I first came across the above statement when I was watching this talk by Frugal Guru Pete Adeney (from Mr. Money Mustache blog).
All my life after graduation, I have been in a job. In my 20s and early 30s, I worked really hard. Managed to pay off my student loan, HDB mortgage, got married and have 2 kids.
I did not really think much about whether I like my job or not. It was satisfying at times, shitty plenty of times…(kind of remind me of the relationship with my kids)…. but when you are busy, you seldom think about how much you love (or hate) your job.
Not too long ago, I came across these two posts by fellow financial bloggers:
1) Is Your Work A Necessary Evil? (read here)
2) The Maths behind being Financially Independent with $1 million by Age 40 (read here)
And then there is this post:
3) Don’t do what you love for a career—do what makes you money (read here)
With reference to the 1st post from cheerfulegg (Is Your Work A Necessary Evil?), he asked the following question:
“So here’s the dilemma I’ve been pondering:
If you see work as a necessary evil, wouldn’t it be easier to simply find a more meaningful job than to struggle for many years towards financial freedom?
And if your work already has a meaningful purpose and you find fulfilment in it, why would you want financial freedom which is the option to quit your job?
I’m curious to hear from you:
How do you view your work – as a necessary evil, or having a deeper purpose? In either case, why is financial freedom still a goal for you?”
I reckon to me, the answer to the above question is found in the 3rd post (see below for extract from the post):
“And are we really so sure that the best thing to do with passion is attempt to monetize it, anyway? Why assume it’s easier to turn passion into money than it is to turn money into passion? Why not side hustle for love, and keep the filthy hands of commerce off our art or beloved hobby?
What if you don’t have a grand passion, anyway? Lots of people don’t. Hell, just keeping the lights on is a tall enough order for a vast majority of people.”
1st Question (Wouldn’t it be easier to simply find a more meaningful job than to struggle for many years towards financial freedom?)
- Are you a zombie employee? Over half of Singapore companies have them (read here)
If you ask me, wouldn’t it be easier to find a more meaningful job? This word “meaningful” to me is relative. For instance, a doctor’s job to many may be more meaningful as compared to a banker’s job. A social worker’s job to many may be more meaningful as compared to a teacher’s job…. There is no end. There will always be a job that is more ‘meaningful’ than your current job. But then again, that is other people’s definition of ‘meaningful’ which I think is secondary.
Then there is your own perspective of what is meaningful. Or put in another way, your own passion (what is meaningful to you and the people around you).
However, what if you don’t have a grand passion (or meaningful work at least to yourself)? And even if you do, is it easier to turn passion into money than it is to turn money into passion?
- If I like to draw. Would it be easier for me to make a living as an artist (A) than to have the money to draw whatever I like, whenever I like (B)?
- If I like to teach: Would it be easier for me to make a living as a teacher (A), than to teach whatever I like, when I like and to whom I like (B)?
For (A), you can start right now, and do it until the end of your life. For (B), you would have to struggle first, build up your capital, become financially free then do what you like. (A) is fast with instant gratification, but life is beyond personal gratification (or having a meaningful job). (B) is slow, but you get much much more gratification at the end (well, at least more meaningful to you personally).
Which is easier? There is no right nor wrong in either way. Why complicate life (isn’t life already complicated enough)?
“I don’t look to jump over 7-foot bars: I look around for 1-foot bars that I can step over.” Warren Buffett
As mentioned in the 3rd post: “Most of the life’s problems are intractable. Money is that rare problem that’s possible to (mostly) solve.”
Life is simply unpredictable. We fall sick, get into accidents – likewise for people around us whom we love …
Many things in life are unquantifiable. We can’t do an excel sheet and forecast what we will ‘get’ in the future (unlike cash deposits). We can write a thesis on having a ‘meaningful job’.
Must the word meaningful end with the word job anyway? I find the phrase ‘meaningful job’ kind of an oxymoron. Just have a meaningful life – period. Must ‘meaningful’ come with a price? Get price out of the equation. Price, sort of make a lot of things ‘meaningless’. Life does not equate to a job.
In the whole question above, there are 3 key phrases: “Meaningful”, “Job”, “Financial Freedom”. All are not easy to achieve. Yes, there are PEOPLE who are grateful just to have a JOB – where got the ‘luxury’ to ponder on whether it is a meaningful job or not, or think about financial freedom.
- Unemployment could rise further as Singapore faces structural changes: Lim Swee Say (read here)
Among the 3, the hardest to achieve in life is “meaningful”. It is the hardest to quantify. It takes a lifetime to find meaning in life. You can start off your life like Forrest Gump; travel around the world (starting with Tibet) throughout your whole life to find meaning (and still don’t get it).
Why not tackle the solvable problem (like money) first? After all, a journey of a thousand miles begins with one step. And from a rational compounding point of view, the sooner you have money, the less money you need….. You know like in exams – you solve the easy questions first, before tackling the tough ones.
