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Whatever becomes normal becomes invisible

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I spent Friday cleaning out my desk and leaving instructions for my successors.

Having worked as a field surveyor for eight years I had never spent so much of my workday in the office. On a normal day we prepare our field work in the office for the first hour, then head off to a job site. Surveyors are dirt-and-sky people, and tend to get stircrazy if it takes them too long to get out of the office in the morning. They’re allergic to cubicles and photocopiers, and will start to suffocate if they don’t get fresh air. On the rare occasions I’d be in the office in the afternoon, aside from that slow suffocation, it felt unnatural and slightly inappropriate, something like when your friend leaves you alone in his house for twenty minutes while he whips out to the store.

On this final Friday those feelings never arrived, even though I was in the office all the way to 4:30 pm. It felt like I could have been anywhere and it wouldn’t have mattered, like it probably feels in the first few hours after you successfully fake your death.

That feeling, I guess, was the sensation of being released from authority, a weight that had been resting on my mind for long enough for me to forget that it was possible to remove it. For the first time in a long time I didn’t have to answer to anyone. I knew my company-issue Blackberry wasn’t going to ring, I knew nobody was going to ask anything of me. It was like walking up to a glass barrier that had always been there and realizing it was only air.

The rest of the day was full of similarly weird sensations. When I parked my car outside my building, I mentally prepared myself to perform the getting-home ritual I’ve done hundreds of times: heave my laptop bag out of the backseat, collect my equipment from the trunk and farmer’s walk to the door, pin my GPS case against the wall while I fish out my keys, then open two stubborn glass doors, careful not to bang the case against the panes, then unlock my suite and shoulder the door closed before setting everything down in the permanent temporary pile of equipment beside the door.

I had all but done the whole thing in my mind when I realized I no longer have a GPS or a gigantic laptop, and I could just get out of the car and go into the building like a normal person. When I got inside I reached to my side for my Blackberry, to check email one last time (a ritual that sometimes prevented unwelcome surprises in the morning) and found that there was nothing there. 

Later that evening, my living room struck me as unnaturally tidy, because there was no dirty equipment there, no field books on the table, and nothing set near the door so that I wouldn’t forget it on the way back out. My car no longer has a Rubbermaid full of engineering drawings in the backseat.

Our lifestyles come with costs, many of which are invisible, or at least become invisible to us once we’re used to paying them. At all times these enormous invisible forces are acting on your life, shaping what it feels like to be you. They only become visible — and only momentarily — when they change.

Yesterday was a day of shifting bedrock, which allowed me to see clearly the rocks and hard places that had been steadily pushing on my life since I got back from overseas.

Most of the shifting is yet to come, and while most of it so far has manifested as different kinds of relief, it’s very early in the transition. There will be, undoubtedly, aspects of my life that become more difficult in ways I haven’t imagined. I have already noticed that this Monday is a holiday (Canadian Thanksgiving) but I’ll be at my desk at sunrise while my former colleagues are getting paid to have the day off. I have to pay for dental work again. I am already flossing more often.

I won’t even begin to learn what my new normal is like until Monday, as this weekend is like any other — catching up on the writing and errands that didn’t fit into my weekday evenings. I’m eager for writing to be what I do at 8am instead of 8pm.

As I wade into the new landscape, I’m trying to remember to notice what invisible pressures are releasing (and mounting) as the terrain of my day-to-day life shifts, before they all congeal into “my normal day” and I lose track of what individual things are weighing on my mind.

Because we’re so immersed in our lifestyles, it’s hard to see what individual parts of them are pushing and pulling on our minds. Imagine trying to describe what a building looks like when you’ve only ever been inside it. Moving parts of our lifestyles around gives us the necessary angles to know what it is we’ve actually built with our decisions about career, relationships and living situation. If they never change we never know what they’re doing to us.


I want to thank you all from the deepest place in my heart. Every single day readers are supporting and encouraging me, telling me that my work is important to their lives too. This blog started as a hobby, one day almost five years ago when I was bored out of my skull at a former job, and now it’s changed everything about my life. I didn’t even know what my aspirations were, and now I’m in a position to live them out, all because you people share my work. I owe you everything. So much to come this year.



Photo by David Cain

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Fiona October 15, 2013 at 10:59 pm

Congrats. You’ll be awesome. You are awesome.

[semi-silent reader since 2009-ish]

Fiona October 16, 2013 at 5:55 am

wow!!!!!…terribly silent reader :)

Chad October 16, 2013 at 9:36 am


You are one of the most authentic voices out there and I’ve applied several of your ideas to my own life. There are a lot of “silent readers” out there who greatly value your efforts!

Thank You!

Michael October 17, 2013 at 6:44 am

Silent readers unite. Michael from Singapore here. It’s been awhile since I have been following your blog. Reading your posts has helped many people see things in a different light, to think, to delve, to ponder, to be happier. This, just by an alternative way of approaching things which are already there. It only highlights the power of cognition which everyone has. Something which you help to access. Something which you should be proud of. Have a good one David.

