Reader G writes from New Zealand:
Re: returning to the office, here’s a contrary view. I have returned to the office after exclusively working from home for a while. (Life has been near-normal in New Zealand since mid-2020).
I did this by choice because I found I prefer a sharp barrier between the world of work and the rest of my life. Working from home, it’s easy to feel bad about stepping away for breaks, to work late, to keep an eye on online chat… I prefer to leave the office on time and leave work behind too.
Also, of course, my employers provide a reasonably ergonomic workspace for me with the associated amenities. Why should I fit out a home office and dedicate that space for the benefit of my employers? They don’t pay me any rent for it or buy me any extra kit.
I also prefer the social contact and the sight of other human beings and spontaneous interaction. I find video conferencing a poor substitute.
You’re correct, of course. If the office is right for you, that’s excellent. And your point about setting up a specialist workspace in your home is a good one. Why should you?
We’re traditionally against office life and the job system at New Escapologist but the real moral of the story lies in making a life that fits you and doing it creatively and out of free will. If you like working in an office, then that’s great!
I miss proper human interaction too. Not in the office context, mind you, which in my experience revolved around microagressions and colin the caterpillar. But face-to-face relationships with other people are irreplaceable, yes. I miss gigs and art shows and nightlife very, very much. I even speak as an introvert who has to stay at home for a couple of days with the curtains drawn if I happen to go out three nights on the run.
Human contact is too important to throw away even if it makes economic sense in the context of working from home. Video conferencing is garbage. I disliked it in the days of office life (20 minutes of a 60-minute meeting could easily be devoted to setting up a piece-of-shit technical “fix” to allow distant colleagues to have a say) and I positively despise it now. The remote quizzes and and so-called cultural events online during lockdown did not please me. “But it’s all we have at the moment,” is the usual refrain. But it’s not, is it? Books! Walks! Nature! Love! You’ve heard this all before.
I’m a long-time fan of your blog. Your content is a breath of fresh air on an Internet plagued with work worship, life coaches, productivity tips and the “power lunch” mentality. I started reading your book yesterday and it’s difficult to stop. Your writing style is a brain massage.
Let me tell you a little about myself: I’m Brazilian, male, 33 years old, and have what every parent here raises a child to get: a public-sector job. The admission exam for this type of job is very, very hard, demanding years of single-minded preparation. Once you pass it, your job entails massive boredom, senseless tasks and good pay, normally for life.
I always suspected this may not be a good way to live, even before setting foot in an office. After twelve years of living this life my soul was in an advanced state of corrosion. The paycheck never brought the lasting happiness that everybody said it would. The material goods it made possible did not motivate me any longer.
The turning point was when I needed a haircut one day. To get a haircut I needed to program my schedule one week in advance to carve out twenty minutes for it. Enough! I was a slave on gold chains. This must not go on.
On this journey through open plan offices and noisy coffee machines, I always made sure to save my money, knowing full well that I would not be able to bear the 37 years of mandatory work for retirement. Last November I made a deal with management to take one day off per week (Wednesday) with the matching 20% reduction in pay. I had made very few decisions in my life as intelligent as this one.
With this improvement in my life came a change in perception about the value of work. I started living in a more leisurely way. I barely noticed the 20% pay cut but it was difficult not to notice a holiday every week.
A year later here I am: new hobbies, new interests, and far more content than ever before. Hell! I’m making wood sculptures when twelve months ago I didn’t even know how to draw! In the workplace I’m a tech guy (the one with a spreadsheet for everything) and art apparently shouldn’t be attempted by people like me! Yet here I am, having a blast at cutting wood, not typing numbers on a computer. Imagine how many people have too hidden talents that will never see daylight because a job sucks away all the energy.
In the centuries to come we’re going to look to today’s offices and feel the same as when we look for Industrial Revolution factories. How could we do that to people?
I’m grateful for you being a voice against the madness of work and so-called productivity. I realized I’m not alone and very happy to realize this relatively early on life.
I attached some images of the sculptures. It takes hours and hours to make one, but who’s counting?
Dear New Escapologist,
I love your blog and newsletter. It has been making my trip from ‘desk’ (shudder) to the ‘free world’ easier since late last year. I’m laughing again. I liked this quote from the blog of Catrina Davis to which you linked us in the May 2020 newsletter:
Millions across the ‘developed’ world are having to confront the fact that the future they worked and planned for, the one they were sold over and over again, by countless teachers and politicians and estate agents, is officially a dud.
