Much as I hate to admit it (to myself) I suffer from several old fashioned notions when it comes to self-worth. There are essentially two ways of perceiving your own worth: extrinsic and intrinsic. My problem is that I still subject myself to certain extrinsic notions when I evaluate how I’m doing. In particular, I worry what DW will think and also, in a sense, what “society” will think.
We walk the pug every night (every morning as well) and we usually have a few loops to choose between. It takes about 20-40 minutes depending on the lenght. Pug energy is inversely proportional to temperature, so close to freezing he really gets riled up when we play chase,… anyway. A couple of months after we moved into the RV I had these pangs of embarrassment when we returned to our house, the 34′ Encounter. As I saw it and opened the door I was thinking: “Has it really come down to this?” Fortunately that feeling is now gone. A lot of it has/had to do with having had to explain “where” we live. Yes, we live in mobile home/trailer park. Yes, just the RV. Yes, we have a lawn, unfortunately. Oh, the neighbors are really nice — don’t think we’ve ever talked so much with our neighbors before moving here. We’re right next to the laundry building. No, we don’t travel. Blah blah blah.
Why do we live in an RV? Because it has a very small footprint with all the advantages that comes along with that, easy of clutter management for one, because we can move our home around, and because paying for someone else’s mortgage was getting old.
Why is this a problem? Well, according to the American Dream ™, homeownership is the numero uno in desirability. And the bigger the home the better. Also, there’s this location location location mantra which seems to be mostly related to school districts. Hence, society has sought to optimize exactly the opposite of what we have done. Achieving this dream essentially means you have made it. It is a very visible and in your face demonstration of your success.
On the other hand, there’s essentially nothing in the American Dream that says “let’s use these incredible gains in productivity we’ve had over the past century to work less instead of focusing on consuming more and make it the goal to retire after a handful of years on the job market”. Even if it were, it is not very visible. I know: There’s nobody around to see me during daytime because they’re all at work 😛
Another problem is the way we perceive our income. I have never seen myself as working for a living. In the beginning of my career, I loved my work so much that getting paid was merely a nice side effect. Besides I did not spend very much of it, so the idea of living paycheck to paycheck or working for a living has always been very alien to me. Later when I became less infatuated with career and started developing other venues, my “emergency fund”, if you can call it that, was already sufficient to cover a couple of decades (200+ months) worth of living. Shortly beyond that one becomes financially independent and thus working for income becomes a non-issue. At that point you work because you want to, not because you ever need to.
Still, like the size of your house shows your extrinsic value, your income and your job title also shows your extrinsic value. This is what people see: “What do you do for a living?” which is probably just a sneaky way of figuring out “how much are you making?”. Suppose I worked just as hard but in fact received no pecuniary rewards.
Would it still be the same? Is getting paid an inherent validation of whether what you do is worthwhile? I can mention a few CEOs that got paid millions while their companies went into chapter 11. Some people consider it almost a duty to make as much as possible. Spending money is considered the only way to a good life. If I’m not making any money am I not then denying DW the “good life”? Is it not almost immoral of me not to buy her happiness with expensive jewelry, resort vacations, and other impressive displays of spending power?
The problem with the source of the income would probably be easier to explain to someone who has not seen W-2 income as the only way of making money. A salary is essentially like selling your freedom for money. It is like an open prison sentence. You show up to serve 8 hours a day. Contracting is slightly better showing up only when you want to and getting paid only when you show up. Getting a business income is different. Here you provide value rather than time. The more value you provide, the more you get paid. It is hard to fully and deeply understand that selling 5 options for $4, an operation that takes about 30 seconds provides the same amount of money as one month of salaried work. Investing could in that sense easily be considered slacking. My worry is that I would be perceived as the idle rich only I’m not rich. Even if I was doing something intrinsically meaningful, the fact that I am not receiving a salary would be a strike against me.
In the end the problem comes down to having a radically different measure of success compared to mainstream society. Much as I would like to, I can not say that extrinsic worth is entirely irrelevant. Humans are inherently social creatures and no man is an island — although I come pretty close 😛 .