Should You Aspire to the “Soft Life”?

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An article in the Guardian recently caught my eye. It’s called, “The soft life: why millennials are quitting the rat race“.

This article features Rose Gardner, a millennial who did everything right in terms of following society’s rulebook for success: get a master’s degree, climb the corporate ladder, rise to a coveted high paying position, and then buy a house in expensive London, England.

But despite checking off all the “adulting” boxes and becoming what society considers a success, she was not happy.

“I remember walking into my flat, and this might make me sound so ungrateful, but I felt scared,” she said. “” knew I was going to have to keep working at this job that I hated to pay the mortgage.”

So at 37 years old, she quit her job, sold her house and moved back in with her parents. Now, at 42 years old, she’s been working part-time for the past 5 years in hospitality and making jewelry and pottery from a shed in her parent’s garden. She has little income but also little expenses and is much happier. She says she’s grateful to now have time to meditate and take long walks with her dog in nature.

This “soft life” story is a less extreme version of the “Lying Down” (Tang Ping “躺平”) movement from China. Clearly Rose wasn’t doing the inhumane “996” (working 9am to 9pm, 6 days a week) thing, but similarly she gave up a high paying job and the ambitious life for the simple or “soft life” instead.

So why does “having it all” feel like such a letdown when you attain it?

Well according to the article, for millennials, gen Z, and gen Alpha, who may never be able to afford a house, there is a growing feeling online that hard work isn’t worth it. The system promises you a good life, but you actually get very little back and are being actively screwed by your company in terms of pay that isn’t keeping up with inflation and zero job security. As Gabrielle Judge, the TikTok influencer known as “Anti Work Girlboss” puts it: “You think your managers will take care of you? Your job will take care of you? That really crumbled for millennials, especially during the 2008 recession.”

This gave birth to the “soft life” revolution, where instead of “leaning in” and climbing the corporate ladder to be a boss so you can “have it all”, you prioritize time and energy instead for what makes you happy.

According to Abadesi Osunsade in the article, who is the CEO of her own company:

“Why is there shame in not being busy? Have we been so brainwashed by capitalism that you have to be busy to be worth something?”

I can relate to this obsessive “need to feel busy”. Back when I was working as an engineer, being busy meant being important. My job was 100% tied to my self-worth and coming from an immigrant background, that need “to always be busy” was magnified as my immigrant parents constantly remind me what all their sacrifices were for. If you quit a stressful, status-driven, high paying job, you feel like you’re not just letting yourself down, but also letting your parents down. I now know that is horrible for your health and not the only way to live but it took years for me to decompress from this mindset.

Now that I’m older, time and health are becoming more and more valuable (especially given that I have an infant whose childhood I don’t want to miss). I can see that hard work and ambition with no end point is pointless. What is it all for? Ego? Status? Consumerism? What others think of you? Believe me, none of that stuff will matter when you’re on your deathbed. Watching my co-worker collapse and almost die at work, and then later on, my father-in-law pass away from cancer only a few years into retirement after working 40+ years really gives me perspective on life’s real priorities.

It was a relief not to be constantly asked “what do you do?” and instead be asked “where are you going?” when we quit our jobs to travel.  I could finally decouple my self-worth from my job title.

Now, I can see my peers and the next generation getting into the same rut and struggling to find a way out. Interestingly enough, the reactions to the Guardian article, were mixed, with half of readers agreeing that millennials have it bad but the other half saying this is nothing new:

“We are the generation told to work more for less, and when we physically have no more left to give, we are made to feel that we are the problem.” —Lara Marshall

“I do not think this concept (of a soft life) is anything new…Creative people have often lived this way. Charles Bukowski wrote his novel Post Office in 1971, which detailed his morning job as a mail carrier that allowed him the freedom to write, drink and bet on the horses for the rest of the day. And you also have Jack Kerouac and the Beat Generation, heralding an entire movement who chose to drop out and tune in. I do wish millennials would stop thinking their generation invented the wheel.” —Emma Durand

I’m of the camp that yes, previous generations who have gone through war and famine (like my parents) had it worse, but that doesn’t mean our problems aren’t valid. They just require a different solution since they are a different set of problems to what our parents had.

That said, I think the path to an easier life isn’t a “lazy girl job”. That’s a temporary solution that doesn’t hedge against inflation or layoffs. After all, if your job is easy, you are replaceable. Gabrielle Judge (“Anti Work Girlboss”) had a computer science degree and quit her job to get a customer service “lazy job” and she says you should too. Unfortunately, she is in an extremely vulnerable situation, especially when AI can make her job redundant. This is a solution only if you are privileged enough to have parents who can take care of you if it doesn’t work out (like Rose from the article). If you aren’t, this solution is flawed because you are STILL an employee. Employees can be laid off.

