Saturday, August 18, 2012

Why You Philosophically Must Ride Fast and Take Chances

This is a long, but very important one.  So first pour yourself a drink.

Second READ THIS because it will provide the context to what I'm about to write.

Did you read it?


Ok, let's begin:

By most conventional standards and measures I am a failure.

I don't make a lot of money, just enough to get by.

Despite a spectacular track record of predicting economies and assessing risk, I have spectacularly failed in a financial/economic career.

As much success as I've had with the ladies, I've had Tsar Bomba levels of failures.

And understand, this is all while facing an economic environment that is not only very poor, very hostile to capitalist American males, it's likely to be unviable and get much worse.

But how am I so happy?

Very simple lieutenants, agents in the field, and junior, deputy, aspiring, official and otherwise economists.

Context.  Plain and simple context.

You see, I took more risks and have suffered more highs and lows, successes and failures by the age of 25 than most men will by the time they die.  It was and still is exhausting.  It is akin to hiking out mountainous terrain instead of merely driving on the road that bypasses the mountains to reach the same destination.

But, when me and my driving counterpart reach the same destination, I have context. 

I know the lay of the land better, I've got plenty more vantage points and victories by summiting all the mountain peaks, and just as I know failure when I was in the deepest valleys.  I know what's in those mountains while my counterpart who merely drove around them is still wondering.

And over time knowledge will serve you better than wondering as you age.

A small example is 401ks or retirement plans.

It's a fool's game.

Oh, I know that, and you know that.  But how did we get to this epiphany?  We had to journey through a trek of economics, research, philosophy and data crunching.  We also had to dare to have independent thought.

But try explaining that to somebody who didn't hike through the mountains and took the easy route their HR department told them to with their 401k investment options.  To them you're a "kook" a "whack."  Just some sensationalist trying to stir up drama.  Heck, try being in financial advising and telling people, "um, hey, better have a plan B incase the government nationalizes your 403b."

Another example is moving around and job hopping.  I am a job hopper.  Why?

Am I disloyal?

Am I a bad employee?

No, I just can't tolerate politics, lying, indecision, inefficiency, bureaucracy and mediocrity (which, actually in today's America makes me a very bad employee, so um, yes, I am a bad employee).

Is there a consequence?  Certainly - lack of steady income and the stigma associated with job hoppers.  But that reputation or stance is the official one that comes from taking the road.  Let me throw a different spin on it or a different perspective from the mountains.

Loyal employees are suckers.

How many people do you know that slave away, loyally and then get laid off because of ineptitude on the part of management or the economy tanks?  Additionally, how fun is it being the yes man and suffering day in and day out reconciling what you know to be wrong with what you're told to do.  Also, how much suffering and abuse must you sustain because you bought a house you couldn't afford, married a profligate spending spouse and bred children you can barely support?  And good thing you're moving up in income tax brackets to pay those progressively higher taxes!  Right, the loyal corporate stooge is the way to go.

But what's funny is this observation can only be made from a mountain top as you watch the lemmings slave away with no self-respect, just barely scraping by.  They don't see it.  They think there's going to be that gold watch at the end of that road.  They think their company is going to be around forever.  They don't see the road construction around the bend and the bridge out another 3 miles further that you do perched atop your peak.

But arguably the most important thing I've learned or gleaned from taking the trail-never-travelled is what's really important - other people.  And here is where I have to make a confession.

I told all of you I was in South Dakota working in collections.  That was not true.  I was working at yet another wonderful community bank in Wyoming.  I was already on my way to get a 2 year degree in computer networking, but then out of the blue a recruiter called me and wanted to know if I was interested in working a job in Wyoming.

No state income taxes.
It would put me closer to the west and I would finally be able to explore all the national parks to my my heart's content. 
I would recapitalize my bank accounts, pay down the mortgage more, purchase some fixed assets.
The pay was decent.

So off I went knowing full well this was going to be another crappy community bank with the same crappy prospects.  But you'll all be proud of me.

I shut up.
Did what i was told.
Made no waves.
Made no decisions.

I made the job work for me. 

I was excited about moving out west and living my childhood dreams.  But, again, this was taking a chance.  Doing something different.  It was climbing another mountain and not taking the road.  There were going to be lessons.

While I was able to hike more miles and discover more fossils in one single year than I did the past 7 I paid an egregious price.  Not in terms of work (I already climbed previous mountains to know what was in store with another podunk bank), but in terms of society and socializing.

Wyoming is hands down the dumbest state in the world.

