I recently stopped working for 5 months, and aside from writing a few blog posts and getting to Gold League in Starcraft, I achieved very little. It was wonderful.
To open with some disclaimers, this of course required an incredible number of privileges, including having some savings, the existence of a strong labour market for software engineers, and many others I haven’t even thought of. It’s also worth acknowledging that it’s moderately obnoxious to go on about how great it is to not work in the context of the generally crappy job market of Earth in 2014. Idealistically I’d like to see long periods of non-work become universally feasible for all.
Inside those substantial caveats, this is my opinionated guide on how to do funemployment.
I think it’s safe to assume that you are an over-aspirational person who on some level, whether you admit it or not, conflates work with self-worth. You’ve probably read and maybe even written a lot of words about downtime being important and about labour-masochism being the resort of small minds. But you justify the time off you do take as being necessary for optimal work performance, and still feel very antsy when you do things that don’t directly increase your life-skills or earning power.
Funemployment is a boot camp to rid you of these foolish notions. It is a hard reset of your internal and external PR. It reminds you that there is no nobility in running yourself into the ground and that there is great dignity in completing Portal 2 in one sitting. It is fun.
It is not a time for you to recharge for your next bout of work. It is not an opportunity for you to develop new skills and learn new languages that will help you in the future. It is a time that exists solely in the present.
No goals - funemployment is training for you to stop taking yourself so seriously and to stop pressuring yourself into progress towards ill-defined and non-existent goals. Of course it’s fun to be skilled and improving, and this is probably a significant part of why you keep working and learning and feel uncomfortable when you’re not. But I bet that an equally significant part of why you are so interested in learning that new framework-generation framework is that you are nebulously worried about what will happen if you don’t. Will you still be employable? Will your next job be better than your current one? Will you get to lead the next big restructuring? Will the kids still think you’re cool? I also bet that none of these things are really directly related to what you actually want in life. Just because you don’t wear a tie doesn’t mean you’re not in some form of rat race.
Goallessness is probably not a stable state. The urge to strive and stretch and explore is probably an inextractable, and indeed overall desirable part of the human condition. But funemployment should be an extended period away from the infinite treadmill of future-facing graft. You should be living in the present and doing things that are fun. Building an experimental Elephant As A Service side-project is no doubt going to be somewhat enjoyable in itself, but I don’t trust you to not be doing it for the CV and Hacker News points. Once your head is clearer then maybe we can talk about self-improvement as fun.
Read story books and play computer games - these are relatively safe activities. If you start feeling cultured and analytical, discontinue immediately and proceed directly to Dead Or Alive: Beach Volleyball.
Embrace your non-achievement - I bet you get stressed out when you are on the bus and don’t have a book or your phone. I bet you have told this to several people in the last year. For a triple-accumulator, I bet that this is because you don’t want to waste the time on the bus. You are so busy that you have to make full use of every available moment, and on some level you are quite keen that other people know this.
Funemployment requires you to go to the opposite extreme, before hopefully balancing out at some golden mean. When you aren’t working, the universally accepted default justification for your existence vanishes. As a great man once said, “haters gonna hate”, and funemployment is like a magnet for cheap shots. “Say Barry, you’ve sure played a lot of Call Of Duty recently. Have you even left the house today?” You mustn’t start stammering out excuses and descriptions of the various semi-constructive things you may or may not have actually achieved today. You must absorb the punch and jujitsu it right back at the puncher. “Yep, it’s been amazing, I’ve been wearing the same underwear for several days now.” You must start going on about how little you are achieving with the same zeal and vigor that you used to go on about how much work you’ve been doing and how over-scheduled your life is, until everyone around you hates you just as much as they did before.
Solve all your problems first - I exaggerate for comic and attention-grabbing purposes, but the more crap you can get out of the way up front, the happier you’ll be. It’s no fun having your tax return or a wildy-feature-creeping website you said you’d build for your friend hanging over your head. Such tasks grow more and more worrying the longer you leave them, and will cause an ever-increasing amount of stress every week until you do them. Kill them before they kill/slightly inconvenience you.
Start meditating more - this is an opinionated guide, and it is my correct opinion that everyone should be meditating. Whilst my usual insufferably smug line on this topic is that “you don’t have time not to be meditating”, it is actually incredibly difficult to start making the time to do it. Fortunately, whilst funemployed you have time gushing uncontrollably out of every orifice. I will write more about this one day, but there is already a surreally wide spectrum of literature available on meditation, written by people living in places from Tibetan monasteries to Goldman Sachs.
Once funemployed, you will not doubt quickly decide on your own list of inalienable, objective principles. But within the confines of my opinionated guide, the above is what you should be thinking about, and the following is a three sentence summary of it. Don’t take yourself too seriously. Don’t be afraid to do things that probably wouldn’t scale to the rest of your existence. And calm down.