career' work, but in the end had to resign, as I was becoming suicidal at the futility of working in a meat-grinder just so that I could be comfortably unhappy. I left with no plan, other than a 3 month volunteer stint at an Ayahuasca healing center down in Peru. I was 40 years old, no kids, no debt, no idea what I would do next.

    It was the best thing I ever did. Not a day goes by that I don't thank myself for having the courage to walk away from the cube.

    That said, I am still unemployed. My savings are dwindling. Last year was spent pretty much living in a van down by the river. It was a wonderful year, but friends and family don't believe me when I tell them that. They aren't happy. They are miserable, the world to them is a terrifying place, even though they've got their 'security'.

    Speaking of, this quote was instrumental in getting me to take the leap. Maybe it will help you too..

    Security is mostly a superstition. It does not exist in nature, nor do the children of men as a whole experience it. Avoiding danger is no safer in the long run than outright exposure. Life is either a daring adventure, or nothing. - Hellen Keller

    We're all dying.. hardly any of us are actually living. Most people just endure until their heart stops. That's crazy. And that's another huge point: our culture is mad. Literally. Most people you know, bless them, are insane by virtue of buying in to this mad world culture of ours. So once you 'get' this, their opinions are no longer relevant. Let them judge, let them call you a bum, that's what they do. But don't ever take any of it to heart.

    I'd gladly rather be homeless that go back to that corporate cube existence. Life is simply too short to spend being miserable. One last point: I am 90% sure that I have found a new job in a new field that I would never even have considered if I hadn't done all this. I go in to meet the rest of the staff on Thursday and unless they hate me, I'm in. So my final point is, it all works out.. It always does, even though at times it might seem like it doesn't.

  11. I add my 2 cents to those who say that the climate makes it all worse. I used to have a nasty bout of SAD every year when I lived in the Hudson Valley. Never tried those special lamps, but taking standardized St. John's Wort starting in the fall and over the winter did help. Vitamin D3 is also a good idea. I feel a lot better out west with endless sunshine.

    You've talked a number of times about what you hate about your life, but never about what kind of life you want. Maybe that's a good place to start?

  12. I am the last person to give anyone advice but having said that I feel compelled to comment on your post. Sounds like you are thinking about California and I recently moved in the opposite direction. Leaving a good paying but difficult job as a union business agent to run a tiny university department in Maine for about half the money. I’ve been here two years and despite the short summer and the fact that we only have three season cold/snow, mud, and flies (summer comes with flies) I like Maine. Maine is a real place with real people who have real opinions, including lots that I disagree with, people who seem honestly concerned about their communities. I do sometimes miss CA with its densely populated cities and suburbs punctuated by real wilderness areas so vast it takes days or even weeks to cross them on foot and, oddly, I miss Californians. My wife says Californians are “socially efficient” and I’d say that’s true. Unlike Maine or the Deep South, where I grew up, Californians know how to get along without being dull. They can be likeable without invading your social space. If someone in a major city in CA asks what you do on the weekends you could probably get away with saying something like “practicing for heists” the questioner might ask “hmm…and how’s that going these days?” They would then listen just long enough to get your response and move quietly to another table at Starbucks. In CA very few people came to my house or asked what I did on the weekends, it just wasn’t done in polite company and to be honest I really enjoyed their “social efficiency” and the anonymity it allowed me. Maine? Not a chance. I literally have to pretend not to be home to keep people from visiting and as people go I’m only moderately likeable.

    I never heard that saying about law school but I like it. I’m an attorney by training and it was a terrible waste of time and $$. Anyone considering a legal education should read the blog Third Tier Reality and yes it is a vulgar screed full of scatological references. I also never learned to love work and any time I’ve ever been paid to do something it ultimately became work and I more or less despised it. In fact I don’t really understand working culture. I work around people now, and in the previous jobs, who profess to “love their job.” When I admit that I don’t they are visibly dismayed and frequently suggest that I seek professional help or medication. When I was young everyone around me hated school and we all pretty much knew that we would hate work as well. Sure enough for the first decade or so of my work life, + 4 years in the military, everyone around me did in fact dislike work and rebellion, especially humor, was applauded at least when bosses weren’t about. Then one day I turned around and everyone was talking about promotions and networking and so forth; always on the make for some greater benefit derived from their work and professionalism. I’m almost 50 and this still seems like a complete crock to me. The legal profession is, as far as I can tell, based on nothing, nada, not a scintilla of real social science disturbs it in the least and yet those who dedicate their lives to it are “professionals” and society is expected to take all of it very seriously.

