This is a guest post by Robert, who lives in Calgary and worked as a financial adviser before retiring at age 35. He is married, has three kids and has returned to school with the goal of eventually living and working overseas.
Apparently, in the 1970s, as great strides were being made in productivity increases, it was predicted that 30 or 40 years later production would require far less human involvement and we would have more leisure time. Reality has not matched expectations (obviously), because instead of more free time, most people seem to have opted for more money.
An individual can make choices to have more time or more money, but not really both. I wonder if there’s a reason that most people choose more money. Blaise Pascal said, “All man’s miseries derive from not being able to sit quietly in a room alone.” Perhaps people who choose to continue working hard, for more money that they don’t really need, are too insecure to be alone with themselves. Staying busy at work absolves us from having to make wise choices about how we use our time, and it gives us an excuse (feeling tired) to watch TV or otherwise unwind passively at the end of the day.
There are people whose sense of self is wrapped up tightly in their work. Think for example of the people who like to describe themselves as: “I’m a doctor” or “I’m a lawyer” or “I’m a dentist.” The implication is that anything they do outside the office is disconnected from their sense of self and feels like wasted time. When a doctor isn’t being a doctor, he might feel he’s wasting time. When a lawyer isn’t busy being a lawyer, she might feel she’s not making a difference. Part of the problem might be the fact that their skills earn a high hourly rate, but changing a flat tire or making dinner doesn’t have a monetary value. People who think this way tend to pay money rather than spend time doing chores. But I suspect that perspective ignores the satisfaction and well-roundedness that comes from being able to meet the needs of yourself and your family.
For other people, part of the explanation may be related to the “Puritan work ethic” that has pervaded the North American culture. The “idle rich”were mocked and reviled throughout the 20th century in America. Many people only feel valuable when they feel productive. This is a boon for employers, but community and charitable associations struggle to find people who are willing to volunteer and get involved. And while employees may indirectly benefit their community, the people who do get involved with volunteer projects tend to create meaningful relationships and get great satisfaction from knowing that they have a positive impact on their community.
With a little imagination and some willingness to not always keep up with the Joneses (which is unrealistic, anyway), it’s possible for most people to be happy with a moderate income and additional free time. That time won’t stay “free” for long, however, once you’re able to express the impact you want to have on your community and spend your leisure time doing things that are meaningful to you and those around you. If you spent less time working, what would you do with yourself?