I’ve kept silent about leaving my career until now because in the words of a Lakota chief named Standing Bear, ‘thought comes before speech'. I've waited until there was sufficient distance (both physical and chronological) to ensure my objectivity. When I left my most recent position, I'd just been promoted to run IT operations for one of Metro-Detroit’s 101 Best and Brightest companies. It was an amazing job, and my resignation wasn’t a normal case of career burnout. My job was challenging and I carried enough responsibility that it kept me up at night, but the part I struggled with was the realization that my opportunities were limited for having a positive impact on people.
I’m fortunate enough to have been given several gifts, and I’ve been strongly convicted to use them for more than my own benefit. Over the years, I've worked to be a role model, to always be a positive presence in the office— the person you went to for anything—but I realized that my scope of influence was too narrow. I was too busy at work to have much real impact, and I was too tired outside of work to be active in anyone’s lives. I wanted to reach more people, but circumstances were not lining up to do that through IT alone.
I am beyond thankful for the opportunities I’ve had in IT. This trip could not have happened without the experience I gained in my years as a digital plumber. I learned how to welcome the unknown with curiosity, not fear, and it gave me the technical background and confidence to make my ideas a reality. I worked with some great teams and in each one I was mentored by brilliant people.
That said, I would still choose to walk away. Every single time. I was part of a system that I fundamentally disagree with. My conscience was troubled by the amount of waste I observed, both human and material. It became apparent that there was little relationship between hard work and financial success. Over the years, I slowly realized that I was never going to get ahead, at least not in the conventional sense.
The world is changing, and the American dream of our parents has too high a pricetag for my generation. We’re inheriting a world where loyalty to white collar jobs and acquisition of college degrees no longer equates to security. We’ve seen the rules change arbitrarily during the recession, watched the collapse of the housing bubble, and realized how tenuous things like home ownership and the middle-class lifestyle really are. We live in a First World country without affordable health insurance for vast numbers of workers, and for many, a single medical bill can mean bankruptcy, if not decades of repayment. When a two-income household can’t get ahead, the only way to win the game is to not play.
I realized that I needed to lead by example. It’s so easy to get bogged down in the short-term pattern of workweek/weekend that’s been established as a cornerstone of our routines. It takes something drastic to get people’s attention. In my case, it was a trip to the ER that woke me up. I had a realization during the weeks I spent flat on my back in my bed. I didn’t necessarily think I was going to die, but I didn’t like the idea of what I was passing along by way of a legacy. I wanted to get people thinking about what they really needed as opposed to what they were supposed to want. Hence the solar RV. It’s so far outside the norm that almost any conversation jumps immediately to deeper things as I explain the motivations behind it.
By reducing my needs, I gained a new sort of freedom. The freedom to speak my mind without worrying about the consequences on my career. The freedom to pursue the things I love. The freedom to dictate my own pace. On the road, I'm able to spend my time on things that are both personally valuable and attainable. Technological nomadism is a means to an end—our path to the life we want. It’s not the picket fence and house in the suburbs that our parents had, but we’re figuring it out. We're lucky to have that chance—the chance to build a new American Dream—and if this trip can be a signpost for even one other person, then it’s been worth it. We all have the freedom to go after what we really want, if only we can find the path.
I want that same freedom for everyone that I meet. When I left Michigan, my heart was burdened from witnessing so many friends and acquaintances struggle with health and long hours of work, mired in debt and isolated by their screens and commutes. We live in the 21st century—this shouldn’t be necessary! We have the technology and resources for living sustainably without the meaningless busywork that comprises a large part of many jobs. If we didn’t have to squeeze our lives in around the forty-hour work week, how many of us would eat healthier, have more time for social lives (and even things like the gym!), and lead all-around more relaxed and higher-quality lives?
The new American Dream is different for everyone. It doesn’t necessarily mean life on the road (although it’s pretty cool!) or building a solar-powered RV. I chose to do those things because every movement needs a symbol, but it boils down to doing the best you can with what you have. It’s about rejecting the things that we’re told to want and consuming only what we need. It’s about using our time and energy on this earth to do the things that matter. It’s about living within your means and pursuing what’s important. In a word, freedom.
Our society has evolved in such a way that finding your freedom is difficult. It’s hard to pick a way through the maze when everyone’s dealing with roadblocks like financial trouble or health issues. There’s an old proverb that a healthy man has many desires, but a sick man’s only desire is to be well. Finance is like that too. When you’re in debt, that obligation takes precedence over everything else. Removing that leverage is a good starting point to building your dream. My job was a factor in making me ill, and it took years of saving to be able to quit. Change is gradual, and it has to start with a shift in mindset. One of my biggest obstaces was learning to recognize the marketing bombardment we're subjected to and separating the things I needed to buy from what I was supposed to buy. It’s tough to change, but we aren’t in this alone.
This trip has repeatedly shown me one thing. From the Midwest to the East Coast, from the Deep South to the Southwest, there are good people everywhere. People who aren't motivated by the movements of little green pieces of paper, but who instead genuinely enjoy helping one other. By investing in people, we can start learning how to live in a way that minimizes the negative effects on each other’s lives. I’m not saying we don’t need money to live—don’t worry, the hippie bus exhaust fumes haven’t gotten to me—I’m merely saying that each of us are fighting a hard battle and we need allies. We’re all in this together, so let’s be kind. Pay it forward, share your expertise, don’t reduce your relationships to neat lines of debits and credits.
I’m on this journey to show people that it's possible to spend your days doing what's meaningful to you, not for a paycheck, not because you have to, but because you love it. We live pretty minimally because the things that matter to Tricia and I aren’t exactly lucrative, but we’re learning how to make it work. We look forward to sharing that journey with you, and I hope that it inspires you to go after the things you want deep down. Nobody can make them real except you.
I’m just a voice in the wilderness.