    So I guess all I can say is be prepared to bear the brunt of whatever consequences follow from your decision to move, if you do. I certainly applaud your lack of interest in graduate education I wish I hadn’t wasted my time in that arena. I personally considered communes and there are definitely some well developed communes, Twin Oaks, East Wind, and Acorn come to mind but there also many in Asia and I’m not including religious communes all of which seem a bit sinister. I’m probably a bit old for a commune now but if everything is on the table you might consider visiting a couple communities. I gave up the idea only because none of these communities were ever anywhere near where I lived.

  13. If you had a tiny house like those shown in your video clip you could plop it down for almost nothing on someone's land. Especially if you had a composting toilet and didn't need lots of connections to utilities. You can always buy propane by the tank and get electricity from neighbors or solar if you are a real miser but sewer service is often a tie breaker. You could bring it out to our land in Maine but based on your desire to escape the cold I'd recommend the Southern states or New Mexico. Bellingham WA is very nice but not always so sunny. People say a lot of terrible things about the South, and they are all true, but never the less a lot can be said for the Southern states as well. Especially if you don't mind the heat. We are buying a 640 sq foot for two people ourselves not tiny but not huge either. Best wishes.

  14. Hmm...if I may be so bold, I am rather envious of EscapeFromWisconsin's situation.

    Please don't misunderstand. He is legitimately despairing, and I worry about him, because I know from my own long, dreary decades of piloting a cubicle around the sun how draining it is to live like that. (I am still a cubicle-jockey, and retirement is a ways off still, but I have a mortgage and a wife to take care of so I am a "lost boy" in the American Neverland. There's still hope for Escape.)

    What makes me envious is how few ties EscapeFromWisconsin has, how few foes hold him back. It's only fear that keeps him where he is. Certainly that's a big adversary, but for him it's the only one. That guarantees his freedom at some point.

    The fear doesn't need to be overcome. It's okay to stay fearful and make no decision, it doesn't matter. What Escape is doing and how he's living will eventually become utterly intolerable, and he will be done with it. It will force him out, fear or no. And it will do this precisely because he (currently) has no responsibilities to others that will jam him right back down into that cubicle chair and tell him he has no choice but to suck it up and play the game.

    I don't think fear is enough by itself to keep the cubicle game going, but sacrifice for others is.

  15. Good to see all the supporters coming out from the woodwork. :-)
    One other thing: forget about Bellingham WA and related areas where it rains for half a year. SAD central! Wrist slashing time! I tried Eugene and it nearly did me in. (The other half year is great, btw.)

    I been a gypsy all my life. Starting over is kinda exciting. Kinda hard, too. You are young still, starting over is apt to be more exciting than hard for you. Just go for the sun. And out west, people are friendlier, the sky is bigger, and the roads emptier.

    Then again, there is the rest of the world. Teaching English?

  16. Wow, I wish I had your are so free to change your life and go do anything you want, anywhere you want! I have familial obligations (special needs teenage son and single, elderly mom) that keep me from doing what I REALLY want to do. Yet I find time to involve myself in a few activities that I want and are just for, ok that's off topic. Hey I know it can be frightening to just jump in the deep end and not know how it will turn out. I was too scared to move down south (my dream for decades) until someone decided to come with me. How silly that seems to me now! I WAS free back then, but I let the fear affect my life and things could have been so different for me! So please, don't let fear dictate your life. Seize the day! Take a chance! If nothing else, just GO do stuff you always wanted to, things that will make you who you really see yourself as, not this unhappy guy trapped in a cubicle! You have the power!

