The Mundane Existence

Celebrate the MundaneWhen I was a child, I used to wonder why adults seemed so foolish. I would look around and wonder why adults did things that were so incomprehensible. Why did they do the same things every day, even though it didn’t make them happy, repeating the same routines day after day. They spent all their time frowning, creating wrinkles, and worrying about this or that, always serious and sad.

Over time, I have become one of those adults. I hardly ever play. I walk around all day with a frown on my face, worrying about one thing or another for no good reason. I do things that don’t make me happy and ensure I won’t get there anytime soon. But even though I am one of those adults, I am still not a whole lot closer to figuring out the why of it, or a different way of living. Although I like to imagine otherwise, my life is not all that different from anyone else’s. I started creating detailed logs of my days, in the hopes it would give me some insight about how to shift my thinking or activities. Each day doesn’t differ substantially from any other. A generalized version of my day:

5:30 AM: Alarm goes off. Hit snooze repeatedly. I had hoped to stretch and meditate for 30 minutes, but I fail to get out of bed.
6:00 AM:
Force myself out of bed. I get up only when I know I will need to rush to make it, and have a good shot at being late to work. Even so, I don’t really start moving until 6:15.
6:45 AM:
Done with shower, and various things surrounding it. Dress for work. Prepare to take out the dogs.
7:00 AM:
Dogs have been out and fed . Make breakfast. Pack lunch. Brew coffee.
7:10 AM:
Eat breakfast. Read a book, the paper, or blogs.
7:30 AM:
Get in the car. Drive to work. Spend ~30 minutes in traffic.
8:00 AM
: Arrive in the office. I might be late, sometimes up to 20 minutes late, sometimes up to 10 minutes early. Walk to my desk, settle in. I usually have 30 minutes to respond to emails and finish work before my first meeting. Plan for meetings at least 3 out of the next 4 hours.
11:45 AM:
Meetings coming to a close. Feeling de-motivated. To-do list has doubled. Projects are behind schedule. The list of things to complete is too much to handle. If I can leave for an early lunch, I will. If I can’t, I piss away my time by reading blogs/news/technology articles for 15-30 minutes.
12:00 PM:
Go to car. Drive to coffee shop, usually caribou or starbucks depending. Buy a coffee even though it won’t make me feel any better. Sit in the parking lot and eat the lunch I packed. Listen to the radio. Try to relax. The hour goes quickly.
1:00 PM:
Back in office just in time for next meeting. Stay on the phone 3-4 of the next 4 hours. When not listening to the meeting, work on to do list. Respond to the 100+ emails that come in during the day. Try to be pro-active instead of reactive. If I can find 20 minutes free on my calendar, sometimes I go for a walk.
5:00 PM:
Meetings are done, so I can get real work done. Start running down the to-do list in terms of priority. Sometimes, I can’t motivate myself to work. My job is just not that interesting most of the time, but I can’t imagine a better one without working for myself.
6:30 PM:
The cleaning people have arrived at the office. I pack up. Go home. Either I pissed away my time reading interesting articles or accomplished something depending on my mood. I feel burnt out.
7:00 PM:
Arrive home assuming no after work errands. Say hello to those living with me. Change out of work clothes.
7:15 PM:
I would like to spend some time unwinding, but I have to be social. Spend time with family. Eat dinner.
8:30 PM:
Dinner is done. I am the only one who doesn’t enjoy TV, but I feel obligated to watch it to be social. One or Two nights a week I will work instead. Occasionally I will work on my startup for an hour. Chances are I will take flak from my family if I don’t spend enough time with them.
10:00 PM:
Everyone else is going to bed. I crack open the laptop to continue work. Either startup or office, depending on the need. Sometimes I write.
11:00 PM:
How am I feeling? If I am groggy, I get ready for bed. If I am ok, I work for one more hour.

My weekends don’t differ much. I will spend more time on my startup, and the rest of it trying to catch up with family, doing errands, yard work, house work, paying bills, or whatever else needs to be done. Relaxing almost never occurs on the weekends. Bonus: I sleep until 8 or 9 in the morning Saturday and Sunday.

Living the same way every day makes everyone sadI want to escape what I see as my life prison. This blog is an effort to document my attempts at dis-entangling. A lifestyle business seems to me the best way at this point, but after more than three years of trying and not being materially closer to my goal, I have some concerns about my approach. Other lifestyle designs don’t appeal to me or seem realistic in my current situation. I consume enormous amounts of content and ideas, and though I see examples of people who live differently, I don’t see how to apply their lessons to my own life and situation without sacrificing the few things that make my life worth living.

