I work for a Major University — no, I’m not a teacher. Recently, in the Psychology department, I saw a poster for “worklife” research. I didn’t stop long enough to decode this jargon. I had to pee. However, this “worklife” term had been bugging me since I saw it, like a splinter in my palm, and when I read this blog post by Lacking Ambition, I had enough traction on the splinter to pull it out and examine it more closely.
“Worklife” could mean one of two things, as far as I can tell. One, it could be the life one leads while working. Or two, it could that mystical balance we’re all supposed to seek between “work” and “life”.
I don’t think either definition is satisfactory, since I’m not sure either definition is meaningful. The first option seems obvious, and therefore useless: it is necessary for one to be alive while working — I’ve never seen a cadaver filing reports or delivering packages. Although, I’ve seen some people who are awfully close to the Living Dead. The second option seems specious: it seems to me that ‘work’ is inherently part of ‘life’ because work is something people do during their lives — therefore, it is impossible to try and balance a part against the whole.
Lacking Ambition’s “Edwardian Me” post almost gets to the quick of this “worklife” problem, but it doesn’t resolve the problem for me. The post criticizes the industriousness of contemporary Western culture, and I think that critique is well-founded — the “Puritanical work ethic” is arguably the reason that we have such silly ideas like “work-life balance”: If we didn’t feel overworked, why would we desire to balance work against life? However, I’m not sure that desiring the lifestyle of the wealthy English gentry is the appropriate answer. This assumes one has a houseful of poorer folks working to support one’s aristocratic dinner parties and leisurely breakfasts on the veranda, and I don’t think this is what Lacking Ambition is driving at — it’s certainly not what I’m driving at.
I think what we want is self-sufficiency. In other words, we want to care for ourselves — working when we want, helping those we care about, and aspiring towards our goals. This self-sufficiency doesn’t assume we’re living wild and independent in the wilderness — that is a lifestyle I would call self-necessity, do-or-die. Instead, self-sufficiency is the art of living in society, replacing what you use, and hopefully, putting in a bit more than you take out.
Self-sufficiency seems to be what most folks who seek financial independence want. We want to be tied to only those things we wish to have close to us. Cut loose everything else!
Consequently, the task of the self-sufficient person is determining what things will tie us down. Some folks, like Colin Wright, had only a backpack and a bank account, renting apartments around the world. Others, like Mr. Money Mustache, have a house, two cars, and a family, living happily in small-town America. Both of these guys seem to be doing exactly what they want. The difference lies in the details of what they have tied to themselves.
So, I still don’t know what goes on in the “worklife” research lab, but as far as I can tell, ‘worklife’ ought to be just ‘life’ — work towards the things in life that are meaningful to you; attain those things (even if those things are actually people or experiences); rinse, wash, repeat.