Toward a world beyond earning a living: unjobbing, decolonizing time, and cultivating a culture of leisure in an overworked world.

[In Review] Highlights from Early Issues

Every so often I review previous issues of The Anticareerist and collect some of the most frequently quoted highlights. Here’s a sampling of my work from the year-in-review.

~ D. JoAnne Swanson

“Anticareerists do not believe it’s wrong to have a career; the point is that a career should not be required for dignity, happiness, belonging, community, a sense of self-worth, or basic survival. Anticareerism is “the opposite of careerism” - we oppose careerism, not careers.

The main message of The Anticareerist is that "earning a living" is a fundamental structural injustice.”

~ from What is The Anticareerist, and Who’s Behind It?

“If you don’t take whatever work you can find that pays, the world will exact a hefty price. And if you do take whatever work you can find that pays, your soul will exact a hefty price. Because your soul knows that you’re a writer, and you have a calling…So every day that is consumed with “earning a living” instead of pursuing your calling as a writer is a day that will add to your pain.

“And few people will sympathize, especially if you have a job that looks cushy compared to theirs. “Must be a nice problem to have!” they’ll say, because they’ve been conditioned to identify with a culture that dismisses artistic pursuits as mere frivolity. “Real work” is something else. Besides, why should you get the privilege of doing what you love when the rest of us have to content ourselves with whatever jobs we can find?”

~ from Note to Self: When You Fear You’re Not Productive Enough

“The expectation that we paste on a smile and present as “positive” is just one of the many insidious ways affective labor is extracted from Americans in service of capital – while preventable suffering and structural violence continues on, largely unacknowledged and unaddressed. This pattern can be seen everywhere – from stressed-out (but smiling!) retail workers to the way strangers ask us a perfunctory “how are you?” and the only socially acceptable answer is some variation on “good” or “fine…”

~ from On the ‘Lazy Bums Who Refuse to Work’ Rhetoric

“In a world where we must "earn a living" under threat of poverty if we don't, how can we ever know for sure which employees are taking jobs because they truly want to? How do we know they aren't just doing the emotional labor required to convincingly perform enthusiasm for their jobs, when actually they'd rather be elsewhere?

“We pay an enormous price, individually and collectively, when valuable unpaid work is neglected or not done because we are forced into full-time paid work to "earn a living." When the bulk of our time and energy is consumed by compulsory paid employment, our families and communities are deprived of the benefits that could otherwise be gained through our art, our care, and our service. We often end up too busy, distracted, and exhausted to develop our talents and gifts outside the context of employment. We are deprived of leisure and rest. We are deprived of the joy of offering our work to those who need it without regard to their ability to pay. We are even told, directly and indirectly, that if we don't or can't serve capitalism we become expendable - that our lives have little or no value aside from our ability to be productive on employers' terms.

This is fundamental moral injustice.”

~ from "Earning a Living" and the Dilemma of Unpaid Work: On the Injustice of a World Without Unconditional Basic Income

“When you do nothing - which is a very active state of being, despite the tarnishing of its reputation by Puritans - you give the larger intelligence room to speak to you and through you, and reveal the next step. Help is available. You’re not alone. As Nan Wishner writes:

“…something larger will move through you if you invite it. Glimpsing this experience is tremendously freeing and invigorating.” […]

“But there’s no map you can study in advance. That’s not how this process works. That’s why you need courage and a strong will. The next step along this path only becomes apparent after you’ve boldly gone forth and taken the previous one. When you act on those golden threads - and sometimes, paradoxically, acting on them means doing nothing - then you step onto a path unique to you. You step onto a path that remained imperceptible from where you once stood.”

~ from Note to Self: You Don’t Have To Do It All Yourself

“Substack’s model sets in motion a positive feedback loop that benefits both writers and readers, and that’s the heart of why it lured me away from Patreon. Whether I have one subscriber or thousands, I’ll be doing the same amount of work.”

