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?
Are there interesting people?
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 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!