Freedom From the Day Job

By Philip Brewer on 24 June 2010 (Updated 20 June 2011) 15 comments
Photo: Philip Brewer

Would you work if you didn't have to? When that topic came up among coworkers the conversation used to go at cross purposes, until I figured out that I needed to start by explaining that my work was my writing. The point of freeing myself from from my day job was to be able to do more work, not less.

Understanding the question correctly depends on using the word "work" correctly. When I use the word, I'm thinking in the sense of a work of art or literature or science or engineering. Used properly, the word "work" refers to the stuff that you do that's worth doing. Who wouldn't want to do that?

Too many people, though, use the word "work" to mean what they do at their job, especially if it's tedious or unpleasant. They use "work" to mean flushing their life away in 40-hour increments in exchange for enough money to keep a roof over their head, put food on the table, and buy the occasional electronic gadget to distract them from how miserable their lives are.

If that's what you think work is, then it's no surprise to imagine that no one would do it unless they had to.

If you think that way, then there's a certain perverse logic to the way people are guided toward debt—student loan, car loan, mortgage. There are plenty of people out there—even Wise Bread readers—who aren't at all sure that most people would do any work, if they didn't have debts to pay off. If most people could cover their bare minimum expenses without a day job, who knows what they might do?

I don't know about you, but I'd like to find out.
 

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Guest's picture

Philip,

Well written, and an excellent point about work. I especially like your point that when "Used properly, the word "work" refers to the stuff that you do that's worth doing. Who wouldn't want to do that?" Great statement!

I currently have a day job, but my real passion, my work, is what I do in the mornings and evenings, before and after my job (www.makereadyfitness.com).

Keep it coming.

Guest's picture
Gil

I think this definition of "work" is better than what most people thing of their "work". - the effort or activity directed toward the production or accomplishment of something. I also like your definition too, but sometimes there are things that don't seem worth doing, but still need to be done. So a combination of the two seems to cover both sides of work - worthwhile items and a bit of the drudgery.

Having said that I think some work is necessary for our well being. If we just lazed around all day that would cause a new kind of drudgery. For myself, I'd answer the question "Would you work if you didn't have to?" with a emphatic "Yes". But I'd likely do something different... which (as it should be as Edward also stated for himself) is what I'm doing on the side (well, actually trying to get started doing in the next few years) - professional organizing and life coaching. IF I didn't have to do other paid work to support myself and my family, then I'd probably start right away and likely do it for free for others for the JOY of helping someone else get organized, find balance in their life and live their dreams.

Philip Brewer's picture

In my experience, most people who laze around all day are trying to avoid what they're supposed to do. (Nothing wears you out like not doing what you have to do.) If you're free to do whatever work you choose, lazing around all day quickly looses its attractiveness.

On the topic of work that doesn't seem working but still needs to be done, I wrote a post on exactly that topic: And did you do it with respect. Check it out—it's the most under-appreciated of all my posts.

Guest's picture

Phil - My offer for beer still stands. I think you and I see eye-to-eye on our theories on 'work' and how it can/should fit into your life. I wrote an entire series on my blog about marketable hobbies that you should look at, with the basic premise that 'retirement' should be redefined - it can start NOW for EVERYONE. Fighting off the debt monster is a constant battle, but if you win it, you can really start to explore what interests you in life.

Philip Brewer's picture

Looking forward to it! I'll let you know next time I make it up to Southwest Michigan.

Guest's picture

In answer to your question, "Would you work if you didn't have to?"

No.

I've always enjoyed my work whether in a corporate office, a restaurant or at home, but if I didn't have to do it, I wouldn't.

And when you wrote, "Used properly, the word "work" refers to the stuff that you do that's worth doing.

If most people could cover their bare minimum expenses without a day job, who knows what they might do?

I don't know about you, but I'd like to find out."

The stuff that's worth doing for me is puttering around on my property. And when someone wants to pay me to do that and swim in the creek on hot summer days, that'll be the day.

I always thought it was funny when people say to work and get paid to do what you love to do. Not everything that people love to do can be twisted into being a paying job.

