What’s Wrong With Just Having a Job?

person using forklift

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Remember when you were a teenager and you had a part-time or summer job? You did your job, got your paycheck, then lived your life and had fun with your friends. You didn’t attach your identity or sense of self-worth to what you did to earn some spending money. When did that change? Why does that shift from simply getting a job to choosing a career set so many of us up for a lifetime of misery?

Why do so many young (and old) college-educated white-collar professionals hate their jobs? Maybe they feel stuck because they trained for these jobs, are well-compensated, and are still looking at years of paying off the student loan debt it took to get them there. They’re doing what they were supposed to do, following the path laid out for them by their parents, teachers, and other well-intentioned adults. And they feel trapped.

And then there’s the attitude that so many people seem to have, that if you’re college-educated, or come from a certain social class, or held a prestigious job title in the past, that various jobs are beneath you. You’re either “overqualified” or underemployed, wasting your potential either way.

So what?! You are not under any obligation to stick with the same job or career for your entire life. Try something, and if you don’t like it, try something else. Get a job at Target or Starbucks if you want to. Step away from the desk and do some physical work. Go to work in a warehouse, or at Trader Joe’s like The Cosby Show‘s Geoffrey Owens. Drive a truck. Sell shit on eBay or Etsy. Wait tables. Tend bar. Pick up trash. Mow lawns. Clean houses.  Get off your ass and get your hands dirty!

You don’t have to sit at a desk and stare at a computer screen all day for 40 years just because you have a college degree! Sitting is the new smoking, and work-related stress can kill you. Higher education is supposed to give us more options, but it seems like it often eliminates more opportunities than it opens up. Education is supposed to broaden our minds, not close them off to all the possibilities that the world has to offer.

Why do we have such narrow ideas about what people are supposed to do for a living? Why do we assign value to our fellow humans and rank them based on what they do to earn a paycheck and pay the bills? Enough with the job shaming already. We’re better than that, and we deserve better than that.

~PEACE~

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Downshifter Makes Short-Term Peace With Her Day Job

four rock formation

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My not-so-secret plan for years has been to quit my job at the post office after we paid off our house. Well, we finally made that final mortgage payment last month (cha-ching!), and guess what? I’m still working at the post office. And for the reasons I’ve outlined below, I’m almost even enjoying it (or at least it doesn’t suck too badly), for now.

Freedom

Somehow, knowing that most of my income is now disposable makes going to work every day much more palatable. Working because I want to and not because I have to feels incredibly empowering and makes work much less stressful. While I still haven’t taken the leap to what I consider the ultimate freedom — making my own schedule — the freedom of being mortgage-free is pretty sweet.

Money

Maintaining a healthy emergency fund and growing my “freedom fund” have always been priorities, but my savings has been accumulating at an even faster rate now that I’m mortgage-free. I’ve also bumped up my retirement account contributions by a few  percent. Woo hoo!

But I’m not just stacking up paychecks and watching my savings grow. I’ve also loosened up the purse strings a bit and let myself buy a few things that I deferred while I was hyper-focused on paying off the house and turbo-saving for my early retirement — like the cool new Chromebook that I’m writing this on. Plus, income from my day job not only supports my own creative endeavors, but also enables me to support my favorite writers and creators by purchasing their books, subscriptions, and other products.

Health Insurance

After researching my options, I found that decent private health insurance is sooooo expensive, and cheaper health plans have huge deductibles and don’t provide much coverage. My health insurance at work covers pretty much everything and is insanely cheap. And while I’m fortunate to be in excellent health now, I’m not getting any younger. 🙂 

Schedule and Routine

I admit, I’m still not fond of my early-morning, 6-day workweek. That’s probably the toughest part of the job. But the upside (as I keep reminding myself every morning when my alarm goes off at 4:30) is that I’m free most afternoons to do whatever I want — like write, or take a nap. I’ve almost got that whole work-life balance thing down. Plus, I feel a little lost without some kind of outwardly-imposed schedule. After a vacation, I appreciate getting back into the comforting routine of work.

Social Stuff

I like my co-workers, and I have strong hermit-like tendencies. I need to get out of my head and into the real world on a regular basis, and work forces me to do that. If I didn’t have a job to go to every day, I’d probably never leave my house. Except maybe to go to the liquor store. That would be bad.

So maybe I’m a weirdo, and maybe I’m just scared to make a big change right now, but while I’m figuring out my next move (if I even have one), I’m embracing my current reality and enjoying the ride. I make a conscious effort every day to focus on the many positives of my situation instead of the few negatives. Practicing this kind of mindful acceptance isn’t always easy, but I’m learning to be happy where I am and not stress about it. It just feels like the right thing, for me, for now.

