PART 1: WALKING AWAY
Choosing Experiences Over Things
According to conventional wisdom, one of the first steps one should take when starting a business is defining your objectives with a “mission statement.” It should be easy for a marketing professional with over 25 years of experience to come up with a catchy slogan to appease the masses.
However, it wouldn’t feel authentic if the reason for a radical change to your lifestyle is due to severe burnout from modern business culture. I am tired of corporate jargon, political correctness, obnoxious open offices, low creative freedom, and the shift in quality where “MVP” switched from the “Most Valuable Player” to become the “Minimum Viable Product.”
Because my family taught me to value experiences over things, my life has been a non-stop adventure. I barely ever pass up the opportunity to try something new. I’m the guy who knows more about your town than you do. I always know how to find the “cool shit,” and the locals always ask me how I was able to find out about their little secret.
My life is largely guided by synchronicity. That’s why I’ll grab some camping gear on a whim, and jump on a bicycle to go for a 700-mile ride. I’ll get in the Jeep and drive 3,000 miles without knowing what direction I’m going — until I’m headed in that direction.
Just Another “Starving Artist?”
Fearless as that may seem, the decision to throw away a career I’ve devoted almost 30 years of my life for, to become an “adventure and travel photographer” is quite scary. They don’t call most of us “starving artists” without a good reason. Should I fail, there’s a good chance I won’t be able to go back to my old career dragging my tail between my legs, especially in this modern “cancel culture.” If I plan on being authentic and speak from my soul, I have to accept there will be some easily offended people hoping that I end up homeless.
I’ve been an artist most of my life, working commercially before I could legally drink (but that didn’t stop me). I believe that people who work in marketing and advertising drink so much because of the limited shelf-life of their creative work. Maybe you designed the packaging for a well-known beverage company that gets tossed in the trash before the customer is even drunk. If you’re lucky, maybe you’ll see someone get smashed in the head with a beer bottle during a bar fight and you can say: “I designed that bottle!”
Maybe you designed a user interface for a well-known web site that won some prestigious awards. But that was 5 years ago, and it has been completely re-designed twice since. You’d be laughed at today for including it in your portfolio because the design is so outdated. While you can make good money as a commercial artist, it’s easy to lose your soul in the process and wake up realizing you never used your gifts to create anything meaningful.
There’s a point where every artist must create art for art’s sake. You need to start creating work you can look at 20 years from now without getting tired of seeing it. Art that brings you back to a place or a time that you want to remember, and the feelings you had when creating it. Art that helps you tell your story to the world, or share your point of view in a way that others can relate. Art that you’ve produced on your own, without being hounded by clients or watered down by some Corporate Committee of 300.
I’m Here to Break Your Conditioning
Life is too short to waste away in your sheltered corporate bubble, inundated with the constant propaganda of modern media. Who wants to wake up early every morning to sit in traffic on your way into some shitty corporate office? I don’t want to spend all day talking about Sportsball with the basic bros followed by sitting in traffic again, coming home to microwave dinner and more Sportsball on TV.
I was called by my spirit guide to break your conditioning. I’m here to show all of you that it’s OK to follow your convictions and set your mind on turning a crazy idea into reality. If I had paid attention to all of the people who tried to convince me of my inevitable failure, I would have never survived as a commercial artist. However, building that career was anything but easy. Starting any new career path is time-consuming, riddled with unforeseen challenges, and you may not see positive results from your hard work for years.
“People always overestimate what they can do in a year, but they always under-estimate what they can accomplish in a decade.”
I heard this quote around the time of starting along this path, and it still resonates with me. I’ll be the first to admit I don’t know exactly what I’m doing, but in August of 2016, I knew there would be a lot of hard work ahead. I’d need to have patience and give myself 10 years before looking back to see if I turn this dream into reality.
Hard Work Through the Generations
The generational shift in how people are rewarded for hard work these days taught me that hard work doesn’t pay — unless you’re willing to shoulder the burden and risk of working for yourself. There are no guarantees in life, but I guarantee if you spend your time working for someone else, you’re guaranteed to never grow much beyond a paycheck-to-paycheck existence — regardless of how much your hard work enriches others.
My grandfather worked at the same company for over 30 years, retired with a gold watch, and lived out his golden years collecting a nice pension. The company he worked for, like many others back then, ensured that people who dedicated most of their life to the company would be able to live comfortably, in relative tranquility.
Fast forward 20 years, and I find myself maintaining a “company rewards” web site. Employees who reached the 25-year mark could log-in and claim a watch that would cost no more than $20 at Walmart. I lost count of the messages from disgruntled employees complaining about broken hands, snapped watchbands, and other malfunctions. If I were an employee who just slaved away for 25 years at this dump, I would have felt less than grateful. My 10-year-old has pulled better prizes out of a Happy Meal!
I’ve been watching the slow decline of this whole “working hard” concept for years. Right after finishing art school, the largest company in my hometown began targeting people close to retirement for termination. They were in the process of culling of around 10,000 employees.
My mother watched as security escorted a co-worker out of the building who spent over 25 years working for the company. He was less than 3 months away from collecting full retirement benefits. On top of that, this guy was raising 2 grandchildren after his daughter was killed in a car accident along with her husband. His reward for 25 years of hard work? Being forced to find hard work elsewhere for the remainder of his life.
