Would You Sell Your Freedom for a Quarter Million Euros?

My New Year’s oracle had told me so: In 2012, my finances would finally get sorted out. Big cash was on the way!

A couple of days later, the prophecy became palpable: I got a call from a dear friend who also happens to be a former boss. In plain language, she offered me 250.000 euros (almost $320.000 USD, at current exchange rates) for a five-year job. I would be managing an e-learning project, intended to improve self-study habits at German universities.

I was stunned.

Depending on your own income situation, 50.000 euros a year probably don’t look like much. Or they look like a fortune. For me, the latter was the case. And while I don’t need that much money to live well, the financial side of this offer was certainly intriguing. Considering that I could make the money not by selling crack in the red-light district but by managing an interesting project made it even better: I would work with several universities and learn a ton of stuff along the way that could also be useful for personal projects later on.

Of course, there were also some downsides: In order to become part of the team, I would have to move to a small town in the South of Germany – a nerd capital with a renowned university of applied science, but not much else going on; 600 kilometres away from the next ocean; thousands of miles from my beloved Caribbean beaches.1

Then, of course, I would have to dedicate about 40 hours a week to the project. While the position wouldn’t require regular overwork, this still would mean a huge increase compared to my working hours over the last three years; especially if I wanted to keep The Friendly Anarchist going. As you know, regularly showing up at 9am in a sterile office isn’t precisely my idea of productivity, either.

But the most serious downside by far was that I would have to commit for five years straight. Sure, I could probably terminate the contract early and leave. But I knew that if I promised my friend to take the job, leaving after just a year or two wouldn’t be the right thing to do. Especially not if I planned doing so right from the start.

Leaving Doors Closed

To be clear, I’m not overall opposed to committing myself to long-term projects nor to working 40 or 50 hours a week. The question simply was if I wanted to take on this particular project!

The thing is this: Over the last three years, I haven’t been staying at one place for longer than two or three months at a time. I worked only when I felt like it – and when I didn’t feel like it, I went to the beach, or for a walk, or started reading an interesting book that I cared about. At the same time, I built The Friendly Anarchist, because I care about it. I made meaningful connections, both online and offline, because I care about it.

Over the last year of travel, I met again with many dear friends all over Germany and Austria, at such a relaxed pace that you simply couldn’t attain if you worked on a normal 9-to-5 schedule. And still, I somehow managed to pay for my living (and the occasional camera lens).

Frankly, the job offer was a great opportunity. It may well be the last time such a gig comes along, only waiting for me to say yes. But it also was a tough call: Would I be willing to put this lifestyle on hold for five years in order to execute an e-learning project and work full-time from an office somewhere in Germany?

After two nights of sleeping on it, listening to my intuition and also getting the numbers clear, I decided to decline my friend’s offer. Here’s why:

Accepting the position would have “opened a whole lot of doors that I don’t want to go through”.2 If things went smoothly (and I suppose they would have), five years from now I’d have gained a lot of insight into running a multi-million euro project and probably be somewhat of an e-learning expert. I also would have saved about 100.000 euros.

But while I believe that e-learning has a lot of unused potential and will become a central part of regular education over the next decade, it’s not a central passion in my life. Maybe it would have become one, but at which cost?

Right now, I am passionate about the stuff that’s happening here on TFA. I’m passionate about the potential of blogs for creative souls. I’m passionate about empowerment and personal sovereignty attained through productivity. I’m passionate about travel and interestingness. I’m passionate about living beyond rules and working beyond the usual office contexts. I’m passionate about photography, as shown here in most of the posts (especially in the visuals) and on Blue Lies.

I didn’t want to sacrifice all this just to have a stable income.

Let me be open with you: Financially, things have been tough at times. But, surprisingly, I always managed to find a place to sleep and a dish of delicate food. I always knock on wood when I say this (and now, as I write this!), but: The money somehow seems to follow.3

Here’s the other thing: I’m 30 years old now. By the time the project ends, I would be 35. And while the transition from 20- to 30something was a smooth one for me, I also know that I won’t be getting younger. And as I get older, I will probably want more comfort, more tranquility and more financial security.

While I feel fine about living on the edge4 right now, who knows how things would be after five years of having a regular income? I now happily sleep at beaches and even on the floor, if it’s necessary. I eat whatever I can find or afford, and I love to cook tasty meals on a small budget. I only carry a small suitcase and am happy to own little. I move places constantly and prefer cheap hostels over five-star hotels.

