I assume that most of the like, seven people who read this thing are similar to me demographically: plowing through their 30s or 40s in the wasteland of the economy we thought we would live in as children. On the very off chance that anyone who sees this is young enough that his or her course through life has not yet been cast in stone, here is the sum of what I've learned in life. I wish someone had told me this when I was a teenager. Maybe it will be useful to you.

As a young person – and by that I mean, when I was in high school and college – adults told me that if I tried really hard at the correct things I would be successful in life. Be smart, work hard, and don't succumb to the temptations of idleness and fun. Accordingly I never did anything fun.

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You are reading the word "never" and thinking it is an example of a writer using poetic license. But I am quite serious. I had no friends in college or high school. Never went to a party. Never got drunk. Never dated (not that it was an option). Never blew off a class. Never went out. I just studied and studied more and kicked the ass of every course or standardized test I came across. And all along I was assured that this would lead to great success eventually.

Here is the thing. None of that is true. I was lied to. And by the time I figured that out it was far too late. Let me tell you a secret about this country: it's not all that different than medieval England in terms of its social classes. Either you were born into money and your life will turn out fine no matter what you do or you were born without it and your life will pretty much be mediocre or shitty no matter how hard you fight it. Oh, you'll be comfortable. You'll make enough to live indoors and drive a functioning car.

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You'll just never be happy because you will be dependent on a paycheck and whatever you have to do in order to get it will probably be miserable. The only people who get to be happy are the ones who have enough money that they don't have to do things they know they will despise in order to get paid.

So as much as it irritates me to deal with students who refuse to put the slightest bit of effort into their educations, in reality they are all far smarter than I was. Either they are wealthy and no matter how badly they fuck up they will make five times what I ever will and will live great lives or they are plebeians who might as well get in all the fun they can in college before they begin their forty years of soul-crushing drudgery.

That's the great American myth: that working hard gets you anywhere. It doesn't. Working hard makes someone else a lot of money off of your effort. You just end up tired and frustrated. The kids you knew in college with the trust funds and the summer homes in Aspen run the world no matter how hard you work. They make money by exploiting you and there's absolutely nothing you can do about it because you don't have a giant pile of money that allows you to walk away from things you find repugnant.
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People used to tell me I was smart. Since I didn't figure any of this out until I was in my 30s, I guess they were wrong. Don't make the same mistake. You'll end up waking up one morning to realize the depths of your personal and professional failures, and that it's too late to do anything about them. I promise you'll kick yourself for not having at least the memory of good times to remind you that even if everything is drudgery now, you had fun when the opportunities arose.

Out of the thousands of things I've learned, this is the only one that I think anyone else might benefit from hearing. Regrets are the worst things, and once your life is pretty much over they will pile up at a rate you can scarcely imagine when you are young and full of optimism.

86 thoughts on “VALEDICTION”

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  • Ed: being filthy rich isn't the key to happiness; loving what you are doing with your life is. If you have passion for your occupation, you are more likely to find your existence fulfilling.

  • I see that Ed is having his annual Bring Your Own Wrist-slitter Party.

    Can't say he's wrong about his analysis of the American economy, but I am not so sure that measuring one's worth by the standards of material rewards is the way to go.

  • Wotan Nichols says:

    Nothing in my own experience invalidates your post–I have a functioning car & I live indoors. I suspect you are correct about the fact that we live in a plutoligarchy in which certain families benefit from a kind of financial preterition very similar to what you describe. In spite of your explicit warning about assuming poetic license, I can only hope that you are exaggerating the extent of your despair, & that you are taking your own advice about seizing the day &c. insofar as it is possible.

  • What I wish I had been told was: Don't worry about grades or test results. Worry about SKILLS. Take the tougher calc class and get through it with a D. Take upper-level programming courses and fail twice. The skills you'll gain will make your far more marketable than a useless 4.0 that no one outside of admissions departments will ever care about. Get professional certifications instead of extracurricular activities.

  • It Just Doesn't Matter

    Ed, I'm 51 years old, and while the details are unimportant, I've been pretty severely fucked over by life.

    You are bitter because you thought you were privileged, part of the ruling class, for your intelligence and will, and you found out you're not. You are bitter because you thought the world was ruled by rationality and justice, and you found out it's ruled by power. "There's a support group for that: It's called everybody, and we meet at the bar."

    You cannot choose to have been born into the ruling class. You cannot choose to live in a just and rational world.

    You can, however, choose how you feel about it. I am most emphatically not suggesting that you choose to like the world as it is (I mean, you can if you want, and just try to actually acquire the power necessary to get into the real ruling class. It's difficult, but not impossible.)

    You can choose, instead of bitterness, to feel anger. Get mad, and, seriously, hit back. You owe the world no good will or cooperation. Controlled anger and rational tactics can change the world. Dangerous, but you have nothing to lose but your chains. Everyone dies; we can choose only between a quiet, noble, or ignominious death.

    You can also choose to not give a fuck. Homer Simpson your job. Go out and have fun. I don't care where you are, fun is out there to be had. There are fun, interesting, and sexy people in Podunk.

    Do not regret your egregiously misspent youth. It's over. You are still a young man, and adventure still awaits you, even in East Nowhere. "It's never too late to have a happy childhood."

  • The one thing I would add to this:
    You're probably going to have to spend the rest of your life working. Don't make the mistake of choosing to work at something you don't love – or at least really really like. And not because of joy or angels or whatever. Do it for money.
    My whole working life, the people who have worked the hardest have gone the farthest – regardless of their chosen field. If you're willing to care more, if you're willing to try harder, you will get noticed more and paid more for whatever it is you do. Natural talent is nice; brains are ok; hard work and determination are way more important. And that willingness to put in really long days, and work over the weekend, is much easier to come up with if you're doing something you love.

  • All that you say about the world is likely true….
    And yet, it is a diagnosis waiting for a prescription.
    Lingering in the past nor worry about the future will bring any ease or betterment, so what choices are there besides?