~PEACE~

What color is your collar (and does it even matter)?

Here I am with my buddy Norm, proudly rockin’ our blue collars!

 

This week, workers around the globe united to celebrate May Day, also known as International Workers’ Day.

For most of us, what we do for work is an integral part of our personal identities. It defines who we are. We love to label and judge each other based solely on what we do to earn our paychecks. I like to call this common practice Job-Snobbery, or Job-ism. The Minimalists described this modern cultural phenomenon beautifully in their popular essay Life’s Most Dangerous Question: What Do You Do? 

 

Once you scrape away its cheap gold-plating, however, you’ll find a series of irksome inquisitions lurking beneath the surface. Sadly, what we’re actually asking when we posit this malefic question, albeit unknowingly, is:

How do you earn a paycheck? How much money do you make? What is your socioeconomic status? And based on that status, where do I fall on the socioeconomic ladder compared to you? Am I a rung above you? Below you? How should I judge you? Are you worth my time?

So many labels!

Working class, middle class, blue collar, white collar. But at the end of the day, and at the end of our lives, does any of it really matter? Why do we look down on some occupations while we put others up on a pedestal? If we all “have to” earn a paycheck, regardless of whether we make $25k/year or $250k/year, aren’t we all really just “working class”?

The grass isn’t greener.

If you’ve ever switched careers, or even had more than one job in your lifetime, you know that every workplace and every position has its pluses and minuses. No career path is entirely free of issues, obstacles, or annoyances. A bad boss is a bad boss, and Mondays are still Mondays, regardless of the size of your paycheck or the prestige of your title. Whether your collar is white or blue, the grass isn’t any greener on the other side.

We’re all in this together.

And we have more in common with each other than we think. So if we’re ever going to find happiness in our life’s work, we need to drop the superficial labels and the hierarchical ranking system, focus on finding the work that works best for each of us, and not give a f*ck about what anyone else thinks of our choices.

~PEACE~

Benefits

goldenhandcuffsLast week, I received my 2017 Personal Statement of Benefits from the US Postal Service. It seems that, whenever I start to seriously consider quitting my job, they somehow sense that, and mail these yearly reminders out to all of their employees. Damn them.

The benefits statement sums up, in numbers as well as with pretty charts and graphs, exactly what our jobs are worth, beyond the basic annual “cash compensation.” They factor in the full dollar values of our health insurance, life insurance, pension and other retirement contributions, Social Security, Medicare, and paid time off (holidays, vacation, and sick days). In the end, they make the job look pretty darn good – at least on paper – and infinitely harder to walk away from.

They also include our earliest eligibility dates for retirement. Mine is in 2027 – 10 years away. Wait. I can retire in 10 years, with a pension and health insurance?! How could I possibly be that old? Do I think I could make it that long? Right now, I don’t believe that I could.

But then again, I never thought I’d make it this far either.

I’ve been working at the post office for a little over 10 years already. I just kept telling myself, “One more year. One more year.” And here I am. This year is a little different, however. If I stay “one more year,” my house will be paid off next summer. My husband will be old enough to qualify for Medicare(!). My savings account will be that much bigger. And if I wait until next year, I’ll be able to leave my job debt-free and in a much better position to enjoy my hard-earned freedom without any big financial obligations hanging over my head.

But then again, I’ll be another year older, physically and mentally. Ugh.

I don’t know. I’m on the fence and swing back and forth at least a hundred times a day. Another year could make a huge difference in my finances. I also get a lot of paid time off, and if I use it wisely, I could minimize my 6-day workweeks for the next year and slowly ease myself into early retirement.

And what if I decide to stay even beyond that? I wonder what it would feel like to go to work every day because I want to, not because I need the money. Could the knowledge that most of my income is disposable lead to an entirely different sense of freedom: control and security, with benefits?

But then again, golden handcuffs are still handcuffs. Ouch.

I keep reminding myself of how lucky I am to be in such a predicament. It’s good to have the luxury of choice, although constantly reevaluating my options is exhausting. Either way, I know I’ll be just fine. The timeline is getting shorter. So I think, for now, my new mantra will be “One more month.”

We can do this!

