Several years ago, we purchased a Nissan Versa — a small hatchback car known for being cheap. It was supposed to be the car I drove to keep the mileage down on our other more expensive cars when we didn’t need the capability they presented. It turns out that I don’t need a pickup truck all the time, and that minivans aren’t required when there are only one or two people to transport. This car was supposed to cover the space where these two were ill-suited.
This little car served us relatively well for a few years, but not long before we moved to Utah, it started misbehaving. Some of the failures were relatively cheap and easy to fix, but ultimately the transmission began to fail. Looking around the wide world of information on Nissan continuously variable transmissions, I realized I should have done more homework before purchasing this pile of scrap. The transmissions are notoriously weak — to the extent that they are the subject of multiple class-action lawsuits that were just outside the parameters for the car I owned. Not only are the transmissions weak, they are horrendously expensive. Spending $5000 for a rebuilt transmission (not including installation labor and all the other random bits and bobs that accompany that kind of repair) to repair a car with 85,000 miles on it that only cost $10,000 new is a stretch.
While we weren’t super excited about putting a new transmission in the car, we didn’t rule it out either. The car was otherwise in good shape, and if repaired would be at least as good as anything else we could purchase for the cost of the repair. We thought about it, and decided we’d just drive it until it totally failed, then make up our minds when the time came. Instead of making a decision, we decided to delay that decision until we had no choice. In essence, we would get as much use out of the car as possible before potentially scrapping it or resetting the expiration date by putting in a new transmission.
While we bought the car for me to commute in, I’ve almost never driven it. One of the kids has generally had a stronger claim to it than I have, so it’s been the teenager car since we brought it home. For the last several months, Isaac has been using it to get to his martial arts classes, seminary, and his classes at Bridgerland. In essence, it’s been his car that I happen to pay for, and he’s had to deal with the stupidity of a transmission that randomly stalls and otherwise behaves badly. My decision to postpone a decision cost me literally nothing personally, since I didn’t have to live with the consequences.
That decision turns out to have been a major money saver. A few weeks ago, I was driving home when my phone rang. The display in the car indicated an unfamiliar phone number from a region where I know literally nobody. I had every reason in the world to ignore the call. I generally do ignore such calls. However, for some inexplicable reason I answered it and was surprised to hear Isaac’s voice.
“Uh… Dad… I’m not sure how to tell you this… I rolled the car.” This came out almost deadpan. He and a friend had been driving down a dirt road not far from home when he lost traction, skidded, almost recovered, but ultimately slid far enough into a ditch that the vehicle rolled over. Both his phone and his friends were outside of service range, but someone had come by on the remote road and let them borrow theirs that happened to be on a different carrier. Nobody was hurt beyond a few minor bruises and scratches. No property was damaged other than the car. No police were called. No ticket issued. Insurance covered the wrecker I had to call to get the thing back on it’s wheels and out of the ditch. In the end, all it did was make my decision about whether or not to fix the transmission very easy. I lost a car that needed $5000+ in repairs that would have been worth no more than $5000 even after I fixed it. No real loss. No real decision to make. The car is scrap metal, and that’s okay.
Now, not long after that experience, it appears I will be put in a similar situation. I’ve spent almost the last two years struggling with my government customer at work. They have created conditions where I really dislike the job I had expected to love. I like the company. I like the people. In theory, I like the application of our technologies. I can’t stand the way the government customer treats us. I can’t stand their indecisiveness and proclivity for assigning blame for their shortcomings to us. I can’t stand how they expect and hold us accountable for progress in spite of the fact that they themselves are the chief impediment. I can’t stand how we have wasted millions of dollars on a pile of paper that they don’t even bother to read, but insist on having in case someone somewhere questions their actions. I can’t stand my daily grind in a job where I had every expectation I would be happy.
I wanted to love my job. I suffered through jobs I hated while on active duty knowing that there was a light at the end of the tunnel. I knew that somewhere out there the world found ways to actually accomplish things, and I expected to join it. I had evidence that my company routinely delivered things that met or exceeded expectations. Then reality torpedoed it all, and for months now I’ve pondered walking away and spending the resources I’ve accumulated trying to get a small business up and running so I could be answerable to nobody but myself.
At this point, I’ve developed multiple business plans. I’ve explored several markets. I’ve thought about the entrepreneur class I attended as part of the transition assistance program I went through prior to retirement. I’ve tried wringing time and energy out of myself after an exhausting day of drudgery to spend on developing the intellectual property I intend to use for the business. In that regard, I’ve failed. I can’t do it as a side-line. There isn’t enough time, and I don’t have the energy to do it. The effort it has taken, and my inability to make time for it, is evident in the infrequency of posts here… I don’t even have time and energy to sort my thoughts out on the only forum where I manage to do so. A side-hustle isn’t the answer. If I am going to make self-employment work, I need to be all-in.
