Terrible Jobs; Good Lessons

I think everyone has had a terrible job before. The worst jobs or clients I’ve had have been the most interesting to look back on and see how they have shaped my approach to FIRE, business and life in general. I’ve had terrible people I’ve worked with and terrible jobs but these 2 are the ones that stand out in what shaped me and my approaches to business and management.

UPS Management – What a total shit show of a place to work. If you work in management at UPS up until YESTERDAY (11/10/2020) you are not allowed to have a beard. It’s this strange management structure that hasn’t fundamentally changed from the 1950s. These strange structures makes the general work environment insanely toxic. Supervisors (that is what I was) are the lowest levels of management and there is a never ending chain of management above them that only care about numbers. The higher up the person is that decided to get angry about a number that day and yell at the guy below them the worse that shit was gonna be. God help you if a VP started the chain; you might lose your job if you don’t make it better quickly. Notice how I’m just saying number? That number could be production, overtime, hours per shift, skilled hours, delayed pieces, it’s all just some number that a nerd (like me) made up. Shit rolls downhill and I’m certain that phrase originated with someone who worked at UPS. Impossible standards and working insane hours to meet those standards created a terrible place to spend time. Despite all this wasted time, energy, expense, hours and human enjoyment this company makes billions every year.

Crazy publisher man – While UPS has its flaws I have heard it has gotten better since I’ve been gone which is going on 13 years now. All my best terrible job stories come from just one place. My first job as an accountant in the private sector was for a company that published OSHA books and sold them over the internet. Really he copy and pasted text from OSHA websites, did some formatting, made them into giant books at his own printer and sold them to companies to put on a shelf and gather dust. I thought he was a genius. He was making over $5 million in PROFIT every year with less than 20 employees. I was so excited to be this guys ONLY accountant. Fuck yeah, let’s do this, I thought. Unfortunately, that guy turned out to be the most bat shit and evil human I’ve ever encountered. Inches from an employee’s face screaming and spitting at max volume…weekly at least. I think I lasted like 3 or months before I got my first one and told myself I would not stay. I did as little as possible each day and job hunted hoping to get fired. He fired someone about every 10 days of his 18 person staff so it couldn’t be that hard. When he finally did fire me for not coming in for 2 days I said cool and got my stuff. When I filed for unemployment he had his staff attorney create some crazy story and deny my unemployment. It was something with a signature on a check he said was my signing his name? It’s been a lot of years and the story they made up was never fully told to me by them or the unemployment office. I was denied and from talking to other coworkers learned that he did that every single time. He would fire someone and then intentionally lie to ruin their lives just a little harder. Big time asshole and yet each week there was a new hire unknowingly walking into hell. Even crazier is that he still was making north of $5 million a year.

As I’ve gotten older and done decently well in business I think back to that job as the worst and best job I’ve ever had. It’s certainly the one I learned the most at. I learned that business is easy and some ideas are so good that you make money in spite of yourself. Ever since I worked for this crazy bastard I’ve asked myself and my friends the question “What would this guy’s empire have been like if he were just a decent human being.” He was doing everything with entry level people that he trained himself and then scream opposite instructions at two weeks later. He hired a full-time attorney as part of his staff mostly to fight his crazy legal battles and deny unemployment to people he fired. There is more, a lot more to tell on this guy but at the end of the day he was making millions.

Ever since then I’ve approached my business life with the goal of not becoming these people. Once I got more into FIRE I felt sad for that crazy man. At the income that business made when he wasn’t there would pay for the most luxurious life a person could imagine. Instead he toils in there wrecking up the place and holding himself back way past the point of him even needing the money.

I learned that you work as hard as you can, treat people decent, spend some but invest more and when you have enough you get the fuck out.


Wildfires and Climate Change

Well FIREDad has just returned from our first mandatory evacuation from our home and let me tell you it sucks. I know you’ve seen people interviewed that say it’s so much worse than you can imagine and let me tell you they are right. There really is nothing quite like having less than an hour to pack all your things, animals and family members into your car then driving away with a hellfire inferno on all sides of you.

Wildfires have been a threat to homes since humans started building homes. When I was a kid I remember hearing about the wildfires and how they would burn some homes that were remote and especially cabins. Today these fires are burning bigger every single year with the fire that displaced our family being the biggest in CO history. This shit is not normal and feels like a crisis we are ignoring.

During our evacuation we stayed with our neighbors and got some interesting insight into the way others think. During the two weeks we were forced from our home we had a lot of time to think about what we would do next if our entire town and community burned to the ground. After a disaster there are the people that will rebuild every single time. Where I grew up these were the river people and every time they were flooded they would march back in and rebuild. The mountain people are no different; our neighbors would rebuild every time if the fire took it all. The FIRE family is not that way and we would walk away. It’s a very surreal thing to have to plan for and think about, but it’s an important exercise. It’s best to know what you would do in advance and have a plan rather than react emotionally.

Of course, Estes Park did not burn and life has returned to normal until the next hellfire comes in to threaten us again which I’m sure will be next year. Come on humanity, let’s just take climate change seriously. It’s about time and might even be too late.

America Divided in 3

The world is changing and America is no different and it feels like we are turning a corner that cannot be reversed.

The income disparity in the US has always been extreme, but what is happening now is a spread that might not be able to be overcome. I’m not talking about the billionaire class or the 1% or politics as those have been discussed by far more educated people that I am.

I’m referring to the cost of living across the US. There really are 3 Americas right now and it feels next to impossible to move up from one to the other. Let me explain.

3 levels of America – 

3rd world America – Deep south and rural north. Examples include: Rural Mississippi, North Dakota (not cities), native reservations.

2nd world America – Rural areas of 1st world states, populated areas in less desirable climates. Examples include: midwest metros, Raleigh NC, Des Moines IA, Albq NM.

