Edwardian Me

I’ve realized my attitude towards work more closely resembles that of the British upper class of the Edwardian era than it does that of a modern American.

The idea that someone should desire or need a career or profession is distasteful to me. -Something to be done only out of necessity. Education ought to be pursued so that it can help you obtain an understanding of the world, not a job. And work is something to be suffered to your detriment, and does nothing to build your character except to make you better able to suffer through yet more work in the future.

My attitude towards work varies though depending on the motivation for it.

Cooking my own dinner is work that I enjoy. And I would feel I was missing something if I knew I was never going to feel the sensation of kneading a dough ever again. Though if I had to work as a baker for money, I’m sure I’d be right sick of it after only a few months. Tending a small garden is enjoyable. Whereas toiling in a massive field hand-picking a harvest for an hourly wage would be misery. Retro-fitting a car would be fun, but working full-time in a body shop would get tiring. Making a legal argument can be stimulating, but rehashing the same subjects day in and out down into minutiae would just get kind of boring.

I suppose you could construe my attitude as an immature obsession with novelty. Maybe that’s fair. Though I am quite good at putting up with work and trying to focus on the best parts of it. But I never kid myself that I wouldn’t be better off not having to do it all.

I think there’s a bit of a fear among the young, financially independent, of being thought of as merely shiftless and lazy. “What’s the matter, you can’t handle work? Are you not up to it? You know it’s good for you, don’t you?” And so we insist that we will be volunteering, ‘working’ on our investments, or taking occasional jobs for fun even in our early retirements. As if to say, “See! We’re not lazy!”

If we had some Edwardian friends we wouldn’t have to face this. Our desire to go fly fishing all afternoon, visit with friends, or simply to take a stroll through the garden, not breaking a sweat all day, would just be seen as normal and appropriate. The idea that we ought to go work in some way because we would be the better for it would just be seen as silly.

I think there’s some fear too, that is struck in the hearts of men, when you question whether work really is good for the soul, or simply something to be endured. So many have convinced themselves that they are content because of a hard day’s work, rather than in spite of it. And the idea, that they actually would be happier if they could realize their occasional dreams of being on a permanent vacation, is poisonous to their contentment that relies on a belief that pulling themselves out of bed and into their work boots after ever-insufficient rest is actually contributing to their well-being.

Then there are the financially independent who do work by choice, in the same field for decades, who must surely look at me and wonder how I could possibly be happy spending days often doing no more than just puttering around the house, or the garden, or having coffee with old people. All we can do is gawk at each other from afar, across a chasm too far to bridge, and wonder in amusement at how the other could possibly be happy.


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  1. Posted June 7, 2012 at 5:43 pm | Permalink

    I love this way of thinking, and I am unfortunately one of the people stuck working and try to find contentment in spite of it (as well as financial independence).

    One thing you didn’t go too deep into, which I think is pervasive in our society, is that people feel threatened by the idea that work is not necessary or even good most of the time because it is dangerous to think that way. If it is true, then someone who is miserable at age 50 having worked for 30 years must acknowledge that 30 years have essentially been wasted to something not necessary or good. And looking around, I see most people who work are miserable.

    I do think there are exceptions. I can see someone working on a difficult problem for a lifetime remaining interested. Such as delving deep into some new branch of physics, or working to improve whole areas of society. Some problems are so large they can take a lifetime to master – and though I have not experienced it, I believe people exist who could find great joy in working to solve such things.

    Constantly doing the same day over and over again though, is where most of us are stuck and must live.

  2. Jo
    Posted June 8, 2012 at 6:35 am | Permalink

    There seems to be a strong (Christian influence) in society of “an idle mind/hands is the devil’s workshop” . Very nice post.

  3. Posted June 8, 2012 at 10:43 pm | Permalink

    I’ve always said I’ve only worked because my first choice — being born idle rich — didn’t work out.

    People think I’m kidding.

  4. rachelFLF
    Posted June 8, 2012 at 11:52 pm | Permalink

    Thank you for this post. I’ve been reading this blog for a while and this post really struck a chord, because I’m newly FI and have been feeling the compulsion to say things like “I’ll volunteer!” or “I”ll take a part-time job for fun!” etc. when family and friends ask me what I’m going to do with my time. I’ve grown up hearing about the vital importance of having a “work ethic,” which I guess to many means simply working some job the majority of your adult life. Regardless of how stupid the job is, you get points for simply working. If I look lazy to some people, so be it. I don’t need to prove myself to others. Easier said than done though. Maybe these feelings are guilt because deep down I agree with the naysayers. Guess I need to think hard on that. One thing I know is, I truly don’t feel that spending the day walking all over the city on an urban exploration, or museuming, or lying under a tree looking up at the sky through the leaves, or writing, or reading, or biking, or hiking, or sailing, or lunching with friends, or working on small projects, are worthless activities or anything to be ashamed of.

  5. Posted June 11, 2012 at 2:15 pm | Permalink

    @rachelFLF – I used to have a distaste for standing out amongst my family regarding FI and early retirement, and so I would say similar things as you like “Maybe I’ll work part time” and “I’ll volunteer.”

    Eventually, I chose to let it go and just say “I’ll do whatever I want” (which may or may involve work, volunteering) and it was very liberating. For me, thinking one thing (I’ll do what I want) and saying something else was living a lie. I just didn’t realize it at until I stopped lying.

  6. Posted June 13, 2012 at 5:10 pm | Permalink

    I won’t tell you what I do for a living, but I can assure you it’s so horrible no one would do it without getting paid.

  7. Tommy
    Posted June 20, 2012 at 10:24 am | Permalink

    I’ve felt this way my entire life and could never articulate it as well as this.
    Great post. Thank you.

  8. lurker
    Posted July 21, 2012 at 11:14 am | Permalink

    You are a fine writer and thinker. That should be worth something right? I wrote for living once and I know that it is not easy, at all. Congrats on your skill and talent and for knowing yourself at such a young age. Impressive.

  9. Eric
    Posted August 28, 2012 at 1:33 pm | Permalink

    Your post reminds me of the Heinlein quote:

    “A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly. Specialization is for insects.”

    I wholly agree with it. Human’s, I believe, are meant to work, but our work should be varied, autonomous and sporadic. Societies tend to favor hierarchy and specialization, but ultimately I think these qualities are bad for the soul.

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