Finding Purpose Outside of Work

From Derek Thompson’s short article on the ten fastest-growing jobs and the odds that robots and software eat them:

1) Personal care aides: 74%
2) Registered nurses: 0.9%
3) Retail salespersons: 92%
4) Combined food prep & serving workers: 92%
5) Home health aides: 39%
6) Physician assistant: 9%
7) Secretaries and admin assistants: 96%
8) Customer service representatives: 55%
9) Janitors and cleaners: 66%
10) Construction workers: 71%

So if you want dependable employment, become a registered nurse or physician’s assistant. Demographics will be on your side too with the “graying of America”, but most significantly to me, helping others live as healthily as possible is especially purposeful work.

Once one’s basic needs are met, creating lasting and meaningful purpose in life is people’s single greatest challenge. Those who fail to create purpose don’t contribute much to other people’s lives, they just piece together daily routines that enable them to mindlessly pass time. Ask them how they’re doing and the honest reply would be “existing”.

I’d love to be proven wrong, but Thompson’s list makes me think that jobs of the future may be less meaningful and more monotonous, creating a fork in the road between people’s paychecks and purpose. People will find purpose within their families, their outside-of-work interests, and their civic associations. They’ll come home from work and care for others in and around their own homes; they’ll be photographers, bloggers, and others types of artists; they’ll coach youth sports and volunteer at non-profits to improve their communities; they’ll grow and cook healthy food; and they’ll travel to do similar things further away.

 

I Just Attended the World’s Largest Frat Party

Community makes life especially sweet. Many will experience it next weekend when the Seahawks win their first Super Bowl. Others by attending religious services or participating in festivals, parades, parties, or running races. The problem with the Super Bowl is now we know the violent hits come with severe health consequences. Another problem is a lot of young people feel they need alcohol and/or drugs to have a good time with others. Exhibit A, the world’s largest frat party that I attended Saturday.

With the NSA hot on my trails, I can’t say where it was exactly, but as alluded to previously, I have recently switched coasts. Suffice to say it’s an annual party, this was the 99th version. It starts with a huge pirate invasion and then continues for hours with beer drinking; floats; beer drinking; thumping music; beer drinking; non-stop bead throwing, catching, and collecting; and beer drinking. There may have been 100k people and 1m beaded necklaces.

Yes, I probably was the oldest person there. And since my green tea latte had worn off an hour beforehand, I was definitely the most sober. It was fun because it was a spectacle and so atypical of me. And it was a window into a different region of the country and into youth culture. About 80% of the people there were in their 20’s. It’s one thing to read a lot about college students abusing alcohol and altogether different to see it up close and personal.

Everyone seemingly had the same philosophy of life—hedonism—if it feels good, do it. I tried to get some discussions going about Stoicism, but was unsuccessful. “Hey, Seneca and Epictetus didn’t need Bud Light to have a good time.” I just walked around self conscious about being old, sober, and alone. Eventually I sat down and leaned back against a palm tree to people watch. Shortly afterwards, a woman sat down right next to me. She was a local who was with four friends whom she pointed out and described to me, including her sister who was a middle school teacher from Miami.

To borrow from an especially outgoing student of mine this fall, my new friend was a “raging extrovert”. Thirty-four, with a tiny nose-ring, she was a very successful hairstylist who enjoyed traveling the world. Here was the most depressing part of our conversation. First, you have to understand that like 90% of the people there, she “started drinking at 7:30a.m.” She wasn’t nearly as drunk as her younger counterparts, but definitely buzzed. (My “friends” will challenge this description. They’ll say the only way she would have voluntarily sat down next to me is if she was over-the-top inebriated. I stand by my description.)

“I just barely know you, but what the fuck. Last year I took two months off and made six figures. I pay for my sister to travel with me. $1,500 fuckin’ bucks for airfare to Dublin. But I don’t mind because I love her.” The hairstylist makes double the school teacher. Fuck. Oh sorry, it’s her fault for setting the bad example.

