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Working for The Man Should Be a Last Resort

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The following post will appear as the foreword to Robert Wringham’s upcoming book Escape Everything!

Every time I write a piece advocating escape from corporate servitude, I receive a few emails that contain a particular kind of scolding. They tell me that only an entitled brat could be unsatisfied with a stable job and a roof, in a world where so many pine for only these things.

If that’s the case, then we live in world built out of, and for, legions of such entitled brats, whether they choose to actually implement their escape plan, or only think about it all day. For all the financial prosperity of the modern working world, there is a certain poverty in our willingness to take pay for performing activities that have, typically, almost nothing to do with our personal values. As if there were no better ideas out there, we take up this yoke by the thousand, slotting ourselves in grids of grey squares, stacked fifty to a hundred high, sealed with a shiny glass exterior. A small forest of these shiny stacks is the first image we think of when we picture a modern city.

Even while the internet and its emerging subcultures continue to hint at newer, smarter modes of working and living, you may still be told it’s vain to insist on a station more fulfilling than a permanent stall in a well-reputed grid. According to my critics, even if you find your standard weekday boring, painful or unfulfilling, you ought to embrace it, simply because a third-world coal miner would kill for your benefits package. When so many have so little, attempting to escape a situation in which you can reliably feed yourself and fund a retirement could only be an act of the utmost ingratitude.

A minority of us believe the opposite is true — that escaping from an unfulfilling mainstream lifestyle isn’t a moral failing, but rather a moral imperative. It’s precisely because we have all the necessary freedoms at our fingertips (and because others don’t) that spending our lives in the stable isn’t just foolish, but wrong. To remain, voluntarily, in a life where your talents are wasted and your weekdays are obstacles is to be humble in all the wrong ways. 

Robert Wringham, along with New Escapologist‘s readers and contributors, has come to represent to me this sensible minority. If you’re reading this book, it’s nearly certain that you’re living with levels of potential freedom that nearly all of history’s humans would envy, and that alone is reason enough to feel uneasy if you haven’t yet made good on this gift.

No, it is not a symptom of greed, this desire to escape corporate policy, consumer debt, meaningless work, or any other life-draining first-world cultural norm. Rather, it’s a reaction to a truth we don’t like to talk about in the office: that, given our options, we are probably not using our lives very well. There may be, in any given tract of cubicles, that rare round peg, whose values exactly match those outlined in his company’s policy manual and mission statement, and for whom his years truly are best spent doing what his underboss would like him to do. But the truth is most of us, simply by following the path prescribed by our schools, our bosses and our peers, end up entrenched in a set of roles that do not serve our deepest values and which, in the early hours of any given Monday, we do not look especially forward to fulfilling.

Still, we’re liable to feel ambivalence whenever we think about deviating from norms of any kind. This affliction, which we can call “rebel’s doubt,” may put us in danger of taking seriously the charges of selfishness and insularity we get from those who embrace mainstream work culture, whenever we talk about opting out of the clock-punching world for good. “Check your privilege!” they sneer, often with latte in hand.

But with a bit of thinking we can see that the failure of empathy is on their side. As our impoverished coal miner knows, only a fool would submit to living a single day as a peon when he has the means to escape in his back pocket. Limiting your freedom in some kind of token solidarity with the truly oppressed is like avoiding exceptional health simply because the chronically ill could never have such a thing.

I’m convinced now that a calculated escape from the status quo is an aspiration to a particular kind of health, which is only now beginning to catch on: a thoughtful, prosperous alignment of your values and your lifestyle.

You might think that in a world where such a thing is possible, we’d all be trying on lifestyles until we found one that fit. But relatively few do. As it stands, the norm is to pick a popular one, perhaps fully aware that The Man himself is at the helm, and run with it for several decades, even well after its ultimate irrelevance and emptiness begin to show. Meanwhile, we complain fondly about it, make knowing jokes with our colleagues about it, steal pens and toner to reclaim some of our lost self-esteem, and if we’re lucky, become at least numb to the work itself. What makes it seem worthwhile is that the proceeds allow us to build, in our evenings and on our weekends, a fraction of the life we wanted all along.

Why is this kind of needless languishing still our dominant tradition? At least partly, it’s because we’re still telling our children the celebrated lie that quitters never win. Again, only a little thinking is necessary in order to see the holes here; condemning escape in general implies that nothing should ever be abandoned once it’s entered, whether it’s a deadening career, a dead relationship, or for that matter, a burning building.

Using New Escapologist as a lens, Robert has shown us the enormous misuse of human energy that is this status quo, as well as what can flourish in ordinary people when that energy is reclaimed and repurposed. Human beings, it turns out, are most prone to creating original and valuable things when they haven’t auctioned off their prime daylight hours to rich speculators. New Escapologist gives us the community — and vocabulary — with which to explore that notion and start to recover some of that long-lost value.

