PERSONAL FILE: Life, Outside the Box


(Photo: @Doug88888)

Confession: I’ve never really had a firm grasp of what I wanted to do with my life. Shocking, I know, because I’m pretty sure all (or most) twenty-something college grads who randomly move to Korea know the answer to that question. The name of my blog, random though its inception may have been, has become a “profound” question of sorts–what does it mean to be “roygeneable”? Hell if I know, and that’s the point: I’m looking for something that’s roygeneable, that’s me. Of course, I’ve always had a lot of options and a lot of different things I found mildly interesting. Teaching was probably at the top of that very long list, but it definitely wasn’t and isn’t anything I would call a “passion.” A great many of the people I know really like using that word and its meaning has unfortunately been numbed–sort of like the word “love.” I became an ESL teacher because I needed something fun to do for a few years where I could make good money and pay off loans. The job is terrific, but it’s not even remotely something I’d want as a career.

I finished college last year with a Bachelor of Arts degree, having studied writing and communication. In other words, I can speak and write–baller, yo! I didn’t go to graduate school because I didn’t want to go to graduate school. It’s that simple. It felt excessive and unnecessary and I’m of the school of thought that a person needs to work and experience the world for a while after having spent twenty-two years in academia. Before earning any more expensive pieces of paper, a taste of real life can do a person good. Plus, I’m increasingly unsure whether I even want or need graduate schooling. I have very little interest in a career, for example. Money isn’t important to me, so I feel quite disinclined to waste my life working for someone else (or even for myself) so I can earn a lot of it. The things I’m growing surer and surer I’d like to do with my life won’t require much money, so I don’t even have the incentive of material pursuit to get me excited about becoming a career “salary-man,” as one of my Korean students recently told me he wanted to be.

The Passage of Time

Don’t get me wrong, it’s not that I don’t want to be wealthy, it’s just that I desire a different sort of wealth. Money is a type of wealth, sure, but one that to me seems utterly pointless. Maybe you’ve heard the old capitalist adage that “time is money,” but I can assure you it’s complete rubbish. Time is immeasurably more valuable than money, with each passing second worth more than the one before. Time is a resource though, and, like money, must be invested. How a man invests his time affects its value positively or negatively, which I’ll concede might be a relative and subjective determination (although deep down I really don’t think so). Spending my life at a desk job might earn me a lot more money, but I don’t see it as a worthwhile investment of my time, which has far higher relative value. To me, that would basically feel like trading twenty-dollar bills for pennies.

Frustrating though they were, the nine months I spent at home after graduation were an important season of introspection and self-appraisal. And, in the past six months or so, I feel like I’ve gotten a much firmer grasp of what I want to do than I’ve ever had before, and it’s quite surprising, particularly to me. I concluded that I have no desire whatsoever to live in the manner our globalized capitalist culture has told me I should. I can’t, in good conscience, continue to function as part of a system that enslaves the natural order to its own devices and, instead of working in harmony with the Earth we’ve been given, consumes it. It’s an unnatural way to live and the great evil of consumerism is that it’s effectively turned the human race into a black hole, a massive shredder into which Nature’s beauty is wantonly thrown and ravenously devoured. In effect, consumerism has turned humanity into a cancer on the Earth. It is prosperity built on the backs of the world’s poor and on the bankrupt belief that the planet can indefinitely satisfy our greed.

The Earth seen from Apollo 17.

Closer to home though is the fact that something about modern industrial life feels otherworldly. As I see it, most spend essentially all their lives in a box. Don’t think so? Try looking closely at the spaces in which you live and work and tell me they aren’t, on a fundamental level, little more than boxes. For much of the Western world, life consists of commuting from one box to another, with the world seen and experienced only from a distance or on the go. I dislike cities because they feel alien, particularly large megacities, which are massive experiments in just how drastically man can morph and entomb the natural landscape to suit his own convenience. People come home from their work boxes to their living boxes where they stare at a box (a computer or TV) until they go to sleep on a box. If they work all their lives, they might pay off the debt on their living box but it’s falling down by that time anyway. None of that seems a worthwhile investment of my time.

More and more, I want to live in a space that I’ve built with my own two hands and in such a way that it isn’t a toxic burden on the planet. I want to learn how to live off the grid and take care of my own needs as much as possible–not to satisfy some ridiculous survivalist urge, but promote my own physical well-being, soulful stimulation, and spiritual acuity. The body was meant to be full of energy and then grow tired; to be hungry and then be satisfied; to be thirsty and then be sated; to struggle and be pushed to its limit; to reach a point of exhaustion, to rest, and then begin all over again. That’s difficult (at best) in a mechanized consumer-driven lifestyle, which is why I want to be intentional about both experiencing those things and integrating them into myself. I want to be able to work for someone else as I need and then not when I don’t need. Does that sort of life require sacrificing material excess? Yes, from a certain point of view, but it’s not a sacrifice if you never wanted it in the first place. I would be investing my time in something I truly cared about and learning more about myself in the process–that’s the most exciting part.

I’ve told this told this story before, but it’s uniquely appropriate at the moment. Many years ago, a group of Peace Corps volunteers in South America met a woman in a remote Peruvian village. The woman had a machine that allowed her to make two ponchos every week, which she then sold to buy food for her family. The machine was old and broken down though, so the the Peace Corps volunteers told her they could bring her a better, more efficient machine that would allow her to make twenty ponchos a week. With the new device, she’d be able to make more money and gain a foothold up the socio-economic ladder. The woman gladly accepted the volunteers’ gift, which they delivered to her home not long after.

Old WomanSome time later, the volunteers returned to the village and to the woman’s home to see how the new machine had changed her life. They found her happy and asked her how the new device was working for her. She told them it was a very nice gift and, after being asked how many ponchos she’s able to make now, replied, “Two every week.”

The volunteers were incredulous and reminded the woman she could be making much more and, by extension, more money. The woman very kindly replied to this by saying that she didn’t need to make more than two.

“But what good is the machine if you aren’t making more?” they asked.

“Well,” the woman answered, “I make two, but now I can make them much faster so I have more time to spend with my friends and my children.”

I don’t know how that story ended, but I hope it ended with the volunteers walking away with a fresh new understanding of the world and with the woman spending many more happy years enjoying her wealth of time. Ultimately, wealth is highly subjective. Our culture has decided that dollar bills, and over-sized garages, and chlorinated swimming pools, and 3-D plasma televisions, and fat 401Ks are the way it measures wealth. That’s all well and good, but I’ve simply chosen not to participate. Some of the poorest people in the world are also the richest, and some of the richest are the most destitute. For me, wealth means having time to invent new and exciting and creative methods of intentionality in life and relationships. That may not make any sense to you, nor sound like something that you’d pursue yourself, and that’s fine. I’ve always done my own thing anyway; why should this be any different? I’ve been told that the twenties are the time of life when people have a much better idea of what they don’t want to do than what they do. Perhaps I’m beginning to step out of that fog.

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