What Would I Do If I No Longer Had to Work?

Whenever I told people about my book project, the first question they asked was about the lack of work. People were sometimes curious, sometimes aggressive. Especially when people were aggressively dismissive I always asked myself why they reacted that way. I still don’t fully understand it. Maybe the idea that we have to work is so deeply rooted that merely planning not to is enough to provoke some people. Maybe it also scares people because they themselves don’t know what they’d do with all that time. They start to worry about boredom and lack of purpose. I don’t know exactly. In any case, lots of people ask themselves the question: What would I do if I no longer had to work? By the way, people who are already on the way to financial freedom don’t ask this question. On the contrary. The time without paid work hangs in front of them like a promise, and not because they want to sit on the couch and watch TV. They have lots of ideas that range from traveling to restoring farms to writing blogs and books. The questions instead come from people who haven’t thought about the idea at all yet. And who don’t want to think about it either. Why? I can only guess. But maybe this dismissive reaction stems from the fact that people put a lot of effort into their day-to-day working lives. And then along comes someone who wants to opt out of the whole thing. Just like that. To write a book. In peace. And to grow vegetables in their garden. That then gives rise to envy, anger and many other emotions. To avoid having to deal with these emotions, people respond rather dismissively. “I wouldn’t want to do that, to stop working. I like working and anyway my life would be meaningless if I didn’t do anything anymore.”

How did our ancestors live?

Neither of my grandmothers worked. My mother-in-law didn’t either. They raised children, sometimes with the help of nannies. They did a lot around the house and in the garden. They fixed things, sewed and made things. They picked, cooked, preserved and dried fruit and vegetables. They wouldn’t have understood the question as to what you do if you don’t work. Because they worked a lot. They just weren’t in paid employment in the sense we know it today. I’m not trying to say that in future women should go back to the kitchen sink, but I feel that we should think more about freedom of choice. We’re allowed to think about how we want to live. It remains to be seen whether we choose the historical model with a very strict division of labor between men and women, paid employment and housework, or whether we come up with new, creative solutions. I just find it interesting that there are probably lots of people out there who knew women who lived completely differently, but who dismiss that way of living for themselves as absurd.

The historical description in the last chapter also shows that in the past people pursued lots of alternative activities and found them more interesting than working. What could you do? Any number of things – wherever your curiosity takes you. Whether it’s writing a computer program, running a marathon or learning DIY skills, the world offers endless numbers of challenges. And as a side note, lots of discoveries possibly wouldn’t have been made if people hadn’t followed their curiosity – without paid work and without intending to make a profit.

There’s more to work than making money

In today’s society, choosing a different way of life has a certain stigma attached to it. Our society is so heavily influenced by paid work, preferably full-time, that other ways of life are at best met with surprised admiration. To be recognized and noticed and to feel a sense of belonging are basic human needs.

Our current environment may deny us this recognition if we say we’re opting out. As a former managing director I too can say that while no-one knew what I actually did, my title automatically afforded me a high level of recognition in society. In my eight years as a coach I’ve never experienced that again. And when I was a managing director no-one ever said to me, “Oh, you can make a living from that?” That’s not the kind of recognition and appreciation one hopes for. People who don’t have to work for a living used to be widely referred to as being “of independent means”. Today no financially free person would use that phrase. If they did they would be met with surprise, but surely very rarely with admiration or appreciation.