1. I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.
2. I wish I didn’t work so hard.
3. I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings.
4. I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.
5. I wish that I had let myself be happier.
Should we not snatch up this data – this existential feedback loop – and live accordingly?
The Deathbed Manifesto would have us live freely, idly, honestly, gregariously, and without cognitive dissonance. I think these commandments are very compatible with the life of the Escapologist.
Even if we don’t embrace this whole-heartedly, it’s probably worth thinking about our own deathbed regrets should we have to confide them to a nurse today.
I think mine would be simultaneously that I didn’t idle thoroughly enough (I’m all too often torn away from deep idling by guilt or obligation) and also that I didn’t achieve enough (my total sum of tangible project results are not numerous or excellent enough to justify all the fretting I do about them). Contradictory? Not really. I just need to throw myself into what I’m doing more thoroughly, whether idling or creating.
What about you? What would be your deathbed regrets of today?
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Each installment of this diary is an addition to the ball of data serving as an answer to the pesky question, “What would I do all day if I didn’t go to work?”
I have chosen not to go to work anymore. That is, I no longer consent to being an employee. Instead, I fill my days with projects, capers, and a deep commitment to idling.
Here’s a quick review of my 2011: another full year of such indulgent ducking and diving.
The juiciest fruits of the year were the completion of my first book (due for publication this March); my finally emigrating to Montreal from Glasgow (the fruit of almost three years dicking about with the most amazing Brazil-like bureaucratic system); the launch of New Escapologist Issues 5 and 6 (our best issues to date in my opinion); and a thrilling stint at the Edinburgh Festival.
Here’s a cool Escapological passage from Lee Child’s 1999 novel, Tripwire. Thanks to Neil for sending it in.
The house itself sat there in his imagination [ . . .] it looked like a gigantic millstone, requiring him to run and run and run just to stay level with the starting line. He knew people with houses. He had talked to them, with the same kind of detached interest he would talk to a person who kept snakes as pets or entered ballroom dancing competitions. Houses forced you into a certain lifestyle […] it committed you to a whole lot of different things. There were property taxes. He knew that. There was insurance, in case the place burned down or was blown away in a high wind. There was maintenance. People he knew with houses were always doing something to them. They would be replacing the heating system at the start of the winter, because it had failed. Or the basement would be leaking water, and complicated things with excavations would be required. Roofs were a problem. He knew that. People had told him. Roofs had a finite life span, which surprised him. The shingles needed stripping off and replacing with new. Siding, also. Windows, too. He had known people who had put new windows in their houses. They had deliberated long and hard about what type to buy.
‘Are you going to get a job?’ Jodie asked.
He stared out through the oval window at southern California, dry and brown seven miles below him. What sort of a job? The house was going to cost him maybe ten thousand dollars a year in taxes and premiums and maintenance. And it was an isolated house, so he would have to keep Rutter’s car, too. It was a free car, like the house, but it would cost him money just to own. Insurance, oil changes, inspections, title, gasoline. Maybe another three grand a year. Food and clothes and utilities were on top of all that. And if he had a house, he would want other things. He would want a stereo. He would want Wynonna Judd’s record, and a whole lot of others, too. He thought back to old Mrs Hobie’s handwritten calculations. She had settled on a certain sum of money she needed every year, and he couldn’t see getting it any lower than she had got it. The whole deal added up to maybe thirty thousand dollars a year, which meant earning maybe fifty, to take account of income taxes and the cost of five days a week travelling back and forth to wherever the hell he was going to earn it.
[. . .]
‘I don’t know,’ he said again. ‘I’m not sure I want to think about it.’
Imagine this! A 21-hour work week as standard.
A ‘normal’ working week of 21 hours could help to address a range of urgent, interlinked problems: overwork, unemployment, over-consumption, high carbon emissions, low well-being, entrenched inequalities, and the lack of time to live sustainably, to care for each other, and simply to enjoy life.
It’s still too many hours for my bone-idle liking, but it would certainly be a step in the right direction for the overworked Parkinson’s Law-afflicted cube farm world.
Instead of biding one’s time and building resources before an escape, there can be an overwhelming temptation to jump overboard immediately.
One minute, you’re being passive-aggressively dressed down by a boss half your age, and the next you’re on top of your desk declaring “No More! Not another minute of this!” and demanding your P45.
There is, of course, the risk that once you’ve quit your job and moved to your woodland hermitage, you discover that squirrel meat doesn’t agree with you and you don’t really like writing poetry after all. Can you turn back?
“Dear Jeremy” is a Guardian advice column and forum, which addresses work- and career-related issues. This week, it addresses the desire for sudden escape from a crap job. Somebody writes in, reporting that tedium vitae has got the better of them and that they want to flee their current job and even the country. Naturally, the reader worries that such a move would damage their career and that future employers would see them as a quitter.
Jeremy responsibly suggests caution and advises that the correspondent completes their current contract if only to buy more thinking time. The same advice is offered by a concerned HR Manager. A third voice, however, offers:
I spent eight months in a job I detested, three months of which I was applying for an escape, any escape, which I found in a temporary contract back at my old firm. My CV now reads that I was “headhunted back to reintroduce stability”. I’ve almost convinced myself it’s true, and I’ve definitely convinced all the recruitment agents I have lined up for when this contract expires.
Whatever rash choices you make, you can always work some propaganda into any future attempts to rejoin the workforce. Unless the alternative is homelessness or starvation, I don’t know why anyone would stay in a job they detest so much. All those early rises and self-deceptions aren’t worth seven quid an hour.
The more responsible advice offered by the first two voices is very career-orientated. The third voice speaks for freedom and personal satisfaction (even if this person’s idea of escape is into another job). There are risks (which can be minimised by using my career gym idea before escaping), but as Konrád said, lived freedom will compensate you for a few losses.