Ha ha ha. So true. Sadly, many have been so cajoled into a particular way of thinking that they believe this is life. The office is a soul-sucking environment. You are paid a sort of compensation to die quietly of all the health issues caused by sitting in a chair day after day, staring at a screen like zombie.
You are tricked into believing that ‘team spirit’ is something you need to possess. It kills your creativity and is another term for ‘following the herd’. I walked out and never looked back. The sense of freedom is amazing.
I’m enjoying my life and feeling far healthier and happier than I ever did while ‘working’.
Thanks for your wonderful blog and sense of humour,
As a long-time supporter and fan of New Escapologist (and Escape Everything!, which I re-read periodically), I thought of you as I watched a film last night and am writing to share the details in case you and your readers fancy watching it too.
Vivarium (2019) is a dystopian critique of the suburban dream. The Guardian gave it four stars which I think is about right, if for no other reason than I’m still thinking about its dark message today.
I became acquainted with New Escapologist while I was still in corporate servitude. It planted a seed, nurtured further by Escape Everything!, that over time grew into an urge to leave it all behind.
I have since left employment, sold virtually all my possessions and moved from Australia to England with my partner (I’m British by birth but they are Australian) to live in a small but stylish one-bedroom flat in [a non-capital city]. We laugh, darkly, that we are climate refugees and find the UK climate more agreeable than the searing heat of an Australian summer. Our friends viewed it all with a combination of pity and scorn.
I have never once regretted doing it because I can now concentrate on perfecting minimalist living, making art and hoping that Covid-19 might trigger a lasting change in the way the world operates. I fear that I’m being overly optimistic on that last point.
Thank you for everything you do.
I don’t know if you can still remember me but we started the last year together at S’s New Year’s Eve party and had a short but great conversation about the possibilities of living a free life. You might know me as the German gypsy with the mustache. 🙂
When I was back in Germany after our meeting I immediately got your book. It was a lot of fun to read and you write with a great style. It encouraged me to do what I had planned to do anyway: quit my job, buy an old camper van and drive around with my girlfriend.
I’d also like to have more time to realize the dream that you have already made come true: to write books (I’m working on it). I also mean to make more music again. And to teach people in workshops the method of mindfulness, which is very valuable for me to gain inner freedom and enjoy life.
I wanted to say thank you for the energy that your book and our meeting gave me back then. I now live with my girlfriend in an apartment in Berlin-Kreuzberg (when we are not travelling with our camper van).
Ah, that is a good life. Seeing the world with a loved one, writing books and making music. You win!
Sigh. Remember parties though? Under lockdown, they feel like something from another age. Rest assured, we will party again. It will feel uncanny at first and we’ll all shuffle around, unsure if hand-shaking or cheek-kissing were ever even a thing, but we’ll get over it.
Re: the intangibility of debt. When I was 20 or so, I took out a $5,000 personal loan and a credit card with a $5,000 limit. The loan was to pay for the removal of my wisdom teeth and the credit card was because I thought it was just a thing adults are supposed to have.
I ended up moving overseas for two years instead of making any attempt to pay them off, and in that absence they just… lost track of me.
A few years later, I applied to get a copy of my credit report and there was no record of either of the defaults.
The only info they had on me was an address I used to live at, and one of the many jobs I’d (officially) worked at. There was almost no detail whatsoever. I’m not off-grid or anything; I’m on the electoral roll and I pay taxes so it’s not hard to find me.
So, yeah. I don’t think the whole red letter, scary-scary, “protect your credit rating at all costs” thing is real.
I think I probably got lucky – but only a bit. It was two unrelated financial institutions, so I think it must be pretty common. I figure the people who attend to low-level debt are just random people who aren’t great at their jobs and don’t care about them (nor should they), so of course it doesn’t get tracked well.
I don’t know if I can go as far as actually recommending people just stop paying their consumer debts off, but I can definitely recommend that people not feel like they are under a perpetual dark cloud. Because the bank sure as hell as isn’t thinking about it.
Escape Everything! has been a much-needed source of reassurance and motivation for me over the past several months. Thank you for creating this book! After I finished it, I immediately started reading again, this time keeping track of my favorite passages.
