Y’all who know me know that achievement has been my lifelong drug. (An evolving INTJ, I recognize that this isn’t a 100% healthy thing. I’m working on it!)
So why am I not slaving away for some corporation earning six figures and telling dozens (hundreds?!) of people what to do?
2. 9 to 5 life is the WORST (for me).
The “40 hour work week” (that – let’s be honest – is rarely just 40 hours) is okay for a handful of people. But for most of us, it’s a good way to get to your grave with a sh**load of regrets.
Sure, a six-figure job would give me that beautiful, glorious sense of achievement as I made things happen, conquered the impossible, perfectly orchestrated brilliant progress. Oh yeah, and money. But I’d also spend the bulk of my time sitting at a desk and interacting with people who barely know me.
But more important than what I don’t want to be doing with my time is what I do want. Enough time to do everything. So back to #1: math. Don’t go! I’ll do all the calculating… promise..
The Math of Life
Several years ago I expected moving back to the Pacific Northwest would alleviate a big disappointment in my life.
After graduating university, I moved from that Oregon town to the middle of the U.S. Sadly, my daily besties suddenly became people I talked to on the phone once or twice a month. How could these epic relationships evaporate so easily?! Fast forward 18 months to a new boyfriend and his west coast college town. I expected a bonus for moving west (driving distance to my amigos): more time with my best friends.
And the results? Twelve months after the move I realized – with shock and disappointment – that I’d seen each of these precious people only once each. In an entire year.
So then I started to do the math.
52 weekends in a year.
An introvert like me needs at least half of those to be “at home” weekends… recharging, doing chores, reading a book in bed, maybe strolling to the farmer’s market… all your typical, lazy-Saturday, 20-something activities.
So that leaves 26 weekends available.
I’m also a crazy-over achiever who joined a rowing team, volunteered with several organizations, and orchestrated adventures for all my local friends. Between weekend regattas (rowing races), volunteering, and going out to festivals, backpacking trips, river trips, etc. with all my local friends, about half of my free-weekends disappeared.
So that leaves 13 weekends available.
Ideally, I wanted to see my out-of-town besties once a month. Great dream, but with almost the same number of free weekends as there are months in a year… I could only have one friend. If I settled for seeing far-flung friends once every two months, I could then have TWO important out-of-town friends. And if I could handle seeing them only three times a year, then I could have four whole friends!
But there were at least 8 people I’d like to see a minimum of 3 times a year. My life didn’t fit into my life.
Trim the Fat
Okay, so something has to go. How to make space for the things I wanted in my life?
Well I could stop rowing, but being out on the water and the exercise kept me sane while working a desk job. I could stop volunteering, but I really enjoyed the variety volunteering brought to my life… not to mention the giver’s high. I could hang out less with my local friends, but going backpacking, going to the river, and going to local events made me feel alive (as compared to getting up, going to work, and spending a whole day in a chair managing a database). I could cut out me-time, but every introvert knows that’s a recipe for disaster. I could cut out sleep, but I was already functioning on about 5 hours a night while reading articles about how critical it is to get a full 40-winks.
By process of elimination, that left my job. Of course I loved how my work helped abused and neglected kids have better lives. And there was alllll that achievement. Working at a non-profit is one massive, under-funded problem after another. Knocking down all those obstacles made me feel like superwoman (an overworked, overtired, permanently exhausted superwoman, but I was succeeding!).
Uh… But What About Money?
Ah. Yes. Money. Well… I figured if I stopped working, I’d have lots of time to think about the money problem. I also wanted to travel desperately, so I made a rough plan:
1) Save enough money to live and travel for a year.
2) Quit job.
4) Come up with a plan for when the money runs out.
5) Enact plan: return to “normal” life, but live my priorities instead of working 40 hours a week.
Seven Years Later
I still haven’t finished number three or gotten around to number five… returning to “normal” life. In seven+ years, I’ve traded my time for money four times in three different countries for a total of thirteen months as an employee. (see: 24 Jobs To Do While Traveling the World). In those thirteen months, I saved ferociously each time. I also reinforced my conviction that working a job is absolutely not what I want to do with my one precious life.
During the other 71 months, I traveled, explored, fell in love, fell out of love, and worked on this website… just for the joy of writing. As my writing shifted from me-me-me content into info that quickly helps others (like this, this, and this), more and more readers flocked my way. And yet, I couldn’t bring myself to do anything that might be construed as commercializing people.
Finally, a consultant convinced me that if people actually needed to buy something, it wasn’t morally wrong if their decision to do so earned me a few pennies.
