If your job is not central to your mission, but simply a way to earn money, then one of the profoundest acts of self-liberation you can make is to reduce your hours or (even better) quit. Blogger Betty Ming Liu just quit her job, and her list of goals for her next stage is awesome:
– I want to self-publish a book. If you’ve been with me for a while, you know that this is an on-going yearning. Maybe not the most practical solution for making money, but crucial for personal fulfillment. The rough first draft is done and I’m ready to rock this dream!
– Expanding my YouTube presence. There’s not much up right now but look for more. During recent One-to-One training lessons at the Apple Store, I’ve learned to use Final Cut Pro X. Now it’s my chance to put those skills to practice in editing my own how-to videos about all kinds of things. Stay tuned!
– Spend time with my daughter. She is now a college-bound, young woman. If you’ve been through this stage with a kid, you know that part of me wants to scream. So much going on, on multiple levels. Major transitions in our relationship. There’s also the fun ahead of prom and graduation. Really glad that I now have the time to fully engage in the moments ahead.
– Start dating again. It’s been nearly two years since I’ve been in a relationship. With a full-time job, I was married to my work. But maybe there’s a chance for a shared life ahead. I’ve grown up a lot over the past two years and am much more willing to risk the vulnerability and intimacy required to be with a significant other.
– Start painting again. The easel and my oils have been calling to me. Over the past year, I’ve also been ripping out stuff from the newspaper in hopes of collaging with newsprint someday. Well, maybe “someday” is on the near horizon.
– Jump start my teaching career. I left a great teaching career for the adventure of being a digital journalist filing daily stories online. And every day, part of me missed being around young people. Even though all the colleges that I taught at said that they’d love for me to return one day, most of my gigs are gone. But I do have one assignment for the fall: I’ll be teaching food writing to undergraduate journalism majors at NYU.
– Catch up on home repairs. My sweet little house could be in much better shape. It really bothers me that the screen on my front porch door has been busted for the past year. My deck posts are rotting away and need to be replaced. Yes, this means dipping more into savings. But I can’t let my house fall apart. It’s my main asset and needs to be maintained.
– Catch up on my sleep. Yesterday morning at around 9 a.m., my daughter knocked on my bedroom door and hollered for me, sounding worried. She wanted to know if I was sick because I’m usually up very early. Helloooo, can’t Mommy sleep in on a Sunday morning? Haha.
I love how defined her list is, and admire how she's adroitly balancing professional and self-care goals. And I'm particularly glad she's working on her art because, as you can see, her art is awesome! Love the bold, fearless brushstrokes and colors married to simple forms and mundane subject matter. (Reminds me of Pablo Neruda or William Carlos Williams poems.)
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Betty reports she will be 57 this summer. I am currently 53, and in the midst of what I hope will be a lifelong process of reinvention and moving more toward my center and my strength. While remaking your life can be scary, nothing is scarier than being stuck, especially in a miserable situation. My poor parents were already stuck in their ruts by their thirties, as far as I can tell; and I feel the best way I can honor them is to continue to develop the artistic, activist, and entrepreneurial passions I inherited from them while at the same time learning deeply from their mistakes, and especially the central mistake of giving up on their authentic selves. (To be clear, authenticity would have probably been a distant concern to working class kids born just before the Great Depression, and who came of age during the 1940s and 1950s, decades generally unsupportive of self expression and self actualization.)
For many people, the idea of leaving a job seems terrifying, or even ludicrous, especially, as Betty notes, in the current terrible economy. Yet, in artistic, activist, homeschooling, and other mission-driven communities it's commoner than you might think. Assuming you don't have a generous spouse or a trust fund, here are some techniques for liberating yourself:
*Live off your savings, at least for a while. This is what Betty is doing. This will horrify many people, but if you're not willing to invest in yourself, who will? And if you are too cautious to ever even give yourself a chance to attain your dream, will you spend the rest of your life regretting it?
*Live more frugally. Move to a smaller home, furnished with less stuff. Remember that everything you buy costs you twice: the time and money you spend to buy it, and the time and money you spend maintaining it. (If possible, go car-free: I did for nearly a decade.)
*Live in community. I currently share my home with two housemates, so my basic living expenses are a third of what they would be if I lived alone. In the ten years since my separation and divorce, I've lived "alone" (meaning I was the only human in the house, along with cherished dog companions) and with housemates. While living alone does, of course, give you a lot of freedom and privacy, I think it's overrated. I find my current communal life so much richer and more enjoyable--not to mention, financially sustainable. (I found my housemates via Craigslist and a cohousing email list, although our arrangement is less formal than actual cohousing.)
*Turn Your Passionate Hobby into a Business. Or, as my savvy friend Elizabeth says, "Monetize it!" It's not unreasonable to expect that a well-thought-out, well-mentored business could yield at least a part-time income in five years, or even sooner.
The cliche is that "business isn't for everyone," but in this day and age you should try to make it for you. We are living in a golden age of entrepreneurship, with incredible tools at our disposal, including not just Websites and social media, but ecommerce platforms like eBay and Etsy, and crowdfunding platforms like Kickstarter and Indiegogo. And who knows what else is coming around the corner?
If you can't leave your job entirely, go as part-time as you can. If you have a lunch hour, simply reducing it to 1/2 hour will let you reclaim 2.5 hours a week--or more than a hundred hours a year! And keep in mind that for each additional hour you eliminate from your job, you reclaim 50 hours (assuming a two-week vacation) over a year--more than a workweek! A true bounty of time you can devote to your mission.
Or, do what you can to reduce your commute, which is probably stressing you out anyway. Ask your boss if you can work four ten-hour days instead of five eight-hour ones. (I wrote The Lifelong Activist on long weekends after a three-day/36 hour work week.) Or, if you can work from home one day a week. Or, commute during off hours.
Loosening up your schedule by an hour here or there can make things much easier even if you don't do anything particularly ambitious with the time. Because of the epidemic of time poverty in many cultures, many individuals, families, and communities are hugely stressed. An extra hour or two a week devoted to rest, self-care, and loving relationships can make all the difference.
If your job is making you truly miserable, or your boss is intransigently unsupportive, it's time to look for new work. Yes, I know that will be a pain, but the reality is that if you work eight hours a day and commute 1.5 hours a day, while sleeping eight hours a night, then 48% of your waking hours are going to your job. That's far too high a percentage of your precious life for you to spend miserable, or even "merely" bored and unfulfilled.
To say that 48% is far, far too high a percentage of your precious life for you to spend miserable, or even bored and unfulfilled, is an understatement.
Back to Betty Ming Liu. I think she is full of wise ideas and courage, and will go far! One thing she will have to watch out for, though, is situational perfectionism. Transitions are tricky, and while her goals list is awesome, it is also long. As a self-described recovering perfectionist, she will have to be careful about not putting too high expectations on herself once she has reclaimed her time and freedom.