The Lost Art of Leisure

“A plongeur is a slave, and a wasted slave, doing stupid and largely unnecessary work. He is kept at work, ultimately, because of a vague feeling that he would be dangerous if he had leisure. And educated people, who should be on his side, acquiesce in the process, because they know nothing about him and consequently are afraid of him.”
― George Orwell, Down and Out in Paris and London

“My father taught me to work, but not to love it. I never did like to work, and I don’t deny it. I’d rather read, tell stories, crack jokes, talk, laugh — anything but work.”
― Abraham Lincoln

You might have noticed that I’ve gone incommunicado the past 2 months.  I haven’t been writing, as you can see.  I haven’t been answering email, or checking in on Twitter.  I had an occasional urge to write a new post here, but that always quickly subsided and I got back to doing whatever it was that I was doing. Which usually did not involve sitting at a computer.

This new lifestyle started in mid-June, when my wife was set to leave town for about a week and I was to stay home with my 2 kids.  Right before she left, I lost my phone.  I wasn’t too worried about it, and I decided to just to replace it with a prepaid flip phone rather than another smart phone.

Then on the day she left, my laptop battery charger stopped working. She had taken her laptop, as well as our Android tablet, and so between my lost phone and uncharged laptop I found myself suddenly without internet access.

So there I was, in just a few days I went from having a normal life with all the glories and pitfalls of the imaginary leash created by smart phones and laptops – to total freedom.  A sweet, quiet, liberating detachment from the constant communication we surround ourselves with by carrying the internet in our pockets.

This had surprisingly significant effects.  When the kids would escape to the playground to play with each other, I typically would have used that moment of freedom to do something really useful like check Twitter on my phone, or read some sensationalized news article on cnn.com.  But I didn’t have my phone, so I just sat there and watched the kids.  And read books.  And sometimes just stared into space and rested my brain that hadn’t been truly rested in decades (though I hadn’t realized it until then).

When my kids did something Instagram-worthy, I had to just capture the memory in my head to tell a story later, rather than chase them around with my smartphone camera.

And after just a day or two of adjusting to this scary sound of information silence, it felt shockingly great.  I had accidentally stumbled upon a powerful realization: The increasing ease of immediate information in this technology age has created a direct attack on the art of leisure.  Even when we’re not at work, we’re working.  We’ve created non-paying jobs out of thin air.  Keeping up with the news, keeping up with our Netflix queues, taking pictures and sharing them, texting constantly, checking Twitter and Facebook…  You get the picture.

“I don’t envy “busy.” Busy means having a schedule, not living life. What I really covet is leisure and peace of mind. Those who have both, have it all.”
― Donna Lynn Hope

All of this was by chance, of course.  I didn’t plan some grand scheme of becoming disconnected and, ultimately, deeply relaxed and present and in the moment. I mean, that was a state I knew I wanted to reach, but I didn’t conceive of a plan to lose my phone and break my laptop charger to achieve it.  Nor did I realize that losing those things would be a good thing.

But there I was, disconnected and present and relaxed.  Practicing real leisure for the first time in a long time.

That was two months ago, but after that I was in no hurry to return to the busy world we live in without leisure.

We’re a culture of people checking Facebook while sitting at red lights (or worse, while driving).  People rushing from place to place, always behind and stressed.  Filling their weekends with chores and activities then complaining that they didn’t get recharged as Monday morning rolls around.  People getting anxious because they’re falling behind on their Netflix queue, or because they’ve caught up on all their shows and need to hurry and find a new one to kill time in the evening (which, I’ll argue, is not real leisure).  I’ve even recently had a discussion with a friend who was stressed about making their vacation plans.  It’s insanity!

So here’s my advice: Stop!  Be still.  Rest.  Go find a quiet spot where no cars can access and people are few and far between, and just read a fictional book that teaches you nothing, one that is only meant for entertainment.  Or, better yet, forget the book and just sit quietly with your own thoughts.  Embrace that scary sound of silence.

And it will be scary at first.

Once you’ve done this, do it again.  Increase the duration and frequency until you actually look forward to truly doing nothing.

