Thursday, November 17, 2016

Your lifestyle has already been designed, but it doesn’t need to be permanent

I recently read an old blog post on, a great blog I recently discovered that focuses on life hacking.  It’s a great post that has resonated with me titled: “Your Lifestyle Has Already Been Designed.”  The author David Cain writes about how corporations have helped to sustain a culture of consumerism, aided largely in part because of the 40-hour workweek. 

For as long as people have been employed in modern jobs, it has always been accepted that 40 hours a week is the standard.  Even with all the advances in modern science, technology, robotics, and software, the corporations still demand that employees put in 40 hours of work each week.  This leads to having less time to do the things we really want to do, and less time to spend with the people that we love.  David Cain at writes: “under these working conditions people have to build a life in the evenings and on weekends.  This arrangement makes us naturally more inclined to spend heavily on entertainment and conveniences because our free time is so scarce.”

Think about it.  For those working 40+ hours a week, what do they often do in their free time?   If your commute to work is over 30 minutes each way, how do you have time to cook food, exercise, entertain yourself and spend quality time with your family / friends when you get off work?  With free time being so limited, many people end up spending money to make themselves feel better and to make their lives easier.  People eat out instead of cooking healthy food at home.  People buy expensive cars to show off how successful they are.  People buy things to make themselves feel better, then let all this extra junk accumulate in their basement, garage, or public storage locker.  I’ve written before about how 75-80% of our neighbors have so much junk in their garage that they have to park their cars on the driveway or street. 

David writes that the 8-hour workday is too profitable for big business, not because of the amount of work people get done in eight hours but because it makes for such a purchase-happy public.  Keeping free time scarce means people pay a lot more for convenience, gratification, and any other relief they can buy.  It keeps them watching television, and its commercials.  It keeps them unambitious outside of work.  We’ve been led into a culture that has been engineered to leave us tired, hungry for indulgence willing to pay a lot for convenience and entertainment, and most importantly, vaguely dissatisfied with our lives so that we continue wanting things we don’t have.  We buy so much because it always seems like something is still missing.”  Such a true statement; and I see it everyday with my colleagues and friends.  Almost every one of my coworkers eats out for lunch daily – spending money on food and adding extra miles to their vehicles and extra weight to their bodies.  Eating out daily is unhealthy both for your physical self and also for your bank account balance.  Doctors at my hospital complain about not getting paid enough when many of them are making over 300K a year.  The doctors-only parking lot is filled with Teslas, Maseratis, Porsches, BMWs, Mercedes Benz, Audis and other luxury cars.

The 40-hour workweek is almost unavoidable in many careers.  For many employed jobs, either you work 40 hours a week or you don’t work at all.  If you don’t work a minimum amount of hours, you may lose access to company-sponsored health care, retirement plans (401K, 403B), paid time off, and more.  Most people have the same routine: wake up, get ready for work, commute to work, spend 8-9 hours in the office, commute from work, get home, eat, relax for a few hours, and then get ready for bed.  Repeat every weekday for 30+ years and then hope to have enough to retire someday.      

The 40-hour workweek is exhausting.  But it is the lifestyle that has been designed for many of us.  While conveniences and money spent towards travel and experiences can definitely be fulfilling, there needs to be a balance between saving and spending.  Saving aggressively towards financial freedom is best way to get out of the 40-hour workweek.  Otherwise you will be trapped in this vicious cycle of living life only in the evenings, weekends, and the occasional vacation – until you can no longer physically work.      

We are both working hard towards financial freedom right now.  We are saving and investing at least 50% of our income, and trying to have fun along the way.  We’ve made big advancements in our careers, yet we still have a long way to go.  A few years ago I made partner in my group, which has given me a few freedom benefits such as a 35-hour workweek and 7 weeks paid time off.  I’m looking to reduce my workweek to 4 days within the next 5 years.  My wife is hoping for an opportunity to work remotely from home.  While we both have a commute less than 15 minutes, we still feel like there isn’t enough time in each day. 

While we are stuck in this designed workweek and workday, I’m thankful that we have both found careers that are valuable and fulfilling.  Has your lifestyle been designed already?

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