Live Free or Die

(This isn’t an Ode to New Hampshire nor that shitty 4th Die Hard movie, sorry if you came here thinking it was, although if it was for the last Die Hard movie, you should be ashamed of yourself for wanting to read about this gratuitous PG-13 piece of trash. John Mclaine without saying “yuppie Ka yae Motherfucker”? You kidding me?)

“Being Comfortable is the scariest feeling in the world”, she said to me in that breathy voice of hers.

She was right of course. She is always right.


People who have been reading me have noticed that things around this blog have significantly changed over the course of the past year: the ranting has become more and more infrequent, the posting, which used to be 8 or 9 times a day every day of the week now takes a vacation from Thursday to Sunday, and an almost nagging feeling that the passion behind the writing is gone, replaced simply with detached cynicism and the every now and then glimpse of anger that have defined this blog for so long. If you’ve noticed all of this, you are not alone and you are not imagining things. One of the curses of writing is that your writing ability is always affected by your emotional state, and my emotional state has been kind of ..ehh.. well, numb isn’t the right word, but it’s the first that comes to mind. Oh, I know, stoic. I have been stoic for exactly 14 months now, ever since I moved to my new neighborhood.

You see, before I moved to where I am living now, I was supposed to be moving back to the States, where I would work in a DC NGO. Needless to say the situation got complicated when I found out that I am dealing with very shady people, and not wanting to associate myself with them, I cut loose al ties, with it the job and the Visa, and they in turn started a war against me in DC. But that was then, and it’s all history now. Anyway, faced with what to do next, I decided to take all the money I’ve saved and move to the posh expensive neighborhood that’s filled with foreigners and fellow anglophile egyptians in which I now reside. Once settled in, I started creating my own comfort zone, my own reality of Egypt. With the new place new friends came, and new parties, and girls, and more girls and more parties and inane discussions over hash smoking and the pursuit for the perfect alcohol collection and the nights out in overpriced bars and restaurants and the never-ending social life 7 nights a week. It was hedonism in Egyptian eyes, which meant that it was in its most boring and repetitive of forms, but hedonism it was nonetheless. It was great fun. And as the fun increased, the less angry I became, the less I cared about what was going on. I was slowly but surely becoming apathetic and there was nothing anyone could do about it.

Now, as most of you know, this Lifestyle naturally commanded a hefty price, i.e. it needed constant financing. That meant finding a job that paid the bills, and that job kind of found me. Suddenly I found myself working for a company with an extremely Egyptian work culture, with the petty politics and heavy islamist influences and the kind of frozen mentality that makes you wish to bash your head into the wall. I knew it was wrong for me, but I stayed there nonetheless, because everyone told me that it was time I grew up. That it was time to build my career, and maybe save some money for a rainy day, instead of my constant traveling and never-ending quest for instant gratification. And I listened. And naturally a few months later I couldn’t take it anymore and I left with mutual agreement of my superior. I now work for another company, doing the same thing. It’s slightly more exciting than the previous job, but I am not giving it my all. The sense of apathy that followed me from the first job still followed me here, and I can’t shake it off for the life of me.

I was oblivious to this problem until very recently, when I came across a career path that ignited a spark in a place that’s been dark for so long inside me, and now that’s all I could think of doing. It has everything that I wanted to do and more, and it eventually pays very well, so even my monetary needs will be satisfied. However, in order for me to get to that point I will need to start from the bottom of the ladder to get the tricks of the trade right, and that will mean bottom of the ladder money for at least the next 2 years. And that’s where the problem lies.

You see, I am turning 27 in a month, and right now, where I am at in life, I am actually ahead of the curve in what I do. I now work in upper-management of companies that do some seriously interesting work in terms of Information Technology. I have a very high expected salary. I have a Lifestyle that needs maintaining, a social life that is both demanding and expensive, and an apartment whose rent eats up a good chunk of my money. I am spoiled and comfortable, and the idea of giving all of that up, of all that I’ve accomplished, in the sake of fulfilling what I now deem to be my career of choice, well, that just leaves me frozen up in terror.

I can’t figure out for the life of me when I’ve allowed fear to take over such a huge part in my decision making, and yet here we are, with me unable to pursue what I want to do because of it. I turned to my friends for encouragement and guidance, to find them all frozen in terror like me, pursuing careers that they don’t like, ignoring their passions or possibly indulging in them on the weekend, and refusing to give up the careers they hate for ones they would actually enjoy, because, well, they have invested so much in this so far, and they can’t possibly throw it all away. Not to mention, in the “let’s always compare our penis size” culture of the social class I so happen to belong to, there is no space for you to be an indulger of your passions without doing it in a very grandiose way. You want to a screenwriter, let daddy finance a movie production company, You wanna become an artist, let mommy open up a gallery for you. Achievements in the realm of passion, that are 100% yours, are not heard of. Starting from the bottom of the ladder is neither allowed nor acceptable where I come from, especially if are over the age of 25. That’s when you are supposed to be all grown up, and by grown up we mean you should be doing some kind of job that you don’t like to purchase stuff that you probably could live without but makes you comfortable in order to justify your misery.

