Leaving Work Behind

The Meaning of Life

Written by Tom Ewer on October 8, 2013. 77 Comments

ContentmentI read today that statistically speaking, the self-employed are less happy than the employed.

That statistic is irrelevant. Or at least, it should be.

Why? Because life isn’t about being in a job or working for yourself. In fact, the concept of leaving work behind isn’t fundamentally about quitting your job. It’s about understanding and embracing the meaning of life: to be content.

That’s it. That’s the whole enigma blown wide open. Be content.

Every day you live should be marked by a conscious effort to improve your contentment — to do more of the things you like and less of the things that you dislike.

This process can start today. Consider the things that you like and the things that you dislike. Make a list. Be specific.

Now do whatever is necessary to increase the items on list one and reduce the items on list two. Be sure that your actions don’t inadvertently add items to list two.

You may be surprised by what you put on the lists and how it affects what you do next. Share what you come up with in the comments section below.

Next time you’re not sure where you’re going, remember to refix your sights on attaining contentment. On a fundamental level, that’s all there is to it.

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77 Responses to “The Meaning of Life”

  1. Nida Sea
    October 8, 2013 at 4:51 pm

    I had that revelation yesterday, Tom. My birthday was yesterday, and I turned 33. For a few years I hated my birthday, because I felt another year passed and I never accomplished my main goal with my writing.

    But, my husband made some good points about where I’m at and that I should be proud and not so judgmental. It dawned on me again amidst the family and friends at the party that I was truly happy. No one cared that I had not yet reached that goal, even though I’m close. Being around them and their good company made me happy.

    Working at home and for myself is stressful, but it’s people like them that make it better. I have adjusted several things a week ago to my work habits, and I still enjoy what I do. Knowing that I have a great support group behind me makes it just that much better. Thanks for such a great post! πŸ™‚

    • Tom Ewer
      October 9, 2013 at 3:44 pm

      My pleasure Nida πŸ™‚

      We often put so much pressure on ourselves that is completely arbitrary. If we take a moment to step back from our obsessions we often find that they’re just a mental construct and don’t need to exist!

      • Tom Southern
        October 10, 2013 at 12:49 pm

        A good point Nida. It’s important to recognise what we have and what we’ve achieved. Often we’re so focussed on what we (think we) want, we keep chasing dreams, rather than looking back and seeing how far we’ve come as Tom says.

  2. Bojan
    October 8, 2013 at 4:53 pm

    Another great read Tom!

    I was wondering about this a lot. Maybe the statistics is right. I found out that many people just try to avoid doing what they don’t want to, instead of actually doing what they want. So in other words, if you quit the job just to avoid bad things, this still doesn’t mean they will enjoy some good things.

    Absence of darkness is basically not the same as light, do you agree? πŸ™‚

    • Tom Ewer
      October 9, 2013 at 3:45 pm

      Hey Bojan,

      The statistic definitely isn’t for me — I’m loving life πŸ˜‰

      But you’re right in saying that people avoid doing what they don’t want to do, rather than aiming for what they want to do. I’ve no doubt that it’s a common issue.

      Good to hear from you!


  3. Nikki
    October 8, 2013 at 5:05 pm

    Thank you for this, Tom! I’ve been pondering this for a while now. I have my little head set on quitting my federal government job and becoming my own boss. However, I have come to realize that the thing I’m best known for (fitness) is absolutely NOT the thing I want to be doing for a living. I love fitness because it’s my own – it’s my way to challenge myself mentally and physically, and I do love teaching others and motivating them, but when I train my clients, I am not filled with joy. I don’t actually enjoy it that much at all. I like talking to them, teaching them self-love techniques, etc. but I don’t love the actual training. So then the natural conclusion is to become some sort of motivational dynamo and change my business plan around. However, being forced into furlough with the federal shutdown last week, I have really been assessing my situation. And it turns out that I really do like my job. No, it’s not my higher purpose in life, but it gives me the freedom to enjoy the things I do love. I have a good deal of vacation time, I have a flexible schedule, I work with wonderful people, and I make a good salary. Is it really so wrong to enjoy your job for what it is, and not always try to make your job your purpose? I think not! And this post points to exactly that point. Find the things you love and do more of them! That’s all that matters. Yes, if your job gets in the way of that, then maybe it’s time for a new direction, but if not, maybe it’s okay to be content with your life and use your time to focus on the good rather than trying to force yourself into something you’re not – simply because you think you should! Thanks, Tom!

