Live the full life of the mind, exhilarated by new ideas, intoxicated by the romance of the unusual. – Ernest Hemingway
This Hemingway quote came up in one of my social media feeds recently (keep reading to learn the origin of the quote). Most of the time I roll my eyes at the quotes so often shared by this old acquaintance. But this time it was Hemingway. And it sounded cool. So I wrote it down in my Moleskine(the same notebook Hemingway supposedly used, popular with his kind).
This quote resonated with me for three reasons.
- Hemingway wrote The Sun Also Rises,one of the twoor threebooks that inspired me to travel in my 20’s.
- He’s one of the greatest American writers ever. I should pay closer attention to good writers and less to internet memes now that I write so much.
- Unusual is open to interpretation… learning new things, personal discovery, oddities. Knowing Hemingway’s love of travel, I associate his words with visiting unfamiliar places and the meeting new people, something he did throughout his life.
A big chunk of my work life today is the usual. Nothing extraordinary, usually. Just another day at the office, over and over again.
Life in the suburbs can feel that way too.
Not to undermine how lucky and fortunate I consider myself. However, living the ordinary life of a nine-to-five worker with a family in the suburbs can sometimes make me feel boring compared to my previous lifestyle.
That uneasy feeling of ordinary is, in part, what led me to pursue a creative project in 2013 in hopes it would become something lucrative. To seek adventure without leaving my home office. To work for enjoyment, not just for the paycheck.
It’s what led me to start RBD.
Everyone behaves badly given the chance
Stable employment is comfortable. The longer you’re in that comfort zone, the less inclined you are to pursue creative opportunities.
I’ve been with the same employer for 14 years. The company enabled me to go from being broke and living with my parents, to wealthy. Not ridiculous wealth, but relative wealth compared to most humans on earth.
At the same time, the job may have held back my career potential. The work is steady and pay is good, but opportunities for career advancement are rare. Had I left my employer at certain points in the past, perhaps I’d have identified better opportunities. But I chose comfort instead. Safety.
A decade ago I almost left my IT career to become a financial adviser. After a $22,000 raise, I decided it was wiser to stay in IT. I took that raise and bought a condo that both haunts me and showers me with cash flow. Instead of taking a career risk that might have been more fulfilling, I chose the path of least resistance to financial independence.
A comfortable full-time job can be like a death spiral. Comfort leads to less ambition. Less ambition leads to less earning potential. Less earning potential leads to less money. Less money means you’ll have to work longer. Working longer means less freedom. Less freedom equals less happiness.
That’s one way to look at it.
Another way is to embrace the full-time job as a stable foundation from which you can build something more significant and meaningful.
Never sit at a table when you can stand at the bar
Enter the side hustle. After our first child was born, Mrs. RBD continued to work part-time. In exchange, she received a modest but predictable salary. That income lasted about a year until her employer decided they couldn’t justify keeping her on board.
Having that second income was comforting. When it was gone, I began to feel the weight of responsibility as a freshly minted sole breadwinner.
Our house payment became overbearing. Our savings rate suffered. Shit got real.
Losing the second income and the discontent I felt about my career are what led me to explore starting an online business. Inspired by the success of a friend who started a health related blog, the idea of Retire Before Dad came to be. Three months after my wife’s income ceased, RBD was born.
Starting a blog or online business is not easy. Overnight successes are rare. But if you enjoy writing, provide value to others, and follow the tricks of the trade, success is possible.
At the onset of this, I had no idea WTF I was doing. But here I am today a legit writer and online entrepreneur.
I remained anonymous for almost four years afraid that my employer would find out and view my desire to retire early as negative. What I realized over time, is they don’t really care about me. They may say they do and act as though they do. But employers, almost 100% of them, and nearly everyone you encounter up the ladder is worried about themselves.
As they should be.
Because I’ve seen too many HR departments write really nice pamphlets about amazing benefits and competitive salaries, only to regretfully inform employees of their last day when the shit hits the fan.
Gradually, I stopped worrying about my employer discovering my writing because when push comes to shove, we all need something to fall back on if our employer (or their clients) pull the rug out.
Even if that seems unlikely today.
When times are bad, it’s fend for yourself. The day you lose your job you can either wait in the line at the unemployment office or be determined to make that day one of the most pivotal in your life.
But man is not made for defeat. A man can be destroyed but not defeated.
Every day above earth is a good day
I went to the library to track down the source of the Hemingway quote from the top of this post to try to extract some deeper meaning from it. Live the full life of the mind, exhilarated by new ideas, intoxicated by the romance of the unusual.
The quote is from a short story called Banal Story that’s just two pages long. I needed some cheat notes to fully understand it.
Turns out it’s a parody piece in which Hemingway mocks the pretentious tone of a now defunct intellectual journal called The Forum.
He didn’t set out to inspire anybody. Just some words in a short story he probably thought no one would read. Somehow it ended up in my Facebook feed, and now here on my blog.