The day I realized that my life was crap, Part 1

Published May 2, 2016   Posted in How to Think

Some time after starting this humble little early retirement blog, I came to a fairly startling realization that my goal in all this is not to retire early. Early retirement was an easy out.

That day I realized my life was crapThe truth of the matter is something much more insidious, which stems from an intriguing element in my life that deceptively manifested itself as a desire to simply quit work and retire as soon as possible. I thought I wanted to retire early.

And I do – as soon as freaking possible, but I finally allowed myself to realize that early retirement is not my true goal. It never was. I knew that I had a problem that needed to be solved. I thought I knew what the solution was.

And so I did what anyone else would have done in this scenario – I wrote a bunch of stuff down and turned it into a blog.

And the blog was helping. Unknowingly, it gave me an outlet to really consider what was bothering me throughout my career as a full-time office worker. It also made me realize that I knew the truth, too, about what I was missing in my life. All these years.

I mean I really knew it, but I buried that son of a bitch so deep that it couldn’t possibly escape my inner self and wreak havoc in my otherwise normal and comfortable existence.


I slowly began to realize the truth

The problem began to surface after working for years in the information technology sector for big nameless corporations. For the first few years after college, this phase in my life was new and interesting enough to encourage my subliminal mind to ignore what was building up inside me.

I never truly liked “work”, though. From the moment I set foot in my first office and plopped my ass down into my first cubicle, I did so only because I thought this was normal. After all, I spent the last four years of my life in school for a piece of paper they call a “degree”, then got a job working in a sterile neutral gray death chamber alongside nicely dressed inhabitance of the same breed.

We were all in this thing together, and that made it a little more bearable.

The jobs were okay. Like everyone else, I commuted into work. I parked my car in the parking lot next to exotic German “autos” and the occasional Porsche. Even a Bentley. Oh, and a Maserati, too.

Seriously, who drives a Maserati to work?

But I digress. The work was fine. I did what everyone else was doing, so I naturally assumed things were going okay. Made friends. Went to happy hour. Did work.

I painstakingly packaged myself as a “good worker”, volunteering my precious time for extra [uncompensated] work, always smiling and agreeing with the boss (okay, THAT part slowly changed over the years, but I certainly started out that way!), kissing ass whenever possible…basic madness most of us do to try and “get ahead”.

But I came to realize that I quite despise the taste of ass.

I put in some seriously long hours during periods of [management dubbed] “crunch mode” – of course, when basically every freaking week is “crunch mode”, it somehow fails to retain the same level of meaning that management probably hoped it would.

Over and over again, the process rolled on. Commute. Work. Commute. Work. And I did it for years. Year after year, the same thing.

The same damn thing.

I derived no enjoyment from any of it, but things never quite got bad enough for me to take a stand. Sure, I was growing tired of the constant monotony of this whole practice. I began asking myself if this is all that I have to look forward to over the next 30 years of my life. A damn depressing question to ask!

I tried my hand a starting a small business. I even took a free small business class held on Saturday morning for a couple of months, worked until 1 or 2am almost every day on the product that I was developing. Some people “get off” on this stuff. This is what they live for. Not me.

…the things that I did to try and make money. Additional money. Always, more money.

Working hard for that beautiful paycheck

I loved the thought of more money, but I hated the process to get there.

I always made good money, and that was perhaps the biggest problem of all. The money is what kept me from improving my life and moving on. The paychecks kept me coming back for more, like a thirsty hamster playing with that little water dispenser for a drink – or a rat meandering its way through a maze for the promise of a piece of cheese.

Over the years, I slowly let myself realize what I had always known – it wasn’t the jobs that were interesting after all. Not even the work.

It was the money. What I wanted was a nice paycheck.

Actually, no, that’s not quite accurate. Yes, of course I “wanted” a nice paycheck. Everybody wants huge sums of money.

More accurately: I NEEDED huge sums of money. I built what I had considered a normal lifestyle, a lifestyle of consumption. Of sport motorcycles. Of supercharged Corvettes. Of a home in the suburbs. My lifestyle was a leech on my freedom, voraciously sucking out my very lifeblood.

And I was doing nothing to extract that leech. In fact, I was pushing it deeper and deeper in.

Though I made good money and possessed the things that society would probably deem to be the mark of “success”, I was a hollow little office worker, unsatisfied with what the society-approved methods of “normal life” involved. It wasn’t working for me.

In a word, my life had become complete bullshit.

The BMWs driven by debt-ridden secretaries? It’s nonsense. The Porsches driven by over-worked middle managers? It’s nonsense. The $10,000 wrist watches? The 3,000 sqft homes? The $1,000 / month restaurant budgets?

