I have decided to quit my job. I turned in my resignation, gave a two-month notice, and I have no intentions of ever rejoining the traditional “working world” or entertaining the idea of ever having another corporate job. I do know, however, that whatever comes next, it will certainly be a glorious adventure.
Maybe I have read too many stories by Jack Kerouac about his many adventures crisscrossing the United States and Mexico. Maybe I’ve thought too deeply about the words of Alan Watts, telling us that most things in this life do not mean what we think they do, and that next to nothing is really in our control. Or maybe I have become too enchanted by Carl Sagan’s examinations of our infinite universe and the four-billion-year history of human evolution. Whatever it was, I know that nothing about working nine to five for the next 30+ years makes any sense to me. I don’t plan to survive on pennies and scraps, but I do know that I can be happy with very little.
Seneca wrote, “Enough is never too little, and not-enough is never too much.” In my mind, when you can be not just content but happy with almost nothing, you are always just shy of having everything. Using Alexander the Great as an example of someone who sought richness from life, not from things, Seneca also wrote, “He seeks something which he can really make his own, exploring unknown seas, sending new fleets over the Ocean, and, so to speak, breaking down the very bars of the Universe.”
Sometimes it feels like the decision to step out of one world and into another came rather quickly and easily, but I have come to see that that is not the case. Over the past year, I have been priming myself for just this type of change: an urgent and irreversible change to the trajectory of my life, on par with joining/leaving the military, moving to L.A. or deciding to go back to school.
A little more than 18 months ago, while watching wave after wave crash against the Nicaraguan shoreline, I had a vision. Well, it was more like a glimpse, a flash really, of what I wanted my life to look like and what it ultimately could be. And after a few false starts, I began the slow journey to where I am now. Thirteen months ago, I gave up nearly all my bad habits. Most importantly, I quit drinking alcohol completely. Since then I have read more than 50 books, written tens of thousands of words with the hopes of turning them into a book of my own, achieved a level of mental and physical health that I have never experienced before, found an acute understanding of who I am, and changed my view of the world. That sounds like a lot happening in a short amount of time, but it’s amazing what you can accomplish once you’ve gained some momentum.
One of the biggest changes has been to the way I feel about spending time alone, something I once avoided unnecessarily and at all costs. In Kerouac’s novel Desolation Angels, he finds himself living in Mexico with an opium addict named Bull Gaines. One day, amidst his usual daily tirade, Bull makes a beautiful comparison between addicts and artists. “In many ways there’s a great resemblance between the dope fiend so called and the artist so called,” Bull says, “they like to be alone and comfortable provided they have what they want. They don’t go mad running around looking for things to do ‘cause they got it all inside, they can sit for hours without movin. They’re sensitive, so called, and don’t turn away from the study of good books.”
This made all too much sense to me and helped flush out the way I have felt more and more over the past year. Maybe it’s because I have felt like (and lived like) both those types of individuals at one time in my life or another. The artist, more so than the addict, just has a far healthier way of finding contentment with their isolation, while also feeling connected to the world in some way.
A friend asked me the other day when I planned to start drinking again, to which I replied, not for another year, if ever. He then asked, “So you just don’t mind not having a social life?” A little confused by his question, I replied, “I have exactly the type of social life I want, it just doesn’t include drinking and going to bars like we used to do.” For me, having a few close friends that I can have meaningful, intelligent conversations with is perfect. I also have no reason to believe that my idea of perfection would also work for or make sense to anyone else.
The subjectivity of any one individual’s ideal social life is as unnecessary to try and understand as another person’s idea of happiness or views on what it means to be successful. No one’s interpretation of any of these will be the exact same. For good reason, I say, because then how boring would life be.
A few days later, I was having a conversation with another friend about my future plans. I was clumsily describing to him my level of certainty about my current life choices. Specifically, how I know that whatever comes out of this next step, be it fortune or failure, it is a step in the right direction. He used a wonderful airplane analogy to expand upon one area of my thinking. He said that most people feel like they are flying along and if they could just make it to the next check point, the next promotion, the bigger house, it will be time to land safely. The arduous flight will be over. Full happiness will ensue.
I heartily agreed but responded with the reverse scenario. I told him lots of people also see life as an endless runway they are traveling down, their front wheels picking up and setting back down as the plane speeds forward. And if they could just get to that next thing, if they could just pick up a bit more speed, their wheels would lift off, and their life would take flight.
I think I like his version better but with a slight twist. All of us are in flight all right, but (surprise!) the copilot bailed out, their is no safe runway to land on, you’re heading out over the ocean, and there is no way to tell how much fuel is left in the tank. And in that scenario, what is left to do other than hold on, enjoy the ride, and enjoy the view?