Justin here. Thanks to everyone who is enjoying the blog so far. “Follow/subscribe” and keep reading because I promise we have a heck of a story to tell and won’t disappoint. We are two dinguses who have made a ton of mistakes, some nearly catastrophic, along the way as we have tried to pursue the conventional concept of “the American Dream,” only to wake up and realize that it really isn’t our dream and that to achieve that supposed dream would mean to betray ourselves and our values. It will take some radical change in our thinking and our approach to life to achieve what we believe to be our true purpose in this life, and we are attacking that head on. Our first step on the journey is to sell our condo in New York, and we have an open house scheduled today. We have lived our whole lives here. Everything we know and have been taught is rooted here, including family and anyone we know. It’s scary but exciting and vital for us to leave here.
Lace has done an amazing job so far with this blog. She is the most determined person I have ever met, and I hope everyone will get to see that the way I do. I don’t feel I would have the courage to veer off the conventional path and discover my true purpose without her, let alone actually take the steps to make this radical change in life. For our daughter as well, we are taking these steps to pave the way in order to encourage her and to give her the ability to live the life she feels she is meant to live, rather than whatever life someone else, ourselves included, would want her to live.
This is our story, but this is only my second post so far. Not ironically, this is only my second day off of work since the blog started, too. I told Lace this morning I would write a post today, but I feel like a guest right now rather than a regular contributor. Lace told me to write whatever was on my mind, and right now what’s on my mind is how much work sucks. I think many people feel that going to work sucks in general, but having a career sucks the life and passion right out of me. Only recently have I started fighting back against work’s ability to transform me into a zombie and a slave to the routine, all in the name of a paycheck. I have started jotting notes down to myself during my lunch break (I don’t eat during the day, and I will discuss that in another post) in order to keep my soul from getting buried inside this empty shell that I call a body. I’d like to share some of what I’ve written in hopes that it may apply to your life or encourage you to break free of the invisible chains your job/career may have you enslaved to, even if your lifestyle and routine is very different from ours. My next post may be some of that writing, but first I’d like to give a little background info.
My father was a workaholic, and he still is. Even in his retirement, whenever we talk he directs the conversation right to work. I know the stress from his career affected his health and drove him into an early retirement. No doubt, it took years off of his life. But he was in charge and took great pride in his status. He was the boss at work and the boss of his own life, but he wasn’t the boss at home. He managed to not only attend all of my baseball games, but he was the coach as well. He worked long hours and rarely took a real vacation. After nearly 20 years as the director of his department, the company sold, and he was thanklessly fired from his position without warning. He lived to work, and it drove him to drink, even on the job. Now he is physically unable to work in his early 60’s due to health problems, and he has replaced work with AA meetings. He would be the first to point out, however, that all his hard work and hours logged over the decades provided us the big house in the nice suburban town with all the security and possessions that we could ever want. True, we never went without, but at what cost?
Yes, my father was there for us, more so than many other people’s parents. He was there for the major events, and I was lucky in comparison to other kids to ever get a family vacation. I always had the latest toys, and I had everything done for me. I grew up spoiled and with no clue about the hardships of real life. My father never missed a holiday, but he was often working long hours during the weekly routine. He missed several dinners a week, working regularly until 9-10:00 at night and getting home after I had gone to bed as a kid. As I got a little older, I would be able to wait up for him to get home, even when I was supposed to be asleep, just so I could come down and see him for a few minutes. Looking back as a kid, I wish I wasn’t brought up so spoiled. We would’ve easily had everything we needed and then some, and my dad wouldn’t have had to work that second job or work 6-7 days in a given week. He wouldn’t have had to come home so exhausted and be tired all the time he had off. I wouldn’t have grown up to resent his example and the pressure it put on me as well.
The old convention is that you want your kids to do better than you did and to have more than you had. For me (and I’m sure for many of you), I saw value in the paycheck and possessions, so that meant pressure on me to earn more money and have a bigger, better house than my parents did. But given the current state of the economy – still nowhere near as strong as it was when my dad was making the bulk of his net earnings – the only way to attain that kind of superfluous lifestyle would be for Lace and I to both work full-time jobs, more than one job each, and to do it 6-7 days a week. For many of my colleagues, that is exactly what they do. How else could we provide our kids with more than what we had, especially given the economic change we have to deal with in comparison to the previous generation?
