Last week, I published an extended excerpt from Grant Sabatier's new book, Financial Freedom. Sabatier's core message is that time is more valuable than money — and that freedom is more valuable than time.
Several GRS readers took issue with the book's seemingly anti-work tone.
- “There is a lot of talk about the drudgery of work; [I'm] pretty lucky [that] I love my job and have a lot of autonomy,” wrote Angelica.
- S.G. said, “The ‘wage slave' rhetoric gets old.”
- And our pal El Nerdo didn't like this sentence: “I retired early because I didn’t want to spend the best years of my life working in a poorly lit cubicle at a stressful job I didn’t particularly enjoy.” El Nerdo's response? “Could you maybe just find a better job? One that you enjoyed? With no cubicles, and better light?”
These comments are telling. They're representative of a common complaint leveled against the FIRE movement. (As you probably know, FIRE is a clumsy acronym for “financial independence/retire early”. The FIRE movement is all about saving enough to retire as soon as you can.)
Much of the financial independence and early retirement messaging comes off as anti-work. While this appeals to some folks, it repels others. Not everybody hates their jobs. In fact, some people truly enjoy what they do.
If you love your job but are still interested in what the FIRE movement has to offer, you should take a look at Tanja Hester's new book, Work Optional, which was released today. It's a solid addition to anyone's personal finance library, with a core philosophy very much aligned with the one I espouse here at Get Rich Slowly. Best of all? As you might guess from the book's title, Hester doesn't pretend that work is a cage that we all want to escape.
The Value of Work
“This book is not anti-work,” Hester writes in her introduction. “Work is a good and noble thing, something nearly every person ever born has had to do in some form, whether or not they were formally employed…The problem isn't work itself, but our current societal work culture.”
Hester says that Work Optional is about “reclaiming your life from our nonstop work culture so that you decide what role work will play in your life, instead of society deciding for you”. She truly wants to help readers find ways to make work optional, an activity they can do or not do as they see fit.
I like this. It's a conventional idea of financial independence stated in a new way, a way that gives power to the individual without denigrating all work as undesirable. I also respect that Hester and her husband had fulfilling careers they enjoyed. She writes:
To us, retiring early was never about not liking work. Work can be a source of self-worth, of community, of proof that we add value to the world. And Mark and I both got that from our careers. We just didn't want to let work be the defining feature of our entire lives…
Because of the book's title and because its message is not anti-work, I had high hopes that Hester would spend more time exploring this concept, re-framing of early retirement and/or financial independence in a new way. I love the notion that we can reach a point at which work is optional.
And make no mistake: Much of this book is indeed about constructing a life in which work isn't necessary. The problem, however, is that Work Optional tries to tackle two themes at once. Is the book's subject early retirement? Or is the book's subject its stated thesis: creating a work-optional life? There's plenty of overlap between these two topics, sure, but they're not the same thing.
Look at it this way. I've written before about the stages of financial independence.
Early retirement is the fourth or fifth stage of financial freedom, the point at which you have enough money to support yourself for the rest of your life. Hester's “work optional” point, however, is more like the third stage of financial freedom, at which you could quit your job without a moment of hesitation.
In other words, you can reach the work optional stage without ever reaching early retirement. Many people do.
Okay, enough nitpicking! Let's take a quick look at what this book covers. [Read more…]