Many people often talk about going to work as though they were serving a prison sentence. This is particularly prevalent in the FIRE community, where bloggers talk openly about the number of years they still have to slog away before getting to the coveted holy grail of financial independence, when they would throw off the yoke of gainful employment and finally experience freedom for the first time. The fact is, however, that fixing your sights on a future date when you will be “happy” and “live life the way you want to” greatly reduces your ability to be happy in the here and now – which is very sad, for after all life is short and nobody can afford to throw away years of contentment during this journey we call life.
This subject is something I have given a lot of thought to over the last year. It has been a year of great change for me, with my life circumstances changing dramatically. Some of the changes were extremely positive, while others were harder to process and took some getting used to, but on the whole I am very grateful for the twists and turns that 2016 has brought my way. What is obvious, however, is that change makes us question things we previously took for granted, and in my case one of them was the value of work; something I spent a lot of time debating, particularly with my ever-patient husband who has had to endure hours of me philosophizing about the topic. I feel for the man!
A few days ago I came across an article on the BBC Capital website that summarised many of the thoughts that I have been mulling over for months.
- Why do people work?
- Is it really just about the money?
- Why do many people who do not need to work keep working?
The people who were interviewed for the BBC article all confirmed my gut feeling that there is more to work than money. As Kevin (the multimillionaire who was interviewed by the BBC about his decision to get a job, even though he had originally quit work when he made millions in an IPO) put it:
“I just felt unhappy at the lack of structure and not knowing what my purpose in life was. My skills were deteriorating and I was finding it difficult to interact with other people intellectually. There’s a higher reason why we all go to work.”
Maslow was onto something when he spoke about our hierarchy of needs. Money is an important motivating factor in life, but once our financial (basic) needs have been taken care of we strive to achieve other psychological and subconscious needs, ranging from the importance of feeling that you belong and that you are part of a community, to the need for status and self esteem, and ultimately self-actualisation, where you feel that you have attained your true potential and purpose in life.
I believe that the real value of financial independence is that it gives us the freedom to strive to meet our higher needs and attain our full potential in life. Once we no longer need to worry about paying the rent or making ends meet we are able to dedicate time and energy to build new networks and contribute positively to our communities, invest in ourselves to attain personal growth and master new skills, take on additional responsibilities and challenge ourselves and embark on new experiences. All these experiences enrich our lives.
It is of course possible to pursue such personal growth outside the work place, through voluntary work or travel, but work adds a structure to our lives and bestows upon us a formal status that is difficult to attain otherwise. I guess that we have all had that awkward moment at a party when a new acquaintance asks us the million dollar question – “So what do you do for a living?”. The way we answer that question impacts how we feel about ourselves and our perceived position in society. We none of us like to be pigeonholed, but if we must be, then we want to be in a pigeonhole that is perceived as successful and accomplished.
So next time you feel frustrated about something or other at work and daydream about quitting your job and laying on the beach all day with nothing to do, spare a thought for all the positive things you take for granted every day – the workplace camaraderie, the satisfaction you get when you achieve a goal or meet a difficult deadline. You might suddenly realize that going to work is not that bad after all 🙂