I have become incomprehensible to myself. I live the mundane existence from which I can find no escape.

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    40 comments… add one

    • Wow, we really are of the same mind (see the blog associated with my email address). I’ve been trying for the same since 2005 via several failed ventures; my blog went defunct in 2007. I’m still striving though. It even sounds like we’re loosely in the same line of work. I wish you luck!

    • Thanks for the support Eric! I never plan to give up, but sometimes I wonder if I’ll be stuck in the same routine for 40 years until “normal” retirement is a real option. Sometimes I wonder if I will get discouraged from trying new startups and just give in. I have a few societal ideas I’ve been playing around with, and will post about in the coming weeks, because I think a lot of people feel this way and just don’t know how to break free.

    • Glad to hear I’m not the only going through this.

      I often have to remind myself. Persist, persist, persist.

      Find people who are passionate and let them infect you, as passion is contagious.

      I think it might help having some tangible achieve able goals. Even some hard deadlines.

    • I am right here with you.

      When I was a kid, I made a conscious decision to be a “toys ‘r us” kid. I didn’t want to grow up. I deliberately tried to stay young and carefree. It worked for a while. Up until a little while ago, I’d still be able to have that happy go lucky fun day at an amusement park. Now, that feeling has been replaced by an old cynical grumpiness.

      I didn’t know what I wanted to be when I grew up. I knew I didn’t want to do the same thing that every adult I saw do. Get up, get everything ready, drive to work, work, drive home, cook, eat dinner, go to bed, rinse and repeat. the same old same old every day.

      yet, I got stuck into it. Its like a fly stuck to a fly trap. Don’t get me wrong, I’m happily married, love my two kids, and like every average american, making ends meet paying my bills and doing the housework and paying down my mortgage. Yet, I still wonder, what do I want to be when I grow up. I’m grown up. Its time for me to be, and I don’t know what to be. In the meantime, I’m stuck in the rats race doing rats work making rats money.

    • You know, I remember making the same decision when I was a kid about Toys R us, and even back then it made me a little melancholy to realize I wouldn’t always be able to stay the same, as implied by their commercials.

      Still, I don’t think that the end game is submitting as an adult, but it’s hard to find a better way of living that is sustainable on a society wide level.

    • Charlie, I’ve been where you are and sympathize. While I’m not quite where I want to be, I’m closer to it. Over the past 4 years or so several factors have helped: 1) I found a job that’s intellectually stimulating and doesn’t require many meetings (you sound introverted and like me lose a lot of energy “being social”). 2) I’ve convinced those I live with that I have needs too and would really appreciate some hours each week to work on my own dreams a little.

      I do spend time with my kids during the evening for help with homework or some recreation. But 3-4 evenings a week I spend several hours pursuing things I think will get me closer to where my heart is. I’m not a TV guy either, but will take my laptop with me to the couch so I can sit next to my spouse. TV watching isn’t really quality time anyway, but at least this way we’re together.

      I wish you good fortune in your quest!

    • You hit the nail on the head – meetings are draining. But the laptop on the couch doesn’t go over so well most of the time :)

    • This post resonates with me in many ways. I found myself in very much the same daily grind and just hating life for about 6 years. About a year ago, I made a huge life decision to change career paths – from being an academic to being a “lowly” software engineer – and everything changed. Drastically. My days are no longer long strings of meetings, stress, and grumpiness. I even documented my own “daily routines” before and after the switch here:

      One thing I did realize through this process. Life is too short to do a job you loathe or try to be someone you are not. The sooner you can make a change, the better. Good luck to you.

    • congrats! I hear great things about working for Google, and it sounds like you really found a job you love.

      I too, have considered changing career paths around, especially now that I am in management. I would rather have my own business(es) take off and be independent, but I keep an eye out for other options as a backup plan too. What was the hardest part about your switch?

    • Hi Charlie,

      I don’t think it matters if you’re working for a big company like Google, or doing your own thing. I think what matters most in life (being philosophical for a minute here) is doing what makes you happy, every day. What is it about building your own business that makes you happy? Sounds like you’re really _un_happy in your current situation. I was that way for a long time, and kept telling myself I was doing it for a good reason (to get tenure). Then I got tenure, nothing changed, found I was still miserable. It wasn’t until I switched jobs that I was able to re-evaluate my goals in life, and understand why I was doing what I was doing. It’s not easy. In fact, damn near impossible until you get that huge shift in perspective.

      Anyway, I really wish you the best. I’ve been where you are at, and hate to see someone else go through the same thing.

