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.


Anonymous Kramer said...

When I face life's most difficult decisions, I seek solace from a source of great wisdom (http://www.johnsonville.com/siteconf.nsf/Lkp/index-l0-home.html). Just knowing that someone is cooking up "JOOOHHHNNNSONVIIIIILLLLE BRAAAATS" steers me onto the right track.

Seriously, of all my friends and peers, you are one I admire most in many ways. First and foremost, I respect your drive to be true to yourself. I believe that true happiness in life comes from self-awareness and improvement. Also, you're very resourceful in even the most dire of financial restrictions (helper anyone?). My point is, I think you'll end up where you want regardless of the immediate path.

You take care of yourself and the money will work itself out. Good luck with all the difficult decisions that lie ahead...

7:51 AM  
Blogger alicat said...

I think a lot of us face some sort of dichotomous crossroads more often than we credit. Most find a balance between the fun and the responsiblities. Others swing entirely one way or the other. No one can tell you what is right.

I struggle with my dreams and my daily life. I never thought I'd be working for a huge company that builds weapons- I always thought I would be the humanitarian aide helping an impoverished nation fortify itself. I wanted to avoid 'the routine' as much as possible.

I wrote on something similar in my blog awhile back; finding it completely ironic that we are told as children we can do anything we want in this life. The untold caveat states that it needs to follow XYZ for a recipe for success. College, Job, Marriage, Kids...once the boxes are checked you are a whole person!

Not that I'm disappointed with the way my life has turned out- quite the opposite. But sometimes I feel like I was carried here and just ended up loving the charmed life I fell into. Case and point, over recent years, I came to fully believe I didn't want children. Ever. I have never cried so hard from happiness the moment Matt and I heard our baby's heartbeat for the first time.

We get the unexpected everyday. The best we can do is change it, or roll with it.

10:28 AM  
Blogger Waan said...

That site was AWESOME. I totally picked up some sweet recipes for Johnsonville Brahts, which, you'll be happy to know, I consume regularly (sans chewing!). I haven't thought about Helper(TM) in ages. I'm wondering if my lactose intolerance is actually my body's way of revolting against ingesting any more mixing-bowls filled with Tuna Helper.

ANYWAY, I absolutely agree that self-awareness is a large part of having a happy life. If you're not aware of your anxieties and what forces have shaped you as a person, you're less able to address your own flaws. All of my personal hang-ups are reflected in the running internal dialogue. It see-saws directly atop my balance point between frooty romantic and grizzled pragmatic.

And Alison, I wholeheartedly agree that the XYZ formula is not for everyone--but it's certainly for some people. That's not a bad thing as long as they understand why they're following that path instead of letting their anxieties/baggage determine their direction ... which, I think, most people don't. Being on the West Coast has opened me up a lot since there is much less pragmatism and much more impulsiveness. The downside is pretty obvious (i.e. consequences to behavior), but I never appreciated the upside until recently of living in the moment and taking pleasure more seriously.

Oh, and uh ... congratulations on your baby! I happened to read your blog the same day you posted, of course forgetting to congratulate you in the process. So anyway this is obviously the lamest place to do this in ("read the comment section in the last post on my blog ... see, I totally congratulated you!") so I'll give you a ring later.

2:49 PM  
Blogger Pede said...

Grad school can be worth it...

but it depends on what your goals are... grad school for the sake of education, or grad school for the sake of a financially rewarding career, or grad school for the sake of a REWARDING career??

travel: you can meet people while you travel.

I:m always up for a good adventure!! well, unless final review is just around the corner... :) travel and study and travel and study and play and (work) or *work* doing something you love, which forces it out of the *work* category.

5:52 PM  

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