Not too long ago I had an impressive job, one of those jobs that comes with a fancy office full of windows. I was striving, and my colleagues were all striving with me, working long hours to climb a ladder before it was pulled up. The work wasn't all that bad, even if the hours were terrible and long, but the work usually wasn't that great either. I did well at the job, at least up until I just couldn't take it anymore. Looking back on it all now, I recall the first hint of the difference between me and my fellow climbers, the first loose thread in the ultimate unraveling of my place in the social fabric of my office.
We traveled a lot, my colleagues and I. We were road warriors, the sort of business people often mocked for our membership in every frequent flyer club, for our familiarity with airports. I learned to pack all I needed for a business trip into a carry on bag. Thanks to special memberships, I always got to cut to the front of the rental car line, if I had to stand in line at all. I was every bit as good at business travel as my co-workers, but there was one telling difference.
My fellow travelers carried files and computers for their flights, squeezing a little bit of work out of their time in a high altitude metal tube. If not working on a flight, or in some instances even if working, they spent the time between take-off and landing exchanging vouchers for booze overpriced in dollars.
I read books. I looked forward to flights (and always hoped to be seated far away from my colleagues) so that I could escape into a novel, or sometimes a bit of poetry. The demands of my career, not to mention a young family, left me little other time to read during that stretch of my life. Books were old friends I only encountered intimately during enforced stillness and isolation, the kind that came when forced to sit in place without a phone or email for several hours at a stretch. Mostly I read escapist fiction. The Bond novels were a favorite of mine, but I also worked through plenty of science fiction and fantasy stories while crossing continents and oceans. Sometimes I brought old friends with me on business trips, but mostly I bought new ones from airport news stands or used bookstores near my hotels. The highlight of many of my trips was finding a new book for the flight home.
I developed a reputation as a weirdo at the office. That reputation grew bit by bit as people who traveled with me whispered about how I behaved so strangely on airplanes, about me disappearing into bookstores. Even with the dread reputation as a reader, I kept getting sent on trips--I was quite good at my job, after all. Still, the word was out, to me as much as to everyone else at the office. I realized that I wasn't quite a fit for the job, and I realized that the job wasn't a good fit for me. There were other differences making my position poor fit for me, of course, but the reading was the first sign of the mismatch, a clue I missed for years of increasing misery. I can see it clearly now only with the benefit of hindsight.
Eventually, the inevitable happened: I quit. In that single act, I managed to cut my income by more than half, but I really increased the time I have to read.
I don't regret it one bit.