“Leisure is only possible when we are at one with ourselves. We tend to overwork as a means of self-escape, as a way of trying to justify our existence.”
― Josef Pieper, Leisure: The Basis Of Culture

I’m sure some of you are thinking “Sure, easy for you to say BNL.  You’ve already achieved financial independence and quit your job.  You have all the time in the world now.  Have you already forgotten what it was like when you did have a job?”

No, I haven’t forgotten what it was like.  If I had, I wouldn’t be inclined to sit in front of my laptop and write this down (an activity that certainly is not leisure).  But I’ve been blessed with the opportunity to see things with a new perspective now that I’m in this early retirement, and I can see things more clearly.  And what I see is a culture of people that are so damned busy and stressed, and they don’t realize that much of the busyness and stress is self created.  Partially because it’s in our nature, but mostly because it’s scary not to be busy.  I would even go so far as to say that people are proudly addicted to their busyness, without realizing the harm they’re doing to themselves.

And after seeing all of that clearly, I realized that I was the epitome of that self-created stress, and if I could go back and give my 30 year old self any advice I would say to slow down.  Get rid of the non-essential activities, reject overly high ambitions and all the anxiety that comes with it, and enjoy each individual moment for what it is.  Proudly embrace the art of true leisure.

There’s something wonderful about finishing up a transaction at the bank, only to notice a new used book store across the street, then spending the next two hours browsing their selection completely unplanned. Or riding your bike 20 miles down an unknown trail just to see how far it goes.  Or walking 3 miles to a destination when you could have biked or driven, just because you’re in a walking mood and in no hurry.  Or listening to someone apologize for being late, and honestly responding that it’s OK because you’re not in a hurry.  I point these things out because they’re all things I did this week, while practicing my newly renewed art of leisure.

These things may not all be possible for you right now, since I’m sure most of you have jobs, kids, and other responsibilities. But if you start analyzing your time and figuring out what “responsibilities” you can start stripping out of your life, I’m sure you can all free up significant time for real leisure.  And if you do it, you won’t regret it.

“We can say without exaggeration that the present national ambition of the United States is unemployment. People live for quitting time, for weekends, for vacations, and for retirement; moreover, this ambition seems to be classless, as true in the executive suites as on the assembly lines. One works not because the work is necessary, valuable, useful to a desirable end, or because one loves to do it, but only to be able to quit – a condition that a saner time would regard as infernal, a condemnation.”
― Wendell Berry, Bringing it to the Table: Writings on Farming and Food

Bored In Retirement?  I Don’t Think So!

Bored In Retirement? I Don’t Think So!

This morning I woke at 6:30, not by an alarm clock but by the quiet lurking of my 6-year old son as he crawled into bed with my wife and me.  I rolled over, told him good morning, and just rested quietly with him next to me.

This rest I experience in the morning now is a deep rest.  Not just a physical rest used to mentally prepare for another day.  This is also a mental and emotional rest.  It’s a deep relaxation.  It’s the outcome that hard working folks seek as they leave the office at lunchtime to go to yoga class, and what many yearn for when they join meditation groups (sanghas), exercise daily, and why they drink alcohol after a long day at the office.

And so this morning, like every morning since I’ve retired, I laid there and rested. I focused on my breathing, I listened to the birds chirping outside my window, and I slowly began to awake.  Unlike when I was working, I didn’t immediately kickstart my brain into planning my day, writing a mental list of what I needed to do that day, and worrying about how I would keep up.  These days I don’t worry about my day at all, because I know the day will come to me.  And boy does it come to me.

That’s right.  Although I’m in a different and far superior mental state of relaxation, I’ve never had so much time, energy, and desire to do so much.

Most mornings, after I eventually roll out of bed, I’ll head downstairs to play with my two kids as my wife (usually) cooks up a hearty breakfast.  I sip fresh coffee as I play games, read books, or play guitar with my two kids.  This morning, we did origami together using some instructional books my kids found at the library.  And so we folded and twisted paper in our front entry room, a room where I recently replaced the nasty 20 year old carpet with a dark, clean hardwood.  I did this myself, saving a few thousand bucks with just a few days of effort.  It’s unsettling to have the floor ripped up and furniture piled up in another room while the work is in progress, but a benefit of early retirement is that time is plentiful, and so I was able to finish the flooring myself in just a few days.

