What is Enough?

The following passage is cited from Vanguard founder Jack Bogle’s book, Enough:

At a party given by a billionaire on Shelter Island, Kurt Vonnegut informs his pal, Joseph Heller, that their host, a hedge fund manager, had made more money in a single day than Heller had earned from his wildly popular novel Catch-22 over its whole history. Heller responds, “Yes, but I have something he will never have . . . enough.”

I was walking to class with a fifth grade teacher at my primary school today. “What is your dream job?” I asked her. It’s a common question that I’ve often asked and been asked by friends.

“This is my dream job,” she replied with a smile, pointing at the school building. It was one of those moments that was simple and brief, but also profound.

I do believe that life is transient, and the question of “what is enough” is an important one for everyone to ask themselves. You cannot intrinsically be happy if, in the deepest part of your soul, you do not have enough of what you believe you need.

Sadly, we live in a time where it’s easy to always feel a compulsion to climb, to yearn for more, and to chase a greater status. For many, there is never enough, and this, I think, is what causes some of the wealthiest people to ironically die feeling unfulfilled.

We’re always chasing greater returns in our finances, causing us to take on more risk, expenses, and complications. We’re always chasing a bigger home, a better car, a better school for our kids, and a better city to live in. We chase with a vehement and rabid obsession that can bring out the worst in us, when simplicity is the true solution to our problem. I’m guilty of it too! And regardless of how good we seem to have it, a media report springs up about how we could potentially have things even better, if we’d just buy the latest fad!

How can I define what is enough for me now, if it cannot be found in something bigger that I can buy one day in a hypothetical future?

The answer to this question, I think, can be found in the past. There are values that we can derive from the past that are too neglected in the present.

What are these values?

Simplicity and frugality are high on the list. Regardless of your wealth, they lead to peace of mind. They nullify the need to chase and validate beyond what is necessary.

Also high on my list are the willingness to help people in need, and to love and be loved. I don’t think I need to justify these.

Simple, but I don’t see how these values aren’t needed today!

Ironically, when we do these things well, money tends to take care of itself. Work becomes a more fulfilling duty and we become more valued citizens.

I compare the aforementioned teacher with some of the corporate hyenas I knew, who obsessed over their job titles, their offices, their out-of-scope mortgages, their hybrid cars, their hypothetical promotions, and their social media statuses. Their offices tended to have the door closed–how dare the cubicle lemmings speak to them without knocking!

That closed office door was, to me, symbolic of the hole in their core. What compels a person to work somewhere nicer than the company’s fellow men and women, besides the need to flaunt status?

I recall a date I had, many years ago, when the woman asked me, “Do you have your own office at work?” “No”, I answered, “I work in a cubicle.” She then taunted me with the revelation that she had her own office, as well as people who answered to her. She got me, I guess. I wasn’t one of the “chosen ones.”

But did she have enough?

If you choose not to play their game, but live a prosperous and giving life regardless, are you really losing?

Finally, I’ll compare the corporate hyenas I knew with the aforementioned teacher I spoke with. The salary of the corporate crony is probably much higher, yet I’d venture to guess that they also have more debt–possibly much more. More importantly, they have greater stress due to the complications their status chasing has gathered.

Most importantly, the teacher has the crown jewel that they might die having never found: enough.



Alternative Lifestyles

“Don’t tell me what I am doing; I don’t want to know! What a way to live. The only way.” – Ray Bradbury

I like to operate differently than most people. I don’t say that to brag; it’s just part of my personality. I prefer to march to the beat of my own drum, for better and at times for worse. Maybe it’s because predictability bores me. You only have so many breaths to take in the world, after all, and I can’t see the point in using my breaths to follow a predesigned plan, an expected path, a linear life. It feels too cliché to live that way, and there’s nothing I hate more than a cliché film! I need a few curveballs thrown my direction and I need to throw a few curveballs of my own, or I ain’t having fun.

Thus, I spend my Sundays ice skating and playing basketball in China, while my old high school classmates pay off their mortgage, change diapers, and break sweat over their chain of emails they’ll have to answer on Monday morning.

