Why I Don’t Offer Personal Advice on Living Without a Job

Why Work t-shirt

A promotional t-shirt with logo from D. JoAnne Swanson’s former project, whywork.org, started in 1998 and passed on to a new owner in 2004.

Based on some recent patterns I’ve observed in my e-mail inbox, I think it’s time for a gentle reminder that while I sincerely appreciate hearing from my readers, I cannot answer all my mail.  I do try to respond to mail when I can, but there are certain kinds of mail I will always decline to answer.  One of them is requests for personalised advice about how to survive, make money, or find a community after quitting or losing a job.  I virtually never answer these, although it’s not because I am unsympathetic to the struggles my readers face; in fact, these struggles are mine as well.

So, given that the subtitle of this site is Radical Alternatives to Conventional Employment, why would I leave this kind of mail unanswered?  Well, first of all, I have already devoted untold hours of my life to researching, writing, and putting together this website and its predecessor, CLAWS (Creating Livable Alternatives to Wage Slavery).  The bulk of what I know about radical alternatives to conventional employment can best be found in the links and book recommendations I have already made on this site, its predecessor, and its associated Facebook page.  Your time would be better spent exploring these resources than writing to me personally.

The rest of my writing on these topics will eventually be published in my book, assuming that someday I can manage to find a sustainable way to keep the bills paid while I finish writing it.  I wrote the first half of the book when my circumstances were more secure; for the past five years, however, I have been struggling and living hand-to-mouth.  I now have some paid work cleaning houses, but I’m still on food stamps because the income I make from housecleaning isn’t enough to live on…and of course the more housecleaning work I take on, the less time and energy I have to write, so at this point it’s anybody’s guess when my book will finally be finished.

Second, your life is unique.  Your best answers are going to come through your own earnest efforts.  I don’t have solutions that will apply to other people’s lives, and frankly, I’d be skeptical of anyone who claimed they did.  I’m a writer.  That’s what I do.  I share my own ideas and experiences via the written word, and I point out resources that I’ve found helpful.  That’s the best I can do.  And sometimes I’m just too busy or exhausted from my “day job” or other responsibilities to write or maintain my web sites and social media accounts, so I can’t even do that much.

Third, I am hardly a role model for the job-free life.  As it happens, I have spent a good deal of my own life experimenting with various ways to minimise my reliance on jobs I don’t enjoy, and although I live simply by North American middle-class standards, I do not live a job-free life.  Not even close, in fact.  I’m in my mid-40s now.  My youthful idealism has been thoroughly tempered by devastating losses, and seasoned by the simple passage of time.  I have modified my plans accordingly.

But just in case I should happen to kick the bucket before I manage to finish my book, I’ll give you in one sentence my best advice on surviving without a job.  It certainly won’t satisfy the reader who called my writing “eco-pixie” (ha!  I guess I’ll own up to that one…) but it is in fact my best advice:

Learn how to listen to the land, and let it guide you.

I mean that quite literally.

There is a reason I refer to my studio in Portland as “The Hermitage.”  One of the reasons I so fiercely protect my solitude and my free time is to preserve the conditions that support quieting myself inside and slowing down enough to perceive the guidance of the land.  I consider stones, trees, and plants my elders and my teachers.  I have offered myself into their service.  I do not serve “jobs” or “the economy” except to the extent that I must do so in order to provide for my basic needs, and even then, something deep within my bones still resists that coercive force – so much so that I am still stubbornly working on Rethinking the Job Culture 15 years after I started it.  Whenever I need to know what to do next, I ask the land, I listen carefully and attentively for the answer, and then I act on the guidance I receive to the best of my ability.

The land teaches me about my own gifts, and how best to use them in service of the things that matter most.  You have gifts, too.  Everyone does.  No matter how humble your circumstances, you have something valuable to offer the world.  As I see it, fulfillment in work is a product of using your gifts in service of something larger than yourself – something you believe in.

One of the lessons I’ve learned from the land I serve is that what I receive follows in large measure from what I give.  If I do this – if I focus on finding ways to use my own gifts to serve something greater than myself – then I receive support in response.  Sometimes this support is financial, but not always.  Nonetheless, it is there.

You can step into this flow of give-and-receive as well, should you wish to do so.  Instead of writing to me to ask for personalised advice on how to live without a job or find a community, you can think about what really matters to you most.  Ask yourself questions like: “What would I do if I knew I only had a year to live, but knew for sure that I’d be healthy and financially stable enough during that time that I could engage my gifts fully to meet the urgent needs of the world?  How, specifically, would I spend that time?”  If you can answer honestly, your answer should point you toward something you care about.  After you are gone, how would you like the world to be different as a result of your presence in it?  It doesn’t need to be something grandiose, either; in fact, using your gifts for something as simple as giving hugs or sincere words of appreciation can be life-changing.

You may or may not be able to use the gifts you have to earn money in a conventional job or find the community you’re hoping for, but you do need to develop them and use them in service of something that matters to you if you want to live a satisfying life.  And as I have said many times before, it’s possible to have a job – yes, even a paid job – without being a wage slave.  Challenging, perhaps, but possible.

So that’s my advice.  It’s not personalised, but I hope it’s helpful anyway.  If you’d still like to write to me even after reading all that, know that I do welcome e-mail from readers; it’s always nice to know that my work is being read, discussed, and enjoyed.  However, the lesson I mentioned from the land can be applied to e-mail correspondence too:

What you receive follows in large measure from what you give.