The other day a coworker and I were talking about work and our jobs in general. At some point the question “what would you do if you never had to work?” came up. For me, this is something I think about a lot, but for my coworker, it was an uncomfortable question.
His first response was defensive, as he insisted, “I loved my job!” He explained that he passionate about his work and had never thought about what he would do otherwise. He went on to say he wanted to work because it was challenging, satisfying and a whole pile of other positive things.
When I pushed him again with the question, “what would you do if you never had to work?” He took some time to think and then said, “I didn’t know.”
After a little more contemplation, he went on to tell me that his father retired at 50. “My dad retired early; now, he spends all his life in vacation mode. He never challenges himself or does anything productive.” After a pause, he continued, “I don’t want to be like him; I want to keep pushing forward forever.”
People Never Think about ‘what would you do if you never had to work.’
The next day, we met again and talked about some work-related topics. Later in the conversation, I brought up the question again, “what would you do if you never had to work?” This time he was more contemplative and said, “You know, I thought about that question last night, and I couldn’t think of anything.” I tried to comfort him by saying, “You only spent a few minutes thinking about it.” But this is the crux of the problem; people never think about these sorts of questions.
Whenever I ask people what they would do if they didn’t need to work, they almost always talk about how great their jobs are.
It is common for people to say, “I love my job” or “this position is great.” It is almost like people see thinking about not having to work as a criticism of their current job or employer. Talking about ‘work’ as a concept somehow gets confused with ‘this job.’
For some context, my current job is the best job I have ever had. The company I work for is very understanding of work-life balance. This is important for me as it allows me to pick up my child after school and not worry about making up the time. On top of this, as it is a government job, they offer more vacation time than most regular jobs. My only complaint would be that my salary is ok rather than great. You could say that my work is meaningful. The organization serves the public, and my role ensures everyone can access what we create.
But the problem isn’t the job per se; instead, the challenge is the idea of working indefinitely.
Even the best full-time job takes up most of our time and more or less determines what we can think and do. Again, this isn’t a criticism of any specific job; instead, the need to work as a central part of life often defines and confines us.
We Stop Thinking of Alternatives
Not feeling free to ask yourself, ‘what would you do if you never had to work’ isn’t a problem specific to our work lives. For most of our lives, starting in school and extending to adulthood, we are told what to do and how to think.
From when we start going to school till the day we retire, most of our choices are confined to circumstances outside of our control.
Unless you are wealthy or willing to go homeless, you pretty have to work and don’t have much freedom to think otherwise is possible.
But this is the point; we generally define ourselves by our jobs and the work that we do. Yet we have little choice about work in the first place, yet it takes up most of our waking time. The worst part isn’t so much about work; it is about not seeing options other than a traditional job. Yet, at the same time, everyday people worldwide do things that are different from what we would consider a typical job.
This isn’t about any specific job; it is about our obligations to life and work in general.
While going to school, we are taught how to think; when we graduate and get a job, we are once again told how to think.
The question, ‘what would you do if you never had to work?’ isn’t that important. Instead, what is essential is the idea that we are so used to the way our lives are that we can’t even think of an alternative way of being.
The Goal Is Your Definition of Freedom
The original question isn’t the point; instead, it is tough for us to think freely about what we want from life or what we do. So much of our lives revolve around being told what to do and how to think. Because of this, we try to squeeze all our potential into narrow bands of previously defined possibilities.
This isn’t about what would you do if you never had to work; instead, it is about figuring out what we want for ourselves.
The lesson here is that we don’t need to stick to what we have been told to want; instead, we have a choice, and we can live differently.
The other day, it was pouring rain outside, so I had no other choice but to go for a walk on the Path. For those who don’t know, The Path is an underground pathway and shopping centre in Toronto.
I wouldn’t say I like going down there unless I have to cause it feels like a sad unnatural place. But at the same time, it is a popular place for office works to get a break from their work. To me, the Path isn’t where I’d want to go, but it is a popular place for many of the workers in the area.
What feels right is taking a walking at a park where I am free to think. Whereas for most people, taking a walk on the Path and grabbing a coffee is enough.
Everyone has a different definition of what they want from life, so don’t let yourself get caught up in typical expectations.
So if you want something different, you need to be willing to step outside what most people do.
Your Choices Matter
What matters most is adding the things you choose to your life, rather than living only within the requirements of existence. Writing is satisfying and gives me the fulfilment that I can’t find in my day job.
For you, it might mean something different, but the key is that you must make a choice and do what you decide to do. In general, we need to take some time to think and reflect on what we want from our lives.
It is easy to sit on the sidelines and think, “I want a good job, and house, a pension…” But then ask yourself, is that all you want? Or is that what you think you are supposed to want? By no means am I saying those are bad things to want; security, a place to live and food to eat is of supreme importance.
If we focus too narrowly on the things we are supposed to want, we limit ourselves in discovering what we truly want.
The idea is that by asking, what would you do if you never had to work, you open yourself up to options outside of work.
I’m not suggesting you quit your job or drop out of school; instead, figure out what matters and focus on it. When you have a sense of purpose and passion, you can work towards living and more meaningful life.
Life is all about find your passions and working towards them.
It is essential to think carefully about what matters so that we can ensure we don’t get sucked into others’ expectations.
What do you want?
The most important thing to do is to figure out what you want from life. That said, if you are anything like my coworker, it is going to take some effort, as you likely have no idea. But once you put in some effort, you will have some ideas, which will open up possibilities.
Before you get too worried about the limits on your life, remember that you have a choice.
This is especially true when it comes to deciding what you want.
The real question becomes, what do you want from life? Do you want to live a meaningful life? Do you want a life that fulfils your passions? Do you want to live with purpose? Or do you just want a job and to forget about everything else?
Regardless of your answers to those questions, you first must realize that you need to choose to live your life your way.
After that, what you do is up to you. The key is that until you decide where you want to go, there is no way of getting there, so you must choose where you want to go.
So my question for you is, what would you do if you didn’t have to work? And if you haven’t thought about this question, why not?