Enjoyable post to read.

Guest's picture
Guest

I am curious how Mr. Brewer pays for health insurance. By midlife, most frugal people have all their ducks in a row. Their mortgage is paid off etc, kids are through college and so on. They could afford to quit their day job... except for health insurance. As a result of "guaranteed issue" being the law in my state, privately purchased health insurance is not a realistic option for many. The price is quite high for those in their late 50s and 60s. I have heard $1200 per month for a reasonably healthy couple.

I have wondered how many high-earning taxpayers will drop out of the work force once the new health-care bill kicks in. The subsidies will be greater the lower your income. So the bill will enable many frugal people to drop out of the work force and get by on a much smaller income.

Philip Brewer's picture

Health insurance is my second-largest expense, coming in just shy of my rent. I pay for it the same way I pay for most things, with savings and investments from my days of working as a software engineer supplemented with my writing income.

I think you're exactly right about health insurance. In fact, I've written a post on just that topic called Health Care Reform: Good for People Like Me

Guest's picture
Ginger

Yet, without "guaranteed issue" some people would be even worse off. As a student, when I aged out of my mother's health plan, I was unable to get even a high deductible plan because I had hurt my neck a couple years earlier. I spent over $550/month as a young adult. How is that any better than the "guaranteed issue"? At least with guaranteed issue I could have insurance for as long as I wish, COBRA is only 18 months.

Guest's picture
femmeknitzi

While the point is valid--how we view our purpose and the role of work in our lives drives our attitudes toward debt. security and money--the reasoning is a bit over simplified. In reality, any artist or scientist will tell you that even the things you love to do involve some moment of tedium. Every invention has a thousand screws to connect. Every novel has to drudge through a description of the curtains to get to the man behind them. Every artist has hours of blending and shading to focus on before they can step back and work on the whole. The idea that there's such a thing as a definition of work that never becomes tiresome or tedious is not only short-sighted, but also the reason why most people never finish their novels or paintings or meaningful works.

Xin Lu's picture
Xin Lu

What you've written in this post is what I've tried to explain to many people. I may be a bit spoiled to say this, but I have never felt that a job is hard to get. However, to make a living doing work on your own terms is not as easy as just plugging into the "normal" society and serving a corporation. Anyway, I'm working towards financial independence from the corporate machine, because I know I am just a replaceable pawn. I need to be a profit center for myself, and not someone else's company.

Guest's picture
cogs

hello, i didn't want to enter a 'this is the internet, and i don't know the writer, so i'm going postal on a non-entity that i've never seen' rant. so i'll be civil, and say that your title opens up a tempting premise, but then ends with an uncertain statement. i wanted information that wasn't delivered, and i don't believe you did that on purpose. you write very well, i'd just ask you to take into account the motivations that people, such as me, have for reading.
"They use "work" to mean flushing their life away in 40-hour increments in exchange for enough money to keep a roof over their head, put food on the table, and buy the occasional electronic gadget to distract them from how miserable their lives are."
ah, that's me, and you depressed (if not insulted) me. again, remember your readers, please. i haven't read more of your material, and if you want to critique me, i'm at blogspot.com under curious reason, and womens' hope.

Philip Brewer's picture

Sorry you didn't find the article more useful. I do have other posts with more practical advice. On this topic in particular, you might try this one:

http://www.wisebread.com/getting-by-without-a-job-part-1-losing-a-job

Or, for more of a general overview, this one:

http://www.wisebread.com/what-ive-been-trying-to-say

Guest's picture
cogs

i'm impressed that you handled your reply so well, and thank you very much for the extra information! i'll read it.

Guest's picture

Excellent post Philip!

I particularly agreed with your point that "work" refers to the stuff that you do that's worth doing. For if you do, "work" won't really be considered as "work" that involves stressful long hours of forcing yourself into engaging into something for the sake of earning. I have this mantra that I would like to share: it says "Make your passion your profession" from the movie 3 idiots. It always helps in lessening your workload if you love what you are doing.