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MAN, people really hate working.
Coming out of the pandemic and two years of on-again-off-again government-imposed lockdowns, you would think that people would be chomping at the bit to go back to work as the economy re-opens and eternally grateful for whatever job they’re fortunate enough to have.
Especially in the industries that were heavily affected by COVID like travel, health care, and restaurant work, workers are being asked to do more, with less pay, and with zero concern for their safety and well-being.
All this has fuelled what the media has dubbed the Great Resignation, with record numbers of workers quitting their jobs. They’re not doing it because they have so much money they don’t have to work again, they’re doing it because they’re so fed up with a system that seems hell-bent on extracting as much productivity they can for their corporate masters while paying them as little as legally possible.
Work-Life Balance is Under Attack
We have recently started travelling again (Yay!) and one of the first things we noticed back in Europe is that people here don’t centre their lives around work like we do back home. Restaurants in Portugal typically close after 2 PM, only to reopen again at 7 PM. France has 3 times the number of mandatory paid vacation days as the US. Even famously hard-working Germany completely shuts down on Sundays.
In Europe, work-life balance is something that governments actually try to build into their society. Some are more successful than others, of course, but they’re at least trying. In the US, anyone advocating for worker’s rights is roundly denounced as a socialist, communist, or the literal anti-Christ.
Time and time again, when the US (and the UK, and to a certain extent even Canada) needs to choose to between the rights of workers versus the owners, the owners consistently win. That’s how you get situations where billionaires blast themselves into space on a penis-shaped rocket while their workers don’t even get to take bathroom breaks without being penalized.
If you ever wanted to get an idea of how frustrated people are, check out the Subreddit r/Antiwork. It’s basically an entire subreddit dedicated to people who are just sick of the entire system and want to check out completely.
There are some societal-level solutions to this. Unions allow workers to organize and fight back against exploitive employers. Companies can be forced via laws and regulations to give their workers basic rights like sick days, caps on maximum hours worked, or a livable wage.
However, these solutions require a political solution, and odds are not great of that happening. If anything, the US government has actively opposed anything that could make life easier for workers for decades, instead siding with those same billionaire rocket-riders that created the situation in the first place. If you’re waiting for the government to ride to your rescue, you could be waiting a very, very, very long time.
FIRE Shifts Power Back to the Worker
The Financial Independence movement has been depicted as many things by the mainstream media. Sometimes we’re depicted as tightwads who hate spending money. Sometimes we’re depicted as lazy, entitled millennials who don’t want to work. Occasionally we’re depicted as savvy investment gurus that have figured a way to hack the system.
However, I think it’s something bigger than that. I think the FIRE movement is a way for workers everywhere to seize back some of the power that has been lost to corporations over the past few decades. You can have all the campus protests, union drives, and political rallies you want, but if it doesn’t result in concrete action that improves conditions for workers, none of it means anything.
The FIRE movement actually offers a way for people to improve their lives. Money is power, so the more money you have, the more power you have to push back against an unreasonable boss or a greedy corporate bean counter. By teaching people to spend their money not on stuff (or houses), but on investments that provide a passive income, we’re teaching people how to no longer depend on their jobs. And that means that even if they decide not to retire fully like us, they will have the power to demand better working conditions.
We saw this first hand when we left in 2015. The same bosses that told us things like unpaid leave, working from home, or going to part-time were “impossible” all of a sudden changed their tune when they realized that we didn’t need them anymore and had one foot out the door. Your maximum negotiating power happens the moment you cross over your FI number.
And the cool thing about this is that this effect isn’t an all-or-nothing thing. Your power increases as you work towards Financial Independence, so whether you’re 10%, 25%, or 50% of your way to your FI target, your ability to stand up to your boss increases with it.
The flip side of that, of course, is if you’re deep in debt with a giant mortgage that forces you to keep working or you’ll lose your house, you have zero negotiating power and your boss knows it. That’s why when we were working, our managers kept pestering us about when we were going to settle down and buy a place. They knew that once we signed the dotted line on a mortgage, they could treat us like shit and we’d have no choice but to take it.
Finding Sustainable Work
The ironic thing is that just because we left our jobs hasn’t meant that we stopped working. I continued coding for two years at a non-profit called We Need Diverse Books, we created this blog, and we wrote a best-selling book!
And we’re far from alone. Far from being “lazy,” most people who achieve FIRE end up going on and doing great things. Mr. Money Mustache opened up a co-working space in Colorado, Brandon “the Mad Fientist” Ganch became a musician and has a very cool album out on Spotify, and J.L. “The GodFather” Collins is back to running Chautauquas.
In short, people want to work. There’s an innate desire to produce and create that we all share as human beings. But what we don’t want is to be chained to a desk and forced to work so that someone else can blast off into space on a penis-rocket for no reason.
What we actually want is a way to sustainably work. To be able to balance work with our health, time spent with our loved ones, and the ability to explore this big beautiful world that we all live in.
Sustainable Work is a pretty rare thing to find as an employee. Not just because employers are financially incentivized to grind you to dust for their bottom line, but also because everyone’s level of Sustainable Work is different.
Some people (like FIRECracker) need to go hard on a certain project for months at a time. At certain points, we were actually working longer hours writing and promoting our book than when we were working at our old jobs! I, on the other hand, prefer to do work in shorter 2-3 hour chunks spread out over a longer period of time.
In short, everyone’s Sustainable Work rhythm is individual. Maybe some of you like working 60 hour weeks at a desk (psychos!), but for most people, that will quickly learn to burn-out, not to mention health issues. And unfortunately, companies have not figured out a way to let everyone work at their own pace.
So the only logical way to figure out your own personal balance point of Sustainable Work is to become Financially Independent, thereby removing your dependence on the work-until-you-drop economy, and create your own “job”.
You choose what you do, when you do it, and who you do it with.
You might even surprise yourself with what ends up clicking for you.
For me, I always thought my happy place would be in software, coding up the next great app and building a tech startup from the ground up. Turns out, my happy place is travelling the world and doing creative writing projects with my beautiful and super-smart wife. I recently told my sister that technically, I’m a professional artist now, and she laughed so hard she fell down.
The point is, Sustainable Work isn’t a mythical city on a hill that exists only in storybooks and fairy tales. It does exist, but what that looks like is different for each person. That’s why there’s no one-size-fits all solution. But in order to find it, you have to free yourself from the shackles of your existing life.
As someone who’s found theirs, I have to tell you that it’s pretty fricking awesome. Now lets figure out how to find yours too.
What do you think your Sustainable Work looks like? Let’s hear it in the comments below!
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