Michael Fogler tells you how to quit your job and increase your happiness.
Michael Fogler has a novel way of solving your personal problems: he tells you how to quit your job and never go back. In his book, Un-Jobbing: The Adult Liberation Handbook (Free Choice Press, 2000), he offers strategies to help the work-immersed realize that not only can they live well with half the money they currently earn, but they may in fact find richer, fuller lives in the process.
How have you developed the philosophy that you have about work? What led you to your beliefs?
I was more or less forced into where I am now. I say that with a laugh because I was conditioned to go after the major career and build a traditional life. I just kept not making it. I was trying to get a teaching job in college music but chances for a newcomer at the college level are slim. After that, I tried to get into some related academic positions like administration . . . but I didn't get in there either. So there I was, banging my head against the wall, and one day I just stopped. My wife and I both came to the conclusion that we could both be happier with her leaving her work position, and me stopping trying to get work that clearly wasn't meant to be. We decided to carve out a life of home-based freelance living, one in which our expenses were lowered dramatically. That bought us instant freedom . . . and we were doing what we truly wanted to do. That was nine years ago.
So how do you make ends meet?
I'm still a musician, and I still do quite a bit of work in that field. But I've also been a writer. I help publish a newsletter for a nonprofit organization. I've self-published a book, which demands quite a bit of promoting. Finally, I do some speaking and workshops on self-sufficiency and other topics. Some of the things I do I get paid for . . . some of the things I don't. On the whole, our expenses have been met, and so we happily live our lives.
What is the one thing that people should know about the process of extricating themselves from unfulfilling work?
The biggest stumbling block is fear, no doubt about it. People are afraid, and while they might fully admit that they're not totally happy right now, the fear is that if they make a big change, it could be worse. And so they'd rather stick with what they know, even though it leaves a lot to be desired. They are afraid that accepting a different way of life will mean financial catastrophe.
Well, there's no way of assuring that it won't mean that.
True, but in my experience it doesn't. The one question people ask more than any other in my career workshops is: "If I make the changes I'd truly like to, will everything be okay?" They want me to answer that question [laughs]. And I say, "I don't know if everything's going to be okay, but I know that if you don't make any moves, if you always do what you've always done, you will always get what you've always gotten."
What are steps that help take fear out of the picture?
First, I offer a program of what I call "conscious personal economics." Incidentally, that doesn't mean going off and living in caves. It means that in a moneyed society, you have to get a real handle on your personal economic behavior pattern. How is the money going out and are you spending it on things that are in line with your values, or is it sadness-derived spending that fills you up, however briefly? Next comes a serious self-inventory. What do you value? What really makes you joyous? What would you do if you had no need for money?
The principle being that we have enough money, but just spend it badly?
Well, certainly an incredible number of people earn more money than they really need. For instance, my family of three lives very happily on a household income of under $20,000 a year.
. . . under the national household average, by quite a bit.
Yes, but we have a great home. The first move for us was to sell the home we used to own and apply the equity to a more reasonable place to live. We moved from a pricier neighborhood . . . we have one car instead of two . . . all moves that weren't drastic but made a huge difference in what was asked of our time and effort. I don't want to put myself or the people I speak to on a campaign of sacrifice or deprivation . . . that is not what this is about. It's really about freedom and self-determination, which is quite the opposite of sacrifice. For example, many people don't realize how much their jobs actually cost them, not just in terms of energy and time, but income. Transportation costs and clothing costs and child care costs and the inevitable higher tax bracket . . . and endless "convenience" items and the dozen home-repair invoices you pay each year because you can't do the work yourself . . . and going out to eat because you're too tired to cook. The list is endless. Ultimately they become unconscious purchases . . . and you end up still not having enough money. If it weren't for your job, you wouldn't be paying for any of it.
In your experience, how much money can the average person live on and be happy?
Wow . . . well of course there are about a million different answers to that question. Those who love travel . . . those who have a gizmo fascination . . . they are going to need more money than a simple homebody. I've found, though, that something on the order of, say, $5,000 to $7,000 of disposable, after-bills income per year seems to work, provided that you can arrange a good, inexpensive home.
One of the words that's thrown at working people most often is retirement. What provisions can you make for your older years on $7,000?
We have put away a little bit of money in IRAs. Nothing like what the conventional financial advisers would probably advise. But then "un-jobbing" has at its core the adoption of a different standard of work and retirement. As for me, I can't imagine that I will ever retire. Or maybe I've already retired [laughs]. In other words, I'm going to continue to work for things I believe in as long as I have the capacity to. Of course, given that, I cannot plan for every possible scenario that spells trouble. But nobody else can, either. If you pick work that you love, you may well loathe the very thought of retirement in the first place. That's the funny thing about happiness.
To get a copy of Un-Jobbing: The Adult Liberation Handbook, call MOTHER'S Bookshelf at 1-800-234-3368 and ask for book number MEB287.