December 16, 2021

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Hard work or lazy living?

Recently, I wrote about how caring less about work is a good career move. My position hasn’t changed; in fact, I’m even more convinced that it’s the way to go for most people. Still, it’s a bit counterintuitive, so it might not make sense right away. Don’t worry, you’ll get there.

What might be a little easier came to me after reading this Atlantic column, “How to Care Less About Work,” which is an excerpt from a new book on remote work by Charlie Warzel and Anne Helen Petersen. The gist of the essay is that if we just remind ourselves what we actually like doing, and start doing those things again, unapologetically and for joy only, we’ll start caring less about work, more about living, and voila, EQUANIMITY. 

Find the path of least resistance to whatever will create this feeling for you, clear time for it, and then make a promise to yourself for when you’ll find that time again. It might feel weird, as if you are forming a habit out of selfishness, or scheduling yourself as you would a child. But shut that voice up. If you live alone, it’s probably just your work addiction talking; hanging out with your own hobbies is not selfish. If you have partner or parenting obligations, carving out this time is possible, even if it means being intentional and collaborative about clearing that space for each other. Sublimating your desire for activities that don’t involve your children does not make you a more impressive parent; it just makes you a more exhausted and resentful one.

It’s an ode to hobbies, basically.

It’s a good essay, but then I started thinking about it slightly differently: Why are so many of us lazy about living? Work is part of life and can be very rewarding, of course. Still, too many people seem to be so laser-focused on being hardworking that they’ve become lazy at the non-work parts of life. Like, it’s weird that virtually everyone has things that they love doing, but many often struggle to do those things or haven’t done them in years because they’re too lazy to make time for them. Or worse yet, they don’t do these things due to feelings of guilt for not working. That goes well beyond laziness into the realm of madness.

In a culture that abhors laziness, I’d like to think that that transfers to all facets of life. If you have a slower week during busy season, let’s say, but you refuse to take Friday off to go on a hike because it’s busy season, then you should be shamed in the public square. As Warzel and Petersen said, that’s just your work addiction talking, and you’re either too afraid or too lazy to confront it. Plus, no one is saying blow off your responsibilities and hang everyone you know out to dry. People get the impression that working a little less means they turn into a deadbeat. This is especially true in accounting where long hours, deadlines, face time, and other traditions have long been considered badges of honor rather than entrenched, misguided ideas about “hard work” and how firms should be run.

All these years and no one bothered to question how accounting firms operated. That’s changed quite a bit over the last 10 years or so; people are thinking differently about what accounting firms do, and the pandemic seems to have accelerated certain aspects of it. But there is no shortage of people in the profession holding onto the old ways.

And I guess it’s not that surprising. Accounting firms have been very successful by caring a lot about working. Or maybe all this time, they’ve just been lazy about living.  

Niche ideas

Here’s Courtney Love writing, in the Financial Times of all places, about being bad with money:

[J]ust the other day, my assistant and I were negotiating a multimillion-dollar deal, trying to figure out a percentile on a calculator – and we couldn’t! Financial literacy is one of the most critical things an artist can have. But it seems scary. It’s scary understanding my fault in all this – in acknowledging my overspending.

There are already plenty of accounting firms out there that serve clients in show business, musicians, etc., but I just have to say: There may be room for a firm that specializes in the very publicly profligate celebrity. It wouldn’t be easy at first, I’m sure, accounting for someone’s extravagant lifestyle all the time. I can’t imagine having more than one or two clients. The good news is that you already have the marketing strategy.

The list of big names getting ripped off by their accountant or money manager is long, so this niche would only be for the most principled and honorable professionals. The temptation to take advantage of oblivious clients could topple even the most scrupulous accountants. But if you can resist, there are still rewards to be had; I have to imagine most stars would pay well for that kind of restraint. 

Fresh from Gusto

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Caleb Newquist Caleb is Editor-at-Large at Gusto. In 2009, he became the founding editor of Going Concern, the one-of-a-kind voice on the accounting profession, serving in the role for 9 years. Prior to Going Concern, Caleb worked as a CPA for nearly 6 years in New York and Denver. He lives in Denver with his wife, two daughters, and two cats.
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