    When we see clearly, we see that we only have access to the present moment.
    Staying within this present moment and using it to Help others, as Gandhi, observed gives meaning to life. And there are so many ways to plant this giving tree that gives back to oneself. Even the small gesture can ultimately be large, like the butterfly's wing felt halfway round the earth as a mighty wind. It is the beginning of peace for yourself and others; it is the beginning of the end of suffering.

    Be well! Namaste.

  • "If you're willing to care more, if you're willing to try harder, you will get noticed more and paid more for whatever it is you do."

    What a steaming load of horseshit. This by no means a guarantee route to a financially successful career.

  • … In fact, this giving tree of staying in the present moment and helping oneself by helping others can be practiced amidst even the most odious work .. it just requires the right perspective: how can I engage this work in a way that brings the most dignity to all those who come in contact with me, it, its product? This is a beginning, too …

  • Hard work is vastly over-rated. What matters is leverage and positioning (right place/right time) and compound interest doesn't hurt either.

    NOTHING gives one better leverage and position than winning the genetic lottery and being born to rich parents. That said: Ed, you and I tied for fifth runner up in the genetic lottery by virtue of being born white , male and American.

  • You guys crack me up. "Do something you love" is only an option when you can afford to say no to the thirty things you hate but will pay you more. Or I suppose if what you love is having a college degree but working in a call center trying to convince the people calling in to report cable outages that what they should do is buy more cable. If you love that then boy are you in luck!

  • Geez Ed,
    If you compare yourself to the number of poly-sci undergrads who are not now teaching at the university level, you are doing pretty well. Ok, you aren't feelthy rich, but you aren't selling mattresses, either. Sure, you aren't wandering around Cambridge and eating at high table, so you at the very top, but you made it.
    So what is success and how did you get here? You can look at the folks who are more successful and beat yourself up or you can look at those who aren't in their chosen field and think "could be worse, could be raining".
    Whether a moderately-successful poly-sci prof at a state school should be paid a living wage is a whole 'nuther discussion and the lack of middle-class wage growth is finally being discussed at the national level (Even dear mittens thinks it's a problem).
    But defining success merely on "how much money do I make" seems kinda narrow.

  • Nyd3030's comment is exactly how I feel about the whole thing. "Do what you love" is an offensive piece of tripe to feed the general populace. Think of the jobs out there that employ the most people: retail, fast-food/restaurant work, construction, telemarketing, sales…then try to picture any of these people are "doing what they love."

    I am still in college right now (I must be that one person Ed was hoping to find!), but when I was in junior high and high school I really wanted to be a film director. I would make short movies in high school and even wrote a feature length screenplay and started filming it after high school. Boy am I glad I'm good at math and physics because now I am finishing up a mechanical engineering tech degree. If I "did what I love," I would be directing indie movies and starving to death. I'm sure glad I can eventually get a job that I might not like, but will pay the bills and hopefully give me enough extra money to pursue hobbies that I enjoy.

    The simple fact is this: there's a reason we pay people to do work and it's because there's on other way to get people to do these jobs. We can't all create art, play video games, or act for a living. Someone needs to collect the garbage and scrub the toilets.

  • Honestly, it's not so much what you get a job doing what you love, it's whether "what you love" is a marketable skill. You might really, really like arts and crafts — well too bad. Unless you hit the magic fashion note, getting a job doing what you love is going to pay jack shit. If what you happen to love involves computers, then getting a job doing what you love is going to work out just fine for you. As it did in my case.

    I didn't come from *nothing*, but my family was FAR from affluent. My parents split when I was very young, my father got custody, and he went through a bankruptcy before I finished college — college that I paid for almost entirely out of pocket and government loans (I did get some assistance from an in-state scholarship program that pays a portion for any student in the state that can pull off a 3.0 or better in high school and goes to an in-state university). When I graduated, I lived at home for a year to pay off my student loan debt and the debt from my first vehicle purchase, an at-the-time 11-year-old domestic. I paid the grocery bill and did all the cleaning to contribute while I was at home. My father was in the Navy when I was a child, and since then has bounced around from job to job alternately doing semi-skilled repair- and factory-work, and middling-management desk jobs.

    Hardly a silver spoon sort of origin, is what I'm saying. Yet today I live quite comfortably, well on my way to eliminating the last traces of debt (car and mortgage) before I hit 30. Granted, that's an aggressive timetable and I pull it off by living well below my means and not having *as much* "fun" as other people my age might — I live in a modest 3 bed, bath-and-a-half home from somewhere around the 70s and my two guest bedrooms are entirely empty rooms, and I happen to be the sort of person that just doesn't enjoy the traditional club/party/bar scene that most my age seem to — but the opportunities would certainly be there if I wanted, and I'm not lacking for entertainment and doing the things I like when I'm not working.

    This was all made possible, of course, by the fact that my interests happen to lie in computing, and computing is a field that pays very well in the current market. My story would be very different, even given the exact same circumstances, if "that thing I really wanted to do" happened to be something much less market-viable like Literature or Fashion. In that sense, the genetic lottery isn't so much what parents you happen to get born to, so much as what interests you happen to be born into.

  • c u n d gulag says:

    Thank the Great FSM, I was smart enough to get really good grades and STILL have a great time in HS and college – sports, party, drink, have lots of friends, smoke some pot, do light pharmaceuticals, date, occasionally get laid, perform in plays, direct plays, etc.

    I realized early on that after college, that your semi-carefree youth ends – and hence, so does your fun and your life, essentially

    When I was an Adjunct Professor, I used to tell my students to enjoy their remaining college years – and maybe extend them by getting a Masters – because once college is over, basically, your life is over.

    They didn't believe me.
    Then, at reunions, I'd bump into them and they said I was right, and that they should have had even more fun.

    I also told my students not to be overly grade conscious. I had worked in HR and no one cared about your college grade – unless you were 1st or 2nd in your class: and I don't remember seeing any of those people coming through for the jobs I was training people for.