It’s a discussion that is by its nature irreverent, and often hilarious. If we’re talking about how to escape the tyranny of The Man, we eventually encounter other pressing questions. How can I carry both my office and wardrobe in a 28-litre backpack? Is a beard a worthwhile project for a young man in the 21st century? Is putting both lemon and sweetener into your tea a ghastly lapse of decency, or is it moral progress? Escaping the bonds of conventional living frees one to focus on such topics with impunity.

Zooming out, escapology is a witty but ultimately serious examination of that ancient philosophical question, how should we live? — but applied this time to the modern world, where it’s normal to be already living out someone else’s answer by the time the question even occurs to you.

You’re about to begin, if you haven’t already, a one-way trip into The Good Life — this kind of wisdom is irreversible, after all — and Mr Wringham is the perfect guide.

David Cain

Escapee

***

Learn more about Robert Wringham’s upcoming book Escape Everything! here.

Photo by Joe del Tufo

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Karl-Mikael December 8, 2014 at 2:11 am

I pulled the plug myself a year ago. I wasn’t exactly slaving for the man, since I worked for myself (and my 2 partners) as a hedgefund manager.

However, I was still bound by rules, stock exchange trading hours and clients. So, after 20 years in the finance industry I finally had had enough. Even if you make a lot of money (like I was), living by somebody else’s clock is a kind of slavery and makes you less than a whole man.

The worst thing you can do in life, I think, is to force yourself through school, studying what somebody else tells you to. Then force yourself to work hours not adapted to you, doing menial stuff for somebody else, killing your creativity and keeping you from true productive work.

If your dream is wind in the air, a sea view and fresh food then go to the coast directly, instead of taking the long way round (school, work, mortgage, car loan, short vacations)

David Cain December 8, 2014 at 8:21 am

I think a useful indicator of how you relate to your life is how you feel when you wake up on a weekday. It tells you everything.

sally December 10, 2014 at 6:32 pm

I agree, it’s how you feel on a weekday morning. I am in the very fortunate position of waking up excited to go to work! I’ve never had Mondayitis in this job.

DiscoveredJoys December 8, 2014 at 2:46 am

I’m not knocking your choices, far from it. My values were to have a family and support them, so I ‘worked for the man’. Early years were tough, but the greater part (once I found my niche) also played to other values of mine. Doing this almost accidentally earned me decent money and a good pension entitlement, so when my children grew up I was free to take quite early retirement and follow my values in a different direction.

I’m not knocking your choices, but sometimes personal values allow you to play the long game.

David Cain December 8, 2014 at 8:26 am

If your work fulfills your values then it doesn’t matter so much who you work for. “The Man” doesn’t represent large companies so much as perpendicular interests.

Riaan December 8, 2014 at 3:19 am

I completely support the escape theory, but in practice it is not always that easy. I basically woke up 2011-11-11 and have been on a very spiritual journey ever since working hard to escape from that which does not serve me. Unfortunately before I “woke”, I completed my university studies and enslaved myself in the pharmaceutical industry, however I started following my passion which is making music, especially psychedelic trance. I was realistic about the whole thing and gave myself 5 years to perfect my production technique, because it’s a whole new understanding, but at least sound is very similar to how the universe works, so learning is very beneficial. The urge to escape from the system only got stronger and stronger, sometimes leaving me very impatient, because I no longer want to waste my time with something that does not serve, or in my case actually does the opposite of serving the people, so am basically on the wrong side of the solution, which makes it of utmost importance to escape. In 2013 we where blessed with a beautiful baby daughter, however she was born on 30 weeks weighing 1.5KG. She is perfect and there is nothing wrong, but due to the unforeseen circumstances my wife lost her job, leaving me to provide for my family solely on my income. I immediately started an online business where I wasted another year (now in the evenings) trying to make up for my wife not working anymore and this way she can help out from home…The urge for freedom only grew stronger, because now I am not only wasting my time doing things that doesn’t serve my spirit, but I am also missing my daughter growing up. I spend all the free time I have with my family and when they go to bed, I tend to make music, work, meditate and even started writing a book (http://moderndayawakening.com/). I started with the book, because there was just too much spiritual information (truth) coming my way, so I needed to structure the information in order to better understand. In addition I though that the book would help free me from this institutionalized madness, but unfortunately I am still sitting at my desk writing this comment. So in conclusion escaping is easier said than done, because with a family depending on you and skills learned to enslave you, it’s not always that easy to make an escape or career change…
I will however not loose hope of escaping and will keep my thoughts positive, although you know you are wasting so much valuable time sitting at a desk helping the CEO escape!!!

David Cain December 8, 2014 at 8:32 am

I wish you the best, and I would never try to tell anyone escape is easy. It takes as long as it takes, and it has to be practical. I’ve written about the practical side of it here. Whatever kind of work you transition to, it must be genuinely valuable to others in order to get them to pay you for it. There is a myth that loving something enough will make it profitable. But that’s not true. The monetary value of work depends on its value to others. So an escape plan has to keep that in its sights, and it may take years.

