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Why Are You Still Working?
I am going to take you down a rabbit hole here, so I apologize in advance. Been doing a lot of reading and thinking about work-life balance and happiness these days. On an aside, I read a good book, for those looking, called “From Strength to Strength” by Arthur C Brooks. In any event, my topic du jour is why are you still working. I’ll break it down into a handful of categories and then address my epiphany.
Stage 1 You must:
I put myself in this category. I’m 42 years old and have 3 children, 2 dogs, 1 wife, and endless expenses. Although I’m doing a good job saving for the future, I am far from financially able to walk away. Guess one could argue if I went and lived on a farm or something and lived off the land but let’s be honest here I wouldn’t last 2 weeks. The reality is that the majority of people probably fall into this category. Now I consider myself one of the lucky ones who loves what he does, finds it mentally challenging and engaging, and extremely rewarding. My only comment I’ll address to this group is to do a real soul search and make sure you find yourself fulfilled at work, rather than wasting away behind some desk.
Stage 2 You Probably Should:
The next group here is the “Probably Should” folks. These are individuals and couples where there could be a way for them to retire now. Perhaps they are in their early to mid-50s but still have 3 kids they want to put through college. Or maybe they spend a ton of money on passions and thus they aren’t quite there financially and/or there is too much risk for them to pull the plug today. We run these financial models all the time where we say if you are content then going another 5-10 years is going to really pay dividends.
Stage 3 You Want:
Are you in a great position financially but still working away because you love your work? I certainly see this plenty where 60-year-olds can easily retire, yet still grind away 40, 50, or 60 hours a week. Lots of times I see this with our professional clients (doctors or lawyers) or business owners. There is something they are getting from this work that they need or love (or so they tell themselves). Could be power, money, fulfillment, or a sense of being. Regardless, this group has no end in sight and might pass away at their desk. Many of you reading this are certainly nodding your heads in agreement, I assure you.
Stage 4 Fear:
Ah, those that are afraid, and we see these individuals all the time. Heck, we get hired to solve this exact issue. These people are afraid of not receiving a paycheck anymore, or how do they turn their life’s savings into a consistent income stream? What if the markets have another 20% down year, or Trump or Biden or whomever you don’t like gets elected? This group has a million and one reasons not to retire, the question is are any of them good ones?
Stage 5 Don’t know:
The final stage or category of why are you still working I’ll address is the simple “don’t knowers”. These are people if you ask why they are still working say something like, “I don’t know” or “What else would I do?” Or even worse, I really don’t have any hobbies or passions so figure might as well work. I run into this group a fair amount and it takes some real pushing to convince them otherwise.
The First Principle
Now bear with me as we go down one of my rabbit holes here. I want to address stages 3, 4, and 5 people or better known as Want to, Afraid to, and Don’t Knows. But first, let me educate you on what is called The First Principle. It dates back to good old Aristotle over 2,000 years ago, “as the first basis from which a thing is known.” It is a concept that top industry leaders like Elon Musk use on a regular occurrence. At its core, it breaks down a thought process to the beginning, instead of building what is known.
Let me give an example: Let’s say you want to create the next great dinner table. One way of thinking is well let’s find the best table on the market and have a think tank figure out all the tiny flaws. Then come up with creative ways to fix it. Like man, we should put a built-in ridge to hold cups so they don’t spill, that would make this table much better. The way a first principle thinker would attack it, is to say forget the traditional table of 4 legs and a square or circle shape. What are we actually trying to solve here? Is it a place for people to eat meals and put their stuff down? Maybe we can get rid of the entire table top and simply have small floating orbs that have no restrictions and you have barely any tabletop.
Break It Down
Told you it is a rabbit hole and yes I am sober. The point is, instead of building on what you know or are told, do the opposite break things down to their most basic form, and then address the same question.
Now, how is this relevant to stage 3,4, and 5 peeps? Let’s do the same first principle concept and ask why are we working in the first place. You must ask yourself this and don’t take what tv, newspapers, your country club friends, or anyone else weigh in. Also, don’t take what you have been conditioned to enjoy or know as the answer like I really like the power or no one else is retired at 53.
Let’s take the first principle approach and then apply it to these 3 stages of workers. Take the past 30-40 years of whatever you’ve been conditioned to know and “forget about it”, yes I did say that in my best mobster voice. If I asked you to define your ideal day, week, month, and year what would it look like? Where does waking up at 6 in the morning and working 8, 9, 10 hour days fall? Seriously, if you had no agenda, and nothing you “had” to do, what would those days look like?
Your Ideal Week
Here I’ll help, as I just took a week’s vacation. I’d wake up around 8 am and go do some form of exercise, ideally tennis as I love the competition. I’d then come back go for a walk with my wife and dogs, and grab a nice late brunch or lunch. Then I’d go do some nice reading in the warm weather and wait for my kids to come home from school. Hang with them for a while until dinner with friends, and family. I’d do a lot of traveling, volunteering, and learn some new hobbies. So what would you do?
Here is the fun part, if work isn’t in your ideal week and you fall into stage 3, 4, or 5 after some real soul searching then…….. WHY ARE YOU STILL WORKING? It’s not optimizing your happiness, and newsflash, YOU AIN’T GETTING ANY YOUNGER. Honestly, you want to wake up 5 years from now and say crap life is great now that I’m retired wish I did it 5 years ago? Remember you can’t get that time back no matter how hard we try, and I’ve tried trust me. Thus, it is up to you and only you to do this soul-searching and break things down to the first principle of happiness. Once you do so I have just one question for you… WHY ARE YOU STILL WORKING?
Alright, folks stay wealthy, healthy, and happy!