    I told them that if a college degree was required, all the people who'll hire you care about is that you proved that you graduated – which proved to them that you could regularly do an assigned task within a limited time period, and that you could do it relatively successfully, and not muck-up and get kicked out.

    And if you got kicked out, you finished somewhere else.

  • While adulthood in the present economy is no cake-walk, remember that the alternative is worse. If you don't apply yourself in school, don't earn those degrees, and don't accumulate marketable skills, you'll find yourself in a minimum wage job with no hope for the future. Middle class drudgery isn't fun, but minimum wage drudgery is absolute misery.

  • Mother of fucking mercy…Who said you can't do both, Ed? I did. But I'm a troll or whatever.

    So, "Either you were born into money and your life will turn out fine no matter what you do or you were born without it and your life will pretty much be mediocre or shitty no matter how hard you fight it."

    How does that square with…Oprah Winfrey, Howard Schultz, Ursula Burns, Steve Jobs, Sam Walton, Bill Clinton, Larry Ellison, Ronald Reagan, Barack Obama, me, my boss, her boss, his boss, my neighbor, and millions of others?

    Your meds may need tweaked again, Ed.

  • Emerson Dameron says:

    I've found life in a lower caste tolerable as long as I have an avenue of creative expression.

    As life pursuits, most of my many, many menial jobs have been on the thin side of sufferable. They've been aces, though, as fodder for comedy.

    If you enjoy writing, music, stand-up, or some such, don't quit when you're 30 and not selling out the Hollywood Bowl. Keep that thing in your life, as it may yet prove to be a major component of your survival.

  • Bill Gates came from upper-middle-class parents who were able to send him to Harvard and support him after he dropped out of Harvard to start up his company.

    He wasn't exactly working the night shift at Taco Bell to pay the rent while he was starting up Microsoft.

    While there are of course exceptions, if you look at the statistics social mobility in the United States is an awful lot lower than you probably think it is.

  • Once again, limited resources with unlimited access to those resources by a select group of entitled assholes. QED.

    The economy is like professional wrestling, it's rigged and only entertaining if you're intellectually anesthetized.

  • To put some context to the "Do what you love" quotes — this is basically advice from the Baby Boomer's fathers and older brothers, who were living miserable empty lives as salarymen and factory workers, and found that they couldn't figure out how to turn the money into happiness once they had it, even though their own parents in the Depression hadn't had any and warned against where that would lead. They didn't know where doing what you love would lead, they just suspected it would be a better place than where they were. That's what The Man in the Grey Flannel Suit was about. That's what The Exurbanites was about. That's what Rabbit, Run! was about. It wasn't malicious advice, it just happened to be the right advice at the wrong time, much like the advice that they received from their own parents.

  • Andrew Laurence says:

    Not true for me (age 49, work in tech). I'm a well-paid hourly worker and frequently receive paychecks with 70% extra in overtime and standby pay. The last two years have been record-breakers, with me earning 35-40% above my base, annualized. My job is stressful and there's too much work for the thin staff we have, but I like the actual work and am pretty good at it. I still find time for leisure and travel occasionally.

    I was good at academics but failed to apply myself, and I'm excellent on standardized tests. I'm also good as convincing people to hire me. Part of this is no doubt down to the fact that the vast majority of tech hiring managers are straight, married, white males like me.

    My wife is also employed at a well-paid tech job, albeit not hourly. We have no children, just three cats who will never require Ivy League educations.

  • JCC — That sort of advice was flying around even before the Baby Boomer generation. It's the advice that George Babbit gives to his son in Sinclair Lewis' 1922 novel "Babbit". It seems that people have been working at hollow jobs they hate for a long time.

  • @Andrew

    So how come they haven't found a PHD in New Delhi who's willing to do your job for 1/3 the pay yet? Seems to be a lot of that going around the tech sector these days.

  • I would add to this by saying that if you are a woman….


    Our society completely screws over middle class (and below) single mothers. I've seen too many of my friends become mothers when they're young who then spend the next 20 years of their life working themselves to death in low-paying jobs in an effort to feed their kid(s).

    I refused to have children. Because I'm a woman, I spent all of my 20s and 30s underemployed, but at least I had a degree of freedom that my friends with children did not.

  • My husband has started and is building a small business – he's a baker/pastry chef. We'll never be rich, but he enjoys it a hell of a lot more than retail. I worked for twenty four years and nobody ever made a dime off my hard work – civil service, baybee!

    That said, a lot of this screed hit home. The USA now has less class mobility than the UK, and that took some doing.

  • I watched my parents struggle with their small business (home remodeling and construction) as a kid in the 80s. I can't imagine having had economic expectations for my adulthood that young in the first place, but at 42 my situation is pretty darn good compared to what I grew up with. Complaints about the current economy seem odd to me.

  • I'm sorry that your job/life is so unpleasant right now. I'm not the reader you described. I'm almost 63, so I'm a Boomer. I went to college and grad school for like forever. I have a job in a not particularly well-known place in a SLAC that otherwise sounds a lot like where you teach. Have I been unhappy? Absolutely, because being unhappy is part of the human condition. But I figure I won a kind of lottery based on a whole confluence of things, including many of which people describe here. Because of my age, my college and even grad school were affordable and I could put myself through. I could pick a field I liked and immerse myself in it. I was willing to go anywhere and I did. If I were younger (I think about this a lot dealing with those students I get that are dreamy and academic and will probably be ground up after college) I don't know what I'd do. I'm not a techie or a quant so I imagine I'd be some kind of administrative or clerical drone to the degree those jobs still exist or I'd be poor. Thing is, I mostly agree with Ed. I keep hoping things might change, but, well, we know how that often turns out….

  • It's not just doing what you love.
    It is deciding consciously to love what you do, and following through on it.
    It is not easy by any means. But I know that it can be done.

