I watched my grandfather and dad work their businesses through thick and thin. They, unable to leave, or be outside of driving distance for much time at all, in case something went wrong on third shift. Through bankruptcy, through family
feuds, through customers outsourcing jobs, price
increases. Growing up my dad left before I was awake and was home after I was asleep until I was ten, hardly knew the man. In my early teens I saw my dad age ten years after one year of engineering struggles, people problems, on a job that would make or break the business. Before the year was out he picked up high blood pressure and subsequently type 2 diabetes. A white haired at 40 year old, and at 50 , old lined and wrinkled well before his time... just like my grandfather before him. You haven't lived until you've been introduced as a grandson, or been in earshot of your mother called a daughter. One years time.
I've watched twice as business models were attempted to allow owners to stray farther afield, only to watch them crumble, as their owners were what made them successful. Relying on others to make your wage... giving them the keys just doesn't work. If the management is smart enough to run it, they are smart enough to be your competition and take the customer book with them. (Bankruptcy) If they aren’t smart enough to run it without you, then their challenges are your challenges, every single
one of them.
Life is not meant to be spent in front of a display of gauges, monitoring part counts bathed in an array of chemicals of varying detriment to health
. We aren't meant to suffer from ringing ears from the scream of saws... or go from strong as an ox to meek as a mouse laying on a hospital bed
with lung cancer from asbestos, loaded with pain medications drooling as those who love you watch you wither and finally give up.
The Epiphany was a day about ten years ago, at a violin recital in which my brother was playing at an old folk’s home. Among the stench of urine, and other various smells that come along as folks age (Sadly we don't seem to be much like wine...) a fellow in a wheel
chair grabbed my dads arm and said, "Son... don't do what I did. Spend time with your family
, don't work so hard that you forget what is important. If I had it to do all over again, I’ll be damned if I would have worked as much as I did."
I was a kid, maybe 12 years old. That moment stuck with me ever since. What does it mean to go through life saving every penny for tomorrow, working for others to profit from the sweat from your back, giving you enough to be satisfied, but not enough to get ahead and be happy. I have enough family that never made it to retirement, enough friends and co-workers whose dreams they never achieved... and it eats at them.
For me, it’s a genetic. I've given up hope that I have any hope of this nut getting far from the tree. As I worked and saved, and signed the check for my boat... the question was always, with this money
I could start a business. I could start something all my own, and nurture it... restoring cars. For every fiber in me that is passionate about sailing and traveling, there is one that loves speed and the sound of a healthy V8. But the two cannot mix, they are oil
. One will forever chain me to a bay with a wrench in my hand, the other a bay with an anchor
shackled to that chain. It pained me to choose, and it still does. I'm an addict; I live and breathe the improvement and modification of anything that moves.
Alas, it is a pre-disposition, none of my line can really work for anyone else, and barely along side or for each other. We’ve work ethic and passion coming out the ears, but a rebelliousness that doesn't play well with others, intimidating is perhaps the word. The freedom of the open road, and the bending of laws (be it speed or the physics of efficiency) and the freedom offered my the cruising life battle within me.
I've two years of college under my belt. I picked English
, not because I particularly like it... but because I can harness the passion. This surprises people, as never am I far from a tool box, spent years practically living in a machine shop, and under a welding hood
, or beside a plastic extruder, or a bucket of resin, engines, transmissions, hammer forming steel
. I can build or fix anything made by man. My epiphany, which was that little crumpled old man whose name I know not, imparted so much wisdom... his voice says "Son, if you choose engineering you'll sail a desk for someone else." Dreams lay unfulfilled, exchanged for money
... for time, to end up old and gray saying... "Damn, I wish I would have gone when I could, have done what I truly wanted... instead of what the world groomed you to think."
