This essay is a call to define your own ambition outside of society’s work-centered ideals.
Living the easy life is being needlessly sacrificed by a generation of young workers. In this essay, I attempt to remove the stigma associated with carefree living and demonstrate how you too can live an easy life.
At its core, the easy life means working less: the goal of these articles is to help you, should you feel so inclined, to choose to work less and to show you how to do it.
In 2020, a lot of people unknowingly have the chance to choose to live an easy life, but aren’t making that choice. By the end of this article you will be in a position to understand if you’re one of those people – and what you can do about it if so.
Any of the global “lucky ones” can choose the easy life: smart, first world born and educated people with no dependents and the right to live and work in a developed country. While various additional factors impact the degree of difficulty, if you have those basic ingredients then living the easy life is possible – you certainly don’t need to have (come from) a large amount of money.
The easy life means forgoing demanding work schedules, ambitions of riches and the pursuit of prestige: instead choosing a leisurely life of simple means.
There are many reasons to choose this life (it could even be argued that if you have the option to choose the easy life then it’s selfish, lazy, unambitious and irresponsible of you not to), but ultimately you should choose it because you’re lucky enough that you can.
An Introduction to The Easy Life
In his 2004 essay “What you can’t say”, legendary tech icon Paul Graham writes about how, at every period of time right back throughout history, there are certain things people “can’t say” for fear of violating cultural norms and being seen in a negative light (at best – at worst being subjected to a slow, painful death).
Graham asks: why should our time be any different? Surely there are foolish taboos today, things we can’t say without going against the grain and losing the esteem of respectable society, things that future generations will look back and laugh/cringe about. It’s interesting to imagine what they are, but it’s also intrinsically difficult, as we are of course a part of this blind-sided society.
What can’t you say in 2020 that will be widely accepted by future generations?
As a person with any shred of personal ambition and who wants to be treated as such, in 2020 you can’t say:
“I don’t want to work that much, I just want to live an easy life”
What happens if you say this? In most cases you’ll be perceived as lazy, as someone who will never achieve anything worthwhile – a waste of potential.
While people are beginning to realise that the 100-hour-week investment banker types are not the pinnacle of human conditioning but rather an evolved form of sick freak, there is still an underlying belief among society at large that the ability to work more hours, more often, is an ideal we should all aspire to.
You may disagree that this ideal exists. Then why are so many people working so much? It’s interesting to check our own preconceptions on this, our own subconscious biases against idlers. Stop and think for a second: imagine the type of person who aspires not to have to do a whole lot of work and just wants an easy life. What are the first thoughts that come to mind?
In most cases these thoughts aren’t positive ones – from “unrealistic dreamer” through “lacking ambition” to simply “lazy”: a person who espouses their desire not to have to do much work is most likely seen in a negative light. They are explicitly falling short of society’s unspoken ideal of a hard working, contributing human.
Not only are you weak for falling short of this ideal, but because people seem to think that you need to work a lot to be successful, then admitting you don’t want to work that much immediately writes you out of contention to ever “be anyone” of merit. Saying that you don’t want to work a lot means that you will never achieve the “world changing” successes of a wide range of people from Elon “nobody ever changed the world on 40 hours a week” Musk, to Margaret “4 hours sleep per night” Thatcher, nor the respect of anyone who admires or aspires to be like them.
But what if you say it anyway?
“I just want an easy life”.
Most people laugh when I say this. But I’m serious. I don’t want to deal with other people’s crazyness, irritating work and even more irritating people. Even that having a goal to work a minimal amount of hours is seen as something unusual, something that needs to be explained (an aspect of modern life that I find entirely baffling) is reason enough in itself – why on earth would I want to spend my time working with people who cannot grasp such a basic desire?
Here’s how I describe the situation to them – it’s simply a case of different kinds of ambition:
- The easy life: to have enough money so that my basic needs are taken care of, the circumstances so that I can produce great work and ample – ammmp-l-e – leisure time.
Don’t get me wrong: I’d take more money.
- The good life: to have enough money so that my every whim is taken care of, the circumstances so that I can produce great work and ample – ammmp-l-e – leisure time.
But the good life is optional – and no way am I prepared to sacrifice living the easy life to get it.
- The hard (“reality of”) life: to have enough money so that I can afford to live in the expensive city where my employer is based while occasionally spending frivolously to jerk me out of the depression caused by working in circumstances that prohibit me from ever producing truly great work and minimal – minnnnnnnn-im-al – leisure time.