    And oh my god are you off your meds dude? CALL YOUR DOCTOR.

  • Oh, Christ, Ed, what have you done? You are not, repeat NOT, supposed to let that cat out of the bag. It's like telling a five-year-old that there's no Santa. We need to maintain the illusion to keep the young 'uns in line. Next, I suppose, you'll be telling them that the for-profit colleges are a rip-off. You'll be telling them that Bob & Joe's University located in a dead mall really won't get them a well-paying job in a challenging field and will leave them with a mountain of debt that they can't get out of through bankruptcy.

    Then, I suppose you'll be telling them that, even if they do get a good corporate job, they could lose it in a heartbeat because the CEO needs to pump up the stock price, and the laziest way to do that is to fire a bunch of people — excuse me, "drive out cost."

  • I also skipped fun and worked hard. The only reason, at 61, that I can still feed myself and keep a roof over me is that I married well and held it together thru joint PTSD issues. We will get poorer and poorer with age, specially as we support two veteran sons with PTSD and disability issues.

    I don't tell them the same lies we were told, not that they'd believe me anyhow. I told them to QUESTION authority and give it a big "Fuck YOU!"

  • Boomer here who did what he loved and found the reality of it disheartening and not particularly remunerative even though it was in the physical sciences. The best jobs I have had, including the one I've now for the past 13 years, are ones that I backed into by accident. Luck. I was just damned lucky.

  • I like the predictable arrogance of a Duke (grad?) who offers himself as an 'aw shucks' hardscrabble success story.

    For those keeping score, yearly cost of Duke, undergrad hovers a case of beer shy of $65,000.

    Only Englishmen rival Duke graduates when it comes to entitled laziness coupled with whinging.

  • What JCC said.
    Also, it's not "Do what you love." It's "Do what you're good at." That's what gives you the competitive advantage.

  • Damn straight.

    I have this bookmarked so that it comes up daily when I visit the site:

    I am willing to perform services in exchange for currency

    As to If you have passion for your occupation…
    that's swell 'n all, but if your genes & development didn't supply you with a consuming interest or talent – if you weren't born to be a banker, like my brother – then you just drift in the tepid currents hoping lighting will strike and leave you lit-up rather than dead.

    And how is it possible to not become angry and bitter if you're determined, like Ed, to pursue your interest…only to discover that nobody cares enough about it too actually pay you commensurate with some tool in the financial industry.

    What do we have to do to get our government to guarantee a minimum income? Does it involve razing some mansions? Siphoning off electronic accounts? Drones? Inventing an ap to melt holes in guns and turn ammo to pudding? I'm open to some likely career paths to pursue with this goal as the carrot.

  • I'm about 10 years older than Ed, and a combination of natural ability and dumb luck got me into high technology, one of the very few careers left in this country providing decent compensation.

    Which the elites fucking hate, incidentally, and work as hard as they can to bring down. Between ageism (hiring young people who will work harder for less), offshoring, and H1B visas, they're making great progress!

  • There is nothing worse than hearing people say, "Choose a profession you love…"

    That is privileged bullshit, because it assumes a choice in your profession.

    Garbage men, day laborers, janitors, sewage plant employees are REQUIRED for our society, and I have never met one who was PASSIONATE about their job, but I have met many who are happy in life.

    I think much better advice is to think of your job as a means to an end. You should choose a profession that you are good at, and use the money from that job to pay for life.

    Build a life outside of work, and try to expend your time, passion, and money on that.

  • "Gratitude is riches, complaint is poverty, and the worst I ever had was wonderful!"

    Brother Dave Gardner, Comedian (circa 1960)


  • You mean there's a system by which a few keep most of the good things of life to themselves and their offspring, leaving dregs for the rest to struggle after? You're shittin' me!

    And you're unhappy that you have to work to keep yourself fed and sheltered? You're shittin' me!

    And you're further unhappy because you wanted to be happy and that didn't work out? I begin to think you're not shittin' me about how smart you are.

  • Eh, whatever. I used to do a job I loved to do and was very good at. Alas, it paid squat, and when the first kid came along and the wife had incapacitating medical emergencies, I had to go and do a job I could do that gave lots of flexible-hours benefits and still paid marginally well enough to support us all. With family help. Like Ed, I also wasted my youth largely avoiding fun opportunities*, but there it is. My kids are so far doing OK, and while I may not live to enjoy retirement, the way things are going, retirement may not be all that pleasant anyway. I sometimes regret the opportunities I missed, but I have managed to enjoy the opportunities I didn't miss. Life often sucks, and we muddle along the best we can. Ed's right, though – under most circumstances, the nobility generally do well simply by being shrewd and careful enough to choose the right parents. "It takes money to make money" is always true, and the more money you have, the more money you can get. So, the life lessons I gave my kids were: choose the right parents, and add money to your trust fund at every opportunity. Also, make sure you don't invest in anything run by a thief or con artist. If you stick to these simple rules, you should be able to enjoy the heck out of your youth!

    *Masturbation, obviously, doesn't count.

  • Gerald McGrew says:

    "I had no friends in college or high school. Never went to a party. Never got drunk. Never dated (not that it was an option). Never blew off a class. Never went out. I just studied and studied more and kicked the ass of every course or standardized test I came across."

    Well that certainly explains a lot about this blog. It took me a while to understand that while Ed's posts are witty, poignant, and well-written, they also seem to be written by Eeyore from Winnie the Pooh. I honestly can't imagine being in your position Ed….looking back on friendless life solely dedicated to academic achievement and wondering if it was all worth it.

    I think the underlying issue is how people become convinced that much of their self-worth stems from their profession. IMO, that's almost always a self-defeating proposition. The reason they have to pay you to do something is because no one will do it for free, which means it's not that great of a thing to do, which means eventually you're likely to become bored/frustrated/disillusioned with it, which means your sense of self-worth will go down with it too.

