My job was safe and secure – but it did not satisfy my soul

Ken Piper, June 29, 2016

I quit my government job – retired early, actually – for a couple of reasons. I was very good at what I did – so much so, that I was asked to do too many things. I was always feeling pulled in twenty different directions at once, and that was stressful. I didn’t want it to affect my health. This was illustrated to me graphically when someone came across several studies that compared retirement age to age of death. Each extra year of work after a certain age resulted in a two-year shorter average lifespan. And we could see that the crossover point was too close for comfort.

A more important reason was that the job had no meaning to me. I was working very hard on things that nobody cared about. My main task at that time was to assess and report on the undiscovered hydrocarbon resources of the Pacific Coast offshore. I was the expert. Sounds impressive, maybe. But nobody has really cared about that for the last 30 years – ever since they stopped having offshore leases on the west coast. The only use was as a political football for members of Congress or high-ups in the Executive Branch. I was a world-class authority on a useless topic.

I wrote about this at the time in “Writing my story.” I excerpted from it in my farewell email to my fellow employees. Most people didn’t get it; some thought I meant an autobiography. One woman said, “Yes, I’d like to write a story too.” But that wasn’t the point. I was helping others – politicians and high government officials – to write their story. I wanted to write mine.

In the years since, I have realized that there was more to it. I have always loved Robert Frost poetry, and particularly “The Road Not Taken.” I always wanted to be one who took the road less traveled. But I did not. I didn’t actually take the road most traveled; most geologists work for oil and gas companies. Instead, I took another safe road. I originally wanted to teach. But the government job I got to tide me over until I finished my dissertation became easier than the job search at various colleges. Besides, it allowed me to stay in southern California.

My job was safe, secure, and allowed me to raise a family. But it did not satisfy my soul. I want to make a difference in the world, and regardless how well I did my job, it didn’t matter. So I quit. In the intervening years I have kept busy, as retirees do. And, I have written articles, hoping to effect policy changes, albeit with little success. My friends say I am crazy to think I can make a difference. Even my family doesn’t read what I have written. But I feel driven to try, just the same. And so, I write – and hope.

Image: Robert Frost

Writing My Story

By Ken Piper, September 6, 2012

     Christmas of 2010 someone got a cup and some magnet buttons (like for on the refrigerator) with a picture of an old typewriter along with “Write your own story.”  That made a big impression on me.  About a year later, upon reflecting, I realized that I have been putting off writing my own story for most of my life.  My desire to build my own house, do something in “green” energy, have a positive effect on governmental policy, help my community and more, are all things that date back 40 to more than 50 years.  I haven’t given much thought about my art in the last several decades, but my desire to see the world and write is certainly in there too.

      This is probably part of my dissatisfaction with my job all those years.  Sure, the job allowed me to raise my family, be reasonably secure financially, but that did not satisfy my inner need.  I usually attributed my dissatisfaction to boredom, because I couldn’t be as creative as I wanted to be, and to the feeling that I had been working for all those years without accomplishing anything that really “makes a difference.”  Others with whom I worked often expressed their admiration for my abilities, but that did not get to the core of it.  A few got it, because they too felt that all our work was for nothing.  For some others, the money is what counts (remember the bumper stickers that say “The one who dies with the most toys wins”).

      I can see now that what I have been doing is helping write others’ stories (usually an insignificant part, at that).  So, now, I need to work on my story.

     Oh, the old Underwood above – that was my first typewriter.  It was my grandmother’s, before she was married.