Elisha December 8, 2014 at 5:41 pm

Hey, the link you left in this comment didn’t work… What is the name of the article that speaks to the practical side of escape? Cheers!

David Cain December 8, 2014 at 6:36 pm
Trenton December 14, 2014 at 4:55 am

About the practicality piece:
Let me first say that I really appreciate your work. I find it thought provoking, empowering, and refreshingly positive. But here is the other shoe:

I think you react against the wrong opponents of DWYL here. The Tokumitsu article, and others in the “anti-DWYL” category, oppose a concept of ‘DWYL’ that is quite different from yours. They oppose what you call the “naïve” definition. But that definition is, in actuality, the most prevalent one, and it is so prevalent because of the powerful forces that propagate it: it is a simple sound-bite that serves the current elite while indulging the willful self-delusions of order and happiness in those at which it is aimed. It is a political home run. And it deserves opposition for exactly the reasons Tokumitsu so effectively spells out.

Instead of lashing out at the supposed naivite of these rightful opponents, why not save your criticism for those co-opting the idea itself? It is a shame to see the term used to describe pipe-dreams and used to exploit laborers.

I would even make the argument that your concept, wonderful as it is, is rather inaccurately titled as ‘do what you love’. It is really more of a ‘rank the things you love and do the highest one that can be monetized in accordance with your budget’. I trust you can come up with a better title than that, but calling your concept ‘do what you love’ is, I believe, a bit of an oversell.

David Cain December 17, 2014 at 9:58 am

I use DWYL loosely, yes. Obviously it refers to a philosophy towards work requires more than four words to articulate. The whole point of the anti-Tokumitsu piece is to spell that out. Her version of DWYL is a straw man — that your love is what you ought to be paid for. Of course work always has to be practical, of course it has to pay the bills. I use the term as a shorthand to tag a more articulate and practical philosophy towards work, wherein you don’t resign to work that drains you unless you have no choice.

If you are uncomfortable with the shorthand DWYL to describe what I’m describing, then I suppose you should use a different term when you talk about it. I just don’t see the problem. “Rank the things you love and do the highest one that can be monetized in accordance with your budget” is off the mark. More like, “Organize your life around your deepest values, such that going to work is an act of service to what you love.” Love is absolutely an appropriate word for this, unless you are confusing love with fun or gratification, as I suspect Tokumitsu is doing.

But yes, the DWYL phrase does not capture all that, and that’s why it is surrounded by thousands of words of elaboration.

Chris December 8, 2014 at 7:07 am

Bravo David. 2-4 yrs to go for me and congrats for taking the leap. Your words resonated deeply in me this morning.

I chuckle when the Guardians fire back with “it’s our duty to work,” and “what else would you do with your life?”

My answer: How about we start with everything!

Happy Monday-Chris

David Cain December 8, 2014 at 8:36 am

Happy Monday Chris, and congrats on your progress. There’s nothing wrong with work, and in fact the reason I escaped is to free me to do work, not play. But now I can do the work that’s more important.

George December 8, 2014 at 7:46 am

I love what you say here, but it’s FAR easier said than done.

I live in a tiny, blue-collar mountain town surrounded by other tiny, blue-collar mountain towns. There is basically no middle class here. Almost all the jobs are EXTREMELY low-paying. I currently make about $1 more per hour than the federal minimum wage, which is STILL roughly half of what economists consider a LIVING wage in this nation. On top of that, I still have 5 figures worth of student loan debt hovering over my head. There are no other prospects here in this tiny town that would help me financially move faster to my goal of cutting the bonds so I can live more free to my own passions and values.

The bottom line is that I’m afraid of homelessness, of not having enough money for food or the basic necessities of life. I have no savings–you CAN’T save when you don’t make enough to support yourself on your own as it is, living paycheck to paycheck–and my fiance and I still have to live with my fiance’s parents as a result.

So where are we supposed to go, those of us who want to live as you describe here but have no financial means to do so? It might be fine for the dreamers who were able to spend a few years in employed servitude at a middle class income level, where you accrued FAR more wiggle room in your finances to have the savings necessary to back up a reasonable lifestyle while you built a life around your own values, but what about us dreamers on the bottom rungs of the socioeconomic ladder? What do WE do? How do WE flourish?

I don’t have the money to move out to where I might have more opportunities, and even if I did, my fiance won’t move with me because his mother is terminally ill and bedridden…so my choices are stick with him and wait an indefinite amount of time until his mother dies before we can move and I can start building the career and life *I* want, or leave someone I love dearly in this world in what feels like an act of pure selfishness, even though I’m already kicking myself for waiting until age 30 before I even started to have the confidence to work towards making my life-long dreams come to fruition.

