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Email the author:
bill@geektrap.com

For a long time, I worshipped the twin deities of technology and money, and thought that if I could accumulate enough of both I would find happiness. Instead, I found emptiness and despair. After years of painful lessons, I discovered that while both technology and money can be very useful, neither of them has much meaning for me unless they are serving humanity in some way. Armed with this new knowledge, I ditched the high-paying-but-soul-sucking technology-sector job I'd held for seventeen years and set out to find something that "felt right". It was scary as hell, and I went through several very bad weeks of beating myself up for doing something so "stupid".

Po Bronson's wonderful book, "What Should I Do With My Life?" was one of the things that kept me going while I worked through all of the doubt and fear and guilt that followed my decision. As he says, "Failure's hard, but success is far more dangerous. If you're successful at the wrong thing, the mix of praise and money and opportunity can lock you in forever." Thanks, Po!

Maybe it was karma, or maybe it was the gentle but persistent prodding of my wonderful friend Chris, but I ended up volunteering at Lincoln Action Program, a local non-profit organization dedicated to helping low-income people get their lives in order and develop the skills they need to support themselves. I work in their computer shop, repairing and refurbishing donated personal computers which are then given to the clients who attend the free computer classes LAP offers. After a week or so working as a volunteer and loving it, I applied and was hired to manage the computer shop. I'm making about 1/4 of the salary paid by my previous position, but now I'm happy in a way I haven't been for years. I get to harness technology to help real people with real-world needs and I get to work with a wonderfully diverse group of people from all over the world, like Moses (from Sudan), Dimitri (from Russia), and Binh (from Vietnam). I love meeting and learning about people from other parts of the world, and since my old job was like working in a big loaf of "Wonder Bread" (all white, without much real substance), this was another very welcome change.

I am also a "Big" with Big Brothers/Big Sisters, and generally spend several hours each week with my "Little", Matt (and of course, Josh and Nick, my "unofficial" little brothers) doing something fun and/or educational. Matt discovered a great love for bowling, and as a result I've spent more hours sitting in grungy bowling alleys around Nebraska than I care to think about, but he really enjoys it, and I like to be there for him.

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Update: 3/12/09

About a year ago, LAP underwent a "reorganization" and fired my wonderful, "hands-off-unless-you-need-me" boss, replacing her with a yuppie reptile named Aaron. At our first "team meeting" (pardon me while I retch) we were shown a selection of objects including a ceramic clown head, a plastic fish, a teddy bear, a stuffed dinosaur, and other random crap, and asked to tell the group which one of those objects best represented us, and why. I shit you not. I don't even remember what I picked, but the highlight of the meeting was at the end, when he accidentally dropped the bag with all the junk in it and you clearly heard the ceramic clown head shattering into a million pieces on the concrete floor. It was pretty much all downhill from there. I got called on the carpet by him one day for missing a "team meeting" because I was busy fixing the computer of an Iraqi refugee who had ridden the city bus for an hour, carrying a desktop computer on his lap to get it to me, and since I was the only one in the shop, I would have had to kick him out on the street until after the meeting. I was also told that I needed to "change my attitude," and then he stopped and said, "For example, that expression right there." I said, "What? This 'I'm 43 years old and can't _believe_ I'm hearing this BS from a 20-year-old yuppie douchebag' expression?" Then I told him where to stick the job, threw my keys at him and left. Life's too short to let yourself be managed by assholes. Now I'm doing my own projects and doing some "Handyman" work on rental properties (my own and other people's) and I'm quite happy again. Life goes on...

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Update: 6/22/11

In December, Chris announced that he was moving out and that he and AJ were going to get a house together. It was all very traumatic (at least for me), and on top of being heartbroken at the thought of losing the people I loved, I ended up in a panic looking for a job. I landed an interview, which turned into a job offer the next day, with a small company that manufactures water distillers, conveyors, bottle blowing, filling, and capping equipment, and so on. It seemed ideal, since it involved electronics, computers, sensors, motors, pneumatics, mechanical assemblies and so on (one of the same reasons I like tinkering with robots). Aside from a couple of very negative co-workers who always bitched about everyone else's performance, most of the people were pretty nice. It was an hourly position ($14 whole dollars an hour, and no benefits for the first 6 months) and you had to at least _look_ like you were working every minute, or someone was breathing down your neck; that wasn't so nice. Even after I'd been there several months and been seen regularly working through breaks and before the clock started in the morning, some of them still treated me like I'd be in the bathroom smoking pot all day or something if they didn't prod me regularly. After a few months, I started seeing signs of imminent catastrophe, such as not being able to buy parts because we were too far behind on our accounts with our suppliers, and having to really quickly build and sell something else to make some money. So it wasn't terribly surprising that on 6/17/11 we were all called into the owner's office and told tearfully by him, his son, and his son's wife (the HR person) that they were out of money and were going to have to lay us all off. I honestly think they've tried to do the best they could for us; making sure they had enough money to pay us until the last, etc. The owner and his son are very smart guys, and have made some pretty amazing inventions, but the market just dried up or something. For whatever reason, I'm once again adrift employment-wise. I've put in some apps, and we'll see what happens. So far the front-runners are managing an "adult" (read vibrators and porn) toy store, which might be kind of fun, and becoming an electrician's apprentice. I guess there are advantages to being interested in a lot of things, huh? And still, life goes on...


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