Quest of the simple life

Sunrise over Cumberland Island

Sunrise over Cumberland Island

Having spent a decade in my previous life as a computer programmer, I remember the ugly wave of feelings that surfaced whenever I acknowledged the malaise that was slowly smothering me. Guilt. Fear. Doubt.

A cottage and a hundred pounds a year in a village meant happiness and independence; but dared I sacrifice twice or thrice the income to secure it? The debate went on for years, and it was ended only when I applied to it one fixed and reasoned principle. That my first business as a rational creature was not to get a living but to live.

Guilt over not being grateful for a steady job that paid stupid amounts of money. Fear of watching the years slip away without having any autonomy or sense of accomplishment. Doubt that a 35-year-old could hack grad school with classmates almost young enough to be my kids.

Pushing aside the unholy triumvirate of emotions, I walked away from that life in 2008 to study the environment and haven’t regretted it for a minute. On paper, my salary may be one-fourth what it used to be, but the freedom gained is immeasurable.

Reading W.J. Dawson’s “The Quest of the Simple Life” — a free Kindle book I stumbled upon last week — memories from that transitional period came flooding back.

Though published in 1907, it could easily pass as a modern-day treatise on suburbia, materialism, and quiet desperation. Dawson eloquently documents the logic and reasoning that led him to trade London’s business world for the quiet village life of a writer.

Oh, to have read this five years ago, when I thought turning my back on Corporate America was madness.

If you’re at a crossroads of any kind — not just the usual should-I-quit-my-job-to-chop-wood-and-grow-lettuce dilemma — read this book. Hell, even if you’re not, read it anyway. Dawson’s writing will transport you to peaceful mountain landscapes and remind you of the importance of a little self-reliance and ingenuity. And that alone is worth the purchase price.

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