Academic and former Venture Capitalist, Nassim Nicholas Taleb once said:
“The three most harmful addictions are heroin, carbohydrates, and a monthly salary.”
A little extreme perhaps, but how many people do you know that hate their jobs, but cling on for dear life for that seductive, nullifying, neutering end of month pay cheque? A lot, if the statistics are to believed. In the US, the home of the American dream, it’s turned into a bit of a nightmare. According to Forbes magazine, 70% of American employees hate their jobs…
Yes I spend most of my waking life in a job I hate they say, but I’ll rationalise it through the promise of the sweet, short, saccharine hit of the consumer moment; that time for two weeks a year when I get to be myself on holiday; acquiring wealth for some point in the future when I’ll enjoy it; or simply for the desire to provide for my family.
The truth is none of these provide much comfort if you do hate your job, and whilst providing for your family is perhaps the most potent rationale, there is a bit of an uncomfortable truth here too. You’re not much good to them if you’re unhappy. Yes you’ll put up a good front. But they’ll know, and they’ll see it, and wonder why? The truth is you’re not doing it for them, its you they want, not the job, the car, the big house, the latest toy. As a friend of mine once said ‘the best way you can spoil your kids is with your time’.
Before you misjudge my intent, I recognise the importance of work. It gives us a sense of belonging, purpose, challenge, accomplishment and esteem. I also think that when used well, wealth creation can have great personal and social value. It can help raise living standards, provide services through our taxes, and provide us with security, experiences, freedom and opportunity.
One of the biggest things that affects people’s happiness at work is their relationships. With their co-workers, boss, employees or clients. If enough of those are shitty, the chances are you’re probably not enjoying your job.
And the the way we organise our work seems to accentuate that. Locked into our organisational silos, we enslave ourselves to structures that can stifle, suffocate and depress, just mostly for that cheque.
I’m ashamed to admit, I’ve done it, I’ve literally worked for years of life where I’ve hated large chunks of my time at work. Horrible clients, plain mean aggressive bosses, dodgy practices, extremely awkward employees just for that bloody cheque.
Or worse, as a boss, adding to that the stress of worrying about everyone else’s’ cheque.
Well for the last year, I’ve been free. And I’m happier than I’ve been for years.
I’ve worked on the projects I’ve wanted to, and with the people I’ve wanted to work with. I have no boss, no employees, but done lots of good, valuable, enjoyable work. I’m not beholden to, or responsible for anyone else outside the work projects. And I can’t tell you how liberating a feeling that is.
As with anyone recovering from any addiction, its taken a while. Readjusting to world a work where you are responsible only for yourself.
I’ve had to learn how to manage the financial ups and downs, which I’ve done with a mixture of retained and project based work. (Not too much retained though, coz thats just another type of job right?). I’ll quite often end up doing sprints of intense work as projects demand. But I make sure I balance it out on the other side.
My network of collaborators has improved and grown. I’ve learned loads through being free to work with different kinds of people and organisations, rather than just the ones I’m virtually chained too.
I’ve gained back commuting time, social time, friends and family time. In the summer holidays, when my kids were off school and it was a nice day, I’d just go out with them for the day. Without guilt. I can do school pick ups and help out my wife more. The other day I went to a drumming show at my daughters school in the middle of the day. Her beaming face of delight and surprise when she saw me walk in will live with me for a long time. It amazes me that we’re prepared to sacrifice those moments that we will never get again. For work. Indeed, purportedly, one of the biggest regrets from men on their deathbed is ‘I wish I hadn’t worked so hard’. Just for that bloomin’ cheque.
So my relationships with my family are better. I spend more time on my hobbies. I’m earning pretty much the same as I was before, and whilst I’m not yet at the point of generating much surplus, I’m not far off, and I’ve now established the network and levers that means I’m confident that if I want to earn more I can. My work is more enjoyable, has more variety and is more focussed and productive because its on my terms, and based around project goals, rather than the need to be seen in an office for 8 hours a day 5 days a week, for that God. Damn. Cheque.
So would I ever go back? You know what, when the right thing develops, I may well. There is also something great about a group of good people, coming together with shared goals, values and complimentary skills, and building something they are proud of. And luckily there are more and more of those companies establishing themselves. And inevitably the things you work on grow and I might chose, in time, to spend more time on them with other people.
But for now, I’m happy to be free. And happy to be happy in life and work.
I was inspired to write this based in my own experience but also the timing was triggered by seeing 31st of March being the International Quit Your Crappy Job Day…
Devised by Alexander Kjerulf and his woohoo crew.