Would You?

Last year, one of Steve’s work friends decided to walk away from it all. The Wall Street job, the fancy Westchester home, the private schools. He rented out his house and sold some stuff. He bought a large boat. He, his wife, and his two kids sailed across the Atlantic. They are spending the year sailing around the Meditterean Sea with only vague plans about what happens next.

I have a weakness for stories like that. Radical departures from the middle class lifestyle with ADHD medicine, Kumon, nanny cams, mow and blow services, spin classes, salmon colored preppy shorts, lacrosse tryouts, keratin hair treatments, viola lessons, Hardy board siding.



18 thoughts on “Would You?

  1. I don’t get the boat thing. I don’t think it would make my wife happy and I know it would make it very easy for her to get away with murdering me.


  2. We’ve seen folks take this stepping off the track fantasy at various points in their lives — since we know a fair number of “surprise” multi-millionaires (i.e. people who didn’t make life plans based on being rich, but found themselves with windfalls), who have the luxury of choosing whether they want to work.

    One family set off on a year long travel adventure but then returned after a few months because they realized they missed their extended friend and family network at home too much (i.e. wanted the friends, and the grandparents, and all the rest in their lives on a daily basis).

    Others found the life with no goals unrewarding — some of them might revisit, but with goals other than self-fulfillment (write a book, charitable work, . . .).

    Others found the lack of external validations in that life (reaching investment targets, promotions, winning cases, . . . .) frustrating.

    I think the fantasy requires a lot of soul searching about what you find personally fulfilling to play out well — and, different people in the family might have different needs. Say, one of my kiddos wants both goals and external validation and the other needs the social stimulation of other people.


  3. The whole child-centered conspicuous cultivation rat race ends once the kids leave home for college. At that point, it’s possible to “walk away from it all” by downsizing and moving to a retirement community.

    It’s very easy to lose touch with people once the children are attending different schools.


  4. It’s easy to drop out of the rat race when you are comfortable financially to start. Some folks inherit, have a large nest egg, or in the case of your husband’s coworker, had rent money coming in from a house. Many of us have neither inheritance, savings, or can even buy a house let alone rent it out. It’s a “dream” only for an elite few. I was fortunate that I was able to move back to my parents’ home when I decided to take a 90% pay cut for my first shot at teaching. And although it wasn’t nearly as glamorous as traveling the world and seeing life, it was most definitely rewarding and worth it. I’m fortunate that through time I’ve found a stable teaching position and have moved out. But I still can’t even afford to take sabbatical for a semester at 75% pay.


  5. No. Not tempted, not even a little bit. I have a kid with autism to get launched into the wider world. That takes so many resources, financial, social, cultural, that I can’t fathom doing it without this job to support us all. I’m planning to work past 65. Of course, my job isn’t as physically demanding as some or as wildly stressful as others.


  6. Building my own house out of cob on some wooded acres up in the hills would be nice. Much cheaper than any kind of boat I’d be able to live on. Unless reading several free ebooks isn’t sufficient preparation for building a cabin.


    1. I’m sure it is :-).

      My kiddo had a discussion the other day on what would happen if the parents of her 8th grade class were abandoned on an island (they’d just read Lord of the Flies). I think she concluded that I nor her father would have useful skills to offer until we actually built a civilization.


  7. Well, not all “rats” are running the same race. To my eyes, people as financially well off as that aren’t even running a race. Their kids attend good schools. They have nice, cushy jobs out of the weather. The type of jobs you can keep working on into your forties because your body isn’t being broken down and your bosses aren’t thinking people older than 40 are a workman’s comp liability. They get a full forty hours, and get to work year round, so keeping a roof over their family’s heads isn’t a problem.

    Pfft. Would I walk away from it all, if i hit the Lotto? Fuckin’A I would.


