For most of my adult life I have held what you might consider unconventional jobs. Stonemason’s apprentice, framing carpenter (not so unconventional there, I suppose), Fisheries Technician for New York State, Bering Sea Commercial Fishing, Encyclopedia Salesman (the low, low point), and so it was with some trepidation that I took the closest thing to a corporate job at Exodus Communications in 2000 in Orange County, CA, mainly because my wife was pregnant with our first son, and because we were moving to a part of the country where the real estate was so ridiculously expensive that I could not conceive of making the kind of money to pay off a mortage of that magnitude without something that resembled a “safety net”, as it were.
We all know what happened to those dreams that those of us in IT hoped for when we took such jobs in 2000 — exploding bubbles, crashing, burning, Chapter 11. And yet I managed to hold on to that job through two successive purchases, the last by a PoDunk upstart from St. Louis who had lawyers clever enough to leverage the real estate under the data centers themselves to buy the company with, for pennies on the dollar, and beating out XO and Gores at the same time, only to shock us all and actually turn the company around in the successive couple of years as the Tech Calamity eased and grew real legs, but more quietly.
It was my own personal crash and burn that did me in after seven and a half years as a “Senior Network Engineer” there. It was lack of sleep, really. I worked from Friday night to Tuesday morning, 7PM to 7AM every one of those three days, but because I had a bunch of little kids, I didn’t sleep during that time, and so by Tuesday morning, I had literally slept 6 hours over the three days. Needless to say, I was a babbling fool on those Tuesday mornings, and probably slowly dying. I had done that for about four years, but enough was enough, and so after a silly mechanical error dumped 25,000 gallons of diesel in the parking lot on my watch, and well as a few others, we were called to the “conference call” — and when do you suppose that took place? On Tuesday morning, of course!.
It wasn’t long into the call before my friend Shane — the only one of us engineers who had the ambition to climb the rickety thing that passed as a “corporate ladder” and who was acting as a manager on the call, essentially to shield us from the shadowy figures from above — was frantically trying to figure out how to hang me up from the conference, so deeply was I digging our graves with my wide-eyed and earnest babbling over the phone.
I sure told ’em, all right.
So I and the other best damned engineer they had in the data center, or at least the other guy who truly gave a shit, became perfect candidates for them to dispose of — mainly, I suppose, because we made way more than their new business model called for, and also because it was a convient time to get rid of the “Prima Donna’s” or whatever the equivalent slang term might be on the banks of the Mississippi.
Of course it was a rough first year, but I held out and refused four job offers in quick succession, and finally found my legs as a truly independent contractor/business owner after about fourteen months of struggle. Since then my life has been … completely different — to use a term that is 100% accurate, since emotive descriptions might be unduly influenced by how I feel at the moment, which is mostly … tired.
The issues are many, and since it took me this long to create the background for the piece, the idea will be finished in a second post, perhaps tomorrow. Suffice it to say, in a quick sentence, that when you are the only master of your Time, it’s possible for the Work to never end. Or to put it another way, it’s entirely possible to avoid every waking moment of your life in favor of the Work, since it is always there, and you and no one else owns it. The smart and courageous learn to outsource some of it, and it is only now that I am starting to figure out how to do that, and only in limited quantities.