~ from Why I Switched From Patreon to Substack

“Dejobbing is a neologism coined by Sophia Gubb to refer to an intermediate stage or adjustment period between compulsory employment and unjobbing. I’ve adopted it to describe my process of identifying and unlearning coercive habits and self-talk acquired through compulsory employment and schooling. I’ve found dejobbing especially important for unlearning habits that interfere with embodied intelligence and creative flow of the daimonic - the calling or divine spark that is uniquely one’s own.”

~ from On Doing Nothing: ‘Laziness’ and the Inner Work of Unjobbing and Dejobbing

“One common example of sloppy and politically harmful use of the word “work” shows up frequently in declarations such as “I’m not working” when what we actually mean is “I’m not in the labor pool,” “I don’t have paid employment,” or “I work inside the home.” Many people work in ways that don’t earn an income, and many people are unable to work at all. Our lives are valuable, and none of us should be treated like second-class human beings based on our work or lack thereof. When we use the word “work” in ways that reinforce the dominant cultural narrative that anyone who doesn’t earn an income from their work is “not working,” we contribute to a cultural climate that justifies and perpetuates injustice for these marginalized groups.”

~ from Rethinking the Terminology of Work: Why We Need an Anticareerist-Unjobbing Movement (paid-subscriber-only issue)

“With UBI, I could choose to refuse paid work without risking homelessness or hunger. I could also survive if the company laid me off. That would make all the difference. It would create a space of real choice that permits me to say no without imperiling my own survival. The ability to say no is a prerequisite for true consent. Without the ability to say no to employment, I cannot offer fully consensual work to any employer.”

~ from Building a Consensual Work Culture (paid-subscriber-only issue)

“I find it discouraging that a typical first reaction to the idea of UBI is "but wouldn't people just spend it on drugs or be lazy and not work?" Only in a world that normalizes compulsory employment could it be so widely accepted that people should be driven into jobs by shame about "laziness" and fear of destitution rather than by choice and interest. I think "laziness" is often a healthy resistance - a mutiny of the soul, as Charles Eisenstein calls it - to a coercive job culture. Even if some people were "lazy," though, so what? Who cares? Coercing people into jobs they hate costs us a lot more than providing them with a UBI - not just economically, but also psychologically, socially, culturally, and ecologically. "Lazy" people stuck in ecologically harmful jobs for the sake of a paycheck could do more for the world by quitting their jobs and lying on the couch than they could by staying in those jobs. I'll cheer them on!”

~ from “A Flourishing of the Arts”: Kate McFarland interviews D. JoAnne Swanson of The Anticareerist on Basic Income
(also published on Basic Income News - Part One + Part Two)

“I’m leaving Facebook and Twitter because I want to get back to the full embodied joy of writing that I once knew…The deeper I sink into my contemplative practice, the less I find I can tolerate Facebook and Twitter, because they drain me. They take from me so much more than they give back. […] I don’t want to be exposed to the level of detail Facebook gives me about people’s lives - not even for my closest friends. Cutting down my friends list or posting to restricted custom lists of friends didn’t make much difference; it's the platform itself that is the problem for me. Facebook and Twitter are like a noisy, crowded town square, with neon lights and advertising everywhere trying to grab my attention and profit off my unpaid labor. It's too much for me. I want to immerse myself in quiet endarkened retreat space, from whence my best writing emerges.”

~ from Not A Public Figure: Why I’m Leaving Facebook and Twitter

“As long as I’m in a position to enjoy my time, as I am right now, then time is the most precious thing I have. Time is true wealth of the most primal form. Money is not real wealth…but it is a claim on real wealth. All my life I’ve protested compulsory wage labor (“earning a living”) because it steals my real wealth (time) from me and corrals it into the service of economic growth.”

~ from On the Meaning of ‘Buying Time’


More about The Anticareerist and its author, D. JoAnne Swanson, is HERE.

An archive of all back issues is HERE.