It’s all complete nonsense. At least it was for me. And about four years ago, it came to a head.

That time I stood in my garage and mourned

Like I said, I had a house in the suburbs. My Corvette and Cadillac sat in my two-stall garage straddling my 1,000cc Yamaha R1 sportbike. I was the hallmark of success, or so I thought. Toys in the garage. A high-paying job. A mortgage. A job that gave me absolutely zero satisfaction.

One morning I stepped into my garage, took a look around and finally asked myself the question that my subconscious had refused to let me ask: “What is all this stuff for”?

Steve, you have lots of money coming in. You have a 500HP Corvette and a Cadillac luxury car sitting in your garage. You have an insanely fast motorcycle that can outrun virtually any vehicle on the road. You have a nice house 10 miles outside of the “big city” of Tucson in a nice suburban community.

Why aren’t you happy? What the hell did you do to yourself? You should be happy.

But I wasn’t, and I needed a way out.

Check out Part 2 now!

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Comments

48 responses to “The day I realized that my life was crap, Part 1”

  1. Ahhhh…a cliff hanger! I used to hate “to be continued” episodes. But they did always have me come back for more. Good one! This sounds eerily like my situation. Those damn high-paying jobs get you locked in. I am currently in a golden handcuff situation. As soon as I reach FI that will change – even if I don’t quit. Just knowing I could walk out at the drop of a hat is all the independence I need. I want options. Can’t wait for the second installment. 🙂

    Mrs. Mad Money Monster

    • Steve says:

      It’s true how powerful the golden handcuffs really are. I was making too much money to consider a change. I often wonder where I’d be right now, though, if I did decide to quit that line of work to find something that I enjoyed much more. I wonder…

      Thanks for the comment!

  2. So many people could say the same thing once they have that epiphany. I don’t know how many of them could express it in writing as well as you have, but I think there are a lot of people that feel this way, or would if they were able to hit the Pause button and stop and think about what really matters in life.

    The parking lot you describe could just as easily be a doctors’ lot at most hospitals. Surveys show increasing dissatisfaction and burnout among physicians, and most say they would retire now if they could. But of course they can’t. There’s a fleet of cars and a 5,000 square foot home on the lake. The lifestyle demands those dollars.

    • Steve says:

      Appreciate the kind words, Physician on FIRE. Yup, this really is a very common problem in so many areas of our society. I’m sure the burnout situation in hospitals is very similar to that of IT. But with an expensive lifestyle, you’re stuck doing stressful work just for the paycheck. It’s sad.

  3. Sadly, you are preaching to the choir here, everything except for the toys in the garage. I think many people can relate to this. The money is the killer. I could easily find another job that I could enjoy much more, but not one that paid nearly as much. So I keep holding on until I reach FI…trying to get there ASAP. I look forward to Part 2!

    The Green Swan

    • Steve says:

      Yup – like you, I could find a more satisfying job as well, but man, the money sure would be different. I’m in the situation now where it really does make sense for me to just stick it out and then look for fun things to do after retiring from full-time work. That’s what I’m going to look forward to – having the choice. 🙂

  4. I love hearing how people came to an epiphany in their journey. I definitely look forward to hearing part 2!

  5. The hedonic treadmill is a powerful thing, especially when it comes to cars, isn’t it? I love cars as much as anyone, but I always think they are the ultimate symbol of our national overconsumption and “affluenza”. The average car loan values keep going up (now about $30K) and people are spreading them out over more months to keep the payments low (up to about 60 months now). Great idea for a massively depreciating asset!

    • Steve says:

      The hedonic treadmill…a perfect phrase. And the car, yeah – it was a fun car to drive (when it wasn’t breaking down, of course), but man, did I ever throw money at that sucker. It’s amazing how much I spent. Live and learn, I guess [hope]!

  6. I often wonder if I should have pursued a more lucrative career path. But I’m glad I stuck with my passions. There are definitely days where I worry about burnout, but I truly enjoy teaching. Thanks for the honest peek inside a different lifestyle! Glad you’ve come up with a plan to make your dreams come to fruition.

    • Steve says:

      There is definitely something to be said for sticking with your passions. And depending on your lifestyle, there are always options down the road that can work in your favor, like retiring from full-time teaching to tutor around the country, for example.

  7. Apathy Ends says:

    Thank you for posting (part 1) of your story.

