Sunday, November 27, 2011

I had lunch with sensei today and got to discuss my recent, involuntary change in employment status with him (if you don't yet have a friendly neighborhood Zen Master with whom you can discuss your life, you really should look into finding one).  While he actually had nothing new to offer that I hadn't already considered, it was good to just chat about it  with him and to bounce some ideas around.

This situation actually provides me with a rare opportunity to make some decisions, to consider things I may not have considered before.  I'm not a young man by any stretch of the imagination, and it's a little late to wonder what I want to be when I grow up, but that doesn't mean that I can't wonder what I want to be when I eventually leave this world.  

For most of my adult life, I've worked for large consulting companies, and my career has risen and fallen along with the industry until I finally ended up being told "Thanks but no thanks" for my continued services.  I have talked with some of the existing consulting firms here in town - my former competitors - but unless I can guarantee that I'll bring a significant backlog of work with me, they're not terribly interested.  If I had the  million-dollar book of business they're requesting, I wouldn't be in the situation that I find myself now.  So even though I only have about a quarter of my active career remaining in front of me, "business as usual" doesn't seem to be an option.

This may not be a bad thing, because without being shown the door, I probably wouldn't have the motivation     to try something new.  And since this is our one and only shot at this life, it would be a shame if we didn't live through as many diverse experiences as possible.

So for the time being at least, I've started my own company and without even really trying too hard, have found that I'm making about the same income as I had before (and in half the hours at that).  Admittedly, I'm taking advantage of the low-hanging fruit, burning through my equivalent of the million-dollar backlog that the big firms want me to bring to them (move the decimal over several places to get a better idea of the actual size of this limited backlog). It's as good a start as I could possibly hope for, but without some real concerted effort on my part, this initial success will not be sustainable over the long run.

But do I really need that success?  Which is to say, do I really need all this. . . stuff. . . at all?  Perhaps this is the opportunity to practice some real renunciation, to get out of the rat race and quit trying to keep up with the Jones (to the limited extent I even tried). Maybe it's time to find a monastery and settle in for a final contemplative chapter to my life, and let go of 21st Century materialism while I still can.

Or maybe there's a middle way (we Buddhists are big on the Middle Way), somewhere between the stresses and tensions of being a small businessman for the next 10 to 20 years and the more ascetic path of a true urban (or otherwise)  monk?  If I didn't have to make mortgage payments and pay property taxes and so on, could I get by making an honest living pounding nails or running some sort of shop somewhere?  Or just moving down the food chain in my own business and instead of expecting the high-level compensation that demands a million-dollar backlog, become the humbler but reliable go-to guy for field services or document writing.  I never set out to be the top dog, it just sort of happened and I went along for the ride, at least until the ride was over and I found myself out in the dog house.

Like NBA great Rajon Rondo driving the ball toward the basket, I'm trying to stay in center court and keep all of my options open.  I can press forward and keep looking for a high-salary position in my field.  I can turn or pass right and pursue the path of my own business.  I can turn or pass left and find something simple and honest to keep me fed and sheltered for the next and final decade or two of my life.

Or, quite unlike anything I've ever seen Rondo do, I can just set the ball down on the court and walk away from the game, march out of the arena altogether, and disappear into the night.

In any event, I'll be fine.


Steve Reed said...

I can identify. I was laid off in 2009 after 20-plus years with a good company, and though I then found another job, I recently left it to move with my partner. Now I'm also in an in-between time, but I've decided to just coast with it, to let it become whatever it becomes. (A luxury, admittedly, that not everyone can afford.) In any case, I just wanted to express some solidarity with your current uncertainty!

Shokai said...

Thanks Steve, that DOES help.