HoldingSpaceFor: Joe Stewart

Really, I’m lucky. I like my job. It’s creative, engaging, and often pretty exciting. It actually relates to my degree, and it’s in an industry I have always hoped to be in, rather than just glumly accepted. The hours aren’t punishing and my coworkers and bosses are very nice. The company is a big name, so will also look pretty great on my CV.

I’ve got it sorted, right? According to friends and family I do – but I can’t convince myself of that one bit.

There is an issue with my job that I can’t let go – the money. Although the industry is generally poorly paid, I feel as if I’ve struck a particularly bad deal. I’m aware that I can’t expect a lot, being entry level, yet I do. It feels as if I should be doing “better”, somehow. And when I really think about, it’s not about the salary per se. It’s what I think it says about me to others. In my mind, a low salary is equated with low effort. Not trying. In other words, not being productive enough.

We live in a world so constructed around money that we are hardwired to want more of it. It’s ceased to be something that we need because it enables us to live – it’s become a symbol of much more. To be earning a good salary is to be successful. It’s a sign that the recipient has worked hard. And we are told above all else that hard work is a virtue. If you’re not striving, you’re skiving. So as a graduate and a chronic overachiever at school, the idea that it might look as if I’m not working as hard as I could is a difficult one.

There an interesting flip side to this dilemma that shows how hollow the obsessive pursuit of productivity can be. See, as many hours as I spend researching better jobs (many of which I know I would hate), I spend the same researching the places that most inspire me in the UK, with the irresistible thought that I want to move to them. Think places like rural Devon, Cumbria, the Highlands. Places I love because of their abundant nature, quietness, and sense of “here” that is so absent from the commerce obsessed, traffic-choked street in central London I work on.

Almost every day, I imagine my life in these places, like many. And the one thing very clearly absent from these imagined lives is the obsession to be productive – to work harder, and earn more. In this version of my life, what job I have doesn’t matter. What’s important is feeling like I’m living deliberately, in a place that inspires me. A job is just a way to pay my expenses. It seems a whole lot more appealing striving after a genuinely happy life than one with lots of money and a prestigious job, regardless of what that could buy.

This fantasy is nothing new – it’s probably on the mind of everyone rat in the race, wondering whether they’re doing the right thing with their lives. Indeed, the owner of this blog tested out the idea, “what would you do in a world without money?” on Facebook. I was struck by how many of the comments were some variation on living in nature, quietly and deliberately, pursuing a craft or a hobby. It’s something we’ve all dreamed out. So why don’t we do it? We’re young. We don’t need much money. We’re not settled, yet. What’s holding us up?

It’s time we embrace unproductivity that bit more, and see it for its value -something that can make up happy, often much more so than endlessly trying to achieve that ever elusive goal of “better”. I’m not saying we should all move to a lodge on the mountain. But it’d be pertinent to remember that age-old adage, which has never been more true- all work and no play makes jack a dull boy.


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