The Art of "Making It"/Headcount
Stream of Consciousness #10
A perplexed look swept across her face when I told her that I wanted her to model for an advertisement for my debut book. She was resting on top of me, topless, and that is when the artistic vision hit me like Archimedes when he first discovered the purity of gold some 2,000 years ago. Eureka. The photograph would be of her chest, also topless, with my book spread wide open, with the title as the subject front and center, tastefully covering her goods while still giving the indication that she was indeed scantily clothed. Perhaps the backdrop would be that of a steamy, hazy Saturday afternoon pool party; or maybe it would be taken on a beach or in a wooded area or some other natural scenery; or it could also be taken in her bedroom, with the warm colors of her string lights radiating in the background, signaling a familiar sense of comforting aromas and clean sheets that we all know and love. In reality, the backdrop was a minute detail within the scope of my grand intentions. I had scared myself shitless, not because I had the nerve to utter those exact words to a woman, but because I had finally verbalized my aspiration of physically publishing a work of art with my name on it.
Unbearable amounts of self-imposed pressure weigh on my conscious with every passing second of Earth’s existence. This pressure follows me around everywhere as if it was attached to my hips the day I crested the surface of the real world as a newborn, exiting the sheltered depths of the womb. It chases me around every street corner and park I stroll through on a lazy Sunday afternoon. It is standing next to every bartender I ask for one more round. It is deeply embedded in the ridges of the fingerprints of every hand I shake. No matter what we do, we cannot escape the immortal burden of feeling like we must make it big in every facet of our lives in order to achieve a state of satisfying self-actualization.
And I get the impression it’s not just me. Seven billion humans collectively are sinking their teeth deeper into the piece of cheese so carefully placed within the never ending rat race, whether they know it or not. Some of us are chasing lucrative bonuses and vested stock options at artificially overvalued tech startups and high-growth companies. Others are pursuing the high that comes with starting something for one’s self, ranging from a multinational corporation to a simple backyard farm. And those who are slacking off are chasing it in their heads, imagining themselves playing the great game while simultaneously opting out. No matter what the circumstance is, the great game doesn’t discriminate, and I fear that it is a game that is not winnable.
The truth is that this topic is on everyone’s mind. Perhaps my brain is permanently warped and damaged from spending too much time on money Twitter, but you cannot scroll for more than a few minutes without seeing the next evolution of ridiculous hustle porn exposing itself on your timeline like a cracked out homeless man. And I am not talking about the harmless tomfoolery and mockery that I often partake in myself, such as famously proclaiming one fateful Friday night that your world needs to be on fire. No, I am talking about the mindset gurus, the 27 figure internet marketing agency owners, the wizards of personal finance who are all promising the same thing we are all so vigorously hunting – financial freedom.
But even if you step outside the world of micro niches on social media, you will still not struggle to see the financial freedom movements on display in a wide variety of media outlets. You have old school blogs and workshops promoting the FIRE strategy, which involves eating dirt covered salsa, jerking off in a tube sock for fun, and funneling all of your extra savings from living like a sewer rat into the handjob of investment vehicles, the index fund, so one day in the future you can quit your job and play bingo. And of course there is the endless array of self-help titles, with the same rinse-and-repeat formula of calling you a loser before promising you a sudden change of fortune if you just do these three things daily and become a lifeless psychopath living your life on autopilot. I shudder at the thought of my own father once reading Rich Dad, Poor Dad. No doubt it is still collecting dust on his bedside table. The next time I am home I will steal it and give it to someone who I want to fail miserably in life; that is better than burning it or pitching it in the nearest body of water.
It doesn’t end there. Hyper-masculine men yelling at you through a screen calling you a fucking loser if you don’t go out and make $10,000 today. Friends of friends asking you how the new job is going at happy hour. Your parents reminding you that the way they built wealth is still the best way to do it. Roth rollovers and term-life insurance policies. REITs, dividends, passive income strategies, portfolio optimizations, long time horizons. A word salad of financial vocabulary words. Never in the existence of humans has it been so enticing to run out into an empty field and hold a revolver to your head, Tommy Shelby style, and contemplate the comforting thought of splattering your brains on the freshly sowed seeds. To become a nutrient to the next generation of life would be the most noble way to go out in the day and age of boring deaths and perpetual disease.