~PEACE~

Looking for a Sign

Here I am in 2017, still working at the post office. Every day, I keep reminding myself of all the reasons that I continue to work there:

  • My coworkers
  • A nice bi-weekly paycheck, direct-deposited into my bank account
  • Health insurance
  • A pension (if I can stay there until I turn 60)
  • Paid vacation days, holidays, and sick days
  • A fairly consistent 35-hour-a-week schedule that allows me to escape the office by noon most days
  • Not being chained to a desk
  • Sundays off

But every day, I’m also bombarded with the reasons that I hate working there:

  • Getting up at 4:30 a.m. (despite my inner body clock’s protests)
  • Working 6 days a week (including every Saturday)
  • The 25-mile/25-minute commute each way (in what seems like daily snowstorms lately)
  • Recurring bouts of fatigue, sickness, and depression
  • Office politics
  • Management
  • Mind-numbing repetition and drudgery
  • My dry, cracked, filthy hands (and Oh My God the paper cuts!)

But the biggest deal-breaker for me? Complete surrender of my personal freedom and the inability to make my own schedule.

For the longest time, I think I’ve been waiting for some kind of sign to tell me that it’s time to finally move on. I wasn’t sure what form that sign would take, or if I’d even recognize it when it came. But last week, as I was stuffing mail into PO boxes, it finally hit me, like a lightning bolt out of the sky:

I dream about quitting my job EVERY DAY.

In fact, I spend hours thinking about:

  • When will I quit?
  • How will I quit?
  • What do I need to do to prepare to quit?
  • How much more money should I have saved?
  • How soon can I pay off my mortgage?

The list goes on and on, and the thoughts swirl around and around. I’ve read dozens, maybe even hundreds, of books about it. I’ve made spreadsheets. I’ve agonized and obsessed. For years. And not just at the post office, but at pretty much every job I’ve ever had.

And I finally realized, that’s my sign.

I need to be free. Free to wake up when my body wants to. Free to eat breakfast sitting down. Free to schedule my days as I see fit. Free to go to my nephew’s wedding on a Saturday without a signed permission slip from the postmaster. Free to pursue rewarding work that matters to me.

Ah, Peter. I don’t think I’d like another job either.

My schedule has been determined by someone else since I started first grade — 40 years ago. I’ve worked for someone else for 30 years. Enough! Financial security has always been my #1 priority, but self-employment has always been my #1 dream. And lately it seems like my deepest longings for freedom and autonomy have begun to overpower my insecure needs for a regular paycheck and the promise of a pension.

I’ve built a solid financial foundation over the years by keeping my expenses and debt low and adding to my savings whenever possible, so I know I’m in a good position to take the leap soon without too much risk. I always knew this time would come, and I wanted to be ready for it. I don’t have every detail figured out yet, and I probably never will, but I’m getting closer.

The goal I’m working toward this year is FREEDOM.  And now that I’ve put it out there, I’m counting on you all to help me out, and hold me accountable.

“Leap, and the net will appear.” – John Burroughs

~PEACE~

 

A Few Good Reasons to Appreciate Your Day Job

Find your passion! Follow your dreams! Quit your day job!

Great advice, but what if you’re not ready to follow it? Maybe you don’t even want to. There’s nothing wrong with earning a decent living from a “day job” while nurturing and developing your creative side outside of work. Most of us weren’t meant to be or do just one thing. We’re complicated individuals, with multitudes of interests and abilities. We were never meant to define ourselves by what we do to earn a paycheck.

Austin Kleon sums it up perfectly in his bestseller Steal Like an Artist: 10 Things Nobody Told You About Being Creative:

“The truth is that even if you’re lucky enough to make a living off doing what you truly love, it will probably take you a while to get to that point. Until then, you’ll need a day job.

A day job gives you money, a connection to the world, and a routine. Freedom from financial stress also means freedom in your art. As photographer Bill Cunningham says, “If you don’t take money, they can’t tell you what to do.”

A day job puts you in the path of other human beings. Learn from them, steal from them. I’ve tried to take jobs where I can learn things that I can use in my work later — my library job taught me how to do research, my Web design job taught me how to build websites, and my copywriting job taught how to sell things with words.”

Your day job buys you some breathing room in the budget. It pays the bills, and hopefully provides you with some savings and disposable income for travel or other meaningful expenditures that contribute to your overall happiness.

Hopefully, your day job offers you additional benefits, such as health insurance and retirement savings, to further enhance your (and your family’s) financial security.

Having a day job takes the pressure off of pursuing your passions, making it easier to enjoy them when money isn’t a factor.

The structure and schedule of a day job forces you to use your free time more efficiently.

Your day job may provide more social interaction than the “lonely creative life” of an artist, writer, etc. You may also make valuable contacts and connections for your freelance/consulting/side-gigging self.