After we finished reading books and eating breakfast, I grabbed the fish food and journeyed outside to my backyard aquaponics setup that I recently built (again, after I retired and found myself with so much time).  The plants are really starting to grow now, as the nutrient rich water is finding a natural ecological balance between the ammonia fish waste, the bacteria that converts ammonia to nitrates and nitrites, and the vegetable plants that feed off the nitrates and filter the water for the fish.

As I feed the fish, I think about the eCommerce store I’m beginning to research and build.  I’m reminded of it because it’ll be a store that sells aquaponic supplies and equipment for other modern gardening techniques that I believe will be the future of a decentralized, healthier, and cheaper food supply.

I’m then reminded of the stress I used to feel when I would think about starting yet another nano-business.  I smile to myself, thinking about how I used to get so terribly stressed when I had an idea for a business but I lacked the time and energy to go make it happen.  My mind would be torn, wanting badly to work a side business to fulfill what seems to be a deeply engrained entrepreneurial spirit, yet lacking the time and energy to fulfill those needs.  But not today.  Today, I’ll have the time.  But I’m also able to relax, knowing that tomorrow I’l have the time as well.  So if I have the itch this afternoon to work on it, I will.  If I don’t, then I’ll wait and reconsider it tomorrow.  I have many other things to do…

After taking care of my aquaponics, I went downstairs to my new office.  A month ago, this was an over-crowded guestroom that we barely used, except to traverse on our way to the laundry room. But with all the free time retirement has granted my wife and I, we’ve now converted it to an office for our nanobusinesses.  Soon, I’ll be building a cheap DIY murphy bed, so that our guests can still have a nice place to stay.  But that’s for another day.

In my new office, I began my work.  Last night, I built a DIY photography lightbox for $1.50 plus some materials laying around the house.  I’m using it to take picture of products that my wife and I have for one of our other nano-businesses, buying liquidation products in bulk auction and selling them for a profit on eBay. That business makes about $1000/month these days, which works out to about $100/hour considering the limited time we spend on it.  We don’t need the money, but it’s a fun activity for us after the kids are in bed – and our thought is that it’ll pay for any over-the-top discretionary expenses that we haven’t budgeted for.  That business alone could have us taking a vacation every money or two (or three, if we took a really fancy and expensive trip).

After I finished taking pictures, I went back upstairs and helped get the kids ready for a play date (yesterday was the last day of school).  Now my wife and kids are gone off to the playdate, and I’m back in the office writing this article.  It’s not quite lunchtime, and I’m already as satisfied with my day’s output as I was from any long day in an office.  Actually, much more so.

At 4:00, my son has his first ever karate practice at the YMCA.  I’m grateful that I’ll be able to go and watch some of it, even though it’s held at a time that most people are still at work.  I know that many working parents are lucky to have just one adult that can get away from their job to pick their kid up from daycare and rush them to an activity like this.  It’s not lost on me how fortunate we are that both my wife and I can be there on his first day, and in the future we can split up this task so that the other can have some more free time.

 

Life is good right now.  My passive income continues to pay for our basic necessities (and growing at a rate that should be faster than inflation), and our nano-businesses are more than capable of paying for some any luxuries we might want.  Time is plentiful, and stress is at an all-time low – which says a lot considering we have a 4 and 6 year old!  I know how fortunate I am, but I also know that my circumstance didn’t come without making some serious life changes.  The good news is, for many people reading this, it’s a life that’s possible for you if you’re wanting and willing to make similar changes.

It’s lunchtime now, so I think I’ll go upstairs and make something to eat.  After that, my kids will come home.  Maybe we’ll all go swimming.  Or maybe I’ll go outside and work on refinishing my deck.  Or work on that aquaponics website.  Or maybe I’ll just relax and read a book. It doesn’t matter, whatever I don’t do will be waiting for me tomorrow.

 

Socrates once said “Beware the barrenness of a busy life.”  I believe he was right.  I don’t lack things to do these days, but I’m not “busy.”  Most importantly, this life certainly isn’t barren.