    The best advice I've ever received was that work is work…there's a reason they have to pay you to show up, so don't mistake work for "who I am as a person". If you can manage to find work that you don't mind or even that you enjoy, so much the better. But either way, keep in mind that it's a means to an end (a paycheck).

    I'm fortunate enough to have gone into a field of my choice and have done fairly well. But I still find it mostly boring and tedious and would much rather be out doing something else. And that's just the nature of the game and I generally don't see my job as a way to provide happiness.

    Instead, my happiness comes from raising my kids, watching them grow up, doing my own thing on my own time, going out with my wife, hanging out with my friends, etc. My job is just what I have to do to pay for all that.

    A while ago my youngest was going through a stage of anxiety over little things, usually things she'd make up in her head. It ended when I pointed out to her that in the grand scheme of things, she has it extremely well. There's no war outside her window, she isn't worried about her next meal, no one is trying to kidnap her, she gets to go to school, she'll likely live to a good old age, etc.

    So Ed, I'd suggest that you take a broader view (across the whole of human existence) and develop an appreciation for being a middle class white American male. And then I'd suggest finding a way to do some things you truly do love, even if they don't pay a thing (or even if you have to pay to do them). If your job is just a means to a paycheck, that's fine. Acknowledge that fact and adjust your mindset accordingly, and then get out and start doing the things that are fun and enjoyable.

  • Rand Paul just told the associated press that he's happy slurpin' on the smegma of privilege (thanks daddy). Sweet baby white Jebus loves some primates just a little bit more than others, you see.

  • Perhaps "mostly true", but I find it to be somewhat off-base. My advice would be "start with something where you are naturally talented, and then work hard" as reasonable recipe for success.

    I grew up quite poor. I went to sub-standard schools, but augmented my education with personal reading and lots of hobbies. I made the decision to eschew the traditional college trajectory in favor of playing lots of rock and roll, getting laid a lot, drinking a lot of free booze, and having tons of crazy fun in my 20's and 30's.

    Then I got married, went back to college at 40, got my degree in Computer Sciences with a 3.96 GPA, and have a job I can do anywhere for a reasonable chunk of money that affords me a pretty high degree of freedom.

    Will hard work by itself get you everywhere? No. But I was able to do what I did at age 40 in a highly-competitive CS program up against the best and brightest of the current generation not because I was smarter than them (I'm not anymore), but because I had some degree of natural talent and (more importantly) was willing to work harder than they were. So that still counts for something, IMO. Your mileage may vary.

    Pick a field where you have some gifts or inclinations. One that pays reasonably well, if that matters to you. Then work hard.

  • Just guessing but it sounds to me like you need to get out of Peoria.

    I'm blue-skying on what I'd do if I were you. (Actually, if I'm understanding you, I have done it. I was in dead-end academe among a bunch of dead-end facultoids, with a few good people sprinkled about. This particular blue sky does assume you've got a couple of thousand dollars to tide you over.)

    What I'd do is put the most important stuff in the trunk of the beemer (It was a beemer, right?), maybe even buy a luggage rack for the roof if you can get one that doesn't scratch the paint, and hightail it on out for Seattle or Portland or San Francisco. Angle for a community college job. It'll be better than Peoria. And if it isn't, move to another cc. And start having a good time with a few like minds.

    Thirty-ish is young. You've got at least thirty years of job to go. You want to spend them in Peoria? Yeah. Me neither. Finish the semester and drive on out.

  • Once people have all their basic material needs met, I see precisely zero correlation between money and happiness. Zero. I know plenty of well-off people (the miserable and joyous) and plenty of people scraping by (the miserable and joyous). If and when rich people as a species seem happier than me – the moment their kids seem truly better off than mine – then maybe I'd indulge in envy about their wealth and ease. When I think about the people whose happiness, ease and wisdom I do envy, it seems to have nothing whatsoever to do with the heft of their checking accounts.

    You're right that you were lied to about hard work and economic reward. On top of that, our civilization neither prepares us for nor readily delivers happiness. But you are wrong that rich and privileged people transcend that – or that people with unpaid bills cannot.

    Happy people are those that forge it on their own terms, whatever that is. You are bitter about your squandered twenties? Fine. 10 years from now don't be bitter about these days, because you decided to pretend “the economy” denied you all chance of freedom and happiness. Apply that abused work ethic of yours to excising some suck from your life and carving out room for joy.

  • I get what you're saying, Ed, I really do. Once in a great while I get a little down about what I don't have and now, at the age of 57, probably never will. I compare myself to people who have more and did more with their financial lives. I made some really dumb choices – I became a teenage mom and never went to college – but I am lucky to have had something about me that made me employable. I earn only about $50k, but I long ago recognized that work for me is the way I fund what I call my "real life". Which includes dancing, art, music, friends, my cats and those kids I was too young to have way back then. Life is what you make it – fuck the trust fund assholes. But…it's not their fault if you aren't having any fun.

  • To be fair, I like what I do, although the job takes it toll on me. Flying long hours on the back side of the clock and living half my life out of a suitcase beats me up sometimes.

    Still, flying jets and getting paid to do it was all my 8-year-old. The fact that I get paid pretty darn makes it even better. I never made this kind of money in the military or when I was working in IT.

    Of course, like every other industry, management keeps asking for "efficiencies". In a time of record profits my company wants to change our scheduling rules to their benefit AND they want my pension.

    Unlike the passenger haulers, who lost their defined-benefits plans through bankruptcy courts, our suits want us to give it up voluntarily. That's the ugly side of the business.

  • 52 comments precede mine. I haven't reviewed them, but hope some of them call you out on this nonsense.
    1) You obviously had friends and did fun things. You got married.
    2) Yes, some people have advantages. But the medieval England thing doesn't fly, and as a student of history, you're more capable of explaining how than I am.

    However, the key lessons that I have learned (as a socially backward guy a decade or so older than you, but with a similar story):
    1) Don't love money. But it's always about the money, to a certain "freedom" threshold. Don't think you're being righteous by ignoring this.

