I have never owned a house, not for want of financial wherewithal, but rather owing to a nomadic temperament. I see the appeal but never in my adult life have I been adequately confident that I would want to remain in my present configuration more than two additional years. This has seen me flowing through a variety of configurations, each of which has offered uniquely wonderful facets in the moment and afterward had me pining for a former way of being at odds with my present reality.
In the year after undergrad I stayed in Boston to work with a group at Tufts Medical school who had provided me part-time employment over the previous two years. They lacked the budget to take me on full time yet nonetheless provided a very generous salary and full benefits for ~25 hours/week of work. This left me with an exorbitant amount of free-time while enjoying a delightful blend of office-time and city-life whereas various friends went off to the insane grind of 100 hour/week death marches in law, finance, and tech. In the wake of my senior year, which included such traumas as 9/11, waking up during a burglary in progress, losing two pets I had had over a decade, and assorted other drama, this offered just the period of decompression I needed. The forgiving nature of my professional schedule allowed me to get to the gym often enough to get the most ripped I have been in my life.
My two years at Johns Hopkins for graduate school provided an opportunity for a depth of mania perhaps unparalleled in the rest of my life. I opted to cram two masters into four semesters which provided a wealth of learning. Yet one experience stands out among all of this. Hopkins is fairly unique in the extremely long winter break it provides, roughly a full month circa my tenure. I remember during the 2003-2004 winter break I essentially spent a month sequestered in my apartment executing a deep dive on Linux arcana unrivaled by any other period in my life. I recall one occasion where a delivery person arrived at my apartment with some Chinese food and I could scarcely croak out “thanks” as my voice was cracking from countless days of disuse. One ought be careful with such behavior lest it precipitate a descent into madness, but such cocoon periods can prove staggeringly effective at quickly developing shockingly deep expertise. Moderation in everything, including moderation…
My time in government service offered something exceptionally unique in the way of professional experience. At peak moments a magical combination of mission and camaraderie provided a sense of purpose and flow that I struggle to reproduce to this day. Crazy intense work to build and operate systems where matters of life-and-death were the literal stakes, punctuated by lunch breaks, impromptu brainstorming sessions, and volleyball/soccer games with people whom I deeply respected and were helping me make these systems real, created a sense of meaning, engagement, and community that I gather precious few people ever get to truly experience. I won’t lie and pretend that at times the bureaucracy and politicking weren’t maddening but in the end it proved well worth it and I ache from its absence.
Many things about my time at Bridgewater Associates were exasperating owing to having joined at a tumultuous time in the company’s arc. Nonetheless I cannot point at any other phase of my life and assert honestly that it provided a more dense period of personal growth. The company’s culture was fanatically focused on reflection, open-mindedness, rigorous thinking, and evolution to an extent that almost anywhere else I may go will likely prove a disappointment in these regards. You might arrive thinking of their catered lunch as a perk but in fact it is a brilliant approach to stirring a cauldron of bright minds to ensure the mixing of thought stuff to yield innovative thinking. I miss the integrity and energy that characterized the majority of the people working there.
My time living in Columbus and working for a small startup company brought together a variety of benefits I had previously only experienced in isolation. For my first time I found myself both living and working in a walkable urban environment. I lived a fifteen minute walk from the office and the area offered a smorgasbord of great restaurants. I would rack up ten thousand steps without trying between my “commute” and lunch break. My co-workers evinced a rare intensity and commitment. While many facets of this experience proved deeply frustrating, exhausting, and disappointing, there was also much that was profoundly wonderful.
And now I find myself in a configuration both otherworldly wonderful and weirdly alienating. I inhabit an outdoorsman’s paradise while running a consulting business that offers supreme flexibility to enjoy said paradise. Within this arrangement I have had the focus to quickly knock out my first paragliding rating and to rack up more skiing days within a month than I have in entire previous seasons. I deeply appreciate the relationships I have with my customers, have learned a great deal from them, and had a big impact on their outcomes. I do, however, find various voids in my life deeply discomfiting. I love the wilderness, but I also miss city life. I love the flexibility of my work arrangement, but I miss the intensity, focus, and serendipity of office life. Remote work with a flexible schedule is both wonderful and terrible.
This has me thinking of the tongue-in-cheek lament of the guy who ran the ground school portion of my PP-ASEL training a few years ago: “I just want a big house on a generous plot of land in the city next to an airstrip and a marina. Is that too much to ask?”. To me that sounds too unambitious… I also want the city to be a tech hub and foodie paradise as well as the house to be adjacent to mountains with champagne snow and buttery air. A boy can dream… In the meanwhile he can savor the best of what the present has to offer, exploiting it to the fullest while mourning the things he loved and lost and pondering how best to architect the next chapter in a post-pandemic era.