For reasons I never understood, my maternal grandmother never seemed to like me. As a child, I remember her giving cookies and milk to my sister and cousin during a visit to her home, and telling me “If I give you something, you’ll make a mess.” I don’t know, maybe she knew what a klutz I was going to grow up to be.

Once, several of us kids were coloring pictures, and Grandma berated me because I strayed beyond the lines with my crayon. “You need to pay more attention,” she said. “You can’t even color inside the lines!” My dad interrupted her and said “Leave him alone. Maybe he sees a different picture than everybody else does.” In one way or another, I have been coloring outside the lines ever since.

Call it marching to a different drummer, thinking outside the box, or just being a round peg that doesn’t fit into a square hole; whatever cliché you prefer, I often seem to be just a little out of synch with the rest of the world. I don’t think that makes me a rebel as much as an oddball. But I’ve just never wanted to play by the rules.

As a high school student, many of my classmates were trying to get into college to avoid the draft. My grades were good enough that I could have probably gotten some kind of scholarship, but instead, I joined the Army on a delayed entry program, and left to go to boot camp the minute I had enough credits to qualify for my diploma. Not because I had any fantasies of being a junior John Wayne, I just wanted to experience something different.

If you were a blue collar kid going to high school in Toledo, Ohio, and college wasn’t an option, getting a job on the assembly line at Jeep, or a civil service gig with the fire or police department, or the post office, was “making it.” To me that would have been a prison sentence. I couldn’t wait to put the hometown behind me. I knew even then that I was going to be a writer, and I needed to see and do, if I was going to have anything to write about.

As an adult, I started several small businesses; some were successful and some were flops. When something didn’t work, I chalked it up to a learning experience. And when I was successful, I quickly became bored and moved on. For me, the challenge was creating something out of nothing, and once I had done it, I needed another goal.

When my wife and I walked away from successful career paths to become fulltime RVers and start the world’s only specialty newspaper run entirely from the road, with no fixed base, friends and acquaintances thought we were crazy. They told us that that stage of our lives (mid-40s) was no time to take risks like that, or to turn our backs on the “security” we had worked so hard to establish. Now, over 12 years later, many of those same people say “Man, I wish I was you.” 

But all of this comes with a price. We have put every penny we made back into our business. We don’t have any retirement, and we know that we’ll have to work all of our lives. But then again, we have seen many friends who took the “safe route” and spent their lives carefully coloring inside the lines, who have lost their retirements when some company went belly up, and whose investments and IRAs have dissolved into nothing because of greedy and corrupt corporate bandits. Some of those people have told us that they too will be working the rest of their lives just to dig out from under.

So, maybe coloring outside the lines hasn’t been such a bad thing after all. We’ve all wound up at the same place anyway. But I’ve had a lot of fun, some memorable adventures, and memories that can’t be bought for any price!

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

23 Comments on Coloring Outside The Lines

  1. Arlene says:

    Wow Nick, you sound so much like my husband. Right down to the grandmother thing..

  2. Dee Dee Greene says:

    We did it the right way. We were among those that believed in the “American dream” – get a good job, work hard, buy a house, put money away for retirement, etc. At 51 my husband dropped dead of a heart attack in our driveway. Now, 5 years later, most of our investment portfolio has shrunken to nothing, and I have a big lonely house that I can’t afford and that I owe more money on than is worth. We were always going to live out our golden years on a golf course in Florida once we were done paying our dues. Do you know how much I envy those of you who had the courage to live your dreams while you could?

  3. Tom Gauger says:

    I’m another one who never fit in, and thank God. My brothers worked in the steel mills in Gary, Indiana and retired worn out, broken old men. All three died within a few years of retiring.

    I may not have ever had much money, but I have hiked the Grand Canyon a dozen times, spent a summer in a fire tower in Montana, many summers in Alaska, and whatever grabbed my fancy at the time.

  4. Greg White says:

    Now I know why we get along so well together.

    I’m usually so far outside the lines, I’m not even on the page.

  5. Live for today because tomorrow you might be gone especially as you get up in years life is what you make of it

  6. Janis Thomas says:

    Wow Nick…sometimes you need to color outside the lines. Lenny was going to retire at 55, collect a full pension and we were going to travel. The family didn’t understand. We are three years shy of that mark and he now has two days left to work. His family is somewhat upset with us even though we have tried to reassure them if they need us we can be there. Our daughter is happy for us, my family is happy for us. We don’t have much money, but we know we may not be here tomorrow. We leave the day after our daughters 21st birthday. Less than eight weeks away. I’m sure we’ll see you down the road.

  7. Pat and Jim says:

    You and Terry are a living a great life Nick. You both are constantly learning how to adapt to change which keeps you challenged, which in turn will keep you going for a long time to come.