You can learn valuable skills at your day job that may transfer into other areas of your life, both now and in the future. Everything you’ve done in your life so far has made you who you are today. Don’t discount any of it.

You may be passionate about some aspects of your day job, such as marketing or workers’ rights, that keep you engaged and involved in activities you enjoy.

Maybe you actually LIKE your day job. It’s OK to admit it! It may not be what you dreamed you’d be doing at this point in your life, but if it meets some of your needs and makes you happy most of the time, there’s nothing wrong with that.

~PEACE~

Take One Step Toward Financial Freedom

So many of us say that we want to work less and enjoy our lives more, but what’s keeping us from actually doing so? For most people, the obvious barrier is money. After all, who would go to work every day if we didn’t need the money?

But why do we need all this money? To pay the bills, of course! But wait. Why do we have all these bills in the first place? Umm…

The less money we spend, the less money we need. When we need less money, we don’t have to spend as much time working. The less time we spend working to make money to pay our bills, the more time we have to actually enjoy our lives.

Sounds simple enough, right? It is and it isn’t. Learning new financial habits definitely requires some reprogramming.

A fundamental first step toward reducing our spending calls for an honest assessment of where our hard-earned money is actually going. How much do we spend on the things that we truly need, vs. those that we simply want, or merely like?

For guidance, The Minimalists’ insightful essay NEED, WANT, LIKE breaks down this essential process of separating our basic needs from our various wants and likes (many of which often masquerade as needs in our complicated modern lives), and recommends action steps to move us closer to our ultimate goal of financial freedom.

Everyone’s different, but most of us don’t really need as much as we think. Once we start casting a critical eye on everything in our lives and asking, “Do I really need this?” it’s surprising to discover how often the answer is “No!”

~PEACE~

Cool Podcasts for Downshifters

I recently started listening to podcasts during my half-hour commute to & from work every day. I know, I know… I’m arriving at this party a little late, but this is by far the best new thing to happen to my daily routine in a long time! Why didn’t I think of this before? Now I’m arriving at my day job energized and motivated, with my mind full of new input for my writing and creative pursuits. By the time I get home, I’ve usually jotted down a few new ideas and resources that I can’t wait to research and start working with.

Plus, podcasts are FREE, and soooo much safer than trying to read a book while I’m driving.

Since I’m just getting started, this is my very short list of the podcasts that have inspired me so far. I hope they’ll do the same for you. If you know of any other great podcasts that have helped you find balance, simplify your life, improve your writing, pursue your passions, live a healthier life, or form good habits, please share!

The Minimalists Podcast

In their new podcast, just launched last month, The Minimalists Joshua Fields Milburn and Ryan Nicodemus discuss living a meaningful life with less stuff. This is the podcast that convinced me that podcasts were a good idea, so if you need convincing too, start here.

The Portfolio Life with Jeff Goins

As he does in his books, Jeff Goins shares thoughts and ideas that will help you to pursue work that matters, make a difference with your art, and discover your true voice. Episode 003, “How to Chase a Dream Without Quitting Your Job,” is a must-listen. His guest list is a who’s-who of today’s heavy-hitting inspirational speakers and authors. The episodes featuring interviews with Gretchen Rubin (018) and Tim Ferriss (004) are among my favorites so far.

Speaking of Gretchen Rubin…

Happier with Gretchen Rubin

The #1 best-selling author of The Happiness Project shares her practical advice about happiness and good habits in this “lively, thought-provoking podcast.” Sometimes it gets a little corny, and her topics are widely varied, so I’m picky about which episodes I listen to, but Gretchen’s honest tried-and-true advice usually manages to enhance my happiness in unexpected ways.

And Tim Ferriss…

The Tim Ferriss Show

“Self-experimenter” and best-selling author Tim Ferriss “deconstructs world-class performers from eclectic areas (investing, chess, pro sports, etc.), digging deep to find the tools, tactics, and tricks that listeners can use.” I haven’t had a chance to listen to many episodes, but I love everything Tim does, and his wide-reaching guest list – from Seth Godin to Jamie Foxx – is guaranteed to engage and inspire.

Over It And On With It with Christine Hassler

Life coach and author Christine Hassler coaches live callers on the problems – and opportunities – we all face in relationships, careers, health, transitions, finances, life purpose, spirituality, or anything else they have questions about. She uses her signature balance of practical tools and spiritual principles to help us all overcome the obstacles that hold us back from living the lives we were meant to live.

All of these podcasts, and thousands more, are easily accessible via the iTunes store. Happy listening (and learning)!

~PEACE~