Hustle culture is toxic, and it permeates my childhood upbringing. "If you don't work, you don't eat," they taught me.
It's a duty I still hold dear for myself. I value my productive days dearly, and love tangible outputs.
Yet, we now live in times with such an abundant wealth of resources. What if instead of work, we engaged in productive play?
What if we recognised that not all actions will yield immediate tangible results?
What if we gave ourselves the time and space to recuperate, to stay healthy, to de-stress, and to creatively approach problems?
Most of all, what if we didn't impose ableist ideals of workism on ourselves?
The Parable of the Master Who Worked to Eat
Although the "you don't work, you don't eat" attitude is surely from the bible, my dad told me a different story more suited to my childhood understanding.
There was an old master, my dad told me, surrounded by disciples. These disciples wished to see his wisdom persist for as long as it humanly could.
Every day the master would work the rice paddies, carry water, chop wood, or otherwise toil for his basic needs. It was hard work, taxing on the body of such an aged master.
Soon a conspiracy amongst the disciples developed, fuelled by the concern that their master would work himself to death. Thus, they endeavoured to do his work for him.
When the master went about his daily tasks, he found a disciple already there, helpfully offering him what he sought. A pail full of water, split logs, and so forth.
At long last, at the end of the day when all gathered together to sit and dine, the master did not accept the offered bowl of rice.
He proclaimed, "If you don't work, you don't eat."
There's Nuance to Not Working
There are several things to discuss when this parable comes up.
The first of which is that the goal of work is not always the output of the labour, but the process itself. Some people love refining skills, exerting themselves in exercise, or supporting others with their efforts.
Another point that comes up quickly is "What if you're sick or laid up?" Does someone who's temporarily out of it deserve to be taken care of by others?
What if it's not just a temporary affliction? Are our lives worth less because we're not working conventionally?
I've written previously about hardships we face in life, and a little bit about ableism:
In short, gathering money and performing chores endlessly are not the sole arbiters of relationship value.
People deserve happy lives, regardless of whether they "provide" anything to anyone.
That said, partnerships may or may not be hinged on a tangible value, whether it's conversation, labour, shared dreams, or something else entirely. It's up to individuals to determine what they want to get out of a relationship, and to find people who can meet those desires.
I think it's safe to agree that nobody is advocating for starving out people who are temporarily unable to work – since that would include everyone. Babies can't work for one, and for two, catching a common cold would be a starvation sentence.
Then comes the nuance of "won't work" versus "can't work." It is a point of much contention, with many individualistic people saying that it's every person's duty to fend for themselves.
There's this attitude streak in society that if you refuse to work, you should starve. Sometimes this gets extended to the genocidal conclusion that if you can't work, at all, you shouldn't be "allowed" to live.
Such social Darwinism is played out and exhausting. We live in a highly collaborative society, and mutual cooperation should be the ideal we strive to embody.
Our duty should not be to work to feed ourselves. Instead, our duty should be to help everyone meet our collective needs.
What if we could do so in a sustainable, fun, light-hearted way?
What Is Productive Play, and What is Constructive Play?
Compared to historical societies, our present day world has such an abundance of wealth that it's hard to reason about.
Technology and innovation have driven us to incredible heights, but at the same time, we have a problem with lopsided distribution of that wealth.
If you're reading this, then you're likely at least passingly familiar with the FIRE (financial independence) movement. Most of the people I know who pursue FI are looking forward to retiring to a life of constructive play instead of contemporary workism.
Constructive play, or productive play, is the idea that we can meet our basic needs through playful activities that we enjoy.
We can move past the idea of a separate work and play time, where work is an obligation we put up with to meet our needs, and play is our relief from work.
There are people – like me – that enjoy pursuing novelties of knowledge. People who learn new skills for fun, building and creating all the while.
Doing something new or creative helps meet our needs beyond the base sustenance and shelter – it helps us feel actualised.
Oft I feel most vibrantly alive when I am writing actively, playing around with small tech projects, gardening, or exploring a new engineering topic.
My physical needs are also cared for because I'm privileged enough to be in the tech industry. Eventually, when I achieve FI, my physical needs will be met by the stash of wealth I've accumulated through my lifetime.
Which leaves time for pursuits of play that can still have tangible outcomes. Writing books, volunteering, leading workshops for certain skills and activities, and so on.
How Workism and Hustle Culture Tie Into Play
I'm currently on "holiday" visiting my partner, yet even as I spend my time with her, I still steal snippets of time to engage with my day job's high-profile project.
In large part, this is due to my inability to enjoy leisure time.
I've been reared all my life to despise myself for being lazy, and to value those who work hard. From that point of view, idleness is tantamount to sin. Despite the fact that downtime is necessary to be productive in general.
This hustle on my holiday is also due to the fact that I enjoy the work I do. I play with side projects using the same principles I apply to my day job.
The saying "Do what you love, and you'll never work a day in your life" is glibly untrue. Yet, doing what you love is certainly much more sustainable than grinding out a hustle you don't care for.
I'm so glad that the things I enjoy also pay well enough that I can comfortably support not just myself, but my partners too.
My Duty is to Care for Myself, and to Enable My Partners' Play
Rather than consuming myself in "productivity" without an end in sight, I seek moderation.
That's one of the reasons why I choose to pursue FI. I know when to say "enough" about pursuits that can ultimately destroy me. I don't wish to become a burnt out husk of a person in my middle-age.
Furthermore, I want to be a vibrant person. That requires both caring for myself with leisure, and growth through play.
It doesn't end there. My role as Domme means setting up the conditions to make my partners happy and healthy and wealthy.
Wealthy in time as well as money, where happy and healthy require play of various forms. My dearheart enjoys his woodworking, and my dear lady has her games and friends.
Neither of them are currently "working," and in the long run I suspect my dear lady will not pursue anything conventional.
Learning to accept that for myself has been a slow path, as I've broken down my internalised hustle culture. There's still room to go, too, but at least now I feel at peace.
With that in mind, I shall call to attention this article I wrote:
From that article, there's this quote I find particularly relevant:
"For me, financial independence will not take the form of a life of leisure or travel.
Instead it will be about securing the foundation for me to fill my life with wonderful people and build things that benefit others. I'll never stop working for a better world."