  17. Cross fit will wreck you, do your research and don't do it!

    Change how you work not where you work! Hang out your own shingle and that will get you out of the cubicle if you have the guts!

    Read the Mr money mustache site, all of it, then read the whole thing again.

    I am a native Californian and have lived all over and have no plans to leave again but I have reconciled myself to the realities of the place which are that it is a class based society. I will never own a house because I was not born into that class. My being white is a disadvantage, something you would find more depressing than the winters where you are now. There are next to no fucking jobs out here, you have to know someone. You know tons of people where you are, and will know no one out here, which means you will become homeless, we have the most educated homeless population in the country. Many work for day labor companies like labor ready, where you will find yourself, no need for exercise programs then!

  18. I was going to mention teaching English as well, but was afraid I'd already rambled on too long.

    I did that as well back in 2003. Quit a cubicle job here in the States and moved to Prague with just what had in my suitcase. I knew nobody there, had no contacts and very little money in the bank. But I was a native English speaker, and therefore I could get a job. So can you! It ended up being 3 and a half magical years and the experience of living abroad forever changed me for the better.

    The visa situation in Europe has changed since then and its much harder for Americans to find employment there now. But there is still Asia and South America and the Middle East. Teaching English was a fantastic job for me, it allowed for much more creativity than any corporate job I've ever had here in the States and the English language is so much more interesting than I ever knew.

    Your mileage may vary, of course, but I'd recommend it. I'm looking after my elderly parents right now, but eventually I'll do it again, next time to Latin America and odds are I won't be coming back to this madhouse. I've been lucky enough to travel quite a bit and from what I've discovered the quality of life elsewhere is usually higher than it is in the USA. It's slower for one thing. And the people aren't all rabidly competing against each other like there are here. Instead there's more of a sense in being in this whole thing together. It's so refreshing to experience that after growing up in the States. This dog eat dog mentality of ours wears on one's soul.

    So I guess what I'm saying is that I agree with Morris Berman; expatriating is one of the saner options available.

    Whatever you decide, I wish you the best!

  19. The link to the book just goes to some other story.... Maybe put a link to the book on amazon?

    Basic army type calisthenics while watching a cheery morning TV show and a daily bowl of sprouts will see you right, take no word for it.

    I'm a big Adams fan and for the listening audience, the brick wall he ran into was that to advance, he needed to be taller and not bald, simple as that. That's how it was in the corporate world he was in. He started doing the Dilbert strip anonymously while working in his safe little cubicle, and did not come out of anonymity until the strip was a huge success, basically Calvin and Hobbes for grownups, so much for risk taking!

  20. not sure if this helps but you may want to google info about the North Pond Hermit or about dugout dick. These are extreme examples of people living off the grid. Moral of the story being that you can live your life the way you want to.. societal expectations be damned (the North Pond hermit did pilfer canned foods to survive but bankers and wall street do a whole lot worse pilfering in my opinion)

  21. Wow, I'm overwhelmed! I'll try to respond in a little bit, archdruid style below.

    But first, I ran across this article today:

    It shows what kind of struggle it is to be an architect in America today, even with a great education, passion, good family, etc. Will Holman eventually found another career - designing furniture from discarded objects. I'd love to find my way into something like that. It's actually an inspiring story.

  22. Anon1: Wisconsin is nice to visit - Kettle Moraine, Devil's Lake, Madison, Lake Michigan. Personally, I think Milwaukee's the best deal with Chicago and Madison so close and being on the lake and the largest city in the state and all. But it still sucks.

    Anon2: Ben's Cycle is good. South Shore Cyclery is good too - they even have an eBay store. They do bike repair classes too, but I kept missing the signup time. That's where I bought my bike (a Bianchi Volpe). They even have rides on Wednesdays which I keep forgetting or get home too late to go it.

    The thing is, I'm just not tough enough to rise through the cold. Even now it's almost May, and it's quite cold (upper 30's) with a bone-chilling wind and no sun for days. In the summer I'm on it every day. That's why I wish I were someplace warmer. I don't know how they do it in Madison and Minneapolis. Tougher I guess.