  4. Jay Allred
    October 8, 2013 at 5:07 pm

    Thanks Tom. I made the shift to self-employment back in June. Spending many years doing stressful work that I did not enjoy had taken its toll. One of the driving factors was what you wrote about – contentment. It is interesting to list out what you like and don’t like about your career and use that to guide your employment decisions. For me, as an IT guy, I like to learn and deploy but I do not like to maintain. Using this info is helping me to create an employment situation that I enjoy and am passionate about.Thanks again for the post!

    • Tom Ewer
      October 9, 2013 at 3:47 pm

      Hey Jay,

      I wasn’t just referring to your career — when it comes to being truly content, I don’t believe in separating work from play. In my mind your lists should cover everything — only then can you really figure out what makes you tick.



  5. Kent Faver
    October 8, 2013 at 5:08 pm

    Great post Tom! The reality is a self employed person is supposed to be doing what they love. However, sometimes dreams change, the economy dictates lower fee structures, etc.

    Trying to figure out how to be more and do less.

  6. Rebecca
    October 8, 2013 at 5:11 pm

    Hi Tom,

    I’m a fan of your blog. This post is simple, but elegantly stated. I find that people who are miserable in life will be miserable no matter what their station in life is. People that count their blessings, slow down and breath and are authentic about what they want out of life are the ones that are happy – whether they are a garbageman or a CEO!

  7. Adrian
    October 8, 2013 at 5:15 pm

    My moment of clarity came when I realised the concept of time disappears when I’m doing something I really enjoy. Being present in the moment, loving the work I do. Being in my element…

    As Sir Ken Robinson says, it’s about recognising your own talents, living the life you choose to live and being in your element: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u-jIxSqVCcw


  8. Sue
    October 8, 2013 at 5:16 pm

    You are exactly right! I just retired from elementary teaching after 22 years and am searching for exactly what you’re talking about. You spend your life wrapped in a job and realize you have no real life. So now, the reality is to find the joy in life and in another career if need be. Thanks for this post and reminder!

  9. Nicolas
    October 8, 2013 at 5:22 pm

    Hi Tom!
    A long time I haven’t read one of your blog post… and I’m not disappointed.
    It looks like that post just came straight from your heart, Hemingway-style (write drunk, edit sober).

  10. Steve
    October 8, 2013 at 5:24 pm

    Good post, Tom. Recently, in response to a good friend’s question of “How is your (self-employed) business doing? It is doing good, isn’t it?” and I was like “oh it is bad, hard, scary, exhausting,” etc etc. She reminded me of how good I have it. I have happy clients, I serve them value, they pay me, the money I make is mine. Immediately I realized how much I forget about where I am and how even if it is stressful I am happy and content with it. Wouldn’t want it any other way (in other words, I don’t want to work for someone else).

  11. Lorena
    October 8, 2013 at 6:10 pm

    One of my favorite things about your blog is you allow us to see your thought process as it evolves. I love following along because I’m often right there with you in my own life.

    Have you found Tara Brach yet? She has a great podcast. She encourages asking the question, What stands between me and true happiness? Often it is nothing other than noticing (and naming) that we are happy. Simple, yet so effective. πŸ™‚


  12. Steve Rice
    October 8, 2013 at 6:12 pm

    You’re right, Tom. This is impactful. Simple. Succinct. Love it.

    Last night, I posted this on my fan page: “Once I realized i might never have what I thought I wanted/needed to be happy in life, I let go and found happiness within my grasp”

    You’ve hit the nail on the head with this one, IMO…the key isn’t the external (the job–or lack of it) but rather the internal (contentment).