I've two years under my belt with college, and the world tells me I must graduate, a part of me struggles with half completing something. A battle rages inside me as the work ethic screams for a challenge, but behind a desk there is none. It’s a terrible thing to pay for a lecture, and get nothing from it, finally turning to seeing how little you can do and still make the mark. There is nothing more unfulfilling, that spinning your wheels occupying time doing that which appears to have no value... and paying for it!
So I bought a boat, I'm saving my nickles and dimes and putting every cent I can away to live off the interest, instead of a GTO. I too read the “Millionaire Next Door” and have spent a lot of time pondering the meaning of compound interest. Doing a google
search for “Early Retirement” is also a bad idea if you have a work ethic.
One day while reading a book about bonds, I was eating a sandwich at a joint called Jimmy Johns. On the wall they have posters of various jokes… But one stopped my chewing. This is it:
“An American investment banker was at the pier of a small coastal Mexican village when a small boat with just one fisherman docked. Inside the small boat were several large yellowfin tuna. The American complimented the Mexican on the quality of his fish
and asked how long it took to catch them.
The Mexican replied, "only a little while."
The American then asked why didn't he stay out longer and catch more fish
The Mexican said he had enough to support his family's immediate needs.
The American then asked, "but what do you do with the rest of your time?"
The Mexican fisherman said, "I sleep late, fish a little, play with my children, take siestas with my wife, Maria, stroll into the village each evening where I sip wine, and play guitar with my amigos. I have a full and busy life."
The American scoffed, "I am a Harvard MBA and could help you. You should spend more time fishing
and with the proceeds, buy a bigger boat. With the proceeds from the bigger boat, you could buy several boats, eventually you would have a fleet of fishing
boats. Instead of selling your catch to a middleman you would sell directly to the processor, eventually opening your own cannery. You would control the product, processing, and distribution. You would need to leave this small coastal fishing village and move to Mexico
City, then LA and eventually New York City, where you will run your expanding enterprise."
The Mexican fisherman asked, "But, how long will this all take?"
To which the American replied, "15 - 20 years."
"But what then?" Asked the Mexican.
The American laughed and said, "That's the best part. When the time is right you would announce an IPO and sell your company stock to the public and become very rich, you would make millions!"
"Millions - then what?"
The American said, "Then you would retire. Move to a small coastal fishing village where you would sleep late, fish a little, play with your kids
, take siestas with your wife, stroll to the village in the evenings where you could sip wine and play your guitar with your amigos."
I took the time to hand copy that into my notebook that day. I set aside the book of bonds, and pondered the meaning of what I had read. Gradually I’ve come to cherish the tidbits of truth around us, and take note... for like in an English
class, "Transcending generations" is not only a great way to start a paper of any long dead poet, but sometimes a tidbit of wisdom is seen in the most unlikely places.
It is a struggle, every day for me to keep the path which I have planned. For every day sometime or another I’m reminded that I’ll be the first in generations to have gone without making a splash. I’m the first son in quite a few, that hasn’t striven for a better life than what my father provided me, and his provided him. Since my great Grandfather bought the farm he grew up share croping… its always been expected to go one better. Nope, my goal in life is to live in a space slightly larger than a bathroom, and probably more damp. To spend my days drifting from place to place with no permanent address, seeing the world and exploring. Just as alive as going 125, but living on the cost of an engine
for the year… instead of working till 5 to afford the parts
that I’d work till 1 installing.
Throughout all this I’m learning
to put things aside, and not stress the little things. Boats do that, if you worry about everything that could go wrong you'll drown in your own tears. I don’t have to be the best at everything, just good enough to have what I want and enjoy life. Relaxed, calm, cool and collected… because there aren’t many moments on land that have anything on single
handing on a wet foredeck with no harness, shackling a flying 170% genoa
back to the stem head
. Yes Sir, along with this epiphany has been a whole lot of learning
, what really matters in life, and among that is the realization that no matter how long and how hard you work to craft your art, when you go to sleep at night if there is no one there to reflect on the day… the day wasn’t really worth going through. Tomorrow will be much the same, as this dream seems to be that of solitude…