You Gotta Answer Two Questions

Why should I get out of bed this morning?
What do I wanna do when I grow up?

As you go through life, you have to answer two questions every day. Worse yet, the answers change occasionally, and you never quite get it right. Over time, you can develop an irritating friendship with these troublesome questions:

Why should I get out of bed this morning?

What do I wanna do when I grow up?

As a kid, I didn’t think about these questions. I didn’t even know I had to ask and answer them. On weekdays I woke up, got dressed, and went to school. It never occurred to me that I had a choice until much later, in high school. On Saturday mornings I often stayed in bed, reading as long as I could. On Sundays I got up, got dressed, and went to church. Sort of like regular school, but church got out earlier, so it was a little better.

The Life Script

Like most teenagers, I finally focused on the second question as I neared graduation. Both my parents graduated from college, so I figured I would go, too. I liked technical stuff and was pretty good at math, again probably like many male teenagers. But, really, I had no clue what “I wanna do…”

As a young adult, I followed a conventional life script: Get a college degree, get a job, get a house, get a wife, get some kids. I didn’t even understand that it was just a script.

Going Off the Career Script

For many folks, as young adults we acquire a house, a spouse, some kids, some toys, and some debt. So the answer to the first question is easy. “I owe, I owe, so off to work I go….” I avoided the debt and the toys, but still went off to work every morning. I suspect the script had added an additional line about climbing a career ladder.

After a few years I went off script a little bit, although I did not understand enough to describe it that way. First, I took a job at Disney then co-founded a technology company in Pomona, California, just east of Los Angeles, almost close enough to the Silicon Valley. This career excursion introduced me to venture capital, technology, business, markets, and employees. It ignited my lifelong fascination with technology and markets, which inspired this website.

After several years working as an entrepreneuer, I discovered that entrepreneuers have life scripts also. Their life scripts just happen to have higher variability. You get more choices. Life becomes a series of projects, with lifetimes of 3-5 years. My career fell off the expected track moving “up and to the right.” It started to look much more like an art student experimenting with pointilism–disconnected dots all over the page. Because I was starting to write my own life script, I began to think about the two questions.

Going Off the Dwelling Script

Eventually the kids headed out and off to college. My wife and I now had the freedom to wander a little further off script. She commuted to work through Niles Canyon, a bucolic stretch of road next to a creek, an old railroad, and peculiar homes high up on the hillsides. She wanted one of those homes.

After years of living in suburban houses, I wanted something different, which I described as “a house without a curb.” With a housing crash looming, we chose to decouple the sell and buy transactions. Sell the suburban house now, while the prices are high. Then buy the dream house later after prices drop. It sounds good, but the execution details include storing all your stuff somewhere and living in a temporary dwelling for an unknown period of time. What if you never do move back into your own home?

This decision took us farther off any traditional life script. It turned out well. We bought the Cloud House five months after selling our house in the burbs. The transition interval provided considerable stress, since we invited my mother to leave her home in Texas and come live with us due to health issues. When she accepted, we lived in the temporary, 800 sq.ft. tiny toy house and the home search was not producing anything remotely like our dreams.

Writing our own Life Script

We finally found the Cloud House, closed the transaction in the depths of the housing crash, and lived in our dream house for fifteen years. My mother moved into the adjoining suite and life was good for us all. Another post tells the story of her later life with us at the Cloud House.

By now my wife and I had grown comfortable with changing our life scripts occasionally. Then my mother passed, several cats died, both of us retired and house maintenance had become an expensive chore rather than a fun adventure. Time to move on. Time to rewrite the life script.

Houses. Had ’em, had it with ’em. Devon wants to travel. I don’t want to spend my time, energy and money maintaining a house. What life script fits those desires? We got out the Big Chief tablet and number 2 Ticonderoga pencils, and wrote a few changes in the old life script.

For residence, the old life script said: retire in place, grow old and die at the homestead. That’s no good. So, we crossed out that line in the script and pencilled in a new version:

Sell the house. Don’t buy another house. Live in AirBnBs all over the world.

The new script sounds so much better. Executing the first part proved challenging and exhausting, as told in this post about tradition and this post about moving.

For activities, the old life script said: Wake up late. Walk to the porch and sit in the rocking chair. Wait for lunch. That one is not so good either. Some AirBnBs don’t even have a porch with a rocking chair. So we grabbed the Big Chief tablet, crossed out that line, and wrote:

Travel. Enjoy the world.

For career, the old life script said: Are you kidding? You are retired. Sit down. This one definitely needs a rewrite. At the time, we had no solid plans for career replacement, so we wrote, in pencil:

Find something worthwhile to do.

Make it portable, since you will live in many different places.

This new line in the life script needed improvement, but it was a place to start.

Two Years Later…

The new script has worked surprisingly well. We have avoided buying another house, so far. We have relocated our part-time residence, we have traveled, and we plan to live in Italy for a few months in 2023.

We also have good news about the life script for our careers. Two years ago we wrote the reminder note to figure it out, and we have found some answers. Last year, with my newfound free time from eliminating house maintenance, I continued exploring machine learning and applied it to option trading. It is an interesting combination of my interests in technology and markets. Today that project has grown into a significant activity for me and a little boost for the family cash flow.

Devon has always had a heart for kids with learning challenges. In her career as a speech therapist, she usually worked with kids who had difficulties and found they were her people. These kids may not do well on written tests and get wiggly sitting at school desks. But they often can be very productive in physical trades, construction, welding, and operating equipment. Our country and our economy both need them. Our daughter, who has a powerful DIY streak, found joy in welding, which led her to a degree in Mechanical Engineering. She still welds and bends metal in her avocation as a member of a race car team on dirt tracks.

Devon noticed the awkward bulge in the checking account caused by my hobby of option trading. She combined this with her love of kids with learning problems and found a solution.

“Let’s make a donation to the welding department at Laney College,” she said to me a few months ago.

“Good idea,” I responded naively. “A few hundred, maybe a thousand dollars?”

“I was thinking a little larger than that,” she hinted. Little did I know.

Funding a scholarship was surprisingly difficult. Lots of paperwork and work to build a consensus on its purpose and specific language. Eventually, Devon and I completed the process to set up a scholarship for the welding department at Laney College. The “Strike a Spark” Vanessa Barrett Welding Scholarship is now open applications and for donations. Go to the donations page at Peralta College Foundation for this scholarship.

Do it for Devon. Do it for yourself. Most important, do it for the children.

Devon has more ideas for her kids. She has found a new career as a philanthropist (my label, not hers), and our checkbook has noticed. I may trade a little more to keep up with Devon.

One Day Soon…

One day this new script will not work as well for us. That day may come sooner than we wish. I hope we have the wisdom and grace to write our next life script without too much whining. Probably not.

Perhaps your life script is working well for you and you can answer the two big questions exactly as you want. One day, when your life changes, consider getting out your own Big Chief tablet and number 2 Ticonderoga pencil. Make a few adjustments so you live your own script, written by you, for you.

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