by D. JoAnne Swanson
“Standard parenting/teaching/employment involves an external authority telling you to do stuff – and lots of it. Studying, to start with, and then work. Too much of it, and usually of the wrong sort (not your true calling). Laziness is the natural rebellion against that.
“Unjobbing means ignoring that voice, and letting that voice slowly disappear. Eventually you will come to find your true voice. Your true voice will let you do things without having to fight yourself, and it will also know what you really want to do.”
Many moons ago, as a fledgling young writer inspired by Michael Fogler’s 1996 book Unjobbing: The Adult Liberation Handbook, I quit my office assistant job to free up time for what I really wanted to do: writing. My spouse at the time had agreed to cover our bills for a year if I’d handle all household responsibilities. Confident that my frustrating and time-consuming job was the only thing standing between me and a finished book manuscript, I gleefully bid the job farewell. I’d known since childhood that I was a writer; only begrudgingly had I entered the world of wage labor.
At last! Autonomy! No school, no job, and few obligations other than housekeeping and home maintenance. I couldn’t wait to dive in and embrace life as an un-jobber.
But once I took the plunge, things did not go as I’d planned. Six months quickly elapsed with next to no progress on the book. Then seven. Then eight, nine, ten…
I loved being able to shape my days at will. Glorious days of unstructured time stretched before me. Yet I found myself frittering away time, and with each passing month that progress on the manuscript remained sluggish or stalled, my shame mounted. But…I knew I wanted to use my writing skills to contribute to society! I knew I wanted to write books! How could I just waste this fortunate opportunity? There were people who’d give their eye teeth to be in my shoes! I’d yearned for this for years! Was it writer’s block? Lack of self-discipline? I hadn’t a clue, but in any case this writing thing was not taking shape the way I’d intended.
I wish that youthful version of me had known about dejobbing.
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. (1)
Before I could embrace daimonic creativity as a writer, I had a hefty share of personal development work to do. For years I’d been spending the bulk of my days in jobs I hated in order to “earn a living.” For years I silenced, shunted aside, or otherwise ran roughshod over the protests of my daimon, because I thought I had no other viable choice. I even tried to squeeze my writing into the straitjacket of a paid job, in the hopes of finding a way to “do what I love” for a living. But I had always found it difficult and painful to sell my labor by the hour for wages to survive, even in jobs I found more tolerable. Ever since my first paid job at a fast food restaurant at age 16, “earning a living” had seemed fundamentally wrong. Jobbing drained me of most of my time and energy, squeezing self-driven work into the outer margins of my life. I loved the word unjobbing, and recognized myself in it immediately. But I did not understand dejobbing until much later.
The first component of a conscious dejobbing process is identifying coercive inner voices and distinguishing them from daimonic promptings. The not-so-subtle voice that ordered me around, shaming me for my laziness if I didn’t comply? Coercive. The voice encouraging me to resist the conscription of my time into the service of capital so I could write books? Daimonic. (One of the tell-tale clues: daimonic voices often spoke through dreams; I’d wake up with a sense of words and ideas spilling over, and an overwhelming urge to get them written down immediately.)
I didn’t understand any of this at the time. All I knew was that I didn’t want a job, and I needed to write. I had no explanation other than laziness for the fact that I couldn’t seem to write the things I wanted to write even without the interference of a day job.
Not until the later stages of dejobbing did I develop the fortitude to embrace the daimonic and write from that place.
Unjobbing is a process that can be defined in many ways, all of them valid. The definition I prefer is “the path away from job culture and earning a living.” The paths of unjobbing and anticareerism are unique for everyone; they can’t be codified or generalized into lists of steps to follow. Therein lies their power.
Note, too, that unjobbing does not mean “not working.” It doesn’t even necessarily mean not having a job. Unjobbing means learning how to live and thrive without compulsory wage labor. (2)
This is the focus of The Anticareerist: helping to build a world beyond “earning a living.”
Other ways I define unjobbing include “the path of surrender to golden threads” and “the path toward being the change I wish to see in the world.” The idea here is to get out of one’s own way as much as possible, so as to better perceive and heed the guidance of the daimonic and other larger intelligences.(3)
It took almost a decade of dejobbing for me to prepare for a life of unjobbing and autonomous work. Like most people, I’d grown accustomed to the structure of compulsory wage labor for survival, much as I hated it. I’d long been in the habit of pushing myself past my body’s instinctive objections to it. So when I finally found myself with a surfeit of unstructured time and no idea why I couldn’t make good use of it, I didn’t know what to think.
