I Can Understand Why “Working” Seems Like a Terrible Thing.
I would jolt out of bed every weekday morning. With the dreadful sound of my alarm that always makes me cringe.
“Shit, I’m late for work!”, I’d think to myself before rushing out of the house.
Later in the day, my friends would ask, “Free for a movie at 4PM?”
I’d sigh and reply, “Can’t, I’ve got to work.”
“When can you go for a holiday?”
“I would have to apply for leave from work first.”
The thing that forces you up too damn early in the morning. The thing that stops you from enjoying a good movie or a delectable lunch outside of office hours. The thing that you need to get approval from, before you’re allowed to go for a vacation. And screw you, if your boss doesn’t want to approve your leave application.
It’s the thing that forces you to be chained to a desk, 9 hours a day, 45 hours a week. Whether you’re done with your work or not. It’s the thing that ensures you don’t leave your desk except during your pathetic 1-hour lunch break. It’s the thing that compels you to be stuck in 3-hour-long meetings, even when that meeting has nothing to do with you.
The word that leaves a bad taste in our mouths.
What’s Fuelling Our Hatred of “Work”?
As a kid, you’d go to school, and study your ass off for 7 hours a day. Then the teacher would send you back home, with of course, “homework”. You’d have homework for English, for math, for science, for everything under the sun. You’d be up to your eyeballs with homework. You’re desperate to get them all done; otherwise, you’d get reprimanded.
Your schooling days eventually come to an end. “No more homework!”, you tell yourself. Then, you find yourself in the “workforce”. Instead of homework, you’ve stuck in front of a computer, with a calculator in your hand. And you’d be up to your eyeballs with “work”. Sometimes, you’d even take your work home. You’re desperate to get all your work done; otherwise, you’d find yourself out of a job.
All these decades, we have been forced to do things we never wanted to do. Boring homework. Working with company spreadsheets. Making profits for other people.
The consequences of our failure? We’d fail a class. We’d be unable to graduate. We’d be jobless.
So, we work. Because we don’t have a choice. Eventually, it becomes so ingrained in our psyche that “work” is inherently bad.
And that’s why everyone wants to retire. To live life of absolute leisure.
Changing Your Understanding of “Working”
I’ve always enjoyed looking at articles about retirement. One thing I’ve noticed, is that most articles talk about “working past retirement age” like it’s a bad thing.
When you’re forced to work past your retirement age at a crappy job you don’t like, that’s terrible. But working in itself, isn’t a bad thing.
In fact, working for the rest of your life can be a wonderful thing.
Your work can be the reason you get out of bed every single morning. Your work can be the reason you have meaning in your life. Your work can make you feel satisfaction, fulfilment, and happiness.
The first step, is therefore, understanding that “working” isn’t a bad thing. It isn’t a bad word.
Work doesn’t have to be slogging it out every single day at a job you hate. Work doesn’t have to be dealing with stupid spreadsheets and meaningless stuff. Work doesn’t have to be reporting to an unreasonable boss. Work doesn’t have to be getting up at 7AM every morning just to make it to work on time. Work doesn’t have to be squeezing your entire lunch into 1-hour-breaks at strictly stipulated times.
Work can be creating great content to help other people. Work can be flying around the world and blogging about your experiences. Work can be running your own little eatery down the corner. Work can be starting a clothing line with beautifully hand-sewn clothes. Work can be opening your very own virtual store selling gorgeous trinkets, handcrafted from the heart.
Work can be anything you allow your imagination to run wild with.
And then, work becomes enjoyable. Work becomes your passion. An obsession, even. You spend all day, every day, thinking about how to improve your craft. You wake up bloody early in the morning just to make little enhancements to your work. You willingly skip lunch, because you’re too engrossed in your work. You don’t stop working at 5PM, and you happily burn every single weekend, because you want to keep on refining your work.
I guess now, the problem is finding your passion. Your obsession. But that’s something that’ll take time and patience to figure out. You put yourself out there in the world. You try things you never thought could pan out. You push yourself to your limits. You fail miserably. You pick yourself up again. You keep trying different things. Eventually, you’d find your true calling. (Something I would definitely want to write about in the future.)
But the first step comes with your understanding that “working” isn’t a bad thing. That working doesn’t have to make you feel so damn miserable.
That working can be the highlight of your every day.
That working can actually be the light and life of your world.
To the burning obsession to work,
Love this. I definitely fell into the trap of idealizing ‘retirement’. But soon after leaving my job, I realized work isn’t the enemy. I like work. I like HARD work. I’m good at it! I’m good at a lot of things. I want to do more after FI, not less!
I’m so glad to hear that you’ve come to that realisation, and that you enjoy your work! It must have taken a lot of time and effort to get to where you are today, being good at what you do. I hope you fulfill all your wildest dreams after FI 🙂
Hi Liz, this is a great post. Larry Kotlikoff, a professor who has a column on Social Security questions, used to advise readers that in order to delay taking SS they should just keep working, forget retirement! I found this attitude to be remarkably privileged. It’s myopic for someone with a well-paid job where he can call all the shots to say Hey, why would you want to leave the workforce? It shows that he didn’t understand about all the things you have mentioned in your posts: the drudgery of waking up early, hauling yourself to the office (when the work could have been done remotely but Oh, we don’t allow that here), etc. In his case, he didn’t mean the same thing you mean, which I think is to encourage people to think about what they might want to do once they don’t have to earn money by working for someone else.
Do you happen to live in a country that has universal healthcare? Those of us who had the misfortune of being born in the US often work at corporate jobs because those jobs supply decent, affordable health insurance. I think there are a lot of us who would give up their corporate job if health insurance were not an issue. I recently read an article about a couple who do not yet qualify for Medicare, but who are in their 60’s. Due to the high deductible in their insurance, they are out-of-pocket $55,000 per year before their insurance kicks in (I’m guessing at least $30,000 of that is just the insurance premium).
Hi Ann, I’m so glad you like this post! Thank you for the insight on Larry Kotlikoff as well, I found that to be very interesting, and I completely agree with you. Not everyone would be able to afford the kind of education that he received. Not everyone would be able to find such high-paying jobs. And not everyone would be able to rise through the ranks and eventually call the shots. A great many of us would be stuck in less well-paying jobs and wouldn’t have much opportunity for climbing the ladder. In which case, would it even be worthwhile to stick it out in the workforce, being miserable every single day of our lives?
That’s why I want to write posts about encouraging people to follow their dreams, once they have a good cushion of savings or don’t have to rely on a corporate job. We only have one life, it’s up to us to live our very best lives.
I’m not from the US, but where I come from, the government does subsidise healthcare to ensure that it’s affordable for everyone. I also plan on getting my own health insurance in the near future, which I believe would cost me only $50 a month for the premium, because I’m only 25 this year. I’ve never heard of anyone paying $30,000 for an insurance premium – that is an insane amount of money! It’s terrible how you guys are trapped in your corporate jobs just because of the health insurance. I hope they iron out these issues soon. (I hope I answered your questions about healthcare adequately. I’m not too familiar with health insurance and healthcare because it’s not something I think about much. I definitely would have to soon though!)