Monday, February 21, 2011


I have been reading.  This is a feat.  First, John goes to bed with the baby.  Then, Wallace falls asleep on the couch.  Then I pour a glass of scotch and stay up too late.  I just finished "Son of A Witch," by Gregory Maguire.  Being, acting, living; realizing oneself.  I didn't like it quite as much as "Wicked", but it seems like I find an affirmation of the truths in my life at every turn.

Now I am reading "Liar's Poker" by Michael Lewis, and I can't put it down (except to write, which is the indulgence of this blogging business).  While the opening gambit of this memoir had my full attention ("The King of Wall Street" versus the King of the Traders in a ten million-dollar game of chicken), it is the fact that the author originally majored in art history that really won me over. 

You might guess that I majored in art history.  I did, but I also majored in economics, which makes the whole tale particularly close to my heart (the book is about his experience as a bond salesman with Salomon Brothers during the 1980s).  I loved, and still love, economic theory, but I was appalled at the way it is taught.  I think there is an open conspiracy to make people utterly apathetic towards the "dismal science;" just look at that moniker!  Who is going to embrace a subject with such an epithet?  And so this most fascinating and fundamental of human studies becomes relegated to the pocket-protector set, or an incidental activity on the eroded path toward the mud-wrestling pit of money making for its own sake.  (There are lots of good folks in finance, I know this from personal and professional experience.  But there is no more competitive and ruthless game than the money game, except maybe politics, and we won't go into my opinions on that.)  And as for art history, wonderful stuff, but the path towards professional professorship is equally eroded and I wasn't interested in committing to developing proficiency in German.

I had a brief dalliance with a finance career.  I don't think it was about the money (I had been genuinely interested in the concept of equities analysis since grade school), but it is hard to say.  Certainly I was paid enough as a little guy in a tiny firm to justify the work (if that's what it was), but not to tolerate the culture.  I'd been through some interviews, at school and on the side, where I had been yelled at and bullied and told how to dress and shown New York skyline views from corner offices by men whose egos perched on the sills of those picture windows; that sat about as well with me as you might expect but I still harbored the belief that it was possible to be a maverick and excel.  Maybe it was, but not for me.  I finally quit, moved on to horticulture, and then moved on to parenthood.  It is in this last role that my talents are most fully realized and the rewards most tangible, so I will leave the what-ifs for another time. 

Some people are quick studies.  Not me.  I circle around a problem until I have worn a groove in the floor; sometimes until the vultures are circling me.  I can look back on many a moment when I have played the fool most unwittingly.  But I can change direction.  Today I mean to honor the quitters.  There are so many examples of this, but here's just one: Two women I know had anticipated certain experiences and outcomes for the birth of their children, but found themselves in quite different situations as the interminable forces of labor progressed.  Assessing their emotions in the moment, freed from the dominance of the intellectual iron fist, they made unprecedented (for them) decisions.  In one case it was accepting Pitocin after several days of exhausting and intermittent labor.  In another case, a woman who has had four unassisted home births decided to go to the hospital, and ultimately have a Caesarian, with her fifth child.

And that's what living is all about, to me.  So there's some expected outcome, like a junior high superlative in the yearbook (most likely to be successful, most likely to have kids, most likely to wheeze out in a nondescript nothingness of dedicated drudgery...); the power is in rejecting that.  Or in accepting it, even, and then turning away from it if it doesn't fit.  Our path is our own, and it is always evolving.  The trick is in seeing that evolution and responding to it, not fighting it; in looking for the nourishment.

I would love to hear people's stories of quitting.  Quitting relationships, jobs, school, beliefs, whatever.  Tell me about following your path.


  1. Love, love, love this. Honoring the unexpected, honoring change, honoring acceptance... I just love it.

  2. love it, as well, and this post is so timely! I've been at the same company for about 7 years. In those 7 years I have gained an incredible amount of invaluable experience but I have also sacrificed. 3 years ago I moved away from all of my friends and family to pursue a promotional opportunity. It's been incredible and I've learned a ton. I've recently decided that instead of taking another promotional opportunity (which would mean moving further away), I will move laterally into a position that will allow me to come "home" as well as learn something new.

    It's certainly not quitting, and it's certainly no childbirth and a life-threatening disease, but for me, "quitting" the promotional race has been a big deal. I can't wait to get back to New England and I can't wait to get to spend time with the people I love the most.

    I hope I get to catch up with you as well!!

  3. It is what I mean by "quitting," though. Lewis talks about this at the end of "Liar's Poker," in terms of the money game. He says that once he stopped believing that more money=better quality of life, he realized how much believing it has driven his actions and his priorities completely shifted. In that case, he actually quit, as in walked out on Salomon Brothers, but it can mean so many different things.