Here’s the thing, though. Dejobbing is normal. It’s a process. If you struggle with it, it doesn’t mean there’s something wrong with you. In fact, it probably means there’s something right. Giving this process a catchy name makes it easier to identify it and talk about it. If you don’t like dejobbing, call it something else. The point is to recognize that it exists, so you don’t get stuck in self-recrimination about “laziness” like I did.
It takes courage to do the inner work necessary to walk the path of dejobbing and unjobbing in earnest. It also takes a healthy respect for golden threads and the wisdom of the daimonic. Navigating these paths well requires access to intelligences that are inaccessible through the intellect. My journey required me to give myself permission to do nothing: to be as lazy and self-indulgent as I wanted, for as long as I needed, no matter what kind of vitriol I might encounter from unsympathetic onlookers. (It’s more difficult than it sounds!)
“Laziness” opened my path to leisure, and true leisure is an ecologically profound form of intelligence. The laziness-to-leisure trajectory also helped me develop a healthy respect for the cyclical nature of my creative process as a writer interested in engaging the daimonic. This includes lengthy fallow periods and regular use of endarkened creative incubation spaces to sink into deep stillness, silence, solitude, and non-doing. (4)
Compassion, too, is important. In a culture that normalizes coercive employment - a colonized culture in which most of us must have jobs to earn our right to live (”earning a living”) - it’s no wonder so many of us habitually hold ourselves at a certain distance from the daimonic, and remain only dimly aware of the deeper truths residing in our bones and flesh. Coercive employment is painful, and all the more so because it’s so thoroughly normalized and so rarely questioned. It is a violation of the spirit. We live in a culture that finds it perfectly reasonable to deny people even the most basic means of life if they don’t or can’t take whatever employment they can find, no matter how exploitative that employment may be. We live in a culture that considers it not only acceptable, but morally justifiable to force people into jobs by withholding what they need to meet their basic survival needs.
But our bodies know the truth. As Fabiana Cecin points out:
“Our society has very deeply normalized the abuses of “work” relationships. And they are many. But no matter how much our culture has erased any trace of mental modeling of the abuses of “work,” our bodies still perceive and feel ALL of the abuse.”
The first step toward healing the massive cultural and ecological wounds of normalized compulsory employment is to acknowledge them. Can we acknowledge the massive pain and injustice of requiring people to “earn a living”? Can we collectively imagine a world without that kind of pain?
Often we bypass or repress our awareness of this pain and get caught up in the dominant cultural narrative of shaming each other for “laziness.” Typically this is the first accusation lobbed at those who reject (or can’t find) compulsory employment. But what is this laziness? Why is it so thoroughly maligned?
In the U.S. especially, where work is an unofficial religion, laziness is so thoroughly reviled that anyone with the gumption to admit they don’t want a job - especially if they also speak openly in praise of leisure, and insist that leisure is important enough to fight for - is quickly denounced as “entitled,” “parasite,” or “lazy bum.” (I’ll unpack and critique this rhetoric in future issues.)
Yet “laziness" is often a healthy form of resistance to coercive employment, and an important component of the intelligent process of dejobbing.
As I inquired into the deeper roots of my own “laziness,” I unearthed layer after layer of internalized productivist conditioning, to my chagrin. I was trying to write a book decrying the injustice of compulsory wage labor and championing the importance of leisure! Hadn’t I rooted all that Puritan work ethic stuff out?
I hadn’t. Not even close. I did quit my job to write, and I did it joyfully. But then I morphed into my own boss, habitually shaming myself for my lack of “productivity.”
So I kept unpacking and questioning. Why did I waste so much time instead of writing the book I wanted to write? Why was it so difficult for me to make good use of my free time after I quit my job?
Note, first of all, that the way I framed this question assumes that ”making good use” of my job-free time means writing the book. Why hadn’t I considered “doing nothing” a perfectly good use of my time? And furthermore, why did all the work of managing a household and caring for my health needs get shunted into the background and lumped in with “doing nothing”? Reasonable people would probably agree that tasks like grocery shopping, meal preparation, cleaning, and caring labor are doing something, after all, even if these tasks are unpaid.
What other unexamined productivist assumptions might I be harboring?
Truth be told, I didn’t know how to sort out how much of my so-called “laziness” stemmed from resistance to coercion, how much was a reaction to a chronic unmet need for rest and creative incubation time, and how much was procrastination or self-sabotage. What if I actually am lazy in precisely the way our culture reviles? Would that be so bad?
For that matter, what does it mean to “waste” time, anyway? Why wasn’t my time in compulsory employment considered wasted time? The dominant narrative of job culture seems to be that unemployment means wasting time, unless you’re dutifully and diligently studying or seeking further employment. But from my perspective as a creative writer, it’s time in conventional employment that is wasteful. Every hour I spend doing “bread labor” for money instead of doing the work I’m best at - the work I’m called to do - could and should be considered time wasted by employment. And there are countless others in the same boat. Many people’s best gifts and talents are being wasted while they’re stuck in a job to pay the bills. Why aren’t we collectively outraged about this kind of massive waste?
