Why FIRE? – An Engineer’s Existential Angst

FIRE, financial independence retire early, is a thing nowadays. Technical professionals saving money and then quitting their corporate jobs in order to be free in life. Many of these people seek a more creative or energizing way to spend their time.
My proposal is that many smart people become engineers and believe in a creative and exciting and lucrative career. But they find, once they have worked for a few years in a famous corporation, that their job becomes somewhat boring, possibly meaningless. Some engineers, find that their engineering is actually inflicting moral harm on their existence. Many engineers feel, consciously or unconsciously, an existential angst created by their disillusionment over actual engineering careers versus the idealism generate by their professors in school.
An example would be that your brilliant coding is actually for the purpose of addicting and harming other human beings, and you secretly know it is wrong. But the money is good so you decide to take the money, save it and get out as soon as possible. Another example would be a chemical engineer in a manufacturing plant. After a few years, you realize you are replacing the same pump and are bored with it, or your job is focused on clicking meaningless buttons for tracking systems.
In my own case, I spent most of my career in environmental and safety engineering. The last ten years in process safety engineering. I was proud and it felt good to tell others I was a process safety engineer and my job was to keep the nasty stuff in the pipes and not in the city. Secretly, I knew that corporations were far more likely to implement a safety solution if it was also a production improvement. And that some of the safety suggestions were implemented with human interventions, training and procedures, instead of hardware changes, if fixing the problem did not have a return on capital.
Engineers become bored in a manufacturing environment because the physical surroundings change very little day to day. They do their job making sure that production goes on, but then find activities outside of work to gain meaning to their existence. Frequently, the meaning of life is associated with family, and a tension develops between the boring lucrative job and time away from the family supported by the job. The irritation changes the person who can’t stand the irritation. Either they go dead in order to tolerate the irritation, or plan a way out. The FIRE people are finding a way out.
Are FIRE professionals just selfish assholes who game a system and get out? Or are they the really sensitive types who want to find a better way? A little of both, with the over whelming drive to find something more for their lives.

Re-imagining the Dream

My last post claimed I\’m thinking about leaving my job; leaving the American dream. Then I got my bonus. Adding up all the money I actually make convinced me that continuing to work makes financial sense.

So the real problem with my life is me and my attitudes.

And I have spent 31 years working on said attitudes; but with a major distraction. If only I could be spiritual, float around and never work again. Such a dream landed me in a monastery for 4 years; which cost me about $500,000 in lost wages.

As a result of my current investigation into quitting my job, I realized a couple of things. Yes, work is hard and I\’m like most people in not wanting to do it. Spiritual directors say that we should follow our dreams and not work at \”jobs\”. But is working at an engineering job in a chemical plant really killing my soul? If I believe so then yes, it is. If I am consciously going to work with some other attitude, then no. Any emotional problems I have with the people at work are no different than the emotional problems I had with the sisters in the convent. And quitting work altogether would leave me with the same emotional problems.

So the real problem with my life is me and my attitudes.

I have access to attitude improvement. Mostly, it is practicing A Course in Miracles. Keeping in my mind, Course thinking instead of ego thinking is a challenge. Daily opening of the book puts fresh healing cooling balm into my brain.

Another result of this \”quitting\” investigation is that I seem to have pushed away my 2 spiritual advisers. I need to accept my own choices as the best for me no matter what these so called spiritual advisers say. I am an engineer and I must have chosen that for this life\’s purpose. I am not a spiritual author; and I won\’t suddenly become one just because I quit my job. My life is not a worthless life because I work as an engineer.

Yesterday, the bug man came so I don\’t have bugs in the house. Today, the AC man came to check the AC, so the house is cool. Is having the money to pay for such services so terribly un-spiritual?

