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One Year Without Work

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It’s now been a little over a year since I left my job to travel last November, and somehow I’ve survived. The hardest part has been the awkward confusion when someone asks what I do. I usually sort of stumble through a brief explanation that I’m taking time off to study or somesuch. Most respond with an incredulous look seeming to say either “I don’t believe you” or “this asshole definitely lives in his parents’ basement.”

Mental health

By far the biggest beneficiary of my year off has been my mental health. I can’t even begin to enunciate what a difference it makes to wake up everyday without an alarm, feeling totally refreshed and getting up to work on and learn about things that I care about. There’ve been (many) bouts of laziness, but I can confidently say I’ve learned more in the past year than in any other.

I learned how to bake bread a couple weeks ago.

Besides generally feeling more relaxed, I eat better and cook better, I read a lot more, I make some of my own household products, I’ve set up a compost bin for my apartment building, I write more, I go to neighborhood council meetings, I spend more time hanging out with parrots, and on and on. Of course these are all things I could have done when I worked full time, but in reality there’s no way I would have had the time and motivation. After spending 9 hours a day in an office – and perhaps an extra 1-2 hours idly thinking about work – I didn’t have enough motivation during the week to do much of anything other than collapse on the couch and stare at the TV. (I should note that my old job was mostly very laid back, and overall really enjoyable – mostly thanks to my great co-workers. I think the key takeaway for me was that I was stuck spending 40 hours every week doing work that was ultimately not very meaningful to me.)

Back to work

Of course the sabbatical could only last so long. Over the summer when I first moved back to St. Paul, I sent out a lot of applications, and had a handful of interviews, but never got an offer. It was pretty discouraging[1]. But then a little over a week ago, I got an email from a small Minneapolis company I’d applied to in May and hadn’t heard back from, asking if I’d come in for an interview. I had the interview earlier this week on Monday, accepted their offer the same day, and started on Wednesday. It was a surprise; I’d all but given up looking for a job over the summer, and had made other plans for the coming year[2].

So now I’m an IT manager. (I’m also the only IT person, so it’s not as impressive as I wish it were.) I remember being excited when I first applied for this job back in May because it’s a part time position, but I’m making about the same per-hour amount as I made in my old job, which will be plenty enough to sustain myself on, and – more importantly – will leave me with plenty of free time to keep doing the things I really care about, which should help me avoid the burnout I had at my old job. I only had two days to work with the person previously in my new position[3], but it’s been enjoyable so far. In my cover letter back in May I had said that I was looking to work for a small business or nonprofit; JMA is a small business that works almost entirely with local nonprofits so I’m in a great environment with a lot of really smart, kind people.

Spending

According to Personal Capital, my total spending from November 2015 to November 2016 was $10,175, meaning I spent an average of about $848 per month.

From November to May – while traveling – I spent a total of $4541, or about $757 per month. From May to this November, I spent $5641, or about $940 per month. Now that the Cross Country season is over[4], I’m planning on getting rid of my car, which should save me an extra chunk. When I stopped working last year my biggest worry was that what I had saved up wasn’t going to get me as far as I thought it would. That was completely unfounded. I’ve had a downright comfy and fulfilling year.

Happiness for sale

Reflecting on the last year, it’s hard to get passed the feeling that money has bought me a lot of happiness, which is a discomforting thing to think about. Or – more accurately – money has bought me a degree of independence I’ve never had, and that independence has allowed me the time and energy to spend on things that have made me more content[5] than I’ve been at any other point. It sounds nice to say that, beyond a baseline of basic necessities, money can’t buy happiness, but it just doesn’t seem true to me. Having “fuck you” money seems to me to bring the opportunity for happiness on some level (not as a literal fuck-you to anybody, but as a measure of dependence on work). This is a troubling notion, and hammers home for me just how privileged and lucky I’ve been.

Notes

  1. I was especially discouraged about one particular instance, where I'd gotten to the third round only to get turned down :( It was at a really cool software company in New York (it was a remote position). They offered tuition reimbursement, whatever hardware I wanted, conference funds, and all kinds of cool stuff. Not to mention I would've been working with a ton of really smart people. (I'm not bitter...)
  2. More traveling.
  3. ... who I'm really jealous of. He's about to go visit family in Guam. Safe travels, Trevor!
  4. I don't mean to show off (yes I do), but I just found out today I was voted our CC section's assistant coach of the year. It's already going to my head.
  5. I guess I would have a hard time justifying the claim that I'm happier in general than at any other point in my life, but I feel comfortable saying that I'm more content.