Being Nigel

I recently expressed some of my dissatisfaction with my current career:

It received much more of a response than I expected, but I stand by this statement 100 percent. And it’s not “yardwork” per se that I enjoy (though I do). It’s actually creating something and doing something that does not involve wallowing in minutiae while sitting at a computer for eight or more hours per day.

There is a deep undercurrent of dissatisfaction with the contemporary office job. This is for two main reasons:

  1. It is highly unnatural; and
  2. There is little to nothing to show for your efforts.

Where’s the sense of accomplishment in shuffling through emails? What pride can there be in spending hours contributing something infinitesimally minute to some project that you have no ownership over and does not affect you?

And in the case of law, everything is air. Everything is made up. A law doesn’t exist. It’s a shared fiction that everybody agrees to abide by under pain of financial injury or physical imprisonment. However, these things can be changed relatively quickly–today’s wrong is tomorrow’s right.

Plus, it all keeps coming. All of it. There is no end to the busy work.

This can’t be unique to law, but at least some other jobs probably provide a more tangible sense of accomplishment. I think of somebody working on creating software, or designing a building, or even a guy on an assembly line or out landscaping: At the end of the day, you’ve created a thing. I know it’s easy to romanticize physical labor, and I know it often doesn’t pay as well as our wonderful brand new “service economy.” But hear me out.

Remember the movie City Slickers? Remember when it’s “Career Day” at Billy Crystal’s character’s son’s school and the other dads have interesting jobs, but Billy Crystal’s character, who sells advertising space on radio stations, finally admits that he “sells air”?

That’s a lot of us out here today. Men, especially. No wonder Billy Crystal, Daniel Stern, and Bruno Kirby decide to do something traditionally masculine and become cowboys. It’s a comedy, sure, but there’s an undercurrent of something real there.

Some days, I have an overwhelming urge to fight. I want to fight and get hit and hit other people and not know if I’m going to make it. I want to bleed as much as I want to make others bleed.

Other days, I want to go out in the forest, chop some trees, and build a house. Or a palace. Or make a castle out of huge rocks. Just because.

Although I hate the term “midlife crisis,” because it’s usually used to mock men who are unhappy with their work situations, the feeling is totally understandable. And I’ll tell you what I think it stems from: doing what we were told we should do. Continue reading “Being Nigel”

Death to Convenience!

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Human history is a funny thing: we spent millennia fighting off predators and toiling in the fields, painstakingly developing labor-saving methods and machines in search of convenience, only to now feel deep dissatisfaction with the industrialized world.

At least, some of us feel dissatisfied.

It’s a thing Jack Donovan touches on in much of his writing. And it’s also the kind of scorching hot take the chattering class likes to bring up when they trot out the whole “It’s a woman’s world now/Are men obsolete?” canard.

You see, apparently things like strengthdecisiveness, and physical courage are outdated and outmoded. As though only men display these things . . .

But this dissatisfaction is not just a man-thing. It’s a human thing.

All this labor-saving, all this technology, and all this existential angst. Is it any wonder that people feel useless? Anxious? Unhappy?

Maybe all of this convenience is the enemy.

This is a great time to be alive in many ways, especially in the West. Fantastic. An anomaly in human history:

  • Hunting and farming? Just press a button, and food is brought to you.
  • Courtship? Romance? Nah! We have devices. Soon, sex robots will be a thing. And if you really crave “the human element,” there are apps for that.
  • Disease? Most of the ones that used to ravage humanity are gone, or held at bay so as to be nearly eradicated.
  • Travel? Never been easier. You don’t even need to own your own vehicle to get from point A to point B, let alone a horse.

And so on.

But we’re all stressed. We suffer from ennui and listlessness and isolation. Pure enervation. Achievement is just not worth the effort since the rewards are ever-dwindling…right?

I mean, look around you, especially if you’re in a city. Things seem designed to keep us apart from each other. Where are the smiles? Hell, it’s weird to even see an athletic physique, isn’t it?

Convenience is killing us. This is not a great revelation when it comes to our personal lives. But what about when it comes to everything else?