David Cain December 8, 2014 at 8:49 am

I’m not sure why people argue that it’s easier said than done. Of course it is. Does something need to be easy for it to be worthwhile? This is something that can take years, even ten or more.

The premise of the whole piece is that if you can’t escape then you can’t, and if you can you should. And it will certainly be riddled with tradeoffs and difficult decisions. If escape is impossible then it’s impossible. If it’s not, then it will take as long as it takes. But there is a danger of living as though it’s impossible when it’s merely difficult or a long way away. The gulf between impossible and difficult is infinitely greater than the one between difficult and easy.

I can’t tell you which camp you fall into, and I also can’t tell you what choices make sense for you. But 30 is relatively early to start thinking about this. So what if it takes ten years? At 40 you’ll either be kicking yourself worse than you are now, or not. Do you really have to move before you can begin to put a plan in motion?

Free to Pursue December 8, 2014 at 10:18 am

The title said it all for me: “Working for The Man Should Be a Last Resort”

It doesn’t say it is wrong, just that we need to be aware that there is so much more we need to strive for in life.

Mary December 8, 2014 at 8:59 am

George,
I think the question you should be asking yourself is: In twenty years will I look back on this time and regret the time I gave to my fiance and his mother? There is that saying that goes something like “I slept and dreamt that life was joy, I woke and found that life was duty, I acted and found that duty was joy.” What is the career and life you want eventually? Is there reading/planning you can do now to prepare yourself to jump on it when the time is right?

chc December 8, 2014 at 10:43 pm

Mary you are absolutely right! George, to help someone in the final months of their life is a very high calling and, though it is hard, embrace it as an opertunity to learn more about life. I understand that money is tight but you if you can ramp down your spending even more (read mrmoneymustache.com) and use this time to get your student loan paid down or even paid off you would never regret it. Again not easy, but can be done. Don’t be angry and don’t be a victim. I know you feel like things are out of your control and that’s how it always feels when someone is dieing but this is your chance to hunker down and get a few things done to prepare to move forward with your fiance once his time is freed up.

gregg December 8, 2014 at 2:51 pm

george,
i think as the global financial ‘economy’ continures to break down, more opportunities will arise for people to work indendently and at a more equitable pay scale. for example, all the small towns / mainstreets that are sadly half shut down due to job offshoring and wealth extraction offer fantastic infrastructure and buildings for live/work arrangements at affordable prices. i am working on this concept myself; you can get details at http://www.ehrlum.com/v2012/pages/groundup.htm if you’re interested.
in the meantime, picking up any additional skills that you think will be of use in the the new, new economy might be a good thing to consider.
bestof luck,
gregg

Anon December 8, 2014 at 8:53 pm

@ George you need to stop thinking of yourself as a victim and start thinking in terms of consequences of your own actions and choices, and what you can do personally to improve the situation.

Kenoryn December 9, 2014 at 12:32 pm

George,

In the age of the internet it is becoming more and more feasible to develop a career that’s not location-based – such as David has done with writing. Perhaps you could consider what options there might be for online or remote services you could provide for extra income now to pay down your student debt, and potentially for a career switch in the future. For example, you could consider writing or editing, consulting services in a field you have expertise in, teaching something through online videos, making something you can sell online and ship around the world, web design, etc. Even if it’s not something you want to do for your career long-term, it could provide a boost now and if it proved to be more lucrative than your current job you could make the switch to full-time.

Natalia December 8, 2014 at 8:07 am

I have been questioning the need to work for years. Growing up I watched my mother hating her job (she was a doctor, wanting to be a writer). I married early, and watched my husband, now ex, hate his job (a correctional officer, now made it to almost a warden, but always wanted to be a fisherman). Now my son wants to be an actor, and part of me wants to encourage him to pursue his dream, but part of me wants to tell him to get a “real” job, to guarantee “security”. That’s how deeply this fear of insecurity is ingrained in me. Recently I learned a concept of karma-yoga from Hinduism. The way I understand it is that you give your best effort to what ever task is at hand, without inner resistance. Whether it is coal mining, or pushing papers, one can find peace in doing any kind of work. There are some people who are absolutely content with work that I would hate to do. Those kind of people are pretty much content with themselves, in any situation, they take life as is. I feel that it is more important to be that kind of person, rather than longing to “escape”. Because if you want to escape from a “job” now, chances are you will want to escape from what ever you longing for now.

David Cain December 8, 2014 at 9:01 am

I do think that contentment with how we spend our days is the goal here, and if you can do that while mining coal or pushing papers, then great. In fact, that was my first approach to finding peace with my work.

But there is a catch, and karma has everything to do with it: if your livelihood comes from serving values you know are wrong, it won’t leave you alone. Being present for your work requires you to be aware of what it is creating in the world, and a moral issue will inevitably emerge if you don’t think the world needs more of that. I think this is a problem for many, many people. They can’t get behind their work because they do it only for the money.

