Life starts so clearly. So well defined and structured. And then it’s not….
The progression through early school is defined by achieving a clear set of measurable goals. You must pass each grade. You try out for the varsity sports team. You make JV. You graduate high school and one of your classmates dies that night in a drunken driving crash after the party up at the lake. They put his mangled car on the front lawn of the school as a lesson for the remaining students. Someone spray paints a picture of genitalia on the car because kids have no respect for the dead.
Then you’re an ‘adult’. You enroll at a ludicrously expensive college and quickly realize everyone is smarter and cooler than you are. You join a fraternity to try and address the coolness gap and get hazed by a bunch of dicks. You choose a major. You become a dick because you realize you’re not any cooler and take your anger and sexual frustration out on new fraternity pledges. You write nonsensical term papers and learn just how many pages you can add by changing fonts and margins. You graduate. You’re in debt.
Hooray! We all did it. Like millions of our peers.
At that point you’re REALLY an adult. Some people extend education another four, ten or fifteen years through graduate studies or specialty disciplines. Some decide to rob a bank and guarantee a clear progression for twenty-five years plus. But eventually the sands run out of the hourglass and the yearly rigor is replaced by real life. The time-defined goals of academia vanish.
Fortunately, society offers some clear ‘next step’ goals that keep the teaming masses heads down and shoulders to the grindstone. You need to get a job that puts your questionable skills to use. You need to try and find that special someone who isn’t disgusted by your presence and tie the knot. You need to qualify for a massive mortgage with a monthly payment that will crush your soul and then fill those bedrooms with little kiddies who may or may not be yours.
One of these beauties has your name on it!
One day you’ve checked all those boxes. You’ve knocked down the remaining goals that society says are important. Maybe you knocked them out in five years. Maybe twenty. Maybe you had a false start and married a philandering ass and need to try again with husband number two. But eventually, one day, you look up, pull your shoulder off that grindstone and realize that all that remains is the vast emptiness of time until you die.
This bitter pill is sugar-coated with concepts like ‘retirement savings’, ‘moving up the corporate ladder’, ‘buying a vacation home’ and ‘burner phones’, but all of those are just distractions. Once the big goals of life are completed, the extra mortgage for a place you never visit and has the squirrel problem, or the second family that thinks you’re a truck driver, are shadows of the main event.
At some point you realize that your goal dance card is filled up. There’s no prescription for the next step. That’s when the panic sets in and bad decisions get made.
Perhaps one of the most common bad decisions is to have more children. You already checked that goal box. Little Timmy can be as cute as a button sometimes. That time he hand-wrote a card for your birthday was adorable. Just fucking adorable. You were so proud when he scored his first goal in soccer, even if it was with his hand. Orange slices all around.
But sometimes, secretly, you wonder if little Timmy can fit in the thirty gallon trash can with the lid, and how much duct tape it would take to keep the lid tightly secured for when you drop it in the lake. Hint – the trick is to punch some holes in the garbage can to let out the decomposition gases. Also, drop it in the ocean. About fifteen miles out so you’re past the continental shelf.
My wife says that last bit is over the top. Nag nag nag. You can’t joke about infanticide any more? This country….I mean am I right?
Maybe you think your problem is that you work for the man. If I were my own boss, you say, running my own company, then I’d end every day with the deep emotional satisfaction of a job well done on my terms. Unfortunately you’re a general doofus with no business sense, and after burning your entire savings on an ill-conceived Cuban Buffet on the corner in the strip mall, you tuck your tail between your legs and go work for the phone company where it’s safe. You may even try to convince yourself that the innovative work you do on that new Call10 plan, where any call under ten minutes is one flat rate, is as exciting as the keg bowling event you won in college. It’s not. Secretly you want to murder your coworkers for slurping their coffee.
Even if your business is a success, even a raging success, you realize that a job is a job. Your boss might be your customers, or your creditors, or your secretary who is blackmailing you for what may or may not have happened at that convention in Reno, but you still have a boss. In the last case the boss allegedly has some photos and credit card receipts, but a boss nonetheless. And because you have a boss, your business is still a job. And after three to five years of blood, sweat and tears you’re back to the same place. Staring down the endless void of what next.
So what can you do? Some ideas:
- Alcohol or drugs – You might end up on the streets or in jail. You’ll certainly end up without a family or loved ones. But you can say, with assurance, that you decided to ‘opt out’ of the system. You rebel. Well done.
- Geographic cures – Move your entire family to another city, or better yet another country. To be clear, this is purely a delay of the inevitable, but if you string together a few of them you can pass a couple of decades.
- Burn it all – Take a moment and read James Altucher’s blog He will give you reasons to avoid college, avoid a mortgage, forgive yourself for not having a passion, and give up everything.
- Set Non-traditional goals – Consume your time setting and achieving goals nobody else does. That way nobody can criticize them like I am in this article and you have good party conversational fodder. Like learn to cobble shoes. Or slaughter a bison.
Perhaps none of these are good ideas. I’m open and listening.