“The Man” Is You

“The Man” Is You

If there’s a bad part about retiring early (and so far there aren’t many), it would be that I have to shift my blogging muse perspective from the negative (“here’s why it SUCKS to be stuck in an office”) to the positive (“here’s why it’s AWESOME to NOT be stuck in an office”).

But before I wrap-up that paradigm shift, I’m going to dig into the well one more time.

This is an alternative optimistic follow up to my previous post on corporations. It wasn’t my intention to be pessimistic in the last post, just honest.  But I know a few of you didn’t like it.  ;)

During my last week in the office, a coworker of mine came up to me to vent. He’d just finished a conference call with our management and one of our large customers. The project he was working on is way behind schedule, and the customer wasn’t happy. Even worse, the scope of the project was increasing without changing to the schedule.

This scope increase is a common scenario in the engineering world, and I suspect it’s pretty common in most corporate environments. I like to playfully refer to this as “planning for failure,” but unfortunately most people haven’t accepted this. Instead, they think of it as “planning for overtime.” This might not be so bad, except we’re all on salary so overtime really just means “working for free.”

Here’s the conversation as it played out:

Andy: (sighs) I just got off the phone with <insert customer>. Do you remember when we scoped out this project, and we all agreed that we would buy an off-the-shelf <insert widget>, rather than designing our own custom <insert widget>?

Me: Yeah. Why?

Andy: Well, now they want us to design and test the <widget>. That’s weeks of extra work, and we’re already way understaffed and behind schedule.

Me: That’s not good. I guess you’ll have to change the schedule and the budget.

Andy: Yeah, you’d think. But <insert manager and director> were on the call and they said we’d do it. They told <customer> we were committed to this project and that we’re willing to do whatever it takes to get back on schedule and give them what they want. They didn’t even act like it was additional work.

Me: What’s in the SoW? (This is the Statement of Work: The detailed definition of what the design teams will provide, including the scope of work, budget, and schedule)

Andy: It says that we’d buy it off the shelf.  That we’d do no design and only a small amount of integration testing.

Me: Then you’ll have to change the schedule if they want more than that.

Andy: It’s not that easy.  Our fearless leaders already agreed to it.  So the SoW doesn’t do much good if we don’t stick with it.

Me: You’re looking at it wrong. The SoW isn’t just an agreement between our two companies, it’s also an agreement between Engineering and Management.  If you accept this overtime, then you’re condoning it. And if it was a one-time thing, maybe that’s the right thing to do.  But do you think that in this case it’s the right thing to do?

Andy: No, but…

Me: Engineers are terrible, and electrical engineers are the worst.  We complain about the long hours and having no social life, and yet we constantly blame “The Man” for our situations.  The truth is, we create this environment for ourselves by always sucking it up.  If you don’t want to work nights and weekends for the next 6 months, then you need to go take the SoW to <insert manager> and tell them that this is out of scope, and that we’re not resourced to pull it off.  It’s one thing to work overtime when we screw up, or during “crunch time” on a project, but to actually plan for it is absurd.  And if you condone it, or even accept it, then you are The Man.

(end scene)

The irony is, I worked crazy long hours during the first decade of my career.  And it would be easy to call me a hypocrite now for calling someone else out now that I’m in retirement. But there’s a key difference: when I worked those long hours I actually wanted to.  I was young, energetic, and filled with ambition.  I didn’t do it because someone made me, I did it because I wanted to be the best. I wanted more money and more authority, I wanted to beat my peers and rise up the ranks faster than anyone ever has in the industry.  I never ever complained.  Like a cyclist in the Tour de France that actually pushes the pace near the top of the Col du Tourmalet, I wanted to keep working to see if I could break everyone else in the Peloton with my relentless pace.

But let’s face it, most people aren’t like this.  Instead, most people will complain under their breath, and begrudgingly suck it up. Like Andy…

For me, when the day came that I no longer wanted to work long hours (coinciding with when my son was born 6 years ago), I stopped doing it.  And you know how much my career trajectory slowed down?

None.