The Anticareerist operates on an unpredictable publishing schedule. Readers who’d like to support this work can do so through a paid subscription. Thank you for reading!

Photo credit: Stadsbiblioteket in Stockholm, Sweden by Susan Yin on Unsplash

On the Meaning of 'Buying Time'

The Deep Sorcery of Colonial Capitalism, issue 2

Dust in the Wind” by Kansas, a popular song from the 1970s, became my earworm this week. I’d heard it on the radio often as a kid. But this line from the lyrics never made sense to me:

“…all your money won’t another minute buy…”

Now that I’m older, however, that line makes perfect sense.

Every time I set aside the (unpaid) work I love to do in order to do wage labor I don’t want to do for the sake of earning money, a familiar resistance arises within me. It takes a lot of energy to push myself past that resistance and shift gears into “grindwork mode” so I can get the paid work done. The lyric focused my attention on the difficult truth that’s always lurking in the background of my daily awareness: when I sell my time for money, I can’t ever get that time back. It is gone forever.

That time? It is my life. Day by day, wage labor is stealing my life.

My eyes welled up with tears.

Someone Is Stealing Your Life” is the provocative title of a brilliant and eye-opening essay penned by Michael Ventura in 1990. He wrote:

"It was during the years of office work that I caught on: I got two weeks' paid vacation per year. A year has 52 weeks...it would take me 26 years on the job to accumulate one year for myself. And I could only have that in 26 pieces, so it wouldn't even feel like a year. In other words, no time was truly mine. My boss merely allowed me an illusion of freedom, a little space in which to catch my breath, in between the 50 weeks that I lived that he owned. My employer uses 26 years of my life for every year I get to keep. And what do I get in return for this enormous thing I am giving? What do I get in return for my life?

"A paycheck that's as skimpy as they can get away with. If I'm lucky, some health insurance. (If I'm really lucky, the employer's definition of "health" will include my teeth and my eyes - maybe even my mind.) And, in a truly enlightened workplace, just enough pension or "profit-sharing" to keep me sweet but not enough to make life different. And that's it."

That’s what “earning a living” means. It means we must sell our time - our very lives - to survive. Our culture has normalized this basic form of structural violence to such an extent that many of us don’t even identify it as what it is: a violation of the spirit. Instead, it’s typically framed as “the way things are,” or hand-waved away because “everyone has to work.” If we dare to question it, we’re often reprimanded for being "entitled," or told that we should feel lucky to have a job at all.

Well, sure, when my choices are wage labor or eventual homelessness, I’ll go with wage labor. That doesn’t mean the wage system of allocation is fine.

It’s painful to live with the day-to-day awareness that your talents and gifts are being wasted because exercising them in service of something you believe in doesn’t generate enough money to live.

When do we get to live our own lives, I wonder, instead of the lives we get paid to live?

I was once asked: “What’s one thing you wish more people understood about what you call the fundamental injustice of earning a living?”

I answered:

“The need to “earn a living” means that people who don’t have much money lose sovereignty over their own time. They must sell their time to those who can afford to buy it. I consider that a fundamental injustice. If you can’t find paid employment, or you aren’t getting paid enough through “bread labor” to meet your basic survival needs, then you must figure out some other way to feed, clothe, and shelter yourself. This consumes a great deal of time. Even applying for benefits and proving you continue to qualify for them can be a full time job of its own; you have to prove to the agency’s satisfaction that you are looking for a job and are willing to take any job offered. Nobody cares what you actually want.

And if you want to do work that’s unpaid? Too bad. Your survival depends on your capacity to sustain economic relationships, whether with employers or with people who have resources you need. If you can’t meet your financial needs sufficiently through employment (or proving to government agencies that you’re looking for it), then you must access the resources you need to survive through your relationships (family, friends, neighbors, community groups, crowdfunding pledgers, etc.), or suffer the consequences of not doing so. This makes leisure time difficult to access for people with little money. It also creates a climate ripe for abuse, because it weakens their ability to say no. People in this position typically become quite skilled at performing emotional labor to obtain access to resources. They have to, in order to avoid food insecurity and homelessness.”

