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I’m doing this voluntarily. And yes, I definitely feel like Slim Pickens, hat waving, riding the bomb like a wild bronco on its final descent. But, unlike Slim Pickens, I’m riding this into a new awakening not a permanent black splotch.

Follow me past the ol' orange knot to see my story.

This is my first post, I finally feel free to actually post what I believe. As a small business owner I’ve always been cautious about saying anything my clients might not take keenly too. This post tells a very brief history of how I came to realize what is important in life.

I grew up in the financial side of real estate. It started with my dad’s business, which he was very successful with. I tried to escape, studying anthropology and Native American studies in undergrad. When that couldn’t provide the lifestyle I was accustomed to I went to law school. I figured I could make more money that way, even though the entrance counselor kept telling me “you seem like the kind of person that would help a lot of people in this profession.” I wasn’t thinking that way, it was the early 90’s and everyone was still walking on sunshine.

I quickly found that practicing law was not for me. Too much pressure. Everyone that comes to you comes with problems. And anytime there’s a trial, everyone loses (except the attorney). So I went back to the family business. I moved from California to Seattle and then to New Mexico, where I started my own business. Although I didn’t know it, I was searching for meaning in my life. I was working for the banks, and doing very well at it. At one point I had a business with a partner that employed a dozen people. I felt good giving people jobs (no minimum wage here, we paid well and provided good benefits), and I was making good money myself. I wasn’t part of the 1%, but I wasn’t too far off.

On the other hand, while we were doing well we decided to start our family. And start we did. Two wonderful sets of twins. The kids are healthy and happy, and they’re doing very well. I provided well for them. My wife worked in the office with me part time, and we brought in an au pair from Brazil to help her with the kids. We took incredible trips to Disneyworld and were able to give the kids everything they asked for. Unfortunately, those trips were my only break. I was working 100 hours a week to keep up the business, and my wife was starting to come in another 40.  

I wasn’t happy. My wife and I were missing out on our kids. We were exhausted. I didn’t enjoy my work anymore, and with the financial crisis the banks were getting harder and harder to satisfy and started placing requirements on my work that had nothing to do with quality or accuracy. I was spending too much time developing new business, which made me work even harder to get my regular production done.

I figured if I joined a bigger company that many of these issues would go away. I wouldn’t be spending all my time building business and might be able to spend more time with the kids. Sure, it meant a pay cut, but if I could enjoy work more and have time with my family it would be better, I thought. So I left my partner with all the business and the employees. Even if I had closed shop the employees would not have lost their jobs, the work is still there it would just follow different channels. So my pretend happiness at providing jobs wasn’t even real, the work didn’t stop flowing because I didn’t own the company.

Moving east was a big task with all of my kids. The hardest move I’ve ever made. After we settled in and I started working for a national company I found that I ended up working just as much, but for less. And I was still doing the banks’ bidding, which was becoming increasingly uncomfortable for me. I tried to do some work with local attorneys, volunteering on the pro-bono committee so I could actually do some good. But I didn’t have enough time to make a difference.

With the initial loss in income, we blew through our minimal savings quickly. Like many Americans, we were spending what we brought in. In hindsight it was clearly foolish, we had plenty to set aside but we decided to spend it instead. I had a nice 62 Thunderbird convertible in the garage. I only had a few chances to drive it. Our trips to Disney were extravagant, much more so than they should have been. Despite downsizing from my $800 per month car my vehicle was still way too expensive. We gave up and declared bankruptcy. It was a real wakeup call. I finally realized that I would never be “rich.” I will always need to work for a living, and will always spend what I make. So why bother with all the toys if it means you don’t have time to enjoy them?

When I was an idealistic college kid I was more concerned with the world than with making money. I lost that focus, but have finally regained it. I’ve accepted a position with the Department of Fish and Wildlife and will be moving my family once again, this time to Portland, OR. I’m going to use my skills for good instead of evil (sorry, had to stick that in there), and actually try to do something I am really proud of.