In order to have an easy life, you need to become an investor. And in order to become an investor and generate passive income, you need a strategy I like to call “Grow the gap. Take a nap.”

Step 1: Grow the gap between your income and your expenses. If you’re spending 90% of what you make, it doesn’t matter how high your salary is. If you have a high paying job, spend less and investing your savings. If you don’t, use geographic arbitrage or retrain to get a higher paying job. 

Step 2: The bigger the gap between your pay and living costs, the more money you can invest into the stock market.

Step 3: Continue tracking expenses and investing until you reach financial independence.

Step 3: Take a nap (or as many naps as you like). You’re now making money in your sleep.

You can have a “soft life” once passive income rolls in from your investments. And the best part? AI taking over jobs now actually helps you rather than hurts you. The recent stock market rally is mainly due to AI.

So, be on the right side of the equation. Be an investor, not an employee.

What do you think? Is taking the “soft life” route the way to combat burnout? Are Millennials just being whiny or is work now too stressful and come with too little payoff to be sustainable?


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29 thoughts on “Should You Aspire to the “Soft Life”?”

  1. I don’t think the soft life is the way to go. You won’t have a lot of choices when something goes wrong. It’s better to achieve FI first, then you can go your own way. Work hard and sacrifice up front. Having a soft life without a good financial foundation won’t end well. Unless you can count on inheritance…

    1. Agree. The FIRE movement is nothing new. Millennials are whining just like every generation before them. Acceptance of reality is just part of the “growing up” process. Make a choice (work hard or not) and move on – but please stop the whining…

  2. I recently came across the notions of Coast FIRE and Barrista FIRE which might be a better approach. Rather than slaving away to achieve FIRE, you save enough to have your portfolio grow until retirement and the work just as much as needed to cover your expenses. So you have the safety net of your investments while also not having to deal with the consumerism driven corporate ladder.

  3. Kind of tired of these types of articles where people are going nuclear on their careers in search of “a peaceful life”. Corporate life doesn’t have to be hectic. You don’t have to climb all the way to the top of the corporate ladder – just high enough to satisfy your personal needs. Sorry to break it to people but barista life isn’t actually amazing. You still need to deal with crappy people and a hectic schedule, while being run off your feet. Sometimes, entry level roles work you way more into the ground than senior roles because you have zero power and have to do all the grunt work. I don’t see the example of Rose as something aspirational. If anything, it seems to be a cautionary tale. She’s relying on her parents to get by. Perhaps she’s able to live a couple of years like this on her parents’ grace, but it won’t be forever. And her peace has come at the price of her parents’ peace. How do they feel about her coming home?

    1. Having been at the top of the ladder working 80 hour weeks and being held responsible for the worlds problems, I identify with the stories in the article. Unfortunately when you’ve been burning every part of yourself for years, you just want the burning to stop… At any cost… Burn out is real!

      Yes, they took the most drastic options because they had a support network behind them… I personally stepped back and left the organization I was at to take a lower level position which required half the hours and none of the responsibility… For the same pay. It took several years of doing less to heal from the burnout, and I often wonder if going on a sabbatical for 6 months would have been a better option.

      You’re correct in thinking that corporate work doesn’t have to be hectic… but it’s not always the choice of the employee on whether or not they get forced into a position with a higher stress load.

      1. I agree with you Tom! Burnout is definitely real, and sometimes you have zero control over decisions and workplace politics. However, I don’t think the right attitude is to just throw in the towel, especially if you’ve spent 10 years cultivating a career (even if it’s a career you hate), and I do feel like there’s been a rise of these types of articles, almost always subtlety aimed at women. And while I agree that women can’t do it all – I also think that there’s many dynamics here to any person’s success, including a supportive partner, paid help, or a whole host of other options. You don’t need to blow up your career or go back to the 1950s to get worklife balance. Starting a new career from scratch is a terrible idea for most people. The reality is that it’s extremely hard to build a new career/livelihood from zero, and almost always full of stress. There are definitely people who succeed – but those people almost always have been cultivating that particular hobby for years and have a big leg up, or have sources of financial support/means to bridge the gap. I just think it’s a terrible idea for most people to go and quit their jobs without much of a plan – as you stated, a sabbatical is a much better option. In all cases, you need some FU money as a security blanket.

