Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Why work?

While I’d like to think I’m no sheep, I must admit that I’ve done a pretty great job of following the rules for most of my life.  Never stayed out late (without warning) in high school – my attempts to rebel by blasting loud music lasted about 2 minutes as my parents didn’t hear anything from downstairs and I got bored.  I never felt like college was a choice (for me) and so didn’t stray from that path.  I do, however, love calling people out on their bullshit and appreciate when my friends do the same for me.  I enjoy the mind-fuck that is realizing an assumption you’ve always held could be wrong, like, wait for it – unemployment being bad.

I am realizing (in my old age ;)) that using work as a proxy for success and a measurement of who you are, is both easy and bad for you.  Immersing yourself in work makes it easy to ignore all of the other parts of you that want to be changed and improved.  I’m realizing that the conventional path of working 9 to 5 until you’re 60 and retire is a choice rather than a necessity.  Spending less and saving more gives you the option of not needing to work even earlier – if that freedom is more valuable to you than buying more clothes and going out to more bars at present day (t=0).  Before the industrial revolution, people typically worked about 4 hours per day, leaving more time for socializing, playing, and interacting with the world.  Could we actually be better off if people realized that having what we need is enough, and a part-time schedule would simultaneously solve the problem of high unemployment rates & of employed people not having enough time to see family and frolic in nature?  All while we still make enough money to not go hungry or naked?  And then we all start planting gardens and holding hands and singing kumbaya.

In all honesty, a job can fulfill many different roles in your life – nowadays, it defines you (see: when you ask kids who they want to be when they grow up, they’ll tell you a profession).  A job could be a means to an end, all about the money.  It could be your passion, your calling.  I have mixed feelings about this job-as-passion notion: in any field, you have to pay your dues, so expecting fresh out of college that a job will fulfill all your interests and be constantly interesting … is unrealistic.  At the same time, creative and flexible jobs are in high demand, and you need career capital in order to obtain them.  But undoubtedly people’s feelings about their jobs are varied.

I have a hard time wrapping my mind around certain macro-level economic concepts.  This morning, I was reading about the unprecedented length of the Fed’s work to keep interest rates low, and had a hard time understanding how it’s clear that low interest rates will boost the economy and be good for our nation’s health in the long term.  I find it much easier to think on a micro level – ie, what can I do to make my life good, what are individual households or investors doing and why do they act the way they do.  That’s why I fund a Roth IRA (woot, maxed out for 2013 as of this morning).  It’s because I feel pretty powerless in making macro predictions – sure, I think the tax rate will go up, but who knows what I’ll be doing or making and what that’ll mean for me.  With a Roth IRA (putting in post-tax rather than pre-tax dollars like you would for a traditional IRA), I know exactly what taxes I pay now, and my investment is more under my control.  I know I will never have to pay taxes on the money in that account.

Happy 2013 everyone – I hope to do everything I can this year, on a micro-level, to make my life more awesome before moving onto changing the world in 2014 ;)  Oh, and I want to learn how to sew & write my first book.  What about you -- any resolutions (financial or otherwise) for 2013?

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