Please do not take this as a complaint. I will be making less than a third of what I made in 2010 and I am happy with that. It’s still more than the average family makes in this country, which is the real tragedy. I am utterly ecstatic that I will have evenings and weekends to spend with my kids, and that I will finally be doing work that has meaning and is part of helping with things that matter, instead of helping corporations make more money.

I’m not quite done with my old position yet, and I’m typing this as I try to wrap up some work for the old job. My family is in Williamsburg, VA, playing at the pool, but I’m stuck here working. I cried this morning as I talked to my five year old boys and heard how much fun they were having with Grandpa. I really can’t wait to be there at the pool with them, instead of sitting in front of a computer wishing I were.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Tip Jar (22+ / 0-)

    "No society can surely be flourishing and happy, of which the far greater part of the members are poor and miserable." Adam Smith: Wealth of Nations

    by old bird on Tue Mar 20, 2012 at 08:43:56 AM PDT

  •  Good luck ... (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    lineatus, cantelow, Andrew F Cockburn

    Most of us have to work to put food on the table. I hope you find that work sustaining and meaningful with your new job. And I hope you get to spend a lot of time with your family.

  •  That's fantastic. (5+ / 0-)

    Going back to the basic idea of really living your life, rather than always pushing for more - regardless of whether or not it brings you additional happiness.  Congrats!

    •  Thanks. It really came to a head . . . (5+ / 0-)

      when I was at a big company meeting recently. They gave us a "pep talk" telling us that we needed to run with the herd. That you had to wake up every morning ready to run, because the slowest gazelle gets eaten by the lion. So you just need to wake up running faster than the slowest gazelle.

      That didn't make me want to run faster, it made me realize that I was doing exactly that: waking up every morning and running over and over again, never getting anywhere.  

      "No society can surely be flourishing and happy, of which the far greater part of the members are poor and miserable." Adam Smith: Wealth of Nations

      by old bird on Tue Mar 20, 2012 at 08:57:24 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Best of luck to you (4+ / 0-)

    I'm also moving, which I'm still stunned and shocked about. I'm so overwhelmed that I've been hit by nausea a few times this morning.

    But my job will be a step up. My partner and I had a really long talk last night about not doing what you wrote about- spending all the money we make. We wrote down the things we want/need in order to be comfortable in our new environment, and about how we will account for the small cushion I have in savings, and also how to put it back.

    Lofty goals, to be sure. But we know many people who make a living just to pay for all of their toys. I've never lived extravagantly, no matter how comfortable I've been. I want to keep it that way although I'll be a couple digits more comfortable now than ever before.

    Anyway, I'm glad you found something noble to do. It will be fun, but frustrating (from what I hear from folks in the profession, the politics can get maddening at times).

    And the NW is the place to be, IMO. I'm going to miss it.

    Best of luck and thanks for telling your story!

    P.S. I am not a crackpot.

    by BoiseBlue on Tue Mar 20, 2012 at 08:53:56 AM PDT

  •  Dicken's Mr. Micawber put it well: (5+ / 0-)
    Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure nineteen pounds nineteen and six, result happiness. Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure twenty pounds ought and six, result misery.
    My view is that it isn't how much you make, it is how much you spend. Learn to be happy with less stuff and it is much easier to be financially secure.

    Sorry, that is un-American.

  •   I've been fortunate with my career (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    but I'm seriously looking at 50 of taking the early retirement payout (assuming nothing goes wrong in the intervening 4  years) and looking for a job where I give something back to my community, and where I actually work a more or less 40 hour week.

    The key is paying off my house, which would let me live with a major pay cut (most of my take home pay goes into my mortgage).   I don't have the kind of money to retire at 50, but maybe I will have enough to do something more productive with the next 20 years than just making a comfortable nest for myself and my disabled wife.

    So I get what you are doing.  It's a luxury to be able to do it, it requires not requiring the big salary to keep up with family commitments, and being able to get a job that pays enough even with the cut to not be living paycheck-to-paycheck.

