The Idlers Guide to Unjobbing

“Never underestimate the power of stupid people in large groups”

George Carlin

  People are either fascinated by my attitude to work or they find it abhorrent. I prefer to spend my time with the first group :). My personal experience has led me to conclude that paid work for big corporations or big government is unfulfilling and pointless. We only do it because we are paid and if we weren’t nobody would volunteer. But, what are the alternatives to the career salary – really? We all must suffer work my lovely Mother tells me. It is just how the world is. Most interesting to me is the observation that almost all of my colleagues, my friends, my family and pretty much every casual acquaintance that I meet moans about how much they hate their boss, their job or their company. The interesting bit is that very few people question the basic assumption that they are trapped in some form of salaried work. Too many people I fear unquestioningly accept that their job = their life. What if they just stopped turning up at their job? Could they find a way to feed their families? Ye Gods how to pay the bills! What might happen in the future without the security of the salary? So generally we don’t question our lot in life. We trudge on in our unhappy morning march to the office. We don’t seek alternatives. We completely ignore more exciting possibilities. I am here to tell you that there are ways to restructure our life and the only way to live contentedly is to align ourselves with  labours of love. Now I am not about to give you an exact guide specifically describing how you will unjob yourself, but I believe that I can share with you a few keys to the locks that bind you in subservience to the petty demands of your corporate overlords. We matriculate to safe, steady jobs because we are afraid and it is the fear created by the company that keeps us there and working hard without much supervision or the need for physical coercion. It is principally our fear of being fired that leads us to meekly suffer the indignities of the career. Our fear of the future is also an unnecessary anchor that ties us down in boring work. Because we are afraid (taught and constantly reminded) it will be better to dip our toes into unjobbing before going cold turkey. Far less of a shock than leaping off the cliff. By that I mean keep your job, but while you are still employed try your hand at every cottage industry that excites you. Make your Grandma’s secret recipe jam and sell it at the craft market on Saturday. If demand exceeds supply quit one day of salaried work to pick, boil and jar. Teach night school to adult learners on topics you are passionate about (playing the guitar, photography for beginners, vegan cookery). Forget whether or not you are qualified to teach. If you love it and spend lots of time doing it you will be an engaging teacher that delivers value to your students.

So Key One: Build up to a river by monetising your passions. Get out of the habit of thinking large single income. Instead think about creating small streams of income that combine to form the river you require. Use your money to create money and turn your mind to finding fun ways to get paid to play. I have found that I don’t care that I get paid below minimum wage teaching children how to surf in summer. I would do it for free. The fact I am paid is all the merrier. For me the test on unjobbing yourself is that you find it hard to decide where your life stops and your work starts. In growing surplus vegetables and seedlings I gain food for my family, a small income from my neighbours and all while enjoying the outdoors, pottering about, and caring for my children. Children love dirty hands!

Key Two: Pick the appropriate financial scale for your ventures Wh atever endeavour you engage in look to thoroughly test it. Test, test, test. Never stop testing it for free (or at very low input cost) before sinking your life savings. In fact I strongly support notable economist E.F Schumacher’s contention that individuals should have the means to create sustainable income on the equivalent of a year’s salary. What that means is that you should only start up your own business (a café, a digital photo printing booth, or a mountain bike guiding company) by spending no more than the take home earnings that you would receive in a single year from your current salary. Any venture bigger than that is beyond your current means and is not worth the risk.

Key Three: Start small and prove to yourself that unjobbing is viable Next point. You don’t need to completely forgo your career. I have enjoyed being part-time while unjobbing. I get a nice salary. I don’t get pulled into most of the corporate bullshit and because I am not a full-timer I seem to have escaped extra duties as I have shown no interest in the dangling carrot (promotion) and the empty promises therein.

Key Four: It is very hard until you right size your desire Be thrifty and minimalistic. Forfeit your material desires. At the core of simple living you must learning to be a peace with yourself. Happiness comes inside out not outside in and that nothing out in the world will compensate. If you really adopt this view then your cost of living and hence the money that you need to find each week is quite manageable.

Key Five: You will work longer and harder for way less money, but trust me it is worth it! No doubt it sounds like I recommend giving up an easy and secure salary to work 12 hours in menial low paid work. Well this is true, but for much of my day my work is my play and my play is my work. For example: Would I get on my mountain bike and drop off some rock for free? Absolutely! The fact that it was captured by a photographer taking shots for a magazine (riding technique article) is just good life management in my opinion. If his images ever sell I will receive a royalty. The other 99% of the riders in the park, many far better looking and more skilled than I, go unpaid for their fun. The difference is that I am inquisitive and I made a few phone calls to mates of mates. Do I make money from this regularly? Well no, but my availability is a big draw card for this cameraman and I guess that my rates are far lower than other non-celebrity professional bike models (if such people exist). I garden and make money. I don’t garden for money. Same thing with my bike. So my advice – start small, ease in gently. Keep your job as you unjob. Look at the things that you love to do and see if you could find a way to be paid for them. Explore your social networks.

Key Six: Agree to offers. Figure out how to do it later. Most of all agree to do things that there is no reasonable basis for you to take on and then learn how to do them later. I meet many people that I am certain are capable of doing any number of things better than me. The difference is that I am out there doing them while they are worried about what people might think of them if they fail.  I fail plenty, but I wake the next morning to new possibilities and a clear conscience. Failure is just learning in drag. As I said your path to unjobbing will be unique. To help in that process of discovery here are some of the things I’ve made money from in the couple of years. Please don’t ask about paying tax! Yet more robbers at our door!

Teaching: Woodwork, Office Suite, Surfing, Basic Bike Mechanics and Skills, Public Health (part of practicum at a med school)

Nature: Vegetables, Fruits, Native bushes, Trees, Plants, Chutney, Jam, Seeds  

Hobby Jobs (employed and self employed): Civil Engineering office based, Cafe Hand, Labourer (carpet laying and electrical work), Handyman (embarrassingly poor one indeed), Child Minder (since I do it for free anyways), Bike Mechanic/Shop Assistant, Graphic Designer, Technical Writer, Bike Courier, Model (of sorts!), Fruit Picker, Holiday Home Cleaner (free long weekend accommodation at holiday destinations – yippee), Landscaping, Planner (Transport), Painter, Gibstoppers assistant, Personal Trainer (run morning boot camps, teach running biomechanics etc).

Investment: Rental Income, Dividends from stock, EFTs, Interest on cash and term deposits. Prior to this small business holdings.

Other stuff: Event Management, Marshaling, Shoe maker (very unprofitable!!), Delivery Driver, Library Labourer/Shelver, Artist (sell at markets), Online Merchant (specialty food items, and unsuccessfully trying to sell upcycled furniture) …quite a bit of other stuff but you get the idea.

Supplementary questions – Aren’t you worried about your retirement years? No I hope to be able to do many of these things well into my golden age and I actually think the risk of losing all income from a salary job source at age 50 (well before planned) is scarier and more likely that not being able to earn like I do. If you can do many things you can always find something. Not true of the micospecialised professional. How do you find the time? Only sleep six hours and sell your television.

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