About pursuing acting or other difficult career paths — work does have to be practical. It needs to pay the bills. I reject the notion that simply loving something enough will make it a viable career. Other people need to value the work enough to pay for it.

I’m reminded of Tina Fey’s prayer for her daughter:

“Lead her away from Acting but not all the way to Finance. Something where she can make her own hours but still feel intellectually fulfilled and get outside sometimes and not have to wear high heels.”

BrownVagabonder December 8, 2014 at 8:28 am

I love this post! It’s funny how timely it is. I went for an interview recently (being laid off from a job 2 months ago), and they know about my blog and asked me about my escapology mentality. I told them I am still working on my escape plan, and I have a few more years before I can escape completely. Until that point, I would like to work in my field. They looked at me skeptically and they said, You will never be able to escape.
I felt such immense sadness for these individuals. They will never escape from the grind, because they believe they can never escape. Whereas, I am certain that this 9-5 isn’t for me and I will definitely escape.

David Cain December 8, 2014 at 9:06 am

Sounds like you dodged a bullet. When I was applied for my last job, I already knew I wasn’t going to do it for long, and I knew they would ask me where I saw myself in five years. I don’t remember what I said, but it was diplomatic and vague.

Anyway, I think you hit on the most important thing here, which is that our fates are determined by our beliefs about the 9-5. If you believe you’ll never be able to embrace it, then you’re destined to escape. If you believe escape is impossible or impractical then you’re destined to remain.

Kevin Wallace December 8, 2014 at 9:28 am

David:

I have benefitted quite a bit from the wisdom I read on your pages, but this one I simply cannot entirely concur with. There seems to be a false dichotomy at work here: you’re implying here that one cannot find meaning and happiness in a stable corporate-style career. As open-minded as you seem to be, I do believe your personal experiences may be unfairly coloring your position here. Sometimes we approach suffering by changing the world us, and sometimes we approach it by accepting it and adapting to it, because that is the better of the choices presented to us.

In order for escape to be the answer, one must have a better place to escape to. Sometimes little is needed to adapt and find happiness, but escape and a clean slate is often the easier answer. I have seen in my line of work many perennial escapees who are constantly looking for that promised land that may or may not exist. Every bit of discomfort excites that restlessness and pushes them to the next escape.

As for me, I am an intensely introverted software engineer, and I do not have the entrepreneurial spirit that so many of the people in your audience seem to possess (for better or for worse). I do always have side projects that enrich my skills that fill the gaps in that part of my life, though. For myself and my life, I do not believe that the wagon is cursed and wretched simply because I did not build it: there are certainly wagons worth hitching myself to. Finding one that fulfills me, enriches my life, and aligns with my values is my challenge.

David Cain December 8, 2014 at 9:46 am

Hi Kevin. I don’t mean to imply such a dichotomy — keep in mind this is a foreword for a book geared to white-collar functionaries who have escape already in their thoughts. Clearly if you are at home in a corporate position then escaping from that wouldn’t appeal to you.

nrhatch December 8, 2014 at 9:39 am

Wonderful post, David. I agree completely. Leaving the “security” of practicing law 17 years ago was scary, exhilarating, and worth it!

Switching to non-profit work to assist victims of domestic violence and later to work with and mentor AmeriCorps members paid less and felt far more satisfying.

“It is not selfish to do what we want to do . . . it is selfish of others to expect us to do what THEY want us to do.”

“Even while the internet and its and emerging subcultures” ~ one quick fix needed

David Cain December 8, 2014 at 9:51 am

Hi Nancy. Escapees are often accused of selfishness, when as you know, many of us escape so that we can actually do work that helps people who do not have a financial interest in our employer.

Thanks for the typo alert!

J December 8, 2014 at 9:54 am

Exactly !

Free to Pursue December 8, 2014 at 10:40 am

As a fellow “escapee”, I concur. I was not running away from the corporate world but running towards something significantly better. I guess the name “escapee” itself can lead to misinterpretation of the new-found state of financial independence.

There’s no greater feeling than being able to do the type of work (paid or not) that you want to do, that you feel compelled to do. However, you have to believe it’s possible to live your truth before you can make it a reality. The feeling of freedom grows stronger as your financial foundation grows. It doesn’t happen overnight, but your thinking changes from one of seeing nothing but constraints to seeing nothing but opportunity.

In the last few years before I left my corporate job, I was in my role because I wanted to be, no longer because I “had” to be there, or somewhere.

I made better decisions, questioned the nonsensical because I didn’t fear getting fired, and I was a better, happier employee as a result. And, when I no longer felt there was a fit between what I wanted to do and what the company wanted from me? I moved on. This is the state I wish on anyone, whether you are enjoying life as an employee or not.

David Cain December 8, 2014 at 6:39 pm

The word escape does carry some connotations. New Escapologist has always been heavy on humor, and fleeing from office buildings is a funny image even when it describes something serious like major life decisions, etc.

