Followers of this blog will know that I have been rapidly downsizing my life. Getting rid of all the clutter, throwing out all the crap that I have accumulated and trying to figure out what it is that I really need, and what is really important.
Where my things once were
There’s less than 4 weeks now until I take off for Falls Creek for the snow season and I have successfully removed almost all of the material crap from my life. Those things that I have chosen to keep (a few guitars and a telescope) have been rammed into ‘out of the way’ corners at my parents house for storage. The rest of my life, the things I wish to take with me, are getting very close to fitting into a backpack.
After the snow season I don’t yet know what I will be doing, though I was thinking about making a move up to Queensland and spending the whole summer working and surfing. I hope that by cramming everything I need into a backpack that making a move like this may be as simple as just going. Just doing it. Of course if this is the direction that I choose for my next chapter then I will do what I can to pre-organize work and accommodation. But if these things don’t happen, why not just go? Why not just try and wing it? What is the worst thing that can happen?
It hard to be care free. But that is, in part, the aim. What is life if we are not doing the things that we want to do? Or at the very least doing everything in our power to get there? Any one of us could die tomorrow.
Now, after the decision to leave my profession, the sense of ‘running out of time‘ can at times seem overwhelming. Currently, the average life expectancy for males in my approximate age group within Australia is just less than 80 years. This means that, on average, I have the amount of time I have already been alive more than 2 times over again before I die. But I don’t ever get to relive my childhood, I don’t have to learn to walk or talk again. I don’t ever get to go back to high school, I already know how to read and write.
If in the first 26 years of my life, from a foundation of nothing I can come this far, how much can I achieve in the next 26 years. Though it is correct to say that I am starting financially again at $0, I am not starting from scratch. I now have experience, education, knowledge and will. We have a lot more time than we know, it only matters to recognize its potential and how we use it.
I am now 833,562,612 seconds old. Did I use these 786 seconds effectively?
I started this blog for a few reasons. Primarily because I knew that my life wasn’t going in the right direction. Rather that I was accelerating in the wrong direction. Secondly because I want to live a free life, full of adventure. I often contemplate the things that I could do, and the places I could go, however have been unable to act on many of my thoughts due to ties such as work.
On the Monday 24 February, I submitted my resignation as an engineer. On Tuesday 25 February, I quit smoking and ‘another’ dirty habit. On Wednesday 26 February, I completely cut out my disgraceful spending habits and started climbing out of a $10k debt. Then on Friday, 28 February I started this blog.
Today, the smoking doesn’t even get thought about. I told myself that I would write a post about quitting when I got to the stage that I no longer thought about smoking *facepalm*. I remember once my aunt sent my uncle a message that read “Call me if you don’t get this”. Same deal.
In 13 days now, I will be completely debt free. It has been very hard to pay off debt so quickly, but it has become much easier towards the end. Not spending money now feels normal. It is true that we learn to live within our means. If I wanted something I would just buy it, there was never a second thought. What I find liberating is that as each day ends, I am no less happy due to not having spent money. In fact I am probably healthier for not having spent money. I didn’t get the extra coke, I drink more water. I didn’t go for a burger and chips at lunch, I got fruit because it’s cheaper. I am no doubt going to struggle for a while without a big pay slip every fortnight. But ultimately, after having it for so long, I don’t feel I have become a better man, or am in any way more in touch with myself. Truth is I have lost a lot of who I am due to so much time spent behind a desk. Money does not buy happiness. We need to do that much for ourselves.
The progress I have made in myself since starting this blog is phenomenal. I have been writing down my thoughts and ideas for some time now, though writing them down in a space where anyone can read them has inspired a sense of urgency in me. A sense that this is my chance right now to get on with living my life. For another 4 weeks I am still living the life of an engineer, then all bets are off.
This blog now needs to get interesting. Since it is about my life it follows that it requires my life to become interesting. Engineering wont cut it.
My mind is in a strange place at the moment. At work (only 4 weeks left) i’m as depressed as I have ever been, though outside of work i’m getting close to being the happiest I have ever been. Every day I undergo a complete mental reversal at about 5:30. There is excitement brewing in me about what might be to come. There is also an anxiety eating at me about just how bad work might get during the next 4 weeks. The anxiety is very hard to overcome, whilst also being unnecessary. I recognise that my anxiety stems from a fear of what is in my short term future, whilst that in 4 and a half weeks I will be on Falls Creek without a care in the world. So why do I still feel anxious? why do I still have the urge to destroy all the things?
