The website Why work? is a platform for the creation of ‘livable alternatives to wage slavery’. It doesn’t propose sitting around drinking Pina Coladas all day: it’s more about being pro-leisure and against current ideas about what is productive and valuable. As I haven’t had a steady job in the past year, I had the chance to reconsider mainstream opinions about work ethics.
After moving house a year ago, Spouse went back to work and so did I. I published three academic articles and wrote two chapters for a book. I edited a children’s book and wrote another one. I started campaigning for Greenpeace and took part in many actions. When I wasn’t running up and down Geneva’s busiest shopping street dressed as a gorilla to protect the rainforest, I took care of our pets and most of the household – something for which Spouse, with her high-pressure job that takes her abroad half of the year, simply has no time.
Despite my productivity, some friends and family summed up my status quo as “not doing anything”. After all, I did not have a nine-to-five job in an office. “It must be nice being on a break,” someone responded apprehensively after I told about a course in project management I’d taken. People asked me if I wasn’t bored without a job and whether I felt bad “living off my partner”.
The first thing people ask after your name, is what you do. I never noticed until last year. Not to be able to give a simple answer, a job description and a company name, was sometimes uncomfortable – and not just for me. In our work-obsessed culture, a steady job makes up a considerable part of our identity. “You’ve jumped the system,” a friend said. “And that makes people nervous”.
Last week I started a new job. Not because I was bored with my previous activities, but because it seemed like a rare opportunity. “My prayer has been answered,” a family member wrote. Others expressed their happiness that I was no longer “at loose ends”. I have less time now to protect the rainforest but who cares?! I’ve returned to wage slavery.