This is the twentieth part of The Simple Dollar Book Club reading of Your Money or Your Life. Want to know more?
This chapter of Your Money or Your Life starts off by attempting to define what exactly work is, which isn’t an easy thing to do. I thought their various quoted definitions were quite interesting, particularly Kahlil Gibran’s definition: “Work is love made visible.” I think that’s an ideal that many of us strive for – we would all like our work to be an expression of the love inside of us, but for almost everyone, it’s not true.
This is followed by a history of work, with one interesting idea: in pre-Industrial Revolution times, people worked an average of three hours a day, and that time blended into family time, religion, and play. For example, the work might include hunting with your friends, gathering berries with the whole family, or carrying water up from the creek with your children. The tasks that needed to be done were done as an integrated part of one’s life. The Industrial Revolution introduced the idea of compartmentalizing work and non-work and set them as opposites, constantly fighting each other over your time. Then, eventually, as more and more people work, it becomes harder and harder to socialize, leaving many people to pursue solitary activities, which often leads to isolation, depression, boredom, and more work.
I found one question in this whole discussion to be particularly profound:
Why do you do what you do to earn money?
It’s really not an easy question for most people to answer. You’ll mostly get statements along the lines of “It pays well” or “It’s what I’m trained to do.” Those answers speak to an essential dissatisfaction with what one is doing with much of their time, and it’s really no wonder such people go home completely mentally exhausted.
Paid employment serves only one real purpose: getting paid. That’s it. You spend your time doing things decreed by someone else. However, that’s not the only reason to work: work can be emotionally, intellectually, psychologically, and spiritually fulfilling, and those things have significant value as well. Perhaps their value can’t easily be expressed in dollar terms, but they do show up in your day to day well-being.
When I first read all of this, I was somewhat jaded. Emotional and intellectual well-being doesn’t pay the bills was my perspective on it. But reading it this time, I see exactly where they’re getting at, and it makes perfect sense that this chapter follows one on frugality.
Whenever you go charge up that ol’ credit card, you make a choice that you’re going to stay at your current job, whether you like it or not. You are requiring your future self to pay those bills, and to have that money, your future self is going to have to have a certain level of income. Thus, every time you buy something frivolous, you lock yourself into your job, whether you like it or not.
Being frugal breaks that bond between your income and your work. Sure, no matter how frugal you are, you’re going to need some minimum level of income, but you’ll find out pretty quickly if you really commit to frugality that your expenses are far lower than you thought they would be – and that means that likely, you don’t need your current job, especially if it’s draining you.
For me, this has been the most wonderful discovery of frugality. For the last few months, I’ve no longer even thought much at all about my paycheck at work because we have plenty in the bank to cover all of our bills. During the vast majority of the day, I do things because I want to do them. The big reason is that I no longer attach my work to my pay – because I know how to live well below my means, I’m no longer roped to my desk at work and scared that everything falls apart if I lose my job.
That, my friends, has been an enormous psychological weight, one that I didn’t even really see before. It feels truly great to have it lifted.
Tomorrow, we’ll continue with the seventh chapter, “For Love or Money: Valuing Life Energy – Work and Income,” starting with the subheading “The Stunning Implications of Redefining Work” and continuing until the “Step 7″ subheading. This section appears on pages 232 through 246 in my paperback version of the book.