    2) What you *do* determines how much of your potential you can reach. As smart younguns, we were repeatedly told that we were exceptionally talented, and many of us feared that we would never reach our potential unless we worked hard in school. The depressing moment is when you realize that maybe you already have…

    3) Kids, listen up: It's important that you learn a LOT in school. Sure, sure, the Walton heirs don't need it to be well off. But what you learn in school isn't just about the academic subjects. It's about prioritizing, and interacting with other people, and learning which types of mistakes you can recover from more gracefully (and these are things you really only learn by doing). And the Walton heirs need to know those things, too, believe it or not.

    A key learning moment for me was when I realized a classmate who had been an effective schmoozer with alums failed out of first semester of my post-college program. The school had already shown him around to lots of influential people, and couldn't justify having him fail. So they pushed him through. He started a business which (>15 years later) is still not profitable. And leveraged that senior exec position to get his next lucrative gig. He's a really nice guy, and I don't begrudge him his success. But I outperformed him in every single class, and the business I started at the same time (which had, at least, a forecast path to profitability and return for my investors) never raised enough capital to proceed. So which one of us was smarter? The one who focused on networking, or the one who focused on learning the material we supposedly went to school for?

  • While I generally agree with your overall point Ed, I have a comment on "hard work". I know one person who has succeeded wildly according to conventional measures. He is mid-40's and is a VP at a large company and gets to live in what most of us would consider paradise. He wasn't born to money, but had a lot of other kinds of good luck – white male, parents middle class, very smart, didn't turn out an alcoholic, didn't have any major health problems, etc. No trust fund or anything like that – his parents could probably loan him a couple thousand bucks if he needed it, but it really would be a loan. But there is hard work, and then there is hard work. This guy has spent the last 25 years working INSANELY HARD. Nights, weekends, always in touch with work, always sacrificing for work, never saying no to work, never saying no to an assignment. He once spent most of a relative's funeral on the phone with work. If what I do is "hard work", and I think it is, what he does needs another name. If he hadn't worked that hard, he wouldn't be where he is.

    He got that brass ring, all right. I'd love to live where and how he does, and I'd love the paycheck, but it wouldn't be worth decades of slavish devotion to work to have it. I don't think he's any happier in his life than I am, working for 20% of what he makes, living in the Midwest, and never having to take work calls at a funeral.

  • Ed, I can't argue with you. Things have changed and opportunities aren't what they used to be. We also aren't stuck doing mind-numbing factory work or back breaking manual labor.

    The lesson to learn is that you can adapt to a new reality. Perhaps academia is a shitty place to be. Fucking abandon it and live in a place you don't hate. You're smarter than most and can find a well paying gig in a place that doesn't make you suicidal.

    Find some hobbies, meet people that ultra-competitive assholes and learn how they manage to be happy by working to live.

    Mediocrity isn't that bad of a place to live if you simply abandon the rules set down by the plutocrats.

  • Strawberry Shortfuse says:

    "The first step would be to make people live dualistically, in two compartments. In one compartment as industrialized workers, in the other as human beings. As idiots and machines for eight hours out of every twenty-four and real human beings for the rest."
    "Don't they do that already?"
    "Of course they don't. They live as idiots and machines all the time, at work and in their leisure. Like idiots and machines, but imagining they're living like civilized humans, even like gods. The first thing to do is make them admit that they are idiots and machines during working hours. 'Our civilization being what it is'–this is what you'll have to say to them–'you've got to spend eight hours out of every twenty-four as a mixture between an imbecile and a sewing machine. It's very disagreeable, I know. It's humiliating and disgusting. But there you are. You've got to do it; otherwise the whole fabric of our world will fall to bits and we'll all starve. Do the job, then, idiotically and mechanically, and spend your leisure hours in being a real complete man or woman, as the case may be. Don't mix the two lives together; keep the bulkheads watertight between them. The genuine human life in your leisure hours is the real thing. The other's just a dirty job that's got to be done. And never forget that it *is* dirty and, except in so far as it keeps you fed and society intact, utterly unimportant, utterly irrelevant to the real human life. Don't be deceived by the canting rogues who talk of the sanctity of labor and the Christian service that business men do their fellows. It's all lies. Your work's just a nasty, dirty job, made unfortunately necessary by the folly of your ancestors. They piled up a mountain of garbage and you've got to go on digging it away, for fear it might stink you to death, dig for dear life, while cursing the memory of the maniacs who made all the dirty work for you to do. But don't try to cheer yourself up by pretending the nasty mechanical job is a noble one. It isn't; and the only result of saying and believing that it is will be to lower your humanity to the level of the dirty work. If you believe in business as service and the sanctity of labor, you'll merely turn yourself into a mechanical idiot for twenty-four hours out of the twenty-four. Admit it's dirty, hold your nose, and do it for eight hours, then concentrate on being a real human being in your leisure. A real complete human being. Not a newspaper reader, not a jazzer, not a radio fan. The industrialists who purvey standardized ready-made amusements to the masses are doing their best to make you as much of a mechanical imbecile in your leisure as in your hours of work. But don't let them. Make the effort of being human.' That's what you've got to say to people; that's the lesson you've got to teach the young. You've got to persuade everybody that this grand industrial civilization is just a bad smell and that the real, significant life can only be lived apart from it. It'll be a very long time before decent living and industrial smell can be reconciled. Perhaps, indeed, they're irreconcilable. It remains to be seen. In the meantime, at any rate, we must shovel the garbage and bear the smell stoically, and in the intervals try to lead the real human life."

    Aldous Motherfucking Huxley, ladies and gentlemen. Nailing the problem in 1928 then eating all the psychedelics he could get his hands on when he recognized how truly fucking intractable it is.

  • "Only Englishmen rival Duke graduates when it comes to entitled laziness coupled with whinging."