Alison October 16, 2013 at 9:36 am

Beautifully written! (yet again) Thank you for sharing yourself with this public audience! Good luck with this new chapter in your life!

Cecilia October 16, 2013 at 3:19 pm

Another silent reader here. I feel slightly reticent about making a comment, because I know it will be more work for you answering all these posts! But now you’ve quit your job, that should all be a little bit easier. Congratulations, I love you blog and wish you all the best for what’s coming up now.

Kelly October 16, 2013 at 3:43 pm

I’ve been following you for about two months now. I’ve never believed in the law of attraction per say, in the way that it’s often expressed as wishful thinking that manifests itself, but your posts could not have come into my life at a better time. Probably more due to the fact that I’ve been seeking out like minded folk, rather than coincidentally stumbling onto sites that the universe delivered to me. I too am a blogger. I too am fed up with giving over my valuable time to other people in exchange for a paycheck. I find myself on the brink of taking a plunge much like the one you have just taken. Naturally, I am nervous but reading your blog makes what has always seemed like an irresponsible dream, an unavoidable reality. Thank you for sharing. You have a bigger influence in people’s lives than you know. Also, I started reading Mr. Money Mustache because of the link I found to it here and that has also led to a huge shift in my focus. Excited for what’s to come!

Meg October 17, 2013 at 8:55 am

I’m a young reader and your blog has helped me rethink my life and change the way i see my world. People my age are generally not encouraged to think about their life and reality. However, you have changed the way i will live my life. Your blog has given me the chance to learn from your mistake and open my eyes to new challenges before i have even faced them. I am so grateful and i wish you all the best.

Kevin Cole October 17, 2013 at 9:38 am

You’ll be amazed how quickly you get used to this lifestyle. No more boss, no more petty bullshit, no more office politics. It’s all gone. Forever.

But what I’d recommend is for you to remember these things. They are still fresh in your mind at this point. Don’t lose sight of why you worked so hard to get in this position. It can be easy to do when you’ve been away from the nine to five for a long time.

Just my two cents man. HUGE congrats on leaving your job. You are doing some amazing things.

David Cain October 17, 2013 at 4:31 pm

Good advice Kevin, thanks. I don’t want to forget the things I don’t have to deal with any more. Luckily the prevalence of construction sites gives me tons of reminders of what I don’t have to do any more. But specifically I want to remember the feeling of weariness that used to descend on me every night, especially sunday night.

Caroline Vidican October 18, 2013 at 11:57 am

Yet another silent reader, I’ve often been on the point of commenting, but then felt there was little to be added to what you had written. You “nutshell” it all so succinctly, and make such pertinent remarks that change other people’s lives. I wish you happiness, continued freedom, and hope to read often about how you are getting along. Best wishes from France.

Sarah October 18, 2013 at 9:32 pm

My last day at work was 10/11, and my first day of self-employment was 10/14, the day I was notified of this post.

Fulfilling one’s purpose is far more rewarding than money, titles or possessions. You know, it’s weird… I finally feel like an adult now that I’m living that truth daily.

You can do this. WE can do this.

Alex October 19, 2013 at 3:19 am

I think you’re going to inspire a lot of people out there.
I’m also a silent reader, a French guy that has lived in 5 countries, currently having a great well paid job in a big humanitarian organization after having completely changed career 4 years ago. Well, I’m going to quit in less than two months in order to travel around the world and see how I can better contribute to my life and therefore to the world.
It’s not the first time I change my lifestyle, country, language I speak daily, job… and it’s always scary and fun. It’s always made me feel alive. Life is all about experiencing it, and your step is showing your readers how you walk the talk.
Keep writing, we love your work, it’s a real pleasure to read such quality articles “dans le fond comme dans la forme”.
Take care

Mike October 19, 2013 at 8:55 pm

It would be good if you can provide regular updates on how this unfolds for you. I would be interested in learning about any unexpected challenges you might face and whether there are things about your former worklife that you miss and wish you could return to.

You are a pioneer, David. Many of us will be watching with a keen interest on how this works out.

Isaac October 19, 2013 at 9:19 pm

Silent reader here,

I just wanted to comment to say how happy I am for you. Keep on doing this, David, we need more people like you around and frankly I’m a little disappointed that there aren’t.

Suppose the point to all of this is that you must pursue what makes you happy, the thing that makes that makes the supposed glass barrier disappear.

Ana October 20, 2013 at 1:38 pm

Hey David… another ex-silent reader here. I am truly happy for you, for finally escaping from under The Man. I am planning on doing that next year, and your thoughts on it are really important. Many of the things you write about in your blog have crossed my mind, but of course were left unspoken (and unwritten). And then I found out about it, and read the stuff I used to think about, with further analysis. Pretty awesome. Anyway, thanks and, even though I do love your posts, do not feel like you must write much more often. Write when you feel like, when you have something you think is worth writing. Please, do not escape from under one Man just to get under another One. Thanks and congrats again!