1st world America – Big cities and states in great climates. Examples include: Colorado, all the west coast, most of the east coast, Chicago.

These have existed in three different levels for my entire life, but the disparity has gotten huge. Six years ago the FIRE Family moved from a 2nd world America to the 1st. We moved from Davenport, IA to Estes Park, CO. At the time we sold our home in Iowa for $150,000 – exactly what we paid for it 3 years earlier and purchased a major fixer upper in EP, CO for $300,000. 

At first glance those numbers don’t seem too bad since it’s double the price for a much more desirable location. I’ll concede that six years ago that was a doable trade and transition. The problems come in what has happened in those six years. The house we sold in Iowa is still worth basically what we sold it for. Our first house in Estes we sold one year ago for $475,000. We could have done some more work to it and gotten the value well over $500k.

The price we sold our first Estes home for was higher than we could have even afforded. That means in the six years since we first came to Estes we are lucky we came when we did, because as of today it would have been near impossible for us to afford that move. This is happening all over the country across all the different levels of America listed. Values of homes and cost of living in 1st world America continue to rise while the lower tiers are staying relatively flat and in the case of the 3rd world are actually decreasing. 

As with all things it is important to identify the problems and do your best to maximize the situation. In this case the move is to find some beautiful land and homes right on the edge of the 2nd and 3rd world and purchase a manor when the same money in the 1st world America buys you a 1 bedroom condo. 

If you find yourself trapped in 3rd world America or even the lower tiers of the 2nd world it is getting more and more difficult to transition to the top tier and if you are planning on it then move fast. Every year you let go by is going to become more expensive and restrictive. I was a full blown adult during the 2008 housing crisis and while it is obvious we are living in a real estate bubble right now I do not believe that bubble will burst especially hard in the 1st world America. There is just too much money at the top and these areas are extremely desirable. Demand drives up prices and good weather and recreation is not going out of style.

I expect in my lifetime we will see America divided in a more formal manner. If you’ve spent any time traveling this country as I have you’ll know that there really are multiple Americas and the disconnect has never been greater. The best we can do is take these observations and do the best we can for our future. For the FIRE Family this means we are planning to become self sufficient and use our income/savings from the 1st world to buy a massive property in the 3rd world with the intention of homesteading. While that goal is pretty unique the lesson is still there for others to learn. Wealth inequality is not just a 1% vs the rest equation. There are quite a few different problems that are arising from this issue and it’s important that we all stay educated and informed.

Resort Skiing is a Curse on Humanity

No one around. Peace and perfection

The Fire Family lives in Northern Colorado in the mountains and winter is the most important season of the year. Winter means that every day is an adventure in the backcountry and each time we are lucky enough to go explore and play is a gift to be cherished.

My goal each year has been to get 100 days each season and while I’ve never hit that number I get to at least half of that every year since moving here. In the 6 seasons I’ve had in this wonderful place I have ridden a chairlift exactly one day. It was a pretty fun day with friends, and we were lucky to have one person with us who had discounted lift ticket pricing. Our party was 3 guys and since we all work together in one of FireDad’s companies I footed the bill. The total cost for the day which included 1 free lift ticket, 2 tickets at $30 a piece plus lunch with a beer each was still $150. Had we paid full price for that day the cost would have been around $375 for one day of skiing and an overpriced lunch.

The mountains serve many purposes, but the one I like the most is adventure. I do not find much adventure in resort skiing. In fact, I am here to say that resort skiing is a plague on humanity and the mountains.

Resorts are not natural. They take these beautiful and natural locations then proceed to alter them in generational changing ways. They rip tens of thousands of trees out, make fake snow, install concrete and metal structures to haul our fat asses to the top, use explosives to flatten areas of the mountain to be “accessible”, build giant cafeterias into mountainsides, etc, etc.
Ski resorts do serve a purpose. They are great places to learn the sport, have a luxury vacation occasionally, but the amount of waste these monstrosities produce and inflict on our world does not outweigh their good.

Alternatives? Get your ass in the Backcountry

Yes the foreign concept of putting skins on your skis and hauling yourself up the mountain, finding your own lines in powder never seen or touched by a human. This is skiing as our ancestors did things and as I get older I’m quickly learning that modern is rarely the best.

Backcountry skiing is only for experts though right?
This myth needs to go away. Just like a resort nearly every place in America you could ski has been already assigned a difficulty and skill level using the same system. A beginner shouldn’t do a black diamond at a resort just the same a beginner shouldn’t do a black diamond in the backcountry. I’ve been skiing and snowboarding my entire life and I am smart enough to not do any black diamond or above when I’m solo. I won’t touch most double blacks in the wilderness unless I am very confident of my line beforehand. It’s basically the exact same rules you follow at the resort except the trail signs aren’t there.

Ski resorts in the United States and most of the world are gigantic, billion dollar companies and conglomerates. The activists that love skiing and protest the pillage and destruction of natural resources seem to have a blind eye to ski resorts and it’s baffling to me why. The only thing I can come up with is that they just love downhill winter sports so much they feel it’s the only way. It’s not, and the alternative is much better.

How to get started?

You don’t need some fancy setup with special bindings, expensive skins and inflatable avalanche packs to get into the backcountry. Here is all you need:

  • A friend to come with your first few times
  • Skis or snowboard
  • If your setup is for a resort then a cheap pair of snowshoes
  • a pack
  • bungie cords or rope
Look at that, they fit on your pack!

Scroll through this picture gallery that I’ve collected over the last 5 years. Highlights include: beautiful scenery, powder deeper than you’ve ever seen it, and not a single line to wait in. Why would you pay a giant corporation your hard earned money for a shittier experience?