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floating in limbo
singapore sunset
amw
Okay, underachievement. I was binge-watching Lodge 49 last week and this topic bubbled up.

For those of you who haven't heard about Lodge 49 - it's an AMC show centered around a slacker whose father recently died and left him and his sister with a serious debt. His sister waits tables at a theme restaurant and he doesn't work at all after a surfing accident. A series of events leads him to discover a secret society slash social club where he meets a diverse set of working class folks who are also all struggling thanks to the city's major employer shutting down. Shenanigans ensue. Apparently the main influence is Thomas Pynchon but i'm an illiterate slob so i don't know who that is. It reminds me of other light-hearted surreal shows like Dead Like Me, Wonderfalls, Being Erica, Bored to Death... Totally up my alley.

Anyway, one of the things i like about the show is that there are no kids, no love triangles, no gunfights - nothing gratuitous or melodramatic. It's basically just a bunch of regular joes going to work, drinking beer and trying to find a little magic in the nooks and crannies of their thunderingly mediocre lives. In other words, the story of me.

Very vague spoilers in the next paragraph.

There was one storyline in the show where a character gets handed the opportunity to better their lot, and they repeatedly decline the opportunity, eventually outright fleeing from it. I felt like the kid in Velvet Goldmine who, on seeing his glam rock idols mime fellatio on stage, wanted to leap up and come out: "That's me, mum! Dad! That's me!"

I guess from a certain point of view i'm doing just fine. I graduated high school. I got a university degree. I work in an embarrassingly well-paid industry. I am debt-free and have been employed almost 20 years, on and off. However...

Although i did graduate high school, i graduated from the "low" stream that did not qualify me to attend university. I never went to "real" university - i completed my degree through correspondence/home learning and it took me almost 8 years. At work, time and time again i have turned down promotions or up and left companies when one was heading my way. I spend all my money on sabbaticals and restart from zip.

Most recently i turned down an offer to jump a level at this company and become a director. I.e. the middle management to whom the line managers would report. I came into this company on the lowest salary rung as a basic software developer - no "senior" prefix, no nothing. My last company had me on the CTO track.

I was thinking about CTOs because my current company's CTO moved on about a month ago. Ours was his second C-level position and it seems to have earned him enough cash to live on Lantau Island (one of Hong Kong's more beautiful spots). His new thing is some mobile app start-up. It's nothing groundbreaking, but really who cares if it fails? If you can afford to live by the beach in Hong Kong you already won at life.

That could have been me. If i had accepted the opportunities offered to me in the past, or if i had worked my network harder... yeah maybe i could be sipping cocktails under a palm tree too. I have a young ex-colleague living in Bali earning a ton of money doing remote work for European companies. He's built a personal brand through his blog and he sells e-books and whatnot. A Facebook slash rave scene acquaintance who was one of my inspirations to head to China has been living in Taiwan for a few years now just doing web pages for clients in Canada. Several ex-colleagues who used to be under me, rookies that i mentored and nurtured are now VPs and C-levels. A whole host of my ex-colleagues are in consulting, earning spectacular amounts of money just for walking into a company and telling them everything they are doing wrong. Why isn't that me? Why did i get stuck?

I'll tell you what didn't get me stuck - my ability. I know i am a solid programmer with enough experience under my belt to avoid the sorts of mistakes even "senior" guys make. I know for sure i understand management better than a lot of line managers who stumbled into the role and have no interest in helping their subordinates excel. And while i would struggle to schmooze at the C-level, i am pretty confident i could slot into middle management and at least straighten out a department full of the sorts of ineffective line managers and team leads that the tech industry is famous for.

But i don't fucking want to.

I don't even really enjoy being a line manager very much. I mean, i like helping my guys improve. It's nice when you can get the team aligned and kicking ass. Certainly it's nicer than being stuck on the bottom and struggling with a bad manager and teammates who are incompetent or unmotivated. But it is exhausting. As a kid i never thought to myself "i want to be a manager when i grow up". Hell, i never even wanted to be a computer programmer. Not after i found out how boring it is, anyway.

Still, there are lots of things i don't want to do yet do anyway because that's part of being a grown-up. I hate working. If i had my way i would do nothing at all. I still get up every day and toil, though, because i have to. So what's stopping me from toiling in a different role that would net me a lot more money and set me up for early retirement?

Me being an underachiever, that's what.

I don't feel comfortable when i am up there in the clouds, lording it over the plebs. I already feel uncomfortable amongst my current colleagues because their lifestyles are so bourgeois. Get me up to the income level of consultants and C-levels and it's a whole nother level of decadence. I would feel like a fraud. Or... i don't know. Dirty?

Sure, i get it, you can be rich and woke too. As my rich colleagues go to great pains to point out, it's really the rich who are the biggest philanthropists. Just imagine where the poor would be if the rich weren't around to throw them table scraps!

But in all seriousness, of course i know you can be wealthy and not a complete asshole. My parents are wealthy, relatively speaking, and they're not assholes. Meanwhile there are also plenty of poor people who are almighty tossers.

The thing is, there's no point trying to reason with myself over it. It seems my discomfort with being "successful" (whatever that means) is as irrational as my discomfort with buying clothes or people visiting my house or whatever. It's irrational, but there it is. My material life is objectively less comfortable, but my mental health feels less strained.

Some day i might regret it. In 20 years when i still have no house and no savings and my job gets given to someone younger, more attractive or more ambitious... Then i guess i will just have to find myself a secret society where i can get drunk and ponder the mysteries of the universe with a bunch of people in the same boat.