Monday, February 13, 2012

far, far away

I've not had a chance to post anything in a couple weeks due to a overly demanding work schedule. I think I've put in over 70 hours a week for the past couple of weeks straight - exactly what I said I didn't want to be doing anymore. Unfortunately for the time being this is my reality. My determination for a change has not wavered, but my pondering, blogging time has definitely taken a back seat to work and trying to eek out the precious few moments I have with J and the kids.

I finally had some feedback from work, and it looks like this may actually work out. My employer is certainly understanding of my motivation and goals, and although he certainly stopped short of helping me pack my bags, he did let me know that there are options and he wanted to continue the conversation over the coming months.

Now in my mind I am a man of action, a modern day Churchill or Roosevelt, who makes a decision and runs with it full speed; but in reality (or this reality it seems as I may have been known to be rash in the past) I need to pause and consider the consequences of my choices, I need to weigh all the options and ensure that I don't take things too far too fast. In this regard J and I decided to make our plans over the course of the year. After all, we've moved across the country and back several times in the past few years already, and are getting tired (insert "old"). I don't want to give away the plot just yet, but I think we've decided where we want to be, what we want to get out of our lives, and what is really important to us (hint; it's not this gigantic house full of crap and it sure as hell isn't this 200km a day commute). An yes, it does involve moving again, far, far away (but not Far, Far Away - that's just a fairy tale place).

Bottom line, I most likely have a job (or a modified version of my job) I can transport to our new locale, but before that can happen I need to do a lot more careful planning, both with my career to ensure it's continuation, and with our home life to figure out just how this is all going to happen. Sell the house, find a new home, get rid of the abundance of ____ that we don't need, simplify, simplify, simplify. Some days I think it would be so much easier to just pack a bag, turn the key and walk away. But then who would feed the fish?

Monday, January 30, 2012

simplicity and the zen of waffles

I recently came across another blog about simple living, the overall message was good, but the blog read like an encyclopaedia. The intro post (and there are over 500 posts on this site) contained a list of to-do's to help simply your life. There were 72 steps to this list.... yes, I said s-e-v-e-n-t-y t-w-o. Almost every step (each one a paragraph in itself) contained a hyper-link to a longer article on the topic of that step... whew. I breezed through a few, thought they made sense, but somehow got distracted and lost my gusto around step 14. I'll admit in an attempt to simplify my reading-commitment I skipped to the end, and found a suggestion by the author that if I really want to simplify things, I should buy one or all of his 6 books on the topic, each one to help me understand the previous volume I guess... again, whew.

Now don't get me wrong, I think this guy had a lot of great stuff to say and maybe one day if I have a really long flight or a short prison term to occupy I'll dive into some more of his posts, but I think for my purposes I'll just condense his list a little;

1. Identify the things in life that are most important to you (my personal list below)
  • The well-being of my wife and children
  • Spending time with the above mentioned wife and children
  • My environment (home, neighborhood, company etc...)
  • My work (gotta do it, so might as well enjoy it!)
2. Ensure everything else in your life supports or at least does not detract from the aforementioned item(s) above in number 1. 

All I can think of now is that I desperately need to have a garage sale. Quick. I also think I'm on the right track with the idea of toning down my life so that I can focus on the things that really matter, and less on my house full of meaningless crap. Again, really big garage sale coming up.

I will give full credit to the original blog author though, who has a great message buried in all those lines of text, someday I may read them all. Link to his site here;

I also learned something really important this past weekend from my son E;
Apparently waffles do have a crust - and we should never eat them. Waffle crust is bad.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

who do you admire?

Admiration is a powerful thing, it can shape our aspirations and can impress upon us values. In our emulation admiration can create benchmarks of accomplishment. Although I don't think I had ever really thought about it before the drive home today, I think those that I have admired over the years have been people in whom I could see amplified versions of my own characteristics, or at least the characteristics I wanted to have. People whose drive and determination had prevailed, whose talent or perseverance had led to a life of success, wealth and notoriety, people who I had perceived as having "made it" in life by their wits and sheer force of will;  the ruthless CEO, the savvy investor, the magnetic sales exec...

I've been coming to terms with a lot of realizations lately (hence the blog), and one of them is that the people who I have admired and looked up to over the past years no longer epitomize the life I want to lead. Not that I think any less of them or their accomplishments, but I am more impressed by the guy riding a bike with his kid than the one flying down the highway in a Maserati. So, the question is - who do I look up to now? Well, the answer wasn't so difficult to come by this time; I admire my friends who have made sacrifices to be there for their families, like my friend who, seemingly impossibly and not without great difficultly, completely changed his life in order to be the kind of person and provide the kind of home his son deserved. I admire my cousin who spends all his time with his kids instead of the TV, and who has sacrificed and saved- working towards that big house in the country where the only focus will be his family. I admire my wife J who has put her career on hold to be home with our kids full time, and give then the attention they deserve. Most of all though, I admire my mom, who always had time for me, and always put me first. My mother who worked multiple jobs as a single parent but incredibly never, ever put me in daycare (I still think she must have worked while I slept at night), who would skip work and take me out of school for the day for crazy "adventures" and trips to the zoo that I will never forget. I admire those of you who have figured out what life should really be about - and hope to be a little more like that one day myself. 