    • Found you on hacker news. Loved reading this article, brought out a lot of emotions in me. Thanks for pulling it together. Subscribed!

    • Thanks Dan!

    • I know where you are coming from. I did this for years. A couple comments. You aren’t getting enough sleep. You aren’t getting enough exercise. You’re taking on too much and not leaving enough ‘me’ time.

      It also sounds like you need to have a chat with your boss about all these meetings. Can you say your part and then leave the meeting? Do you have to attend every single one?

      You can’t let the company manage your time, you have to manage it. And if there isn’t enough time in the day to do your work, they need to prioritize, and give you the time.

    • Thanks Curt. I Second you on the meetings comment. I do have control over it – I am a manager now, so more of my work happens in meetings than it used to, but I am continually fighting this battle with some success.

      I do need more me time, including sleep, exercise, personal work, heck even just reading fiction books. Hard to find the time though now, though I do get some in each week (I tend to need a lot to feel truly satisfied)

    • Checkout Jeff Hull and Games of Nonchalance:

    • Yes I want to play that. Very interesting talk, but I live on the other side of the country :(

    • Good luck to you. I found this site quite helpful:
      less TV, more reading
      less shopping, more outdoors
      less clutter, more space
      less rush, more slowness
      less consuming, more creating
      less junk, more real food
      less busywork, more impact
      less driving, more walking
      less noise, more solitude
      less focus on the future, more on the present
      less work, more play
      less worry, more smiles

    • Right there with you brother! You and I both need to throw on the running shoes and just make it happen .. run around the block for 20 minutes. I related to your family TV/social time. It’s frustrating huh!

    • I get a walk in about twice a week. I used to work out 6 days a week for an hour, but that slowly tapered off as other demands pushed it aside. Now if I can get up early enough, I get in a pushup/crunch/cardio workout for 30 minutes if I can. Usually too tired though.

    • If feel the same thing about the boring routine, of being in the rat race.

      For me it helps to ask the question: “will this make me happy?” If the answer is yes, then do it.

      Another question that helps is to ask for your self: what will make me happy and what will give me pleasure… ?

      You say that you have seen examples of different life styles and say to yourself, I don’t know if I want that, because I will miss some things I like to do. The things that give me pleasure in these “dark times”.

      But have you tried it?

      Or have you thougt about what you will beniifit and what you will lose by chosing another way of life?

      I am to on a turning point in my life, and I am on a quest for happynes, truly happynes, not based on deiseres witch have never forfilled me with joy, they only gave me temperaly joy.

      I want to be free, to be what I am, with the desire to find my true happynes. With the idea in my mind, that anyone else also wants to be happy with respect for eachothers being.

    • I think you’re right Ben. I also want to be free and happy, and I think I know the lifestyle which would give it to me (independent software business). I run into trouble when the transition from getting from here to there involves what I am doing now, or shaking up stuff a lot, with negative impact to my family.

    • Justin Dennahower September 28, 2011 8:24 am

      I can only offer this tid bit of advice, you are probably suffering from adrenal exhaustion. You are using caffeine, and if you’re like me, sugar to maintain what should be internal drive. You need to get 10 hours of sleep a night for awhile to recharge your brain, then quit the caffeine and sugar.

    • Yes I need that… 6 months is the longest I have maintained it so far before going back to addiction! I have a vacation coming up. Maybe I can start there.

    • Oh god… oh god.


    • “… though I see examples of people who live differently, I don’t see how to apply their lessons to my own life and situation without sacrificing the few things that make my life worth living.”

      “I have become incomprehensible to myself. I live the mundane existence from which I can find no escape.”

      Then either commit to that lifestyle and quit complaining about it, or consider those “few things that make your life worth living” part of the shackles of your cage and destroy them, knowing that you will be free as a consequence.

      No wonder I’m happily childfree. If you are to be truly free, it’s a price you should be willing to pay happily, with a smile on your face that matches the joy in your eyes.

      Have a future, or sacrifice it for others. What else is there to live for?

    • I think you present a false dichotomy. There are many people who have made the difficult transition from 9-5 shackled family man/woman to free independent family man/woman without tearing down everything. I just don’t think the process is easily repeatable.

      There is a question I asked myself once – If I did not have my great family, a job at all, house, everything else, how hard would I fight for it? I would fight for it. I just think it is sub-optimal, so there is more to fight for.

      Sometimes giving everything up in creative destruction can make it work out better in the end. More often it ends up just being destruction. I have a post cooking which touches on exactly this point, so stay tuned…

    • My first concern is for the dogs – 15 minutes in the morning may not be enough time for them – give them (and yourself close to an hour) – it will help you both. (does someone else take them out during the day?)

