Live to Work or Work to Live

In large parts of Europe it’s considered taboo to ask people about their job when you first meet them. The assumption is that work should not define who you are, and that there are broader things that should define a person. In the US it is often one of the first things people ask you.

The general maxim is that in Europe you work to live, that working is simply a mechanism to fund and provide support to your lifestyle. It’s understood that working 35-40 hours a week is enough and that people need several weeks of vacation a year. In the US it’s usually the other way round, you live to work. Overtime is expected and in some industries something as simple as taking a vacation is seen as a sign of weakness.

When we moved to Portland, we decided that we wouldn’t ask people we met or our neighbors what they did for work. There was two reasons for this, firstly as per above we didn’t want to assume that work was defining them. Secondly if we did ask people about their jobs the likelihood was people would ask us back. While I don’t have any problem telling our “story” and we are proud of what we have achieved and how we have redefined our lives it can sound a little arrogant to tell people we have retired in our mid 40’s.

The last thing we want is for anyone to think that we are implying we are “better than them” because we were able to FIRE. I also don’t want anyone else to think we are telling them how to live their life. I typically try to avoid work conversations simply to avoid this type of situation; maybe i’m being over sensitive but I don’t think I necessarily want to over-advertise our financial and lifestyle choices.

On the flip side of the earlier point, because people in Europe often do work less hours and have more vacation the pay is often less (or doesn’t go as far because of higher taxes and prices in the stores). Therefore it is much harder to have the level of financial independence to FIRE over there than in the US. So even though you might be working to live you might have to work longer (although in Europe the normal retirement age is often younger than in the US).

I think both systems have pros and cons, however I do think the system in the US is more conducive to determining your path, but you need to be focused and willing to stay the course. It’s certainly not for everyone. However in many cases it could well be that the European system provides a more stable and happy work environment.

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