    Anon3: I too have an aging parent here. She's able to take care of herself, so that's fortunate, although she's had some health issues of late. I feel guilty about thinking about leaving, but I can't help wondering why I should throw my life away for her bad choices. I've already thrown away my youth.

    Don't give up. Hang in there. Yeah, I've thought the same - I end up homeless, so what. At least I'll be warm. It's stoicism - be prepared for the worst case scenario, and anything that happens better than that is gravy.

    Arvesse: It is "special" but I may be using the word in a different sense than you, lol.

    The Pacific Northwest is definity enticing, but the overcast skies worry me a bit, as some other commenters pointed out. Still, I'll take a winter where it's never below freezing. And mountains!

    cjr: Bells' Palsy cleared up as did the mysterious stomach bug.

  23. Anon4: I could spin a whole series of stories about the increasingly bizarre world of architecture. We're run by marketers and industrial engineers. All management cares about is convincing the health care management types who are bleeding us dry that our designs will let nurses walk twelve less steps per day and how that can save them millions. You can imagine the type of people this attracts to management. Health care is literally keeping the field on life support (pun intended), but the downside is that creativity and thoughtfulness have gone out the window and been replaced by the same spreadsheet-driven mentality as everything else in business.Not at all what you go to school for. Some people apparently don't care.

    Rowing is cool. We have a rowing club here, but I don't know how to join. Plus, I don't think I could wake up that early ;-)

    Mary: I've always been skeptical about the seasonal affective disorder thing, but maybe it's true. Maybe it's some kind of psychosomatic thing. I've been saving as much money as I can to be able to be able to live somewhere without a job for a while, but I always think it's never enough. People here aren't bad (mostly) - they just keep to themselves and their lives revolve around wife/kids/work/church and nothing else. It would be nice to live somewhere where there at lest *some* people who are a little bit more social.

    Anon5: I'm the urban rust-belt version - cement factory next door, housing project across the street, white trash neighborhoods all around (mostly Hispanic now), so I know the feeling. Great fourth paragraph -that is indeed the hand we're dealt in this society. It amazes me why so many seem to like that reality, or at least defend it with all their might.

    One thing I notice during my travels out West - more people are from somewhere else, and are much more amenable to making new friends and having surrogate families. That's a big attraction.

    Adrienne: Glad to see you found your way. Those are good ideas Someone actually mentioned the CBA method (choose by advantages), which is one of our buzzword-y Toyota Way things we do with clients (well, some people, not me). It may seem odd for someone who writes so much, but I've never found that too helpful, although I think the above was sort of my start at doing that :)

    One of the people I met in California moved out there in her late twenties after college to the Bay Area from Missouri with $500, or something like that. She sort of did what I wanted to do. She's my age. I hear stories like that all the time (she was here during the fall for three nights of Widespread Panic which I got to see).

    As for the water situation, I'm not sure. Given that the cities use only ten percent of the state's water, it seems like urban dwellers will be all right given the restrictions. Agriculture is screwed, sure, but if you're not an almond farmer, would it be so bad? Plus, you can be part of the water-harveting+solar power revolution.

  24. mwk: Glad to hear your story! Best of luck. That's a great quote, and good to think about. Those people have different priorities and different desires out of life. I don't get it, but no one is right or wrong. Our society is just tougher for people who don't follow 'the script.'

    vera: Yeah, summer vs. winter is such a different story. I don't mind a bit of winter, but geez, some places! As for the life I want - easy - lots of free time, travel and pretty girls. Not sure how to pull that off. Honestly, I wish I'd learned to be a musician. I'm sure practice could have made up for my lack of any sort of talent.

    Anon6: Interesting description of Californians, and apt from my albeit limited experience. I found people less likely to have that dead bovine look in their eyes than here. The East Coast is good for more aware people, but yeah, the cold is turn-off. I think you guys are getting more snow that we are now! What you described in Maine reminds me of Western Wisconsin near Madison.

    I've read so many horror stories about law it scared me off. One reason why I never went back to school was I wanted to be able to walk away from a profession in case I didn't like it, which I couldn't do if I had enormous debt like law school. The Catch-22 is, you're limited in that same career.

