It's practically a requirement for living the hashtag-van-life that at some point you have to say "Not All Who Wander Are Lost" (I hope this counts for satisfying my contractual obligation).
Well, I haven't been wandering for the last three weeks, but I've been really lost.
I started worrying about money before I landed in Montana. It's been flowing out a lot faster than I anticipated, and I thought I'd have figured out a way to get cash flowing in while I was on the road. I haven't.
At my last job, I used to spin my wheels trying to figure out what I really wanted to do for money, but it's exhausting to multi-task figuring out what you want from life and pretending to do your job, so I didn't make much headway. Mostly, I just figured out what I don't want to do. Then when I would get home, I would be so mentally drained that I still couldn't make much headway at home either. This is part of why I decided to move everything into a van, thinking that with an abundance of free time, I could figure out what I really wanted to do.
Wondering where I'm going to sleep every night takes a lot out of me. Driving is its own kind of meditation, punctuated by "hey, make sure you don't kill anybody", but it hasn't helped me come up with any useful ideas. And when I stand in slack-jawed awe at the beautiful expanse of nature in National Parks, my first thought isn't "I wonder how I should sell my labor."
So, I took some time to hang out at my mom's and try to figure out this money situation. And that's when I got contacted on LinkedIn.
I get messages on LinkedIn fairly regularly, usually from recruiters who have clearly just copied and pasted the same message to everyone that comes up in a search for "data science chicago" without actually reading my profile. Usually for a job in the suburbs. Usually, I end the conversation real quick by asking if I can work remotely.
But this message was a little different. It was for a contract position that actually relied on skills I had, skills that you wouldn't expect just any other data scientist to have. The position was back in Chicago, but it was strictly a contract position for a year. I wouldn't have to pretend like I wanted to work at the company after the contract was up. And holy shit the money was good. Like, obscenely good.
I started mulling it over. I figured it couldn't hurt to learn more. They set up a skype interview with the HR contact. I ran to the thrift store to buy a button down shirt and suit jacket. I aced the first interview.
They set up another interview with the person I'd be reporting to. I started getting nervous, because I didn't want to screw up that interview. I didn't, I aced that interview too.
Then there was an interview with one of the managers I'd be working with. Aced that interview too. Now, I really wanted to get the job.
Then they set up the 90-minute technical interview. I don't remember the last time I was this stressed out. I had to prove myself to be an expert in a language I don't really consider myself an expert in. I had a week to cram and prepare. I played every worst case scenario in my head. I remembered nightmare interviews in the past where I failed hard. I probably gave myself an ulcer. But then the day came, and I aced that interview too.
With four aces, I felt pretty good about my hand, and I was fully invested. I was looking forward to moving back to Chicago. I started looking at studio apartments, planning how to live frugally and sock away tens of thousands of dollars. I thought about being able to take improv and acting classes again. I thought about submitting my voice-over demo to agencies and trying to get V.O. work on the side. This felt right.
I held off celebrating until I had the contract in my hand. We we're 99% of the way there, but I don't like to round up.
And then I waited.
And then I started playing worst case scenarios in my head. I remembered the last time I had a series of interviews go swimmingly well, and then at the last minute, they decided to change up what they needed (to someone cheaper and less experienced). I tried to wave off my concerns as irrational fear. I created contingency plans in case the job fell through to ease my mind. I decided that I would move to Chicago no matter what, but every time I went to pack up my van, I just felt like I was getting hit in the chest. For reasons I can't explain, packing up the van without having a contract signed just felt like defeat. I couldn't really commit to moving to Chicago until I had this uncertainty nailed down. I emailed the recruiter to see where things were at. He said that he was just getting bogged down by corporate with legal agreements, but he'd signed them all and sent them off, he was just waiting to hear back for the final confirmation.
An hour later, he called me up. They pushed the budget back to January. No guarantee that I'd be hired then, just that they'd revisit in the new year.1
That was yesterday, so I'm still reeling a bit. I'm shocked, I'm devastated, I'm pissed off. I'm really pissed off.
Partially, I'm pissed off because a corporate decision was made with flagrant disregard for my humanity, but that's not surprising. I'm mostly pissed off because I let them compromise my values. I'm pissed off because I bought in. I'm pissed off that I let myself get stressed out over their decisions.
At this point, I think I've given Corporate America enough chances. They have proven themselves to be untrustworthy and inhumane. I refuse to put control of my well-being in their hands.2
I still don't know what I'm going to do about money, but to start narrowing it down, I've started a list of what I will no longer compromise on:
* I will not pretend to be anyone but my full, genuine self.
* I will not let anyone else determine my values.
* I will not give control of my life to anyone who does not have my best interests at heart.
* I will not buy a suit, khakis, or a button-down shirt for anything but my own personal enjoyment.
* I will not trim my beard for anyone else but me.
I'm also going to finally listen to myself, and pay attention to that wave of dread that hits me every time I look at data science job postings. I'm putting the last nail in the coffin of my data science career, giving it a not-so-fond farewell, and setting the fucker on fire.3
I've been trying to figure out how to wean myself away from the career I fell into, and pushing myself to make a clean break means that I can focus on what I really want.
Just as soon as I figure out what that is.
I'd really hoped that I was going to have a better answer to that by now, like I'd stand on the edge of a cliff and hallucinate some mystic desert creature in the sky telling me exactly where I'll find meaning in my life. Instead, self-discovery has been a much more mundane process. But after three months, I don't think I'm completely empty-handed. I think I have a little glimmer of something to guide me. The recurring theme behind almost every avenue that interests me is storytelling. I believe stories are vital to human existence, and I have a hunch that I would be proud to be involved in their making. I don't know how this will manifest itself in my life, but I know it's the direction I want to start walking in.
It's also become clear to me that it's time to draw the first leg of van life to a close. Even though the job prospect dried up, I still haven't lost my desire to come back to Chicago (yes, even in winter). Facing so many different uncertainties, I don't want to add an unfamiliar city to the mix. I don't want to try this without a healthy support network, and I have one in Chicago. I also know people there who are involved in making and telling stories in some way or another. It just feels like the right fit for right now.
That being said, I don't think I'm completely done with traveling around in a van, I just need to take a very extended break for now.