An Open Letter to Frustrated 20-Somethings
It’s time to reflect.
I’m 27 now. In the past 10 years I’ve gone through a huge evolution in thought regarding careers, passions, the concept of “work” and life direction.
My first job at the YMCA (at 15), I figured out within two weeks that I was great at “pitching” myself during the interview. I’m a likeable guy…but the work was boring and tedious…and it showed. It’s hard to keep high enthusiasm during summer camp, trust me.
I thought it was the job that sucked.
So I moved through a series of other jobs hoping that I’d find one I liked: museums, retail, grocery stores, restaurants…a ton of things. Each one had some element I liked, but within weeks I always felt like I was an indentured servant working for pennies with no end in sight. The worst part about this was when I’d see people who had been in these jobs for 30 years. They were in a state of zombie-like compliant quasi-misery.
Like moaning dogs laying on nails who are too lazy to move.
I remember during my training at Publix (grocery store), one of the assistant managers pointed to his boss endearingly and said “Greg hasn’t missed a day or called in sick in 27 years.” As if this was some good thing, a point to be proud of.
I just remember thinking to myself “What the hell is wrong with these people??”
I quit that job faster than Kim K quits a marriage.
Eventually, I came to the realization that I could job hop my whole life, I could go to college and get a degree and hop around with that on higher paying jobs — but in the end, the problem wasn’t with the employers…it was with me.
I had the problem. It wasn’t about getting a better paying job. It was about having a job. Period.
I was having a major case of cognitive dissonance between what I wanted my life to be and the options I saw available. Part of this was because, at a very deep level, I was afraid to admit what I really wanted. I was afraid I’d be called lazy, impractical, idiotic, etc. I didn’t want to be ridiculed.
You know what I want? I don’t want to work. Like…not ever.
I don’t want to be responsible for showing up anywhere simply because I won’t be able to feed myself if I don’t show up.
I don’t want to be told I can’t do something, that I “don’t have any ‘sick days’ left”, that I won’t be getting a raise or I’m being laid off.
I don’t want to worry that I’m late or not meeting someone else’s standards, and as a result, might not be able to keep supporting myself.
I don’t want to be forced to stay in a specific location and never get away because I have to clock in somewhere.
You know what I hate?
When people ask me “what do you do?”
What do I do? I don’t DO anything. I AM somebody. I can do so much. I’m not narrowly defined by skills I use to make money.
What you do to make money is completely separate from what you do with your time. Ironically, many people spend all that time getting more money.
Am I the only one who sees the sick paradox here?
If it were up to me, you know what I’d do? I’d spend my life traveling, learning languages, practicing martial arts, reading, writing, helping people by building products and services I love, eating good food and (eventually) raising smart, open-eyed children.
I mean, can we just be honest here. It’s just you, me and this letter. If it was up to you, you wouldn’t go to work tomorrow, would you? Even if you “like” your job, wouldn’t you much rather be doing exactly what you want to do at the pace you want to do it? Not because you’re lazy and don’t like putting effort into your pursuits, it’s because you’d rather put your full energy into the things that really ignite you. Whatever those things are.
Now, 95 percent of people will say “But Daniel, you have to do SOMETHING for ‘work’. You can’t just be a bum. You need to get a job or something and then do stuff on your free time.”
This is incorrect thinking based on the overwhelming cultural paradigm that says work should be placed squarely at the center of your life, with any fun or recreation coming as an afterthought. It’s the deferred life plan, where you save, save, save for 50 years, contribute to your 401k and, when you’re 60 (that’s early retirement actually…), hope to finally stop working and live the last 20ish years of your life in frugal quietude, clinging to a slipping middle class existence as inflation goes up and your savings decreases.
At least now you have time to finally do everything you wanted to do…right?
Sounds bittersweet to me.
I propose another way.
Related: Retire? Not in a Million Years.
We’ve seen what happens when work is your central focus. Working for work’s sake, spending all your time making more money or obsessing about money instead of doing the things you really want to do because you’re ashamed to actually admit what those things are for fear of being labeled different. God forbid you don’t have “work ethic.”
What if you were to make your life and the pursuits that interested you -- traveling, learning, physical activities, art, whatever -- the center(s) of your life and fit work in like a planet in orbit, designed to support your life and pursuits without completely taking over?
What if your presence wasn’t actually required to generate the resources that support you, and you were left to roam the earth freely?
What would you REALLY do with your life?
Have you ever considered that in a completely digitized society this is a very real possibility?
This isn’t a popular way of thinking, and if you don’t have any friends or role models living like this, it’s hard to imagine that this is even possible.
But as I’ve met more and more incredible people through my blog -- people who are living that “fictional” life -- I realize that it’s not only very possible, but that there’s a formula to creating these circumstances. It’s not luck, and it’s not voodoo or “positive affirmation.”
In the past 12 months I’ve gotten increasingly closer to this reality.
Are you one of the few who believes a better way is possible, not just for people in books or in the news, but for YOU?