      Secondly, meetings – do they have an agenda? a purpose? are they all 1 hour long? push for change here – I’ve been in this situation before too – make sure who ever is setting up the meeting ensure all partipants have a reason to be there – and make sure a goal is stated as the meeting starts – and the last few minutes summarize the meeting and whether the goal was achieved or not. Very very important (imho).

      Thirdly – prepare to quit your job – you need a change – sounds like you are not happy doing what you do. Before you do quit, what is your “Plan B” (and while you are at it, make “Plan C, D and E”). Don’t just quit – have something in place first. Everyone should have a “Plan B”.

      Good luck.


    • Thanks Gary. I should have mentioned that there are others who care for the dogs during the day (My Wife’s family is living with us right now) so they do get plenty of attention and outdoor time! I treat them like my children :)

      You are right. I need a change. My Plan A was always a startup, which is now making around $50/month, but nothing close to job quitting time. Plan B is my current Job and plan C is some other company. The last few months I have been waffling back and forth with putting Plan C into action more fervently in the hopes that some change will do me good.

    • This really struck a chord with me, thank you.

      I second the earlier comment about the importance of routine exercise. Once I started forcing myself into the gym every morning (no laptop, no phone, just protein shake, banana and drive to gym) I found myself more energized, able to get more done despite the office grind, and generally more happy. Start tomorrow and don’t break the chain for 30 days.

    • Hi,

      I’m in a sort of similar situation. Except, I’m dead bored with my job. I’m wondering if it’s just this job, this team, this company or if it might be this career. I suspect either or all of them.
      About a year ago, I switched to another company in another town, I moved, got my own place – so a lot of changes. At first this seemed like it resolved these issues, except now, instead of a job that is just way to stressful, I have a job where I wish I could do something useful instead of so little… one extreme to the opposite…

      If I can give you any advice, from what has worked for me in the past, is that you need to let go. You need to realize all those things that’s taking up the space in your mind, the energy, the resources, even the physical space around you that you JUST DONT REALLY NEED. Simplify your life.

      - I told most of my friends that I needed a break, I just couldn’t manage to keep them ALL happy anymore. Relationship obligations.
      - I stopped all the hobbies I was into, except one – no more time obligations, no more financial obligations, no more feeling I had to really do this properly.
      - I stopped buying magazines that I never got around to read anyways.
      - I stopped trying to read all the crap people emailed me, stopped forwarding nonsense. Everything goes to the bin, unless they’re personally involve me. Again time obligations.
      - With the new job I obviously didnt have all the responsibilities I had before. I’m the new guy, I was cut some slack.
      - Living by myself – no obligations towards flat-mates.
      - I stopped going onto Facebook/ twitter.

      It’s amazing how many things you fill your life with that you can do without.

      I then got my diet in order, basically just eat natural, lots of fruits/veg/nuts, some of the rest. Nothing processed/ with preservatives, etc.

      I started going back to gym. Hard.

      And before long, suddenly there was all this space. I could breath. The rule was to only add back one thing at a time. And then feel it out for a few weeks. See if I really still want it, or if I can continue without it. I didnt restart any of the magazine subscriptions – they repeat stuff anyways… I did re-invoke some of the friendships – that was good.

      Etc etc
      Give it a try, you’ll be surprised :)

    • This sounds like what I did soon after my first job out of college. It worked well for awhile, but I don’t think it is sustainable. Soon enough, life creeps up on you – wife, kids, dogs, house, commute, promotions, and it is no longer enough to check out unless you also want to give up those people. I would rather give up work and spend my time with people than the other way around, but that isn’t sustainable either…

    • internationalwaters September 28, 2011 10:49 am

      i made a dashboard using google sites.

      i do a weekly project…usually using arduinos. sometimes they are really useful

      most important thing was getting a mountain bike.

      i wish i had a dog.

    • Not much to add but kudos for putting yourself out there.

    • Work within the law
      Make lots of money
      Enjoy your job

      Choose any two…..

    • I apologise because this is going to be very blunt, but I’ve been there, and I wish someone had told me what I’m about to say because I needed to hear it and I suspect you do too.

      **You are wasting your life on meaningless bullshit.

      Seriously, 6+ hours of meetings, EVERY FREAKING DAY? That is a hopelessly broken organization. Don’t fool yourself into thinking you can become more efficient and solve it that way. And quit giving them what’s left of your precious personal time at night because their stupid model is crap.
      The pendulum is at one extreme.
      You are spending your day waiting for it to end, but then are too tired to do anything else of value to YOU. So you go back and do it again and again and never catch up.
      You are a biological creature and cannot reduce sleep further. Adding more events to the day cannot change this and will only make it worse.
      Continue down this path and you will wreck your health, your marriage, and your family.