Sunday, January 22, 2012

karma... or just good directions

It's been a few days since I've had time to write anything, but my mind has been far from absent from this challenge I've set for myself. I spoke with my employer at the beginning of the week about my plans (or lack thereof), and I'm feeling more than  a little nervous about the outcome. It was a very informal conversation wherein I described my need for a change, for a life less focused on financial gains and more family-centric. I let him know that one of the most significant changes I was looking to make was my location, and I mentioned one of the places at the top of the list to move to. Fortunately I wasn't told right out that I would have to find another job, but I wasn't exactly reassured either. At least I think he understood, if not my choices then at least my motivations. It was a good talk, but not one that left me any less nervous about my decision to leave the Toronto area. We left the matter unsettled, with my boss requesting some time to chew things over. It's quite obvious that if I remain here then the corporate world is my proverbial oyster, but as I've mentioned that's just not what I want anymore.

Now I'm not a particularly religious or spiritual person, in fact on most days if you were to ask me what my beliefs were I would probably tell you I was agnostic. This of course is just a pretentious way of saying that I have no idea... that I'm pretty sure that there is more going on in the universe than just you and me, but until I learn a little more myself I don't want to throw all my cards in one pile. The truth is that although I do have a system of beliefs and values, I simply have no way of communicating these to others without sounding like a nutcase, and no desire to try and define or organize the beautiful chaos that is the world around us. I must admit I find most traditional spiritual/religious concepts rather bizarre, but Karma is certainly an exception. I'm not talking about the traditional "do something good and something good will happen to you" sort of blue sky karma that we should all try and live by; no what I tend to believe in is more of a synchronicity, a symbiosis with the world around us. I like to think that if I make the right choices, for the right reasons, then things will find a way of working out. That if I can tune into the world around me, I can find the right path. Sounds kind of simple, but unfortunately the right choices are rarely simple or easy. I truly believe that I now have a decent set of directions for the next phase of my life, and although the road ahead is difficult I think that I am making the right choice; so here is my fire-walk, my test of faith. I have a feeling everything will work out just fine with work, and that will bring me one step closer to figuring out how this is all going to happen.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

an interlude

So we've set the scene, introduced the characters and laid out a basic back story; now what? If this were a novel or movie, I would have a sudden revelation and would introduce "the plan", antics would ensue and by the end of the story all my goals would be accomplished in a not-so-predictable manner. But this is not a novel or a story, it's my life. I haven't had a total revelation yet, but I have had some good long talks with J, and even though there is no "plan" yet, I think we're on the same page. I think we may at least have a rough idea of what we want to work towards.

I asked J to read my blog after about 4 posts. She said it was good but depressing - I asked her why and she responded with "These people are idiots". Strange looks were exchanged as I very slowly said "those people are us...". She knew this of course, but it occurred to me that maybe I was pouring a little too much honesty out on to the page, even if the names have been redacted to protect those involved. Perhaps blogs weren't meant for serious contemplation, or maybe I wasn't being funny enough? Then I started to get the emails, and the PM's, and the phone calls - OK there weren't exactly hundreds, but this blog has only gotten around 60 views so far, so I thought it was a pretty high percentage. In any case, it looks like we're not alone in our desire for change and our suspicions that we may be caught up chasing the wrong dreams. Here I was thinking that I was crazy for considering such a drastic life change, that switching directions so completely this far into the game was ridiculous, but it looks like other people may be having some of the same thoughts. Maybe we're not such idiots after all J.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

the money trap

This is starting to sound like we're better off than we are, so I should clarify a few things:

First of all, and this is the cornerstone of consumerism, the more you have the more you want. We spend more than we make, and as much as we have it never seems like enough. Someone, usually that damn Jones family next door, has just gone and bought a _____, and now I've just got to have one too. We have so much shit we don't need, and it usually ends up in the basement or garage to make room for the next big thing.

Secondly, the more you have the more you can borrow. Spend a few years racking up debt, buying beyond your means and as long as you make the payments the banks are all too happy to give you more. That next big bonus or raise doesn't mean you can pay off some debt, it means you can increase your debt load and handle higher monthly payments. Hmm, what do I need next? Right now, we are into the bank(s) for about $600,000.00 (at one point we owed over $1m). The only answer- work harder and make more money I guess.

Thirdly, the first two points above can become a little too much to handle at times. Unfortunately my subconscious firmly believes that I can feel better by getting myself something special, but a corner of my conscious mind knows this will just make the problem worse. I was stressed out a little at work the other day so I went out and bought a new truck. We' re at $660,000.00 now.

