Posted On 15 Sep 2009
Let’s use “unemployment” only to refer to not having a job. To have a job is to trade your time and effort for money. If you don’t need the money a job would provide, there’s nothing wrong with being unemployed; however, if you need the money, being unemployed can be very stressful.
Since it’s possible to own your own job, this yields five categories:
(1) You want to be employed because you need the money, but you are unemployed.
(2) You are employed because you need the money, and you own your own job.
(3) You are employed because you need the money, and someone else owns your job.
(4) You are employed even though you don’t need the money.
(5) You don’t want to be employed, and you don’t need the money.
Most employees are in category 3; most people have jobs because they need them and they work for someone else. (Though I intend to discuss it in another post, the difference between categories 2 and 3 isn’t important for this post.)
Distinguish the idea of employment from the idea of working. It’s good to work; it’s practically impossible to have high-self esteem without being productive and doing good work. It’s good to work for the well-being of others; it’s how sages live. There’s no serious issue about that.
There is, on the other hand, a serious issue about whether or not it’s good to be employed. If you have a job, there may be many days when you wish you could do something else instead of having to go to work at your job! (I challenge you to talk to any employee you want and to find one who doesn’t recognize this.)
Of course, the benefits of having a job are good. There’s nothing wrong with money, prestige, having a sense of purpose or identity, and other goods that can come from having a job. There are, though, usually other ways to get those benefits without having to work at a job. Furthermore, every job has its downside as well.
Which category listed above would it be best for you to be in? Since being in one category isn’t necessarily better than being in another category, it’s not obvious.
Still, not needing the money, being in either category 4 or 5, seems to me to be the best. Why? Because you can still be employed and not need to be employed. If you are employed, it’s better not to need to be employed than to need to be employed. You can still enjoy the benefits of being employed even if you don’t need the financial benefit of being employed. If you don’t need your pay, give it to your favorite charity!
Again, I don’t think there’s a serious issue about that. Who wouldn’t prefer the freedom of being able not to be employed to the slavery of having to be employed?
There are, though, people who lie to themselves about that. If you have to be in category 2 or 3, then you might think that you would stay there even if you became financially independent. The only test that counts is to see what you actually do if you became financially independent. In fact, many people who are financially independent are not employed.
This doesn’t mean that they don’t work! Many do.
It’s natural to want to do your best at something that really resonates with you. What would you spent a lot of time and effort doing if you had the chance? Would you write poems, novels, or movie scripts? Would you be an inventor? Would you work in a lab investigating diseases? Would you teach the illiterate how to read? Would you care for endangered species? Would you do archaeology to try to understand the rise and fall of ancient civilizations? Would you master a musical instrument? Would you retire from the world and spend your days practicing spiritually to unite with the Divine?
It would be good to have the freedom to spend as much time doing what you really want to do, wouldn’t it? You know how to recognize such work because it is wholly absorbing. When you have found your niche and are working in it, you are focused solely on what you are doing. You lose time consciousness—and awareness of your surroundings. You actually lose self-consciousness. That’s living well!
Of course, if you are able to find employment to follow your passion, terrific! (In a sense, that’s the good fortune I had for 32 years as a philosophy professor. It was sometimes hard to believe that someone would actually pay me to help others think better about living well!)
If you are unable to find such employment, might it be worth it to set yourself up in the fourth or fifth category? There’s no way to tell; there’s no knowledge of whether or not it would be the right course for you to pursue. What I’m suggesting is only that you consider it seriously.