It seems reasonable that whilst in the midst of a hard time or a stressful situation one might become stressed or overwhelmed. Though to be stressed in anticipation of an upcoming event that may or may not be hard to deal with seems entirely unreasonable, and to only make the present, otherwise potentially pleasant moment, worse. So why feel anxious? Why whilst understanding that right now, whilst i’m not being persecuted or accused of some bullshit bureaucratic error, do I still feel so anxious about events which may not even occur. Further more, the events which may or may not occur depend entirely on my ability to output a sufficient amount of work. Though my anxiety about what may happen if I don’t get my work done is preventing me from completing my work. It’s all a vicious cycle of horrendous productivity. Perhaps a clear sign that I am not where I want to be.
I think subconsciously my anxiety is also a result of feeling that I am letting down my employer. I have a responsibility as an employee, that of late, I have not upheld. My first years as an engineer I produced, though at the time I was unsure how well I was doing, it is clear now that I was well over performing. It is a lie to say that I have enjoyed my time as an engineer though. I have resented (with perhaps the exception of the first 6 months) almost every moment I have spent behind a desk. It took some big mistakes and personal errors to realise that I was choosing to stay behind a desk, and that the feeling of entrapment was a result of being financially comfortable. Though now I am anxious, biting finger nails, feeling shit and wanting out. In 1 month, it will not matter what happens over the next 4 weeks. I will be out.
Slow down. Look around. Moments ago I was sitting on a train on my way to work. The train arrived at Flinders Street and like most mornings I began rushing off to platform 6 for my next train. Until I saw a little girl, standing, swaying, and looking at a big ‘dumb ways to die’ piece of advertising art work.
Dumb ways to die
Forgetting where I was going I stopped and observed the girl. She was smiling. People rushed and dodged all around her, their headphones blaring and fingers frantically conveying some critical messages on their phones. Yet she saw straight through them. She only saw the art work. She giggled as an unknown adventure unfolded in her mind. If only she would write it down and give it to me.
Suddenly a ‘big’ grabbed the little girl by the arm and pulled her off in to the crowd. The girls eyes fixed on the image.
I’m now lost. I know where I need to be going, but I find myself among the masses. My headphones in, but making no sound. My feet carrying me, but without direction or urgency. My mind is at peace.
So many people are rushing. Each looking as if the world will implode if they do not arrive at their destination at the earliest possible time. Many move with direction but not with urgency, but only few stop to look around. Like a movie in fast forward the still images, the people without urgency, stand out. These are the people I want to meet.
The crowd settles and comes to life on loop with the arrival and departure of trains. I now stand and stare at the same piece of artwork as the little girl. What was in her mind?
25 years ago. If I could have comprehended the question, I may have reported that my most prized possession was my blanket.
20 years ago, perhaps it was my Humphrey Bear teddy.
15 years ago I may have said it was my karate outfit.
10 years ago my skateboard.
5 years ago my xbox and excessive collection of games.
I no longer own any of the above items. I have given away/lost/sold every last one. Yet at the time it would have been obscene to suggest that life would continue as normal without.
I, like many, have found great comfort in objects. Though not just in any object. Objects that are mine. I have found release from a reality that at times I did not desire by relying emotionally on the presence of something external to myself that I knew specifically belonged to me. Me me me. To posses a block of chocolate in times of emotional turmoil may be a subtle and familiar example to many.
Today, my most prized possession is my baby fluff face stuble. I play with it daily until its itch infuriates me. When I feel inadequate or unwise I stroke the sides of my chin hair and gain immediate sophistication. The point being that despite what my brain tells me, I do not need anything but myself to deal with the situations life throws at me. In most cases turning to possessions for comfort or distraction only serves to inhibit the growth of self.
Well. I could use a never ending pack of tim tams……
30 days now until I finish my engineering career. Less than a month. Wow. It has been an incredibly difficult year, but the next episode is only just around the corner.
My work ethic is pathetic (perhaps my fate is in poetry) at the moment. It’s not something I’m proud of. I feel terrible about my present performance. I need to be doing so much more so that I don’t leave problems behind me for someone else to deal with.
Looking at what needs to be done, it seems perfectly fair and reasonable. Without doubt it could all be achieved ahead of time. But I am not a robot. I am Matt. A big kid. When all passion is lost, all enthusiasm has been drained by a desk, the drive to achieve has been eliminated by the realization that hard work and crap work as an employee result in almost identical personal outcomes. The ability to sit and work crashes and burns.
It’s in times like these that I must hold on to the future. My time will come. It is only just around the corner. It is in one month now that rather than hold on to the future I will be holding myself in the present. The first sight of snow for the season. My first ride up a chair lift. The first run down a slope. Sunrise from a mountain top. ‘Hopefully’ a lady under my arm. Life on Falls Creek. My endless ‘now’ will be my moment to hold on to.
One more month. I need to subdue my overwhelming urge to scream, yell, smash and destroy shit for only one more month. My strength is in understanding that no matter the events of the next 30 days, soon I will be on the snow. The stresses of this life will come to pass. Soon.
