The Importance of Criteria

Acceptance of one’s life has nothing to do with resignation; it does not mean running away from the struggle. On the contrary, it means accepting it as it comes, with all the handicaps of heredity, of suffering, of psychological complexes and injustices. ~ Paul Tournier

I love long distance hiking, being out in nature for weeks or months at a time means you’re surrounded by natural beauty all of the time. The friendships you make doing something like that can quickly and surprisingly become lifelong in a short period of time. There’s satisfaction in the physical challenge, setting new personal bests of physical accomplishments sometimes daily. But it’s the mental aspects of long distance hiking that are the most amazing to me. You learn so much doing long hikes. You learn a lot about hiking, you learn a lot about the country and surroundings, you learn a lot about yourself. And you learn about a lot about life, on the Appalachian Trail, more than anything else, I learned about acceptance. I was thinking a lot about my time on the trail over the last week.

You see probably the biggest impact on me from our pandemic times has been curtailing both my ability and willingness to travel. Lot’s of places have been and still are shut from access. Some make me too nervous to attempt. The two big adventures I had planned over the last two years were to be a cruise to Antarctica and hiking the Overland Track in Tasmania, Australia. Well right now Australia is still shutdown and taking a cruise just seems like a really bad idea. Both also involve long air flights and right now the idea of a really long plane flight is for me, an uncomfortable proposition.

Travel is my happy place, being able to travel to new countries and encounter new wild places and cultures are what brings me some of my greatest joy in life. So naturally, as my worklife has devolved into a bit of a shitshow, my mind turns to travel and the lessons I learned long-distance hiking. This week I really kept thinking about a phrase you hear a lot on trails, “never quit on a bad day.” This is great advice on a trail. You see long distance hiking is hard, sometimes incredibly so. So you don’t want to quit on a tough day because often it’s an emotional decision based on the reaction to what you’ve faced that day. I can give an actual example from my time on the Appalachian Trail. My first 14 days on the trail included 12 days of either snow or rain. Being cold and wet everyday wears you down. I faced a particular long, hard, soaking wet cold day at one point. It was a day I was able to get off trail and get in to town. But it was off schedule, I had planned to hike another day and go into a completely different town, but honestly I was ready quit. It had all just felt like too much and I was miserable. When I got to my hotel room I turned on the TV and heard the weatherman say rain, rain, more rain, cold shitty weather forever. Ok, reality was it was just a really bad forecast for the next day. So I went down to the desk and booked a second night. I was really close to quitting the trail. But I got a hot shower, had a really great meal and got a good night’s sleep in a warm hotel room. I woke up the next morning and had a tasty, hot, southern breakfast. The sun came out and my mood shifted, the storm came through and right after, the sun came back out and the weather forecast showed a warming trend. So I spent that afternoon doing a resupply and the next morning, after listening to the storm all night from the comfort of a warm, dry bed, I headed back out.

This past week at work very much felt like that night in Georgia when I left the trail soaked, cold and demoralized. That’s where my mood has been at work recently and last week I wrote about the idea that I’m at a crossroad, but using a phrase I like better, a nexus point. I heard, “never quit on a bad day” ringing in my head a lot this week. There is no chance that I’ll be quitting, I’m locked in to July 1, 2022. I need that date to reset my salary according to the conditions of our pension system and guarantee the pension level I set as a minimum for myself. And honestly the emotional reaction is to quit July 1st, my job has begun to feel untenable.

But I’ve always joked I’m half-Vulcan and tend to make decisions based less on emotion and more on logic. Never quit on a bad day. So this weekend has been all about how to best deal with the situation I’m facing. I’m blessed, I have options, I’m very good at what I do and have enough flexibility in my life that I can get a new job, probably fairly quickly. But I’m ready to make a pretty significant change in my life. I’m really tired of managing people, it’s a truly thankless task, particularly in higher education. So just shifting jobs means more of the same thing, likely for less money, (I’m really well paid) and of course a new job means a new three year commitment and I’m not willing to make that if it’s doing the same thing. So what’s the answer? I decided this weekend upon two things, the first, how do I immediately get some stress relief and second, what are the criteria for a move?

The immediate stress relief has come in the form of telling the world via Linkedin and this post that as of July 1st I’m open to new opportunities, including short-term. Who knows, maybe something I haven’t thought about may present itself and it’s time to be open to new perspectives. Second, I have to plan some travel, some real travel and I’m actively engaging around what I can do that will be comfortable, safe and get me out of my life for a bit.

The longer term answer is to develop criteria for when it’s time to make a move. So I’ve set those criteria and they include becoming debt free, I’m very close and can easily get there before July 1st. It includes have a set amount of money in my savings, and that’s likely to be the biggest snag. It is something that I’ll monitor over the next couple of months but I will likely take more than six months to meet that criteria. So this means that I’m likely in my current situation til either January, 2023 or July 2023.

The thing about setting criteria is that it takes the worrying and thinking off of the table for me. The mental wheels don’t have to spin, the answer always comes by answering the question, are we there yet? Do I still have debt, have I met the savings goal? If either answer is no we keep working. It does also allow me to plan, I’ll likely know by this June, based on my rate of savings and debt payoff when I’ll hit those goals, January or June of 2023. It also gets my mind set around the fact that I’m definitely gutting it out for the next year.

There are wildcards, most of my debt is student loan debt, will the Biden Administration provide any student loan debt relief? Will I hit a minor lottery payout? Either of these could get me to my goals a bit to a lot quicker.

The only thing that bothers me in this situation is a promise I made to myself in 1990. I grew up watching almost every adult around me work jobs that didn’t make them happy, some we’re downright miserable. But I understood why they did it, they did it because it was the best option available to support their family. You see almost none of them had a college education or any kind of specialized training that would give them options. I worked a lot of shit jobs while growing up, while attending college and I did them because I had to. Perhaps the most embarrassing time of my life, (I had avoided working fast food in high school), was having to grab a job at Burger King one summer while in graduate school in Kentucky. I purposefully took a job twenty miles away from campus in Lexington so I wouldn’t see anyone I knew, I was ashamed, but I needed the money, and frankly the free food. When I graduated with my masters degree in 1990 I made myself a promise. I now had a graduate degree, I had skills, I’m smart and I’m a hard worker so I knew I’d never have to work a shit job again and I promised myself I wouldn’t. I’ve left three professional positions that I liked once they become bad jobs, typically because of new and bad supervisors. Once because the faculty I worked with made the job untenable and I’m in that situation again. So it’s upsetting to me to gut out my current gig for maybe eighteen more months in violation of that promise. But like those adults I grew up around, I’m doing it because it’s what’s best for me and my family long-term.

So what this means is to shut up about it, suck it up and count the days while doing whatever I can to make the job more tolerable and finding ways to get my travel in. I can tolerate anything for a time and honestly if it gets worse, I can always honor my promise from 1990, and my criteria will keep me on track, working for the promise of happier days my friends. ~ Rev Kane

About Michael Kane

Michael Kane is a writer, photographer, educator, speaker, adventurer and a general sampler of life. His books on hiking and poetry are available in soft cover and Kindle on Amazon.
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