Simultaneously, in the course of doing work for the same company, I watched them throw $2 million worth of packaging into the dumpster over a nearly imperceptible color shift on the printing press. Variances are common on print runs of that scale, and these packages didn’t fall outside the acceptable range. We proved that by showing them dozens of packages sitting on our display shelves in the office. We designed all of them. Comparing any two, side-by-side, revealed subtle color shifts you wouldn’t otherwise notice.
This company had $2 million at its disposal to re-print a bunch of boxes that would be tossed straight into the trash by the consumer. Yet they couldn’t afford an employee who devoted more than 25 years of his life, working hard for a promise broken less than 3 months before reaching the “promised land.”
My mother quit that job in disgust a couple of weeks later.
The Turning Point
I will “never forget” that September 11th — 2 days after my son was born. I found myself sitting at a coffee shop, being fired from some shitty “Silicon Valley” wannabe startup. Instead of toiling 100 hours of my life away that week, I chose to be at the hospital for the birth of my son. Now I was paying the price.
The choice I gladly made, to be there when my son came into this world, caused me a lot of turmoil. Several important personal relationships were strained during that time. I don’t recommend getting fired 2 days after you have a baby.
It was difficult to get this company to honor the severance package they agreed to. I had to fight with them for 2 weeks before being allowed to pick up my personal effects, including a laptop and bicycle. They even forced me into the courtroom, trying to stop me from collecting unemployment. The CEO of that company was one of the most wretched people I’ve ever met.
The people who gave up 100 hours of their week, sleeping on cots inside the office most nights, were relocated to the other side of the country a few months later. One day short of the minimum number of days necessary to keep their relocation packages, they were rewarded for that hard work after being called into a conference room together to get fired all at once. Their final paychecks withheld, as reimbursement for those unqualified “relocation packages.” 89 days after moving across the country, these hard-working gullible Millenials were wondering how they’d be making their next rent payment.
Getting fired for choosing my kid instead of a job was a major turning point in my life. That experience only scratches the surface of the deplorable things I’ve witnessed in my career. But this was the turning point where I completely ran out of fucks to give.
“X” Marks the Spot
Say what you want about these Lazy Millenials — Generation X marks the spot where we would begin living worse-off than our parents, despite how much hard work we dish out. Even if we manage to earn as much as they did, it won’t even be worth half as much due to inflation. In one generation I watched the economy devolve from — Work hard, retire with a gold watch, and live out your golden years into Work hard, get shit-canned because you had a kid, and go fuck yourself.
When you witness a cultural shift like that in your lifetime, you can’t deny the fact that kids today are pretty much fucked.
And these kids don’t even have as much time as their grandparents did when it comes to getting their shit together. I was being treated like a washed-up old douchebag in my 30s at some of these places. They started making me feel like I should apply for a job as a “Walmart Greeter.” In their 20s, Gen-Xers were constantly told: “come back when you have more experience.” 10 years later we hear: “You’re too old for this kind of work!”
Now I’m in my 40s, and I still don’t give a fuck. Especially when I see the “Power of Big Data” used to show a trucking company they could save money by firing all of their drivers over 40 years old. Drivers with a million accident-free miles were kicked to the curb because health insurance is cheaper for people in their 20’s.
I’m sorry, but that kind of safety record only comes with experience. My grandfather received an award for driving his company truck a million miles without an accident. It took him almost 25 years to pull that off. Granted, the very next day he backed over my dad’s car in the driveway with his company truck. The car was totaled, and grandpa became the punchline of several jokes at the office.
Now we have to share the road with a bunch of little kids driving big rigs around town with no experience because their healthcare is cheaper than the lawsuits from running over a soccer mom and her stick figure family. In the end, these 20-somethings won’t have enough time to save anything for their future before they’re replaced by autonomous vehicles.
A Life of Indentured Servitude?
Once you realize there’s no such thing as job security in today’s workplace, the decision to go out on your own becomes easier. These companies will get rid of you at the drop of a hat. At best, collecting a regular paycheck your entire life will never leave you much better off than an indentured servant. That is until you get replaced by an actual indentured servant.
While working in software design, I’ve seen tons of American workers lose their jobs to foreigners. For large companies that can afford the legal expense, they get to replace their entire workforce with foreign nationals who take the same positions for half of the salary. As a bonus, these companies can treat those workers like total shit. Because of their work visas, or indentured servitude status, the prospect of being sent back to the 3rd world will make them think twice about quitting their shitty jobs. It is a long and difficult path for these workers to break free from that indentured servitude status.
In many cases, the Americans are required to stay behind for several weeks and train their foreign replacements. Any refusal will forfeit their severance packages and potentially disqualify them from collecting unemployment compensation. They have the choice of shrugging off their dignity or shrugging off their income and moving into a van down by the river. And where’s the dignity in that?
When I was a kid, the grown-ups told us if we failed to work hard, we would end up living in a van down by the river. But then I grew up to see people working at the biggest tech companies in Silicon Valley living in vans down by the river because they can’t afford an apartment in SanFrancisco!
I’ve reached the point in my own life where I’d be fine living in a van down by the river. Especially if I can afford the gas to switch rivers once in a while. It’s more spacious than the 2-Door Jeep Wrangler I take on most of my photography Trips. Being able to park and sleep where I want to capture the sunrise means I can sleep in!
If it means I can walk away from a life of indentured servitude with my middle finger in the air, even better.