In the early days of dejobbing, before I had done much of this inner work, I wondered if the problem really was just me. Perhaps I’d been using my job as a socially acceptable excuse for not doing all the things I’d been so certain I’d do if I could quit? Still thoroughly steeped in productivist values, I didn’t like seeing myself as someone who simply frittered away time aimlessly. But that’s who I saw in the mirror once the job no longer occupied most of my time. I knew I couldn’t stop there, though. I had more inner work to do. Quitting my job, it turned out, was just the first step.
Oh no, I thought. I’ve already worked on this stuff. You mean there’s still more? You mean I need to dig even deeper to get to the root of this?
It didn’t help that I had to do this work largely alone, in a completely unsympathetic cultural climate. To outsiders, my dejobbing process did look like unhealthy avoidance or procrastination. It did look like I was just being lazy. Nobody seemed to care about the time and energy it took me to manage a household. Six months of “sloth” might have been acceptable, or even a year if I had a good excuse, but in the end I spent many years in the dejobbing process. My gut instincts told me there was more to the story than “laziness,” but at the time I had neither the insight nor the skills to articulate what my body knew.
Much later I came to understand dejobbing as a form of embodied intelligence trying to teach me how to trust my instincts and live a life of autonomy outside the confines of conventional employment. This meant unlearning all kinds of subtle habits of self-coercion that are widely considered perfectly normal, or even healthy. If I’d known about dejobbing, and had been in a position to allow the process to run its full course without interference, perhaps the full truth would have been revealed sooner.
If this struggle sounds familiar to you, try not to berate yourself. Dejobbing isn’t a failure. You are not a failure. People steeped in job culture will almost certainly dismiss you as a loser or a lazy slacker. You may lose friends, as I did. It takes fortitude to navigate the path of golden threads. Nonetheless, dejobbing is an intelligent process; it harbors a timetable of its own. Daimonic and embodied intelligences don’t respond well to shaming and coercive direction. However, they will often respond to genuine trust, discernment, and respectful negotiation. (5)
If you’re unjobbing, you may be doing things that look like work to an onlooker. Or maybe you’re doing things that look more like leisure. Or maybe you’re fortunate enough that your work and leisure blend together most of the time, and you can’t tell the difference. Maybe you have a job - yes, unjobbers can have jobs - but more likely you’re self-employed. In any case, when you walk the path of unjobbing, you allow your actions to be driven by embodied intelligence. Unjobbing often inspires spontaneous bursts of creativity. Amazing things can happen when creative work is liberated from compulsory employment.(6)
So let’s say you like this idea of unjobbing, and want to try it. What can you do to pay the bills while you go through the process of dejobbing? It depends on your situation. Every path is unique. I can tell you what I’ve done so far, but I can’t tell you what will work for you, since I’m not living your life. (For that matter, I can’t even tell you what will work for me. We all traverse this territory without a map.) Living in a thoroughly colonized capitalist culture that normalizes compulsory employment leaves most of us with little room to live the way we need to during the dejobbing process, so this is a tough question indeed. If there’s an answer that works for you, I’m willing to bet you’ll find it through learning to identify and follow the path of golden threads.
If my experience is any indication, the more you can reduce the time you spend in wage labor and give yourself permission for “laziness” - and the less time you spend shaming yourself or over-intellectualizing - the better your chances of discovering what lies in wait for you on the other side of the dejobbing process. But don’t take my word for any of this. Find out for yourself. The inner work of dejobbing and unjobbing leads you to a path that’s all your own; all I can do is tell you my story and cheer you on.
Here’s one thing I’ll say emphatically, though: putting a halt to the laziness-shaming is critical to the process. Laziness-shaming is deeply coercive. It’s one of the most insidious and effective ways capitalism colonizes our time. If we internalize cultural norms that insist our lives only have value to the extent that we earn our keep - and then enforce those norms upon ourselves - we’re doing capitalism’s work for it.
Laziness is not a character defect, bad habit, or moral failure that can be overcome by a concentrated effort of the will. Laziness is often what Charles Eisenstein calls “mutiny of the soul” - a form of subterfuge against the endless pressure to sell your time to employers to survive. If you can, put a bit of emotional distance between yourself and the label “lazy.” What else might be going on that’s perceived as laziness? Maybe you’re overwhelmed? Overworked? Chronically stressed and on the verge of burnout? Maybe it’s a reflection of chronic pain sustained in toxic working environments?