Why do we so rarely decry the cruelty and coercion built into a system for which the main motivation to accept a job is the ever-present threat of food insecurity and homelessness?

Or, as Yonatan Zunger puts it:

“When we weaken people’s ability to say “no,” we take power from them and put it in the hands of people who can demand things from them; we take wealth from them, we take time from them, we take the very energy of life from them.

“If you cannot afford a few extra days or weeks of unemployment while you look for a better job, it doesn’t matter what exists on the market; you will take the conditions you are offered. If you cannot get transportation from where you can live to where a job is, it doesn’t matter what kind of job is there; it is not available to you. If you have obligations of child care or elder care, if you have people depending on you and nobody else to do this task, then it doesn’t matter how much value you create by doing it; jobs which don’t allow you to do that are not open to you. If you do not have the opportunity to negotiate or to get any better deals, you are living in an effective monopoly, no matter how notionally “free” the market is to others. The benefits of free trade are not for you; instead, you trade for what you can get, or die. The difference in value between what you could have gotten in exchange for your labor in a free market, and what you will actually get in this unfree one, is captured entirely by those who have made the market unfree.

“…when we hear the language of free markets, it’s almost invariably to talk about their virtues, and the very real fact that most of the most important trades the average person makes are not even remotely free gets papered over. The fact that some people can walk away from a deal, while other people can’t, is covered up with words about “job markets” which hide the fact that buyers and sellers of labor aren’t having even vaguely similar conversations.”

As long as I’m in a position to enjoy my time, as I am right now, then time is the most precious thing I have. Time is true wealth of the most primal form. Money is not real wealth…but it is a claim on real wealth. All my life I’ve protested compulsory wage labor (“earning a living”) because it steals my real wealth (time) from me and corrals it into the service of economic growth.

Yet in a world without unconditional basic income, there’s no opting out. Some of us can manage to minimize our participation in wage labor, but we can’t avoid it entirely because we need money - or access to the resources it buys - in order to live. And to get that money we need in order to live, we must give our time to employers, or to whoever it is that controls the money or resources we need. That skews the balance of power greatly in their favor.

A Faustian bargain indeed.

That’s one layer of the story. Money buys our time. But the line from “Dust in the Wind” also points to an inescapable truth: when our time to die arrives, no amount of money on Earth will buy us another minute.

I’ll illustrate with an example.

Not A Public Figure: Why I'm Leaving Facebook and Twitter

Soon I’ll be leaving Facebook and Twitter permanently. I won’t delete my accounts right away, but I will no longer update them.

This means I’m permanently retiring my Facebook page for The Anticareerist. At the moment I have about 1700 followers there. Due to Facebook algorithms, only a tiny fraction of them ever see what I post. Ultimately, however, my decision to archive the page has nothing to do with reduced page reach.

I’m leaving Facebook and Twitter because I want to get back to the full embodied joy of writing that I once knew. I’ve missed out on some of that joy in the last few years, because even with a reduced social media presence, Facebook and Twitter still loom large and take up too much space in my life. The deeper I sink into my contemplative practice, the less I find I can tolerate Facebook and Twitter, because they drain me. They take from me so much more than they give back. I don't have the time, energy, or emotional bandwidth to wade through all the potential minefields and keep up with the level of engagement that Facebook seems to demand. And I don’t want to be exposed to the level of detail Facebook gives me about people’s lives - not even for my closest friends. Cutting down my friends list or posting to restricted custom lists of friends didn’t make much difference; it's the platform itself that is the problem for me. Facebook and Twitter are like a noisy, crowded town square, with neon lights and advertising everywhere trying to grab my attention and profit off my unpaid labor. It's too much for me. I want to immerse myself in quiet endarkened retreat space, from whence my best writing emerges.

