Of the 40 plus years I’ve been around, over 20 of them have been spent “working for a living.” Of those working years, less than half have been in any way enjoyable or fulfilling. I’ve come to believe that this is not unusual, but rather a sad reality for most people. A lot of us hate our jobs, or spend a fair amount of time dreaming of doing something else.
Sadder still, for me, as I was doing job after job I hated – so I could “get by” – I started believing that there was nothing more to life. Things were as good as they were going to get. I convinced myself that some people just luck out and end up with the job and the life they want, and the rest of us wind up on the treadmill, grinding it out and making the best of it. That belief, combined with my own natural laziness and fear of taking chances, kept me going on day after day, month after month, year after year being dutifully unhappy. It took a long time, but eventually I started to see things differently. It occurred to me that life isn’t supposed to suck. I shouldn’t be slogging through everyday frustrated and unhappy, and my life shouldn’t be spent doing things I didn’t like.
The turning point finally came for me after being laid off from three of my last four jobs and leaving the fourth just before an inevitable lay-off came. I realized that there was no real security in getting a “good job” that paid the bills and working hard till retirement. If that concept ever did actually exist, it sure doesn’t anymore.
The final push came when I was working as a District Manager for a retail company. I’d been there for over three years, and by the company’s standards I was successful. My District was consistently in the top 20% of the company in sales, profit, etc. Even though I knew this job wasn’t what I really wanted to be doing with my life, I worked hard and did my best. The job required long hours, lots of travel and allowed for no real days off or free time. I was stressed out, worn down and angry most of the time. I’d often dream about finding a better job – something, anything - but I never made the move. Then one Sunday evening, my employer made the move for me. Around six o’clock I got a call from a Regional Director who told me that, because of the financial difficulties the company had been facing, I was being put on furlough for two weeks. This furlough was effective immediately, and during this period, I wouldn’t be paid, nor could I use any vacation or sick time. I was officially on leave, without pay.
The two-week furlough turned out to be permanent, and the company went out of business about three months later. I’d figured it was all over the night I got that call, but something more important happened that night – I made a decision. As soon I as I’d hung up the phone, I knew that no matter what happened with the company, I was never going to work for them again. Four in a row was enough. I was tired of living this same experience over and over. I was tired of feeling expendable. Why was I even subjecting myself to this when I didn’t like these jobs to begin with?
A few months earlier, I’d read a book called “The Art of Non-Conformity” by Chris Guillebeau, which had really challenged me and lit a spark in my soul. I knew I needed to make a change, to stop wasting my life doing what made me miserable, but still I was cautious, standing on the edge, one foot hovering out over the water, waiting to take the plunge, but hesitating. I realized that my company had done me a favor. They were giving me a push, and in spite of being without a job, I felt relieved.
I started to think about the things I wanted to do and how I was going to do them. If I could do whatever I wanted, what would it be? If you’re ever going to pursue your dreams, I told myself, this is the time. There were two things I really wanted to pursue: writing and video/film making. One I’d always dreamed of doing, the other I’d actually done during one of those rare periods when I’d been happy with my job.
The day after the furlough call, I, somewhat nervously, made a call of my own to a friend and former co-worker, Kevin Henry. Kevin had been a television reporter and anchor and had been bold enough to do something I never did. He made the decision to walk away from a job he’d become unhappy with and start his own video company. I’d seen his work and was impressed and inspired.
I thought it would be awesome to be part of what he was doing, so I made the call. To my great relief, when I told him what happened and asked if he could use any help, he not only said, “yes,” he seemed as excited as I was about the idea of working together. Two days later, we were on a road trip to do a video shoot for a major regional healthcare system brainstorming ideas about future projects and what we could do to take things to the next level. You can check that out our progress here www.milepostdocs.com.
Next came step two – writing – which begins with this blog. I have to confess, this has been more difficult. I was much more confident about returning to the world of videography and editing. I’d done it professionally before – for over 10 years – so I had some faith in my skills. On the other hand, even though I’d been writing since I was in elementary school, I’d never pursued it as a profession or tried to publish anything. Fear stalled me and made procrastination even easier than normal; but enough is enough, so here I go. What you’re reading now is the beginning of my second step.
Now that the backstory is out of the way -what does all this have to do with chasing the horizon? Why’d I call my blog that, and what does it mean anyway?
Chasing the horizon is a concept that has been with me since high school. It was planted in the soil of a young mind that didn’t fully understand it, but over the years, it has blossomed into a personal philosophy that is underlying all I do with my life from this point on. As simply as I can put it, it means if you’re really going to live your life, you need to live it by pursuing the things you love to do, want to do and were meant to do.
I spent too many years going through life, but not really living. It’s a waste and a shame to drag yourself through day after day. There’s so much more for us if we’re willing to see it and go after it. You can work hard and work well, but if you’re pouring hour after hour of your time into something you don’t enjoy, what’s the point? Shouldn’t we love what we do and do what we love?
That’s where “chasing the horizon” comes into play. As I said, it was an idea that started in my teen years. It began when I read a poem by Stephen Crane:
I saw a man pursuing the horizon
Round and round they sped.
I was disturbed at this.
I accosted the man
“It is futile,” I said. “You cannot –“
“You lie,” he cried and ran on
When I first read this, it struck me as cynical – a comment on the stupidity of man and the futility of chasing after something you can never have. Based on Stephen Crane’s other work, this could be exactly what he had in mind; but as I gotten older and (I hope) wiser, I’ve come to see the poem in a new and completely opposite light.
Everyone has a talent or a passion – something they were born to do. Sometimes we discover our purpose early in life, sometimes it takes longer, but we know them because they are the things that we naturally love to do, that make us feel truly alive. Our dreams and desires point us in the direction of what we were meant for. They point us toward our own personal “horizons.” We need to open our eyes, see our horizons and chase them, just like the guy in the poem. Along the way, if we happen to meet people who tell us we’re crazy, we can’t do it, or we should “be realistic,” our job is to ignore them and keep right on running.
They will always be naysayers, doubters and even well-intentioned types (probably family and friends) who think they’re being helpful by telling us to keep our day jobs, or play it safe, or some variation on that theme. They may think they’re looking out for our best interests, but what they’re really doing is encouraging us to not take our dreams seriously and to settle for second best. How many dreams have been crushed by people with good intentions?
Just because a dream is big or unconventional, that doesn’t mean it’s unattainable. There’s a common thread in all of the people who have changed the world for the better – they had big ideas and unquenchable passions, and they saw them through – even if most of the people around them thought they’d fail.
I believe we should live the lives we were born to live and settle for nothing less. There will always be something for each of us to strive for, a personal horizon to chase. They may even evolve and change; and when we reach one goal it may grow into another, and lead us to something bigger and better than we imagined.
So, creating this blog is one more step toward my own horizon. I can’t say I know where it will lead or what comes next, and I don’t believe it’ll all be peaches and cream; but the joy will be in the pursuit, and that’s what living is all about. This is what I have to do it, because for the first time in 15 years I feel alive and free.
As Chris Guillebeau, Kevin Henry and others have inspired me to make this journey, and live my life more fully, perhaps I can help inspire you. Maybe you can begin that chase of your own. What’s on your horizon? When you see it, go get it. Go after it with all your heart. It may just be the best thing you ever do.