It’s Sunday night, and the MMM family has had one of those enjoyable and tiring summery weekends. We were out in the sun all day, working in the garden for a while. Then the lady and boy went off to visit friends for a birthday party while I spent a few hours at the top of a ladder in the blazing heat, doing prep work on my house’s siding to get it ready for painting next week. Then we all came inside, and I cooked dinner while I drank a large homebrew, ate a hearty meal, then spent an hour cleaning up the mess that the weekend had generated.
By the end of it all, I was ready for an early bedtime. I looked forward to tucking my son in and then rolling into my own bed before it even hit nine ‘o’ clock. But then I was struck by a brief lightning bolt of panic.
“Shit!” , I thought. “Tomorrow’s Monday! Don’t I usually put up a Mr. Money Mustache article every Monday morning? I don’t have anything ready, because this weekend has been so much fun!”
Luckily, the lightning bolt quickly fizzled out and was replaced by a gentle breaking wave of relief:
“Wait a minute! I don’t HAVE to put up an MMM article. Who cares if it’s Monday!? I don’t have a boss I need to answer to. I’m not depending on that blog to pay for the groceries. I’ll write, or not write, whenever the hell I want.. I don’t need to follow a schedule!
The Mustachians would surely understand.. and indeed, they might even Respect a retired man taking a Monday off from “work”, just to illustrate one of the many benefits of retirement!”
Ironically enough, the train of thought flowed so nicely that I ended up getting fired up to write something about it. And so here we are, with something to talk about on Monday after all.
This idea of being relieved that work is not mandatory has actually been popping up in daily life for some time now.
Back in January, I spent a pleasant day on the rooftop of the Foreclosure Project house, soaking up some warm sun while I stripped off 80 years worth of worn-out shingles. The next day, I had an average experience heaving sheets of plywood onto the old roof structure, and cutting and nailing them into place, while that same sun beat down all day and started to make me feel a bit like an overcooked bagel. By the third day, the fun had worn off completely and I forced myself through a tedious seven hours of hauling up packages of waterproof underlayment and shingles, opening them, and monotonously installing them across the hundreds of square feet of new plywood. Measure, cut, set, nailnailnail, Measure, cut, set, nailnailnail. My hands were black, my jeans were ripped, and my mind longed to do something other than balance on a roof and install roofing materials.
“Man”, I said, “I’m sure glad this isn’t my real job. Can you imagine doing this every day, week after week, year after year, with no end in sight?”
In fact, when it boils right down to it, many jobs carry a workplace hazard of losing their thrill. Some are of course better than others: my gas station jobs didn’t last longer than eight months, the convenience store was good for well over a year, and the engineering work kept me entertained for a solid decade. But at some point, for many people, the thrill of working even the most interesting job may come to an end.
At that magical and terrifying point in a job, your mind starts to race. If you’re sandwiched between a wall of debt and the cliff of an expensive lifestyle that you locked in for yourself back when the job seemed fun, the joyless job can be quite scary. You’ve got no options, but you need the money, so you have no choice but to continue the dance.
If you’ve thought ahead and set yourself up with just a bit more freedom – skills in other areas, friends in other companies or industries, or savings that will get you through a year or more of unemployment – the feeling is somewhat different. Now the realization that your job sucks can serve as more of just a kick in the butt. Motivation to start looking around, stretch your wings, and embark on a challenge of finding new employment – a challenge that will benefit you anyway.
The ultimate situation, however, is to be working for the sheer joy of it to begin with. You’re learning and staying challenged at all times, because if you fail to do that, there is no pretending that you are not a complete fool for taking that job when you didn’t need the money. You can afford to set your standards higher, which in turn may actually make you work harder.
Would a financially independent person really sit all day in a cubicle and surf mindless websites while answering the odd email and pretending to work? NO! She’d either get some really good and meaningful stuff done, or she’d go home and read a book while dipping her feet in the swimming pool. There’s no need for in-between fakeypants work when you are working for the joy of work itself.
So that’s my answer to all the commenters on other websites that say, “But I don’t need to save for early retirement – I love my job so I’ll never need to quit!”. I’m glad that you are so confident, because loving your work is a great thing. But do you really want to lock yourself in by maintaining financial dependence on your job? Wouldn’t you rather be forced to love your job even more, by having the option of the feet-in-the-pool novel reading always looming over your head, keeping you honest with both yourself and your coworkers?
It sure works for me. I mean, look at that – the option of not working is what motivated me to work tonight, and ding, here’s the article I wanted! The shingle job got finished and the pain of the repetitive work faded away, and now there’s only that finished roof I get to see every time I walk by. I’ll surely grow tired of laddering around my own house exterior during next week’s paint job as well, but that job will come to an end and it will be time to think up the next job that needs doing. And this blog will never become a treadmill of cranking out articles just because a boss tells me they’re due. It can go on vacation, or it can grow bigger and better, or it can morph into a touring hiphop group or a cooking television show if that’s what fate decides.
Variety.. the spice of life!