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[personal profile] monad
I'm at a crossroads in my life. I don't just mean that I have a choice between interesting career opportunities, though I may. I also don't just mean that I have a choice between moving to the East or the West coasts, though I may. For the first time in my life, I am free to choose what I want, and now I need to figure out what exactly that is.


As a child, I didn't have much control over my destiny. Sure, I could make small choices, but for the first fifteen years of my life, most of the important stuff was handled by my mother. She wanted me to have a father figure, so she pushed me into Scouting. I enjoyed that. I made it my own, and I excelled at it. She wanted my mind to stay occupied, so she put me into community college when I was twelve. My "seventh grade" year was spent enrolled full-time; the youngest student ever to pursue a degree program. For a couple of years I worked a paper route, because my mother thought it a good idea. Sure, I wanted things, but I was a kid. She was my mother, so she decided my future.

After I could drive, though, things changed. I relished my freedom, and began to exercise it frequently. I remember one night, I stayed out far too late, and came home to a locked house. We lived in the country, and never locked our doors. I didn't even have a key. Of course, my mother had stayed up, after I tried all the doors several times, she came out and gave me a lecture. It went in one ear and out the other. I was sixteen.

But despite my newfound freedom, I still had my life planned out for me. First, I had to finish high school, which only took a few months as I graduated a semester early (or three depending on how you count it). Second, I had to finish my associate's degree at the community college, which took me the rest of that year. After that, I was off to university to work on my Bachelor's degree. I'd spend three to four years there, and then possibly on to graduate work. Beyond that, my future was a haze of uncertainty, but I had the next ten years planned out at least, so it didn't matter.

A year on my own at university taught me a few things. The first: physics was not for me. To be honest, I have no clue what I was thinking when I picked that major. The second: I'd rather be working. I dropped out, and managed to land a job at a dot-com. I also met the love of my life, and we got married. That was a busy year for me.

Eleven months later, I got laid off. My wife and I got evicted. I moved back in with my mother. In a rush to find employment, I fell back on the skills I'd developed in my high school job. I got work doing tech support. It's not what I wanted, but it was positive cash flow. Even after we relocated to the Midwest, I worked in call centers. I did that for a couple of years. It wasn't my dream, but it paid the bills.

At the time, my dream was to program computers. I did it in my spare time. But where I lived, the only way to get a paid gig was to walk in with a bachelor's degree; the degree I didn't have. So I went back to university, and then promptly got a paid programming gig.

My life was back on track. Things were progressing towards my future. The only future I had ever conceived. Sure, it had mutated a little, but it still looked like my future. I would get my bachelor's degree, then maybe I'd go on to graduate school, and then who knows? Anything after that was so far off in to the future that it didn't need to be contemplated.

It took nearly five years for me to finish that degree. For nearly four of those years, I remained at that first employer. I began to grow as a professional. I started talking at user groups. I started meeting people. Eventually, I started getting calls from recruiters. I realized that I had finally attained the elusive "equivalent work experience." But, that degree was the plan. The future I saw for myself had a piece of paper that said I was a bachelor of science. I stuck with it, and I'm glad I did, but I wonder if it was just because that was the plan my mother and I had laid out for me ten years ago.

For the last eight months of my time at the university, I had been working for an employer on the West coast. I flew out there a couple of times, and my team flew to the Midwest once. It was an interesting telecommuting experience. I learned a lot from it, including the fact that I did not want to pursue a graduate degree (at least not yet). So, when they asked me to move out to work at headquarters after I graduated, I said yes. I collected my hefty salary adjustment and moved (my wife did not, but that's a different story).

I worked for eight months out on the West coast. It was great (aside from living apart from my wife) and I loved it. I was working with really smart people, doing really cool things, and making really good money. But then this February, all sorts of shit hit the fan. With the blessing of my employer, I moved back to the Midwest. The plan was to move the whole household back to the coast at the end of summer, but three weeks later, the company laid me off.

For the last two months, I've found myself answering the same question over and over: What do I want to be doing? At first, I thought I knew. I thought I wanted to be working on hard programming problems. The kind that require me to apply all the math and computer science I learned at university. The kind that make me feel like an idiot for days at a time, but that make me feel like a genius when I finally crack them. But now I realize that that is not enough.

Life is way more than what I do at the keyboard. It is dancing and cooking and singing and eating. It is housework and yardwork. It is meeting new people and making new friends. It is hiking and swimming and camping and trekking. It is lounging on beaches and exploring jungles (normal and concrete). Life is living, and that's what I've been avoiding for the last ten years.

Now, I realize that for some people the life I've lead up to now is perfect: settling down, owning a home, working a nine-to-five. That's the American Dream, isn't it? Home ownership and professional success. All I need to do now is have a couple of kids, join the PTA, and watch them grow up. I can make decisions for them like my mother did for me, and then I can retire. I can move to Florida and go on cruises. I'm sorry, but that life is not what I want.

For so long I've been focused on developing one, narrow aspect of myself. I've managed to muddle through developing other parts of my life, but I think that's largely due to my brilliant wife. These last two months, I've had a lot of time to think about what it is that I want. I think I finally am beginning to see it: I want to live the world.

I want to live the world. I know that verb doesn't usually get used that way, but I want to do more than just see the world. I want to do more than just experience the world. I want to live it. In a bygone era, traveling the world is how a young man gained his education. I think that the modernization of life has robbed us of that valuable tradition. I want to take it back.

The first step on the road to world travel for me is to find a job. My wife and I have some debt that we need to pay off, and affairs to put in order. But now, for the first time, I have a future planned out that's really what I want. I can put in the work to get there.
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monad

June 2010

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