How about convenience making us not even want to vote, or learn about important issues? Nothing really ever changes, right?

Our convenience even stops us from asking deep questions, introspective questionsabout ourselves, our legacies, the meaning of life, God, the eternal, the unknowable.

Convenience is a trap. It’s the cage of safety writ large. And this convenience was designed, so the official story goes, to make our lives better.

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And it has.

But as with most everything, there is a price. Continue reading “Death to Convenience!”

Always Be Moving Forward: Nine Lessons Learned from Following the Rules

You go along with the checklist. You follow the rules. And you find that you still can’t “make it.”

Replace “you” with “me,” and that’s where I am now. 

You see, I did the pre-approved, Boomer-sanctioned thing: College. Grad school. Safety. Security. Don’t rock the boat. And I still have to get a second job. 

I’m not against working hard. But it is kind of depressing. 

Perhaps “disillusioning” is a better word. But I’m telling you, this is why I do not find it irresponsible to warn as many young people as humanly possible to explore alternatives to college. 

It’s another reason why I warn people away from law school as much as humanly possible. 

Law school provides you with some of the most unmarketable skills in one of the least-demanded fields. 

Every instinct telling you to go to law school? Listen to it, and then do the opposite. 

The same goes, generally, for college. 

Look, I’m no self-improvement guru. I don’t have everything together. But I can tip you off about what not to do. Why make the same mistakes someone else did? Continue reading “Always Be Moving Forward: Nine Lessons Learned from Following the Rules”

Existence by Absence: A Response to Avtomat Khan’s Guest Post

“Authenticity” and the idea of living an “authentic life” have become buzzwords, and like most buzzwords, the fundamental question becomes: what does it mean?

What makes a life “authentic” or “real”? It’s a question that seems to vex professional thinkers and the rest of us a like. 

Personally, I always thought of the concept as a combination of doing what you believe is best for you with a rootedness in timeless values. But the first part is what I’ve found the trickiest to define:

  • Is “doing what you want” inherently selfish?
  • If so, how can you mitigate this?
  • What’s the balance between “authenticity” and “obligation”?
  • Isn’t it strange that the idea of  “authenticity” itself is often packaged and sold as a commodity?
  • “Authentic” to whom?

And then I got thinking about how we can sometimes define things by their absence or negation. Let me explain:

As stated in my introduction to guest posts, I’d like to offer my take on what Avtomat Khan of The Hidden Dominion covered in his guest post, “Staying Authentic in Trying Times.” In it is a passage and a diagram I really like:

Consider this: If you place a high value on what others think of you, it will manipulate your personality and conclusions, either to find approval or avoid disapproval.

How can someone claim to be genuine if their values are so easily distorted based on who’s listening? It masks your true self. And in turn, it promotes the idea that we should “hide” who we actually are, in favor of whatever the latest bandwagon is.

That’s a good diagram, right? 

So more on negation: Sometimes we get a feeling that things are not right, a sense that how we are living is misaligned with who we are. It’s difficult to articulate this, but you know it when it’s not there.  Continue reading “Existence by Absence: A Response to Avtomat Khan’s Guest Post”

Let Them Lose: Four Lessons from Defeat Kids Need to Learn Early

“Just let him win.”

I am in the middle of game 12 or 13 of Chutes and Ladders with my four-year-old son when my wife says this. At issue is my son’s moaning because he wanted to spin a 4 to land on the huge ladder on square 28 that would take him up to square 84, but he spun a 5 instead.

Me, I’m somewhere near the top, a few more chutes in my path serving as potential pitfalls, but still a good 50 or so squares ahead of my son. He’s won some games, I’ve won some games, but in his little mind, losing at all is a cause for extreme frustration.

And losing does suck. But we all have to learn how to do it.

My son wants to keep spinning until he gets that 4. I tell him I don’t want to play otherwise; after he insists and spins until he does get a 4, I keep spinning until I get the number want.

“You can’t play that way!” he tells me.

“Why not?” I say. “You did. We either play by the same rules, or the game is no fun.”

All of which prompted my wife’s plea from the kitchen.