    Good luck, I hope it goes well.

  •  Hm, I didn't read that carefully enough (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    old bird

    Didn't spot the bit in the middle where you went through a bankruptcy.  Ouch.

    I'm trying to avoid that fate, while ending up in the same place you've arrived at.   Again, good luck.

    •  It was actually a relief. (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Actbriniel, 4Freedom

      It was a very difficult decision to make. I really wanted to avoid bankrupcty, and I held it off as long as I could.

      But being more than $100,000 upside down on my New Mexico house, even after putting in an additional $100,000 cash in improvements, made it impossible to do anything else. The bank threatened to come after me for anything left over after a short sale.

      Between that and the loss in income, we just couldn't afford to keep doing what we were doing.

      But if I hadn't done that, I would still be on the treadmill, running everyday. I would not have been able to afford a further drop in pay.

      Protect the bankrupcty laws, because it may be the only way many of us will be able to work only one job at a time.

      "No society can surely be flourishing and happy, of which the far greater part of the members are poor and miserable." Adam Smith: Wealth of Nations

      by old bird on Tue Mar 20, 2012 at 09:43:19 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  I got fortunate in the 90s (0+ / 0-)

        My wife and I were both working good jobs in the tech bubble before she was disabled and our stock options helped got us into our house before the housing bubble inflated.

        So what we have to pay off to get it to zero is actually reasonable and our equity situation is fine.

        I feel for everyone who is facing the moral choice of an underwater mortgage.  The way I was raised, I'd want to pay it off, especially if the home was located where I wanted to live.  The way I was educated about how financial matters work, I'd want to walk away.

        It's a tough choice and I'd never judge what anyone else did except by the result.   Your choice seems to be working for you.

  •  Best of luck and blessings (0+ / 0-)

    on your new adventure.  There are trade-offs in every choice.  Your much-reduced income will necessitate some adjustments, but if you're all happy, well, who can put a price on that???  :-)

    -7.62, -7.28 "Hold fast to dreams, for if dreams die, life is a broken winged bird that cannot fly." -Langston Hughes

    by luckylizard on Tue Mar 20, 2012 at 09:49:23 AM PDT

  •  I Want To Use My Skills For Good Instead Of Evil (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    old bird, 4Freedom

    But for some reason that line does not seem to resonate with interviewers.

    There’s always free cheddar in a mousetrap, baby

    by bernardpliers on Tue Mar 20, 2012 at 09:53:37 AM PDT

    •  Not in so many words . . . (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      4Freedom, bernardpliers

      In this case what matters is supporting the mission of the agency.

      There are inevitable questions about why you would accept a pay cut (government job apps require information about income in previous positions).

      I discussed the importance of what Fish and Wildlife does, and why it is important to me. So even though I didn't use that phrase, it was clearly the concept I conveyed in the interview. Most of the people over there find it just as important.

      But I think you're right, I'll try saying it with those words next time, I think it would get a chuckle.

      "No society can surely be flourishing and happy, of which the far greater part of the members are poor and miserable." Adam Smith: Wealth of Nations

      by old bird on Tue Mar 20, 2012 at 10:08:03 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Welcome to OR! (0+ / 0-)

    You have a good chance of meeting many people who have recognized the endless loop of the rat race for what it is and are planning their escape. I call it the "spirit of the hippie" that lingers and still grows in many spots. Portland has many. I am in rural OR, further south (and surrounded and advised by former hippies), but I completely understand your journey to get off that treadmill. I lived in Portland for 10 years, my mom's still there, so I can offer some answers and tips. Especially how to have fun with young boys (as she's done for the grandkids.)

    Of course, there's also the Portland Kossacks who probably are more in tune with the best spots of Portland.

    You may be still running on that hamster wheel, but you've got an exit sign!

    I am much too liberal to be a Democrat.

    by WiseFerret on Tue Mar 20, 2012 at 10:52:12 AM PDT

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