Like most writers, I’m a hermit by nature. I’m not interested in being a public figure on social media, even on a small scale. Ultimately, I don’t write for an audience. Writing is demanding work, and it’s definitely nice when that work is recognized, appreciated, and supported. I appreciate my readers in return. But validation isn’t the point. Even if I knew no one would ever again read a single word I type, I’d still write. I write because words show up in my awareness unbidden, and because I am relentlessly driven to get those words “out of my system” and wrangle them into a coherent narrative. I write because daimonic forces give me things to say. I’m no longer interested in tracking the number of social media followers I have, or whether or not I’ll have a publisher-approved “platform” for my books whenever they are released. I know enough about the state of the non-fiction book publishing industry - and digital media in general - to know that it’s unlikely that I’ll break even on my books, regardless of the size of my readership. Tren Griffin, for example, writes that

“…the marketplace is not able to absorb all these books and is hugely over saturated. […] The average U.S. nonfiction book is now selling less than 250 copies per year and less than 2,000 copies over its lifetime.”

So I think it’s a good idea to keep my financial expectations realistic. My day job as a copywriter pays the bills. I’m no longer even going to try to make my daimonic writing into my means of financial support.

What I am going to do, however, is keep on writing. I’m driven to write by forces much deeper than I’ll ever understand. I’ll keep publishing my newsletter intermittently here on Substack, and I’ll keep updating my blog whenever time permits. I still love Substack, and I still love blogging too!

Leaving Facebook and Twitter frees up more room for my daimonic creative writing to be done for its own sake - for the sheer joy of it - without any consideration of its social media reach, earning potential, or ability to generate shares and comments. That feels so liberating and welcome for me.

A recent essay by writer Nicole Dieker captured the zeitgeist in book publishing perfectly, I think, particularly regarding social media. I find this part especially striking:

“I would not be surprised if the increase in print book sales was directly correlated with our desire to stop looking at social media for at least, like, 30 minutes.

“…social media isn’t working the way it used to. Part of it is because we’re kind of oversaturated with “read my book!” promotional posts, part of it is because we feel awkward writing those promotional posts in the middle of what feels like a constant national tragedy, and part of it is because a lot of us are culling or avoiding our social media feeds. […]

“Even if Facebook weren’t force-choking our posts…we’d still have to deal with the ways in which social media both amplifies and dilutes any message we try to share. Everyone is asking you to read their thing, whether it’s a Twitter thread or a debut novel. Nobody has time to read everything, and the novel is longer and costs money (or a trip to the library).”

There also seems to be a certain level of social performance expected on Facebook. If you don’t engage promptly or regularly enough with certain types of friends’ posts, for example, or if you don’t engage in a certain type of social media activism, there’s a social price to be paid for it. (Never mind that the vast majority of Facebook posts seem to have a half-life of a few hours before they drop off everyone’s radar forever.)

The other side of this coin, of course, is that most humans are social beings. In the absence of feedback from people on social media, sometimes we worry that nobody even cares what we have to say, which contributes to depression. The oversaturated media climate in book publishing (and music, too) only adds to the problem. Attention spans on social media are stretched to their limits already, and many people are understandably reluctant to add anything to the long list of things they’re already tracking. What an awful climate for mental health on both sides.

In any case, my decision to let go of my presence on Facebook and Twitter is an affirmation that I’m not cut out for the role of a public figure, even a small-scale one. I have other ways to serve. My role is to preserve my time and attention for the writing itself, and deliver the best work of which I am capable. The work will have to find the right audiences in other ways that don’t drain so much of my energy for writing.

If you still wish to follow The Anticareerist and receive new posts, you can either

1) Subscribe to the newsletter at Substack, and/or
2) Subscribe to the blog.

(If you’re reading this by email and not on a website, obviously you’ve already done one of those things. Thank you for that!)