Are there smart people?

Yes, certainly.

Are there interesting people?

Yes, certainly.

But those people are married right quick, have children and do not socialize and if the do, it is usually before 10PM. 

Additionally, another interesting aspect of living in Wyoming is that you take the mountains and parks for granted.  Ironically NOBODY hikes or does any kind of physical activity in Wyoming.  There was no limit to the number of people who had LIVED ONLY 2 HOURS AWAY FROM THE BLACK HILLS BUT NEVER WENT THERE.  4 HOURS AWAY FROM BADLANDS NATIONAL PARK AND NEVER BEEN THERE.  They were so convenient, nobody thought to avail themselves of the opportunity.

The result?

The majority of single or socially active people are fat, drunk, uneducated, unintelligent and uninteresting.  The only social activity they engage in is drinking and breeding illegitimate children.  For once I agree with the coast liberals.

Unaware of this sociological trait of the state, what ended up happening was an interesting transformation.  During the first few months I excited and happy, I tore up after mountains, rode my motorcycle wherever I could, shot guns, hunted fossils.  BUt at night I'd come home and there were no friends to go cocktailing with.  There were some places that had dancing, but the men are incredibly possessive of not just their wives or girlfriends, but their ex's.  Plutonic activities involving the opposite sex (ballroom dancing, motorcycle riding, etc.) were impossible.  There was nobody to go dancing with.  I tried to finding hikers and hiking clubs, but there was nobody to go hiking with.  And in the end you could be in a town of 50,000 people, but all alone.  Not because you are unsociable, but because it would be more enjoyable to be by yourself getting your intellectual fix over internet discussion boards with genuinely intelligent people than hanging with the locals at the local dive bar listening to how they can't make their payments on their used pick up truck because they knocked up another girl.

Soon I started drinking.  Even more than I normally do.  And with winter set in, there was really nothing else to do.  Oh I joined a gym and jiujitsu, ran and worked out twice a day, I got right ripped, heck, I wrote "Worthless" in two weeks.  But that still  isn't enough time to kill the entire day.  The booze would inevitably flow at the end of the night because my friends out east in a later time zone had fallen asleep.  It was the only thing to stimulate my brain and also knock me out to dreamland.  This was the valley that taught me my lesson.  BUt this was the valley that provided me the most important context of my life - that the number one thing, the most important thing you have in your life is other people.  They mean more to me that my hatred for Minnesota liberalism and socialism.

I had already decided there was no way my friends or my girlfriend would move out to Wyoming.  I wouldn't do that to them.  And it was very apparent I wouldn't befriend anybody in this state to make it worth staying.  So I crunched some numbers and realized if I made it another 3 months I'd be able to keep my signing bonus and build up enough cash to last about 2 years.  It's not a lot of cash, but with super low living expenses and no children, you'd be amazed how long you can last in the field on little money.

Four days ago, at 8:01 AM on my one year anniversary, I gave my boss my two weeks notice.  The hike was over, I reached my destination and with the KNOWLEDGE that people are the most important thing in your life.  My road-driving counterparts finished their drive, but without that important lesson which is why I'm happier, though a "failure."

The story gets better, as icing to the cake was the bank was worried about me hacking the system or firebombing the place (I thought I was being professional giving a 2 weeks notice, and such a fear would be unfounded).  But then again, with the hypersensitive nature of modern day American employers, a man's word is not worth the risk. They said they would pay me 2 weeks anyway and I could just wrap it up (I wasn't doing any work anyway).

And so to celebrate the end of this journey, I decided to do a victory lap.  The great western motorcycle ride I'm on right now.  While I'm out west and getting paid, I figured i might as well drive down to Phoenix and visit my friends, and head back a different route through the Rocky Mountains.

The story will end in about 2 weeks.  I will return to Wyoming this week.  My boxes have already been packed, ready to move (i've even estimated the amount of time it will take to load up the truck - 20 minutes).  A convoy of friends will come out here to retrieve my gear and my vehicles, and I will drive my motorcycle back to the Twin Cities, straight to "my bar" in "my town" to a homewelcoming party.   A year and 2 weeks of pure hell, and of course your Captain racks up another "failure," but I will return with the context and KNOWLEDGE of what's most important in life - my friends and loved ones.  And, not that I didn't appreciate them before or somehow took them for granted, but  I will appreciate them on a whole new level, be much more thankful for them and enjoy their company at least twice as much as when before I left.  Because of that context, I will be happier than my "more successful" road-travelling, obedient counterpart as he vainly tries to go for that gold watch, gets divorced, and wonders why the government is nationalizing his 401k account when he "did all the right things."