The more and more I think about it, the more I realize that If I really want to do what I want to do, then what I am doing right now has to stop. In order for me to evolve, I have to shed my skin and go all the way. I have to give up all the ties that bind me to a life of hollow achievement and miserable professional advancement. I have to do what I want to do, now, not in a year or two years or after I save some money or any of those endless tips of caution given to me by “grown-ups” who have been living in misery- that they alleviate with the occasional trip to the beach or attending the annual “Spring fling” or “Fuck me I am famous” parties where they spend fortunes partying with the same people they always party with and wonder who made it to the pages of the disgustingly self-indulgent “Scene and Heard” blog- for years and know it, yet refuse to escape it. They tell me to go after my dreams but do it rationally, unable to notice that they are talking about caution and not rationality. That rationality dictates that of you are young, with few attachments and responsibilities, and you are unhappy with something in your life, then change it immediately, before you become old and stuck in your life. Before this moment of opportunity passes you by.

And to make things even more confusing, some of those same friends who are stuck in careers they hate, are the ones who are encouraging me to do this, while they themselves are too chickenshit to attempt the same. You want to take their advice, you would really love to, but it’s hard to take them seriously when they themselves don’t follow it. When you point this out, they tell you it’s not about them, it’s about you, and when you press them on it, they confess that they are too terrified to make the same move, and would probably never take their own advice. What sounds like encouragement starts sounding like a set-up, and you realize, once again, that your friends are useless, and that, as always, you are in this alone.

There is, however, a part of me, that keeps screaming at it to just say “screw it” and do what I want to do. To give up the career, the apartment, the life and even the friends and go for it. That my love for them, the level of comfort they create in my life, is trapping me from doing what I need to do, and therefore they must go. Give it all up. Start over. That even if I failed, then it will be a glorious failure, because I will never look back to this time of my life when I am older in regret and say “If I only I wasn’t such a coward”. To destroy who I made myself become to save who I am. To Live Free or Die!

I can do this. I know I can. Yet here I am , in the office, pretending to work while I write this.

I am not scared, I am not…

…. but I can’t move!

0 comment on Live Free or Die

  1. Sid
    April 21, 2008 at 10:53 am

    Someone’s been smokin some good shit…. Boom Shankar!! 🙂

  2. Kiki
    April 21, 2008 at 11:17 am

    If you have never started over before, then it’s hard, but it will give you a rush. Don’t weight good or bad against each other, makes it impossible to move. Make a decisions and then do it.

    I’ve quit well paid jobs to go to school, cause it’s my life, I have to live it, and when I die, I want to say “Yeah I liked my life.” My nightmare is to wake up, when I old, thinking “What a waste.”

  3. kinzi
    April 21, 2008 at 11:18 am

    27 is when I did it, too. Ditched the big career, the house payments in Orange County, California, the muscle car, shopping at Nordstroms and fake nails. Sure, I starved a couple times, but I found myself and my life pulse…21 years later, i have my dream life.

    Do it, Sandmonkey.

  4. shahira
    April 21, 2008 at 11:32 am

    “rationality dictates that of you are young, with few attachments and responsibilities, and you are unhappy with something in your life, then change it immediately, before you become old and stuck in your life.” I guess you said it all darl. Go for it and be sure that your fears are exaggerated right now.