Three years later, a few pennies from here and a few pennies from there add up to enough to buy groceries and keep traveling. Because I refuse to create “sales funnels” and “convert” people, as of this writing I still make a third of what I made working at my former desk-job (which was a non-profit). (Here’s how much money I make blogging.) According to the IRS, I’ve spent lots of time below “the poverty line.” But you know what? I’ve felt more wealthy in these past seven years than ever in my life.
Wealth Without a Job?
The FAQ’s on this site spill my secrets on nine things that make a “poverty-line” life way less depriving than my former life as an employee.
And what about a sense of achievement that is far more critical to my happiness than money? Don’t I feel lazy not working?
I work my a** off. Doing whatever I want. A lot of times, it’s writing content for this site. Other times, it’s helping my friends and family with the chores in their lives. I’m a cover-letter, resume guru: I’ve gifted family and friends hundreds of hours to help them get their dream jobs. I love doing work-exchanges. I’ve refinished sail boats, built fences, chopped wood, dug ditches, planted, harvested, churned butter, fed animals… I’ve even given a pony a haircut.
Everywhere I go, I get the “opportunity to work hard at work worth doing,” to quote the legendary Teddy Roosevelt. And people are super grateful. And I’m always learning, which I’ve confessed before is one of my favorite guilty pleasures.
I’m reading a book right now that explains how extrinsic rewards like money turn formerly fun, creative tasks into chores. I’ve absolutely experienced this.
The moment you pay me to bottle-feed orphaned lambs four times a day, the task starts to slip toward the drudgery category. But I can scrape anti-foul off a boat hull for hours as long as the rewards are great company, being part of a cool New Zealand family, delicious organic meals, a beautiful private room in the hills outside of Auckland, and weekends adventuring in the forest and on the water.
Because of my resume/cover-letter prowess, I once started a business to make money off this talent (while living in Croatia). I hated it immediately. Well, not immediately. First there was a month-long investment of 16-hour days doing everything it takes to start a business and build a website. But the moment I got paid to do something I love? Over it.
At age 18, I became a white-water rafting guide. Teenage me thought there couldn’t be anything more glorious than getting paid to spend my days on the water under the sun. It was definitely one of the most fun jobs I’ve ever had. However less than a month in, I was going through the motions, covering the same stretch of river every day, and being annoyed by the entitled customers who questioned my abilities as a young female 1I’d eventually offer them a turn in the driver’s seat and resume the throne a few minutes later wearing a triumphant smile while I rescued the boat from near-peril. Even my dream job became a bit of slog.
When it comes to this site, the tasks I hate most are the ones directly attached to money.
E.g. I could put together a book list and make an ad for the sidebar to try and get you to buy a new one off Amazon each month, but… gross. What if you don’t like reading? What if, like me, you already have an overwhelming list of titles to read?
Example #2: A backpack company recently sent me a pack to review. I’m looking forward to writing up what I loved and hated. But just the thought of applying to their affiliate program, finding the links to the pack, implementing them on the page so I can get a cut of the sale to anyone who reads my review and then decides the backpack is right for them… is exhausting. And repulsive. And a task I will probably avoid for months. 2sidenote: if you’re reading this, love travel, and think, “I wouldn’t hate that task!” – maybe you’d like working for me. Send me an email. I’ve known I should hire someone for years… but again with the demotivated-by-money-tasks thing. Update: done.
So even when I’m not getting money by giving the bulk of my waking hours to someone else’s dreams and passions… money is still very demotivating and doesn’t make me feel “wealthy” in the way autonomy does.
Why a Hard-Working Perfectionist Doesn’t Want a Job
1. Jobs are a waste of (my) life.
2. They eat up the time I need to do the things I care most about.
3. There are plenty of ways to have a good life without being an employee.
4. There’s lots of work in the world that has a reward far greater than money.
5. Getting paid to do the things I’m best at turns joyful work into drudgery.
If you don’t want a job either, feel free to tell the world why in the comments below.
(See? I loved writing this for you. And it took me – with photos – around 4 hours. And I will never get paid for that time. Financially, it’s a horrible ROI, because there’s nothing to sell here. The idea that you can living a fulfilling life without trading all your time for money… doesn’t have any earning potential attached to it. But the mental ROI – the joy that comes with knowing that this might give you the courage to live the life you want? Worth it!)
|↑1||I’d eventually offer them a turn in the driver’s seat and resume the throne a few minutes later wearing a triumphant smile while I rescued the boat from near-peril|
|↑2||sidenote: if you’re reading this, love travel, and think, “I wouldn’t hate that task!” – maybe you’d like working for me. Send me an email. I’ve known I should hire someone for years… but again with the demotivated-by-money-tasks thing.|