- The hard life – alternative definition: the life you live when you decide (often subconsciously) to sacrifice the easy life in the hopes of living the good life.
My argument is that anyone sacrificing the easy life in order to get the good life cannot justifiably complain about that struggle: it’s their choice. The easy life is an option for us all*.
(*again, where “us all” consists of educated first-world citizens – see below).
If I interrupt the laughter to say all this, I’m generally looked at with the slightly condescending gleam reserved for that lesser class of lazy, naive, unambitious dreamer who just doesn’t quite get it – my audience clearly know something that I don’t:
- “I could never be happy with that, I’d be bored”
- “I love to work”
- “Oh that sounds great but let’s get realistic”
- “Wouldn’t we all love that”
And I want to scream (this article is in fact the articulated version of that very scream):
Firstly, why don’t you want the easy life? What exactly do you want?
For various reasons, some people claim not to want the easy life. In most cases, these people have mistaken notions about the easy life or about what they really want from life.
Secondly, if you want the easy life, then why aren’t you trying to get it?
With others, I can feel the anxiety: “of course I want the easy life! But it’s not as simple as that, I don’t want to throw away the possibility of also living the good life.”
Other people’s madness
“Prithee, my dear
Why are we here?
Nobody knows”The Pixies
For a long time I’d wonder: surely all these people can’t be wrong? I must be missing out on something, they must know something I don’t.
But they don’t: it’s up to each of us to decide what we want from life and to strive (in a leisurely way) for that, irrespective of whether that’s at odds with the wisdom of the crowd.
Given that work work work work work is one of the surest signs of a sturdy character, most people take the trouble to hide their flights of idle fantasy from themselves, never mind revealing this sure sign of moral weakness to others (such as, ehh… current and prospective investors, employers, employees, partners and anyone else who happens to read their blog post…).
But what would happen if you did admit it to yourself and say it aloud to others? And not to mind just saying it, which is hard enough, but imagine actually doing it: building the conditions to enable this life of minimal work, then sticking to that noble ambition.
Can you surmount the difficulties; the scorn of society, the harsh realities of getting by without getting to work?
I believe you can, fellow idler.
Because, of course, an argument could be made that those who make a conscious decision to work less are in fact strong individuals who know what they want from life and are prepared to do what it takes to get that, resisting the temptation to conform to society’s ideals but instead relentlessly pursuing their own personal development in the way that comes most naturally to them, no matter the cost.
Or put another way, they are neither lazy nor unambitious – to the contrary, I’d argue their efforts are far less lazy and more ambitious than their blindly hardworking peers’.
Or, maybe I’m just another entitled waster…
So before we go deeper, let’s first address the elephant in the room: is this educated (and yes, very handsome) white guy really writing a series of articles about how tough his life is… because he has to work?
*The struggle is real
For those of us lucky enough to have been raised and educated in first-world countries, the struggle to find working conditions that allow us to self-actualize is one of the biggest challenges we face in adulthood.
Self-actualization is a very real need – not having this need met hurts
By the time we’re young adults, most of us can pretty much solve for these (psychological and basic) needs – it may take a few years of adulthood to figure this out
For many (most citizens in earlier generations in developed countries and many citizens in countries all over the world today), working to fulfil their basic needs is their self-actualization.
However, for those of us who have those needs met (and they are met far more easily than most of us recognise), that’s just not going to cut it. Figuring out how you work best and how that work fits into your life is an integral part of your self-development.
If you discover that your style of working doesn’t easily fit in with the way of working that is most prevalent in society today then, as is in any case of going against the grain of society, the struggle to find a way to fulfill this need is in fact very real – as anyone caught up in that struggle can attest.
The need for self-actualization is as real as the need for security and friendship – and the mental suffering caused by this need going unfulfilled just as acute.
And for those of you who haven’t experienced this struggle and who can’t relate, then perhaps it could be better understood viewed from a different angle. Rather than viewing the commitment to identify work that enables one’s self-actualization as a first-world luxury, instead try to view it as a first-world responsibility. Previous generations didn’t struggle to work to survive so that we would do the same, or even worse, so that we would have survival assured yet continue to struggle in unfulfilling jobs. Would you want that for your children? Our current and previous generations’ positive perspective on long hours of hard work will become future generations’ positive perspective on finding fulfilling work and a personally satisfying way of doing it: a valiant struggle to satisfy our human needs and live life to the fullest. Anyone content simply to put their head down and work will be rightfully viewed as the unambitious ones then.
Next: Overcoming Overwork (II/III): recognize how overwork is impacting your motivation, performance and happiness and how you can overcome it