My husband and I created our Escape Plan about a year ago, and I found the New Escapologist site shortly after that. We are about 6 months away from Escape. We are going to quit our jobs, sell our house, and take an extended road trip.
In Chapter 9 you joke about stating to one’s employer “I just hate work and want to be free” as a reason for wanting to work fewer hours. I had a good laugh and am seriously considering using this line when I resign from my job!
Thank you so very much for sharing your wonderful writing and point of view.
Last year, somewhere in Austria, I decided to drop out of university in my very first class. We can say actually in the first fifteen minutes. I was 18, took my backpack, got out of the building and said “Goodbye to all that!”
I worked a bit after leaving university and saved money. I am now in a small town somewhere in the world, educating myself, reading Plutarch, and drinking chocolate in the afternoon, hoping to write soon.
I live simply and I am very young and inexperienced, but Thoreau taught me to try the experiment of living to learn to live.
I just wanted to say a huge thank you. I read your book and took the back catalogue of your magazine away on my Summer Holidays last year. Fast forward ten months and this week is my last in my [civil service] job. I handed my resignation in and have found part-time work with a friend in street food catering.
I am happier, more carefree and have a smile back on my face.And this wouldn’t have happened without your writing.
Thank you for the inspiration to make the great escape.
I like your writing. I came across your column about “the Hot New Thing” in the Idler which prompted me to get your books Escape Everything! and A Loose Egg, while also subscribing to your newsletter.
I’m only 10% in to your Escape book, which is hilarious and I literally laugh out loud when reading it on the tube (a good reason to have a long commute), however I have come across a major flaw in your argument, which if you forgive me I would like to relay to you.
If we all became idlers and escapees, who would do the absolutely essential jobs that no one wants to do, like street cleaning, rubbish collecting, sewage clearing, etc.?
Surely the economic system we live under has facilitated wage slavery for this very reason – someone has to do the dirty work. The only way to reserve some people for pawn-like functions while others enjoy their kingly status is to set up an unequal, hierarchical system that keeps the poor out of pocket so that their only choice is to collect your black bin liner once a week.
I get that your writing is meant to be tongue-in-cheek, silly, and quite often ridiculous, but unfortunately it doesn’t come across as economically viable. I hope one of your later chapters will rectify this though.
Have a good day and I look forward to reading more of your witty passages.
D., a fan
Hi D. Thanks so much for buying my books. I can just about live on the strength of my book sales but I’m still in a position where every book counts, so I hugely appreciate it. Thank you. I’m glad you like the Idler column too – more of those to come!
I think I come some way to answering your question later in the book (the epilogue is literally and directly about “what if everyone was an escapologist?” – I think that might even be the title), though I appreciate that I may not have handled it fully and that the shortcoming you have detected probably remains a valid criticism of the book. Hold tight though and finish the book to see what you think. In brief:
– The sort of jobs I really take aim at are “bullshit jobs,” i.e. white collar, boring jobs that either make no difference to world or actively harm it. Toilet cleaning and the likes can be said to be “shit jobs” but hardly useless, so they don’t really attract my ire. David Graeber makes this important distinction in his brand new Bullshit Jobs book, which actually serves as a nice (if belated) preface to Escape Everything! and the sort of thing Tom writes about in the Idler.
– The “who would sweep the streets and do other sorts of dirty work” question is, I’m afraid, very common. There are ideas about automating it in various ways (not necessarily in high-tech ways but in upstreaming the problem, etc.), but you’re right that the work has to be done for now. It should also be better paid than it is, which is something social activists are working on (here in Scotland they’re doing quite well too – the living wage campaign is quite a success and should continue this way). If my writing enterprise should fail, incidentally, my plan is to become a street sweeper. I’m serious! I refuse go back to shovelling bullshit in an office. My wife has already quit her own bullshit job to become a funeral arranger.
– The idea of things being “economically viable” (i.e. making sure the economy stays strong) is a problem. I hold that the economy is a tool to make life better and more effective for us humans. It serves us, we do not serve it. So it doesn’t matter if growth decelerates a little. It might even be a good thing when overwork and environmental problems are taken into account. Might even be the moment all those anticapitalists have been agitating for. I think I probably do a better job of handling this sort of discussion in my NEXT book. It’s tentatively titled The Good Life for Wage Slaves: How to live beautifully as a white-collar drudge.
Sincere thanks again for buying my nonsense and also for writing to me. Lovely, lovely. All the best.