Since getting home everyday – without hyperbole – I’ve thought about how to redesign my life so that I can work from anywhere and balance making an income with making a difference. I’ve read several books on the subject, ever more blog posts and a growing number of tweets. While it’s nice that so many people seem to be building a tipping point of freedom from the expected life path, my concern about the conversation is building.
A little questionable/grossly over-simplified history lesson before we begin – the 9-5 lifestyle is a reasonably new ‘standard’ in human behaviour. People have worked for other people for eons – enslaved, indentured or employed – but not with an expectation of set hours and days off and benefits and the rest. And then the Industrial Revolution changed everything and capitalism demanded ever more production and workers who could run machinery doing repetitive, no-brain-required work for long hours.
Producing those workers became its own factory system of formalised education for children of workers, distinct from the education offered the children of the elite. These children were not being taught to think or to create; they were being taught to sit in straight lines and be in place for hours. Good students became good workers – boys in factories making widget upon widget and girls in ‘service’ and here we are 150 years later beginning to realise that children do not learn best sitting in straight rows for hours on end, and that (advancements in workers’ rights not-with-standing ) adults may not be best suited to doing one thing for eight hours a day, 5 days a week, 46-50 weeks of the year. People are beginning to stop and look around and wonder what else might be possible.
I strongly believe that we are not meant to compartmentalise our lives. It is not useful or healthy to have a work me and a home me. Work-life balance sounds good, but it reinforces this false dichotomy. There is only me – which is not to say I’m not complicated or contradictory – what I mean is that if there are areas of life where I can’t be myself, they are probably areas that need changing.
I have had several ‘careers.’ I’ve learned from each. I’ve had fabulous bosses, interesting (and “interesting”) co-workers, and amazing opportunities, and what I know about myself is that it takes about six months for my ‘dream job’ to become a leg-hold trap I want to chew my leg off to escape (the only time this wasn’t true was when I was teaching, but that had its own challenges so … ). My point is, I am not a good cog in the capitalist machine. I am a terrible widget maker. I’m very clear that an alternative way of living would suit me better, and I’m very clear what that life looks like. The awkwardness is the transition – how do you go about making that leap when the realities of life require continuing the current 9 to 5+ income.
This is the backdrop against which I’ve been reading books such as The Art of Nonconformity and How to be a Free Range Human, and here is my discomfort:
I’ve yet to read one of these books or blog post that acknowledges that many many people have rich and fulfilling lives while working 9 to 5, owning a home, having 2.5 kids and 2 cars and a dog, and holidaying 2-4 weeks of the year.
Every ‘breaking free’ success story I’ve read has involved a) someone who had already made it big in the corporate world and has a bankroll for this change and/or b) someone who already works in a career that lends itself easily to a mobile lifestyle.
I haven’t seen any of these ‘experts’ address the incredibly privileged position that allows people to even dream of this kind of life, let alone the next level of privilege that allows for work towards achieving it. This is the most problematic issue for me – these books often contain an element of judgement – talking about ‘sheep’ or ‘the beige army’ or telling people they just need to be more courageous. I cringe every time I read that. When your life is about survival there is no spare brain power for dreaming of more, and then you want people with precarious housing or multiple dependents or crippling debt or chronic health concerns to just ‘be courageous and break free.’ It’s offensively reductive and indecently blind.
As I’m writing this I have the TV on and a show called ‘Caribbean Life,’ a more specific ‘House Hunters international’ is playing. A beautiful young New York City couple are in St John’s, US Virgin Islands, looking at houses in the USD $1 million range. How nice for them, but any suggestion that something similar is accessible to the majority of people is brutally myopic – not to mention that I’ve yet to see a person of colour on the show.
I’m not giving up my dreams. I have things to take care of, then I’ll be back in the air and on the beach. But I truly wish there was a ‘live free’ book that offered concrete steps to take; addressed that other life choices are equally valid; and made clear the white, middle-class privilege of people who can consider this kind of life and, possibly, the responsibility that comes with that.
Come to think of it, maybe I’ll write that book as I create the process for myself. 🙂