The reason you can’t imagine what you’d do without a job is because your job is taking all of your imagination.
Barriers to Financial Independence
It’s no secret (on this anonymous blog anyway) that my wife and I are over the rat race. We have no desire to participate in the modern work culture any longer than necessary. We’re diligently tracking our financial progress toward this goal, but the more we talk about it, the more we realize there are obstacles other than money.
One such obstacle is envisioning how we’ll actually fill our day, which probably seems ludicrous, but really, it’s worth considering. Our days now are so structured and routine they don’t require much thought or initiative. We’ve become so entrenched that it’s difficult to imagine a life without predetermined work.
When we do reach financial independence we’ll find ourselves with an unprecedented amount of downtime. Well, maybe not totally unprecedented, I mean we were once idealistic teenagers with time enough on our hands. But those halcyon days were youthful and blissfully ignorant. Now that we’re adults we’re obligated to be productive and contribute to society – right? Even if we could wile away the hours, won’t we get bored?
Presently we fill our free time with household chores and television. By the time we’ve unwound from our day and made dinner, there just isn’t enough time to start anything meaningful. And besides, our brains have been on all day, we just want some unthinking time to relax.
Filling our free time with television is more a symptom than a choice. A valid fear of financial independence is that our current habits won’t transition well. Sure, we enjoy a few hours of critically acclaimed television now and then, but we couldn’t sustain watching t.v. for days on end? Binge-ing an entire season of an old show is a fun way to waste a weekend, but not a useful way to waste our lives. I mean, that’s what we’d do right? Spend our newly infinite leisure time the same way we currently spend our limited free time?
I Don’t Think So
The reason it’s difficult to imagine filling an infinite run of blank slate days is because we fail to appreciate the impact of work on our personalities. People readily accept that our upbringing, parents, friends, and social activities all impact our personalities, but we think somehow we’re immune from the affects of our careers.
How we earn our money creeps in and infects who we are. We start out thinking we’re selecting a job that suits us, but really the long slow toil molds us until we conform to the characteristics demanded of our job. This change is thought of as progress.
A Personal Example
I despise, or at least I used to, calling strangers on the phone. Many facets of my job are needlessly complex; as a result, it’s impossible I should know every accounting technicality that applies. I’m often forced to call the “experts” to learn how some new (or old and forgotten) rule applies to the company I work for. To me, this is daunting. I have to call someone busier and smarter to ask advice about something I half understand. It’s inevitable I look like an idiot.
I used to put off these calls as long as I could. I’d consider what to say, rehearsing and hoping something would come up and make the call unnecessary. Now I don’t do any of that. As soon as I realize such a call is required, I dial the phone. I still come off as a moron, but it’s over quicker.
It’s not that I find these calls any less anxiety inducing, it’s only that I’m now conditioned to make them. This conditioning is described by my boss as “initiative” and considered progress. This progress bleeds into my personal life. I’m now less reticent to call our internet provider, the hotel front desk, or a restaurant to check their hours. My friends see this and think I’m the go-to person to make such calls on behalf of the group. When they learn I make similarly impromptu calls at work, they think it’s great I’m so well-suited to my job.
It’s a kind of backwards logic that the longer we’re in a career, the better suited to it we think we are.
Trying to swing this back to the original point… In a way, we fear infinite free time because we don’t think we’re well-suited for it. We’ve become so adept at the career routine that it feels like our natural state.
I think it also works the other way. Our jobs demand so much of our mental energy that we can’t imagine what we’d fill our time with without them. And I don’t think we can properly imagine it until we no longer have our jobs interfering.
To put it cliche-ly (new word) we need to jump in the deep-end, put the cart before the horse and just go for it!
We’ll adapt. I imagine there will be some sort of decompression period where we flounder a little and don’t really know what to do with ourselves, but eventually our imaginations will realize they’re free from the boring bounds and will manifest things to try.
This theory of adaptation has bore itself out in my life already. Eighteen year-old me would’ve never imagined I could sit at a computer all day, barely moving my bones or feeling the sun on my skin. But here I am, and for better or worse, I’m making it work.
I need to trust, YOU need to trust, that you’ll be able to figure it out. Give yourself some credit.
It’s a Catch-22
The reason we can’t imagine our lives without a job is because our job steals our imagination.
A friend and I have been half-way working on a book for about two years now. It’s a dystopian teen novel in the vein of Hunger Games or The Circle. Basically, my friend had what we both thought was a clever idea, and we started hashing it out and developing a plot. We’ve written a few chapters, and any time we get together we try to resolve the latest plot road block. It’s slow.
We don’t live near each other, so our sessions are limited to a few weekend visits a year. The book gives us something to get excited about, but our enthusiasm wains pretty much the moment we part. It’s tempting to think of the shelf-life of our energy as evidence we should drop the idea, that if we truly cared we’d work on it any spare moment we have.
I think that’s misguided. The reason I don’t have motivation to pick it up at 7:30p on a Wednesday is because my creativity has been robbed by work. Work surreptitiously steals imaginative energy by subjecting us to tedium.
You Won’t Really Know Until You’re In It
Maybe we really shouldn’t write a book. It’s probably garbage and we need to get our heads out of the clouds. Maybe my voice as a blogger will never develop; this writer pipe-dream nothing more than ignorance manifest. It’s distinctly possible, likely even, that I’ll never get zapped.
But the thing is we won’t really know until we’ve properly given ourselves the chance. If we escape the self-inflicted constraints of our career only to find we actually do need them… well then great! We can go back to our same old lives with a new perspective.
I don’t think that’s what will happen though. I think we’ll adapt to our new circumstance. Our newly freed creativity will give us a life we quite literally can’t imagine. I don’t mean to imply we’ll suddenly be savants or wildly “successful” in some novel way. I just mean that we’ll find joy and meaning in simple and unexpected places.
Or maybe not. Failure is always an option.