A year ago today, I released an essay titled ‘The Good Life’ Is NOT The Four-Hour Work Week. The essay preaches about how happiness—true happiness—is derived, not from fame, money or luxury, but from spending one’s time doing meaningful work. True happiness comes from cultivating a sense of Life Purpose.
The main criticism I received on the essay was that it failed to address the systemic causes of the, as Jon Vervaeke calls it, ‘meaning crisis’. My readers seemed to agree on the notion that the problem is not that us young folk cannot find our purpose because we are too busy pursuing fame, money and luxury. From their perspective, the problem lies in the forty-hour work week; for, if we are to spend at least a third of our lives working, and another third sleeping (ideally), then how are we supposed to find and realize our purpose in the limited time that is leftover?
Upon reading these criticisms, my heart sank. As a writer who currently makes bread by working in the beauty industry, this really is the fight I am up against: Because ‘time is money’, I have a limited amount of time to tell all the stories I want to tell, and a limited amount of time to communicate all the ideas I dub meaningful.
Through all my writing—from my fictional works such as The Sun and Moon Saga to essays like this one—my intention is to help the reader find meaning in an otherwise meaningless world, in a world filled with more and more bullshit each and every day. But is capitalism solely to blame for our meaning crisis?
Of course, a lack of time reserved for meaningful pursuits is a legitimate obstacle. As a writer, I am extremely frustrated by this obstacle. Week after week, I mourn all the stories that could be told, all the pieces that could be written… if I did not have to exchange my time for money, just to keep a roof over my head and food on my table.
But I also know that even on a day spent working in the hair salon, I am still left with eight hours during which I am not making bread and sleeping. Yes, there are other chores that need to be done, but, ultimately, this is my time to pursue something meaningful.
Wasting what time I do have focused on how I do not have as much time as I would like—this is an obstacle in and of itself. No, it’s worse than that: this is not merely an obstacle; it is a trap. The reality is that we do live in a capitalist society; I cannot change this, so why should I waste my energy stewing about it?
In ‘The Good Life’ Is NOT The Four-Hour Work Week, if I had critiqued capitalism—which, for the record, I am not a fan of—I would have been addressing just one of countless obstacles blocking the realization of one’s Life Purpose. And, honestly, most of these obstacles are traps of the mind.
Yes, I believe prudently implementing some socialist policies would support us folk already on our individual quests for meaning. And I do believe everyone should have access to their basic needs such as food, housing and healthcare. However, simply being granted access to your time will not instil your life with meaning. Actually, it might have the opposite effect—even if you do feel as though your current work is meaningless.
For where is meaning found? Not in fame. Not in money. Not in luxury. Not in anything external. Meaning is found in the mind. So, even though I could critique capitalism, and, in future essays, probably will—and even though I do critique capitalism in much of my fiction—when writing ‘The Good Life’ Is Not The Four-Hour Work Week, I thought it better to share what has helped me find this perplexing sense of purpose, what has helped me find this mysterious sense of meaning.
Full disclosure: although lately, mainly due to the recession, the beauty business has slowed down a bit, cutting hair can make alright money. But, just over three years ago, I was a hippie without a trade, leeching off my parents. Getting my trade and moving out of their house was a big accomplishment for me.
I have heard that, for us millennials, our equivalent to ‘a house with a white picket fence’ is renting your own one-bedroom apartment and maintaining a collection of houseplants. I have both of these things, and for that, I am grateful.
So, when discussing the meaning crisis, I should acknowledge my privilege. No, I am not rolling in cash, but because I am trained in a trade—hair-styling—I am doing alright. Getting my trade was one of the most challenging things I have ever accomplished, and I feel secure knowing I have a gig I can always fall back on when times are tough. I know not everyone is this fortunate, and I am sorry if sometimes the philosophies I preach make it seem as though I am out of touch.
However, precisely because I went from broke artist to thriving tradesperson, I think there is a sense of legitimacy in my making this claim: In life, it is so important, to go beyond material things, to go beyond trivial things, and find your sense of meaning, find your Life Purpose.
