Today is my three-year anniversary of giving an official “I am getting the heck out of here” notice to IBM and exiting the corporate world forever. Needless to say, I haven’t missed my cubicle much since then.
To celebrate (and because I don’t have time to write anything cool) I am going to post a story that I wrote a couple of years ago. I didn’t put much time into the thing, and it sat on some dusty corner of my hard drive forgotten for a long time.
When I did get around to submitting it to a site, the response was overwhelming…not particularly because it is a well written story, but because it provided inspiration to scores of people that felt chained just like myself. Since then, it has been republished on a number of sites and has created an incredible response in email and comments.
I named the story of me quitting IBM “A single step” because of the famous quote by Lao Tzu:
“A journey of 10,000 miles begins with a single step.”
I had no idea how true that was at the time, and had no idea what an impact in my life that first step would make. If you find yourself sitting in a cubicle reading this – go take a look at my budget travel guide and how easy it is to make escape a reality!
Here’s the story of my first step….cheers!
There is no feeling that quite describes being stuck in a corporate office, worse yet, in a cubicle, when the sun is burning through a cloudless blue sky.
For 7 years, I miraculously managed to not throw a phone, flog away an intruder, or hang myself in the corner of my office with Ethernet cabling. Like everyone else, I knew that there was more to life than waking up at the last minute and jockeying through traffic in a hurry to make a bunch of old men richer.
However, a strange and powerful force kept me glued to my seat, sorting through corporate memos reminding me to file my TPS reports properly and that Friday was wacky tie day.
Bills. Lots of them. Always creeping into my mailbox when I least expected it. There were all the usual suspects like electric, water, and a mortgage on a place so over sized for me that I hadn’t even opened some of the rooms yet. Then there were the really bothersome credit card statements that included all my internet purchases. Among the damages, there were expenses for high tech toys I thought would make work more bearable.
My cell phone could play MP3s, games, movies, and open random gateways to alternate dimensions with the tap of a stylus. Also included were new clothes that were sure to impress my dates and restaurant tabs in overpriced places that make you feel important.
Being a well trained IT geek, I decided to do an analysis of where my money was going and constructed a simple spreadsheet where I recorded purchases for 1 month. I have the attention span of a bored cat, so actually a couple of months passed before I found the spreadsheet again hiding in a forgotten corner of my hard drive
“Oh yeah…I remember this” I said and opened it with a snappy mouse click.
I nearly swallowed my tongue at the results inside!
Things needed for daily life, like groceries and Redbull, made up the lowest expenses. Not just a few, but a majority of my purchases were unnecessary and compulsive moves to keep me distracted.
I was putting at least one kid through college with my cable bill alone – all so that I could catch hot dog eating contests on ESPN 13 at 04:00 in the morning. Woohoo!
I went into work slightly more enlightened than I was the day before, but I wanted to be sure. Was I just being too negative about my job? Was I starting into some sort of just-turned-30 midlife/depression/crisis? Was I about to run out and purchase a red convertible and pierce my tongue in a desperate cry for attention from women almost half my age?
As an experiment, I decided to count the number of smiles I received around the office and cafeteria for one day. Other than one nearly mad and shaking engineer that was watching the coffee machine fill his 1 liter mug for the third time, the only smiling faces I saw on this beautiful June afternoon were the ones walking at a quickstep toward the door at closing time.
Things were quickly beginning to make sense.
Like a twitchy convict that just discovered a tunnel under his bunk, I kept my findings to myself and starting building a plan. I made a conscious effort to slow the bleeding of money from my account on useless toys. When I was in private, I started researching exotic destinations on the internet.
Soon, I was quickly becoming consumed by my escape plans. For 7 years I had been a rat in a never ending race, and I had finally discovered that someone had left the door open on my cage. Quickly, my happiness and my bank account began to build up and on one bold evening I set a date.
My date was Jan 1, 2006. What a better way to start a new year than to start a new life altogether? In the 6 months between my enlightenment and the start of my new less paying yet more satisfying career as a backpacker, I managed to save money and sell my house myself. I picked up a copy of Rolf Pott’s book “Vagabonding” and realized that I was not alone. Many had made this walk before me.
During my meetings, I was having visions of living on an organic farm, picking fruit in the sunshine, and meeting hippy girls to go surfing with. Was I heading for sure financial doom? The thought did cross my mind, especially when I started trickling news of my plan to friends and family. Vagabonding and even gap years are not really popular concepts in America, so my announcements were usually responded to with less-than-positive enthusiasm. I did not care. I was determined not to spend the best years of my life while I was healthy, saving money to retire when I was too old to enjoy it.
In November, I gave myself the ultimate Christmas gift, I bought a one way ticket to Bangkok and turned in my letter of resignation.
When the wheels of my plane left the ground and it pointed its nose West toward the Pacific I breathed an enormous sigh of relief. Luckily, the 23 hour flight provided lots of time for decompression and contemplation, which I took full advantage of. I still had no idea where I was going or what I was getting myself into, but it had to be more interesting than learning new acronyms at a company whose name was an acronym.
As I sit here and write this, exactly one year has passed since I left the US for the first time. I grin when I read back through my early journal entries and blush slightly thinking of what an inexperienced newbie I was. I still do not consider myself a hardened traveler, but I do want to share my beginnings with others and inspire them to chew their way out of the maze as well.
Anyone can do this, and I never met a single person out of hundreds of backpackers that had regretted their decision to give up the cheese and escape the rat race. I would not trade my adventures, experiences, and new friends for all the promotions, cable channels, or wacky tie days in the world.