Since I left my job to prepare for my trip, people have been almost universally happy and excited for me. The reaction of many of my colleagues, particularly coworkers, has often been one of envy. “I wish I could do that!” or “If only I had your courage!” seem to be common refrains.
I guess the fact that I left my job not just for another, potentially more lucrative, position with another firm is what stands out. Almost without fail, the first question from coworkers was, “Where are you going?” because it was just assumed I had another gig lined up.
Which is certainly understandable. We live in a society that is centered around money and influence. We need money to survive — or at least, it seems that way. From our earliest days, the importance of money and wealth is constantly reinforced in our minds. Athletes are revered for their multi-million dollar contracts as much as for their performance on the field. Celebrities are adored as much for their lavish lifestyles of red carpets and gift bags as for their beauty and fame. The ultra wealthy, like Bill Gates and Warren Buffet, are famous just for being rich. Rupert Murdoch and the Koch brothers use their money to influence and control politics. If you are not fighting to get ahead, you are falling behind.
But I’m just not that motivated by money. I mean, I want to lead a comfortable life. I want to know where my next meal is coming from. But I feel that I, and I imagine this is going to seem alien to some people, have enough money.
Someone asked me, “How can you afford to do this?” and my response was, “How can I afford not to?”
When we are born, most of us have 80 years or so worth of time in front of us. We start out with an abundance of time. So we trade that time for money and stability. After moving out on our own, we get a job, and we spend time, and often overtime, at a job to get a salary, and then get the house, the wife, the kids, the car, the second home in the country, the boat, etc. There’s no end to the things you can get — the number of houses you can have, the property you can own, the stocks you can invest in, the high-tech gadgets you can get.
But then at some point, the time-money balance shifts the other way. From the loss of a loved one, or a health scare we ourselves have, or just a simple realization of the facts of life, we realize that the number of days that we have to walk on this earth are limited, and we need to take advantage of the days we have to do the things we want to do. For most of us, that thing we want to do doesn’t involve commuting to the office or sitting in meetings.
So that’s where I am at. Financially, I am very fortunate, because my wife Marsha and I have managed to be debt free at this stage of our lives. We own our home, we have paid off all our school debt, Marsha owns her car (I own my bikes, for that matter), and we don’t have any kids that require new clothes and braces and tuition and everything else that children need.
So while I could certainly stay employed and continue to make money and earn stock options and build up my 401K and buy the lake house with the jet skis, I want to do more with my life. My time is more valuable to me than that.
I certainly don’t make the claim that my cross-county bicycle trip is some sort of noble effort. It doesn’t really help anyone but me. It will help me to set and reach a goal, and it will help me to see the countryside and meet interesting people from coast to coast, and it will help me to get an idea of what I can accomplish if I set my mind to it.
My trip won’t last forever, and once I get back I’ll have to figure out what is next for me, where I will choose to put my time and effort and skills. Right now, I don’t really have any clear idea what that will be, but then again, I’ll have plenty of time this summer to think about it while I am pedaling along.