“Why do you ride?” the old man asked me.
My response was “Because I want to live!”.
“What do you mean by that?” he asked
He continued “Of course, you’re living. You’re walking and breathing, aren’t you? Isn’t that living?”
The old man and I proceeded to have an interesting conversation, during which at one point he said to me “I wish I would have lived more, when I was younger.”.
Please allow me to explain:
A while back it occurred to me that I was living my life in pursuit of somebody’s idea of the “ideal” future.
Also known as, “The American Dream”.
That is, I was living not so much for today, but for a future that would supposedly by great, provided I do the requisite time in the trenches of corporate America. This future could be filled with big houses, cars, boats, RVs, lots of other material stuff, and eventually … retirement. Isn’t that what a happy and fulfilling life is about, after all? Lots of stuff, followed by retirement?
That’s the sales pitch, anyhow.
I think it happened as I was walking to the bus stop during a cold, drizzly Seattle morning. It was just another day really. There was nothing particularly special about it. I was just one of the many, mostly techie brogrammers, making my way to the cubicle office in downtown Seattle. Or, what I like to refer to as the “gerbil cage”.
The routine was always the same. A 15-minute walk to the bus stop. A 10-minute stand-around, while waiting for the bus. Concurrent with the stand-around, a smartphone device stare-down. Every 30 seconds, refreshing the view to see if anything had changed. Most of the time, nothing changed, although quite often, there would be a new tweet from … let’s just call him “The Well Known Tweeter”. Which, I have to admit, was entertaining.
As I was engaged in the device stare-down, something compelled me to look up, and observe my surroundings. I saw a bunch of brogrammers. Brogrammers just like me. ( Ok, I think there were a couple of galgrammers, also. ) All staring down at their little device. Not a one of them were smiling. Quite a few looked rather miserable, truth be told. I suppose the cold, drizzly rain might have had something to do with it, but I think there was more to it than that.
I’m not going to go into all the negatives about the modern American corporate lifestyle. The “American Dream” as it’s called. I think you know what they are. You read about them all the time. Long days, relentless pressure to deliver, co-workers “backstabbing” each other as they claw their way up the performance rankings, too little vacation time, and pressure to not even take what little vacation has been earned, less there be no job upon returning.
And then there is the stress of living in a crowded, expensive city. Rising housing costs, perpetual traffic, crime, and so on.
Now don’t get me wrong, I know it’s not all negatives. There are the paychecks, healthcare benefits, 401K retirement plan. The usual enticements. You might even get a pin, if you’re one of the top performers!
But, does it have to be this way? I think not.
In any case, as I was looking around, I thought to myself …
“What is this about? I am not a number! I am a person!”
“When I’m an old, crusty fart in my rocking chair, will this be all that I remember? A bunch of brogrammer automatons, staring down at a little, buzzing, electronic phone device? Furiously refreshing the view, to see if that woman from last night has acknowledged my “wink”? Nope, no wink from her, but Arrrrgh! … a “high priority” message from the boss … groan.”. And also, a tweet from the … “Well Known Tweeter”.
Well! … In the words of The Dude …
That evening, as I was watching an episode of Breaking Bad, I thought to myself, it’s time to make a change. It’s time to do something different. It’s time to cook … METH! Yeaaaaaah!
Ha. Ok, just joking. Well, joking about the meth cooking anyhow. But, I did decide it was time to bust a move.
So, I wrote up my resignation email and sent it off the next morning. I have to admit, upon hitting that Send button, one of the thoughts in my head was “Ah man! I’m going to miss that paycheck!”. Sniff, sniff. I also have to admit, I would miss my co-workers.
It’s been a few months, and do I have any regrets? Oh Hell NO!
Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying I don’t believe in hard work. Somebody has to create things, after all. Otherwise, we would all still be living in caves. This computer I’m typing on was designed by somebody! This software did not pop out of thin air, although I’ve worked for some managers who believe that it does. I should know. I’m a software developer. Give me a project to work on, with a well-defined goal, and I’ll put in serious hours! I love me a good project to work on!
