Reader Question:
I am 34 years old and have about $250000 in investments that pay enough to pay for all my needs and most of my wants and keep up with inflation for the rest of my life. Lately, though, I have been wondering whether I am missing out by not having a career. Everybody I know seems to think that a career is important.

I think many financially independent early retires have thought about returning to work at some point. A lot of people go to work everyday and at least some of them say they love it and that they are very passionate about it so I can see the attraction of spending your time taking on some exciting project. I am not afraid to admit that I too have thought of it. However, wisening up a bit, I think it is clear that passion is an internal quality rather than an external quality. If you are not a passionate person, it is unlikely that you will be passionate just by taking up some career. Furthermore, you have to realize that careers take an enormous amount of time, which means that your way of life will take a serious hit for the worse.

Currently you probably sleep very well without any stress and wake up without an alarm clock. You probably have somewhere around 16 hours a day to devote to doing what you want when you want and pursuing all sorts of interesting activities. With a career, other people will be telling you what to do and/or what to think about for at least 8 hours a day. These 8 hours will be preset which means that if you feel like doing something else, you won’t be able to do so. Employers will also expect you to think about work outside of work, so we are probably looking at 9-10 hours a day minimum. Add commute time and you may be left with only 3-6 hours a day most of which will be spent being tired in front of the TV. You can probably say goodbye to most of your activities. Most working people only have one hobby. They try to make up for it by buying a lot of stuff, but they almost never have time to use it. Could you live with that?

You also have to consider that most careers expect you to be at work about 50 weeks a year and be on call 52 weeks a year. This leaves you 10 days most of which will be used to create extended weekends around major holidays. However, in real life things happen. Maybe you get a good offer on a ticket to Aruba. Maybe you get invited by a friend to go hunting. If you have a career, you typically have to say no to these things.

Also, since you will be spending all your time at work, you will not have the time to do very much yourself. This means that your expenses will grow much higher. Expect them to double or even triple as you lose simple skills like cooking, gardening, and develop the need for a car, business clothes, and keeping up appearances. This in turn will lead to even higher costs should you ever decide to return to a life of leisure.

Aside from these issues, also consider whether a career would lead to a satisfying life. Most people climbing the corporate pyramid tend to neglect the rest of their life. It seems to be more the rule than the exception that the more successful they are at their career, the unhappier they seem. They barely know their spouse or their children and they certainly have no idea who their neighbors are. You would likely stay confined to your cubicle all day long following procedures and filling out forms and only get out to fetch coffee for the boss or run to the photocopier. Also, you will have to wear a suit, follow a dress code and probably a bunch of other codes as well. While listening to the mandatory motivation seminars can provide a brief sense of feeling good for a few hours, your job is not really to be creative or passionate. It is simply to make money for the company and sell as many products as possible.

If you are really serious about this, maybe try to arrange so that you can work for just a few hours a day. This can be hard to set up because employers prefer employees that need work to pay their bills as such a need is a great motivator. Thus they may not consider people who only want to work a limited amount of hours.

In conclusion, it is of course up to you. Know that if you do decide to give up a life of leisure and focus on a career instead, there is lots of stuff you can buy to briefly compensate for any unhappiness you may feel towards your choice. A new set of golf clubs or maybe a new suit, for instance. Psychotropic prescription drugs are also popular. Remember being unhappy about your corporate mission statement is a disorder that can be treated. Ask your doctor about it if it comes to that.