I recall, once, a significant other telling me that her dream was to have a nice house in Raleigh, NC, to settle down, and to raise kids that go to a good school, whom she drops off with a RAV4 before heading to her corporate office for a nice middle class salary with a solid 401k plan.

That’s a perfectly decent dream, but it ain’t mine. In my mind, I was scuba diving somewhere far away from this significant other, somewhere like Thailand. After all, I’ve heard that story before, so I don’t see any point in living it. Every story ends the same, after all: with death. And once you realize the inevitability of the ending, you can find it within yourself to start shaping the middle acts in ways that feel personally worthwhile.

I had enough nights at the bar with suburban buddies, talking about who’s pregnant and who’s getting laid off and the bonus you may or may not get in the near future and the list of houses you might buy and the new platinum gym membership and the renovated kitchen.

YAWN! Heard it all before.

By the way, I hate cars, especially RAV4s. And kids are fun to teach and coach, but teaching and coaching is where I draw the line. Once again, it’s just my opinion. And spare me the “you’ll flip on these things” speech. I’m turning 33 this year, and my opinions have solidified on these matters.

I’m not saying that my life is better than anyone else’s. Not at all. There’s more than one way to skin a cat, after all. I know a lot of very happy people in suburbia, as well as some unhappy expat teachers. I’m just saying that I prefer life when it has a twist. I like operating on the fringes, where few dare to go, where you’re on the cusp of a compelling and odd story at the turn of every corner.

I don’t think it surprised anyone close to me when I said that I was moving to China. It would have been more surprising, I think, if I said that I was ready to settle down.

Living life with the chirping and pestering of critics tuned out is something I’ve always done. I cannot explain why or how I do it. I can only say that I’m usually reasonably happy, so it can’t be that bad a thing. To not give a damn what other people think, to me, is always the route to a smile. Thus, I never had the fear of a career decision or life decision being judged as bad by whomever. I just get an idea and go with it.

What’s my point to all this? It’s not to encourage people to pack their bags and move to China. That might not be for you! My point is, there are a lot of unhappy people out there, popping Xanax to get through another bland week, which blends into another bland year, which blends into more gray hairs and a “where the fuck did my life go” panic attic upon looking in the mirror one day as the days and years meld together and the third act to the story nears.

My point is to ask yourself if you’re really happy, and if you aren’t, to ask yourself if you’re living by the standards of outside opinions and judgments. If not, I suggest you go deaf to these outsiders and start having some fun.

But be sure to make money and stay employed. Those two things are also important. You cannot achieve the higher levels of Maslow’s hierarchy, after all, if you can’t put food on the table.

There’s more than one way to skin a cat, so don’t let anyone insist to you that their way is the only way. The only “right way” is the way you prefer to use.



LinkedIn Sucks

I hope with every corpuscle of hope I can muster that I never have to use LinkedIn to find a job. You see, LinkedIn sucks. It’s vain, soulless, fake, and can’t, by the nature of its existence, lead to the sort of career dreamt of by the dreamers of the world.

Dreamers do. Dreamers act. Dreamers create. Dreamers invent.

LinkedIn networkers leech and pander and beg and self-aggrandize. It’s really pretty filthy.

Using LinkedIn is a one-way ticket to being a slave to the grind.

After graduating college, I was a frequent visitor to the career counseling office. Like most young adults, I wanted to join the workforce quickly, seamlessly, and successfully upon graduation. Whatever they had in that office, I assumed, was the key to unlocking the door that led from the realm of academia to the promised land of professional fulfillment.

“Make sure your LinkedIn profile is stellar,” they said. “Network as much as you can on it and send private messages to fellow alumni.”

“Getting a good job is about networking.”

“Make sure to use plenty of buzz words in your profile.”

I did all of this and more. I networked aggressively, attended alumni gatherings, ramped up my LinkedIn profile, and trickled my direct messages down to friends of friends of friends of friends. Admittedly, some of it led to some pretty neat experiences.