Joe October 20, 2013 at 8:01 pm

Wow… I just recently left my job of nearly ten years. The way you wrote about how it felt so eloquently captures how I felt. This whole sense of normalcy set up on its head.

Your writing captures your unique perspective so well. I am glad you are pursuing your dream. Best of luck to you.

Miriam October 23, 2013 at 9:41 am

Hi David….just wanted to say that YOU are awesome! When I read your blog I get lost into your soul. You remind me of a poem from Federico Garcia Lorca that says: “Hay almas a las que uno tiene ganas de asomarse, como a una ventana llena de Sol” it will be something like…”There are souls that you feel to lean forward to, like a sun-filled window.” You have the gift of capturing feelings and expressing them so eloquently into words. You are like a breeze of fresh air for the souls that visit your blog…that’s why they will always come back for more! Write Write Write David. Have you thought about writing poetry? Best Wishes for your now David and your future David. There is a Book that might be the answer you are looking for…”the WAR of ART” -Break Through the Blocks and Win Your Inner Creative Battles- Steven Pressfield. Love & Light your way.

Joclyn H. October 23, 2013 at 9:45 pm

I have also been a silent reader for 2 yrs. You are such an amazing writer. Your insight has changed how I think about things and how I approach life many times. I share your blog w as many people as I can. Congrats on the career shift! I look forward to seeing more :)

Sebastian October 25, 2013 at 7:29 pm

I just stumbled upon your blog. Dude, you are a very intelligent person. I’ll be reading more.

Laura October 26, 2013 at 12:44 am

Congrats, David! It’s been a real privilege to read through your insightful ponderings, and I’ll continue looking forward to your posts! :)

A regular reader October 30, 2013 at 7:57 am

Hmmm … You know, I’d been sort of wondering, reading your blog, just how you long you could stand being straitjacketed in a box–one that is so not your kind box–just to pay the bills (especially since you evidently realise that those bills are not set in stone, not a fact of life, not a given, despite appearances to the contrary). I did comment here once about this very subject once, I remember, some time back.

Glad you’ve taken the plunge at last : so many promising people keep themselves back from taking the big jump, any big jump, despite detailed coverage of the theory behind the plunge–any plunge.

Welcome to the freed-from-the-cubicle club! Hope you find your particular Grail. Enjoy!

Zachary November 7, 2013 at 8:11 pm

I just wanted to say. I just wanted to “say” because I’ve been reading these for a long time and never actually commented on one. I realized there’s a person behind these writings just like me. I’m young I’m 17 and I live in michigan, and these have helped me figure out what life is really all about in a time when I really wasn’t sure. I was in a period of questioning everything I thought I knew and it really took me off guard. I became sick of going with the motions and never stopping to say “hey I’m alive, this is real.” And these posts have really helped me away from being some sort of robot that does what it is told and questions nothing. This and a few moments of great realization. Any how I’d like to thank you for sharing the things you have learned in your life to younger people like me. So I don’t waste a another minute. Thank you David.

Zachary November 7, 2013 at 8:12 pm

I just wanted to say. I just wanted to “say” because I’ve been reading these for a long time and never actually commented on one. I realized there’s a person behind these writings just like me. I’m young I’m 17 and I live in michigan, and these have helped me figure out what life is really all about in a time when I really wasn’t sure. I was in a period of questioning everything I thought I knew and it really took me off guard. I became sick of going with the motions and never stopping to say “hey I’m alive, this is real.” And these posts have really helped me away from being some sort of robot that does what it is told and questions nothing. This and a few moments of great realization. Any how I’d like to thank you for sharing the things you have learned in your life to younger people like me. So I don’t waste a another minute. Thank you David.

Ian Anderson November 8, 2013 at 3:22 am

Big step David, smart move!
It will be interesting how your day shifts now that you are free to set your own hours.

When I first went self employed (gosh, 26 years ago!) I found I was working later and later in the day until I slept till lunch time and kept busy till well into the early hours!

Of course I was barely out of my teens then and now family ‘keep me in check’ somewhat. But I still enjoy that quiet feeling of sitting down at the laptop, long after everyone else is asleep. Then its just me and the glowing screen in the dark…

Love that you went out dancing; an instinctive and a tiny bit primeval response, yet so appropriate :-)
Wishing you the best of luck, even though you are making your own!

Randy November 13, 2013 at 9:35 pm

Wow! Congratulations David, this is great news! The end result of your move is that the world is going to become a better place, day by day, bit by bit as you have more time to spread the awesomeness that is David Cain.
Peace to you…

Darren November 18, 2013 at 6:52 am

I just wanted to say thank you for sharing this site. I only found it yesterday but can’t seem to stop reading. I feel like a lot of what you have written is already helping me a lot. there is so much here that I already know I’ll have to return to articles multiple times to get the best form them. I’ve even started my own blog to explore some of the ideas I’m picking up here. Thanks again.

David Cain November 18, 2013 at 12:46 pm

Glad you found us Darren. Welcome!

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