Working 9 to 5… not a way to make a living

I love helping women learn the tools to prevent or move beyond burnout.

And inevitably, as part of conversations around burnout, it is necessary to have an open and meaningful conversation about work.

Because it seems that women – particularly those who I work with in the caring or service sectors – are getting more burnt out than men.

The reasons for this are vast and varied and I hope to one day condense them all into a book and course that addresses exactly that issue.

Until then, though, I wanted to share my deeply personal journey to understand the relationship between work, stress and burnout – and to help you understand some of the approaches that have helped me to redefine my relationship with work and shed the 9-5.

The last few weeks a lot of confusion around this has led to some clarity and some peace with where I am at.

But there has been a lot of tantrums, a lot of turmoil and a lot of deep introspection to get to this point.

I believe that the questions our little family faces are questions we are all grappling with in some form or another. Stability versus freedom. Environmental consciousness and mindful consumption versus travel adventures and long coffee dates and road trips to the beach. Minimalism versus hedonism. Soul-work versus paid work.

Of late, the sticking point has been whether or not to buy a house.

Buying property in Australia is held up as a vestige of success and material wealth in life. For our generation, it is wholly expected and actively encouraged to buy a house, pay some of it off, buy a bigger house and so on and so forth.

And yet we’ve both struggled with the idea of being in debt for the next 30 years. While we both want to make a home for our little family, and we both believe that our home could be productive and a financially sound investment, we are deeply conflicted on a values level.

Because both of us understand that having a house in itself will not make us magically happier. That nothing external really can bring sustainable happiness on its own.

But also because neither of us are truly committed to supporting a system that breeds inequality and promotes material wealth over everything else. The question we’ve kept coming back to is how can we participate while also actively railing against the capitalist model that drives burnout, over-consumption, environmental degradation and breeds greed and aggression?

The process of looking for houses for a good 18 months has seen us bounce back and forth between states of fear of missing out (some real estate agents create sickening environments of fear to get sales) and total disassociation. We’ve looked at a whole range of alternatives to buying a house and discussed them all – tiny houses, house boats, caravans, holiday houses.. you name it, we’ve researched it.

And yet here’s where it gets tricky. Because both of us want to create a home – somewhere were our kids and grandkids can come and feed the chickens and play in our yoga studio. A place for community, growth and love.

There is something within us both that wants it. And it’s taken some uncovering to understand whether this is coming from a place of deep societal conditioning, or actual soul whisperings.

And the answer is, that it’s a bit of both.

The house represents, in so many ways, a monumental clash of our values that for now, we can’t move past. Our discomfort with the process speaks to our readiness to take this step.

We acknowledge that eventually it will take another leap – to move further away from our family – to make that decision and take on a mortgage we are both comfortable with. And the revolution of that wheel has not finished yet, and that’s OK.

Over the weekend, we had a long conversation over days (and glasses of wine) about where we are at in terms of our lifestyle, our values and our plans.

Since we both committed to working less (a monumental leap of faith in retrospect), our life resembles a bit of a jigsaw puzzle. We continually work to fit the pieces together to create a lifestyle that truly aligns with our intention. Not when we are retired, but right now.

We both do consulting work, my husband works part time and I have my business. Our daughter is in daycare one day a week and with her grandma every second week, and the other days we share the load of looking after her and doing things around the house.

Over the last months we’ve found ourselves in an unusual but beautiful period of space. With enough money and time to truly enjoy the lifestyle we’ve created and the freedom we have.

And now, as that phase draws to a close we find ourselves going back to our laptops to create some more opportunities that will fund our lifestyle for another few months. In this type of lifestyle, relationships are everything – and we strive to always do a really good job of any work we take on so that the work continues to come.

This time, with the house question still floating up in the air, everything has been on the table. Jobs in Melbourne, full time work, full time consulting, full time business, international retreats, moving further into the bush…. we’ve thrown everything up in the air and tested a whole range of options to see what will truly work best.