Enjoy the decline!


Mrs. Bob said...

Good for you Captain! (Loved the pictures of Arches in a previous post by the way) (Mr. Bob and I in Utah try very hard to take advantage of the many state and national parks nearby, not just in Utah but nearby states as well) We are also facing a cross roads in our career and living circumstances and feel that starting our own business is what we need to do now. We are also tired of being employees for many of the same reasons. It is scary to think of doing it, but we think of all the things we learned from you in your posts and through our careers. We also miss our family and home since we moved away. We are also considering doing something that some might think is crazy, but we might rent a house with my mom and split the rent. We can rent a really nice home to share and we can lower our monthly payments by 2-300 a month for both of us. Everyone still gets their own space, mainly we have to share one large kitchen. I know not everyone could or would want to live with their parents and it is not the answer for everyone. But we think doing something radically different might be the way we can get a leg up and start our own business. Thanks for the inspiring post.

Malcolm said...

If you ever get sick of the Twin Cities Liberals again, consider Phoenix. We have cocktailing, we have active communities of outdoors folks, we have concealed carry (without a permit), and lots of other things besides.

That, and you can ride a motorcycle year-round here.

Aurini said...

Brilliant! I just started my own 'year of hell' and I'm hoping it'll end late next spring, with a larger motorcycle in the garage.

Keoni Galt said...

Bravo Cappy Cap. Sometimes you need to leave home to learn to appreciate it.

When I was just outta high school, I couldn't wait to "get off the rock" and leave Hawaii and go to the Mainland US.

After one year of living on the West Coast, I realized just how much I loved my home, my family and my friends.

It was a lesson well learned!

However bad you think Minnesota is when it comes to institutionalized liberal-socialist collectivism and crony capitalism, just know that Hawaii is probably worse!

Yet there's no other place I'd rather be.

Anonymous said...

Bah! You yanks worry too much about "success". Go on up to Fort McMurray, get a good-paying job, and meet some Newfs. They'll teach you how to to drink rum, and they are incredible dancers.

lelnet said...

Actually, I don't know anybody within about 15 years of my own age who's willing to slave away for some company for years and years. The general rule seems to be "stay two years for money, and three for fun if you're having any, but anything more will cost $employer enough equity to protect my ideas from petty office politics". Lo and behold, my entire social circle, with myself most definitely included, is divided entirely into one group of owner-operators and key business partners, and one group of what in prior generations would be considered unreliable job-hoppers, but in mine is simply normal.

If an employer demonstrates that they value my input, they'll get the best of it that I have to give. If they don't...well, I'll put in my time, do the work I'm assigned, collect my money, and then move on to the next opportunity when it appears. The salary in the job description buys you the work in the job description, fair and square. But by itself, nothing more.

Loyalty is for those who earn it.

I respect a man who feels the need for "enjoy the decline" minimalism. But it's not the only way through with your soul, either.

Anonymous said...

Congratulations. Ride with the wind.

Anonymous said...

"Ironically NOBODY hikes or does any kind of physical activity in Wyoming."


I don't know about hiking, but try a week's work on a Wyoming drill rig or ranch and get back to us about physical activity.

Anonymous said...

In my time in the army I lived in a lot of different places. Some of them I really hated, but I eventually learned to take advantage of what each place had to offer while I was there. It sounds like you did that while you were in Wyoming. You got out of it what you wanted then its time to move on. In my case the decision to move on was being made by someone else.

If it only took you two weeks to write "Worthless", did you make enough money on it to make it worthwhile? If it was, write another book. Releasing another book would likely increase the sales of the books you already have under your belt. - minuteman

MarkyMark said...

What was it Michael Phelps said? Never have a 'what if'? Congrats on taking the road less traveled, and congrats on the huge LIFE LESSONS you learned on that road... :)

Anonymous said...

haters gonna hate

little dynamo said...

american workplace aint no place for a man, it's purpose is to emasculate and it's good at that too


well shit dont bold it next time maybe theyll stay away!

spoiled brat fatassess with govt jobs, staring at desouled teevees sales pitches, you must have this you must have that

they dont deserve the beautiful (tho fallen) nature God blessed them with... bleh..... like pigs on a pearlbed

the West is the Best there, Private Capitalism, come on out -- i never go east of the rockies anymore, unless the boss calls


ps comment ver -- "iseddry" = i's ready


Anonymous said...

