By Wendy Priesnitz
In the 1970s and 80s, my family led an educational revolution; our children learned at home, instead of at school, and without the trappings, expectations, competition, lack of respect and trust, and coercion that is part of school. I call this “life learning” but some people call it “homeschooling” or “unschooling” or variations on those words.(You can learn more about it here.) There is a similar term for the way I choose to make my living; it’s called “unjobbing.”
Unjobbing can be thought of either as the process of leaving a job you don’t like to work independently, or the actual state of living and working that results from leaving a job. (Or for many people these days, it is the reality they face after their job has disappeared.)
But it is more than that. In the same way that life learning is about more than education, this so-called “unjobbing” is about more than work. It is about aligning all aspects of your life – including work – with your personal values. It means living without the competition, outwardly-imposed structure, lack of respect, expectations, greed, and so on that characterize many conventional workplaces.
For many people, one of the biggest unjobbing transitions involves removing the credentials from behind your name and disentangling your identity from the job you have. And because it includes the philosophy of living simply and consciously, it usually means working less than full-time, and devoting the rest of the time to family and home, community service and volunteering, travel, or leisure. (Working less is another challenge for many…you don’t need to jump from one treadmill to another!) What I’m talking about here is following your passion and using your talents to make enough money for your and your family’s needs without having a job, rather than trying to be a millionaire entrepreneur.
In this lifestyle, revenue might come from self-employment, possibly as a consultant providing services under contract to businesses or individuals. Unjobbing might involve occasional freelance work. It might look like a micro-sized business selling a product. Or public speaking, writing, film-making, blogging, crafts, art, market gardening, inventing green technologies, or doing odd jobs around the neighborhood. Or it might involve managing previously acquired assets. Most likely, it will involve a variety of activities in a patchwork of income-generation. Many unjobbers do work similar to what they were doing when they worked in a paid job; others use the opportunity to follow an entirely different, and more fulfilling, path…one by which they never thought they could make a living.
My work involves writing books and articles (for newspapers, magazines, and my blogs); editing magazines and books (some of which my company publishes); publishing niche magazines and websites, as well as a very small line of niche books; public speaking; and a small amount of coaching and consulting. The proportion of my time given to each has shifted many times over the past forty years. I consider it my life’s work, rather than a job. My company could be more profitable than it is, but I am big on ethics and refuse to capitulate to a variety of corporate interests; I am, instead, focused on social change.
I chose this lifestyle for a number of reasons. Originally, it was a way for both my husband and I to work flexibly at home in order to allow our daughters not to attend school – and to provide them with a role model of self-reliance and what is now called social entrepreneurship. It allows me to use my talent as a writer and editor and it fits my short attention span. Working for myself means that I don’t ever have to compromise my ethics and principles, and that I can integrate work and fun. And it allows me to work for change in the way we educate, work, and live, to move toward a non-hierarchical, egalitarian, cooperative, convivial, peaceful society. I believe that it is almost impossible to change our organizations and institutions from within because those on the inside have vested interests that outsiders – like unjobbers – don’t have. So I work on the outside.
Some of the change that I envision is already happening in the workplace as a result of current world economic circumstances (paradoxically, at the same time that there is a move in the opposite direction too!). Some experts believe that unjobbing may become the norm, even though many see it as a glass-half-empty scenario. Others, like me, believe it is positive part of a sustainable living solution. For some perspective on this, check out the work of authors like Juliet Schor (Plenitude), Richard Florida (The Great Reset), Seth Godin (Linchpin), Daniel Pink (Drive), Shannon Hayes (Radical Homemakers), and Chris Guillebeau (The Art of Non-Conformity). There are also books and blogs about unjobbing, but if you are reading this you probably already have some familiarity with the idea.
Of course, as wonderful as it is to follow your passion, enjoy a flexible time schedule, work from home, be your own boss, and try to change the world, unjobbing does require a bit of organization, some planning, and doing some things you might not love to do. (For me, that’s bookkeeping.) It is also handy to have a calm and risk-tolerant perspective on life, and a relatively laid back personality. And, despite what the work-at-home, get-rich-quick ads say, you will need to sell – if not a product or a service, then your own talents and abilities. So knowledge about your subject, as well as some confidence in yourself and your chosen direction, is also important.
Wendy Priesnitz is the author of thirteen books, including Bringing It Home: A Home Business Start-Up Guide for You and Your Family. She also wrote a weekly small business column for ten years and, for fifteen years was a home business workshop leader and micro-business coach.