Why are you working?

Have you ever asked yourself: “Why am I working?”  On every work day, you are woken up by the alarm clock, and start a new day in the same way: wash, eat, dress up, and rush to work, no exceptions.

Working for 8 to 10 long hours each day is pretty much normal right now, with tons of meetings, deadlines, phone calls, and emails and text interruptions.  It’s like hundreds of things are racing crazily and competing for your attention.  You are lost.  “What should I work on right now?”  Your to-do list becomes thinner in the morning, but grows fatter in the afternoon hopelessly.  It’s the nature of work.

Finally it’s the time to go home.  You just can’t wait to get out of the office, no matter what.  But, the rush hour traffic is not pretty.  You have to sit there on the road for 20-30 minutes, and watch some lovely people cutting the line.  At the end, you are at home safely, and totally exhausted.

Are you happy about this kind of rat race?  Let me ask in another way: are you tired of the same routine year after year?

When working as an IT engineer, I was very much tired.  I felt I was a robot.  Near the end, I had to speed up the saving and investing, and tried to find a way to get out of it.

Why was I working at that time?  The answer is pure and simple: I needed the money.

It doesn’t sound noble, right?  We don’t have to pretend to be that noble.  Life is very real and brutal sometimes.  At least, my answer is honest.

I know, many people over there may not agree with me.  That’s fine, everyone is different.  The difference should be respected.  And it makes this world beautiful.

I feel that, there are three groups of people.  More accurately to say, some belong to one of the three groups, while others are the combinations of the two or three groups:

  • Group #1: people keep working because of money:

I’m a typical example.  Almost 4 years ago, after I had saved and invested enough money, I decided to retire early at the age of 49.  My retirement life has been happier and healthier, and I won’t complain about it.  Looking back, I’m glad I made that bold call.  No regrets here.

So far I have retired for about 200 weeks.

How many weeks is the time-off for a regular employee?  Let’s say, 2 weeks of holidays, and 3 weeks of vacations.  That would be 5 weeks in total, per year.

So, in order to accumulate the 200 weeks time-off, an employee has to work for 200 / 5 = 40 years.  Wow, that’s a long time.

  • Group #2: people work because they simply love the job:

Are you one of them?  If yes, congratulations!  You are the lucky one.

How sweet it is to work for fun, and get paid nicely?  That’s a paradise.  But probably not many people fall into this category.

Do you know anyone who is in this category?  Exclude those celebrities, please.  When they say in front of the camera that, they love what they do, it may be true, and may not be.  It’s hard to tell unless you really know them in person.

I thought about this for a while.  Of all the people I know, none of them is truly in this category.  Some might like their job 60 – 75% of the time, but that’s not the same as totally loving the job.

  • Group #3: people work because they can’t live without it:

Ha ha, this is a very interesting group.  They are not strangers.  I’m sure you see some around.  And I can name quite a few in my circle.  They are the hard-working people, and some are sort of workaholics in my eyes.

For those people, money is not an issue.  They don’t need extra money.

Then, why do they work?  They don’t know what to do if they stop working.  To them, life is work, and work is life.  I respect their choices and work ethics.

Do they really love the job?  Is their job really that meaningful?  Not necessarily for either questions.  But many choose to work to their late 70s or even 80s.  It’s just like walking on a treadmill.  Don’t ask them where they are going.  As long as they are moving, they feel fine and safe.

They don’t like the interruptions to the work routine.  Why bother?  They have been working for 40 or even 50 years, it’s their pace of life.  To them, slowing down is hard.  Staying at home let them feel bored, isolated, unproductive, and guilty.  Working is part of who they are.

One time, I heard about a story in central Ohio.  A lady had been working for the State for about 50 years, and chose not to retire.  Actually her take-home pension would be even higher than her take-home salary (because some taxes and the union fees are gone after retirement), if she retired.  She must have the strong motivation to get up to work every day.  Good for her!

Summary: 

No matter which group(s) you are in, I hope you’ll achieve your goals.  If you don’t like to work, I hope you can retire soon like I did.  If you like or love the job, keep enjoying it.

I was inspired by the following two posts lately, and decided to share my thought about it.  Thank you, Joe and Justin:

Dear readers, why are you working every day?  If you had a choice, would you still work on the same job or do something else?  Please let us know.

