Freedom is defined as “the power or right to act, speak, or think as one wants without hindrance or restraint.” In a first world, 21st century context, I define freedom simply as “the ability to navigate one’s entire day at a leisurely pace.”
Despite the undeniable evolution of the labor market that is fundamentally changing the standards of productivity, we continue to willingly enslave ourselves in corporate America – a sort of soft slavery without the whips, centered around unchecked consumerism. And because of the all consuming nature of capitalism, where work is the dominant occupier of our time (in a country where up to 75% of people despise their jobs), it is likely a leading cause of depression, obesity, and a dependence on anti-depressants that are used to place the mind in a sort of autopilot mode. For many, this is necessary to keep at this daily grind without breaking down.
The Myth Of Work-Life Balance
Everybody has a passion, hobby, or objective that brings purpose to one’s life, unlocking the potential for great creativity and insight. However, without the time to pursue these ends, we are slaves waking up to the brutal sound of an alarm and miserably dragging ourselves about – not aware and not in the present moment, but simply festering in misery like a rat on a wheel as our life flies by.
A weathered skeptic from a bygone era (dating back to when the American Dream actually was a plausible life model) may grandstand with cliches; “you work your 40 hours a week to support yourself and in your spare time pursue your dream!” Of course, the gaping flaw in this argument is that there is a total absence of balance in terms of time management within the current system.
It is safe to assume that for most the work week is closer to 50 hours than 40, between commuting in rush hour traffic plus unpaid lunches, “voluntary” conference calls, and answering emails from home on your “company phone”. What is left over is 50% of the hours in a week, but humans are most healthy sleeping 30% of the time. This leaves approximately 20% of the week left to pursue one’s personal goals, after spending half the week pursuing someone else’s.
Humans do not have an unlimited supply of energy. After 50 hours per week spent on menial tasks, or simply killing time in fluorescent-lit office buildings, the will to pursue creative goals is drained by the time those 5 leisure hours per day actually come. In other words, you are not likely to be anywhere near a peak performance during your 20% leftover leisure time.
Family men have it even worse, likely dealing with overlap, which is to say sub-zero time during the week – both the boss and the wife/kids want more while he has literally zero time to himself. For some strange reason, both men and your hardened corporate woman wear this “busy” label as a badge of honor, and even deploy it as a humblebrag. But is the perception of being important really worth all of this?
I would be remiss not to mention the effects of The Pink Doughnut Phenomenon, office politics, forced socialization, diversity training modules, among many other things that extend beyond the job description imposed during those 10 hours that are designed to break down your creativity such that, even absent all distractions, those 5 hours you have to yourself are unproductive, because your spirit is broken due to this endless cycle of compliance tests at work. All of this perpetuates the ever-increasing ego investment in your 9-5, which has become your entire identity.
We are all players in the petrodollar system whether we like it or not. Most of us are not going to pull a “Walden” and drop out of society, move to the woods, and live on fruit that we grow and fish that we catch ourselves. For as long as we require money to buy food, clothing, and shelter, we have to labor for money. From a personal perspective, what has worked to change my mindset is a conscious detox from the concept of the rat race. There are several ways this can be done – either through intense meditation, philosophical podcasts, solo travel, or some old fashioned reading. I have combined the practice of all four and have made a lot of progress.
It took hundreds of hours listening to the works of Joe Rogan, Alan Watts, and watching those cheesy motivational videos on YouTube to start to internalize opposition to this concept of the rat race. Meditation specifically helped to curtail the anger that I experienced during this daily grind, particularly helping to mitigate road rage during rush hour traffic. Now, even with more stints in corporate America seemingly likely for me, I am in a better position to deal with the stress going forward. I estimate that if everyone meditated for 20 minutes every morning before leaving for work, there would be a lot less noise pollution at 8 am and 5 pm.
Travel was an even greater form of detox, as I learned more about myself during 30 days backpacking Europe than I did during 5 years of college and 6 years in corporate America since. Solo travel is not easy and creates great challenges for a masculine man to overcome. It virtually obliterates your comfort zone. Getting ill with the flu in Spain and getting lost in rural France in the middle of the night, hungry, with no money, and a language barrier in place will humble a man more than any diversity training ever could. Naturally, I also noticed a heightened awareness that I had as I navigated those strange lands by day. I still remember thousands of tiny details from that trip.
How Much For Your Soul?
You might be asking yourself if the concept of a “detox” is melodramatic and really necessary, but it certainly is when I am advocating people leave their cushy $60,000 office job to potentially get a $12 an hour front desk job. The caveat is that of course this only applies if you have minimal liabilities, hate your job in corporate America and have no interest in climbing the ladder for the next 20-30 years, as therein lies the trap.
There is a stigma that better salaries and more promotions leads to an easier workload with less dirty work, because shit rolls downhill after all. However, many who have purged the 9-5 from their routine will tell you that the higher up that ladder you climb the more stressful it is, because the trap never really ends until you’re the owner and there are no more ways to move up. Since there will always be someone who makes more money, has a nicer lawn, or drives a nicer car, you will always be chasing that next carrot and you are not likely to achieve financial independence, because your expense spreadsheets and debts will continue to trend with your salary. This is the way consumerism and mass advertising works.
Understanding that until I am financially independent I still have to work to sustain food, clothing, and shelter, I have drawn up a budget and am seeking out lower stress, lower responsibility jobs that will pay me just enough to live, and am studying different ways to invest and possible entrepreneurial pursuits with all that free time regained.
The “detox” aspect is necessary because it takes conscious effort to undue these paradigms that have been hammered into people’s brains for decades. In the same way New Years Resolutions typically fade in about a week, a cubicle drone could have a momentary epiphany, but unless he builds on it then the adage that old habits die hard usually reigns supreme.