Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Center of the Universe

Recently I was having a conversation online with Matt Waite. Both of us are tired of where we’re at in life and were discussing options for going in to business together. After a long comparison of our strengths, weaknesses, and interests, the most obvious path was to become a pair of freelance geologists. It’d be like if Magnum, P.I. cloned himself, went insane, sold the Ferrari for a station wagon, replaced his .45 with a hand lens, wore even shorter short-shorts, and started laughing a lot at his own (or his clone’s) moronic jokes.

In other words, I’m ready for what’s next in life. Things are really great right now—the best since I left school—but I have a clock ticking in the back of my head. Moving to Eugene has only exacerbated my wanderlust, not diminished it. My cube here at work is literally plastered with roadmaps of the West and southern Canada, and half my brain power is devoted to fantasies of desert drives, exhausting mountain scrambles, small town breakfasts, and running naked across playas.

Therein lies part of the dilemma: leave work or stay on course? Feed the addiction or manage it? Never have I had such a conflict between my strongly-rooted pragmatism and my ever-growing desire to go exploring while my body, wallet, and lifestyle can readily accommodate it.

The other major complicating factor is the money that Uncle Jueri left to me (and Trav) upon his death. I dropped most of it on a big down-payment on the house and invested the rest. Were I to keep the house and cash-out the investments, I’d have just enough to pay for grad school.

What follows is the internal argument, Lincoln-Douglas style, that is always running in my head. This is basically an exercise in self-centeredness, but I’ve got to write it down … my sanity is eroding before the inescapable logic of both Pragmatism and Wanderlust.

Pragmatic side says:
- Must cover mortgage and home-improvement projects.
- Must pay for grad school.
- This job sucks, but stick with it for awhile so you can save some dough … and it sounds like some cool work is finally coming down the pipe.

Wanderlust side says:
- It’ll hurt, but you CAN cover both the house and the projects on your own … besides, two renters offset the pain and hey—you can always sell the house.
- Work only sucks because of the people, not the projects.
- Is grad school really worth it? Why not use the money to start your own business?

Pragmatic side says:
- Of course grad school is worth it! Since you’re going to be working in some capacity for the rest of your life, why not take the steps to create a rewarding career? Besides, you’re craving to spend your days around people you have things in common with.
- Think about it: if you’re traveling a lot, when are you going to have time to meet people? Who will you travel with? When are you going to get time to find your special lil’ buddy who understands your humor, is easy to travel with, and shares her soy ice cream sandwiches with you?

Wanderlust side says:
- So … when are you going to find time to learn guitar/piano/fiddle, get re-certified for scuba, learn how to fly a glider, learn welding, design and sell tshirts, pursue your Oregon Fish Map idea, take classes in small business management and auto mechanics, train for Mt Shasta, revamp your house, go explore Banff/Jasper, buy a land-sailer (and use it!), take winter hiking classes, help Danae document Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, hike the PCT between Hwy 58 and McKenzie Pass, traverse the Olympic Peninsula, write “The French Bread Connection” screenplay … ?

Pragmatic side says:
- So … how do you plan to fund your adventures? You’ll destroy your investments. Are you serious about buying desert land some day and building a house? Do you have ANY idea what you’ll be doing 5 years from now? Your big vice is laziness … do you really have the drive to be successful at whatever you plan to do?

Wanderlust side says:
- Uncle Jueri realized the utter futility of his path in life at the age of 74 and died two years later … if he could do it all over again, which path do you think he would choose? Were he here, don’t you think he’d say “go for it”?

Pragmatic side says:
- He probably would. But you can’t deny the bottom line: money gives you choices. The less money you have, the less able you are to choose your own direction in life. Think about all the sad bastards you’re surrounded by that are forced to work—even though they hate it—to support their family, pursue their (now-diminished) goals, and to ensure some comfort in retirement. Don’t end up stuck like them.

Wanderlust side says:
- That’s a valid point, but not wholly applicable here.
- First, you’re 27. Your body and health are still good and you don't have to worry about anyone else besides you.
- Second, you’ve demonstrated before that you can build a job and paycheque from virtually nothing. You don’t have debt—actually your credit rating is on par with Jesus. Money will always play a vital role in life, but it shouldn’t be the controlling factor.
- Third, you don’t believe in reincarnation or Heaven or anything like that. This is your one shot at life. The opportunity for these things is now. And if not now, when?
- Fourth, without the ability to exercise your life choices (because of work), financial freedom is basically a useless pile of money sitting under a mattress.
- Last, what is life without a little risk? “Pragmatism” is fundamentally rooted in insecurity.

So there they are, fully fleshed out: the two streams of reasoning that have guided my life ever since I washed dishes at Bryce Canyon National Park. Life here on planet Me sure is absorbing.