In Praise of the Nine to Five

If you do much personal finance reading, you notice some themes that show up again and again. Passive investing is huge, there’s plenty on spending less than you earn, and there’s even a sizable group of writers who stress the advantages of using leverage (although for that issue, there’s plenty of those who caution you against any debt at all). After a while, you start to notice the general opinion on most topics.

Take work, for example. There’s not much positive about work in the personal finance media. At best, it’s a means to an end, a method for you to earn money throughout your life that you can invest to survive on during your retirement, preferably an early retirement. At worst, it’s a fate to be avoided at all costs, to be worked around in any way possible. Having to work for a full lifetime is the absolute worst case scenario (although there is some leeway provided for those who are able to work on their own, say, as bloggers or something similar).

I didn't have a good picture for working, so here are a few children coloring

Now, there’s certainly plenty of reason to take such a stance; many jobs are, let’s be blunt, pretty awful. I’ve worked quite a few, let’s say, less than ideal jobs in my lifetime, from McDonald’s to Wal-Mart, and understand the desire to NOT have to do that sort of work for decades on end. There is a reason that one of the most common gripes uniting people from all over the financial spectrum is complaints about their jobs; regardless of whether you are making minimum wage or enough to put you in top one percent of earners,

The Advantages of the Nine to Five

But here’s something I’ve learned from a decade of science education and professional experience: there are things that we simply can’t accomplish on our own. This is particularly notable in the aforementioned science fields; while it’s tempting to think in terms of the single scientist, alone in his (or her, there’s plenty of women in most scientific fields, after all) lab, coming up with great discoveries all on their own.

But that’s just not the case, at least anymore. Sure, once upon a time, the wealthy playboy with a scientific passion might have been able to completely re-write outstanding doctrine, but now it takes an incredible amount of effort from numerous people in order to make any progress. Science is a group effort now, requiring thousands of researchers working together in order to make any progress.

It’s the same for any number of other fields; from farming to automobile assembly, there’s a lot in the world that cannot be produced by individuals working alone. That’s where the typical nine-to-five job comes in: people cooperate in order to achieve goals that are not possible by working alone. There are things that cannot be achieved individually, so we join together in our wondrous capitalist system.

How I View Work

So, what perspective should we take toward work? I’ll be honest, I’m no great fan of working, and certainly would like to retire early (or at least, be able to work when and how I want, without worry). There’s a reason that I try to invest a sizable portion of my income in retirement accounts.

That said, while I am working, I’m trying to take a broader view of the positive effect that my work can have. While I was working as quality control at an anesthetic company, for example, I was able to take pride that my work went towards making medicine, helping in at least small part to improve health in the world. In the same way, most other forms of work add to the overall productivity of the world, improving the world in our own little ways.

Good luck, and good work!

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