I Work, Therefore I Am

This is a guest post by Robert, who lives in Calgary and works as a financial adviserretired at 34. He is married, has three kids.  Robert and his wife then plan to return to school and become teachers, eventually living and working overseas.

I really struggle with answering the question, “So, what do you do?” So many people define themselves by their job, that it seems to have become a shortcut for getting to know people. He’s a cop, she’s a teacher, he works  for the city, she’s a politician, etc. What am I? I worked for years as a stockbroker and financial planner, so sometimes I simply say that I’m a financial advisor. Sometimes I tell people that I’m a retired stockbroker, but I know I don’t look the part.

Last week my wife and I were at the stable with my two year old daughter. My wife was riding, while my daughter and I watched and visited the other horses. The owner of the horse my wife was riding had come to meet us, and she had her three young children in tow. “How can you both manage to come out here on a weekday afternoon?” she asked. She needs to work around the schedules of her husband’s work and her children to be able to find a time to get away. For simplicity, I answered, “Neither of us work.” “But … you must!” she blurted.

Of course, I explained that I had worked as a stock broker and sold my practice, which allows me to not work right now. Since I look even younger than I am, she probably wasn’t totally satisfied. But what struck me is the expectation that everyone runs their life the same way: go to work, earn income, spend it all, go to work again tomorrow. I remember when I started working and our income just covered our expenses; we were in the same position. As our income rose, our expenses rose much slower, and we chose to manage our life differently (spend less, save more, invest at opportune moments).

I still work. I don’t have an office, and I don’t have set hours. I don’t receive a paycheque. I do some work on our investments, and I receive our income from our investment accounts. But to feel like I’m using my abilities and continuing to learn and grow, I spend a lot of time volunteering. I volunteer at the school, I chair the school council and I advocate for public education with the school board and, to a lesser extent, the province. I also spend time with my kids, while my wife works on her Masters degree. I never realized how much work caring for the kids can be!

I have thought about getting a regular job again. I’ve applied at a couple places that sounded just perfect for the skills I want to continue to develop. I haven’t heard back yet, but I question how much money I would want to earn to make it worthwhile to leave behind the things I’m doing now. I’m proud of the contribution I feel I’m making in my family and in my community.

What work do you do that you are most proud of?

4 thoughts on “I Work, Therefore I Am”

  1. Most people spend the larger part of their waking lives performing tasks within the work environment. It seems that we as a whole believe that what we do for a job provides us with a lot of information about who we are as people. In general, I tend to agree – as animate objects we are best defined by the actions we perform after all.

    When asked, you yourself describe yourself as a financial advisor. Why do you not state that you are a volunteer, or a stay at home parent? Likely because those descriptions do not accurately how you wish to project yourself to the world. I think the fact that you have been able to retire early, speaks well to your success as a financial advisor and hence why you are proud to state that.

    In the end, people usually dig more and find out more about you through subsequent discussion. But in general, for easy classification in our brains, a 3-5 word summary of what we do with most of our time is likely accurate and effective.

  2. When meeting someone new and the discussion turns to career/profession, I love to hear someone say “I pay the bills by driving a truck” or “I earn money by laying bricks” instead of labeling themselves as a truck driver or bricklayer. To me, this indicates the person has usually broken out of what society tells us we should be like, and I end up having the greatest conversations with them.

    I am still working on being mindful when answering this question, sometimes the default answer of “Office Manager” comes out, but if I catch myself in time, I reply with “I manage an office”.

    From my experience, most sheeple don’t recognize a difference, but it seems that to those who value their individuality, there is a passion about not being “labeled”.

  3. Great post.
    It is inspiring to hear about people who have broken out of the traditional job stream. I am only 28, but my wife and I are working hard to achieve this in 15 or so years. We both graduated with our master’s degrees, and are now working very hard to build investments that will provide for us in the future. Our plan is based around two rental properties and a dividend stock portfolio. Luckily we live in Victoria BC so it is very cheap to entertain ourselves (great outdoor opportunties here)
    Keep the posts coming!

  4. Matt, it sounds like you’ve taken the right steps and started at the right time. I’m sure you’ll make great progress toward your goal. In the meantime, I hope you and your wife enjoy the work you do. Working for money is fine, but doing work that’s meaningful makes those 15 years (in your case) more enjoyable.

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