Tomorrow, I\’m going in a marathon. On Sunday, I\’m going in a half marathon. Because of doing the 2 races in a row, I get a special medal. The swag gets hung on a wall with numerous other bits of swag. Am I guilty of a terrible shallowness because I love medals? I love races, even though I come in behind. Does this make me a spiritual loser?

The problem with my life is not my life. It is how I feel about it. And I can change my decisions about what a good life is. I need to drop the rocks.

The Dream can be a dream of inner joy. Joy just is. Joy does not have to be caused. Just think the word Joy, and I feel better instantly.

Envy

I am in College Station at a professional conference. I unexpectedly found that my future boss and 2 colleagues are here. An example of how little we communicate that I didn\’t know any of them were coming. I have put on dress pants for the first time in over a year. The women\’s 10s from Talbot are way too big. The men\’s 32×32 are also too big but fit better than the womens cuz they don\’t have the wide hips. I don\’t have wide hips. I also don\’t like womens pants as they are nowadays which only come up to the hips. Um no, I am an engineering professional and I don\’t wear pants half way down my butt.

I am reading a book called \”Glittering Vices.\” It is a very interesting look at the seven capital vices. It is spiritually deep as it integrates monastic desert spirituality and Aquinas and modern day influences. I am finding it really hits home in explaining how I feel.

Envy is really a symptom of feeling worthless and needing to be superior to mask that feeling. \”…defining envy as dissatisfaction with our place in God\’s order of creation, manifested in begrudging his gifts to others.\” When an envier does \”win\” she still does not have what she needs: \”… a secure, non-contingent, unconditional sense of her own worth…..the cure for envy requires getting out of the comparative game of engineering self-worth altogether.\”

A Course in Miracles also offers explanations of envy related to the ego; and offers a spiritual correction for the situation. Other metaphysical methodologies would offer meditation and changing your thoughts.

For now, I am glad to be exploring and defining my envy. I am glad to name it and put it out there where I can see it. Now that I am hip to the situation, I don\’t have to react to it. I have taken my power back.

Pending Anniversary Days

Tomorrow is my sobriety anniversary: 27 years since I last drank. I don\’t go to AA anymore; and my desire not to drink is more related to maintaining a spiritual connection than it is to a disease.

August 9 is the 9th anniversary of getting kicked out of the monastery. I became a monk in the world.

So, I have some new running goodies scheduled to arrive as presents. And I am having a mid-year performance check-up with my new boss on the 9th. That is sort of cool since being a fabulous engineer is important to my life in the world.

Well, I wrote that sentence early this morning. About the noon hour: Surprise! I was given a monetary Special Recognition Award. Wow! I have not ever received something like that before.

This morning, I made it out of bed in time for a 70 minute workout, of which 30 min was speed walking outside. I can\’t get my mind off the long distance races I have coming up. Mostly, I hope for a good time at Ultracentric.com in Texas. I have signed up for the 48 hour, knowing full well I won\’t be able to get to Dallas until at best 8 hours after the start of the race. It will be my first experience of camping on the course instead of going to a hotel. I am excited about it because it seems like my foot is healing up and I\’ll be able to do this event.

Of course, Ultracentric is after my company sponsored German work vacation and a half marathon run in Germany.

Crimony! A Course in Miracles is good. Go study it.

Adiabatic Spiritual Process

As promised, I mentioned yesterday that I needed to integrate pressure safety design with contemplation. This morning, listening to the boring, stuffy know-it-all experts which form the pressure safety priesthood, I had this realization.

God is adiabatic and His equation of state is Q=0. God has zero entropy.

Huh?

Spiritual engineering is not for the faint hearted.

So, lets start with the word adiabatic. I am a mechanical engineer and I\’ve never been that much in love with thermodynamics. So that word \”adiabatic\” has surfaced in my career from time to time. I\’ve always at first been confused and then looked it up and then sat and contemplated.