Going all-in is scary. I don’t know how the average small business owner manages it. In the class I took, we were told to expect not to turn a profit for one to two years. We were told that the best strategy is generally to leverage whatever capital you have, and hope to roll the debt over until things creep into the black. This is particularly scary for someone who lived through an abrupt income shock and protracted poverty when my dad decided to leave the corporate world to become an artist. I am terrified of being poor again. Only now, after 25 years of professional life, do I feel like I can occasionally spend a few dollars without having a good reason. If I take the plunge and branch out on my own, that financial freedom dries up for at least the near-to-mid-term
I’ve struggled with this anxiety for a while now. I’m afraid of the decision to walk away from an almost sure thing. To walk away from a comfortable income and generous benefits. To tighten my belt again and return to the ways of a constrained income. To ask my kids to accept the impacts of my inability to continue to tow the line in my corporate drudgery. To put my heart and soul into a product line that may ultimately be rejected and wasted. I am a scared little man.
However, looking at my situation rationally, I have no excuses. Courtesy of my retirement I have a guaranteed income stream that puts me firmly in the middle class even without any business or employment income. I have access to medical care through both my retirement (for me and my family) and through the VA (just for me). If I am willing and disciplined enough to tighten my belt, I can make due without any employment income whatsoever. If ever there was someone outside the moneyed elite who was in a good position to take a risk starting a business, it’s me. I’m just afraid, and that has been the status quo for over a year.
That status quo appears to be on the fast-track to disruption. Today alone, I was twice within a hair’s breadth of walking away. My frustration and outright anger about our customer and the lack of progress has been breaking through to the surface often enough recently that upper management (a retired O6 who was trying to play the Colonel mentor for a promising O5 who just needs to see the light) called me in to try and convince me that life was good and that I should be more of a cheerleader. Instead, when he abjured me to be the O5 they hired, he learned how close I am to chucking it. They didn’t hire an O5. That’s not me anymore. What he had expected would be a “look on the bright side” rah-rah speech turned into more of a “don’t quit without giving us a chance to find you a different project” discussion. I left the meeting raging inside, if externally contained. That was the first close-call today, and it took almost all I had in reserve.
The second close call came when I saw the finalized guidance the Federal Government issued for requiring all government contractors to have a 100% immunized workforce no later than 8 December 2021. No exceptions for those who have acquired natural immunity through illness and recovery. Technical exceptions for religions objectors were included, but with coercive and punitive “accommodations” such as 100% masking, social isolation, weekly testing, and any number of other coercive measures that render those non-options. I’ve made my stance on the science of the vaccine previously pretty clear. What I haven’t talked about is the bigger issue though…
I spent 25 years in total being told how to dress, act, speak, look, think, and what medical interventions I was subject to. I was told when and where to go. I was told what to do for work. I was an indentured servant, held hostage to the pension I would lose if I said “no” to anything. As a result of my inability to say “no,” (a discussion on why is another topic, but accept it for now as a fact) I came away from the military with significant mental and physical health issues. I came away with children who were damaged by the frequent and severe disruptions caused by relocations and my almost constant and/or extended absences. I lost time with parents and siblings. I missed significant milestones in the lives of literally everyone I love. I came away with scars that run deep and will never fully heal. All because I couldn’t say “no!”
When I took off the uniform to try and piece my life back together, I earned the right to say no. I can’t get back most of the other things that the military took, but I can have that back. I WILL NOT relinquish that right without a warrant and an arrest. I WILL NOT BE COMPELLED to submit to any form of medical treatment or procedure without a court order and physical restraint. I WILL NOT SUBMIT to arbitrary demands based on political ideologies and agendas. I WILL WALK AWAY from a good paying job if that is the price of non-compliance. If that means that my decision whether or not to strike out on my own has been made for me, so be it. The more important decision has already been made.
We’ll see if the executive over-reach actually survives first contact with reality. It probably will in this scare-mongering world we now live in. People who are worthy of public notice don’t seem to value individual liberty and personal autonomy unless it involves some other cause celeb like recreational drug use, sex, body modification, abortion, etc. This isn’t a cause celeb. It’s quite the opposite, and I’ll find no friends who aren’t equally unpersons guilty of thoughtcrime. I believe that if it is eventually recognized as the government overreach it is, it will be after my lot has been cast and the consequences realized.
I will be demonized for my decision. But then again, I’ll be demonized if anyone from that torch-and-pitchfork mob of social justice warriors who fret so anxiously over my lack of compliance and obeisance to the anointed and all-knowing academic and government “experts” ever reads anything I’ve posted here.