  5. Native Foreigner
    April 21, 2008 at 11:49 am

    I’ve been where you are and if I could tell you about it – you’ll be seeing yourself……
    at 26 – I was in finance for an international hotel chain (talk about way ahead of the curve – your exact words) I decided my life wasn’t what I wanted and at 27 quit my job. I had an expat salary, great apartment, great life – but I was feeling “ugggg” – no other way to explain it.
    So I quit for two years – did a lot of things I wanted to do but never had the guts to……made no money, or hardly any. Then after two years of debating went to work in a Pastry kitchen – which is my life dream (I have a culinary degree) I got paid crap but enjoyed every single minute of it!
    I stayed with the same hotel chain – half the people were green with envy that I could muster up the strength to do what I did, the other half thought I was insane and had thrown my so-called career out the window. A couple of others actually came up to me and told me they wished they had done the same at my age but never had the guts to do it, or already had too many responsibilities, ie: a wife and kids.
    Out of the blue, a year later a top management position became vacant within the same company and guess who got offered this choice morsel?? It wasn’t in the kitchen, but it had a lot of the things I love – so I switched!
    Now, you’ll say…..where did you get the money to survive, I can’t live below a certain level…..blah blah. I come from a wealthy family, studied in Europe, traveled….I was mortified when I chose to quit for those exact same reasons!
    And – are you sitting down?
    I was only able to do all of this because I was living in CAIRO. Cairo is dirt cheap and you can live well off of almost nothing – if you choose to. Plus you can do any job without many requirements – so few people have them! I left my gorgeous, huge, modern and desireable Zamalek apartment and moved to Agouza to a 2 bedroom still very nice flat but at a quarter of the price. I stopped eating at all the posh places and instead found out about places with lunch discounts and prix fixe menus (even La Bodega does that)! I had foul for breakfast and batata for a snack – both from street vendors. I didn’t do any clothes shopping or traveling outisde of Egypt during that time.
    Most importantly I was open with my friends and told them about my decision and why – if they like me for who I am, how much I can spend should not impede that. I was happy to see that they all supported me, they were amazed that I could make those adjustments. Instead of going out to clubs at night or expensive bars, we’d have shisha and hang at eachothers house or at an ahwa on the street. We’d have dinners at home and sometimes go out -but nothing lavish like before. Of course NONE of this was easy – I cried my eyes out – but in the end I’m better, stronger and happier than I would have been otherwise.
    If you ever want to talk – just email me I’ve been there recently.

  6. K-2
    April 21, 2008 at 12:15 pm

    Follow your dream SAM, it is more rewarding even if at the beginning you are not going to be able to keep the life-style you are accustomed to. You may be scared but you have the options before your eyes. In any case, you are still young, even if in your country you happen to be already a grown-up. This is the moment for change, after it will be late.

  7. Eric
    April 21, 2008 at 1:24 pm

    Good luck at whatever you choose. And if all else fails, there’s always my spare bedroom. Still, I’ld love it if you got that fire back in your belly. I miss those days.

  8. cfw
    April 21, 2008 at 1:36 pm

    as ever, my darling, we are on the same page.

    call me!!!

  9. LN
    April 21, 2008 at 1:51 pm

    Hey Sam, From reading how you’ve spelled it out here, you’ve already decided, but are seeking confirmation, which I can understand.

  10. Gila
    April 21, 2008 at 2:25 pm

    I made a similar jump when I was thirty. I quit the nice job, sold most of my stuff, put whatever was left into my parent’s attic or into suitcases, and immigrated to Israel…where I started pretty much from the bottom. I did this while all of my friends in the States were buying their first homes, or selling their first homes and buying the second, bigger home.

    It has not always been easy. I am still “behind” in material goods, if you will and sometimes I really have to make an effort not to compare myself to my friends back in the States. That being said, it was absolutely worth it. The mantra I use to keep my head straight whenever I find myself getting caught up with money: do you really want all of your decisions in life to be based on money? You will regret the missed opportunity a lot longer than you will miss the extra cash, or the missed dinner at a fancy restaurant.

    I also second Native Foreigner’s comments above. It will take some adjustment, but you can still have a good social life even on a lower budget. Based on the people who have been commenting here (it appears some of them are local to you), you have good friends who will make an effort to spend time with you whether it is at a fancy club or at a simple cafe.

    Go for it!!!!!! Be happy Sandmonkey!

  11. christina/ohio
    April 21, 2008 at 4:31 pm

    Yes you can and it starts with the first step. GO!

  12. Jeff
    April 21, 2008 at 6:16 pm

    The non-profit or NGO or low-on-pay, high-on-prestige (journalism, or the like) job won’t be as great as you’d think, and your current job in finance or whatever won’t seem so bad. Trust me.

  13. NH
    April 21, 2008 at 6:53 pm

    You can afford to take this step now. Do it quickly with no regrets. In a few years you may not have this luxury of choice. In spite of your best intentions, age brings responsibility (towards children, parents, whatever). What’s another dinner/drink/party/girl compared to feeling alive?


  14. anonymous
    April 21, 2008 at 8:28 pm

    How strange that we r at a similar crossroads. I’m in the process of quitting that well paying job I hate. Running away to Egypt which is so cheap to live in with my foreign currency.

    U die instead a slow death when u spend most of your day doing something u don’t have a passion or love 4…something u even hate

    U r going 2 go 4 it…because 2 feel alive u must feel fear…and then overcome it..otherwise u r just existing..and how banal and boring that would be 4 some1 like u…

    Women and booze and plastic friends are found at all income levels…

    Like native foreigner said…ur true friends will remain ur friends regardless…

    Ur blog will become more real…more interesting 2 read when u r living like the average Egyptian and not the bourgeoisie one..