Why is the entirety of the human population so obsessed with making it? Unfortunately for you dear readers, that is a question that is beyond the scope of this stream of consciousness. I do not possess the knowledge in human psychology nor the willpower to ramble on for thousands of words about why you and I both want to become billionaire philanthropist playboy entrepreneurs.
Numbers will often pop in our heads when asked the age old question of how much is enough. “If I had one million dollars, that would give me enough runway and peace of mind to where I could relax and clear my head for a few months before starting my own business that is no doubt going to succeed on the first try and lead to even more wealth than the original million dollars I was so generously gifted with at the beginning of this useless thought experiment.” While I do believe you and I are built different, as the cool internet kids would say, the sad reality is that most people would go the way of the Barenaked Ladies song, instead spending their million dollars on lavish green dresses and copious amounts of fancy mustard and Kraft dinners instead of investing it in dividend paying stocks like the god of wealth Warren Buffett told you to do.
And if we’re being completely honest, like we often are in this form of communication, there is no guarantee that I would not go the same path as the doomed lottery winner if bestowed with a large amount of wealth on a short notice. As explained before, the traits of self-destruction and self-indulgence are woven deep in my strands of DNA. It is no coincidence that I started perusing online listings of luxury urban condos and custom-built Mediterranean villas the minute I could taste the sweep morphine drip of a second income. I can tell myself one thousand times that the increase in savings will be one hundred percent allocated to high-growth equities and crypto staking, but it would be much more fun to blow it all on a new set of custom-fitted golf clubs. To take those hard-earned tokens and cash them in on a material object that can be touched and smelled is infinitely more satisfying than parking it in a savings account and one day hoping that savings account will give you enough lemons to make a watered down glass of lemonade (you still have to buy the sugar or else it is just lemon water – the old adage of life giving you lemons omits this important detail. The platitude peddlers take yet another L).
Materialism is often deemed a net negative to society, especially when coupled with today’s aggressive marketing via insidious algorithms and data tracking. Yet it is not as simple as labeling it good or bad; materialism has some nuance because it is personal. To me, materialism would be a way of signifying that I had made it; while this is shallow and hollow, the physical presence of a luxury good or exquisite property indeed does prove that my blood, sweat, and tears had paid off in the form of a reward to one’s self. But it still doesn’t answer the big question: why?
So I ask myself that “why” question as I continue to put all that unbearable pressure on myself. Why I feel the need to work myself into the ground, carefully walking the line between hustling for the sake of hustling and building something real, until I reach some end point in my life and can say I am done. Freedom doesn’t seem to be the answer. Nor does materialism. Nor does spite or hate or jealously or any other human emotion that one might use as a motivation for working hard, long, and smart. This is a question that will remain unanswered for the time being.
Because we have made it nearly 2000 words, and by this point have managed to trick you into thinking this is just about money, when in all actuality, money is just one of many facets of my life where that unbearable pressure is present. I have yet to discuss the high standards I have set for myself in the field of creative pursuits.
Imagine you are able to fast forward to the very moment in the future when you are taking your final dying breaths, gasping for air like a drowning pig before the permanence of what humans call death succumbs you and pulls you under the black waters of oblivion. But before all that good stuff happens, you get to ask your future self if you have any regrets in life. This thought experiment might seem like a grandfather clock paradox; if you have the ability to travel forward in time and ask your future self about regrets, then that insinuates that you are already self-aware of the potential to have regrets in the future; yet by traveling forward, you are able to see exactly what those regrets are and thus avoid them in present time. I will stop there before I attempt to write an entire script for a Christopher Nolan film and state that the purpose of this thought experiment is to identify what possible regrets one might have when reflecting on their time on earth – and mine has become apparent over the past few months.
