Saturday, November 24, 2012

Don't Go There

One of my college homework assignments, back in the days when the USSR was going strong, was to read The Communist Manifesto by Karl Marx. I studied better with background noise (I still do), so I sat in my dorm room with the door open. My hall-mates would pass by and peek through the door to see what I was doing, and several of them were scandalized by what they saw. They seemed to think that merely reading this forbidden treatise would somehow pull me over to the dark side. I might begin asking questions about things that should not be questioned. I might begin to think independently. It was all very dangerous.

People like their ideas neatly contained, finite and easily managed. In the movie The Truman Show, Truman Burbank grows up on the elaborate set of a reality TV show, but he's not aware that millions of people are watching his every move. Christof, the director of the show, rationalizes this manipulation by saying that he's enabling Truman to live an ideal life, free of the pain and violence of the outside world. When Truman begins suspecting that all is not as it appears, Christof uses every means at his disposal to prevent Truman from discovering that his friends, including his wife, are actors and his world is an artificial construct enclosed in a bubble.

This year has been an exploration outside the bubble for me. I'm exploring who I am and what I like to do when I'm not constrained by the necessities of getting up early every morning and commuting to a cubicle. I'm listening with a sense of amusement to politicians talk about "takers" who don't pay income taxes. I'm one of those "takers" this year, but I'm taking the resources that I earned through my own hard work. I'm listening to talk of jobs and assignments and stress and evaluations with the ears of someone who is standing outside of that culture. And I'm realizing that after my experience of life off of the hamster wheel, I'm not sure that I want to go back.

Now that the year is coming to an end, I'm getting a lot of questions about what kind of a job I'm looking for. Friends and family are genuinely concerned about me, since I had told them that I wasn't financially ready for retirement and I would have to find a source of income after my year is over. I have been trying to use the term "source of income" rather than "job", because money can come from a variety of sources. What would be the point of taking this year if I merely went back to the same life I left behind?

Some people get that idea, some don't. For some, "money" means "job". Job means office, commute, benefits package, managers, promotions, and performance evaluations. Jobs mean productivity, efficiency, being a team player, and working hard so that some executive or business owner can live out his dream (and if you're lucky, you can live a few of your dreams after you hit 65). Some part of my mind believes that, too. My career has been such a big part of my life for so long, it's hard to think in other terms. No one in my immediate family has been an entrepreneur for any great period of time. My sister and I have both done freelance gigs, but they tend to span the periods between job-type jobs.

Some people have told me how brave I am to be breaking out of this mold, but they could never even consider doing something similar. Some people are distressed when I tell them that I'm not sure what my next move will be. I tell them about the freelance projects I'm doing, the work I'm publishing, the little networking opportunities. That seems to reassure them that I'm doing something that might get me a job and bring me in from my wanderings in the wilderness. It tends to reassure me that I'm not just wasting my time, waiting for the money to run out.

For the time being, my savings are holding out rather well. I'm well aware that I will need to step up my efforts very soon. But it feels like cutting corners on my grand adventure to start looking too hard too soon for another niche in the machine. Might it be possible to make a life outside the office? If I succeed at that, would it disturb those friends of mine who are silently suffering in jobs that they hate, but have told themselves they must endure? Is it safer if we just don't ask certain questions?


  1. Just this morning Anita asked what you were thinking about doing after the year was up, and I told her I wasn't sure but after this year of being out of the corporate stranglehold, I rather doubted you'd be willing to put up with much anymore. (Just reminded me; in my stack of books that I plan to read (or at least overview) "someday" is one called "Making a living without a job." I'm not sure what it's about yet but it's on the pile.)

    Did you ever see "Peggy Sue Got Married"? That's the movie I'm thinking of now -- she's back in high school 25 years later, and she's not putting up with any of the dumb stuff that the system is trying to pawn off on her any more; she knows better now. I have a hunch even if you end up in another "job" -- I don't guess you'll be anybody's sloughed-off responsibility dumping ground any more!

    1. Is that Barbara Winter's book? I have a copy. She's more of the "do anything" entrepreneur. Keep six sets of business cards, one for your cake decorating gigs, one for dog walking, one for handmade jewelry, ... you get the point. But it's worth reading for some good ideas.

      I was never the sort to do well in a "day job" but I could probably do part time work. I wouldn't even mind a demanding full time job if it was something I could really throw myself into.

  2. Some of us have the luxury of doing work we love on our own schedules. I am grateful to be among them. I hope you can pull that off Nancy. It's worth going for!!
    I heard recently a recommendation (from Michelle Bachmann, I think) that since people are living longer, on average, we should raise the age at which social security kicks in. That sounded reasonable until I learned that the increase in longevity happens almost entirely among the top 50% of earners. Increasing the age for social security would be cruel to the people who must work 9 to 5 or more, to someone else's ultimate benefit, who do not necessarily love their jobs, who look forward to their retirement, who take it as early as they can, who totally depend on Social Security to retire, and also die younger.
    Higher earners often love their work sufficiently that they don't want to retire.

    1. Useful information! I didn't know these statistics, but I kind of suspected something like this. So many people who work at physically demanding jobs have to give them up at a relatively early age. Meanwhile, you can work at a more intellectual job well into your 80s. I would love to be one of those people who works at something I love for as long as my body and mind will let me.


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