I noticed that I became a better employee once I had saved up my quitting fund. I had lost all angst about pleasing people, and was really only concerned with doing what felt right.

Miguel December 8, 2014 at 11:16 am

First of all I think we have to be grateful for what we have. Be grateful for earning $1 per hour instead of $1 per day.
Second, If we do something that we love, we will do it a lot better than doing something that the Man loves. And something well done will get you money. But if I do crazy music that only I like, I won’t get any profit from that.
I think that you’re a great example of how the escapee should be. Escaping to create something that will help other people, I believe that’s the only valuable way of doing it.
If I make great origami and that’s my passion then I will find a way that my origami helps making the world a little better or even just one persons life, and that will make you feel whole even if you win $1 per hour.

David Cain December 8, 2014 at 6:42 pm

Gratitude is central to the cause of leaving irrelevant work, and that’s why I find it so infuriating when people describe it as ungrateful. Squandering the freedom to do important, meaningful work, when it exists, is ungrateful.

Anon December 8, 2014 at 8:59 pm

You know the more I think about it the more I wonder, what makes us so sure that Americans who devote their lives to occupying cubicles are the happiest people in the world? I bet there are a lot of people in the world who don’t own anything but a hut and a herd of goats who are pretty happy.

chc December 8, 2014 at 11:07 pm

Yes. Right now we are traveling for six months thru Asia and beyond. The thing I’ve really, really noticed is that people are happy and they have tons of reasons not to be by Western standards. Where we have been you never see road rage or arguing. And, they are forgiving of us as Americans. People we see are spending lots of time with their friends and family and their small children. Their food is not processed but all made from scratch. All is not perfect- there’s lots of smoking- but their outward appearance is happiness whereas so many of the tourists walking around look surly and grumpy. I find myself really wondering why.

theFIREstarter December 14, 2014 at 4:53 pm

Who are these people you speak of that are so sure of that?! :)

All I get whenever I occasionally hear some mainstream media news/TV/Radio is that people are more and more unfit, overweight, popping pills for depression, and are angry at each other and the world.

Anyway obviously I agree with your point, I just wrote a blog about it in fact, echoing some of what chc has said as well. Cheers!

Green Girl December 29, 2014 at 7:39 pm

I agree with this sentiment completely. I also wrote a post that the Joneses are Fat, Sick and Tired. Who wants to follow that?!?

Arthur December 8, 2014 at 11:52 am

Nice work, I’m looking forward to when that book comes out!

David Cain December 8, 2014 at 6:42 pm

Me too!

Ben December 8, 2014 at 5:09 pm

David – on the practical front, how do you manage health insurance as an escapee?

David Cain December 8, 2014 at 6:51 pm

By not living in the backwards political regime that is today’s United States.

But if you are stuck there, health insurance is workable. You just have to work it into your budget. Mr Money Mustache has a lot to say about it:

http://www.mrmoneymustache.com/2011/09/21/i-can-never-retire-because-of-health-insurance-waaah-waaah/

Rejean Levesque December 8, 2014 at 9:32 pm

While reading your post I realized that I was a lucky man because I was a teacher for 33 years, where I could respect and transmit the values I held dear, sometimes even going against school policies. In other words, I was my own boss in the way I passed along what I thought was important. I taught mostly ESL to teenagers, so we could discuss everything that was related to man and his world. I stressed – the importance of knowledge and the “interconnectedness” between all things, – of the search for truth and justice. – of the fight against prejudice. This was done using themes like creativity, slavery, alcohol, pollution, science fiction. The beauty of it all is that I loved doing it and was paid adequately…

David Cain December 9, 2014 at 9:27 am

There were a few teachers who had a big influence on me, and you could tell they really believed in what they were teaching. Much of the time the “lesson” was related to human values surrounding the topic, and not the course material itself. I appreciate what teachers like you have done!

Ragnar December 9, 2014 at 2:41 am

While I agree that working strictly for money in a job that contributes nothing towards, or even goes against your personal values, is probable cause for the unhappiness (and probably also the poor health) of many. On the other hand, I’m worried that work is becoming the new most popular scapegoat for misery after “being single”. Although working for ‘the man’ can be unfulfilling at times, going out on your own can be exactly as unfulfilling, other than that sense of “It automatically means more because I’m out here on my own..” which honestly, it probably doesn’t.

Anyway, my point is that the job can become a safe scapegoat, and then you can use the harsh economy to justify inaction, and then you get to wallow in self pity ad infinitum without having to blame yourself. I think many people would benefit from starting to take small steps within the confines of a 9-5, instead of accepting it as a barrier that ultimately means they cannot enjoy themselves.

Also, the answer doesn’t have to be unconventional living/freelancing/whatever. For me, teaching English to a bunch of probably mostly rich kids at a private school to me is more fulfilling than my freelance writing stint was, but then again, maybe it was because the subject matter that I was paid to write about didn’t appeal to my personal values all that much either.

