Real World vs Chaos

The Real World vs. Chaos. Or free time vs. work time.

One of my first backpacking trips was in late Fall in New Hampshire.

It was a solo trip.

I can still remember the arduous climb the Flume Slide Trail.  The faint blue blazes marked the way. It was hand over hand at times up the steep “trail.”  Looking back, I’d call this “trail” a scramble here in Colorado!

I made a campsite not too far off the trail after summiting Flume.  Before I made camp, I had an amazing sunset view of the Franconia Ridge in all its splendor.

Almost twenty years later,  it is a view I have not forgotten.

When I think of New England backpacking,  THIS is the vision I think about.   The rolling, but the rugged White Mountains with the sun behind them and the krummholz blowing in the autumn wind.

I hiked down Mt. Liberty and joined up with the bike path that is briefly part of the Appalachian Trail.

Just before the bike path goes under Highway 3, I saw a tall gentleman with a large pack, a heavy gray beard, and worn but good hiking gear. Accompanying the gentleman was a golden lab who looked happy to be out hiking.

Though it was my first year of backpacking, I already knew who this gentleman was: a northbound thru-hiker of the Appalachian Trail.

Excited because I already had the dream of hiking the AT.

We chatted, and I asked about his journey. Late in the season, he planned on flipping at some point.

I wished him well on his journey, looked at the bike path leading to my vehicle  and resignedly said “Well..I have to head back to the Real World now”.

He looked at me,  waved his hiking stick towards the Kinsmans and said: “THIS is the real world.”  He then pointed his hiking stick down the direction of the bike path and said: “THAT is chaos.”

From a later trip in New Hampshire. The Whites are where I fell in love with the mountains.

I don’t recall what I said in reply.  But that trip was in the autumn of 1996.  It is now the winter of 2014 and that brief conversation has stuck with me many years later.

As with many people, I work at a job that pays the bills. I don’t particularly like it nor do I particularly hate it. I am trying to find a balance between my love for the outdoors with my current skill set and needing to pay the bills.

In my day job at Corporate America ™,  I try to follow what I heard from that Appalachian Trail thru-hiker so many years ago.

I want to go a good job as I also like to get paid. 😉  But I also realize that, quite frankly, what I do is not helping the greater good.  I am letting some people far up the food chain from me earn a lot of money.  For my part, I am receiving enough money to keep my wife and me in a comfortable lifestyle.  It is a trade-off. My time for money.

Some would argue, a job IS the real world and what I do on vacations, weekends and my free time is the fantasy.

But with the increasing blurring of work life and personal life, it is a shame our work life is the “real world.”  Work life is even becoming part of our alleged free time.


Whether it’s with a smartphone, a tablet or home computer, a recent survey by Opinion Matters on behalf of GFI Software found that more than four out of five employees of small-or medium-size businesses checked work email on weekends. Nearly six out of 10 kept up on vacation. “

It is amusing that PowerPoint presentations on some product that will streamline a process to make more profit. And we’ll yet another tool to measure metrics for work that really can’t be measured by metrics . Of course, there will be another quarterly meeting about how “we have to reach our goals” and “what a great company we are” at some point. And these concepts are more real, concrete and important than time away from work?

With more people willingly blurring work and free time, perhaps there is merit to this view that our occupation is somehow more real than our personal time. There is the unspoken assumption in many places that work is the most important thing in a person’s life, and everything else is secondary.

Now, I am not naïve enough to believe in some utopia where I have all the free time I want without consequences. We all have to work. Even people who marry their passion with their vocation still have to exchange their time for money.

That does not mean, however, I want to work in the evening answering e-mails or attending a social work hour that I am strongly encouraged to participate in when I am already exchanging my time for money.  And I am definitely not checking in with the office on my days off or vacation.

The real world starts when I leave the office. If anything, I consider time spent in the office extremely artificial.  It is a necessity, and the work I do is something I am reasonably good at…but in twenty years, my current career really won’t have a direct legacy.

My Grandfather helped construct the Newport Bridge. From Weather Underground



So, what is the real world?  Obviously the natural world: The rocks, trees, rivers, oceans…that is far more real than whatever new quarterly goal is mandated by people sitting around a boardroom table.


But it is not just the natural world that is real to me.

I’ve been fortunate enough to make some friendships that are very deep and have lasted over the years.  That is certainly real to me.

And not everything about work is artificial.  I’ve made some friendships with people who I still keep up with as we actually enjoyed working together.  I find the work that is most meaningful to me at my “real job” is the work I do for my co-workers. Collaborating on projects, helping them with an issue or just the daily banter are something during the day that is tangible and enjoyable.

So what is the real world?  To paraphrase a famous legal quote  “I know it when I experience it!

I just know it is not most of what I experience in the Beige Box.

Note: These thoughts are an ongoing theme with me over the years it seems…


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10 years ago

Wow. Awesome quote. Thanks for sharing.

Peter "Chenango" Passalacqua
Peter "Chenango" Passalacqua
10 years ago

This is why I retired at 54 and took as much time off work as possible for family and hiking when I was working. Great piece you wrote!

Paul from Scotland
Paul from Scotland
10 years ago

Great post! I struggle with this at times as well, although at this time of year – with non-stop rain here in the UK – the opportunity cost of going to work isn’t that high. And I can talk with adults.

But I day-dream of the Sierras, and star-filled nights….

Karl Gottshalk
Karl Gottshalk
10 years ago

Always a struggle. I am fortunate enough to have a job that feels like I am helping people (RN). I did IT for 7 years as a break from nursing but came back in the end. Luckily most hospital nursing jobs are 3-12 hour weeks, so I get 4 days off each week. I frequently have 4-5 days off in a row and can get more by tweaking my schedule. Cathy is retired and takes care of all of the household stuff like bills, money, errands, car repairs, etc so almost my time off is really “real world” time. It… Read more »

Peter "Chenango" Passalacqua
Peter "Chenango" Passalacqua
10 years ago
Reply to  Karl Gottshalk

Montrose, PA? I have spent 2 or 3 weekends there. I lived for many years in Norwich, NY.

Karl Gottshalk
Karl Gottshalk
10 years ago

Montrose, CO. On the other side of the Rockies from Mr Mags.

Peter "Chenango" Passalacqua
Peter "Chenango" Passalacqua
10 years ago
Reply to  Karl Gottshalk

Ok, CO! Montrose PA is nice, too. 🙂