How We Might Live

For young people leaving college since 2008, the prospects of a full-time job have been stressful, to say the least.  Their grand-parent’s generation enjoyed almost full employment for the majority of their working lives, final salary pensions, health benefits, sick leave, and paid holiday entitlement.  No longer.  These benefits have evaporated, and in their place has emerged the short-term contract, which offers no security and few benefits.  Meanwhile, young people are saddled with large education debts that are hard to reduce, given the employment situation. 

We can deplore this, but it is a fact, and we have to deal with the insecurity as best we can. The cards are in the hands of employers.  So here are some recommendations:  

  • Abandon the consumerism we grew up with.  Things don’t matter, people do.  If everyone stopped buying unnecessary things, the exploitation would eventually stop (and so would the economy; on the other hand we would have freedom from our rulers, the corporations).  That Maserati you dream of is a five minute sensation.  Once you have it it is part of the scenery and you will want to find something else to hanker after.  The whole, massive marketing effort by industry is aimed at getting you to keep spending. Try stopping!
  • As a corollary to the rejection of consumerism, pull in your horns and save money.  How will you live otherwise in old age (will there be any Social Security by then?), or in the event of unemployment.  Americans have a very bad savings record because they have been encouraged by companies to spend every penny and more, and credit has been historically cheap.   Use that credit card sparingly.  
  • You need to be flexible in what you do. The job market in the future may require you to acquire new skills and learn the ins and outs of several businesses and industries.  
  • Take on board the idea of lifetime learning and self-education throughout life.  Not only will you be interested in a host of subjects, but you will be more interesting to your friends and more able to adapt to changes in your work.  It is possible that the extremes of specialization could fade and the idea of the educated generalists return, able to connect the dots and adapt to new opportunities.  We are too specialized for our own good. 
  • Abandon the concept of after-office/factory time as being “time off” work.  Work should be something we enjoy, yes (if possible) but we should regard it as something that takes up part of our life and regard time with friends and time pursuing our activities as “time on”.  Work should be “time off”. We work to eat and to have a roof over our heads; it is not the be-all and end-all of existence.  Don’t be a slave to the clock. 
  • Not withstanding the above, be proud of a job well done.  You need to look after your own morale.  So while you are at work do that little more than is required of you.  It also helps when your job review comes up.
  • You have to have something else to live for, apart from work. Nietzsche said, “He who has a why to live can bear almost any how.” Throughout life you have to have a reason to look forward and find something you enjoy outside work, even if it takes time to find that something. Increasingly, it becomes difficult to experience it in one’s job, and TV and watching sport doesn’t cut it.   Don’t worry if you can’t immediately find something that you love – Van Gogh had no idea what he wanted to do with himself.  He only sold one painting in his whole life and had about four careers.  But he didn’t mind –  he at last found his true vocation and pursued it.  School seldom discovers all your talents, and in most families parents seldom do either.  Actually, over the course of fifty years you change, mature and recognize for yourself interests and abilities you never dreamed of when you were young.   You have a duty to yourself to experiment with all sorts of activities until you find something you are competent in and feel passionate about.  

Everything I have mentioned above is consonant with an Epicurean life: the rejection of consumerism and reckless spending, the saving for old age and unemployment, the lifetime learning and acquisition of new skills, the pride in a job well done.

Most of all, Epicurus would want you to enjoy life, have many friends, use your brain and intelligence to discuss and debate, and to find by trial and error, if you can, that special interest or skill that excites you and makes life worth living.  

Robert Hanrott, author of the Epicurus Blog


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