Thursday, July 18, 2013

Growing pains

   The sky in all its innumerable possibilities,
endless transitions,
and boundless freedoms,
The next logical stepis the limit. 

The next logical step


I am not cut out for a lot of things. I am not good at following orders without question, I do not like cramped spaces, and I loathe entirely the thought of wearing khakis. I would make a terrible soldier, a worse miner, and an awful accountant.

That's quite the spectrum of professions at which I'd be poor.

I am not good at being a cog in a machine that I do not understand, and I have this nasty habit of questioning authority, old regimes, and the status quo. I want to know why something must be - why are we not doing things another way? How long do we beat a dead horse? I want to wrap my brain around answering why something is happening, and the best way for me to do that is to literally engage in what it is I want to change or learn about.

This line of thinking (and acting) has led me to my fair share of dead ends, scuffles, and ended relationships. When I hit those dead ends, it's usually quite painful, to say the least. The end of something you thought you wanted feels an awful lot like failing - in the moment at least. The end feels like failing, that is, until you've gotten the chance to move onto something else, and find what you're looking for there.

Let's get concrete here...


When I was coming out of college, all I wanted was to get a job with a prestigious ad agency in the Twin Cities. After a few months of starving and living on next-to-nothing savings, I began applying for ANY job. I went to Taco Johns, Wendy's, the local bowling alley, and a grocery store to pick up applications. I got not one, but two interviews at the grocery store, and after all that dressing up and making good impressions, all for the sake of a shot at bagging groceries, they sent me a letter in the mail saying "no thanks."

I was really upset about that for a bit, but I did not want to borrow money from my parents for yet another month's worth of rent, so I swallowed my pride, and filled out the application form for Wendy's. The day I went in for that interview, I felt my life slipping through my fingers - "Seth, you just spent five years of your life and went $40,000 into debt to work at the same job you had in high school, nice work." - That's all that played over and over in my head.

But then, on the drive home from the interview, tie still tight, dress pants smelling like a deep fryer, I got a call on my cell phone. A small ad shop in Minneapolis was calling to see when was the soonest I could come in and help them with a project on a contract basis.

I was ecstatic! I think I may have even thrown the Wendy's new-hire packet out the window. I immediately pulled into the nearest gas station, picked up a case of Eau Claire's finest brew, and returned to my apartment to celebrate the news with my roommate. Libations aside, work began the next day, and I was dutiful from the start.

I went to work early every day, stayed late most nights of the week, and generally worked my ass off. I moved to the city to be closer to work, even though I couldn't really afford it. I commuted 15 miles every day in a busted out '95 Buick LeSabre to build websites... and I hated the drive.

In those nine months I missed my family reunion, spent more money than I could make, and split up with someone I'd dated for years - lots of growing pains. I was burned out, worn down, defeated. I had the mentality that I was just lucky to have the job, and I knew that if I let up for even a minute, a hundred people on the street were in line to take my place. Stressful? Yes.

However, what I eventually realized was that I was not cut out to be a website developer - it gave me no voice. It wasn't that my opinion wasn't valued, but that other people were better cut out for making decisions that would generate money. It's true what they say about advertising - it's as soul-less as cold hard cash.

I kept going.

I landed a job closer to where I was living with an international marketing firm. It was cushy, to say the least, and I thought I had finally made it. The work itself was brain-dead easy, the office was state-of-the art with a cafeteria, lounge, game room, and workout facility, and they literally threw piles of money in my lap just for showing up on a weekly basis.

I hated every second of it.

Unlike the advertising job, where I had actually made some really good friends, the people I worked with at the new place had zero personality. They were raised in suburbs and seemingly born and bred to work in carpeted cubicles. Half of them had eyes so void of passion I thought they may in fact already have passed to the netherworlds.

One time, I literally walked past a guy in a cube (I did laps around the three story building thrice a day so as not to lose my mind) who was holding an empty Styrofoam cup in both hands, just staring directly into it. The look on his face was pure, empty despair, and I thought he might start crying if he could. I got the feeling all his tears had dried up years ago, though, and this was all he had left.

I decided I needed to start taking some chances with my life, and when a friend of mine mentioned his snowboard club at UW-Lacrosse was going to Colorado in a couple months, I hopped on board. The money and pile of vacation time the job afforded me allowed me to go on the week-long snowboarding trip that departed New Years Day 2011. I bought new equipment and went for a training session once before the trip - the only time I'd ever been on a board. Let's just say that trip was a true case of baptism by fire, and that was a turning point for me.