Not a bit.  I continued to rise up the promotional ranks, get maximum bonuses, and increased authority.  As that continued to happen, I realized something: The Man, who’s been pushing us to work more and to prioritize our work over our family, is within.  No one ever expected me to work like I did, and no one punished me when I stopped.

I realized that The Man is just a figment of our imagination who we let control us through fear.  Fear of being fired, of letting someone down, or of not getting a much-desired promotion.  Sure, there are plenty of people that will let you work your ass off: managers, customers, stockholders, and even your peers – they will all let you work harder to make their live’s easier.  But they aren’t The Man.  They can’t be The Man because they’re all busy working for their own “Man.”

What To Do About It

The power in this message is simply in recognizing the truth, that The Man is an imaginary guy in your head that holds no power over you unless you give him that power. There’s no one holding you down, no one holding a gun to your head to work so hard that you’re sacrificing your physical, mental, or emotional health.  There’s no one chaining you up and keeping you from your family. There are plenty of people that will let you believe that there’s a gun to your head if it means they get some benefit from it, but with rare exceptions there’s no one ready to fire you for not letting your career overtake your life.

In the case of my buddy Andy, I told him to try exactly what I’d done many times in the past.  I told him to take the SoW, mark it up and present it to his manager with logic and reason, and no emotion.  Explain that it was out of scope, and that he couldn’t support it without a schedule change.  I told him to explain that we write the SoW for a reason, and that we shouldn’t “plan for overtime.”

When he removed the anger and frustration from his mind and his communication to his manager, he was able to rationally explain the situation to his manager and the customer.  Ultimately, the customer prioritized the schedule and regressed back to the original scope of work, knowing that he was right.  And just that easily, The Man was emasculated.

Even now in retirement, I still love sticking it to The Man.  :)

tl;dr?  The Man doesn’t exist.  So stop blaming him, and take responsibility for your own work/life balance.

Corporations’ Colonization of Human Life

This article has been on my mind for a long time.  I drafted it in my head over a year ago, then spent the past year observing reality and modifying my theory.  I didn’t want to finalize the article until my corporate life was over which, thankfully, is now the case.  So here goes…

I have good news and bad news.  Let’s start with the bad news: If you work for a large corporation then your life is being colonized, cultivated, and used by someone that isn’t you.  Whatever you believe life is, whether it’s a spirit given to you by God, or a random mix of organic compounds that have evolved into something magnificent over billions of years, or a mystic energy that hovers inside your vessel of flesh and bones – your life is being colonized.

That’s right, your life is being populated, cultivated, and overrun by a soulless inanimate object we all call a corporation.

There’s good news, though.  Although your inner being is being invaded, with your life being sucked dry into a walking, living death of an existence – there is an escape. And this escape isn’t complicated.  We’ll get to that later.

The Colonization Of Your Life

Try to imagine your life as a vast open field, rich with millions of years of developed topsoil.  The field is alive with color, and rich with life.  Wildlife roams peacefully and harmoniously across these plains.  This was your life before it was colonized.  It was calm and blissful, void of worry and want.  It just was.

And then one day your parents sat you in front of the television, and the colonization began.  With the very first commercial, the first crop was planted.  Soon, the corporate farmers began to move in by the herd, seeking the rich topsoil of your life.  And they planted and harvested, planted and harvested, using up your millions of years developed nutrients in just decades.

It started with television, then school, then more and more schooling. And with each year that went by, and each lesson memorized in school, the wildlife in your field became domesticated.  The plants stopped growing in a natural ecosystem, but instead became dependent on the colonizing farmers’ irrigation system.  The natural ecosystem of plants and animals that represented your creativity and innocence was eventually lost to television marketing and schooling.  With you creativity and innocence mostly lost, your life was ready for the final step in colonization – your entrance into the corporation.

Corporation: An ingenious device for obtaining profit without individual responsibility.

- Ambrose Bierce

The corporation is the benefactor of your domestication, and it achieves this through colonizing your life.  Unlike schools that simply beat the wildlife into submission, the corporation ties the animals to a plow and teaches it to haul.