An alumni networking event led to me partying in a $30 million home on Catalina island, all expenses paid for, for six days. I was good at schmoozing. I still am, but I don’t do it anymore. Why not network aggressively, if it meant more Catalina island experiences?

Because those six days on Catalina island, as fun as they were, transformed into a personal assistant job for an agent, working six days a week, 10 hours a day. Primary duties included scheduling meetings, organizing account information, answering phone calls, basic errands, and talent screening. Pay was minimal. Those six days were a siren’s call before the kill.

I quickly lost sight of what I wanted to do and whom I wanted to be through the process of networking, and I don’t believe I’m alone in feeling this way. Nothing kills youth as quickly as conformity. In fact, networking is the antithesis of individuality. It teaches you that you can’t, not that you can. It affirms that your dreams are falsehoods. It preaches that assimilation is the only way to survive.

The crappy assistant jobs and unpaid internships of network culture are behind me now, so I can honestly say that climbing a ladder of pandering and sycophancy leads nowhere. You give up the dreamer you once were for a paycheck and the status check of “employed”, all because of a lie told to you by a few phony career advisors.

I was in California then. I had a long road out of hell, but eventually got out.

They tell you networking is the only way to be heard, that the world is too competitive. You either give in or get left out, they say. Thus the youth get infused with fear and then plopped on an assembly line.

Tell anyone that advises you to ramp up your LinkedIn profile to go to hell.

My first job offer through LinkedIn actually offered a great salary, benefits, bonuses, and commissions. It was a sales job.

I wanted to tell stories for a living, but I was so scared of not being able to pay rent that I found myself going down this detour. I spent all of my waking hours networking and sending out resumes. I wasn’t writing anything, nor did I want to. I just wanted to tell my peers that I was employed.

Eventually, I found myself in an interview for a sales job, sitting across from a manager we’ll call Zeke. He had a sharp goatee, bloodshot eyes, and a gut that was amplified by his tight slacks.

“Another film guy. I like hiring you film guys. You always do whatever we ask, and you’re always thinking of those stories in your heads. I call you, the creatives! Yeah, I’ve got a lot of the creatives here. They always make their quotes.”

I looked around at a miserable atmosphere, surveying an office filled with recent film grads, some of them from my department.

I was 26 years old at the time. You’re alive for 80 years if you’re lucky, which means I was nearly a third of the way done, if sickness doesn’t take me early.

Of those years, you’re “young” for a fraction of it. And of those years, you’re only awake for 60% of that time.

So what I’m trying to say is that youth really is fleeting. And here I was, willing to spend about 70% of whatever remained of my youth doing something I hated because a career counselor who never really gave a shit about me told me that I had to network and take the first offer I got.

To vultures like this, that’s all you’re good for.

I didn’t take the job. I eventually moved back to North Carolina and found ways to do things I was interested in. I coached, took a tech writer job, taught, and now teach (and I’m writing again). Now, I count my blessings: I’m one of the fortunate few who does something he chose, and spends his days as he wants.

None of this came through LinkedIn.

Fulfilling jobs come from doing things you enjoy doing, doing them well, and making friends while doing them. I do log in to LinkedIn from time to time. What I see is a bunch of phonies with bland self-descriptions that they think make them stand out amongst the sheeple. Of course, none of their crap really stands out because the site itself is thematically about compression, not expansion.

So yeah. LinkedIn sucks. I’ll delete mine soon.

Memories of America, Friendships in China

I was relaxing in my apartment yesterday afternoon, listening to music and forcing myself to pour through flash cards with Chinese vocabulary. The school principal from the high school I teach at knocked on the door. She had two large bags for me with a combined total of about five pounds of moon cakes. I said thanks as she took off for her own vacation. Somehow the taking of five pounds of moon cakes solidified that I am indeed teaching in China for a living.

I have vacation this week due to National Day in China, and I plan to spend it wandering parks, trying new restaurants, going to the cinema, and playing basketball with fellow teachers. The temperature is dropping precipitously; I can see my breath in the morning, a sign that winter is around the corner.

