Nicoleandmaggie recently asked readers whether they could visualize financial independence for themselves, and Dr. Isis apparently shocked the blogosphere with a recent post about maybe quitting academe and doing something else. To me, these seemed to get at a deeper question: do you work to live or live to work?
Unless you're independently wealthy, you have to work; that's not the question. Maybe not surprisingly, the few people I know who are financially independent in nicoleandmaggie's terms don't seem to regret leaving work one bit. I also don't mean choosing between family and jobs (work/life balance), which has a different set of issues from loving the job that you do. This is basically the Office Space "What would you do if you had a million dollars?" question.
But a lot of people who are fully employed at jobs that would seem to provide a decent salary and job satisfaction would still quit in a heartbeat if they could afford it. This completely unscientific poll includes a lot of the First Person columnists over at the Chronicle, who are unhappy in academe, and the few people I've talked to about this, including nonacademics like lawyers and contractors and architects. They work to live and wouldn't do it if they didn't have to, even if their jobs would seem to be satisfying otherwise. That's not to say that all lawyers, etc., feel like this; it's not about the job per se but about an emotional approach to the position.
I'd define the "live to work" academics as those who, despite having to work for the money and the frustrations of the workplace, get up most mornings with a sense that what they're doing is important and that there's a contribution they can make by teaching, writing, and publishing--that what they're doing in the world makes a difference. I felt this way during the many years I was an adjunct, and I feel it now. It's economically unsound if we feel this way--that's what allows universities to exploit part-time faculty shamefully--yet it's what a lot of academics feel, I think.
Academe is just a job, in a way, yet it's not because it brings up all the Holy Calling issues that erupt whenever leaving it gets mentioned.
So how about you? Work to live or live to work?