The transition to financial independence and early retirement (FIRE) has its surprises. One of them is the extent to which our American culture has no concept, language or framework for how to express the ideas of knowing what “enough” is, for choosing time over more money, and/or for working less or not at all.
This cultural condition is not specific to FIRE, as any unemployed person, stay-at-home parent, elder or child can tell you. As so-called “unproductive” members of society, we show what we think of them in our treatment of them. We cut benefits to the unemployed and call them lazy, say stay-at-home parents “don’t work,” and both fail to protect and segregate children and the elderly into their own worlds (schools, nursing homes) rather than more fully incorporate them in ours, which is “the working world,” and there is no room for them there.
It is interesting to be on the “unproductive” side of the fence. No one quite knows what to do with it, and this fact manifests in small ways and unexpected places.
The other day, for example, I received an email from someone putting together a brief bio about me for a speaking engagement. She wrote, “I am also adding a word or two about each person’s profession. What is yours (besides unemployed or retired?). We want to show people from a lot of backgrounds.”
Apparently I’m no better at this than anyone else, because I didn’t have an answer for her. Even I do not yet have the words to describe my “condition,” if she didn’t want to use unemployed or retired. I’m not really self-employed, per se — I have side work I do. Does that count as self-employment? “Early retired” and “retired” sound a bit too much like bragging to me, at age 38. In the end, I gave her a list of things I feel I am: “Writer” etc.
But she didn’t use them. She just used my name. Maybe that’s enough.
Software applications also lack a category or spot for this lifestyle. Both LinkedIn and Facebook keep hassling me to “fix” the profiles that reflect a state of not working. It’s not entirely unexpected, given the work culture at both places (one of which I know firsthand).
Here is a screenshot of Facebook a few days after I added the end date of my most recent position:
According to Facebook, a permanent or temporary state of “not working” equates to “incomplete profile.” No, Facebook. I think it’s your definition of “profile” that’s incomplete.
It becomes more perplexing immediately below the “Complete Your Profile” prompt. Facebook suggests a list of employers to choose from, as in “How about this employer?” I bear no relation at all to any of the possible employers listed, as in, I have never worked at any of them, won’t, and don’t want to, nor do I know anyone who does. Is this some sort of “sponsored prospective employers” ad-like business? Didn’t Motorola get purchased by Google? Does “Motorola Solutions” even exist?
Facebook cannot conceive of a state of “not working” to such an extent that it will suggest a seemingly random list of employers for you to click on, on the off chance you might work at one of them. Because it’s not possible that you are not working.
Curiouser and curiouser!