A great example of a classic downward spiral if I've ever seen one (and the basis of the US economy circa 2005), but what if I just stopped? What if I said I've had enough. What if I realized that I don't really like playing this game, grabbed my ball mid-goal and yelled "screw you guys, I'm going home"?

Let's find out. I think I'm up for it.

consumerism and me

I didn't really have much as a kid, and made a decision quite early on that my life would be better if I had a lot of money. Although this was far from a guiding principal in my developing years, it was certainly always in the back of my mind.
I went through extremes in my adolescence, from wealth and comfort to abject poverty as I traveled the globe. I still wanted to make a lot of cash, but only so it could take me to my next adventure or destination. It wasn't until marriage that I consciously made the decision to fully throw myself into my work to see how far I could take things. For some reason, I was afraid to have kids until I was sure I made enough money, and even went so far as to set a minimum salary I thought I needed to be at before we had kids. Well I hit that minimum quickly as my career progressed, and began setting other milestones I believed we needed to achieve before starting a family. I've been with J since I was 22, but by the time we had our first child I was 30, we had upgraded our house 3 times and I had doubled my 6 figure salary goal. Things have only continued from there.

Our life seems to have become a cycle of work and consumerism, and somewhere along the way having enough money to do what we wanted became having enough money to try and buy our happiness.

a few complications

So, sounds like an easy solution right? I obviously just need to go buy something really big and expensive that I can really get into for another day, week, or maybe even month of distraction from the life that allows me to buy big expensive things.... Wait a minute?

Ok, so really, I should just get a new job closer to home and bingo - problems solved.
Well, not really. First of all I work in a pretty specialized industry (which I wont mention), and unfortunately there are no companies in this particular industry anywhere close to where I live.

Then of course the next obvious move would be to move closer to my work, spend less time commuting and more time with the family! Well again, not so simple. Yes the commute would be gone, but we would be living in another suburban jungle where the only entertainment could be derived from shopping malls or getting the hell away whenever we could. Add to this the fact that we would then have no family or friends around for support, and would trade the relative safety and freedom of rural living for the dirty and crime infested life that is big city suburbia.... Hmm, this is getting complicated.

We've been thinking for the past year of that storybook country home with acres of land, maybe a barn or really big shed, and tons of room for more big expensive toys (hopefully one a bit closer to work), but the reality of it is that we would just end up trapped in another consumerist nightmare, just this time in isolation (I'll rant a little more about my growing hatred of consumerism later).

So, what I think we need, and so far J agrees with me, is some kind of utopian, urban setting with both easy access to work and an environment that encourages entertainment not solely built around the exchange of money for goods and services. I'm thinking beaches, parks, forests with trails, camping, walks through poky neighborhoods with funky shops instead of strip malls and big box plazas, local produce and crafts, and similarly minded individuals; any ideas?

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

I remember when....

Things haven't always been this way though; my wife and I have moved around a lot for my career, and have been back and forth across the country several times. In 2009 we had the opportunity to spend a year in Victoria, BC with our son E (we only had the one then), living in a company provided rental home. The house the company had rented for us was nothing special but was in a great neighborhood. We were 2 blocks from the beach and about 10 blocks from downtown and the inner harbor. We had only packed a few boxes of clothes and personal belongings, and made due with the furnishings that came with the rental. For a year we lived very simply and without any of our much loved possessions or accumulated belongings. Looking back, it was the best year of my life.

I worked 3 minutes away from our home and with the exception of a few business trips a month, I was home early every day. I had breakfast with my family most days before leaving for work, and occasionally came home for lunch. After work I would meet J and E at the park, the beach or back at the house and we would usually walk down to a local shop to pick up some fresh produce for a nice dinner we would make together. Some days we would just meet up downtown and have a nice meal out together. We had frequent picnics in the park, and seemed to have all the time in the world to spend together.

In 2010 our time in Victoria came to an end and we returned to our house in Ontario, and I returned to the daily commute.

a little background

I guess I need to step back a moment and set the scene - it's all quite clear to me of course, but anyone reading this will probably want a little more detail before I start ranting.

I'm 33 years old, married to an incredible woman, J, who I've been with for about 10 years. We have 2 amazing, energetic, crazy, brilliant boys, a three and a half, E, and a one year old, A. We also have a 6 year old Great Dane and a fish named Friday (who may or may not have been secretly replaced a few times).We live about 100km (60mi) north of Toronto, ON in a big beautiful home and have pretty much everything a person could ever want or need. I work several cities away and commute daily to the office. I work hard, and in turn am very well compensated. I spend an average of 14 hours a day either at work or commuting. On a bad day, this can easily become an 18 hour work day.

I'm essentially a weekend dad even though I'm still happily married and living with my kids, I just never get to see them.

the challenge

Can I give up everything I've worked hard for all these years; my "life of luxury", my home, my cars, my boat, my toys, my job - all so that I can spend more time with my family instead of commuting back and forth to work? Yes, I think so. How and why am I going to do this? Well, that's what this blog is for.