Existential angst in a time of plenty

I built a very great thing at work. Fifteen years ago. It’s still in use, every day, by dozens of people. Quietly sitting in the background keeping everyone up-to-date with the situation on the ground (the ground being the field level information technology infrastructure for North America, for a Fortune 100 company). It’s a big complicated system that I made simple enough to manage that you could pull anyone off the street, and with fifteen minutes of MS Excel training, they could maintain the entire structure.

It’s pretty cool. I took some open source software and solved a problem that saved the company millions of dollars. Just in the first year. Every so often one of the managers several levels above me will run into me at a meeting and say “So you’re the famous Dick Millet? How’s it feel to know you’ve made an impact that’s still being felt, all these years later?” That’s my entire brag. And you know what it feels like? It feels like failure.

I could have ridden that springboard to some amazing heights. I almost made the effort to do that too. But my wife got sick and needed me to be a husband and a father. I turned down a couple of big promotions. And I don’t regret that decision for even one second. Now that I’m past those needs, I realize I have no desire to ride that train. Really, I never did. All I want to do is solve difficult problems and go places I’ve never been before (both physically and mentally). It’s all I’ve ever really enjoyed.

The failure is that I stayed in this place. For far too long. A year, maybe two after Liz died would have been okay. A person needs to heal from that sort of trauma. But staying in this place (yes the job, but also the mental/emotional place), that’s the failure.

I thought I could go back. To living a domestic sort of existence. And I tried. With two different women. Amazing, intelligent women. Women with degrees and education far in advance of mine. They saw my pain and wanted to help me. They loved me, and I loved them both. But they wanted conventional lives. A house, a car in the driveway, a “safe” life. They saw me as a good, reliable partner, with a good job and a good income.

I am so over that. Their path is not mine.

The trouble is, you think you have time.

And that’s just it, I don’t have time. Not for any more living the life someone else wants. This world is a playground. Adventures await around every corner, over every hill. Problems need to be solved, big difficult problems. And small interesting problems. Is that expensive car in the driveway really worth 40+ hours of your life every week? It’s not, not for me. Not anymore. I could wake up tomorrow morning with a mysterious pain that turns out to be the beginning of a long (or short) trip to the grave. I’ve seen it happen, to someone I loved with everything I am. And that trauma should have spurred me long ago. But I’ve been stuck. And I’ve been looking in the wrong places for the way out. I’ve been looking to other people.

The solution is within me.

It’s nice to have money. I know I speak from a privileged place in that I have enough. But that’s just it. Enough is all anyone needs. Pursuing more won’t bring any more meaning to life. There’s a point at which pouring more money into the emptiness of your soul won’t satiate the thirst. That’s the point where everything needs to be upended and one must seek their calling.

My intuition is telling me to travel, and then to find some big problems to solve. And if that means I need to leave some people behind, then I guess that’s what I need to do. We’ll all be better off for it. Maybe we’ll see each other on the flip side. And maybe, in the interim, we’ll all find what we need.

Thank you for reading.

Written by

father, motorcyclist, old retired guy who’s just a little lost on a blue marble corkscrewing its way to oblivion

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