When I left my job to try some new stuff, I got some decent investment offers, but I decided that doing some consulting work to sustain myself was better when I didn’t even have a concrete plan. My ideas for a product didn’t quite materialize since I gradually started losing my excitement for them. realized that I just wasn’t an entrepreneur material.
Meanwhile, I was also getting some decent projects to work on as a freelancer. I have worked on some really great projects and I’ve had a lot of fun. After some time, I started getting more and more offers for work, which is great, by the way. Especially because I get to choose which projects to work on without having to worry about how I’d pay for my next book from Amazon. Which means that I let some of those projects go by. I’m not running a consultancy to offload that work. Which also means that I’m not earning as much as I could. On the other hand, whatever time I get in exchange for that, I spend it on other things that I want to do. In last one year, I started traveling more, I am reading and learning more, and I even started this, however badly written, blog.
At least in India, leaving your well-paying job is still not a norm. The question of finances sometimes comes up while talking with friends or relatives. And I ended up mentioning that I wasn’t taking up some projects that could pay more money. When this comes up, I am sometimes told that I should accept those projects, regardless of whether or not I’d enjoy them, so that I can retire early and do those other things later. I think I understand the idea behind this. I understand that we want to wrap things up and then have some leisure time without any distractions. Nice, clean breaks. That’s probably why I think everyone starts getting into a bad mood on the last day of the vacation, or even the Sunday evenings.
I have decided, despite all the stuff my brain throws at me, fears and insecurities, that this might not be a really great idea. It doesn’t work apparently, based on what I have seen so far.
But the main thing is that I don’t want to retire. Regardless of how boring the work sometimes gets, and it does get boring sometimes. I get a lot of satisfaction from the better parts of my work. I also think that most of my confidence comes only from doing good, productive work, and that confidence spills into all the other areas in my life.
Too much of non-productive time also begins to feel a little boring. And by productive, I just don’t mean earning money. It could be anything, like learning math, learning to invest, teaching to somebody, or even writing a blog post, or just thinking about something you read. People who have a lot of free time are the people who are waiting for the updates of the like-count on their facebook posts. These are the people who become dependent on others to build their confidence. And it’s always a disaster.
When people are overworked, I think they dream of running away from it all, permanently. I think most of them underestimate how much their work contributes to their overall happiness. Even if it’s a crappy job, I know people who do it well enough and find ways out of it or make it worthwhile. And as the legendary geek Amar Bose said, job is what you make it1.
I know how important money is. I even grew up on Ayn Rand2. I have been spending quite a bit of time to learn investing; By going through several books, a lot of statistics and a microeconomics course. Doing something that pays your bills is extremely important. And no matter what your hobbies are, be it climbing the Everest, or trolling others on the internet, everything costs money. So, I have no delusions about that. All I am saying is that hoarding money so that you can retire comfortably and sail into the sunset with your trophy wife, is a dream that generally fails to materialize.
This is also not an argument against hard work. I think hard work is fun, and deeply satisfying. Most of the time, whenever I’ve had to push myself hard to get something done, it has always been a pleasure. I have worked through weekends, stayed long nights and logged 60 hours of work on 40 hour contracts. Those have always been good times, and the end results have been fulfilling. Good work, and the subsequent feeling of accomplishment, is probably the biggest thing contributing to my happiness.
When I say that I don’t want to retire, I don’t mean to say that I will always continue to be a programmer. I think that will depend on a lot of factors. It might get old. And the world is changing too fast to make that kind of plans over a 5 year horizon. Although, it does look like programming will continue to fit the bill for the foreseeable future. It continues to be challenging and there are always new, exciting things to learn and do, and it pays reasonably well.
However, when that inevitable robot revolution comes in 2045, things may get out of hand. It could end well, and we may live in peace with the robots. And in that scenario, maybe I’ll take up a teaching job because I obviously won’t be able to compete with the robots in programming; specifically because they would be able to sit in the same chair for a week straight, unlike me, who would have to get up every hour to stretch my human legs. They also wouldn’t need to spend time on reddit arguing over whether to use vi or emacs because they wouldn’t even need a text editor, let alone syntax highlighting or auto completion. I am resting my hopes on the idea that the kids wouldn’t want to be taught by the robots who took away their parents’ jobs. If it’s a dystopian world, ala The Matrix, maybe Morpheus will pick me up to fix the shitty parts on the Nebuchandnezzar; and I’ll be ready for that since I’m learning to do some mechanic work.
The point is, I don’t want to make that doomed-to-fail plan where I work on whatever pays the most money for 20 years, hoping for a happy retirement. I want to keep working for as long as I can. But I mostly want to choose work based on its quality, rather than the size of the paycheck. I’m okay with a little less money. My leisure time mostly involves traveling, reading or learning some new stuff. And since all of that requires at least some mental and physical abilities, I guess I’ll be able to work for them as long as it’s possible for me to enjoy them. After that, I wouldn’t care.
EDIT: 2017-06: Seneca agrees with me.
If you haven’t seen that video yet, I highly recommend you do so. For one, Amar Bose is one ultimate nerd. The reflections are priceless. It’s actually so good, I was tempted to take that entire course in acoustics. You can ignore the first few minutes probably where he does a demo of an acoustics problem. The rest is, I repeat, priceless. ↩
I know that some of her fiction work involved some really lame stuff. I don’t care. I think the central ideas about fair exchange of values and the inevitability of reality are solid. ↩