    I can relate to almost ever section of it so far (I have never had a corvette or motorcycle though) – wasting a year on a project I care NOTHING about was a trigger point for me

    I am seriously worried that a few people at my company like the taste of ass

    • Steve says:

      Wasting a year on a project that you didn’t care about is something that I’m all too familiar with as well. In fact, nearly every project has been that way. Under-funded pet projects with expectations that are over the moon. Sometimes, this industry really is nothing but a broken record.

  8. Mr. PIE says:

    Yup. It resonates. A lot.
    The revelation as I got older that the small things in life make me happy was the turning point.
    Don’t get me wrong, the money thing was always there and has allowed our plan to take shape for the next phase in our lives. But calling time on the corporate world can’t come soon enough.

    Our mind plays some powerful games with us and recognizing it, doing something about it takes a lot of effort. And worth it!! Also writing about it is a little bit of therapy.

    • Steve says:

      “But calling time on the corporate world can’t come soon enough.” – couldn’t have said it better myself. Like you, I do understand how important the money has been to our ability to retire early and I’m definitely grateful for that. Writing has definitely been good therapy for me as well.

  9. Mr. SSC says:

    I really love the type of work I do. Finding oil to me is part detective work, and part Indiana Jones. It’s like you have all these partial treasure maps you have to put together that show you something 10,000′ below the surface that makes you think oil could be there. Then you have to convince people to spend millions to drill a 6″ diameter well all the way down there and see if you’re right. It’s awesome! 🙂

    All that being said, I still want more time. I’d much rather be at home finishing up coffee and about to retire to the garage to work on my woodstrip canoe, after I go check the garden for ripe veggies/fruit, weeds/caterpillars, etc… Yep, there are things I’d rather be doing than work today.

    Fortunately, we never built a lifestyle that requires gobs of money and early on we reigned in our wanton spending of the money we were making. All this so that in another 2 years for sure, we can be at that point of dropping the kids off at school, having some coffee, and then figuring out what hobby we’re going to indulge that day. 🙂

    • Steve says:

      It’s awesome to enjoy your work…regardless of how much that pays. Good for you for finding an industry that truly makes you happy (and one that our country definitely depends on!). And two years isn’t that far away! 🙂

  10. I had that epiphany when I moved to Manhattan. It seemed everyone comes here to work hard and play hard, and in the process they spend all their income and leave Manhattan eventually with not much saved. I know this isn’t everyone that moves to Manhattan but it seemed like a lot of old college friends and coworkers, this was the case. I got an increased income for moving to NYC for my job and decided I wanted to make the best of it and not spend it all on the high COL life. That’s when I started researching personal finance even more and discovered FIRE.

    • Steve says:

      I’m sure Manhattan has this kind of phenomenon happen the most because people there tend to have the resources (and friends) to help them hobble along the road of spending. Yeah, pocket the Manhattan increase in money and you’ll set yourself up to be in real, real good shape – especially if you can find a job working from the midwest while still pulling down a Manhattan salary! The best of both worlds to be sure. 🙂

  11. Mrs. PIE says:

    looking forward to part two! I imagine this resonates with much of the ER community. We have our own epiphanies either gradually or all at once. The common theme is that the ‘stuff’ part of life isn’t the important stuff, the time part is.

  12. Kate says:

    Can’t wait for part 2!

    I’m sure most of Americans can relate to this story and I’m glad that we, along with other personal finance bloggers, are headed towards something better. We’ve examined our lives and determined that we deserve more than the “American Dream.” And we are taking the steps to do it!

    • Steve says:

      Thanks Kate! It’s funny that the “American Dream” is precisely what contributes to long and stressful careers. Seems more like a nightmare than a career to be sure!

  13. John says:

    Looking forward to Part 2!

    I stumbled upon FI. Once I realized I was there (financially), suddenly the job seemed less enjoyable! Funny how that works. When you don’t feel like you have an option, you put up with (or ignore) things that get on your nerves. Once you figure out you can say, “See ya!” if you want, your tolerance seems to drop (at least mine did).

    Money can’t by happiness, as they say. And they are right!

    John

    • Steve says:

      Ha! It’s interesting how that happens too – once you’re FI and realize that you don’t need that job, you instantly get a much different perspective on, well, everything. Maybe this thing isn’t so enjoyable after all. Mine sure isn’t! 🙂

  14. Of course I’m super curious to know what you’ve figured out you most want… which is NOT early retirement! (Or is early retirement plus something else.) Look forward to installment #2!

    • Steve says:

      Hehe, thanks ONL. It is, but it also isn’t, early retirement. I’ll explain on Wednesday in a way that hopefully makes some sense. 🙂

  15. Stockbeard says:

    I already know the story, and yet, that cliffhanger got me. Damn you, Steve 🙂

  16. Jon Sheridan says:

    Great stuff, Steve….oh how I can relate! Lokking forward to Part 2…

  17. It’s so easy to get lured into complacency with a steadily increasing paycheck. Work hard. Get paid. Buy stuff. Repeat.