    I don't know about communes, but might be fun for a bit. Maybe I can find one like the one in season 7 of Mad Men

    Anon7: I've been a little skeptical of the tiny houses because they just seem a little too cheap based on my experience in construction. Maybe I'm wring. To be off-grid, you had better be far away from an urban area, or the inspectors won't be too happy. I'd get too lonely away from a city.

    My house is only a touch over 800 square feet, so I actually consider myself already in the movement, sort of.

    Anon8: You know, people have said that to me. It does indeed keep me going in down times to think about that. Having a wife and a mortgage isn't bad, just a different choice with different upsides. Wasn't really a choice I had (although I do actually have a mortgage, it's just really cheap).

  25. vera: Yeah, the cloudiness makes me think too, but I'm not sure it's the clouds or the cold that hits me more. I always assume the latter. I think there's some places out west that have a good mix of sun and affordability, I hope. Austin?

    Roz: I do have an elderly mom, and that is something to think about. I don't want to abandon her, but I also don't want to stay here and throw my life away.

    Alex: I did Crossfit for a bit and didn't have a problem, although I can easily see why people do. Olympic lifting+speed don't mix. I ignored the clock, put away ideas of speed, and just concentrated on technique. It's the competition that drives people to hurt themselves (Americans always need to turn everything into competition)

    I read the site and there's good advice there, but really his circumstances are so unique (6 figure salary with a 4-year degree and no debt, dual incomes, cheap rural location, living close to work, etc.)

    It's like that everywhere. At least if you are homeless there you won't freeze to death unlike here.

    mwk: There's actually a good language school in Madison - WESLI, and I have been thinking about going that route. I'd love to teach in Eastern Europe or Latin America. My Spanish is rusty but still good, and I'd love to have the opportunity to get fluent. I've always had a capacity for languages.

    Alex: So, basically Jack LaLanne ;-)

    Here's the book:

    Adams was told point-blank that white males would no longer be promoted at two separate companies, and that triggered his realization that his corporate career had topped out. My situation is different, but it has also hit what I call the "class ceiling." But in much of the country, being white's no problem (as long as you love sports, are married with 2 kids and a suburban mortgage and like to golf)

    Anon9: I don't want to live that far off the grid. I just want a little less stress, nicer weather, and more friends. Corporations are too hierarchical for me.

  26. Apologies if I missed anyone and for any typos and bad grammar ;-)

  27. These aides into your personal life are far more interesting than the rest of your writing, and also explain why you have such a bleak outlook on the world. By objective measures life is clearly better today than during much of the past few centuries. Read orwell's road to wigan pier if you don't believe me. Before doing anything drastic, read some of nassim taleb's books on luck vs skill. Lots of guys did what Scott Adams did and never found success. The old-fashioned approach of slogging it out for 10 years at a job you hate, saving like a fiend, then retiring early, is the best approach, IMO. That absurd trip to Europe you took last year is a fine example of what not to do. The money you spent there represents months of life blood, all pissed away in a week or so. If you want to travel, go on foot or bicycle and sleep in the woods. That is the sure-fire path to freedom.

    1. Sure - until you get cancer and die before you ever get to Europe.... Life has unexpected twists. Live it for all its worth whenever remotely possible. We went to Southern Africa for three weeks last year. Could we afford it? Of course not! The house needs new windows ( the literally can't see out of my kitchen windows they are so etched and popped) and the driveway is disintegrating..... But NO one sits in chemo or the old folks home thinking what great windows they had or how smooth their driveway was. They sit and think about the day the elephant false charged them and how they jumped clear to the top of the Land Rover when it bellowed.... And the amazing colors of the African sky at sunset when we stopped to watch the zebras at the watering hole sipping our sundowners....

    2. There has been a lot of research showing that if you are going to spend money, spending it on experiences is the best possible use. I've seen enough people I know die young that I realized that always waiting for "someday" is a losing proposition - sometimes "someday" never comes. You have to strike a balance between being prudent and living in the moment, and that is one of the hardest challenges of any life.

