“The Ultimate Answer to Life, The Universe and Everything is…42!”
-The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy
My 42nd lap around the Earth started in a decidedly negative space. The year previous I found myself on the wrong side of new management at a job that I loved, losing the gig & forcing my family to move across the country for the 3rd time in 4 years. I wound up living in a place I thought I had left behind, surrounded by people I did not respect, chasing professional goals I was not remotely invested in and making everyone that truly cared for me all too aware of my dissatisfaction. I was creatively stifled, personally miserable & professionally stagnant. Slowly but surely I was falling into the trap of a life I wasn’t interested in with the nagging resentment of the impending years of mediocrity to come.
Then a funny thing happened — that job I hated so much decided that it hated me back and shortly after my 42nd year began I was again unemployed. Further, that place that I didn’t want to be couldn’t have cared less that I was there, willingly or otherwise, and I couldn’t find so much as a hint of hope that I could catch on and work anywhere else. The rotten energy that I brought with me had paid me back with interest.
The cynic in me relished the fact that even the consolation prize position I had settled for was now somehow out of reach while the rest of me dealt with crushing frustration. I wish I could say that I immediately yanked on the bootstraps, took the bull by the horns and got my life back on track.
But that‘s not at all how Year 42 went down.
Instead I let the agony and anger sink in. I bathed in it. I put on 15 pounds (OK, 20) and started coming up with excuses not to do, well, just about everything. I spent a great deal of time in self pity and self medication, getting very closely acquainted with my old friends at Ketel One. I became an absolute joy to be around, doing my best to alienate friends & family alike so that no one was close enough to get a ring side seat to the shame spiral I was slipping down. That mediocre future I had previously been so despondent over was now starting to look like a best case scenario and I doubled down on bad decisions. Mind you, much like an out-of-body experience I could see that all of this was a long road to a bad end but still couldn’t find a way to do something about it.
Then a funnier thing happened — despite my unemployment and the requisite financial challenges it posed, my wife insisted that we make good on our 2nd wedding anniversary trip to Alaska (just 9 years after we’d originally planned it). Initially I resisted the idea and threw out a half dozen excuses as to why we shouldn’t go. Anger had become fear which had become paralysis. Call it a low point — it sucked.
You see, Alaska had always been a dream trip for me, I had even applied & interviewed for a job in Anchorage back in 2003. It was the destination of a lifetime but it forced me to take a long, unsavory look in the mirror at what I had let myself become. Those mountains weren’t going to care that I was mopey. Those glacial rivers wouldn’t be less blue just because I was. The bears wouldn’t walk away from a chance to devour me no matter how much salt was coursing through my veins. I was going to ruin this once-in-a-lifetime chance the same way I was ruining everything else.
It was the kick to the guts that I desperately needed and I’m guessing she knew.
I put down the bottle, picked up some books and trained for a month straight as though my life depended on it (it’s Alaska so it kind of does after all). I lost enough weight to stuff myself into my hiking gear, used my brain for something other than a booze mop & focused — truly focused — in ways that I hadn’t for too long.
Upon arriving in the 49th State I was dumbstruck by the size of it all. The mountains, the sea, the rivers… everything is bigger there. Bigger than anything I had seen. Bigger than it looks on television. Bigger than it ought to be. Bigger than me. So much bigger than me.
It was there, covered in sweat on a 10 mile hike to Raven Glacier with the mountain air in my lungs, that the light bulb truly went on. I was forced to face the fact that world was still a wonderful place with as much to offer as you were willing to work to have… and that I was pissing it all away. I needed this place to be here at this moment. I was exhilarated. I was horrified. Once you realize that you’re the problem you have no choice but to get off of your ass and do something about it. As author Mark Manson expertly puts it:
“Fault is the past tense. Responsibility is the present tense. Fault results from choices that have already been made. Responsibility results from the choices you’re currently making, every second of every day.”
Upon returning I knew that things had to change. With so much world out there how could I resign myself to something less? How could I raise my kids to work, dream and go big if they were going to grow up with a resentful ball of half-measures as a father? I began looking for something different than a job — I started to look for an opportunity. It was time to stop chasing titles, advancement or status and look for a life. There were mountains out there to be climbed (both metaphorically and, ya know, the ones created by plate tectonics) but if I let myself continue to fall apart I’d be watching them from the wrong side of the window. Unacceptable. I had to start looking for something different, in a different way.
With this in mind, I happened across a job opening in Helena, Montana. I couldn’t help but smile. This small town in the Rockies had been seducing members of my family for generations and I grew up hearing about the place with it’s gold mines and mountain ranges. It was quite literally founded on the idea of new beginnings and last chances (Main Street in Helena is actually called Last Chance Gulch). I already knew that Montana was home to thousands of square miles of untouched natural splendor and that folks there that proudly — fiercely — protected it. It was a hard place. If you lived in Montana it was because you loved it.
I had to apply.
I flew out a few weeks later and interviewed with The Montana Radio Company in a way that I never had before. When asked what it was I wanted to know about the position I told them “I know about the job and I can do it, what I want to know is if my family can live here happily?” It was an unfair question to ask a prospective employer but with everything on the line there was no reason to be coy. I was in search of happiness and a home, not just another job. Not to say the job wasn’t important, it was(is) but I could no longer ignore the hard lessons learned about the importance of people and culture to take a job that looked great on paper. Was there an opportunity to be had in Montana?
As it turns out, there was.
So the transition to life in The Last Best Place has begun and is still under way. It has been wonderful to this point and the lessons learned in this last year echo louder off these hills than anywhere I’ve been. Montana will take your challenges & afford you whatever it is that you’re willing to work for. It positively dares you to do something. It is exactly what I was looking for.
For my part, I’ve tried to accept the dare. I’m down 35 pounds from my peak beer-guzzling weight, there’s a stack of books 5 deep that I’ve read this month on the table beside me, I’ve cut the cord on standard television (something I don’t miss it in the least it turns out) and I’ve been on top of no less than 6 different mountains in the last few weeks. I’ve also met some of the kindest & most genuine people that you could hope to know and I’m just getting started. People have been bringing their dreams here for well over 100 years, I’m no different.
So it’s been a busy year, this 42nd lap around the sun. While I doubt that 42 is truly “The Ultimate Answer to Life, The Universe and Everything!” I have rediscovered that whatever it is I am to become it’s up to me to do something about it as tragedy will be back at some point — I must be on better footing when it arrives. So for the year to come I can endeavor to be a better father, to be a better husband and to reward the folks at TMRC that allowed me the opportunity to start something completely new here in The 406.
Most of all I must remember how Year 42 almost went in a completely different direction. This last year could have very easily been the beginning of the end of so much in my life, that it’s a beginning — if only the beginning of a Last Chance — is more than I ever could have asked.
Happy birthday indeed.