I realize this change will not be ideal for readers who rely heavily on Facebook and Twitter, and I apologize for that. But I’ve been through major change this year - change for the better, I might add - and part of that involves accepting my limits. I must say a hard-line NO to some things in order to free up enough room in my life for an enthusiastic YES for other things.

Thanks for understanding.


You can find out more about The Anticareerist and its author HERE.

Want to read back issues? An archive of all published issues is HERE.

On Acceptance of the Necessity of a 'Day Job'

Good thing I never presented myself as a role model for job-free life.


Dear readers,

This month I write to you with some personal news and an update about the status of this newsletter.

Recently I reached a major turning point in my life, and as a result I decided to let go of the hope that I'll ever be free of wage labor sufficiently enough to do my self-driven creative work full time. This includes The Anticareerist, of course.

Despite 20+ years of resistance to compulsory wage labor, I decided to accept that, like it or not, I’ll probably need to have a day job to "earn a living" for the rest of my life. I decided to stop clinging to false hopes and get on with my life exactly as it IS, instead of how I wish it were. I’m a professional copywriter; I earn most of my income through my day job writing marketing copy. It isn’t easy work, for sure, but at least I’m happier as a copywriter than I was in the days when I paid my bills by running a solo house cleaning business. And of course, I live in the US, so the health care system shapes my decisions too.

As I recently wrote on Twitter:

“I'm a professional copywriter. I'm on Medicaid. If I make $1 above the monthly income limit, the state will cut off my health care. Without that care I couldn't work at all, so every month I turn down work just to keep my health care. My life is an argument for #UBI.”

Since I have more space here than I do on Twitter, I feel compelled to add that when I wrote that I “couldn’t work” without affordable health care, I didn’t mean I couldn’t do ANY work. I meant that without my antidepressant medication and other health care that keeps me sharp enough to write for pay, I couldn’t do any wage labor, because wage labor worsens my clinical depression and other health issues. But I could certainly still do all the unpaid work I do every day.

Anyway, this decision to accept my circumstances means I’ll no longer attempt to bring in income through newsletter subscriptions on Substack. The abysmal conversion rates for online content are not in my favor. I’m aware that this isn’t necessarily a reflection on the quality of my work. Even stalwarts like The New York Times report that only 1-2% of online readers ever become paying subscribers.

I'll still write and publish the newsletter here on Substack. I enjoy it! And I’ll still gratefully accept financial support from those who choose to give it. But no longer will I cling to the hope that one day I'll attract enough paid subscribers to do it full time.

I hasten to add that I still believe strongly that the spirit of resistance to compulsory wage labor that lives inside me - the spirit that drove me to start this project in the first place - is a healthy thing. Nonetheless, wage labor continues to be a necessity in my own life. It is what it is, plain and simple.

There is a kind of power in giving up hope this way. Some call it “radical acceptance.” Acceptance does not mean approval, of course. It means I’m no longer fighting my current reality.

What this means for you is that from now on The Anticareerist will operate on an unpredictable publishing schedule, rather than a monthly one. Each issue will take as long as it takes, and I’ll release it whenever it’s ready.

If you’re a paid subscriber and would like to cancel your monthly $5 subscription, just visit your account on Substack or look at the bottom of your email for a link that reads: “To manage your paid subscription click here.”

If you paid for an annual subscription and would like a refund, just email me and I will issue that refund immediately.

Once again, I’d like to emphasize that I’ll still be publishing the newsletter, and I’m not giving up on The Anticareerist. I’m simply switching to a sporadic publishing schedule because I have accepted that my day job must come first, and that day job consumes most of my energy for writing, leaving little for The Anticareerist.

Thank you for reading, and thank you kindly for all your support.

Sincerely,
D. JoAnne Swanson


You can find out more about The Anticareerist and its author HERE.

Want to read back issues? An archive of all published issues is HERE.

You can also follow The Anticareerist on Twitter and Facebook.  

 

 

 

Loading more posts…