The one thing that I will say, is that it was easier to be healthy when I was working/trying to work from home. And having a flexible schedule made it easier to find time for people. But I do think that it’s possible to trick yourself into finding meaning in work that you don’t think is meaningful, just because it means you don’t have a boss anymore.

Sorry for writing a poorly worded essay in your comment section, David. Your posts just seem to have that effect on me!

David Cain December 9, 2014 at 9:31 am

I agree with you, but I think all of the potential problems you cite here are just different consequences of going about one’s life thoughtlessly. What I’m advocating is a careful examination of why we live the way we live, and whether there’s a better way to spend our weekdays. I am not advocating a particular lifestyle — entrepreneurship or freelancing or anything else. For some, the transition may amount to finding a different job in the same industry, or even a different role at the same company. Each individual needs to figure out what it means for them.

Ragnar December 9, 2014 at 10:24 pm

Well then we are in complete agreement David. Sorry for making some wrongful assumptions about what exactly you were advocating here. Great stuff like always. :)

Nathan December 9, 2014 at 9:33 am

There’s another option, you know. Choose a career of service. Work for a non-profit. Work for the government. Serve in the military. There are even for-profit companies which have a higher motive than profit (customer service, quality, community).

All of these can become deadening, soul-sucking jobs, or can be sources of meaningfulness, community, and higher-purpose. It depends on the organization and what you bring to it.

David Cain December 10, 2014 at 12:43 pm

A career in service to what you care about is what I’m arguing for. If you can find that in a government or NGO position (or for that matter a corporate position) that’s great. I wasn’t arguing only for a self-employment solution.

Ted A. Moreno December 9, 2014 at 12:16 pm

If I could pick any blog post (other than my own) as a manifesto, this would be it. Thank you for shedding the harsh light of reality on the hidden yet life sucking lies we buy into such as quitters never win, you’re lucky to have a job, etc. etc.
The idea that not only does the emperor have no clothes but that he is a emperor that could care less about you and your happiness is one that is slowly rising out of the mire of 21st century life.
As a self employed person, I have always referred to myself as a closet anarchist, contrarian and rebel, but your article has inspired me come out and bring the inevitable destruction of the status quo to the streets of this wayward land. Thanks.

David Cain December 10, 2014 at 12:47 pm

Good to hear Ted. I wonder how long it will take before it is no longer normal to resign unnecessarily to irrelevant work. 10 years? 50?

Dahlia December 9, 2014 at 8:58 pm

I was captured with every paragraph of this post. I will be reading it again and again.

Twice in my life I found myself in circumstances where immediate change forced me to change immediately. The first time I did not have a Plan B, I did not have an exit strategy and my initial reaction was from fear. I quickly discovered that this “tragic” event was opportunity as my employer had freed up my future. It was the best gift I had ever been given.

I learned so much about my quality of life and living my values and the difference between the two. Downsizing my budget became cleansing and I live small to this day. Gratitude became a daily prayer, learning new life skills became art and self-esteem. Knowing and respecting my needs, examining and questioning my wants helped making choices a no-brainer.

Kris Kristofferson had a point when he said…”Freedom is just another word for nothing left to lose.” The second “life changing tragedy” was met with no fear and a complete belief in myself and what I could do now, not what I had lost.

I am retired now and everyday is new opportunity…. Life is good.

David Cain December 10, 2014 at 12:50 pm

Downsizing your living expenses, whether you’re forced to or do it voluntarily) is one of the most empowering things a person can do. The less you need materially, the more freedom you have. There are plenty of “rich” people who are totally bound to their employers simply by the cost of their lifestyles.

mike schindel December 10, 2014 at 2:17 am

Thanks for the well written article David. I dont know why wage-slaves
cant see their self imposed chains. Sometimes lifestyle advice seems non-transferrable. I’m not sure why those with the most to gain will not listen, or, as you know, may become hostile. Anyway I dropped the corporate chains and consumerism early in 2009. I love weekday mornings. Five years ago I “stopped buying gas for the corporate yacht”!!

David Cain December 10, 2014 at 12:51 pm

I think it is just a matter of what’s normal. We do what others around us do even if it doesn’t make any sense. I used to think it was okay to have a little bit of credit card debt, even though I didn’t have to, only because I knew so many people who had more.

Adriano December 10, 2014 at 3:24 am

I have a friend that works for a chilean company that coaches people to ask themselves that question, and how to fit that in a financial freeing way of living http://exosphe.re/
It’s seems kind of mid-term for the escape.
In my case, I’m still not a escapee, but I’m feeling progressively moving towards it.

David Cain December 10, 2014 at 12:51 pm

Ah, you know Carlos!