Likewise, if you work for money now, as opposed to passion, you’re generally in a better position to pursue your passion later on with no financial stresses.
This cannot be better illustrated by the 2nd post (The Maths behind being Financially Independent with $1 million by Age 40) from Investment Moat.
2nd question (If your work already has a meaningful purpose and you find fulfillment in it, why would you want financial freedom which is the option to quit your job?)
Back to the beginning of my post…. isn’t the feeling different if you work like you don’t need the money. Yes, your work has a meaningful purpose and you find fulfillment in it. But at the end of the day, who is the real boss here? In any endeavor, whether you are your own boss (self-employed) or you are an employee, there are bound to be bosses/clients/customers etc… There will always be a bigger fish.
Personally, I know how it is like to work when you have a 5 figure student debt and a 6 figure mortgage vs how it is like to work with ZERO debt (in exactly the same job).
When I am in the former (eg. in debt) my first thought wasn’t about meaningful or fulfillment ….Noooo….My first thought was about stopping the unnecessary ‘leaks’ and paying back the money. I may love my job, but I do need to rest when I NEED TO REST (like if I can’t work because I am sick for an extended period or if the people I love, got into trouble)… I am human after all.
When I am in debt, even if I am not doing anything, I am bleeding cash (in the form of interest payment – compounded more over time if I do not pay). I would much rather use the money for something more enjoyable like watching a show, having a nice meal, etc…
“When you make it back to zero, you’re like “I can join the Peace Corp. right now, nobody’s gonna track me down. I got choices again.” Chris Sacca (who went from a US$4 million negative balance trading stocks, to a net worth of US$1.21 billion)
Of course, there are people who started out with no debt, was never in debt, never had the need for money (ever)…. rich parents, a big inheritance, great paying job, marry rich, etc…so they might not know the difference.
Indeed, we do need to think about the quality of life, beyond the meaningful purpose in work. Life is not just about working. The quality of life has everything to do with financial security and independence – a roof over our heads, healthy work-leisure balance, the means to fund our retirement and healthcare, the time and opportunity to pursue our dreams and passions – even as we provide for our families and help them realize their potential.
And oh yeah, there are parents who would literally kick their kids out of the house once they are out of school. Tough love, I guess. Or their parents have no house, to begin with…. :p
So basically, you are then forced to think about the quality of life first before having a meaningful job. On one hand, your choices are now more limited (basically one option – to find food and shelter), on the other hand, it sort of simplifies your life (no need to ponder about finding fulfillment first).
- How long can millennials keep living with their parents? This isn’t sustainable (read here)
Life is also not just about ourselves. Life is bigger than that. Financial freedom isn’t just about the option to quit your job. Financial freedom is also about the ability to take care of others. Eg. I can have a fulfilling job, but if I can’t even pay for my aging parents’ medical bills to keep them alive and well, I think my life, in general, is not meaningful. When you are not free (financially), you might even drag the people around you down (when you are in financial troubles). Even though you did not intend it to be that way.
And if you managed to finish watching the talk by Frugal Guru Pete Adeney (which I mentioned at the beginning of my post), near the end of his talk, Pete mentioned about Elon Musk — and the word “Authenticity”. I think if you have no financial freedom, people and even yourself, at times might question, why are you doing what you are doing. Are you doing this out of love or money?
By the way, to me, this “Authenticity” isn’t about looking rich. Yes, you can appear rich eg. drive big cars, live in a landed property, go on expensive overseas trips multiple times a year, have lots of branded bags etc…. Sure people may gravitate towards you, but it won’t last. You may end up attracting the wrong kind of people anyway.
Indeed, it is about having enough financially. It is when your cash flow exceeds your expenses. Actually, you can sense some of the local financial bloggers who have this air of ‘authenticity’ eg. have more than enough and just want to help others.
With financial freedom, this question (why are you doing what you are doing) is simple to answer (even from an outsider). Financial freedom simply forces you to be truthful to yourself. It is ultimately better for you and for the people around you.
“Why am I am doing this Shit, when I don’t need the money… I am gonna do something I reallyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyy love. Something which I will feel fulfilled”
And oh, by the way, it takes a lifetime to find fulfillment.
As mentioned in the 3rd post: “Financial independence is an inherently rational goal—the “fuck off fund” carried to its logical conclusion. To a greater extent than most of us want to admit, you’re only as principled and independent-minded as your bank account allows you to be.”
Post blog post update:
I chanced upon the below post on Reddit. Nice post. (read post in Reddit here)
The comment section in Reddit is also worth reading (I reckon people who have attained ‘FIRE’ can contribute and be good employees too, without having the ‘need to’).
Excellent post, lots of thinking to do myself and for most of the people too I guess.
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Thank you 🙂
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