Usually, when this happens, I sit down and do a brain dump of all the thoughts swirling in my brain. Then I organise it, write several drafts, find a nice picture, and boom – we get another blogpost.
But after writing all Sunday, I still couldn’t get my head around it. Maybe you can help me out.
Here’s the thing: We talk a LOT about “financial freedom” these days. Specifically, financial freedom refers to the point when you realise that your wealth has grown SO LARGE that you never have to work any longer. Whenever I ask my readers why they’d like to start investing, the #1 reason is “to achieve financial freedom”.
Bloggers write about financial freedom as if it’s the Holy Grail. Early Retirement pundits devise elaborate spreadsheets to help you calculate the exact age when you can get there. We take it for granted that it’s THE goal we should all be striving towards.
But why should that be the case?
The “Necessary Evil” Argument
In the American version of The Office, there’s a droopy-eyed character called Stanley.
From Season 1, it’s clear that he does not want to be there. He does crossword puzzles at meetings and doesn’t pay any attention to whatever his boss Michael says. The only time I’ve seen Stanley smile was when he thought that the whole office was being retrenched. He planned to take his severance package, travel the world, and retire.
Now, it seems that lots of people out there are like Stanley. They see work as a necessary evil: Something they have to do to pay the bills. They long for the day when they can throw their resignation letter on their boss’ desk, march out, and do something really meaningful.
The Necessary Evil Argument presupposes that there’s a divide between the work we’re doing now and the work that we SHOULD be doing.
To me, that’s why most people want to be financially free: So that their basic needs are taken care of, and THEN they can go do something more meaningful like raise their kids / serve the Church / build an orphanage in Cambodia.
The “My Work Has Purpose” Argument
One of my friends works at tech company. He complains about every aspect of life including traffic, politics and restaurants, but he absolutely loves his job. He truly believes that his company is changing the world for the better.
By the way, it doesn’t mean that you have to work for Google or some startup whose mission is to “make the world a better place”. Even the most mundane jobs can have purpose. Here’s a great example from Mark Zuckerberg’s commencement address at Harvard:
One of my favourite stories is when John F. Kennedy visited the NASA space center, he saw a janitor carrying a broom and he walked over and asked what he was doing. The janitor responded: “Mr. President, I’m helping put a man on the moon.”
Of course, a lot of it has to do with perspective. Talk to two janitors, and one will tell you that he’s just cleaning up after the ungrateful brats on Level 3, while the other will tell you that he’s helping to put a man on the moon.
In Team “My Work Has A Purpose”, there’s no divide: The work you should be doing IS the work you’re doing. Even though it’s not always easy and some days are frustrating, but you keep going because you’re driven by purpose.
So Why Should We Care About Financial Freedom?
So here’s the dilemma I’ve been pondering:
If you see work as a necessary evil, wouldn’t it be easier to simply find a more meaningful job than to struggle for many years towards financial freedom?
And if your work already has a meaningful purpose and you find fulfilment in it, why would you want financial freedom which is the option to quit your job?
I’m curious to hear from you:
- How do you view your work – as a necessary evil, or having a deeper purpose?
- In either case, why is financial freedom still a goal for you?
Let me know in the comments below – I read every one.
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