A lot of the posts that I publish are inspired by small encounters that likely go unnoticed by the people involved. Sometimes they are formed by nothing more than a glimpse back at a friend on a hike, or looking down as I belay a partner up a pitch, and sometimes sitting and talking on porches or at coffee shops late night with friends.
The other night I was sitting on the porch at my friends house talking with his son. His parents had gone to bed, and he was anxious about his future. He just turned eighteen, and is interested in buying my old car, but doesn’t have a job, money, or a drivers license yet. His father is my best friend, and the closest person in my life, and I consider them family. Real family. His son is ready to take the world on by storm, and I don’t like to be a downer, but sometimes it just isn’t that simple.
I spent seven years consumed by work. You could probably classify my relationship with work over the past seven years as an addiction, but it has taught me how to be methodical and how to compartmentalize large tasks into much smaller ones so that I can tackle what seems to be impossible in small increments, so our conversation started there. Life is much like that game Risk, in that we don’t succeed from winning one large battle, but instead from managing the smaller battles that stack up to win a war.
The conversation took me back to when I started out on my journey and to my young ambitions. In theory my life goals seemed so simple and attainable. The only problem is that I had no clue how much work it would really take, and even moreover that no matter how much work I put into pursuing these goals time would still remain a contingency. When I got clean and sober I wanted twenty years in thirty days. No matter how hard I worked the steps it was a process that could not be expedited.
In retrospect I see it as an introductory process. In climbing it is called cutting your teeth. In recovery it’s called being a newcomer. In the trades it’s called apprenticeship. No matter what we are doing we will undergo this process. You can call up extremely successful entrepreneurs and I’m sure they will describe something similar in the early stages or their start ups. It’s not that we are unskilled, and it’s not that things are difficult, but that they are unfamiliar. The more we do them, the more familiar they become–the more natural.
At this part of the conversation he asked me how I bypassed that introductory stage. The answer was so simple and automatic that it made me proud to be me. I didn’t bypass anything. I worked my ass off. As I’ve written before, I had to learn to survive on twenty hours a week at $8.00 an hour in San Diego, a town that is very expensive to live in. For my first eighteen months clean and sober almost all of my money went to probation and rent. The little money I had left went to $1.40 bean and rice burritos–one a day–and to the illegal cigarette street dealer at 12th and Imperial who had $3.00 packs of Marlboros. During my shifts dish washing I ate leftover food off the dishes I was washing.
I just put my head down and trudged. When I was bumped to forty hours a week I had a lot more money, and my quality of life got better. I progressed this way over four years until one day I looked up and was attending San Diego State, and working a job where I made quadruple what I had started out making.
Time is something that cannot be underestimated. Sometimes we just have to grind it out, grit our teeth, put our heads down and do our best. I think what I’ve found works best is to just not pay attention to it, and instead to pass the time enjoying myself as much as possible. Life is not about progress. Life is an experience, and if our goals adulterate our experience so much that we’ve forgotten our meaning, then we’re failing.
But we all have to start somewhere, so I wish you the best lil’ homie. I’m in your corner, and as long as you surround yourself with people who truly love you, you will never have to be alone in your struggles.