Here I sit, contemplating once again the larger purpose of my life. My desk is relatively clean, a few ‘important’ yet so distant pieces of paper scattered on its surface. The usual promise toying on my mind that everything I am currently working on must be completed by yesterday. There was a point in my professional life where the terms ‘important’, ‘quickly’, ‘urgently’ etcetera lost all meaning. When everything is always critical, and so much control is lost to unnecessary and underqualified authority, the will to excel diminishes.
As each day behind my desk has passed I have quietly, and sometimes very vocally and violently, observed my surroundings. I have tried to understand the overall goal of the profession I am working within and tried to understand the methods by which we aim to achieve our goals. We provide a service to a client, though the aim of our business has so obviously become making money as opposed to providing a brilliant service. Yes, every business needs to make money to maintain its service, though when so much of the focus diverges from the product and shifts to the amount that is being invoiced does not the quality of the product lose its value.
The core of any business is in the people that produce its product. It is critical to keep excellent people. It is critical to be able to motivate people and inspire them to output great work and it is critical to reward them appropriately. So how does an employer motivate employees? It seems that the all too common answer is to pay them a lot, though this hasn’t worked in my workplace, and my experience suggests that no matter how much someone is paid they only ever want to be paid more. It seems that income has little to no impact on attitude towards work.
I no longer have any pride in the work I output for my employer. I no longer have a sense of urgency no matter how much pressure is placed on me. I have become relatively calm as I have realized that at the end of the day, my effort and the quality of my work in no way distinguishes me from my peers. An employer needs to motivate employees by thinking outside of the box. Life is too short to continue working, providing a service, in a field I have no passion for because of a large pay cheque. We need to be proud of what we do day to day. We need to go home with a sense of achievement. Not a warning as to how much more we need to make, or invoice, for our employer.
I have been contemplating a lot lately the concept of living each day like it is my last. I look around me and see people living in fear of the future, only not realizing that in fear they are neglecting to live in the present. So how do I make sure that I live every day like it is my last? What does this really mean?
Tomorrow I must go to my desk. I am hardly convinced that by doing so I am living each day like it is my last, however I find myself part of this absurd world which has allowed me to put myself in a position where (temporarily at least) I must continue to do so. Perhaps in this world it is not possible to live each day as if it were our last. If we have a dream, a goal for our life, we must work towards that goal in order to achieve success. In this process we are inevitably forced to not live as if we will die tomorrow. There will be days, weeks, months and even years full of tiring hard work. Right? Hard work that will not result in immediate gratification. Hard work that may not ever pay off at all. Could it be that it is the journey, and not the destination, that really counts?
Being true to myself. Pursuing my own dreams and pleasures. Facing my fears. Taking risks. Perhaps to live each day as if it were my last simply means to live each day doing those things that I am passionate about. But therein lays another problem. What if the thing that I am passionate about do not get me paid (yet)? Then I am forced, by the pressures of this absurd world, to earn an income by another means.
It is here, in earning an income, that I believe many people make a profound mistake, myself up to now included. The mistake being learning in order to get paid, chasing a high wage and a promotion by becoming progressively better and more efficient at some specific thing. But this is not living. I no longer fear the future. Not because I know what it is going to bring, I don’t have a clue. But rather because I know that I have the ability to achieve my wildest dreams and I have so much time.
From May 23 forward, I work to learn, not for money (though it is required in small amounts to survive), then I will apply my knowledge in my own life and in my own business. Not only will I work to learn, I will work only in fields that I have a genuine and real interest in. Life is meant to be lived! Why not be who we want to be? Why not really live it? Is it ignorance that causes so many of us live in fear? I only have 23 more days of work behind a desk left. From then on my adventure really begins. Every day, I will ask myself these deep existential questions. Who am I? Why am I here? Am I living each day as if it were my last? I don’t expect to ever find an answer to any of these questions, but I will live as if the answer is just around the next corner.
Slowly but surely, over the last month and a half, I have been downsizing my life. By slowly either packing up and storing, donating or simply throwing out all of my stuff. I wish to lead a much simpler life with the ability to pack up and move on at will. This means eliminating all of the things that tie me down. Very shortly. Possibly by the end of the week, the only remaining thing to deal with will be my car.
Currently i’m going through all of the CD’s I bought as a kid, ripping them to my laptop and backing them up elsewhere so I can get rid of them. It’s a bit of a sad experience. I remember waiting for my paycheck each week so I could run off to the music store and buy a brand new CD. It now seems so unnecessary to spend so much money on music. Pandora currently solves basically all of my music needs.
My professional career is over now in only 34 days, almost down to just one month.