Corso December 10, 2014 at 5:38 pm

Hi David,
Run off from exhausted journey it’s something which everyone wants. Even more, in places like my country, Brazil, the work journey is around 9 hours-day/44week/ and the lunch time it’s not include in this 9h/day!
How we can learn to listed our desire for to do something. How we can do ours choices based on our filling? How to get out from our comfort zone and security to try to do something new and doubtful?
Indeed, most of us have a lot of opportunities. The trouble is chose one I believed that is the right/better choice. It’s a great pressure to do a ‘right choice’, we don’t have much space for tried do what we like. We don’t have space to failure.
I am finishing my PhD, and I realized I really love science; I love natural history, so much. But, I also realized I don’t like to be inside a lab or in front to computers analyzing dates. I like to read about science, I like to talk, to write and shared information’s about science. But, I don’t like do science, anymore. It is clear that it’s time to look for other thinking. Now it’s time to listing the ‘heart’. But, I can’t understand. There’s too much noise. 

Ray Darwent December 11, 2014 at 8:55 am

Now I feel guilty for hanging onto my day job… :)

All kidding aside, interesting and thought provoking article. It is something we all struggle with. I sense that there is some relativism that goes with this as well. The janitor with a high school education may wish he had a post secondary education and job to go with it. The account representative at a bank may wish she could dedicate herself full time to her music interests. The researcher with a PhD may feel he has not accomplished enough because he hasn’t received a Nobel Prize yet. In a sense, we are all trapped. Questions I’ve heard from others, and asked myself from time to time, are: “Is my work/life of value?”, “have I done enough?” None of us is born with a compass directing us to our lifelong passion. But for a few, most of us journey through life, experiencing what life has to offer us based on where we are. We bump along from pillar to post learning and experiencing things that may both help us and hinder us. If I lived in a perfect world, perhaps I may have been a musician, or writer. Instead, I have a BSc, and have a government job. All things considered, not bad. Things could have been a lot worse. It’s entirely possible that I could have dropped out of high school, and become homeless, and perhaps even have died years ago. Instead, I am married to a wonderful lady, we have two amazing daughters, and we live in a small, comfortable bungalo. We take our “hot holidays”, saved for our future, and have little to no debt. Life isn’t perfect, but overall, we like it. Having said that, kudos to those who follow their passion, whatever that may be, as that has its own challenges. But I guess that if you are lucky enough to have discovered something you truly love, and you are pursuing it, then what others may consider to be overwhelming obstacles, may simply be small bumps along the road for you. Cheers! :)

Stefan December 11, 2014 at 1:46 pm

Just found this site, have been reading for hours straight. Love your thinking and this message resonates deeply with how I am feeling right now! Fantastic writing.

Simon December 11, 2014 at 2:16 pm

At least someone’s making sense – thanks for that David

Love your “experiments” page, good idea!

Seems like everyone thinks getting a corporate job and chasing a degree is the holy grail of a successful life (especially my parents)

How would you reform education?

Take care,

tina December 13, 2014 at 9:05 am

Hi David- I must say the first article of yours I read was a few days ago, “Your Lifestyle Has Already Been Designed”. And since I couldn’t comment on that article- I’m commenting here, I was mind blown after a very long time after reading that article. Just wanted to let you know I have read 3 of your articles so far, and I absolutely love your writing, and of course the topics you discuss. Thank you, and keep writing! I share your articles with my friends!

Cali December 13, 2014 at 8:26 pm

Really great article. Thank you

Minikins December 14, 2014 at 10:40 am

Very interesting post. I share the wish to cut the ball and chain element of work free, but I do love my work, just not my employers! I’m working towards some solution, however there is a slight irony in the New Escapologist’s Unbound site that I cannot escape noticing. The fact that he gave up his job and now has to get pledges to publish his book begs the obvious chant from his detractors of “Go get a job!”, don’t you think?

David Cain December 17, 2014 at 9:37 am

Robert is a writer and humorist, not a beggar. Are you not familiar with crowdfunding? It’s a common way to raise funds for entrepreneurial projects — it allows people who value a proposal to support it, in exchange for deliverables upon completion. The “Go get a job” refrain echoes a common belief among employees: that working in service of someone else’s existing business model is the only viable way to raise funds. The people who create their jobs know that isn’t true.

theFIREstarter December 14, 2014 at 5:01 pm

Nice intro to the book David!

Shame you didn’t include the last paragraph in the book, I think that is a very important if not the most important points about all of this, and it certainly shoots down the argument of being ungrateful. “Look, I am doing this because of all these other massively important socio-enviro-political reasons as well”.

Also if you quit, then there is one more (presumably fairly well paying) job for someone on the lower rungs of the ladder to fill, which produces a cascade of empty jobs vacancies and ultimately lead to 1 less count on unemployed statistics, so you are actually helping the people out who are less fortunate than you, that they’re talking about in their original “you should be grateful” argument anyway! (In a somewhat non direct manner)

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