  8. Jerry Hedges says:



  9. Wanderin' says:

    But, Nick, you’re rich with lots of friends. Remember “it’s the journey” and you’ve had quite a journey with a lot of tag alongs.

  10. Dennis M says:

    You have no idea how many people envy what you have accomplished.

    Be well and prosper.

  11. Dale says:

    I think you are very rich. You have each other, the love of many friends and a life style you relish.

  12. when I was only 12 my grandpa told me in a moment of wisdom that I needed to work to find a job that I would be willing to do for nothing when or if I could afford it. I have found mine and you have found yours, neither of us can afford it yet but my life would change very little if I won the lottery – which I do not enter so the chances are very small. keep on keepin on

  13. Tom says:

    Thanks for a great start today. As usual I started my day with your blog and my coffee. Your sharing your feelings regarding your life style choices regarding what was/is important to you two confirmed my belief in our choices too. The quantity/quality
    debate will continue,but we have exchanged stress for love of life now. Work until we die is also in our future….but its a job with so many bennies and we now have time and the vision to see what we have. Money and material things can never replace the memories we have and will make. Your honesty of who you are and your ability to share it make you a winner in life my friend. We don’t even own a box of crayons anymore and don’t need them.

  14. Dave B. says:

    I took early retirement at 57 and am now 61. No regrets. Love it. What I’ve experienced were people at work who would never have enough money to retire. I think it’s a hard thing for people to give up their “success”. So, they are chained to their jobs and talk about the future retirement years that never come. Many co-workers have passed away before retirement or have gotten health problems and now can’t enjoy getting out. The ones that retired all seem healthier, happier and enjoying themselves. People from work actually comment on how much better they now look. For me, life is more than just a job. There is just too much besides a career, whether it is being with family and helping them or doing volunteer work, or just doing what you like to do each day. They told me when I retired that I would be missed greatly. I told them that one month after gone, they wouldn’t miss me at all and that my replacement would now be the greatest guy ever. It’s true. You are not the only one who can do a good job. So, it’s your life. What’s on your bucket list?

  15. John says:

    Amen, brother Nick!

    I know of two people that waited to “retire” until the “correct” time and then were dead within a year.

    I hope to be on the road sooner, rather than later, because you never know what life has for you around the next curve.

  16. Bill T says:

    I retired at 50, did a little hamdyman buniess for 10 years part time which i enjoyed, did some rving with our fifthwheel.
    I garden rasing most of our food,I don’t know how i would ever have time for work,again or even miss it. life is great.
    read you ever day

  17. Jan White says:

    Ditto to all of the above. Great Bad Nick, great comments.

  18. Gina Ellis says:

    I’ve always colored outside the lines, Nick, and you know what?…I don’t regret one minute of it. I’ll never regret much of anything I’ve done in life. The only things I will regret are the things I didn’t have the time to get to do. And BTW, my paternal grandmother couldn’t stand me and just didn’t understand later when I was an adult and she was very old (90+) why I didn’t care about her. You reap what you sow.

  19. Jan and Brad says:

    We also took your road. We will have to work until health forces us to live on the pittance of a pension the gov’t gives. This year so many thought that we should retire. If you like what you do why quit. We work on the road and travel. And someone else pays the bill. We could never afford to stay in some of the parks that we do if we weren’t working on the road.

    To all you that are considering. It is only brick and mortar and stuff, is it more important than your spouse or your own like. Live it.

  20. Chris says:

    Nick, sorry but this was NOT a Bad Nick Blog. It was a GREAT Nick Blog!!! Most of your thoughts are ours exactly. We work but love what we do and we have been living our dream since 1998. Everyone thought we were nuts now they are envious of our life on the road. I wouldn’t change a thing. Aren’t we fortunate? Ahhhh….

  21. Gene Watson says:

    We will leave the light on for you and Terry.

  22. Howdy Nick,
    Ditto on the ‘Good Nick’ blog!! I’m of German ancestry and
    was told ALL OF MY GROWING UP years to “Get a job so you’ll have a future.” My dad died at 58 and worked HARD every day!! My
    brothers have both worked HARD all of their lives and are in bad health.. I have had more businesses than I can remember, went broke 7 times, but had a ball.. Now I’m broken down body-wise,
    but I had fun doing it.. rodeoing(ruff stock), driving dirt-track,
    professional baseball catcher(14 yrs), building contractor, horse
    rancher.. all physical and ruff work, but enjoyable work… NO

  23. don says:

    Your grandmother was quite the asshole! Amazing; and someone else had the same sort! I feel sorry for you both. Grandmothers should be the ones spoiling kids.

    Like the post though. Coloring outside the lines; well if that’s what you want to do. I pretty much stayed inside the lines but it was my choice. Whatever works for you.

Leave a Reply