It would’ve been easy to pre-judge her based on her f-bombs and cigarette smoking, but I liked her. She praised her friend who was drug and alcohol free. And she was critical of the excesses of the event and “fuckin’ embarrassed to admit she was a letter writer”. The city had actually taken some of her (and others I’m sure) suggestions for improving the event to heart and added porta-pots, positioned them better, and provided more police on bicycles.

Sometimes raging introverts like me need raging extroverts. As my mother likes to say, “Diversity is the spice of life.” All of us need community. I prefer Olympia’s Procession of the Species, or a group bike ride, or dinner with a few friends, but the pirate invasion made for a spicy Saturday afternoon indeed.

More proof women dig horses.

More proof women dig horses.

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This was the female uni of choice, kinda short shorts, fishnet, high leather boots.

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Bead throwing and catching. For hours and hours.

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I decided not to take my shirt off or rock the pants down low.

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I didn’t think to bring the dog.

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My daughter says I never smile in selfies. How do you like me now?

How College Changed Me For the Better

I guess it makes sense given tuition inflation, but today, nearly every “is college worth it” discussion revolves around one consideration—roi—or “return on investment”. More and more people worry whether a college education will lead to more secure, higher paying jobs.

In the last week I’ve been changed for the better by a movie and two books that I probably wouldn’t have seen or read if my curiosity hadn’t been jumpstarted during college.

The movie, Wadja, was an engrossing window into what it’s like to be a woman in Saudi Arabia. Wadja has grossed $1,346,851 as of January 17th. That means few people are curious about what it’s like to be a woman in Saudi Arabia. Had I not attended college, where I learned to like learning about other people, places, and time periods, I doubt I would have sought out Wadja. I’m a more informed global citizen as a result of having watched Wadja.

The books were Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail and The Unwinding: An Inner History of the New America. Together, Cheryl Strayed and George Packer challenge my assumption that privileged people like me will never truly grasp what it’s like to teeter on the edge of economic destitution. Thanks to their story telling genius I have a much better feel for why some people struggle to feed, shelter, and clothe themselves. And more empathy, an attribute in shorty supply these days, for poor individuals and families.

I may not have been curious enough about the people’s lives in those books if three decades ago I hadn’t studied history in college and became keenly interested in other people, places, and time periods. Thanks to excellent professors, challenging readings, constant writing, and discussions with classmates and roommates, I became more curious, insightful, and empathetic.

How does one place a dollar value on that?

When Nationality Binds and Blinds

You know the story. A former NBA player recruits a team of retired professional basketball players to play an exhibition game in front of Kim Jong Un on his birthday. Obviously, the players haven’t spent any of their post NBA lives learning anything about life in North Korea. The whole trip, especially the players clapping adoringly while the team leader serenaded Kim Jong Un with “Happy Birthday”, was almost too surreal to process.

Understandably, the media was quick to criticize the player and his friends. But the national-centric nature of the media’s criticism warrants criticism. And as far as I’m aware, there hasn’t been any. Never mind that 1m North Koreans died during famines in the 90s, that hunger is still a daily reality for most North Koreans, or that state prison camps have doubled in size since Kim Jong Un’s ascension two years ago. Learn more here.

The media’s criticism has focused on only one thing, American missionary Kenneth Bae, whose story is tragic. Bae, who is in declining health, is being held against his will for allegedly cataloging the extent of hunger among North Koreans under the guise of Christian missionary work. Bae’s story deserves media attention, but not at the expense of tens of millions of ordinary North Koreans whose daily lives have always been a living hell.

Our passivity about the plight of ordinary North Koreans explains the myopic media coverage we’ve been subjected to. Interestingly, Bae was born in South Korea and moved to California when he was 17 or 18 years old. Overtime he not only gained citizenship, he secured the one thing that seems to make him far more important than all the North Koreans combined, a U.S. passport.