My interests, pursuits, and ambitions in life change more rapidly than the seasons change in the Midwestern US. Yet there is a passion and talent that I recently rediscovered in the last year that has persisted throughout my life, whether I realized it at the time or not, and that is the practice of writing. You can go back to my elementary school days, when I was scribbling short stories in a yellow, wide bound notebook. Or you can also use the more recent example of when I was doing daily writeups to accompany my European basketball picks in the sports betting section of Reddit to my growing internet cult following. Regardless of what stage of my life you choose to use as an example, the fact is that I have always been trying to say what needs to be said, even if I wasn’t taking it seriously at the time.
But recently I have decided to take it somewhat seriously and start publishing my thoughts and observations online in the form of these streams of consciousness, and now I have introduced another high-standard burden to my life. One might call it a newfound purpose; I will shy away from labeling it as such because I see no good reason to search for such closure at my current station in this great game. With that being said, I have no choice but to work towards the goal of publishing a real, physical book in my name as soon as possible. This goal first struck me as a real possibility when I saw my fellow online writing colleague Thomas J. Bevan release his first essay collection in the form of a printed paperback that can only be purchased in that medium (I suppose I should take this opportunity to passively shill Tom’s book, although he might read this and shun me for doing so. But I will gladly admit his development and growth over the past few years has shown me and many other writers what is possible with the right observation of grit, consistency, and personal flair. So long story short, you should buy his book, because if nothing else it is excellent prose and a wonderful pivot from the ever-diminishing world of mainstream contemporary literature. I’m not going to link it, but if he reads this, he will surely call it out).
Seeing Mr. Bevan do what he did was awe-inspiring. But it was not the only time the idea of doing something similar myself hit home for me. The other time was not a specific moment, but rather a collection of ever-increasing and momentum-building moments over the course of the past few months. Every time I receive feedback on my work, both negative and positive, from both online and offline readers, I selfishly think to myself that the feedback itself is the one and only reason to keep going. The feedback allows me to continue to hold myself to that high standard I keep mentioning throughout the course of this piece. The opening paragraph is no lie; it was in that moment that I visualized my dream coming to life. Ironically, it came in a moment of self-absorption and materialistically reveling in my own triumphs. Some might call this pretentiousness. Others might label it as good old-fashioned douchebaggery. I would agree with all of the above, only adding that while the vision might have negative implications, the implications are productive and ambitious, nevertheless.
So I will not rest until that goal has been accomplished, and I fear that it will only lead to more lofty goal setting and carrot chasing until I have properly overworked myself and ran myself into the ground. I could ramble on about this concept in every single aspect of my life; I barely touched on relationships, and I highly doubt you weary readers want to hear about my upcoming two-a-day workout schedule I am going to be putting myself through in order to be in immaculate physical shape for upcoming pool and bachelor party season. Demanding self-excellence is both a curse and a blessing.
But I mostly believe it is a blessing, so long that you can come to accept the fact that while there may be certain milestones reached in the course of one’s life that will allow for short moments of rest and relaxation; the reality is that there will be no rest for the cursed souls until their flesh is rotting in a wooden box six feet under the freshly dug topsoil. Acknowledging that the concept of retirement is outdated and irrelevant is important in this acceptance of everlasting life. Making it is not a matter of reaching a certain milestone financially, personally, artistically, or otherwise; rather making it is the triumph over one’s personal expectations, no matter how great or lofty they might be. The lottery winner who finds himself in an entirely different life the next time they wake up is doomed to fail because they were never given a fair chance to self-actualize. Even if they do not run out of money by being a smart resource manager, spiritually, they will end up poor, because the process was skipped entirely. Restlessness will persist until the lottery winner is driven to madness or bankruptcy. We all are chasing some form of lottery ticket, even if we convince ourselves that we are working hard and smart for it. Those years of busting our backs for the village by the sea or safeguarded homestead/doomsday bunker seems worth it until we step on the freshly purchased land and ask ourselves the question we could have anticipated 40 years prior: now what? And perhaps the sanctuary that we so seek is a way to continue our labors and the pursuit of something greater than oneself. But I truly believe that there is no way to escape the mission of life. There is no end. No women in bikinis waiting for us with a shiny trophy and buckets of champagne after we break the ribbon and cross the finish line. Those women will slap you across the face and tell you drop and give them 100 because there is still work to do. They will tell you to start preparing your mind, body, and spirit for the next race. And you will continue the cycle of preparing for and competing in races until your vessel of bones and flesh no longer allows you to compete in said races. And when your vessel is laid to rest and the day of judgement comes for your soul, you can only hope for the fruits of your labor to continue into the next life through your offspring and their offspring.
