It always amuses me when I hear people talk about occupations that offer a lot of ‘job security’, or a ‘job for life’. If there is one thing that the recent Financial Crisis has taught us, it’s that the whole concept of job security is a fallacy. We live in a globalised world where change is rapid – and sometimes painful. Some of us are able to cope with, or even thrive upon, such a fluid state of affairs; others struggle to reconcile themselves with a world where the only certainty is change.
A common reaction is to ‘live for the moment’, a concept which usually entails spending all your income (and sometimes more besides!) on instant gratification. What’s the point in saving when you could fall under a bus tomorrow? You only live once. You can’t spend it when your dead. This mentality has always struck me as illogical, given that the chances of an early death are remote, whereas the likelihood of being trapped in a sub-optimal living pattern is a near certainty under such a mentality.
Buy now, PAY later
Unfortunately, however, it is the buy now, pay later (i.e. for the rest of your life) mentality that currently prevails in our society. The first major implication of such a lifestyle is dependency on continuous employment. People buy stuff – houses, cars, stuff to put in their houses etc. – and then spend most of their lives working to pay for it.
Now, this might not be a problem for the small minority of people who truly love their job; but for the vast majority of us who do not, it is surely less than ideal. Nevertheless, it is the situation that the vast majority of us choose to create and perpetuate for ourselves, mostly because we are conditioned by the pressures of ‘society’ and what we see as ‘normal’. Indeed, the prevailing social norms are so powerful that most people sleep-walk into this situation without even questioning its virtues (or lack thereof).
Dependency on employment creates anxiety in many of us. What happens if I lose my job? How will I continue to pay the mortgage? Will I have to get into debt? It is no coincidence, then, that depression is on the rise, with much of it being work-related. As a wave of redundancies swept through the nation in the wake of the Financial Crisis, employees began to work longer hours, sometimes for free, in order to prove to their employers how valuable they were and thereby ensure it was the guy sitting next to them that joined the dole queue.
In addition to the mental toll, there is also the very heavy (literally!) physical toll to take into account. Obesity has reached epidemic proportions in the West due to poor diet and lack of exercise. Given the shift towards sedentary professions, the workplace has to bear a large share of the blame for this unhappy development. Long hours mean that most of us are too tired to exercise in our spare time, with most preferring to sit in front of the TV – a device whose raison d’être is to reinforce our inner consumer and further bind us to the consumerist system.
Exercise, for many people, has become just another chore to make time for. On the flipside, many of us are prone to doing things that are harmful to our health, such as binge-drinking and smoking, to help ameliorate the monotony of work and give us that ‘quick fix’, a brief but happy interlude from the drudgery of modern life. The irony is that we then spend most of our retirement trying to reverse the effects of an unhealthy lifestyle – by which time it is of course too late.
Take back control
The good news is that there is nothing inevitable about living this kind of lifestyle. In the 1930s, the renowned economist John Maynard Keynes envisioned a future in which man would be faced with a “permanent problem – how to use his freedom from pressing economic cares, how to occupy the leisure… to live wisely and agreeable and well”. Keynes thought this utopian state of affairs might be reached as early as 2030.
Yet here we are in 2014, and many of us are working just as hard despite the fact that we are now infinitely more productive as workers, due to advances in technology etc. Why? The answer lies in the fact that the bar for an average lifestyle rises with every generation – i.e. we feel we ‘need’ more stuff to live a ‘normal’ life. In other words, we now live in an economy whose productive capacity is such that collectively we could afford to work only a couple of days a week, if we were prepared to live a lifestyle that would be described as frugal by current standards.
By making the necessary lifestyle changes to move towards financial independence, job dependency can be progressively eroded to the point that you’re no longer gagging for that next paycheque, or sucking-up to the boss for that pay-rise or promotion. It’s hard to convey the sense of freedom and control of one’s destiny that making the steps towards financial independence can bestow, but to paraphrase Mel Gibson, “they may take our jobs, but they’ll never take OUR FREEDOM!”