I met a couple from Michigan yesterday morning. They’re about my age and teaching in China for the same reasons I am, so we quickly struck a friendship. Shortly after meeting we took a long bus ride to Nanhu park, a major attraction here. We spent the day talking about life, what brought us to Changchun, teaching, and traveling.

One of the strongest ways we bond with friends is by sharing our past. I have plenty of great memories and more wild experiences than most have in a lifetime, but I don’t often discuss them. I’m convinced that a person who clings to the past cannot possibly achieve happiness in the future.  I want to be happy tomorrow, not reminisce on how I was happy yesterday. Yet when we want to bond at a soul level with someone else, we share our memories.

One great thing about being an expat: any fellow expat you meet is likely to be a captivating individual. The woman had an anchor tattoo on her neck, a row of earrings on the edge of each ear, and cut jeans. The man had slick black hair combed straight back against his scalp. In other words, we fit in well.

I told them about my office job the last few years. It was a great job, and my coworkers were good people, but I was also profoundly unhappy. After three years, I told them, I couldn’t sit at a desk anymore. It made me question my worth as an employee.

They had the exact same struggle in the office world and identical fears of being insufficient. Together we concluded that we simply were not wired to stand still, and traveling the world was our best option. Maybe it’s the mind of a thrill seeker. I don’t consider myself to be a thrill seeker, though if I ever write a book about the things I’ve done, the pages would convince you otherwise.

They were snowboarding instructors before moving here to teach. This was perfect for me; one of my goals is to learn to snowboard. There’s a ski resort ten miles from where I live.

They aim to be scuba diving instructors in Thailand after a few years of teaching. I think that sounds like a damn good idea. Maybe I’ll do the same. I am adventurous, but I can already tell that I’m not as adventurous as they are. Sometimes I have to be pushed into something new. I’ve pushed myself a fair share of times, but there is usually a sturdy wall of fear that I have to break through.

We also talked about “leaving the social bubble” that we were groomed in. Moving to a different country is, metaphorically speaking, breaking a bubble that limits your perception of what is possible. Society dictates a path to follow, a career to build, and a house to put a down payment on.

When you leave the US, you break out of the “trajectory bubble” and see that the only thing required of you is what you want to do. I often talk to friends back home and am quickly reminded their stresses; student loans, kids, car payments, and job security. I know there are expats that feel stress, but I honestly haven’t felt any in months. The emotion is beginning to seem like a stranger.

Back on the bus, we had a few stops left before our Nanhu park arrival.

“I try to put a lot of pictures on social media,” the woman told me. “I think that if I showed my friends that this sort of life is really possible, they might be motivated to do it for themselves.”

I thought that sounded like a great idea. I’m all for helping people “escape the Matrix.” Ultimately, though, I doubt I’ll post anything on social media.

I don’t share many photos because I’m not on social media. It’s too disgusting for me to waste breaths on. Refusing social media means losing some connections, but I believe the rewards outweigh the losses. People still have my number, and I share photos with curious friends all the time. In addition, I don’t have to subject myself to a fake social structure where corporations manipulate their tribes into parroting thoughts and emotions. I don’t have to feel the need to argue with strangers, or to allow my mind to react angrily to the manipulative headline of the day. I’m happy to direct my thoughts to where they are useful.

Back to reality. The three of us rented a boat in Nanhu park and spent the day eating desserts, enjoying the sunshine, and brainstorming places we would embark next. They will be gone in a year’s time. I might stay in Changchun longer.

Eventually, though, the three of us see ourselves living in Thailand for awhile. Perhaps we’re all destined to be scuba diving instructors, living outside the American bubble, looking in at what will by then be a distant world of Xanax, insurance payments, and credit card debts. Maybe one day we’ll return to the US. Most expats do eventually. The only thing that matters right now, though, is tomorrow’s new adventure.

There is one truth I am certain of: life is too short, not too long…