And so it grow it’s crops and kills everything that gets in it’s way.  The wildlife is fenced off, left to starve in the barren fields of past production – this was your creativity.  The animals that can’t be fenced off are killed off with pesticides – this was your innocence.

And just as the colonizing farmer doesn’t care that the dying wildlife was critical to the millions of years of balance to the ecosystem that provided the rich topsoil he’s now using – that won’t help tomorrow’s yield – neither does the corporation care about your creativity, individuality, or life’s spirit. (Sure, it will say that it does care and it will even nurture these things at times, but only so far as it can harvest more crops later).

And so as the wildlife dies in the field that is your life, you become the tool you unknowingly set out to be for the corporation – The Working Dead.

workingdead

It Gets Worse

But wait!  It gets even worse.

Before I continue, let me clarify that I fully realize the cynicism that’s dripping from this article. And I hate cynicism.  But I could find no justice in smoothing out the edges of this truth – that as long as you are working for a corporation, then you are a member of this new class of human sapiens – the working dead.

I said it gets worse, so let me explain. Sadly, the situation I’ve described so far only takes us up to the 1980′s.  But corporations are smart and always evolving, and their colonization of your life has continued to improve in it’s efficiency and effectiveness over the past few decades.  Just like the farmer’s technology and methods have continued to change as their environment worsens, so has the corporations’.

Up until the late 1990′s or early 2000′s, work was limited.  Sure, office hours were continuing to get longer and longer, but when the day was over you got to “punch out”.  You were exhausted – maybe from a day of hard physical labor, maybe from a long listless day in the cubicle on your phone or filling out TPS reports – but once you got in your car you were free until the next day.  A few hours to relax, spend quality time with your family, and get a good night’s rest.

This all ended with the internet revolution.

Laptops, the internet, and cell phones have allowed huge gains in the corporations methods to further colonize your life.

“But BNL,” you counter, “these things have given me flexibility!  Now I can work from home, and I get flexible hours so I can see my kid play soccer and work after they are in bed!”

My reply is this: Exactly!  You can work from home, from the office, and from the car. You can, and will, work nights and weekends.  If the corporations and schools have really done their jobs, you won’t just dream about some new algorithm or presentation for your job – you will brag about how it came to you in your sleep!

And it’s all veiled in a mask of a new “caring corporation.”  One that cares about work-life balance.  But I’ll argue that work-life balance is simply a trojan horse to get through the gates of your home.

Enter: Modern Corporate Nurturing

The days of the ruthless authoritarian boss are over.  This is no accident.  In fact, there are entire books and training course on how to manage a team effectively using psychological and therapeutic techniques to maximize output.  I know this because I took the training and read the books when I made the jump into management a few years back.  The goal is to maximize employee output while keeping them just satisfied enough to come back another day.

Let’s talk about a few of these techniques so you can’t miss them the next time they’re presented to you at your job.

Manager “One On One’s” (1×1′s) – These are individual meetings where employees meet with their managers and discuss the job.  Usually held weekly or bi-weekly, this is an opportunity for the employee to bring up concerns about the job, tell them what’s bothering them, get help if needed, and discuss their future career path. If held correctly per the management training manual, it’s a non-clinical therapy session, and the employee leaves it excited to get back to work.  It appears good for the employee, but make no mistake that this 30 minutes is an investment by the corporation to get the most out of the employee first and foremost.

Childish Team Building Activities – Ice-skating, laser tag, miniature golf, picnics, waterslides, paintball, and bowling!  I’ve done it all in team building events.  What fun! It’s like we’re kids again!  But have you ever wondered why these activities are financed by the corporation?  Do you believe it’s really to help “build the team?”   The truth is, the intent is not team building at all – it’s nurturing what life is left in the worker.  After all, a completely dead worker is no longer a useful Human Resource.

Eventually, this deeper domestication of the wildlife and colonization of the land that is your life will only go so far.  Just as farmers run out of land, corporations run out of your time.  But colonization seeks growth – and so growth it will find.

The Colonization Into The Rest Of Your Life

As I mentioned earlier, in the old days you were free from work once you left the office, factory, or work site.  But just as a colony seeks new land as it saturates it’s existing land, the corporation seeks new time when it saturates your existing time.  And hiring more employees is expensive, so wouldn’t it be a lot better to find new unchartered time from the employee that is already owned?

