My first job was as a parking attendant for the New York State Fair. A more honest job description would be “human stop sign.” For nine hours a day, noon to nine, I dragged my ass over to the Fairgrounds and waved my arms around like a spastic monkey directing traffic. During those two weeks, I suffered first-degree burns from jeep exhaust, learned how to roll a joint and had my ability to sleep soundly destroyed. I would go to bed at two in the morning and wake up at nine just as tired as I was the previous night, as if no time had passed at all.
In college, I worked nights at a certain big box store. I was a “Sales Associate,” the fancy title for the grunts who mop up toddler piss and straighten out the shelves that you wonderful customers are always messing up. On rare nights, I got to man the electronics department, a welcome development because it meant less work. Highlights of the job included getting my Bosnian flag, learning why female-dominated workplaces are hell on earth, and developing a burning hatred for John Lennon’s “Happy Christmas (War is Over)” after hearing it at least twice a night during the holiday season.
Since then, I’ve done all sorts of things. I’ve been a government bureaucrat. I’ve helped administer civil service exams. I’ve worked in construction. I’ve worked in a warehouse. I’ve waited tables. I’ve even literally dug ditches, suiting up in a hazmat suit to carve out a trench around a hydrofracking rig.
Last Thursday was my last day of “real” work. I went in, did my job one final time, and left around five in the afternoon with a big grin on my face.
After more than a year of toil, I’m free.
I relocated to Ithaca from Portland last year due to an incredible opportunity combined with some loose ends I had to tie up. I was winded from spending the better part of 2012 on an insane journey, stalled in my writing projects, and craving the stability of “normal” life once again. I wasn’t too happy about having to come back to New York, but the money was too good to pass up. Not just the money, but the relative freedom. A chance to make a good living without having to worry about the Internet, without having some HR commissar scrutinize my life story. A position where I was working based on merit as opposed to having to polish asses like a pro.
So I hunkered down, did my job, wrote books on the side, saved my money, and generally lived a quiet, unexciting life.
But this stage of my life is finally over. With the growing popularity of my blog, I’m now selling enough books to live solely off of them. Affiliate sales, advertising and the occasional tip are just the icing on the cake. Additionally, I have a regular freelance writing gig that’s nearly doubled my income. I’m not a rich man by any estimation, but I make more money than the average millennial, and seeing as I have no major expenses (single man, no family, no long-term debts), I’m arguably wealthier than people who make twice what I do but blow it all on Gucci purses and bottle service.
Not only that, I’m free to move about. One of my acquaintances was recently offered a better-paying position at another of the company’s plants, down in Georgia. He can’t take it because he owns a house in New York and he can’t sell it for a reasonable price. Conversely, my business can be done from anywhere in the world that’s hooked up to the Internet. No car or mortgage required.
That is the essence of freedom in the modern world. Not just money, but mobility. Flexibility. I don’t have to drag my ass in to an office every morning to get paid. I don’t have to work every day; in fact, I can actually blow off the blog for days at a time and the money keeps trickling in. If I decide I want to go to New Orleans or wherever, I don’t have to ask for the days off; I can just hop on the plane and go.
All this work has finally paid off.
The life of a writer is not a fun one. For the first two months of this year (and a good chunk of last month), I didn’t have much of a social life. Whenever I got done during the day, I started on my “second shift” of online work at night. I missed out on a lot of fun opportunities because I needed to write. This is the reality if you want to be a writer; it’s either that or go the mainstream lit-hack route of sleazing your way into a tenured professorship, which is increasingly impossible the younger you are.
What I’m doing is legitimate work.
If you want to be free, that’s the primary thing you have to do: work. Don’t party: work. Don’t play video games: work. Don’t spend money: work. Work is what separates the strong from the mediocre. There is no endgame where you can stop working. Even when you’re free, you’re going to have to work. The advantage of freedom is not that it liberates you from the necessity of working for a living, but it doesn’t enslave you in the process. It lets you break the chains that have been wrapped around you.
As ridiculous as it sounds, it is only through that work that you will become free.
And don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. Choose your role models based on the qualities that you want to possess. What does an obese sixty-year old with four stents or a middle-aged divorced cubicle jockey have to offer you? Nothing. The people who will naysay you the most are also the ones who have achieved absolutely squat in their lives. They could drop dead tomorrow and the world wouldn’t notice that they were gone.
I’m stuck in Ithaca through the end of June. In a couple weeks, I’ll be heading to Las Vegas. Additionally, I’m also emceeing a meetup in New York City during the first weekend of June (details on Friday). In July, I’ll be in Chicago for Pitchfork. After that… I’m out of the U.S. for good.
Read Next: What I Would Tell My Fifteen-Year Old Self