    In my book, I present the concept of bringing joy to the “now moment.” Essentially, it is finding ways to fill the present circumstances of our life with contentment. I have found–at least for me–that if I can bring more and more contentment to where I am right now, it aids me on shifting to where I’d ultimately like to be.

    I am able to put my energy and my focus in a better place and stop sweating the small stuff!

    • Tom Ewer
      October 9, 2013 at 3:51 pm

      You are so right Steve.

      I am as guilty as anyone of planning for the future and investing my happiness in it. I must be more careful to appreciate the now too.

      Don’t get me wrong — planning for a bigger and brighter future can be part of a life well lived (especially if doing so makes you happy), but you mustn’t invest yourself wholly in it.



  13. Donnie Law
    October 8, 2013 at 6:18 pm

    Doing more of the things you like and less of the things you dislike is a very surfacy view of contentment. Sometimes the things I like the most bring the most pain and dissatisfaction in the long run where the things I hate doing are what provide a true contentment.

    • Tom Ewer
      October 9, 2013 at 3:54 pm

      Hi Donnie,

      I see where you’re coming from but I think you’re taking me a little too literally. I’m not saying “Go and smoke 20 cigarettes because it’ll make you feel good” or “Take a sick day because you can’t be bothered to work” — it’s up to you to rely on your own common sense when it comes to figuring out what you do and don’t like doing.



  14. Liz
    October 8, 2013 at 7:42 pm

    I love the simplicity and the wisdom of this post. How we tend to over complicate life!

    Thanks for break it down for us: “Do more of the things you like and less of the things that you dislike”.

  15. Jackson Anderson
    October 8, 2013 at 8:12 pm

    Short and sweet but straight to the point.

    It’s an interesting statistic to say that most self employed are more unhappier than the employed especially when we’re all working so damn hard to become one.
    I feel it’s a bit like the temporary happiness that comes from a material object, it’s all great and shiny for the first week and then it no longer brings the same joy.
    Being self employed is that dream, goal, the ultimate aspiration but if you go about it the wrong way it can be come more of a burden then once imagined.

    Either way I’d still choose self employed misery > employed misery haha.

    I think the art of contentment opens up another can of worms all together though, being happy, living in the present is not easy to put into practice each and every day but ultimately that should be everyones real aspirations.

    Cheers Tom

    • Tom Ewer
      October 9, 2013 at 3:55 pm

      Ha, yes, pound for pound I’d take self-employed misery too! Not that it’s a very positive outlook πŸ˜‰

      The fundamental point is this: contentment is not about being employed or self-employed, it’s about being content. You can do it either way and under an enormous variety of circumstances.



  16. Jun Rosacia
    October 9, 2013 at 12:47 am

    You are right. β€œTo be content”, three words to live by. It doesn’t matter whether you are employed or not. If you love what you are doing, do it. If I want to do something, I would do it, step aside, assess, and see what it has brought me. If I feel good about it, if I feel that I am free, and as what Adrian has put it into his comment, β€œbeing present in the moment”, then I am content. If not, then I adjust along the way. It is like aiming after pulling the trigger and fire again. Statistics are good. Statistics may inform me, but they don’t dictate me. End of the day, the voice that matters most is the one coming out from within yourself. Ignore the noise, listen to the music of your soul. Thanks Tom.


  17. Anna
    October 9, 2013 at 2:10 am

    Finding the meaning of life… Something thousands people have attempted to do and only individuals defined it bcuz its subjective, not mass πŸ™‚

    • Tom Ewer
      October 9, 2013 at 3:57 pm

      Hey Anna,

      It may sound arrogant but I don’t think it is subjective. I do honestly believe that the meaning of life is to be content. I’d love to read your alternatives though!



  18. Jolene
    October 9, 2013 at 6:03 am

    It seems like this is the theme of the week on some popular blogs, but it is a vitally important message: Wherever your level of contentment is, find it and exploit it to the fullest! Well voiced Tom!

  19. Suhail
    October 9, 2013 at 8:16 am

    Completely agree – life is suppose to be doing more of what you love, but again it’s not easy as said.

