Despite my posting on how I find asking “so what do you do” a boring question, apparently everyone I meet hasn’t read every post on my site, so they keep asking me what I do.
It’s hard to answer the question when you know they want to know your work when work is such a small part of your life. You can talk about making art, writing, travels, etc, but those answers never satisfy them. They want to know your job — passions, hobbies, relationships, etc be damned. You may want to suggest how they don’t have to accept one’s job defining so much about a person — or that if it does you don’t have to ask, they’ll tell you. But if someone did that with me, I’d consider them boring. Like the joke
Q: How do you know if someone doesn’t have a television?
A: They tell you.
(which, by the way, also works with the questions “how do you know if someone has an iPhone” or “… iPad”.)
Anyway, the conversation often gets around to my working only a day or two per week.
How did I get to work only a day or two per week?
I didn’t do it on purpose. It worked out that way, as follows.
Before business school I worked at a regular job, five or so days a week. I left the job to start a new company in education but ended up going to business school, figuring more business training would help me more than anything else. I worked on the new education company in the background during school, but didn’t get much done because I focused on school.
After finishing business school I decided to work on the new company as much as I could. Since it wasn’t making money yet, I also worked at Submedia two days a week to pay the bills. I figured working only two days a week, I could handle slowly losing money for a bit until the new company started generating revenue. I didn’t realize it then, but I slowly adjusted my spending to break even with the two-days-a-week money I was making.
After a couple years, the other co-founder and I put the new company on permanent hold, despite its potential awesomeness. I thought I’d ramp up my time at Submedia since I needed the money until I realized I didn’t need the money. I was breaking even.
Then the recession hit in 2008, Submedia’s business slowed, and I had to reduce my hours. It took more effort, but I was able to make do with even less income. My quality of life remained as high as ever.
I began to question why I felt I needed to work so many hours before. That questioning led me to realize more and more the messages many parts of society give us to buy and consume unrelated to necessity or improving our lives. Those realizations led me to change my behavior to match my interests, not those of advertisers or people whose “So what do you do for a living” value work so much.
For example, sometimes I’ll meet friends at a bar, not drink anything, and not notice myself having any less fun than anyone else. They may spend hundreds of dollars, then spend more time and money trying to get rid of the calories their bodies turned to fat. Granted not everyone spends hundreds of dollars a night, but a couple nights going out at a couple hundred dollars each adds up to a day or two of work, plus several gym trips. By knowing how to enjoy myself without spending a lot of money, I cut out a day or two of needing to work per week while enjoying myself as much as anyone I know. Actually, I feel less stressed than many of them seem.
How you can do it
The biggest help seems to be cutting costs and learning what creates happiness and emotional reward. I took years to cut costs to a minimum (with some cushion). I paid for my apartment years before any of this, while I was making more money. My deal with Submedia gets me health insurance. I rarely take taxis. I eat simply. Since I don’t have to work much, I can extend any trip anywhere to a longer visit, so when someone pays for a work trip I can add a week or two vacation, which is how I included two trips to North Korea, Vietnam, Thailand, several trips to China, Seoul, London, a couple trips to Hollywood, Boracay, and all the other trips I’ve done in the past few years on this budget.
Some costs I can’t avoid — student loans, maintenance on my building (comparable to rent), metrocard, etc.
Knowing how to create happiness and reward allows you to get rid of other big expenses and enjoy life as much as anyone — often more without all their distractions. Writing this web page costs maybe a hundred dollars a year, yet each post takes about two hours to write and I enjoy it. Leadership seminars bring in extra income, though I consider preparing them similar to the research I did in physics. I like good food at restaurants — I ate at Union Square Cafe not long ago — but I have yet to find food that beats a ripe mango (or soursop if I can find them). Most of all, as I’ve come to value my relationships with friends and family more, I’ve learned that dealing with money with them usually gets in the way of enjoyment. Who wants to trade fun, challenge, learning, sharing, etc. for accounting?
My point isn’t to go into details, but to point out anyone can do it. I didn’t use any magic. I don’t have other sources of income or gifts from others. I’ve used social skills to get me what others use cash for, which I’ve found builds relationships.
Some people might find me cheap, but others find me generous. I’ve hosted plenty of travelers at my apartment, for example, helping them avoid spending a few hundred dollars a night with better location, giving corporate talks for friends’ companies at discounts, and things like that. I’ve done plenty of free coaching too. And I could earn a lot more than I get at Submedia.
Anyway, you can do it if you want hundreds of vacation days a year too. Get rid of your crap at home and in your hobbies. Find ways to enjoy life without spending money (I’ve found they create more joy than the ones that cost). Question messages from the mainstream that motivate buying and spending. Take your time.
But don’t sacrifice enjoyment. Keeping happiness, relationships, and emotional reward is the top priority, or else it won’t work.
Read my weekly newsletter
On initiative, leadership, the environment, and burpees