For it is better to die of hunger, but free from distress and fear, than to live in plenty with a troubled mind.  Epictetus 

A malaise is hanging in the air called powerlessness. It’s the overwhelming feeling that we’re not in control of ourselves, our lives. That we’re at the mercy of external forces controlling our happiness: employers and the government.

People feel trapped, and shackled to their jobs. They feel they’ve no control or say in the workplace. While organisations and businesses chase money, everything is squeezed, and we’re expected to take on more responsibility, work more efficiently, and meet targets. People live in fear of losing their jobs, and will do what ever it takes to keep them. We are treated like robots on a production line: easily replaced, and devoid of feeling. One could argue then, that we are indeed living in a time of hopelessness.

One of the reasons why we feel so helpless is because of our value systems. For example, we now believe we should work in order to consume. We no longer work to provide the basic necessities of life: food, shelter and clothing. We now work to consume. We plan our lives based on what we can consume with our salary: the exotic holidays, expensive clothes, fancy restaurants, weekend breaks, the latest technology, mortgages and alike. Work then, has become a lifestyle choice, and the fear of not being able to consume keeps us in bondage because capitalism fuels the dogma that nothing is worth pursuing unless money can be made and spend, so we plod along.

But there is hope. There are people who’ve opted for a simpler life. A friend of mine, after taking voluntary redundancy from her teaching position in a further education college, decided to pursue her interest in nutrition. She didn’t know whether she was going to be successful in her venture, but what she did know was she was tired of being at the mercy of her employer and the government, not knowing from year to year whether she was going to have a job, and not being able to have any stability because of her zero hours contract. She refused to live in hopelessness and fear. She refused to live with a troubled mind.

My friend used the money, which wasn’t very much, to live on whilst she started her own website. This meant that she had to make sacrifices. For example, she chose not to buy any new clothes for a whole year; she cycled instead of using public transport; she carried food with her when she went out to avoid spending money in expensive food establishments. When her money ran out, she got a job working as receptionist, to support herself while she continued to work on developing her website.

Some people thought she was crazy to give up earning a relatively respectable salary, to go from a professional career to being receptionist,  but she didn’t let this influence her decision.

It is then, the perceptions others, and the values we attach to other’s opinions, and our attachment to material wealth, which contributes to our hopelessness. If you decided to leave your job that pays well and brings you prestige, and all the material wealth associated with it, to drive a van, or walk dogs for a living, we think about how we are going to be perceived by others, or indeed if you decided that having a career was never important, people may judge you as lacking ambition.

The question you should you ask yourself is: Do these people pay your bills and deal with your stress and discontent?

Adam Baker talks about selling of his material possessions to pay off his debts to do what he loves in this inspiring TED Talk.