  15. Uragan
    April 22, 2008 at 3:15 am

    I was 27ish when I faced a similar choice. The question that needs answering is – In five years time when you look back on this moment, will you be happy with the choice you made?

    I went for it. And shed everything, including countries. It is now a few decades on from that decision and it was a good choice. Was never going to be a bad choice. And the friends that were honest and true found me again once they had given me some time to breath and fly.

  16. Michele
    April 22, 2008 at 4:33 am

    I agree with everyone above and especially with NH. If you don’t grab this opportunity now, you will regret it and, if another opportunity does come along, you may be at a point where you can’t grab it. Eventually you will have a wife and children and responsibilities. Pursue your dreams now while you are free to do so.

    Do what feels right in your gut and in your heart.

  17. brooklynjon
    April 22, 2008 at 4:51 am

    If you are kidless and spouseless, then it is the perfect time to make a big change. Once your are kidful, it is much harder, and more irresponsible. Do it now.

  18. SLaViN
    April 22, 2008 at 11:19 am


    *that’s all*

  19. SK
    April 22, 2008 at 3:11 pm

    That usually happens at 30. You are indeed ahead of the curve.


  20. Simcha
    April 22, 2008 at 4:59 pm

    Up to you of course, but I would say go. I moved to India last month where I’m making about one quarter my lowest-possible stateside salary. But what’s youth for if we can’t be idealistic and pursue that elusive concept of perfection?

  21. Stubby
    April 22, 2008 at 5:07 pm

    Get off your butt, sweetie, and make the change. 27 is so freaking young…you have no idea how young you are….and in ten years, no matter which job you take or don’t take, you will be 37. Now, do you want to be 37 doing the job you’ve always dreamed of doing, or do you want to be 37 stuck in yet another job that pays well and makes you miserable?

    You are young, single, obligated to no one but yourself. DO IT!

    April 22, 2008 at 8:11 pm

    Go for it! Look at what Stubby said at #22 – in ten years, you will be 37 years old. You will be 37 in ten years no matter what you do. The question you need to answer is: Do you want to be 37 and doing what you want to do, what you have a passion for, OR do you want to be 37 and still doing something that gives you no sense of fulfillment, which will actually suck the very life out of you.

    Again – go for it!

  23. CarpetCaptain
    April 22, 2008 at 11:38 pm

    I kinda hit the same wall at 30 eventhough i had it all, the big gas guzzling suv, the convertible and even the mean german machine. Ditched the GF, sold the house in Vancouver, downgraded into a nice condo and spent the next 3 years doing 3-4 trips a year either to Asia or S. America (most Brazil).

    Eventually the sad reality of going back to work and the high life with the big chase of instant gratification had to come to an end. I had to get up in the morning and see what all those people were getting dressed up for that early in the morning when I was either just getting home or calling my newest found friend a cab and kissing her good bye.

    Now 3 years later I’ve found a perfect career that I can pursue working from home with extremely flexible hours, damn decent money and all the freedom I wanted.

    The point is that you’ll eventually find your niche and whats going to make you happy. I’m soon going to celebrate my 36th and reflect on what an awesome ride its been so far.

  24. R.Elgayar
    April 23, 2008 at 11:13 pm

    Sandmonkey, go for it habibi. You are young, no wife and no kids. This is the best time to take a chance since it’s just you. You don’t want to have any regrets when you are older. And hey, I live in the DC suburbs, come back! We need more cool open minded Egyptian-Americans here. Yalla habibi!! All your dreams can come true in the USA.

  25. Bad_r
    April 27, 2008 at 11:09 pm

    First of all most of the comments are from people who don’t have the slightest idea about life in egypt. That said I think if you are ever going to switch careers now is the time for it but doesn’t that mean you’ve picked the wrong track and kept going on it for years now, and if you did it once who knows you might be doing it again now.
    The IT field in egypt is completely dominated by hardcore islamists you just have to live with that.

  26. LN
    April 29, 2008 at 11:40 am

    eh, Bad_r, how can you be so sure? At least, we’ve had the chance to see Egypt from the perspective of SM and of various Egyptian posters here. For several years already.

  27. Tei7a
    February 24, 2009 at 8:58 pm

    Comment#13 is so cold yet impacting. It sums up all of my, your, and everyone’s fears from such life changing decisions.

    I’m actually 22, so my decision should be way easier than yours, but it isn’t……..Can I really give up living the nice pampered upper class life I currently enjoy (despite me being miserable!), that is the real question. I am not sure how to answer this question, but I guess I’ll never be sure just by sitting around and busting my brains out.

    I guess I ll wait for my profit share in April then take that decision.

    I wonder what you ended up doing? It’s almost been a year since you wrote this post.


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