Truly amazing. A man who knows what he wants, doesn't conform to the system, does his thing and moves on to the next adventure.

Well played, sir.

Anonymous said...

Why don't you move further west, to Seattle,WA with no state income tax, a lot of intelligent people, not so bad gun laws, outdoor activities everywhere and a software industry.

It rains a lot, but it's very nice 4 months of the year.

Or to the SF bay area, where there is state income tax & high rent, but even more culture, intelligent people and a bigger software industry.

Jack Amok said...

I call my philosphy on life Optimistic Pessimism. Most ideas are bad ideas and most things won't work, even if you're smart and think them through first.

That's the pessimism part.

But if most ideas are bad ideas, then some ideas are good ideas, and if most things won't work then some things will. The key to success is giving yourself enough rolls of the dice to hit your jackpot, work through enough of the bad ideas to find the good one.

That means trying something new, giving it enough time to see if it's working out or not, and cutting bait if it isn't. Life is short, you can't waste it investing in something that isn't going to work after you've figured that out. OTOH, you can't cut bait too quick, you've got to stick it out long enough to know. Walking the tightrope...

So Cap, you probably got a few more bad ideas to work though. So do I. But our jackpots are somewhere in that pile of oops too, we just gotta keep looking.

Anonymous said...

Don't drink while depressed. The up and down mix will mess your brain up more than anything else. You don't want to associate the two, it's terrible for the subconscious.

Bill Powell said...

Thanks Captain for the linkage and this was a great article. Much like you, I've got three weeks left on this current assignment and then I'm out of there. Luckily I also have low expenses so I'll be in no hurry to pick up another one.

Rachel & Robert said...

Actually Captain, this is highly appreciated. I too am from MN, and am currently working away from "home". I've often thought I should be happier here in TX, but my experience has been similar to yours in SD. Something to be said for home, even if it has its issues.

Anonymous said...

If you are looking for hiking groups, or anything else that interests you, try to the radio said...

The job hopper I referred to in a previous comment on a previous post is different than the kind you describe.

This one is the kind of guy who will work for a couple of years at a place, gain a little experience and then try to land a job a rung up that he is barely qualified to do.
He doesn't care about his job.
Or the people he works with.
Or his customers.

He's only there to pad his resume and is least concerned with mastering his present job.
Over time he alienates his coworkers through a series of selfish decisions and realizes that his incompetence is going to get him fired.
So, he times his next jump and makes a lateral move to another place where he can lather, rinse and repeat or he gets lucky enough to fail upward.
Usually, failing upward by cashing in on some connection to a guy he went to school with who's managed the same game a little faster than him.

The problem with this, if they stay in the same city, is that they eventually run out of places to fail at.
And they end up as middle aged washouts.

I've worked with these guys.
I've lost jobs to these guys.
And the story was always the same.
Some HR person was dazzled by their 'experience'.
Not that they stayed any length of time in one place to acquire it, truly.

Mutnodjmet said...

Captain: Moving is hard, so matter what the reason. I will keep you in my prayers, and wish that wherever you end you, you are happy, healthy and prosperous. Looking forward to chatting with you Thursday. I am putting together a post on "Worthless" now -- I will send you a link shortly.

self-exiled Spaniard said...

I will second the newfies in Fort McMoney, or even better, back at their homerock, a.k.a. Newfoundland. I have worked with newfies in northern Ontario, Atlantic Canada and in Labrador itself, what great ability to deliver as promised... and all that whilst having a good laugh (I am still trying to figure out how a newfie driller can come back to camp at 7am, laughing and singing, after drilling the 12-hour nightshift... in winter). I did learn a good many new words, not all of them can be repeated.

Anonymous said...

Interesting point of view. The verdict is still out for me on the manosphere. Some seems good some seems bad as with all things. However, one thing really strikes me. It appears 100% whole heartedly self-interested. If we boil it down to consequences, how do we appropriately factor in the consequences of our actions on others. Nothing occurs in isolation. There are always 2nd and 3rd order effects. Are we to damn the consequences to others as well for the sake of the all sacred memory?

The “alpha” behavior sometimes appears to be nothing more than a self-defense mechanism. Just a way to make sure you are the actor instead of the acted upon. Too bad life isn’t a simple dichotomy.

There. Some random thoughts that hopefully spur additional reflection for all.

MadPiper said...

Good for you! Now, it would be nice if we'd get some motorcycle pics and adventure stories as well!