      2. I’m pretty sure nobody is “solving the world’s problems” in their jobs. You just fell for the ruse… slavery for abolished long ago, so you’re allowed to quit…

      3. If you’re working 80 hours a week, you’re not at the top of ladder. You’re a cog in the wheel.

        The higher I got up that ladder you speak of, the less hours I did and the more time I had for living.

        You know not what you speak of.

    2. While you don’t always need to climb to the top of the corporate ladder, I have personally seen too many people move up the ladder 1 rung too high and are now awful at their job. This is part of the reason that I left my last job. Most people don’t quit the job, they quit the management/their bosses.

      Like many, I climbed the ladder until I got burned out. I don’t judge her and she suffered. She can live her life however she wants to. I just hope that she doesn’t regret whatever choice she does make.

      I would assume that her parents would be happy to see her again and connect again with their daughter. Maybe she ends up taking care of them in their old age or maybe she takes a break of a few years before going back to some more socially respected full time job. That family time and connection could be worth more than money.

      Her story isn’t over, but it is easy for us to write the ending.

  4. I think the “soft life” is where it is at. I want to make pottery in a shed, just not in my parent’s shed. I can’t go back to living with my parents. Haha.

  5. Do whatever you want with your life, it is yours. BUT! Don’t expect your parents, society or the government to support you. Be responsible for your own life and finances.

    I do think however people who seek a soft life which can also seem like a self centered life are going to be very unhappy in the long run. Seek to learn, grow, challenge yourself, contribute to the world in whatever way works for you. Leave a mark in the world however big or small and in whatever way you see as valuable. Define your own success. But remember two things.

    First, your future self might have different views on a fulfilling life so maybe people older than you (even if they are boomers) might be worth listening to AND life costs money so you better be willing to work.

  6. I’m singing “Hi ho, hi ho, it’s off to work we go!” and about to pedal a YouBike rental to work and I have to confess that the photo of the hammock tempted me. I’m probably not the soft life type, but there are some facets of it that look inviting!

    Dan V
    Taipei, Taiwan

  7. Hi
    This is a very interesting article. I commend the lady for the courage that she has shown to walk away from a stress full job and be happy with something else.
    However, if I look back my career as an professional engineer, I worked almost 22 years before I was made redundant from Auto industry in Australia during GFC. No fault of mine though.
    I did not quite know what to do at the age of 47 years. I tried to get an another job but did not happen.
    I switched to real estate as an selling agent which is kind of completely nuts as some people thought. I did reasonably well still working at age of 63 years by choice.
    However, I was an investor in real estate before and a good saver as well. That helped our financial situation. I could afford to send my daughter to London School of Economics for higher study.
    Here is the thing. Everyone has different situations and challenges in life. You need to figure out what works for you. The fundamental of economics like earn, save, and spend and invest has not changed and will not change either.

    Bottom line- spend less than you earn, invest the savings in the instruments that you are comfortable with, do it as early as possible to take advantage of time value of money and do whatever you wish to do with your time once after security of finance to support you is achieved. Do not wait till 65 years and doing a job that you hate. Essentially, you need to work out the right things for yourself and go through the process to make you content and happy. No one is going to come to save you as Kirsty said somewhere in the book,

  8. Another valuable article about the rules of the game and unique ways to play with the boundaries of societal expectations.

    How about another article on employees seizing the means of production slowly by converting wage labor into productive capital – i.e. the middle way?

  9. “…So, be on the right side of the equation. Be an investor, not an employee…”

    Mic Drop.

    Sincerely,

    The floor

  10. Since being FIRE 7 years ago, the best realization in my life have been:
    1. taking a nap whenever I want.
    2. no more silly politics or kissing asses to anyone ever again.
    3. learn, travel, sipping coffee,sex… do whatever and whenever I want it.
    FIRE is the best present we can give to ourselves.

  11. Reading about Rose Gardner, it seems like she had a nervous breakdown and then decided to sponge off her parents. Or at least, that’s how she’s trying to sell it.

    This isn’t about the soft life. This is about people who feel the need to manipulate others. Who better to do that to but your very own parents. And maybe in Rose Gardner’s case, no one else was willing to accept her manipulating ways.

    Listen, if you are FIRE and fully self supporting, you can have the soft life. For everyone else, it ain’t happening.

    As for Rose Gardner, what happens when her parents have passed away and she can’t sponge living in their house anymore? She will be totally SOL.

    These individuals need a different kind of life. It should be the dopamine free life. That’s likely 90% of the issue.