Adiabatic refers to a thermodynamic process that occurs without gain or loss of heat Q (and heat is energy) with the surroundings. Derived from the Greek: impassible to heat, incapable of being crossed. All the change in the internal energy is in the form of work done. The adiabatic cooling of air as it rises in the atmosphere is the main cause of cloud formation.

God however, cannot change energy. God is a constant;  Q=0 and God\’s entropy equals zero too.

Entropy, from the second law of thermodynamics, it the world\’s tendency to move from order to disorder; and it is a measure of energy not available for work (because it is wasted as heat).

The dream of the Son of God in the world is made entirely imaginary and irrational numbers, which make up an equation of state with continuously increasing entropy.

Many people have belief systems where the temperature, volume and pressure change, and work is done, but they are impassible to exteriorly motivated belief changes. An adiabatic belief system would not be losing energy to the exterior; and that is why the dream of the Son of God is non-adiabatic and has continuously increasing entropy. A lot of energy is wasted in corollary after corollary needed to keep the frozen belief system. A religion, and the individual church itself, is an adiabatic system with increasing entropy. Go check the increasing number of books attempting to prove any catechism is TRUTH, and you\’ll see the wasted energy and increasing disorder.

But when any individual thought of God (an imaginary part of the Son of God which is dreaming the dream) remembers that his truth is inner peace, he immediately returns to the God constant. The miracle is that the remembrance of one implements peace in all. This is the Atonement: the undoing of the entropy derivative and re-integration into the one Son who always only exists in God.

Seek inner peace. In A Course in Miracles (2.I.5) it says \”Peace is an attribute in you.\” So I sit back and turn my thoughts inward to the gentle peaceful light of Constancy.

God and Engineering

I am off on a seemingly different topic; at least different from running and A Course in Miracles, sort of.

11 years ago, I was working as an engineer completing highly technical calculations for sizing relief valves on chemical reactors. I was doing this work for the company I currently work for. 11 years ago, I had begun to practice silent contemplation. I was filling my head with the works of John of the Cross, Theresa of Avila, Thomas Merton and some Buddhist monks. I was convinced that to carry out my mission to know God, I had to go live in a monastery. So, I engineered a project and quickly found myself confirmed Roman Catholic and installed as a Postulant in a contemplative Benedictine religious order.

4 years later (on the day I was supposed to take vows), I found myself suddenly on the streets. Next, I found myself in a parish and working as a cashier at a bakery.

1 year later, I returned to my engineering profession as I had obtained a job at an ethanol plant located in a small town in Kansas. So I lived there for 5 years, practicing contemplation, solitude and running alot. I worked my way through leaving the Catholic Church, divorcing myself from most of society and adopting A Course in Miracles as my spiritual text.

Last June, I got laid off the ethanol plant job, but obtained a job at my former employer. I have been there for over a year as a Process Safety Engineer. And now, I find myself slowly returning to involvement with pressure safety. Today, I am at a DIERS workshop in San Diego, learning more about the complicated calculations needed to design relief valves for chemical reactors.

I am also reading a book called \”The Hermitage Within.\” Last night I had these thoughts: When I am alone, I have the opportunity to block out the world. And then, simply wait for God; sitting quietly, completely available, listening. I recognize The Presence here and now.

I find it must be my task to integrate a life in the world with contemplation. I must integrate the intricate design of relief valves with the massive silence of God. This idea takes my breath away. People think only monks can be intensely spiritual or that monks have some special place in God consciousness. Read Vatican documents on the place of religious in the world and they clearly state that contemplative nuns are closer into the heart of God than the rest of us.

It simply can\’t be true if God is love. It must be true that God comes to whoever wants Him and is willing to give up everything else. So, as I sit in class for the next few days, I\’ll be making prayers of equations for bubbly two phase flow.

I find myself in the heart of God whenever I consciously recognize the fact. Everyone is there with me; but many don\’t know it. If God is love, so are we. There is nothing else. And so I sit before the massive silence and feel awe; even as some teacher drones on and on about two phase flow.