Lo and behold, they’ve given you a laptop, free of charge.  Back when you got your first work-issued free laptop in the early 2000′s, you probably thought that was a pretty amazing gift.  Laptops were expensive and cool – they gave you mobility and even a little social status.  But these laptops weren’t a gift, they were a tool for spreading the crops to new land. Now, even at home you could log in and do a little work.

Think about what you make per hour, then think about how many hours you’ve worked from home in the past year?  In most cases, I’m guessing you’ve paid for that laptop many times over.

Then came cell phones. Who wants to pay $80/month for a phone service, when the corporation will gladly pay that for you?  I know I was damn excited to cancel my personal phone service and start using my free work phone.  The catch: twice a week (and sometimes 3 times) I had to hold evening calls with my work peers in China from 7-9 PM.

And so the spread of the colony continued into the evening and early morning hours.

At one point, a few years ago, I was always working.  I worked at 5am when I woke up, and I worked until 10pm, when I was getting ready for bed.  I worked in the office and I worked at home.  I worked from my desk computer, my laptop, and my phone.  I happily did all of this for a corporation that was taking advantage of me without me knowing it.

I like to think I’m a pretty smart and aware guy, so how was I fooled into thinking that I was the winner in this situation?

The answer is simple.  I’d been domesticated, and I’d been made dependent.  Just as a house pet needs it’s owner and wags her tail when she gets to go on a walk, I needed the corporation and wagged my tail when I got a new toy, or a promotion (even with the same pay!).  I didn’t know there was a world outside of this, and I was making the best of the world I knew.

 

There was just one final step for the corporation to make for me, and for everyone else.  Afterall, managing all these Human Resources was time consuming and expensive, and very difficult to scale.  So the final step was to enable the Human Resources to become as fully autonomous as possible, so that the scaling and effectiveness could be done with very little oversight, just a little high level organization.

People that can manage this autonomy are what the corporation refers to as “self starters.”  I know this, because I was a proud self-starter for many years.

If your average corporate worker is a horse pulling a cart, then corporate self-starters, as I was, are nothing more than horses that can strap on their own plow, rally a few other horses to come with them, and work through the night until the field is completely plowed.  The problem is, you’re still a horse, and the colony is still the benefactor of your work.

The Great Escape

I said there was good news, and after over 2000 words of cynicism, it’s time I finally share it. Unlike the fields and wildlife that were domesticated and overrun by our farming analogy, you actually can escape from the corporations’ colonization of your life.  I did it, although my way is not the only way.

There is only one critical action you must take to escape: You must physically remove yourself from the corporation by becoming independent of it.

in·de·pend·ent (indəˈpendənt) - not depending on another for livelihood or subsistence.

You can do this by building up substantial savings so that corporate work is no longer necessary at all, this is what I did.  Or you can take a small amount of savings and escape to a cheaper lifestyle, supplemented by nano-businesses.  Or you can take a chance and venture out on your own doing work for yourself.  All are viable, with their own advantages and disadvantages.

What you can’t do is change the corporation.  I tried this, and it’s a fool’s errand.  To try this is to stand in the ocean and attempt to stop the waves.

You may also be tempted to stay, master the system, and game it for as long as possible while building wealth.  This is what I did for far too long.  And what’s your reward for doing this? I’ll tell you from experience, it’s wasted years and a more exhausting task of de-domestication.

The Rest Of The Story

Corporations will continue to colonize life, and they will succeed. The class of The Working Dead will continue to rise.  And because of that, anxiety and depression will rise.  With that will come the increased use of anti-depressants, and drug and alcohol abuse.  People will continue to blame The Man, without realizing that who they think is The Man is merely a higher paid Human Resource whose life is more thoroughly colonized than their own.

But how your life progresses is completely up to you.  You can accept the colonization and let it use the rich fields of your life until you’re 65, or you can reject it.  If you reject it, you can leave immediately or you can ride it out for awhile with an exit strategy defined.

The important thing is this: Your story is up to you.