My dad would encourage exactly that kind of work ethic in his sons. As his life taught him to do, so that he could break away from his family growing up and gain independence, so goes how he wanted for us as well. It’s a level of brainwashing though to become addicted to a certain financial status in life, and we can become easily swept up in it without taking a step back to analyze it. He urged me into the same career path as him with hopes that I would rise to great status as well and earn the same high level of income for myself and my family. When I first started my career, I took my dad’s financial advice to heart when he would tell me to work long hours and earn as much as I could. He called my youth my “earning years,” and it made sense because these are the years that I’m supposed to establish myself financially and pay off a mortgage so I can sit on the couch and retire comfortably someday.
If we look at the situation, at that advice, my father was encouraging me to spend many long hours every day away from my wife and baby girl at the time. That never felt right and was exhausting to do, but I conditioned myself to do it because I wanted Lace and Lilith to have a nice big house in a great neighborhood near the rest of our family and relatives and to not want for a thing in life. I wanted to do it on just my income too, so that Lilith wouldn’t have to be stuck in daycare like many people I know would have to do with their kids. I worked and worked, and despite our expensive bills, we could easily afford it all and still have money to save because I proved to my parents and everyone else that I could hustle and that my value was in my paychecks. My earning potential impressed Lace too, and we could afford expensive upgrades in our home and lavish vacations as well. Scheduling these vacations took lots of planning, however, because that would mean taking time away from working.
When I was home, I was mentally drained and had no effort to put forth into domestic life. I hardly put forth the bare minimum at home, and Lace was a one-woman show. I would sit on the couch, watch TV, play video games while Lilith grew up in front of me without me noticing. Lace would do all the work for the major plans we had in renovating our house, and she would do all the cooking (when we weren’t eating out) and cleaning as well. She could hardly get me to take the garbage to the curb or change a diaper. Our daughter was very difficult as an infant, sleeping for an hour or less at a time every night (partly our fault, in retrospect, but that is another post for another day), and since I volunteered to take on most of those nights (to the point that I became bitter and resentful), I felt I was putting in enough effort on the home front, especially considering our home wouldn’t exist without my paycheck; a point that I hammered home for years whenever Lace and I would argue. I didn’t possess the introspection at that time to see that my paycheck at the time was only good enough to buy objects and to pay the bank so that they wouldn’t evict us. Mortgages – at least the way we’ve done them so far – are glorified renting, but that is also another topic for another post. My point is, the house became a home because of the effort and love that Lace put into it.
I have a lot more to talk about from our experiences on work and the breakdown of the family unit, as well as disclosing more of our story, but like I said earlier, this is my day off from work. This is a day to go spend with my wife. Tomorrow is Sunday, and it is a rare occasion that I’m working so that I can have off for Thanksgiving. That kind of work-life concession is one reason on top of many others that makes me shake my head in disgust. I will close out this post by letting you know that I don’t miss dinner with my wife and daughter anymore. I still work 6 days a week with regularity in order to undo a lot of the foolish financial mistakes we’ve made along the way, but I refuse to come home so late on any given day as to not eat with my family and spend some time, as well as to be able to put my daughter to bed. There were nights in the past, with the same regularity as my dad, where I’d come home from work and even Lace was already asleep in bed. That always felt so rotten on the inside, but I justified it with the dollar payoff. There is a better way, and it is very liberating. It’s not easy to break free from old programming, of course. There are times I turn down working for overtime on Saturdays and feel ashamed for doing it, or I feel like the opportunity will never come up again or that we will somehow run out of money and burn through our savings all because I didn’t take the extra money (or that I won’t be able to retire someday because I didn’t want to leave my family). But the payoff of having time to recharge my battery and spend quality time with my family means far more than the extra dollars in the bank.
Now, I approach work as work, not as life, and I can’t stand leaving every day and can’t wait to come home every day. I remind myself each day of what’s truly important to me and what really matters, and I don’t take those things for granted. Each day is approached with purpose and as another step towards fulfilling our mission. No longer floundering through life and chasing the brass ring like a dingus, I feel much more fulfilled instead of being depressed because this change in our fundamental way of thinking and existing gives me hope in place of despair. It is because of this that I feel our story is worth sharing, and so I hope that you will continue to follow/subscribe, enjoy reading our story, and maybe some things here can be applied to your own way of life.