Our passivity about our media’s national-centrism is an embarrassment. The North Korean media spotlight is in actuality a sporadic lighting of dim, fast burning individual match sticks. Given that, it’s especially important that our first instinct is always to honor the humanity of everyone held captive in North Korea irrespective of their nationality.

We Have Lost the War on Drugs

So says Vermont’s Governor, Peter Shumlin. And it’s impossible to argue with his conclusion. Last week Shumlin dedicated all 34 minutes of his annual State of the State speech to what he described as Vermont’s “full blown heroin crisis”. Here’s a nine minute long PBS NewsHour segment on Shumlin’s speech. “In every corner of our state,” Shumlin said, “heroin and opiate drug addiction threatens us.” Most of what follows are excerpts from the New York Times coverage of Shumlin’s speech.

Sumlin wants to reframe the public debate to encourage officials to respond to addiction as “a chronic disease, with treatment and support, rather than with only punishment and incarceration.” “The time has come for us to stop quietly averting our eyes from the growing heroin addiction in our front yards,” Governor Shumlin said, “while we fear and fight treatment facilities in our backyards.”

Last year, he said, nearly twice as many Vermonters died from heroin overdoses as the year before. While it may be acute in Vermont, it is not isolated. In the past few years, officials have reported a surge in the use of heroin in New England, with a sharp rise in overdoses and deaths, as well as robberies and other crimes common among addicts. Those same statistics are being replicated across the country. Lawmakers in virtually every state are introducing legislation in response to what is rapidly being perceived as a public health crisis.

“The Centers for Disease Control and most national experts agree there’s an epidemic of drug overdose deaths in America,” Dr. Harry L. Chen, Vermont’s health commissioner, said in an interview. He said the rate of overdose deaths across the country had tripled since 1990.

“Nationwide, more people die of drug overdoses than from motor vehicle crashes,” he said. And nearly 80 percent of inmates in the state are jailed on drug-related charges. The governor made a plea for more money for treatment programs, noting that incarcerating a person for a week costs the state $1,120, while a week of treatment at a state-financed center costs $123.

Mr. Shumlin also wants to encourage discussions on ways to prevent addiction in the first place. He is providing a grant for a team that made a documentary film on heroin addiction titled, “The Hungry Heart”, to visit every high school in the state.

I learned of Shumlin’s bold speech shortly after reading an essay titled, “A Mission Gone Wrong” by Mattathias Schwartz in the January 6, 2014 New Yorker. I highly recommended Schwartz’s piece. He thoughtfully weaves several decades of US drug policy throughout the story of a recent joint US-Honduran drug mission gone horribly wrong. Long story short, it is impossible to limit the global supply of drugs. The only way to minimize their impact is to somehow reduce demand.

Upon finishing Schwartz’s engaging and depressing history lesson, I concluded that our national drug policy isn’t just the least effective of all our government’s domestic and foreign policies, but it has been the least effective for decades. I like to give our government the benefit of the doubt, meaning I assume most government workers are rational; we learn from our mistakes; and consequently, our policies gradually improve over time. None of those assumptions hold when it comes to the War on Drugs. Our policies are irrational and unchanging. As a result, the negative outcomes are totally predictable.

 

My No Good, Horrible, Very Bad Year, So Far

“It’s not how many times you get knocked down,” Stuart Smalley, Socrates or some spandex shorts wearing high school football coach once said, “it’s how many you get back up.” I’m not sure who to credit with this well intentioned quote because 2014 has not just knocked me down, it has damn near knocked me out.

To fully appreciate my wretched present, we have to rewind to October when I tore a calf muscle while doing too many hill repeats in prep for the Seattle Half Marathon which I ended up missing. Even writing “half marathon” makes me laugh now. I took four weeks off and then returned slow and easy. On the fourth recovery run the calf again rioted. So now I’m not even half way through an eight week hiatus. The other day I started corralling wayward Christmas tree needles when I had to turn the vacuum off and sit down and rest before continuing. All this, eighteen months removed from long distance triathlon success. We are always the last to know when we’ve peaked.