“Okay!” says my son, throwing his hands in the air. “I won’t do that any more daddy. Let’s play again!”

I nod and smile. I know he would get the concept. It just had to be explained to him.

*     *     *

Extreme? Why should I try to win against a four-year-old? Shouldn’t I just grow up?

I am not trying to win against him. I am trying to teach him how to play by the rules, how to lose, and how to win honestly.

I don’t know if this is a father/mother gender difference, harshness versus nurturing or whatever, but I think my son is old enough to start understanding these concepts.

At a certain point, letting kids win teaches all kinds of the wrong lessons. And if we want mentally tough adults, we have to start young.

I am not trying to be cruel to him, or to achieve any sort of victory over a little kid. I am trying to teach him how to handle adversity and overcome it.

Take a look at this piece from an 1861 issue of The Atlantic called “The Advantages of Defeat” written after the Union Army’s defeat at the Battle of Bull Run during the American Civil War:

The honor lost in our recent defeat cannot be regained,—but it is indeed one of the advantages of defeat to teach men the preciousness of honor, the necessity of winning and keeping it at any cost.

Bull Run was the first major battle of the Civil War, and the Union, thinking it would waltz to an easy victory, got whomped.

Now, we know how the war turned out, but the Union was really on the ropes for a while there at the beginning. Many bitter lessons learned through defeat–and what they did with those lessons–made all of the difference.

Am I really comparing playing board games with my son to the American Civil War? Yes. Because the same lessons are at play.

Learning how to lose is just as important as learning how to win.

Continue reading “Let Them Lose: Four Lessons from Defeat Kids Need to Learn Early”

Hardship and Inspiration

Is hardship necessary for you to be an inspiration to others? 

I had this thought listening to Sonnie Johnson‘s podcast. Sonnie, who is black, discusses politics but she also highlights ways that the black community can improve itself and features interesting guests. 

Most of them preach a message of self-responsibility and capitalism, and prove that in the US, anything is possible if you have the drive and the courage.

But another commonality is that most of her guests overcame difficult upbringings; in other words, the proverbial “life on the streets.”

Like it or not, blacks in America still have it a lot rougher than whites, and many need to work twice as hard to escape horrifically dangerous dead-end situations. 

These voices are inspirational, even to me, a white guy from rural New Hampshire who grew up quite comfortably in the cage of safety. If people with the circumstances stacked against them can make it and serve as an example to others, what’s my excuse? Continue reading “Hardship and Inspiration”

The Money Making Game

As someone who grew up in a cage of safety, I fully admit that dealing with money has been a struggle throughout my life. 

When you grow up comfortably, it’s difficult to realize how affluence is not the norm.

What do I mean? Just that I’ve (a) always had someone to bail me out when things get tough, and (b) believe that there’s always more money waiting to be made. 

The latter is true, and is it a bad thing to have. But there’s also the Millennial curses: (c) being raised with a belief that the good times will keep rolling on, and (d) a sense of entitlement. 

Yup, I’m admitting to being an entitled bastard. 

Oh, not anymore. I outgrew that years ago, and any lingering sense of entitlement exploded after my son was born. 

What this adds up to, though, is a lack of respect for money. This culminated when I went back to school recently after learning my job was soon to end and having to pay bills. What I ended up doing was selling almost all of my musical instruments and other gear, not to mention many other possessions I’d rather have held on to. 

Talk about humiliating. 

Conversations with the guys at the music store were not pleasant:

“Whoa, this is some nice gear! Mind if I ask why you’re selling?” 

“I have to make my car payment.”

Awful. 

I had no savings because I had been on the debt treadmill for a long while. Big mistake. But I’ve learned a lot of lessons since then, and I also made some important mindset shifts prior to pulling the trigger and selling this stuff. So here goes my take on trying to get better at the money making game:

Stuff is just stuff and can always be bought again. This was the big one. Yes, as a musician it hurt to sell my instruments. And some of them have irreplaceable sentimental value. But at he end of the day, will my old guitars really be that much different than the new ones I plan to buy? How important is that stuff, anyway? Continue reading “The Money Making Game”