      If I were still 25, It would be easier to take that advice. Of course, the bitter irony is that at that age most of us are earning very little and drowning in college debt. $25,000, the amount MMM lives on, is pretty much the salary of my first job out of college with a 30+ mile commute. (yes, inflation and all that, but still). What if I get hit by the proverbial bus or come down with some disease? What happens to all that money then? And I've pretty much walked or biked to everything I can here already, lol.

      Yes, Survivorship bias is a bitch. One thing about LA is you meet the people who are immensely talented but never quite made it to the inner circle. But actually that's one reason I like the place so much. I'd prefer to live among failed dreamers than successful drones.

      Whether life is better today or not is debatable, but what is not is that we are going in the wrong direction, including relative to the very recent past. It doesn't have to be that way, and I'm trying to figure out alternatives.

  28. Escape said: "As for the life I want - easy - lots of free time, travel and pretty girls."

    Oh come on. You've been working -- hard! -- for years on solving the puzzles of this crappy system; no way do I take this for an answer. So there.

    1. It' a remnant of my time as child soldier in the KISS army. I was pressed into service against my will. We were drilled in the goal of the army - to rock and roll all night and party every day. I still have PTSD. Clown makeup makes me panic.

      But in all seriousness, all I want is a modicum of happiness before I die. I would also prefer having good people in my life rather than the isolation of being here. Is that too much to ask?

  29. Wow did this resonate with my spouse and I. Great essay. And re winter months: I have the identical symptoms. We lived in southern AZ for 11 years. Didn't have those symptoms once.... My advice - if you can - move to warm and sunny NOW - don't wait! Complications in moving will only get worse not better. Daughter is here in the frozen northeast for good and I am torn with remaining here for grandchildren to be close to or high tailing it back to AZ ASAP ..... Go now. Before it gets complicated....

    1. Well, FWIW, everyone I know loves having the grandparents in a warmer climate because visiting them a perfect excuse to get out of the cold (and a place to stay).

      I don't foresee things getting more complicated, fortunately, which gives me the luxury of thinking and planning. Ironically, I thought the bad economy would have "forced" my hand by now. Luck can be a downside, too. How many times have you heard the "My world fell apart and it was the best thing that happened to me..." stories? But then again, there's survivorship bias rearing its head.

  30. Replies
    1. At the moment, my plans are the following first - continuing my experiment in minimalism, by getting rid of the rest of my stuff in this summer's rummage season. The rest goes to the neighborhood Goodwill.

      Of course, I need to sell my house. Any takers?

      Continue writing, or course. Weigh options. So I'll be here the next few months anyway.

  31. Thank you so much! I've been trying to put the ideas explored here into a long form format, but for some reason I just get it going. It seems I write better in blog-sized chunks, and the body of work here is already written, so I should probably stop ramming my head against a wall and use what I've already got, eh? But I would like to string everything together in a coherent way that connects all these topics. I'll see, but thanks for the encouragement. People don't realize how much that means, especially to unknown people working for love instead of money (artists, musicians, poets, actors, writers, etc.).

  32. When I was 27, I fled night-shift cubicle work and a life of social dysfunction in Washington, DC, to start completely over from scratch in Portland, OR. I had $12 to my name when I got there. I went hungry more often than I care to admit but I did eventually rebuild. That action still remains one of the best things I ever did for myself in my life. Despite conventional wisdom that would dictate otherwise, sometimes running away is the exact, precise answer to a situation.

    1. Thanks for that. That's a great story and I'm glad you did it - that must have taken a lot of courage. Sometimes the hardship means it's all more worthwhile in the end. It's surprisingly hard to give up a certain level of comfort, even if it is leading to misery and stagnation. Fear of the unknown is hard to overcome. Sometimes people tell me that it's just a "grass is always greener" mentality. But I think that yes, sometimes there must be greener grass somewhere else, especially when yours is brown.

  33. I will echo Joseph's suggestion. Your writing is superb, pull it together into a book. Your essays are what magazine columns once were, and I recall being thrilled to get a full published book of them from my favorite writers (e.g. Douglas Hofstadter's series from Scientific American).


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