Add into the mix an enlarged prostate which means sucky sleep, contacts that are shot meaning sucky vision, and an unplanned trip to Dante’s Inferno compliments of an influenza roundhouse that left me too sick at times to watch television. Somewhere along the long downward spiral, I went from thinking “I should probably try to get back up and do Stuart Smalley or Socrates proud,” to “Screw it, I’m just gonna curl up in the fetal position and stay down. If I tuck tight enough it may not matter if 2014 continues kicking me in the gut.”

A part of staying down was going to the dermatologist who always smiles when she sees me. You’re thinking she’s probably turned on by me, but I looked liked I just returned from the lower levels of Hades. She always smiles at me because my tired skin pays for her boat. She has zero interpersonal skills, but she’s damn good with a liquid nitrogen canister. It was as if 2014 asked her to liquid nitrogen me until I begged for mercy. So now, a few days later, red blotches are forming all over my formally handsome self. And I haven’t shaved for ever, I need a hair cut, and if my sinuses weren’t completely blocked I’d probably lay on the floor of the shower for awhile.

Like a paratrooper who perfects her aerodynamic tuck, I thought if I just give in to my cosmic fate, I’ll hit bottom faster and bounce higher when I do. So why not roll the dice with one of the things I most cherish, my marriage.

“You know when I asked if you’d get me some 7-Up or Sprite?” “Yeah.” “Well, the funny thing about that is that’s what my mom always gave me to drink when I was sick as a kid. It’s funny, there’s something about a near-death experience that makes a part of me still want my mom. That’s probably the least masculine thing I’ve ever said, huh?” “A mother’s love is primal.” Say wha?! The first sign yet the calendar may not have it out for me.

And then I visited Australia, well actually an Australian blog after the author visited here. And I read this:

People often ask me what it’s like living with a chronic illness. And by ‘often’, of course I mean never.

So, for the benefit of absolutely no one, allow me to explain. You know that feeling you get when you start to come down with something? Your throat starts to hurt and your glands swell up. Your sinuses block and your nose starts to run. Your head hurts and you can’t think clearly. Your bones ache, your body feels weak and no amount of sleep seems to make a difference.

Well, to the best of my admittedly limited scientific knowledge. . . these are actually the body’s natural defences for fighting off infection. It’s your immune system switching on and kicking in to gear.

And these are the symptoms I’ve had 24/7 for the last seven-and-a-half years. Because, as I’ve explained before, my body has been fighting off an infection it can’t beat and my immune system remains permanently in the ‘on’ position.

The good news is that it means I rarely get whatever bug it is that’s going round. Happy days. The bad news is that I permanently feel like I have the flu. Not so good.

Of course, there are other symptoms, too, like sensitivity to light, noise, cold and heat, significant memory impairment, insomnia, chronic pain and various bodily dysfunctions not appropriate to discuss in this type of public forum. And that’s without the introduction of any number of medical treatments — and believe me, I’ve tried a few — which inevitably make you feel worse than you did to begin with.

So, in short, living with a chronic illness is a real party and that’s your answer.

The first gift of 2014. Perspective.

I am fortunate that the relentless attack on my body is abating and that most of my many ailments are fixable. I will ask the lifeguard to roll my pathetic, coiled bod across the deck and into the pool in a day or two. I will try to ascend the trainer tonight and soft pedal while watching college basketball. The torn fibers in my calf muscle will eventually reattach. I will start running in mid February and should be back to semi-normal in June. Meds make the prostrate manageable. I will make an appointment with the optometrist. My ugly sores will heal. I will shave my face and head. Then I will shower, put on clean clothes, and resume my rightful place among the mostly living. And that is the best I can do.