December 1, 2019
It's been some time since I decided to end my thru-hike attempt of the Continental Divide Trail early in Steamboat Springs Colorado. About 5 months to the day. I thought I would take a minute just to provide a general update.
First, I realized I never uploaded my CDT photos to the website. I did that today. Now when you go to my photos page you will see an album for the CDT hike. I haven't gone through to put captions for the photos yet. I may do that in the future, but with over 800 photos, that will be a pretty time-consuming walk down memory lane.
To recap, I left the CDT in early July for a number of reasons. Check out my blog posts if you want to know why. When I got back to Atlanta, I spent Fourth of July with my parents, and then not too long after that I spent a week at the beach with my wife and in-laws in the Outer Banks in NC. I knew that when the beach trip was over, it would be time to knuckle down and start seriously looking for work. At this point, I had been out of work for about a year and a half. It was all by design, of course, though arguably I didn't really know how long I would take off when I started the hiatus.
Living an unfettered lifestyle doesn't mean I don't have to work, or try to avoid work. I don't have the means to retire, I'm only 42, and I still have a lot I can contribute in the working world. What it does mean though, is making careful, deliberate choices when it comes to what kind of work and role I pursue, and how that fits in with my life goals. I used to just work because I needed a job, and I put less thought into what I was doing and more thought into how much I was going to get paid for it. I now have a greater appreciation for my time, as well as my savings, and because I have some savings, I am able to step back a little and think about my next moves.
I thought a lot about what I might do for work when I was on the CDT, as well as in the month following, even after I started to apply for jobs. I decided that overall I like the tech/software industry. It's dynamic enough to keep my interest. There are generally lots of jobs; software and technology are only going to increase in importance to society. I decided to think broadly about the next 10 years of life. In 10 years, I would be 51 (now 52!). Ideally, by then I would be able to step back a bit and maybe work as a consultant, when and if I want to. Ok, great, so how do I get there? I decided to try and take the operational skills and experience I had built and look for roles in startup and early stage software companies where I could then apply those skills. At the same time, I also looked at private equity firms invested in smaller software companies with the need to bring expertise on board to help them grow. Why would I do this? A few reasons:
I am at my worst when I am bored at work. While technology is so dynamic that the pace feels suffocating at times, I still prefer that to a job where I just do the same thing every day. It's something deeply ingrained in me that I cannot change. It's not right or wrong, better or worse. It's just who I am.
To feel more connected to the work. Being at big companies made it hard for me to feel like I was making a difference. This lead to dissatisfaction, and ultimately some work depression. I wanted to be some place smaller in the hopes that I might feel more connected to the work.
Money vs. Time. I would rather work harder for a shorter duration for the same reward I might get for working at a more laid-back pace for years longer. Time is never guaranteed and I would rather focus for a shorter time on building up more financial security, as long as I like the work ok, or at least find it tolerable with goals that I feel are worth striving for.
Ownership. Many smaller tech companies offer stock ownership as a way of incentivizing employees. This can be a good way to build up a nest egg for the future (which goes back to #3 above). Personally, I am also more motivated when I am a business owner, even if my stake is tiny. It ties into #2 above - not only am I more connected to the work, but when I am working late or putting a lot of mental energy into a business, it feels good to know I will get a piece of its success.
To build. There is something very satisfying about being part of building something bigger than me. I typically can't get that in a large company, other than say, building out a division or something. It just doesn't feel the same as starting from scratch.
Ok, so that's the "why." Once I decided to go down this path, I spent a TON of time breathing life back into my work network. After all, I'd been bumming around traveling and writing over the past year and a half. People didn't know what I had been doing. Some assumed I had received some kind of financial windfall, and others I knew even thought I had been fired! So, I had to start telling my story from a professional angle.
I spent months just applying for interesting-sounding jobs. Not all were at small companies. I flew to Charleston, SC to interview for one job. That opportunity didn't work out, but my wife and I decided we would be ok with relocation if the opportunity seemed good and the location met our lifestyle requirements (Charleston has the beach, which is nice!). During this time my schedule was pretty steady. I woke up early, ran, played with Lucy the Cat, then spent the day researching jobs, applying, and learning what I could. I got really interested in artificial intelligence applications. I brushed up on my management consulting frameworks and all that other business jazz. I needed to dust myself off, so I did.
I decided I would train for a marathon in October. I was running a lot. I also decided to try and qualify for the Boston marathon. I needed a 7:15 minute per mile pace. I managed to get my pace to under 8 minutes, but didn't get close to the time I needed to qualify for Boston in training. Towards the end of my training, I got shin splints in my left leg. Bummer! I ran a marathon in training, but didn't actually run the race itself due to that injury.
Meanwhile, I got an interview with a tech startup through a connection of a connection. I didn't even know what the job was for as they were a very small company, but learned that they needed someone in an operations role. They offered me the position as a contractor - I had through the end of the year to prove myself in the role, after which I could become a permanent employee. I jumped at the opportunity and accepted. I started the job in early November and things have gone really well. I like the people there and have really enjoyed the work, which has been a lot of rolling up my sleeves and diving in. I actually enjoy the work, which is the first time in a long time! My days go by fast and I'm working a lot of hours, but I really like it.
During this time I have also been working on a young adult book that I started quite a while ago. I made a lot of progress on it until I started working. It's ok - I'll get it done eventually. The one thing I haven't done much of since I came back from the CDT is hike! Living in Atlanta, there are some short, local hikes around. Getting up to North Georgia (near the AT or other trails) usually takes an hour and a half to two and a half hours, depending on the trail. I guess I had been hiking so much, that I didn't mind a little hiatus to mix things up and focus on what I needed to get done. Gillian and I went to two weddings in NY in October as well, so we have had a lot going on. Last weekend I made it up to the Cohutta Wilderness for a little solo hike on the East Cowpen trail. It intersects with the Panther Creek trail (not the really popular one by the same name with the swimming hole near Tallulah Gorge), and I hiked down to see Panther Creek falls. It had rained a lot the night before, so the forest road getting in was super muddy. All wheel drive was a must. In true North Georgia fashion, part of the mountain had gotten super cold overnight, and so a lot of the rain had frozen on the trees and shrubs. It was lovely to get out and enjoy it all.
So, why would I bother writing all of this, especially the stuff about work? Well, I guess I wanted to provide an update so that you wouldn't think I just hiked for a while and dropped off the face of the earth. I also wanted to make that point that, for most people, whether we live unfettered lives is largely up to us. It's as much planning and sacrifice as it is enjoying the small, and sometimes large, freedoms that come with that. It's also as much perspective, attitude, and willingness to sometimes dig deep and focus on life's immediate tasks, like work, responsibilities, and the other less sexy parts of life.
What's next? Well, I have been really missing the trail lately. Even missing the CDT! I definitely think now that I want to retry a thru-hike of the CDT at some point. For right now, though, I need to focus on work for a while. Step one is just earning my full-time employment on January 1. My leg is feeling better, so I'm getting back into running, and definitely plan to spend some time outdoors hiking on the weekends occasionally this winter. I will probably start planning some kind of trip soon. I have the Patagonia in mind, only because I started to plan that trip for last year until I realized I didn't leave enough time to get the campsite reservations I needed. I may plan that for 2021 at the earliest. Otherwise, I'm sure my wife and I will take a trip here or there.
If you have an exciting thru-hike or other adventure coming up and plan to blog about it, let me know so I can live vicariously. As we enter the last month of 2019, I wish you all smooth sailing for the rest of the year and all the best for the new year. Whatever your own dreams are, I hope that you will find a way to accomplish at least one of them this next year. Keep those dreams alive in 2020!