Can money pay for all the days I've lived awake but half-asleep?

September 4, 2006 - Get free updates of new posts here

Written by Sean from Grid7.com.

Thanks Noah for letting me bat clean-up on guest author week here on OKDork. Given this is Labor Day weekend the topic of my post will be… you guessed it: labor. I don’t know why you choose to follow Noah’s blog but the reason I keep coming back is because he consistently dares his readers to wake up from the slumber that is conventional thinking and challenges us to look at the world in different ways. I had the chance to meet Noah two weeks ago when I was up in Palo Alto (always weird when an online connection becomes a real person) and the brief chat we had in person was just as interesting as reading his blog posts. Someone earlier this week equated Noah’s blog to Geneva and that analogy is actually very accurate – this space is a neutral environment where there’s a mediator consciously attempting to foster open dialogue with everyone regardless of their role – a place that’s not about pagerank and profit motive and where the voice behind the posts is saying things that are heartfelt. Alright, so without touting OKdork anymore than it has been this week, my question to you is this: “if you’ve been contemplating a risky leap of faith (such as leaving your job to start your own thing) but haven’t taken it yet, what exactly are you waiting for? And do you think it will become more or less difficult over time?”

are you feeling like a cooked frog?A personal anecdote here- I worked eight years in corporate America writing code at various cube farms for middle-managers that had no business being in the positions they were in. Chalk it up to a perfect storm of weird luck, corporate politics, and a knack for attracting “Lumbergs,” but I worked under some bozos that seemed to revel in beauracracy and take delight in crushing my spirit. The day I saw the movie Office Space, I thought I was watching a documentary on my own life. The best analogy I can make is that familiar adage about “drop a frog in a boiling pot of water and he’ll jump out immediately, however turn up the heat slowly and he’ll happily cook to death.” I was a marinating frog for nearly a decade of life until one particularly “Office Space-ish” day in the cube farm when I noticed how dangerously-hot the water temperature had gotten around me and more importantly, how numb I had become to the situation.

http://okdork.com/wp-content/uploads/saleslogixTree2.jpgIt was about this time two years ago that I stood up from my flickering computer screen looking over a sea of noiseless grey cubicles, shook the Microsoft off of me, and walked outside on that summer afternoon and just sat on the lawn in the shade of this big tree digging my fingers into the turf and listening to the leaves. I wondered how and when I had allowed myself to become a desensitized frog in a boiling pot (the picture to the left is the actual spot of enlightenment). I could tell you how toxic this particular company was but a better indicator is the fact that my roommates at the time who were working there as well quit within weeks and decided to ride a segway scooter across the US and make a documentary about it. It affected us all in different ways but contrary to the Office Space plot I did not go back inside, saw off my cubicle and gut a fish on my desk. Instead I left that job the following week, started my own business and the rest is a long and winding road that has lead me here to be writing this to you today.

I can’t give you any motivational words that haven’t already been said elsewhere to convince you to go out and do your own thing. It’s not for everyone. It’s definitely not glamorous and not some kind of fairytale that’s guaranteed to work out just cause you took the risk. It has dangers and instability and pays less at first than you could make working for a larger company. Plus, the world of business needs employees or else we’d all be crazy captains with nobody to staff the ship. So believe me, I’m not slangin’ the entrepreneur/small biz owner religion. But I can say if you feel like your job is rotting your brain, it is. Don’t even question that it isn’t – if you have that thought at all, it is. Steve Pavlina recently wrote a great post on the ten reasons why you should never get a job. I won’t recommend joblessness for every new college grad as there is value to experiencing the idiocy of a big corporation first-hand. But if you debating taking the leap of starting your own thing, whatever health benefits, fear of failure or upcoming promotions are keeping you in your indentured servitude- fuck it. Say it with me, “FUCK. IT.” I can think of nothing more depressing than living with the regret of having never tried something you wish you would have done in life. And when you tell yourself “I’ll make the jump next year once I’ve stashed more savings away…” trust me, there’s always another promotion dangling out there making the exit more and more difficult with time. I realize I’m a biased proponent of this path and lucky that I had the capital reserves and supportive friends and family to be able to do it. Gambling five years of home equity on an experimental idea would be considered foolish by most people’s standards, but ask the advice of anyone over the age of seventy and he/she will tell you “Life is short. No regrets. Go for it while you have the chance.”

So enough of the ra-ra-ra motivational speech… I can’t possibly match Steve Jobs’ commencement address in that regard. I do however challenge the loyal OKDork readers out there to participate in a social experiment of my design and of which I believe Noah would approve. I call it the “Opensource Goals Meme.” I won’t rehash the details here and say why I think it’s effective in its purpose but if you want to participate, read the rules via the link above and leave a trackback so we know where your goal post is. Then run this google query occasionally and observe and reflect on other people’s goals and how they differ from your own.

If the paystub is truly what turns you on most about your job, then ignore everything I’ve said and have a pleasant bath. But if you find yourself feeling parboiled in your job and itching to break away and try something on your own, I’d ask you to ponder the question that is both the title of this post and a great lyric from a song by Primitive Radio Gods: “can money pay for all the days I’ve lived awake but half asleep?” If quality of life is measured by the density of memories we associate with a given time period, under which path will you have the most salient memories ten years from now? As you mull over the concept of labor this weekend (cause that’s what we all do on Labor Day right??), take a few moments and listen to these two songs back-to-back while you read Jobs’ speech for Stanford grads. Think about what you want your life’s work to be and if you don’t have a tear in your eye and a pang in your chest by the end of it with a visceral desire to get “hungry and foolish” again, I’ll buy Noah a burrito on your behalf 😉

-sean

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7 responses to “Can money pay for all the days I've lived awake but half-asleep?

  1. Skip Tracer Reply

    How true. I had an office coworker once remark that he felt like he was dead already, wasting away in an office.

    I have often thought of office cubicle farms as “mausoleum’s for the living”. That is how they feel anyway.

  2. Laura Allen Reply

    Sean:
    Thanks for saying everything I’ve been wanting to say since I first saw Office Space–only you said it better. Now, print out this post, the whole thing, because this is going to be the introduction for your book. Noah, of course, can write the forward for you.

    We’re coming up on five years since 9/11 and as someone who was in NYC on that day, (and is still in NYC) I can tell you that many people quit their jobs after 9/11 (and others lost their jobs as a result of 9/11) and the economy was for shit here and in most places. Everyone I know figured out a way to get by. Some borrowed money, some did odd jobs, some had to move home and live with their parents at the age of 40. Some WISHED they never left the comfort and dull soul-sucking drain of that cubicle…because it is REALLY hard to get a business off the ground. Not all cubicle jobs suck and not everyone hates their job. I worked with people who did a good job collected, a paycheck and left at 5:01 every night. And that’s great. The conflict comes if you are someone who really can stomach being in that kind of Office Space. And if that’s where you are at, I say, take the leap. Take it now while it’s your choice, because there is not a lot of security and you may need to go out on your own in the future anyway. Better to do it now, before you’ve got the $5,000. a month mortgage payment.
    🙂
    laura

  3. Ray Dotson Reply

    Great post, Sean! Like you and Laura, Office Space really struck a chord with me. Unfortunately, I’m still stuck in that cubicle for now, but I’m definitely looking for ways out. Thanks for the article and the personal story. I’ll be linking to this one and also checking out your site.

  4. Nadiyah Reply

    I love how we are all stuck in the cubicle farm looking for a way out. And good luck to everyone on the pursuit – “we will overcome” (or something).

    Sorry about your dog Sean. But you’ve got to smile, he got to spend his best days with you. 🙂