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Not working is not always joyful
on April 29, 2007
Believe it or not, I have the soul of a lazy person. I have enjoyed time off from 6 weeks to a year. I've enjoyed freedom in my work, especially now. So I totally understand the joy of Not Working.
Zelinski's book has many things going for it. For example:
(a) Too many of us are workaholics.
(b) We need structure, purpose and a sense of community, with or without a job.
(c) Work smart, not hard ("peak performance").
(d) The checklist on page 54 can be a wake-up call.
(e) We can gain several hours a week if we give up television.
But as a career consultant I am concerned about the book's core advice. Page 55: "The first day your job does not nourish and enthuse you is the day you should consider leaving. Indeed, I advise you to quit."
Pretty strong stuff! In my experience, few jobs provide daily nourishment and enthusiasm every day or even every week. I would say, "If you've outgrown your job, begin a search for alternatives. Don't do anything until you have a plan."
People do miss their jobs - even jobs they hated. I have never seen statistics, but my experience suggests at least 50% of those who quit without another job regretted the decision. One discussion list posted a note from a 40-something woman who had chosen enjoyable, low-paying jobs in the personal growth field. Now she was ready to move on, with no nest egg to fund a career transition.
Job dissatisfaction actually can be a misleading signal. Many people who seek a career change actually need to relocate geographically or work on relationships.
My biggest criticism of the book is the potentially misleading presentation of information. For example, the author mentions "a research study conducted in 2001 by Florida's Nova Southeastern University" which found that over 38% of stockbrokers making $300,000 - $1,000,000 suffered from "subclinical depression" while 28% reported "clinical depression." (Overlap? Additional? We're not told.)
Most studies are conducted by individual researchers, not universities or even departments. The author does not cite his source or indicate whether this study was actually published in a reputable peer-reviewed journal.
How was this sample of brokers chosen? What methods were used to assess "subclinical depression" or "clinical depression?" Was the depression long-term or situational? Was this study carried out in 2001 before or after 9/11? Where's the cause and effect: does the field attract individuals with a propensity to depression?
Other studies are mentioned but not cited or described in detail. For the Schnore study of retirees, I'd want to know how their satisfaction was reported and tested.
Additionally, throughout the book, Zelinski presents letters from readers. He seems to suggest that, "If these folks can do it, you can too."
But nearly all his examples come from people who took only the very first step: quitting or deciding to retire. On page 96, Zelinski writes, "Perhaps you will [say]...married people can't possibly quit their jobs like Ian did. Then go back to page 57 and read the letter [from a married man with 2 kids who quit his job]...Case closed!"
Unfortunately, the letter on page 57 was written by someone who had just marched in to his boss and quit. We don't know what happened afterward. Case not closed, in my opinion!
We do get a few examples of success: a professional who became a music busker in Toronto, someone who moved into a friend's trailer to live on $6000 a year, someone who travels cheaply, and several people who saved a stash of cash and now live comfortably from investments or a spouse's salary. Many readers (and most of my clients) will not relate to those examples.
We should also realize Zelinski writes from Canada, a country with national health care. It's not perfect, but it does open up career options. Those happily unemployed are subsidized by taxes from those who face a 50% tax bracket at surprisingly low salary levels.
I also believe that not everyone will enjoy a life of hobbies and volunteer work. Working for money gives you an edge, changing your thoughts, habits and conversations. Zelinski himself is neither unemployed nor retired: he is a full-time writer. His four-hour-a-day schedule is actually quite typical of professional authors of books. I once heard best-selling mystery author Jon Kellerman speak about writing 3 pages a day. Zelinski aims for four.
Bottom Line: Joy of Not Working is worth skimming to experience a philosophy that can be adapted to many lives. Unfortunately, the adaptation will be up to you.