It’s SO easy to have these conversations and get all caught up in emotion and subjectivity. To make up facts without the facts.

So we went to the data. And had a conversation based on actual facts.

We looked at our income and expenses over the last year – and analysed how we were making out money and what we were spending it on (we’ve become a lot better at spending based on our values, but that’s a conversation for another time).

And the results were VERY surprising. We ran the numbers based on a number of scenarios and the worst possible scenario (financially speaking) was both of us working full time or part time in salaried jobs.

There’s a number of reasons for this.

First, when we are working more, we spend more. This is a truth that employers, governments and industry don’t want us to acknowledge. But speak to the minimalists, the slow living advocates and the tree changers and they will agree that the more you work, the more you spend.

The more we work, the more we spend based on convenience. Dinners out. Clothes for work. More commuting and petrol. Child care. Lunches. Multiple trips to the supermarket because our brains are always too full to focus on any one thing. Trips to the doctor, naturopath and pharmacy also increase and in my case, more kinesiologist sessions to balance out my energy and help me create mental space for my kid, family and clients.

When we are stretched for time, we reach for solutions. And those solutions almost always require money.

The idea that to spend less you need to work less sounds counter-intuitive. But it’s the truth. Space creates space. Space to be more conscious. To consume less. To make more. To connect more.

And the more connected we are to each other, to others and to ourselves, the less we need to reach for other things to fill up our cups.

I was listening to a podcast with therapist Linda Esposito the other day about our collective discomfort with space, and how much of the busy-ness of our modern life can be traced back to our inability to be comfortable with our own feelings.

Second, working full time means we get taxed more. We ran a number of financial scenarios that helped us realise that over a certain threshold, the value of working more actually yields less in terms of disposable income.

We know roughly how much we need per month to live and plan for our future (actively building super, putting money aside for our daughter’s education and saving for holidays) – and so we make decisions based on THE DATA, rather than aiming for subjective feelings of ‘more’. At a certain point, we can always try and make ‘more’ money. But the big question that drives our decision making is ‘for what?’.

Lastly, working full time limits us in terms of our flexibility. At a point, for us, the value in working more actually takes away from our desired lifestyle (which puts a premium on time spent together, adventure and health).

We would rather spend less money than spend less time together. And although the trade off is that we constantly need to adjust and refine and be flexible, we feel as though the trade of is worth it for now. Sometimes my husband travels for work – and I have plans to take my retreats international as well. In these scenarios, we try and build family time in around the work so that there is reward for the sacrifice in spending time apart.

Last year, through a combination of income sources, we earned around $100,000 as a family after tax and worked the least we have in our entire careers.

The irony of this is that since we are business owners, getting a home loan (despite our sizeable deposit) is harder than if we were working full time and earning less. Yep, the world is not set up for those of us who challenge paradigms.

But again, to us this is worth it for now.

I say this not to create an assumption that it’s easy or that we have a magic solution to transitioning out of the 9-5 life.

I say this to reinforce the idea that the DATA KNOWS BEST.

If transitioning to a more location independent, flexible working arrangement speaks to you on a soul level, then start with some basic questions.

What do you want your money to do? How much do you need to do that? How can you use your skills and passions to make that money? What relationships do you have to start to test some of those modalities?

For all my effort to develop a life that is simple and consistent and wholly aligned, all I can say is this. Mission impossible. Life isn’t linear or easy.

Treading a different path is hard – finding like minded souls is essential.

Hell, the more adult I become the more I wish I could turn around retreat back into a land where I don’t have to make any decisions!

But for all the turmoil of the last couple of months, I emerge today feeling a sense of peace.

The model we have worked our butts of develop is working. It is the best one for now. And we ARE working toward our values every single day, step by tiny step.

The work now is to find the flow between the many elements of the jigsaw puzzle – and be OK with struggle and tensions that make us, like you, so very deeply human.

It is through struggle that clarity emerges. So how can we not love it just a bit?

M xo

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