  20. Michelle
    October 9, 2013 at 9:05 am

    Yes , Tom. I love Nikki’s comments about making sure you are actually doing the things you enjoy, even within the context of not LWB-ing. I have for too long been thinking that happiness and contentment is something I WILL be when the circumstances are right and not just when I create the conditions myself, NOW. I am a housewife and mother and that is my JOB. I don’t have to be a ‘something (ie., economically active)’ anymore to justify my existence as I have my dreams- come- through right here with me now. However I do want to write.Within the context of being a mother, though. But mostly I want to develop the confidence to believe that what I say and how I say it is ok. May I add one recommendation….a few minutes silence every day. When the brain and soul are decluttered then I find I don’t miss my ‘happiness’ cues and I can see the steps I need to take far better (and guess what… most of them were there already…!) as opposed to rushing around like a very ineffectual, cranky, headless and yes sometimes heartless chicken.

    • Tom Ewer
      October 9, 2013 at 3:58 pm

      Hey Michelle,

      Great suggestion — I am all about silence. I’ve written multiple blog posts about giving yourself space and time and how it can benefit you.



  21. Debashish
    October 9, 2013 at 1:13 pm

    To be content in life is the ultimate goal indeed. However, an absolutely content life is an ideal to work towards, and therefore, doesn’t exist. We’ll have to do things in life that don’t make us happy. Our task is to find those things that make us happy enough, so that we don’t mind doing the menial stuff. Making the 2 lists is definitely a way to get started.

    • Tom Ewer
      October 9, 2013 at 3:59 pm

      Hey Debashish,

      You’re right in that there is no such thing as “100% contentment” — at least in a sense that you can’t quantifiably measure it.

      But as you allude to, contentment is not about being happy all the time — it’s about feeling balanced and “content” in what you do, even when it’s not something you love doing.



  22. Tom Southern
    October 10, 2013 at 12:15 pm

    Be content. That’s the crux of it.

    It’s important to know the difference between what will achieve contentment and “grass is greener” delusion.

    Making that list is crucial because it can throw up some powerful and surprising results. such as maybe making money online isn’t actually what will make you content.

    I took time recently to really think about what I wanted from life. Contentment of course, but what would bring me contentment. It made me really ponder whether blogging was for me, especially where business was concerned. Or would I be more contented concentrating on writing fiction and talking about writing with other writers?

    It caused me a bit of a crisis of direction. But in the end, it gave me a stronger grasp of that really mattered when it comes to getting the kind of success that nurtures contentment: focussing on what really makes me happy …

    #1: People enjoying my writing.
    #2: Helping others get their writing enjoyed and
    #3. Helping others get noticed by enough people to make this enjoyment pay for more of this content – thus allowing me to enjoy it too.

    In short, it’s about knowing what really makes you happy, and why. And focussing on making it direct everything you do.

    Sometimes, just acknowledging this is all it takes to find contentment.

  23. dojo
    October 10, 2013 at 3:11 pm

    We are more than our businesses or jobs. I am self-employed and have NEVER been as happy as I am today. But it’s irrelevant. I have a personal life that matters. It’s true, my business is set so that I can enjoy life and earn a living, but my main focus is my life and family. Anything else is ‘means to make money’.

  24. Joe
    October 11, 2013 at 8:13 am

    My lists are a bit depressing.

    Work is on my dislike list and most of the things that are on the like list I don’t get to do enough of due to work dominating my schedules!

    At least I’m not working 9 to 5 anymore though so its a start.

    • Tom Ewer
      October 11, 2013 at 11:57 am

      Hi Joe,

      You should be more specific with your lists. Don’t just write “work.” Try to drill down to the specific elements of your work that you dislike, then seek ways of removing them from your life.

      A long dislikes list represents a big opportunity to improve your life, not something to get depressed about!



  25. Iain
    October 12, 2013 at 1:00 pm

    I love the idea of fixing your sights on something and hitting it home.

    We often get too distracted with other things, so it can be easy to lose sight of what you need to do be content.


