“I didn’t know you still work,” is a common reaction from people who I’ve met through this blog. The underlying assumption is that being “financially independent” comes packaged with “early retirement”; when you have one, you get the other. While “early retirement”, to most people, seems like a desirable and logical endpoint, I choose to continue working (even with the uncertainty of my brain condition). Here’s why I do it and why I think you should too.
1. The Challenge
There is a notion that country life (versus city life) is “easier”. But having lived in a rural countryside, I think it was actually harder, though in a “good” way.
Most rural areas lack some modern conveniences. Where I lived, there were no taxis or food delivery services. The internet was extremely slow, mobile phone service was unreliable because of “dead zones” (doctors still had to use pagers), and electricity blackouts were common.
There were only a limited number of restaurants — maybe 10 (of which, 5 were fast food outlets) — so cooking and eating at home was a must. But getting groceries took a very long time because shops were far away. And most places closed at 7pm.
In a city, you have just about everything at your doorsteps. And if there’s something you need that’s just a bit out of your way, you can get it delivered. Shops stay open into the night.
Whichever chores or DIY projects you don’t want to do yourself, you can pay someone to do it.
But our bodies and minds were made to do things — hard things, things that scare us, things that challenge us. We were not supposed to use the bulk of our physical and intellectual energy for the sole purpose of instant gratification, convenience and comfort. In some ways, this is exactly why we (our health & well-being) and the environment are suffering.
This is not to say that we should labour for endless hours doing mindless/meaningless tasks, or backbreaking/hazardous labour. With everything in life, there is a balance. We shouldn’t be over-stressed and over-scheduled; nor should we be idle and inactive.
So one reason I continue to work is for the challenge — the process of learning new things, failing often, and stepping out of my comfort zone.
2. The Connections
No, I’m not referring to business or networking connections (for the purpose of career advancement); I’m referring to connecting with people on a social level, since we are social beings.
Living in a rural community, where everything closed at 7pm, meant you had to find other means of entertainment and relaxation after work. And with spotty mobile phone service, it also meant you had to meet up in person.
A retired single person living in a city can potentially go many days or even months without any meaningful human contact. Taking a bus, shopping, and eating out — none of these actually require a meaningful socail exchange.
Most people fulfill their need for connections at work and at home. But if you live by yourself and are retired, you don’t have many options for meaningful connections unless you volunteer or go to church.
If you’re married or have children, at least you have your family to connect with. But having just one source for meaningful connections often isn’t enough.
And this is another reason why I continue to work and to volunteer.
3. Contribution & Service
Just like our need for belonging and connection, we also have a strong need to be needed. When someone feels — and I mean truly feels — that they are no longer needed and that they are useless, their life becomes very empty. They lose their sense of purpose and identity.
If everything you ever wanted or needed was automatically predicted (by AI) and then delivered to you effortlessly and you didn’t have to earn it or make it, what would be the purpose of your existence? To enjoy, seek pleasure, and indulge?
Kevin Everett FitzMaurice, author of the book We’re All Insane, says that
the insane think comfort, convenience, and speed are the goals of life… Would it change your life to believe that our goal is work and service, instead of retirement and stimulation?”
There is nothing wrong with wanting something better for your life, to be able to relax and enjoy things, and to take it easy. But definitely not all the time. The irony is that going too far in the pursuit of comfort and convenience may end up either ruining the quality of your life or shortening it. Or both. As FitzMaurice put it,
When an animal or plant stops working, it is dead.”