      You spend your life.
      Read that one more time. Please.

      “You SPEND your life.”

      IOW, you decide who gets a part of it and how much and then it’s gone and you’ll never get it back. Think about that. Your life is a fixed commodity and you are using it on mundane crap that you hate which is preventing you from doing something you care about and this will never change until YOU change it.

      I know this because I spent several years doing exactly what you’re doing now. I lost 5 years of my late 20s working like a maniac and learned only that I was a fool.

      Either talk to your management chain TODAY and set firm limits on 1) meeting time and 2) total hours worked, so that you can get control of your life and be productive professionally and personally
      pour every effort into finding another job ASAP, then walk out and don’t look back. You sound like a craftsman — find something where you can spend your time doing quality work OF ANY TYPE and you will be happier.

      Ever seen a bird that was raised all its life in a cage? You can leave the cage door open and it won’t fly away. Try to take it out and it will retreat to the ‘safety’ of the back corner. Forcibly remove it, and it will return to the cage.

      Now look. Your cage door is open. Decide.

      And good luck. Email me if I can help.

    • Hi Jack,

      I appreciate your bluntness, and you have said it well. I don’t mean to imply that everything is terrible. I believe changing jobs is only a temporary reprieve and what is needed is a fundamental paradigm shift. Flying from this cage into another of a different color still leaves me caged.

      My job is actually pretty good – plenty of freedom, the ability to work on what I want within company boundaries, complete control over outcomes, work, and processes. The problem arises in that there are many factors outside of me that affect what I do and end up limiting my freedom. This is true in almost every normal job today in America.

      Like someone else said, there are really only a few options to get to real freedom, which I am covering in another post in the future, though I am hoping there are more than I see today.

    • Where to start…

      You probably aren’t getting enough sleep. My experience has been that if I don’t average 6 REM cycles on a regular basis, my life starts to look as gloomy as you’ve described here. This is probably true for most people, just that some people need more or less time per cycle. For me, this mean 7.5-9 hours regularly. Also alarms are dangerous, waking up in the middle of a REM cycle can cost me a full day worth of productivity.

      You need to stop accepting meeting requests. Meetings are an excuse for people to feel good about not doing any real work. Those people are stealing your time from you.

      Email is a similar suck. Most inter-office email communication does little except increase work of everyone involved.

      This leads me to saying no to people. Once you start saying no to people who waste your time and provide no other personal benefit (I don’t mind doing things for people who make me feel good), you’ll find that people start to treat you differently. You won’t lose any friends, but you might get to stop interacting with people who aren’t worth your time.

      To-do lists always grow, there is no getting around the fact that there is infinite work in the world. But, most work is simply not worth doing. When I’m most productive is when I can come up with a list of 5-8 items (that may have sub items) that I estimate will take me 3 hours of solid unbroken effort and will make me happy to have accomplished today. The trick, is that once I’ve finished the tasks I’m done, and I go home. What’s more important is that I go home happy. I also guarantee that 3 hours of solid effort will produce more real work than most anyone you will ever meet.

      Creative workers who work more than ~32hrs are stealing from their future. Ford did a lot of studies about factory worker productivity, and basically introduced the 5 day work week. From what I’ve seen and read, anything requiring mental energy requires even more rest than menial labor. The crunch time studies I’ve seen suggest that productivity gains from working more than 40hrs a week don’t last much past week 2, and productivity always dips such that total work done over an 2 month period is less than if there had been no crunch time.

      Always work smarter not harder.

      Good luck to you.

    • Thanks Joe, you make good points. I do need more sleep. I need to exercise. Thankfully I eat well. Do you have a recommendation on how to wake up better without an alarm?

      Part of the problem is I became a manager, and that moved me out of creative work into management, which has a lot of challenges. I try to limit email, meetings, and other non-value add stuff to a minimum, with varying success.

    • All I can say is wow! Seems like most of your life is spent in meetings. I would suggest looking at methods to hack the meetings.

      A company work with has a list of 10 meeting rules set out in their meeting rooms. The 2 that I most remember: have an agenda, always start on time.

      Maybe worth considering standing meetings where you can (gets the meeting done quicker!) or when you see you can give no input go and work on something else.

      Consider implementing inbox zero if you haven’t already.

      Good luck

    • good time girl November 1, 2011 6:43 am

      Get yourself a young spanking hot mistress.


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