"I'm all out of nicorettes, which means in about ten minutes I'm going to kill somebody."
-Will Emerson from the film Margin Call
“Yeah so this file is for documenting compensation data for all the employees who are a part of our outsourced division within our main product offering. It’s called “Headcount”. We keep track of all offers, acceptances, resignations, and terminations here. It is part of the budgeting process. Some of the salary numbers are going to make you sick to your stomach. We have senior engineers making less than what would be minimum wage here in the States. The job descriptions for these positions require an advanced degree and double digit years of hands-on experience at high growth tech companies; they make less than a full-time line cook at a fast-food restaurant. I would ask you to set aside your moral stances and humanity when building this budget. The decisions on whether to outsource or hire locally is above both of our pay grades. We simply plug in the numbers and make it look nice for the board and private equity investors. Which brings me to my next point. You see row 75? It’s labeled “contingencies” for a reason. We can stuff whatever expenses we want into that line item and leave them unknown for the time being. That way, we can hide special projects and ad-hoc requests from the executive team. You already know how our CFO is at odds with our CEO when it comes to research and development. To be honest, I see both sides. Despite the fact that we have been purchased by PE and made 3 acquisitions in the last calendar year, there are no signs pointing towards a profitable line. Our sales are growing like a cancerous tumor, yet the bucket at the end of the rusty faucet head is still barren. There is no reason to be spending more money and hiring more people, especially after the recent merit increase millions of dollars worth of bonuses offered to recently hired senior level employees. Yet, with the IPO on the horizon, we need to make this thing look as lucrative and enticing as possible. If that means burying a few million worth of costs in a single line item, then so be it. Hell, we make up our own metrics just to paint a prettier picture to the investors. “ARR” can be calculated with a dozen different formulas. We just tweak and modify it to maximize the number that ends up on the PowerPoint. And they know that. It’s just one big mirage. At the end of the day, they’re going to get paid, the founders are going to get paid, the investment bank underwriting the deal is going to get paid, and us analysts should see a hefty raise and year-end bonus. And if we don’t, we just quit, right? There’s a hundred other companies just like this one. The product offering is good, but it’s not life changing. And yet the IPO is going to show a company value that is mid-nine digits. If they screw us over, then I have no doubt you and I will find another high-growth tech company that is ripe for fresh analysts looking for a new start after being burnt out and screwed over. Mid-six figure salary, cushy benefits, and more flexibility than a Russian gymnast to cook numbers in Excel and sweet talk the investors in monthly presentations. Not a bad life at all man. If you have any questions, just let me know, but generally speaking, lay low around here. Don’t buy into the hype. Do what you have to do to get in and get out with a big of a money bag as you can possibly carry. We’re lucky we were dumb enough to choose Finance as a career path. Our jobs will never be noble, world-changing, life-saving, or meaningful in the way your parents or elementary school teachers told you. We’re not adding value, creating synergies, promoting diversity, or whatever other hogwash bullshit HR told you in orientation. Never forget that. Understood? Great. I’ll see you when you fly out here. Can’t wait to finally meet you. I have a lot planned for us when you’re in town, and none of it has to do with this miserable fucking place.”
Analyzer of Life’s Data