  26. Tamar
    October 12, 2013 at 1:19 pm

    This is very insightful post, after all, it’s not the money you make, or being self-employed and able to work whenever you want, it’s about contentment, and loving what you do. I am 17, and I am looking forward to become a freelance writer sometime next year. To be honest, no one encourages me do so, my parents want me to entre college and study science, which is absolutely not my thing. Writing is my passion in life, and I will never give my dream to be one someday. When I feel like it’s all in vain, I come to your blog and gain some inspiration. I am willing to work hard and I have already started doing some gigs, it’s been so much fun. One Last Word, Thanks for motivation.

  27. Steve Schellert
    October 13, 2013 at 8:37 am


    To have the life you desire and to actually be content is a struggle for most people.

    First I have to say getting rid of negativity and things off list two sure makes it easier to be content even if you only obtained some of your goals.

    Being content is reaching a place you desire to be and then allowing yourself to be happy once you get there.

    Being content is a frame of mind. If you great each day with your eyes wide open with a positive outlook, you generally will be more happy. There really is abundance of opportunities to live a great life!

    Nice post

  28. Al Bryant
    October 14, 2013 at 10:07 am

    I literally think you’ve hit the nail on the head with what the meaning of life is. My family and I have been in a state of flux for a long while now after moving abroad and having a difficult experience coming back so I’m desperate for us to feel content.

    Let the list building commence!

    Thanks Tom

  29. Mspark
    October 17, 2013 at 3:45 am

    I do believe people who work for themselves are unhappy because your success and your ability to make your living is rested upon your shoulders. Yet, in a traditional job if you show up, you will get paid.

    I am willing to experience this because I am unhappy, and I don’t work for myself. I rather be in control of career versus someone else. I rather have job security by working for myself instead of wondering on a daily basis if I will have a job tomorrow.

    My content lies with ditching employment that is dependent on someone else. I have lost my job before due to layoffs and it is a very devastating and hard to pick my life back up. ‘

    • Tom Ewer
      October 18, 2013 at 7:57 am

      So many people think that employment is far safer than self-employment, but that is so often not the case these days πŸ™

      • John
        October 18, 2013 at 4:46 pm

        Exactly, the old ‘job for life’ is almost a distant memory and people are always switching career paths and having to worry about their job security. This is the main reason I have gone down the self-employed route, there is still low job security but at least it is more in your own hands.

        • Tom Ewer
          October 22, 2013 at 11:40 am

          Hey John,

          One of the beauties of being self-employed is that you have the opportunity to create your own security through diversifying and growing your income.



  30. Dawn
    October 24, 2013 at 2:49 pm

    This is such a good post. I simply explains why I’m working on becoming a freelance writer…so I can “leave work behind”. I want to enjoy my days and be content; doing what I want to do instead of what I have to do.

    Thank you,

  31. Naomi@business start ups
    April 30, 2014 at 12:12 pm

    Hi Tom,

    I decided to read this post as strangely enough I was just reading something similar on Quora which I felt made sense, so I thought I’d share it.

    Before I start with their answer I’d like to give my own, which is… I seriously struggle with question. There is no definite, concrete answer and it just blows my mind. I just try to be the best I can, be a good person and add value to the world everyday.

    The answer on Quora referred to the meaning of life as because death is our fate, we can live as though everyday could be our last. Everything is more beautiful because we know we are eventually doomed.

    I guessed this could be true if you appreciated the true beauty of your life.

    Thanks for the read – amazing comments!


  32. marekmika.in
    May 9, 2014 at 12:00 pm

    Easier said than done.

    When you have family, bank loans, sometimes you have to work for money.

    But always it’s possible to change.

  33. Sabita
    August 18, 2014 at 9:33 am

    Hi Tom,

    Its insightful to understand the core philosophy of leavingworkbehind. I had been struggling with much in life. Had to leave my job and after that I couldn’t get back into the corporate world for one reason or the other. Its just like the circumstances didn’t favor this decision of mine.

    For better or worse; I strongly believe its for the better, I recollected myself and focused primarily on how to master this craft of writing. Learning everyday and being content has become the goal honestly. I experimented with stuff and did quite a plus minus to what I should really do. With every passing I am getting clear in my head and I really like what you just said about leaving behind.


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