    Pshaw. Don't confuse Englishmen of the likes of our current beloved prime minister and chancellor of the exchequer with the rest of us. Born-to-rule arseholes like David Cameron and George Osborne – neither of whom have had a proper job and wouldn't be capable of one, anyway* – bear no relation to the 85% of us normal people.

    It's the education system and centuries of rampant, shameless inbreeding, y'see. Like racehorses, and like racehorses, they're doing what they're bred for. If it was down to me I'd give them 24 hours to GTFO or die horribly, preferably at the hands of a lunatic with a pizza wheel and a sense of anatomical curiosity.

    Meanwhile, back at the topic… The game is rigged, we in Britain have also long been told that hard work is all that's required and then you, too, can be a success. Obvious bilge. My mother worked hard since leaving school at 14 (circa 1966) and hasn't a penny to show for it, if hard work was the be all and end all, she'd be living in a platinum and diamond island in the Caribbean and paying Bill Gates to peel her grapes.

    I don't know if things are worse in the UK than the US but if you want to get ahead in the media – pretend work for lazy middle classes (not in the American definition of middle class) – and politic, you really have to have went to Oxford, Cambridge and one or two other universities and have parents who can afford to support you through an internship and that is usually in London, a place even Russian oligangsters can afford these days.

    It's all designed to keep the man and woman in the street ground down and grateful for whatever badly paid shitty job they get. That's why you must take politicians' promises of full employment with a massive pinch of salt; unemployed people mean low wages and much job competition.

    In Britain this even reaches as far the higher and further education system as it's almost impossible to educate yourself into a better job without non-existent funding and support.

    Bottom line: We're fucked without a mass change in consciousness. Election results in Greece give slight cause for hope.

    *Sorry, Osborne – in charge of the world's 5th largest economy – once briefly had a job folding towels.

  • I feel your pain, Ed. Same boat, here. That's all I have. Go read some Whitman. Sing the body electric and all that shit. You're not alone.

  • There's a lot to be said for having been born a baby boomer white guy. There's a lot to be said for being taller than average and smarter than average. There's a lot to be said for testing well 'cause the military will let you fix airplanes instead of going one-on-one with pragmatic Marxists.

    But most of all there's a lot to be said for marrying the right person/people. All the progress I've ever made in my life has come when I've been married. That's true even of my ill-fated first marriage. Not all the happiness I've had in my life necessarily but certainly the progress aids me in my pursuit of happiness.

    Ed, I'd like to urge you to find a life partner.

  • schmitt trigger says:

    Speaking of Duke University…
    one should do as that student that went into the porn movie business to avoid racking up debt

  • good advice, but i would also add to be careful with your fun and don't get so lost in it that rare "non-fun" opportunities pass you by.

  • El mago, I think Dharma Dream is actually Ed, having some fun with us. At least I hope it is, because it is really freaking hilarious.

    And Ed. Damn. It isn't too late to have fun. I long ago figured life as an adult was going to suck (I think I clued into it in junior high), so I had fun where I could because I knew I needed to have some good memories. It helps that I have zero self-discipline and am a hedonist. I used to annoy my mother by telling her, when she admonished me for not picking a lucrative career path, that I was banking on oblivion.

    As Quixote says, you need to get out. Yes, you need to have some money in the bank, but since it sounds like temptations to spend it are few and far between in Peoria, you might could save up some change. Get the hell out of there. There are other schools in better places. And fuck it. You have pointed out how retirement is pretty much a non-possibility for most of us, so you might as well just freaking go somewhere you might possibly have fun. Bank on oblivion. Maybe all those terrorist cells in the no go zones that Bobby Jindal is talking about will succeed in blowing the joint up.

  • I'm back…forgot something.

    We mostly are all missing that when you suffer from clinical depression, having rainbows blown up your butt isn't necessarily helpful…

  • I've been reading this blog for a month now. I am like 98% in agreement with Ed's content but only 50% in line with his nihilism. I think I read all the comments on this rant too. And the one thing I notice in common is that everyone assumes that the way it is, is the way it will always be. We've capitulated to the system. We've given up hope.

    Shit. Is this the best we got?

    No wonder we have kids overdosing trying to self medicate, or getting radicalized and joining groups like ISIS. There's no damn hope or vision left in their culture anymore.

    Not to go all "Comrade" on everyone, because Statist Communism was probably the only thing worse than advanced late stage consumer Capitalism, but shouldn't someone be screaming "REVOLUTION!" about now instead of everyone acclimating ourselves to suckass status quo?

    Look Ed. You are a political scientist and historian. It should be obvious that this status quo cannot remain. Something is gonna break. Either we are going to blow everything up in a war for water or oil, or we are going to poison our environment beyond the ability to sustain our current population, or we are going to consume ourselves into some communal narcissistic psychosis. Or all three. And when things finally break irrevocably, the people with huge amounts of money won't last long without the social structures that make their money worth anything.

    And that's the point we will need someone with imagination to help whatever remnant survives see a new way of organizing society, economics, politics, law and religion. So be that guy Ed.

    Curse the darkness. I don't blame you. But use that critical mind of yours to help us all imagine a way out of this clusterfuck too.

  • Ed, I agree with your premise completely. The inevitability of our lives is the same as the inevitability of death. But I find these inevitabilities to be extremely comforting. I will live a mediocre life and then I'll die, no matter what. Which means, for a Type A person like myself, that the pressure is off. I can't even describe what an amazing feeling that is!

    Get yourself a nice rat, make yourself a cocktail, and enjoy watching the world burn.

  • I was a goody two-shoes mainly because I was fat and socially awkward, so rarely got invited to parties or had opportunities to do much beyond school. I had more opportunities for that in college & grad school, despite still being fat and socially awkward, and took advantage of them, but my goody two-shoes nature didn't let me blow off classes or get anything less than a B. Well, I got one C*, but I took the class over again to wipe that off my GPA.

