A Lifestyle Is Not a Job

If you are lucky enough to have financial means and plenty of leisure time and a lack of more pressing responsibilities, you may be able to focus all of your energies on designing your "lifestyle" to your own utmost satisfaction. Congratulations on your good fortune. This does not qualify as a "job."

"Lifestyle" is an amorphous catchall term used to cover everything from the food you eat to the clothes you wear to the way you arrange your furniture. It is the superficial bubble you create around you, in which you live your life. For most people, lifestyles are constrained by forces outside your control: you wear the clothes you can afford, you eat what you can afford, you get the furniture that you can afford, you live in housing that you can afford. Most of us also find our lifestyles constrained by time: sure, we might exercise and have some favorite recipes and move our Ikea couch to a different wall after we read that book on feng shui, but all of this stuff must fit in between the hours we spend on more commonplace concerns like earning money to live, taking care of kids, and doing the fucking laundry. A highly curated lifestyle, in other words, is a luxury good.

In the New York Times Magazine this past weekend, Amanda Fortini profiles the actress Mariel Hemingway—granddaughter of Ernest, sister of Margaux, star of Manhattan. Hemingway has survived a great many family tragedies, which is commendable. Indeed, the premise of the story is that Hemingway is a role model, a living example of triumph over grim circumstances. And she is. But what emerges more vividly is a rather sly and cutting portrait of a stereotypical Wealthy California YuppieHippie, who (accompanied by her former-Soloflex-model boyfriend, Bobby Williams) takes smoothie ingredients incredibly seriously and fills entire days with sunrise-watching, exercising, organic food shopping, and, yes, smoothie-making. This passage ties it all together:

Hemingway crouched on the rock and looked out into the distance. In the contemplative quiet, you could hear the roar of the ocean far below. Williams broke the silence: “My dad always says to me, ‘What do you do all day if you don’t work?’ I say: ‘Aw, Dad, there’s not enough hours in the day for me to take care of myself! Do you know how much stuff I have to do?’ ”

I pointed out that their joint self-care regimen is something of a full-time job.

Hemingway nodded. “We looked at each other one day, and we were like, ‘How can we turn how we love to live into our job?’ Why not turn it into helping other people live a better life? What I love about our book and our message is that it’s completely doable,” she said. “It’s not like this is so hard. Everybody can watch the sun.”

Let us be absolutely clear: there is nothing wrong with watching the sun come up. There is not even anything wrong, per se, with spending all of your time doing yoga and cooking delicious organic meals and jumping on trampolines and making smoothie after smoothie after smoothie, which you consume while running over gleaming sand dunes as your golden hair trails wildly in your wake. This can fairly be described as a lifestyle. But it cannot be described as a job.

More accurately, it can be described as an example of leisure activities expanding to fill one's entire life. This is a well-known benefit of affluence: the ability to whatever you want all day. Some rich people take advantage of this by lounging about on yachts, doing blow, and consuming great quantities of foie gras. Others choose to lounge about in Ojai conversing with new age healers and consuming great quantities of kale. One choice may be healthier than the other, but they are both two strains of the same lucky fairytale in which we have the ability to do anything our hearts desire, all the time.

I am not here to argue against the ability of the rich to do anything their hearts desire with their own lives. That's a separate essay. I am only here to ask that they label these activities truthfully, as "wonderful, fortunate leisure," rather than as "work" or "jobs" or any other term which might in some way equate them with coal mining. The fact that the act of creating one's perfect "lifestyle"—in fact a testament to extremely rare levels of privilege—can be guilelessly presented as a "job" only goes to show the enormity of the bubble of delusion in which the rich are able to live. Even the nice ones.

Your smoothies are probably great. And so is your interior design. But please, dear Lifestyle Gods, don't think too poorly of us if we can't watch the sun rise right this minute. We have to go to work.

[Photo: Flickr]