Thursday, June 12, 2008

Less work - more life

Like many kids, I started working odd jobs when I was 10 - baby-sitting, yard work, etc. By the time I was 16 (and supposed to get a "real" job), I was baby-sitting, cleaning houses, and working at Taco Hell (I mean Bell - sorry). In college, it was baby-sitting, cleaning houses, and a 20-hr a week job at the University Library (I tried to work more, but there were rules to the contrary). Needless to say, I graduated as quickly as I could (in 3 years) with the anticipation that I could actually cut it down to holding down only one job. Sweet! Fortunately, I'm a tightwad and all that work got me through school without any debt.  Unfortunately, all that work meant that I hit my mid-life crisis in my 20's. But, I suppose there are worse things. 

From 1995 to 2003, I worked a series of jobs. I started out as a temp, became an administrative assistant, then a purchasing manager, then an administrative assistant again, and finally a project coordinator.  I even had my own cake decorating business in there somewhere. Despite the many different positions I held and places I worked, nothing was fulfilling. I never felt inspired by anything in particular. I was working to meet my basic needs, maybe do some travel and hoping all the time that someone had made a serious type-o and that retirement was really at 35, not 55 (this hasn't panned out yet, but I'm still working on it - 35 is less than 6 months away).

During some of that time (starting in 1998, really), I had started to take steps to simplify my life - weed out all the fluff. And after 5 years of downsizing, I was ready to take the next step. Despite all the external expectation and pressure for bigger and better things, in 2003 I moved back to Texas and accepted a 20-hour a week part-time job as a research assistant. The difference is amazing!

All the sudden all those extra hours meant I could take my time getting up in the morning, spend my afternoons running errands, take a walk, work around the house, blog, read a book (or two or three), meditate, visit my grandparents, relax in the library, have a long lunch with a friend or a secret rendez-vous with my husband.  It meant that the extra time it takes to ride the bus or my bike just isn't an issue. All the sudden, my life was about anything I wanted it to be. What freedom! 

On top of it all, because of my health issues, I have been able to work from home as needed. What can be more simple, green and frugal as not having to spend time and money on gas and extra dress clothes just to be at the office (not that I wouldn't much rather feel better, but this opens my world up to even more options)!

I know. I've been lucky. So many people just don't have these options.  But for those of us who do (and don't find much fulfillment in the old 9 to 5)? I've never regretted it. Not for a second. The money is just money. But that extra time, the NOT rushing from point A to point B - it opens your eyes to things you would have missed before and opens up the opportunity for every moment to be an adventure. It has given me time to concentrate on the things things I really enjoy; the flexibility to make green, environmentally-friendly choices; and it's shown me that being frugal doesn't mean sacrificing what matters most.  

Working part-time has been one of the most wonderful opportunities in my life - at least until I can convince the government that retirement was meant to start at 35 (keep your fingers crossed). 


Burbanmom said...

Yeah, the old "working to live" somehow morphed into "living to work" for many of us. So glad to hear you were able to opt out! :-)

Life is meant to be savored. Why wait until you're 65 to start enjoying it?

Green Bean said...

Great point. Before I quit to take care of my son, I began working part time or at home. It was amazing how my stress level suddenly went down, how I didn't need to rush around. I could stop and work in the garden, walk to town, sit around in my pjs.

As Burbs says, life is meant to be savored - not spent working.

CindyW said...

hear hear! I want to retire at 35 as well. That hasn't happened!

I was a management consultant working 60+ hours a week and flying all the time. There was "preceived prestige" and some intellectually interesting aspect to it. But I did not see any meaning in my work. So a couple years later, I lost my motivation to keep plugging away.

Then kids came along, making that kind of lifestyle utterly unattractive.

I left the consulting firm and started my own independent consulting. I get to dictate how many hours and where I work. I get to spend way more time with my children, exercise and take long vacations. Anyway now I work to live.

It's still a struggle for me to find time to read though :)

Heather @ SGF said...

Sometimes I feel a lot of pressure at the office to go back to full time or at the least to take on extra projects here and there. I've taken on extra projects in the past, but just recently said no to one. I felt kinda crummy saying no, but I have to set a limit somewhere. It's encouraging to know I'm not the only one stepping outside the norm.

Anonymous said...

in the last few months i've been struggling with fewer hours at work and the same stack of bills, including a heinous mortgage. it's just me and the kids so not only is there no second income, there's no one to listen to my worries and frustrations. the alternative: insomnia while the monkeys do their "oh no" dance inside my head. this sounds odd, but the minute i made my first "looks like bread, smells like bread, tastes like bread HOLY CRAP I MADE BREAD!" loaf of bread, the monkeys went away. then i began to see the hours at home for what they really are, the gift of time with my kids. the opportunity to learn new skills. who needs new couches, wallpaper, flooring, and on and on when all it means is you're chasing the next paycheck and losing everything of real value in the process.

Anonymous said...

I really believe that one of the most important parts of Living Simple is freeing up one's time for what's important in life. There is so much of life we miss when we are stuck in the 9 to 5 grind, our kids are stuck in school all day, and nobody seems to have time to do anything anymore.

sharli said...

I admire your ability to say no to projects! I'm still working on that one. :) I hope to be able to go back to part-time one day. I loved it the 6 months I was able to do it! But, if all goes as planned, hubby should be able to stay home soon. That will really help simplify our life....which is my number one goal these days.

Beany said...

For quite awhile I struggled to obtain jobs or couldn't work because of immigration issues (I am a law abiding citizen). So now that I finally can work full time and legally, I find that it wasn't worth all the pain and trouble I went through to get here.

We've managed to reduce our living expenses to a level we are comfortable with. I've been thinking about whether I'd like to go back to working part time again in about 2-3 years.

I agree that life is meant to be savored. Why wait?

Heather @ SGF said...

beany - I totally understand your frustration. I dated a greek man for 5-1/2 years while he was in the states getting two masters degrees and it was a constant battle, not to mention the worry of - if he went home for a visit, was there going to be an issue of him being able to get back in the country. It was hard at times. Eventually, he decided that working and living in Europe was a better option.