I’ve spent the last three weeks trying to get this site up and running; desperately fighting against the lost opportunity of things I want to write about. Now, as I have the site up, and I stare at the blank screen ready for my commentary, I find I don’t know what to say. Perhaps its not that I have nothing to say, but I have so much to say and don’t know where to begin.
This is meant to be an introduction, and as such, must say everything, but tell nothing. It should foreshadow things I will write about, but not give the full detail.I suppose I could begin with a history, what led my wife and I to where we are, and what we hope to achieve; but I’m not sure any of that would be of interest without knowing what it is that we are trying to achieve. I could explain where we are and what we believe, but that has taken us about five years of research, philosophising, and truck stop coffee. How do I wrap that up in a single article? How do I wrap that up without writing a novel?
Perhaps a middle ground.
I’ve always loved the work I do. I don’t think you can be a really good software developer without loving the thrill of the solving an intense and difficult problem. It’s a little more than that though: I’ve always loved working.
Now, a few of my friends have looked at me strangely for this over the years, but I really do love working. I love to apply my effort and see something of value come from my effort. That’s a really cool thing.
I found myself working for an employer, making about half what a person of my skill set should be making, but with the promise of working on some really cool projects and working for a company that really cared for its employees. The problem? If something looks too good to be true, it probably is. I shortly realised that the reason the company needed to offer a games room, and free massages, coffees every Friday, casual dress code… was because you were expected to never leave.
I had a “good” job, a “good” salary. I was exhausted. I could not think straight. I literally had not seen my wife in three months. The company was working me to death, and I was volunteering for it the whole way. Then one day my wife asked me how much I was making per hour, given how many hours I was working… it worked out to the going rate for cashiers at fast food joints. That was the night I received an email from my boss informing me that I wasn’t being a team player and needed to put in more hours to ensure the completion of the current project.
Obviously there was a problem, and the first step was to identify what it was. It would be easy to say that the company was mistreating its employees, but as with most problems the obvious answer was mearly a symptom of a larger underlying issue.
That statement identifies what the problem is.
This was not the first company I have worked for that put me in this position. I have spoken with friends and determined that they were experiencing similar situations. I spoke with successful family, I spoke with unsuccessful family. I polled for as much information as possible and I found something interesting; a common cultural thread within business, within Calgary, within people: altruism.
The common thread was altruism.
In nearly every job I had, I had worked for the greater good of the company. I had always felt it was my most sacred duty to work and produce. Remember, that I love to work and build and create; but I had mistaken that love for a love of duty. I was working for other people, not myself. I am not speaking of being an employee here. Creating something for someone else to use and derive benefit from is actually the best thing in the world as far as I’m concerned. What I am referring to is the fact that I was not doing this work because I was gaining something out of it. I should at least derive satisfaction, or financial compensation, or… something. At least then both parties are gaining something. Instead, I was doing it out of a sense of duty to sacrifice myself to the job.
There are months, maybe even years, of discussion and reading in what I just wrote; suffice it to say, I came to the conclusion that if I was going to be working that hard, for that little, I may as well be deriving the full benefit of my effort.
Once the problem has been identified clearly, the solution is usually self-evident. The key to this problem lies in the statement “full benefit of my effort”.
It’s a fine thing to say and many people have said it, including the people I saw around me who were miserable. I have watched “successful” people, work for years to form their own companies from the ground up, only to be sick, miserable, and isolated. They had received all of the money from their efforts by working themselves to death. As with all things, we need to look a little deeper.
The real key to this problem lies in the word “benefit”.
Why do we work? What do we hope to obtain? What do we hope to attain? What benefit do we hope to derive from our efforts? These were the questions that had been nagging at me. This narrative is almost deceptive in that it depicts these questions as being the conclusion of a linear set of events, but they had been nagging me for years in one form or another.
Since I was old enough to form coherent thoughts, I have wanted one thing: a piece of land to call my own and foster in some way. I wanted to take a piece of land and foster it to be something more than it was. I wanted to heal a piece of land and cause it to be a healthy and beautiful place.
That is what I had been working for all these years. My intent was to work hard, save money, buy some land, and retire to it. Sharon and I had discussed this plan, we had looked at properties and discussed what the requirements were for the land, what it was going to take to achieve the vision, and we had come to a single conclusion: I would be too old to foster the land by the time I was able to own it; unless something changed.
What if we could own it now? What if we could start working it now? All of the effort I was putting in was not getting me closer t the goal, it was mearly putting money away toward a future in which I would not work (what we call retirement). I have never wanted to not work, so what is the point to making enough money to not have to. Retirement, for me, has always meant having enough resources to not *have* to work, but only to work because I love the job, or because I think the project worthwhile. Well, if the job is profitable, and worthwhile, I could retire immediately.
I have decided to retire immediately.
But this isn’t a matter of walking away from anything. I realised that I was mearly trapped, doing something I didn’t want to do, I wasn’t allowed to create things of value. This isn’t walking away from that trap, so much as walking toward what I’ve always wanted: to be self-reliant, to be self-expressing, to create something of value by my own power. The key is to be able to dictate what will be considered of value, to not be a slave to the whims of others, to not live for other people’s benefit, but mearly to define what value means to me and to seek it out.
Sharon and I have decided to sell almost everything we own: our house and our furniture. We have decided to walk away from our city jobs with steady pay-cheques. We have decided to leave what family and friends we have behind. We have decided to move to rural Nova Scotia where we will start a smallholding. We will begin to seek ways to grow our own food, raise our own animals and in the end, live our lives for ourselves, expend our energy for our own gain. Live our lives in the way we see fit, for our own personal satisfaction. We have decided to retire from this crappy world, and build a better one, in our own image.
I hope we’re right.