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12 Responses

  1. Hi Helen, I think we are somewhat “wired” that work is what we are supposed to do. And some folks just do not think out of the box enough to consider other alternatives. Tom

    • Retire Early Helen says:

      Hi Tom, that’s really true: we are wired that way most of the time. It’s not seeming normal if we don’t work. It’s not easy to walk out of the box, and stay out of it.

  2. Steveark says:

    I was that guy that loved his job and even after 30 years at it I could sit back and honestly think that I would probably do it for free. However I also saved aggressively and eventually, a few years before normal retirement age I did stop and ask myself why I was working with millions invested and tons of hobbies and volunteer work I enjoyed, did it really make sense to still be on call 24×7 x365 running a big chemical complex? I honestly had to tell myself, heck no! And I walked away. But for a long time is was one of my favorite hobbies and with no commute I still had loads of family time. Finally a new ultra demanding senior management team and the risk of personal liability if something went terribly wrong at the plant just outweighed the fun parts of the job. But I’m not sorry I worked as long as I did, I was no workaholic, I just had a lot of fun with the work.

    • Retire Early Helen says:

      Hi Steveark, I’m so glad to hear you are one of the few luckiest folks. Wow, after 30 years, you still loved your job. That’s amazing. Definitely I see your point about deciding to retire, no matter how much fun the job was. Being on the call is a lot of responsibility. I was on the call during the last 8-year engineering job, and I hated it. It’s great you walked away from the job you loved, and started a new chapter of your life. Congrats!

  3. Joe says:

    Thanks for the mention! At the end of my career, I worked because I needed the money. When I was young, it wasn’t like that. The money was good, but I learned a lot too. There are many benefits from working other than money. You have friends. a schedule, and things to do. Work is good if the environment is nice.

    • Retire Early Helen says:

      Hi Joe, very good point. So it’s related to the work environment. If it’s not that bad, probably working is pleasant in some way, at least bearable, plus we are getting paid.

      To me, a job is more a necessity financially. So far I have not found a job that is really fun. But it could change down the road. I’ll keep my mind open.

  4. GYM says:

    Perfect post for today! I had a rough work day, working 8 hours, scarfed down lunch, then went home and worked some more for another 2 hours after I put my toddler to sleep. 10 hours!! It made me miss my maternity leave time when I had freedom to just go outside for a walk or spend my time how I wish instead of getting interrupted all the time with phone calls, texts, people standing at my office haha.

    • Retire Early Helen says:

      Hi GYM, that’s a lot of working hours. That’s one of the reasons we want to live frugally, as the money didn’t come easy. Working full time could be stressful sometimes, and taking care of toddlers is not easy. You have handled very well.

  5. Caroline says:

    Hi Helen, I think a large number of people fall in category #3 , even some of our favorite FIRE bloggers! Why would they keep putting in so many hours into blogging if it wasn’t for a need to be working!
    I know many argue that blogging is not working because they love it, but when you consider the amount of time required to blog , the schedules and for some of them the payout. Sounds like work to me.
    I like being busy and plan to keep working for as long as I can, whether it is paid or not as long as I enjoy it.
    Great post.
    Caroline

    • Retire Early Helen says:

      Hi Caroline, good point. I also wonder why those FIRE bloggers keep blogging, some even do two or three posts a week. That’s quite a lot of work.

      To me, even posting once a week is hard. It is work. I’m still struggling sometimes. If money is not an issue, I prefer a slow life, for now.

      • WTK says:

        Hi Helen,

        I try to update one post per day. You may find it to be hard. I post because I want to and not because I have to. I usually post the details which is reflected in my mind at the point of time. I do not try to make the effort to think of the topic in which I intend to mention in the post.

        I also prefer a slow life which allow me to keep fit and do some form of thoughts on my future activities given that I am on the verge of leaving the full-time employment in less than two weeks’ time. I believe that I will have more time to write the post when I leave the full-time employment.

        WTK

        • Retire Early Helen says:

          Hi WTK, it’s cool you enjoy writing. Yeah, once you leave the full-time job, I’m sure you’ll get a lot of time to do whatever you like to. That’s the beauty of freedom. Enjoy it!

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