The funny thing about money is that it is seductive, alluring. Once you start to make it, you really do want to make even more, or at least maintain what you are making. Being able to buy material things that I once could not afford—books, Tarot decks, crystals, houseplants—it does feel nice. Ultimately, however, none of this really fulfils me. None of this is my true joy.
I’ve made pretty decent money… just not through writing. And because time is money—or perhaps it would be more accurately worded ‘because money buys time’—I am limited in how many hours I can invest into my craft, as I have not yet monetized my passion. (Side note: join us on Patreon, if you would like to support my work.)
And yet I know how important it is that I keep writing, because the process of doing my work is the greatest joy I know. Sure, I want recognition for my work. And yes, I want it to become how I pay my bills. And if I tried to tell you that I don’t crave certain luxuries—a new pair of Lulu Lemon leggings or a certain collector’s edition of The Lord of the Rings—I would be outright lying.
But, ultimately, none of those trivialities are the reason I put words to paper (or Pages doc). And this is why I wrote the original essay: to inspire artists to be creative anyway—to inspire creatives to prioritize their work—even if it doesn’t make them money—even if they don’t yet have an audience. Much of the meaning can still be mined, in the darkness of the cave where the soul resides; because fulfilment comes, not from trivial pursuits, but through the journey of self-actualization.
Our culture fails to teach us this. In fact, often, it tries to hide this Truth from us. A critical view of almost any (effective) advertisement is proof of this deceit. From a capitalist’s perspective, creating conditions for your happiness, always keeps your joy at bay, and gets you to spend your hard-earned dollars on the latest whatever.
And creating benchmarks for fulfilment, keeps you working, ‘hustling’. Our culture tells us that happiness comes when you earn six figures and own a home. Our culture feeds us the idea that to be joyful is to be famous, even though we’ve all probably heard enough cautionary tales to know that this is certainly not the case.
‘The Good Life’ Is NOT The Four-Hour Work Week is a criticism of these cultural ideals, not a criticism of the individual lost in the labyrinth of suffering. If you were one of the readers hurt by the essay, then I am truly sorry. And I hope, in this essay, I have expressed my thoughts regarding the meaning crisis and Life Purpose with more clarity, and in a more nuanced manner.
One thing I failed to mention in ‘The Good Life’ Is NOT The Four-Hour Work Week is that this is something I struggle with too! I am not philosophically or spiritually superior. When I wrote that essay, as much as I was writing to other young ambitious creatives, I was also writing to myself. Honestly, I could have titled the piece, ‘A Letter To My Lower Self’.
For there is an aspirational side of me; but there is also a side of me that just wants to watch YouTube videos and eat potato chips. And, everyday, I have to balance the needs of the latter with the demands of the former. It’s tricky: balancing my meaningful work with my carnal desires. Leaning too far in either direction is a trap—this, as a recovering workaholic, I have learned the hard way.
Last year in particular, I struggled with my own personal meaning crisis. Yes, my 2023 was good on paper. But spiritually? It was a total mess! My sense of meaning and Life Purpose were really put through the wringer. Fortunately, both survived, albeit just barely.
It is ironic that, on January 1st of 2023, I released ‘The Good Life’ Is NOT The Four-Hour Work Week. Fast forward to November of 2023, and I was reading through and reflecting on some of my work. When I got to that essay, I could not help but think, Did I write this for my future self? Did I subconsciously know that these ideas were going to be the biggest challenge of my year?
I am going into 2024 with more clarity around what it is I value, and, therefore, more clarity around how I would like to spend my resources: my time, money and energy. I am now able to be far more discerning with what is really part of my personal quest for meaning, and what is just bullshit. (The year 2023 was, essentially, bootcamp for this!) And I am committed, now more than ever, to reaching beyond the trivial, and fulfilling my Life’s Purpose.
Author’s note: If you found this essay inspiring, you may also take inspiration from Stop Creating Content And Start Creating Art.