Up until recently, I saw my life basically in two modes I switched between: Working and Not Working. Whatever I was doing was directly or indirectly with reference to Work.
What I define as Working mode, in addition to actually working, includes recovering from work, worrying about work, talking about work, reading the business news, checking emails, thinking about checking emails, thinking about other jobs, buying clothes for work, buying clothes because “I’ve earned it”…
The list goes on. The only thing that was certainly Not Working was sleeping (as long as I wasn’t dreaming about work).
For anyone being paid, whether by employer or by customer if self-employed, the paymaster sets the terms of their personal freedom, has first call on their life. And our culture is based on the virtue of work and the importance of economic growth. More is better. This leads to a belief system:
Live to work > work to earn > earn to consume > consume to satisfy desires > achieve happiness
Unfortunately, this vision has proved itself to be fundamentally flawed; it does not achieve happiness; quite the opposite. Economic growth is incompatible with wellbeing on a personal and planetary level. Directly with feeding the economy, each participant generously contributes to stress, depression, inequality, biosphere pollution, resource exhaustion, and much more. The economy wins when people work and consume more, but everything else loses.
It is a road to ruin that is becoming almost impossible to ignore. Perhaps the main reason it is still being ignored, is because everyone is so busy, pursuing a convincing lie about happiness and submitting to economic servitude.
But surely the existing cycle can be turned backwards, in order to reach a deeper source of happiness, and solve a lot of problems along the way:
Desire less > consume less > earn less > work less > live more > achieve happiness
Life turns from a switch to more of a dial, which the person is in control of, because they have released themselves from the misguided aspirations of the economic prison.
Live more: that’s where the hope lies for personal wellbeing. To discover what ‘living more’ means is a very personal thing, and it needs two vital ingredients: time and space.
Remarkable things happen when a person gives him or herself some time and space.
After an initial period of detox, they seem to start to consider what it truly means to them to “live more”. Then begins a process of imagining and constructing a life based on those insights, escaping from the gravitational pull of More is Better. I have seen it happen to myself, and to countless other people I have met in the last year.
There’s certainly no formula. Whatever happens tends to be unpredicable, deeply personal and utterly life enriching. It’s nature taking its course, a discovery and an awakening.
Detaching from a toxic belief system can be difficult, even painful, like any addiction. Ultimately, it will be necessary. What’s on my mind is: how might more people choose human growth over economic growth – their own path over someone else’s – while things haven’t gone too toxic and the choice is there?
Absolutely loved this post and doodles. Thank you Chris for sharing!
What a fantastic read and thought-provoking record of your journey. I’m on a similar road myself after working 10 years at a corporate turned me into miserable ‘Robot Mummy’ on a very short fuse. It’s been two years since I left and I am still basking in the glow of the freedom that it brings.
Good luck with your quest!
I love your (ahem) work Mr Packe. I also really love the idea of flipping the whole thing on its head – problems always look better upside-down.
Predictably I am now going to bang on about relationships – I think it’s there in your post (but I’d put a neon light around it). I don’t think that the problem is ‘work’ per se, but our relationship with work – in this case ‘why’ we work. I’ve found that the more I give myself time and space the more work I do – but my relationship with work is very different. I’m not working so that I can earn money to consume. I’m doing it because I’m one of those annoying buggers who happens to be madly passionate about what they do. I don’t work ‘for a living’, my work is an important part of me living my life. For me, the more I work, the more I feel alive – if you made me ‘not work’ you’d find that I’d be very miserable, and I’d feel less ‘me’.
So I guess you could work less, and live more, or… you could put more of you (and the life you really want to live) into your work??
But – I suspect that we both totally agree that in order to see all of this you might need to stop, see the switch, see how you are living your life, ask yourself ‘why?’ you are working… and then maybe make some different choices.
Now THAT’S a comment.
You’re adding an important element there. What is work? Everything is in a way, I guess.
I take from what you’re saying that an important question is: Where do we want to direct the work we do, and what sort of wealth is it aimed at generating?
Fromm is surely looking down and nodding.