    I had the same realization about 10 years ago as I was walking back to my hotel at 2am after back-to-back-to-back 18 hour days while working on a deal.

    I did make changes after that, but found myself pulled back in a few years later.

    I’m making early retirement work this time.

    • Steve says:

      Yup – so, so easy. This promise of MORE MONEY murders so many of our levels of happiness right under our noses, but the “stuff” keeps us ignoring the truth. It’s a vicious cycle!

  18. Matt Spillar says:

    Fantastic post Steve, thank goodness you reached that epiphany sooner rather than later.

    “What’s all this stuff for.” No matter how many things you own, it never brings purpose, fulfillment, or true happiness. Too bad most people in our culture never come to that realization. Looking forward to reading part 2.

  19. […] rather…life should have been good. Read my previous installment of this two-part blog […]

  20. Don Wilson says:

    Dang, Steve! You just wrote my life story. I could copy and past it and everyone would believe it (I won’t, but I could), except my Yamaha is an FZ1 instead of the R1 (faster than everything on the road except the R1).

    I’m anxious to get to part 2 of the story, so I can complete the comparison. It took me 24 years of this life with the same company before my wife and I decided to downsize. Life is getting better by the month.

    • Steve says:

      Hey Don – I’ve ridden the FZ1…nice bike, more comfortable than the R1 because of the more upright riding position. But yeah, fun times, but definitely on to bigger and better things now. Life truly is getting better by the month! 🙂

  21. Paul says:

    “But I came to realize that I quite despise the taste of ass.”

    Awesome! I almost spit out my coffee.

  22. “I always made good money, and that was perhaps the biggest problem of all”.

    This point in particular resonates with me. I’ve made “good money” for ten years now and I work in a field where even better money is within sight if I want it. Of course – what is it really worth if I hate most of the hours I spend earning it, and it requires working an extra 3 months a year. (~2500 hrs)

    Fortunately I’ve always been a good saver and most of my tastes are very “blue collar” instead of white collar. I’m in a similar place my friend – just trying to hold on a little bit longer!

    • Steve says:

      Yup, amen to that. Just a little bit longer…I always seem to be saying that, but eventually, I’m finally be able to say, “I’m here!”. 🙂

  23. Holy crap! You had the R1?! Sweet bike! I was riding around in a R6 and almost killed myself on the highway going 140 mph. Took the turn too fast and couldn’t keep the bike low. Scary. After that, I got rid of my other bike, a CBR600 and a BMW RC1200, and just drove.

    Funny you mention Bentley too. I just wrote a post today about almost buying a bentley! Are we like the same person or something? I never could buy two cars and a bike b/c I never had more than one garage space. But NOW, I’m thinking of getting my mid-life crisis car b/c I feel I’ve done everything responsibly since college really.

    It feels like you got the toys OUT OF YOUR SYSTEM. I kinda did at 25, but it’s itching at me again.

    Best,

    Sam

    • Steve says:

      Yeah, that R1 was the most insanely well-engineered vehicle that I have ever driven/ridden. Getting that much power out of a machine that small really is a testament to how far we’ve come as a society in terms of our engineering prowess. Amazing. I’m not sure that I want to admit how fast I got that bike up to. Let’s just say it was well above 140. 🙂

      Yeah, I definitely got that whole thing out of my system while young and making good money…so if I HAVE to make all these money mistakes, I’m thoroughly glad that I made them so early in life.

  24. Thanks for pouring your heart and soul into this post.

    It is great to see how you come to this realization on your own. I hope more people take the time to read this post and analyze their own lives.

    • Steve says:

      Thanks for the read, Matt! I really did enjoy writing this blog post, actually. It reminded me once again about how much progress I was able to make in the past several years.

  25. Kara says:

    You point about needing the money but deriving no satisfaction from work- even on your own business- really hits home with me. I’ve never made a lot of money, but I’ve worked a lot of jobs. I don’t really like working. It feels sacrilegious to say, but what I like is pursuing my interests, hiking, reading, learning new DIY skills….not working. At least not the traditional definition of working. I don’t think I’ll ever be one of those with a ‘dream job’ because the job part of that will always trip me up.

    • Steve says:

      Thanks for your comment, Kara. I’m just like you…I don’t really care for “jobs” regardless of what they are. I like to work and do my own thing, but the “jobiness” that surrounds your typical full-time employment can be incredibly draining.

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