But I also know that we all get used to certain luxuries easily. Excessive luxuries aren’t really necessary for living a happy life, as I have learnt over the years. And still… once we have them it’s hard to let them go. If I got used to them over the next five years, would I then be courageous enough to trade them back for my freedom?

The Benefits of Knowing What You Don’t Want

I called my friend and thanked her for the offer. It really was an honor to be invited into her project. But I told her that, for now, I wanted to continue on the path I have chosen.

When she heard my decision, she laughed. She told me how she herself hadn’t had any job contract period that was longer than 12 months, ever since she started to work. And how she had already suspected that I wouldn’t accept her offer, living the life I was living.

But she also told me why she had offered me the position anyway: At times, it is helpful to get clear about the things that you don’t want. Not the regular “bad” things like war, illness, and FOX News. But the things that might be cool, great and helpful for many people (a stable job; lots of money; a comfortable home), but that just don’t fit with your way of living.

Having the opportunity to consider these things and then say, “Thank you – but no, thank you” was a great way to realign with the hows and whys of the life I am living.

Honestly, I am extremely grateful to be experiencing the fourth year of this journey now! Thanks to all of you for being a part of it! (And talking about big cash: You could always help me by buying a copy of Productive Anywhere (if you dare to become even smarter, even more beautiful and even more productive!). I’m just sayin’…)

  1. Yes, I’m a sucker for life at the seashores… []
  2. The quote is from a Harvard dropout I once linked to in my Summer Good Reads: Getting a diploma would have meant a similar thing to him as getting the job to me. Read about it here. []
  3. As do the job offers. QED. []
  4. The term “on the edge” sounds quite a bit silly. I’m still living with more comfort and luxuries than 90% of the people on this planet. But I hope you understand what I mean. []

Comments 9

  1. Cristhyano January 17, 2012

    When i began reading i knew you wouldn’t accept it. And now i’m glad to see i was right. Of course when you see the numbers, some second thoughts arrives, but when you see the pros and cons, nah, it’s not worth it. Imagine waking up everyday with an alarm clock to walk into an office. I honestly don’t know how i do this.
    Anyway, i think you did the right thing. You, sir, got my applauses.

  2. Nadya January 18, 2012

    I agree with you:
    “I also know that we all get used to certain luxuries easily. Excessive luxuries aren’t really necessary for living a happy life, as I have learnt over the years. And still… once we have them it’s hard to let them go. If I got used to them over the next five years, would I then be courageous enough to trade them back for my freedom?”
    Once you’re there, you don’t let go unless you are very brave.

    I am glad you chose as you did, being one who made a different choice, and now has to face up to letting go. Goof for you and all the best!

    (PS – Your book is on my too purchase list)

    • Fabian January 20, 2012

      Thanks Nadya! “Letting go” can be quite plesant, too! And judging from your blog, I definitely think you are on a good way! :)

  3. toluene January 18, 2012

    for some people, that are used to secure income for 1 or 2 years at the max, a five-year contract seems like heaven, even though i would still consider time-limited contracts a modern form of slavery. interesting to see that there is a viable point of view from the exact opposite as well, as you have pointed out. turning down a secure, 5-year contract in the world i live in would be hard to think of… but i guess its exactly this kind of thinking that you are challenging with your post.

    • Fabian January 20, 2012

      “A modern form of slavery” indeed. And just as in your area, in social sciences 5-year contracts are a very rare exception, too. So of course I considered my options, but I think my decision was the right one. So far, I feel more motivated than ever to continue on my path!

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  5. Tony January 26, 2012

    Good decision Fabian! Money is not everything but freedom is somehow let us do the things that makes us happy beyond its rules and limits. I hope i have the courage also not to do the routinary 9-5 job. In the mean time, i’m just content of using my annual vacation leaves for my travel. You’re a great example for travellers and backpackers! (In case you’ll check my site, there’s nothing in it , i’ve just registered and i’m still in the works for my articles and posts)

    • Fabian January 30, 2012

      Hey Tony, thanks a lot for your words of encouragement! Putting vacation time to good use is actually a great way to start traveling. During that time we can learn a whole lot of stuff that can be useful during longer travels later on. Have a great time!

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