    1. It’s not all sunny. The kids attend good schools, but they have five hours of homework per night, are medicated to handle the pressure, have anxiety problems. They are hot house flowers with no experience with free time or random fun or the outdoors. The adults work a lot. Yes, they get 40 hours; the problem is that they are working 60 to 80 hours. My friend, M, said her husband hasn’t been home before 10 in a week (including weekends). He hasn’t seen his kids in several days. And agism is huge here, too. If you get laid off after age 40 (which happens all the time for any old reason, because no union), it could take years to find another position. Businesses don’t want to hire older workers, because they can’t work 60 hours per week, they cost a lot, and general youthism. Yes, there’s a roof over the head and it may be a very nice roof, but there are costs to this lifestyle.


      1. Sure. I get that. What I’m getting at, is someone making real money in an industry that isn’t in the midst of disappearing has significantly more options. For one, they make the kind of money that allows a person the ability to walk away from it all. That takes a boatload of savings.

        I’m not jealous of the “stuff”: the fancy address, the private schools, the walking-away-to-sail-the-Mediterranean. But I am jealous of the peace of mind they have from the walking away. The knowledge that they have enough savings and education to be able to have choices, to make a go of it somewhere else, doing something else. That isn’t something to be taken for granted—those are precious and rare things.

        Yeah, there are “costs” to that life. But those are costs they eagerly took on, precisely because of the strong advantages that came with them (including the ability to save enough to walk away). The “costs” I pay don’t come with anywhere near those advantages, safety nets or safety valves—and I took those “costs” on because they are so, so very much better than the costs paid by folks working in shitty service-industry jobs (which is where I’d be if I wasn’t in the trades).

        I know I sound like a bad case of sour grapes, but I’ve got one of the shittier governors in these United States, and he’s hell bent on eliminating prevailing wages on public projects. My version of “walking away from it all” is going to look a hell of a lot less like sailing the Mediterranean, and a hell of a lot more swimming like mad to find a lifeboat to hang on to.


      2. I do not think everyone who takes on the life takes it on “eagerly”, some drift into it and don’t realize that there’s another way. But, I completely agree that the peace of mind that comes with money and skills is an enormous boon, one that makes navigating many aspects of life easier.


  8. I’m not entirely convinced this is a “dropping out” thing for a lot of people who do it. The people I know are paying a boatload of money to make this happen – there are even companies who arrange this for you now. How do you get your kids ahead these days – in a globalized economy and hyper-competitive college application process? You give them knowledge of the world and an interesting experience to talk about on their college application.

    Maybe that’s cynical of me (and here’s the pot calling the kettle black), but I met a lot of these kinds of people when we did our little drop out. Turning 40 and getting tenure produced a BIG mid-life crisis for me, so we up and move the family to China for a year. We had long discussions about whether we could do it forever, and the answer was definitely not. There are a whole host of problems that come from having “third culture” kids. Would I recommend it for a year or two if you can swing it? But that’s it.


  9. I did a mid-20s version of this, and it was life-changing (as indeed I meant it to be). Since college, I had been working two jobs (and more), and when I had saved what I thought was enough for six months on the road, I got on a plane one evening and took off for Istanbul, with nothing else set but a pre-paid return flight from Ireland half a year later. I figured Ireland was a good place to go broke. In the event, I never made it to Ireland (still haven’t) because I found a job at a newspaper in Budapest.

    When I was out traveling, there were definitely times when I reversed the old recruiting slogan and said to myself, “It’s not just an adventure, it’s a job.” As it was, at times, given the fairly austere budget I had set for myself. So anyone who tries something like this to escape from all routines will be in for a bit of a surprise. And, as several other commenters have noted, doing it for any extended period brings about a confrontation with deeper questions.

    I also did something of a late-30s version, with three small children in tow: drop the corporate job to follow my better half to a poor, post-Communist country. Pro tip: don’t move to a country that the Russian Army is about to invade. Most of the time, it’s best to observe history from a safe (i.e., large) distance.

    As for third-culture kids having problems, I would instead say that they balance different things, that they make trade-offs that stay-at-homes don’t even know exist because the local culture has already made them.


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