When I returned to my dull and dreary existence in Minnesota, I changed my routine. In the mornings I started going in really early to work (sometimes 3 a.m.), where I would lock myself in the cafeteria or lounge to read and write. I read a lot of books on lifestyle choices, minimalism, health, and up and coming entrepreneurs. I took an online class in blogging, journaled daily, and spent a lot of time trying to map out what it was I wanted out of life. I wanted to know why I was so miserable every single day. How could I do something meaningful with my time on Earth?

I also saw the way I was living physically after having moved to the city. I was unhappy with my diet and the amount of exercise I was getting. After work each day I started going to the gym, running, learning about circuit training and paleolithic diets. In addition to my walks around the building, I started walking the paths outside at lunch... rain, snow, or sunshine.

Still I didn't feel like I fit in, or that I was on the right path, headed anywhere I wanted to end up. After a little over six months on the job, I quit. I had no plans other than to spend my time writing a book and blogging. I still remember my uncle calling to tell me it was a bad career decision, and that just fueled my fire even further (I'm a rebel, remember). I owe him a nod of thanks for that final nail in the coffin.

I had no job lined up, no plans on where I would move, no idea what would happen when my little pillow of savings ran out on me. But I did know one thing - I wanted to make my living in words; I wanted to be a writer.

So, I visited with friends, spent time with my family, and worked on things that inspired me in my newfound free time. I began to realize that free time could be its own form of currency. I had so much freedom then that I literally felt rich. My days were mine, and I could spend them in any way I wanted. I discovered when your time is yours it doesn't take a lot of money to be satisfied and feel in control.

One weekend I visited home, and my mom mentioned to me that the community newspaper might soon be looking for a reporter. The next day on my drive back towards the cities, I stopped in at THE BEE office to talk to the general manager. A few writing samples, a phone interview, and 10 days later they hired me (for some reason), and my entire life transformed.

At first I was worried about what the connotations of moving back to the Wisconsin Northwoods would mean. Was I a failure for letting the city crush me? How would I afford to live? What would other people think about me moving home? Had I given up?

Then summer came, and I started spending all of my free time in the woods and on the water. The paper let me write about it, and I tailored it into a weekly outdoor column. Pretty soon, without realizing it, I was living my own dream. The hard lessons the city put me through helped me appreciate what I was doing and where I was doing it; I felt like I was finally wearing my own skin. I felt natural, inspired, alive, and every column I wrote gave me a little more confidence to step out on the edge.

People in the community began to respond to what was happening with my work, and their appreciation gave me faith in myself. For the first time in my life, I felt like I was doing something that really mattered, and that has continued to inspire and enliven me to this day.

The truth is, this has become my lifestyle. I am convinced that you can't write about an interesting experience unless you have interesting experiences. Writing Woodsman Enough keeps my mind ever revolving, and it holds me accountable for living life intentionally, and that's exactly how I want my days on Earth to be - living intentionally.

I want my time here to be meaningful, and I'm not about to wait around for someone to hand that to me. I accept my dead ends in the past and realize there will be others in the future, but I will not fear them; I cannot fear failure or I'm lost.

As of this writing, Woodsman Enough begins its growth into the next phase. I have accepted the position as Assistant Editor at our sister paper, the Ashland Daily Press, and while I will continue the woodsman-in-training project, it will be morphing into new territory on my own time.

I will still record, observe, wonder, and learn in our beautiful Northwoods communities, but change is in the air. If you've read this far, you must realize that I have no idea where this train is headed, only that it must keep chugging. My wonderful colleagues at The Park Falls Herald and The Phillips BEE have voiced their support behind this decision and for that, I am deeply moved and truly grateful. Thank you.

Their support has allowed me to branch from print into web media that I am now directly responsible for. The column will continue to run in the sports and outdoors section, but will be expanded upon digitally. This means you can find Woodsman Enough as a blog online at www.woodsmanenough.com

Thank you for your continued support, and please visit my new website to follow it to tell me what you think. I hope you know by now that community is very important to me, and I insist you share your opinion on this growing direction should you wish. I think this will be an interesting new area of engagement, and I am very excited about the possibilities the future holds; I will not let opportunity knock more than once. I have big plans for the future and I hope you'll join me, growing pains and all.

“You must become like yourself.”
- Janet Morris

See you out there,
A woodsman in training.

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