With all that being said, I’m just no longer sold on the “American Dream”. That is, the American Dream as defined by corporate America and Wall Street. The American worker bee lifestyle has serious issues. How do I mean?
To me, the American Dream is this:
It’s a beautiful Wednesday morning in central Oregon. As I’m enjoying my morning coffee and reading up on the news, I can see the distant mountains slowly come into the light of the sunrise. What a beautiful sight. I take a deep breath of fresh, clean air and absorb the peacefulness.
In an hour, or so, I will make the commute to my home office ( about 12 feet away ), and begin the day’s work. Or, perhaps I will make the commute in 2 hours. It just depends on how long it takes for my brain to kick in. You see, because I’m human, and not a machine, each day is different. It just depends. But, once the brain does kick in, a LOT gets done.
After a very productive morning, lunch rolls around and I enjoy a chicken salad made from fresh, local farm produce. So tasty! As I’m enjoying the last bits of lunch, I look out the window and notice how sunny it is. Hm. Even though it’s Winter, today could be .. could be … could it be? Could it be a great day for a ride! Yes! It is a great day for a RIDE!
I throw on my riding gear and stomp down to the garage. Ah yes. There she is. My sweet baby. My motorcycle. This is going to be fun!
I head out to one of the nearby, local roads that threads it’s way through a canyon. Because it’s during the middle of the week, and most people are in their gerbil cages .. eh hem, I mean cubicles … there is not a car in sight. The road is all mine! Ha ha haaaaaa!
The riding is so glorious! In the words of the The Well Known Tweeter … “Believe me! You have no idea”.
After an hour of some of the best riding, after an hour of pure joy, I pull over, get off the bike and stretch a bit.
As I’m flexing my buttocks, working out a bit of soreness, I breath deep of the clean, fresh air. I look around. It’s so peaceful. What do I see? Do I see dour-looking brogrammers? No. How about angry drivers stuck in traffic? No. Stressed-out worker bees screaming into their little, electronic devices? No.
What do I see? I see LIFE! Yes. I look around and think to myself “Today, I am living!”.
I’m on a beautiful stretch of road, during a wonderful day, feeling better than ever, doing that which makes me so happy! There’s even a little chipmunk hopping about, collecting nuts.
This day, this place, me and my motorcycle … what will this day be worth to me in 20 years? That is, in 20 years, where ever I may be, in whatever condition my mind and body may be in, how much would I pay to get this day back? $100? $100,000? $1,000,000? Hm, makes you wonder, eh? For those reading this now … where ever you may be, doing whatever you may be doing … think about it. What will today be worth to you in 20 years? Is it worth it? Perhaps. Perhaps not. It depends on your priorities, I suppose.
A couple of hours later, after more glorious riding, I pull into the garage, park the bike, strip off the riding gear, and return to my home office. I hammer out several hours of highly productive work, and then call it a day.
You see. Here’s the gist. Psssst … this is for the corporate executives and managers out there:
People are human. They are not machines. As much as you would like people to be machines, so that your schedules and spreadsheet numbers are as accurate as possible, people are not machines. Some people work best in the morning, some in the afternoon. Some work best in an open office environment, some work best in a home office. Some people are most productive if they are able to take a couple of hours break and jump on the bike! Some people love the big city. Some people need open country. The most productive and successful teams are made up of workers that have freedom and choice! How do I know? Because I’ve both worked for, and managed, such teams. Those teams were wildly productive, and were some of the best teams I’ve had the pleasure to be part of.
In the words of the Well Known Tweeter “Believe me. We were tremendously productive. You have no idea.”.
I will just end with this:
You may remember an infamous CEO who was hired to turn the company, Yahoo, around. This person was paid millions to return the struggling company back to its days of wealth and glory. One of her first directives was “All employees shall be required to work at their assigned Yahoo office desk, during prescribed hours! No remote, or alternative, work arrangements shall be allowed! No exceptions! Those are my orders! Either obey, or leave! Your choice! Now, get back to work!”.
PFFFFFT!!!! Look how well that turned out. She failed miserably! This supposed CEO did not understand people. Especially, tech workers. FAILED!
I choose to live for today!
Freedom and choice! The Gregorius Abides