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.