That part of you, the part that’s “lazy,” doesn’t like to be shamed. It’s a healthy and intelligent part of you. It’s trying to get you to listen. Human beings need rest and leisure. How would you feel if you were trying to get a loved one’s attention, and they responded with rejection, dismissal, “self-discipline,” and shaming? Would you feel hurt? So does that part of you. If you want it to speak to you, start by giving it some respect and acceptance. Once it learns to trust you, perhaps it’ll speak up more readily. (7)
Work wrought by coercion will never be as powerful as work that emerges through alignment with embodied intelligences, golden threads, and the daimonic. The path of unjobbing can lead us to places we couldn't have imagined from the previous vantage point, because they looked impossible.
In my own case, although I’m happy to be writing full time now, I still earn most of my income through bread labor as a copywriter. This type of writing is wrought by the coercion inherent in the need to “earn a living,” so when I sit down to do it, resistance and “laziness” arise. I no longer shame myself, but it still takes a lot of energy to force myself to do the bread labor against the protests of my daimon. Daimonic writing, such as the piece you’re reading now, is restricted to my off hours.
I wonder what kind of work I could do in a world that freed me to do the work I want to do?
Unconditional basic income could be a key to that world.
I hope I’ll find out one day.
I hope you will, too.
(1) Special thanks to Charles Eisenstein’s Sacred Economics, James Hillman’s The Soul’s Code, and Matt Cardin’s A Course in Demonic Creativity for insights that marked a major turning point in my life as a writer interested in engaging the daimonic.
(2) Fogler defines unjobbing as: “letting go of the pre-occupation with, and self-inflicted domination and life-consumption by, an “occupation,” while consciously and joyfully reclaiming life.”
(3) The phrase “golden thread” originated with poet William Stafford; I learned about it through Stephen Harrod Buhner’s brilliant books Ensouling Language: On The Art of Nonfiction and the Writer’s Life and Plant Intelligence and the Imaginal Realm.
(4) Matt Cardin writes beautifully about the fallow period and about finding out how your daimon wants you to work in A Course In Demonic Creativity, a free ebook I highly recommend.
“The experience of creative diminishment or full-blown creative block often arises from your unwitting attempt to force your genius to deliver through channels or means that it simply doesn't like and refuses to comply with.” (p. 84)
(5) For moral support along the way, I highly recommend David Frayne’s deeply radical book The Refusal of Work and a Contrivers Review interview with Frayne by Luke Thomas Mergner that is among the most lucid critiques of compulsory wage labor I’ve ever read.
“…people who resist work are less shirkers and deviants, than decent people with alternative ethical priorities—priorities which may be worth taking seriously and thinking about.”
(7) Buhner’s Plant Intelligence and the Imaginal Realm has a wonderful appendix with helpful instructions on how to approach this kind of inner council work. Peter Gerlach calls these “subselves” or an “inner family.” Buhner talks about the book here.
Dear readers: This is the all-access issue of The Anticareerist for March 2018. If you appreciate my writing, I hope you’ll consider a paid subscription at $5 per month, or $50 annually. Subscribers who choose the paid tier enable me to spend more time on writing and publishing The Anticareerist. More paid subscriptions = more writing time for me = more for you to read. That’s the best kind of positive feedback loop!
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Here’s an outline of what I write about:
Notes To Self is a personal narrative letter series delivered by my inner council, offering guidance along the path toward being the change I wish to see in the world and the path away from "earning a living." Topics include non-doing, unlearning shame about "laziness," nurturing ancestral connections to motherlands, and more. The first and second letters in this series are all-access issues.
Get-A-Job Nonsense is a series in which I unpack and critique lazy bums rhetoric, do-what-you-love advice, the notion of financial independence, and other pernicious lies of job culture.
On Doing Nothing is a series of philosophical reflections on decolonizing time, non-doing, building a leisure ethic, leisure as resistance, and envisioning a culture of leisure.
The Deep Sorcery of Colonial Capitalism is a series in which I unpack and make visible the structural violence of “earning a living” and the ways it’s normalized.
Feminist Valuation is a series making visible the unpaid and emotional labor that undergirds "earning a living."
The Anticareerist Bookshelf features book commentary and quotes focusing on unjobbing, dejobbing, and building a culture of leisure that can be accessible to marginalized people.
Slothy Awards is a series recognizing and appreciating writers for their contributions to my anticareerist thinking over the 20+ years I've been studying in this “field” toward a world beyond "earning a living." (Thanks to Heimlich A. Laguz of Elhaz Ablaze for the title Slothy Awards.)
[Image credit: John William Godward, “Leisure Hours” (1905 - public domain)]