  12. Very interesting. We’ve always separated our work life from our home life and lived a home centered life. I hope she is contributing to her parents household, as a member of the family, financially and physically by helping with chores, maintaining their house, yard, and garden. I think it’s pretty normal to have multiple generations living together and helping each other. She definitely should be investing every month so her money can work for her. I never thought of a job as a “career”. It was just a place I went to earn money so I could live. However I did take advantage of every free training opportunity or class that my employer offered even if I had to do it on my own time.

  13. It’s sad that your self-worth is related to how busy you are, or there is shame in not being busy. It’s not like that in other countries, people actually prioritize friendships and relationships. Now everyone thinks they have to be busy all of the time, which is likely causing some soft-life interest. Nothing wrong with it, but maybe Barista FIRE can be a way for some more freedom later. Or maybe these soft-life people starting now are expecting an inheritance!

  14. The people that shame the woman in the guardian article about mooching off her parents obviously havent read the article. In there she clearly states that she is paying rent and her bills.

  15. It takes money to make money. Happy or sad at your job, you gotta make money first (pay your dues and sacrifice) before you can get the sweet passive income. There is a reason they call it ‘work’.

    1. Like that old saying: “Either you pay now and play later, or play now and pay later. Either way, you pay”.

  16. I appreciate the concept of “soft fire” / “coast fire.” I have a very normal, albeit absolutely necessary, job that only really pays well in a few areas of the US, all while requiring an enormous amount out of you physically and emotionally.

    I accepted there is probably no way we’d reach FIRE in the traditional sense without sacrificing almost all of our younger decades. As a nurse, I maximized my income as much as possible by working a ton of overtime and taking covid contracts while it was available… saved a lot but burnt out enormously. Now, we’ve hit some element of coast fire (have a decent amount invested, considering our jobs, plus renting out 3 rooms in our cheap house), so I just work two per diem nursing jobs (& walk pups on the side). I still invest 50% of my income working about 20 hours a week, and I enjoy my job and life so much more.

    I feel ENORMOUS pressure to pick up more hours, from both the jobs and people who don’t understand working less than full-time, but man… I’m happy to feel like I have a little control over my life now.

    Cheers to other versions of fire

  17. In our path to coast FIRE, we have learned that FIRE should be achieved in a sustainable way. It is not impossible to find something that you are interested enough in and moderately profitable. I have learned that by choosing the aggressive path (bad-ass making money, saving >50% with minimum time off for fun and hoping to retire ASAP) is the path to quick burnout and if anything goes wrong, you not only risk losing your ability to make money aggressively due to burnout but also your physical and mental health would suffer which would take years to recover. Would you trade your personal happiness for a paid off house and a 7-figure portfolio before 50s so you could lie flat and hope to do something you like? Chances are you may take a long time repurposing yourself and the material gain doesn’t bring super happiness and only reminds you of the pain you have suffered accumulating the wealth. Given another chance, I wouldn’t do the bad-ass way to FIRE because each day is worth living and worth having fun. The bitter first and sweet later mindset is not the way to bring happiness to life. I would think carefully about what I would like to do and balance profit and interests and live within my means, and save more aggressively earlier on but wouldn’t go crazy about it. There are jobs that are not super stressful with decent pay. It doesn’t have to be one extreme to the other. The goal is not really FIRE, the goal is to live a free and happy life. Achieving FIRE is just a tool not the goal.

  18. The “soft life” represents a recalibration of priorities in response to changing economic and social realities. It’s not about laziness or entitlement but rather about reclaiming agency over one’s life and pursuing a more sustainable and fulfilling path forward.

  19. Amanda,what you do is priceless. Difficult work. Respect! Work hard and save…and get out asap! Cheers!
    Ps: learn about covered call options. 🙂

  20. In the end, as an adult, one should never rely on parents to backstop you. They will not be around later and they need money themselves for paying bills, their own health…and later nursing care. Do you want to foot this bill for this also?

    It’s also one’s attitude towards one’s jobs and employers. I never saw every employer as my permanent forever solution. It’s simply about taking advantage of interesting job at that point in time. And not overthink it, if the employer is reasonable and has reasonable track record as an employee. It was what I could learn from the job and the clients I worked with. That opened up the whole world to me in a different way. I’ve had 9 employers with living and working in 3 different provinces. You also may need to be willing to relocate somewhere else to work. Many employers still want hybrid scheduling..part-time at the office. Not a horrible thing if there a few good employees to be with. It will grow you.

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