    Then I got lucky, really, really lucky. Not quite trust-fund lucky, but in 2006, I got a job in the Oil & Gas industry was able to ride high through the oil price boom. Right now, I'm enjoying a salary 75% higher than what I started with. Not only that, but I actually enjoy what I do. It can be frustrating on a day-to-day basis, but when I take a step back, I absolutely love it.

    Still, for the past few years, I've also been going through an existential crisis related to realizing that the meritocracy that my 1980's education sold me was full of shit. I would be completely worse off in so many ways right now if I hadn't decided to follow up on the [Oil Company] business card that I got nearly 9 years ago. Sure, I had to be smart enough to get through a few hoops, and being smart helps me succeed at work, but I still got where I am because of who I knew, rather than what.

    Fuck me, I know.

    * In Intro to Women's Studies, ffs. I didn't do a lot of my homework in that class, actually, but I was a freshman with an on campus job and blah blah blah.

  • I'd like to thank you for the efforts you've put in penning this
    website. I'm hoping to see the same high-grade content by you in the future as well.
    In fact, your creative writing abilities has inspired me
    to get my own website now ;)

  • Humans are designed to make more humans. That's about it for all but a very few. If we stay alive for awhile, we get to look around. If we're incredibly lucky, we can have some fun with a break or a thousand.

    Even though I was a white middle class first year boomer, made most of the right moves and pretty much didn't make an ass of myself, I have a long way to go but not enough time. I came close but only that.

    I'll snap out of this to a degree but for now allow some of us to not constantly tell people how lucky we are to come only close.

  • Commentariat: We're stuck in a rut. Ed whines, we try to pat him in the shoulder or to "discuss" him. Do&repeat. AAAAAARGHHHH! I surmise he is really having fun with us, even if he denies it.
    Ed: guy, you rock.

  • Leading Edge Boomer says:

    I cannot agree with this blog entry. I grew up in very modest circumstances but my parents emphasized academic achievement. We could only afford a regional public university, but I made the most of it. That got me into a top graduate school in my discipline and, after passing PhD qualifiers, my career success probability was greatly improved–and my sex life was enhanced, forever, by ladies attracted to successful men.

    I had many fulfilling years in academia, followed by research program management with a government agency, followed by national laboratory research management. Lucky or not, I was an assiduous saver and investor from the beginning, and I retired at age 59 because I could.

    I am still closely connected to two universities to which I donate significant sums, and almost every faculty member I know is happy and enthusiastic about what they are doing. I hired some of them into their first academic positions, and a few are now internationally renowned.

    Ed, you need an attitude transplant. Either you accept your role in the world you have made, or you do something to change it.

  • I'm 48 years old. I had a pretty good career as a software developer, for almost 15 years, and then the company I worked for stabbed me in the back and shipped my job to India. Now my "job" is taking care of my elderly mother. I am, basically, fucked.

  • One of the best things I learned from my father – you are not your job, do not define yourself by what you do for a living, real life is what happens when you're not at work.

    When my health collapsed almost a decade ago, I had over two decades in at the VA. Taking medical retirement altered my life considerably. I don't live well, by most American standards. But I don't have to go to work every day, I can fix my kids breakfast and dinner every day, and (weather and energy levels permitting) I get to go out a couple of times a week. Reading the newspaper over coffee, getting something good at the library (just finished Thackeray's Four Georges, fun stuff), walking by the lake – yeah, sometimes I see a contrail and remember going places far away, but I do enjoy my life.

    Part of the cultural problem here is that 'successful' and 'makes a lot of money' have become synonymous for us. Maybe it's been so for a while. I've always tried to live the best life I can (by my sights) with the least amount of unnecessary effort. I have no idea what things will be like for my children, but given their multiple psychiatric diagnoses what they'll wind up doing for a living is not my biggest concern.

  • I live outside in the frame of an old Buick. My pillow is a bag full of twenties. Come on, dude. Recognize you suffer from seasonal disorder syndrome, or whatever the F that human issue is, and mitigate. Stop regretting and start making memories. BTW, after reading this, I threw up on myself. Get over it and get over yourself.

  • I don’t think Ed is entirely wrong in his basic thesis. (Though I truly wish he were.) But I will offer up some slightly different “career” advice that I hope might some day help some random kid to ever so slightly improve their odds: Get good at doing anything. And everything.

    What I mean by that is, become the sort of person who can handle whatever the fuck lands in front of them. Become the most versatile sumbitch in the room. While my path was different, spending some time in the theater world is a great way to learn that skill. “The show must go on.” And all of modern life really is just a show, so become that person who can mend the curtain, paint the backdrop, rig the lights, and manage the talent.

    Having to be a cog in the modern economy is a really shitty way to live. But since that is how most of us have to live, being versatile gives you more choices of what machine you stick yourself in, and it makes you a much more appealing choice for the lucky bastard your labor will ultimately enrich.

  • I'm 61 years old and I've been pretty much fucking off most all of it. I was not born into money. A successful bum, is the term I've given myself.
    At present I'm living aboard a 42' sailboat (paid cash), own a small house in Vero Beach, FL (paid cash of course)that we rent out and I haven't worked to make a dime in the last 2 years. A Trade High School education and a first job as machinist for a Dutchman in the silicon valley during peak times (1971)taught me the value of working HARD when you have to work (collect a bit of money) but play just as hard with as little money as you possibly can. Hitchhiked through all the states in the US except 3 in the first 5 years out of high school, toured Europe for 2 months less than $5 a day, and made my way across all of Canada. During these 5 to 6 years out of school, I never worked one job longer than 4 months and never worked more than 7 months out of the year. And that , is just about how I lived all these years to now other than 15 years of machining led to boat carpentry and high end house work and the flipping of houses. Basically worked very hard when needed to meet the objective, to not work at all for as long as you can and have fun. Still doing it these days although I'll be having to find some work again soon come. I'm also waiting now for my first free monthly check from SS. The laugh, it will only be about $500.
    No children made this all possible, no regrets! Still living life very large in my own book. Successful Bum.

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