If you need something done in today’s world, odds are you can go online and find a guide on DIY. The modern information revolution has made us all potential experts in going the solo route. Whether it’s setting up your own website or doing household repairs with basic tools, we’re more likely to take matters into our hands.
The DIY approach gives you plenty of control over exactly how things get done and what the outcome looks like. But autonomy has a dark side to it. Author Craig Lambert calls this “shadow work” in his eponymous book. We take on a lot of tasks that once were fulfilled by other people as part of their jobs.
Shadow work manifests in many aspects of life, from driving yourself to work and filling up your gas tank to cooking your meals and balancing your budget. Even doing online research to find the best company, product, or way of doing things is an additional task your plate could do without.
Learn to let go
The simplest and easiest step to take towards solving this problem would be cutting back on the amount of control you have. Like a business that chooses to outsource some of its processes, you have to find areas where it’s okay to let go and have someone else do the work.
Have you considered the actual value of your time? When you choose to do your own housework, maybe you’re thinking it’s cheaper than paying someone else to do those tasks. But if your time is worth more on an hourly basis, then it’s harder to make a case for doing things yourself. Your involvement doesn’t add much value to laundry or carpet cleaning.
A time dilemma
The more decision points you have to process due to taking on all those tasks yourself, the more stressed you get, and the less you enjoy life. It might not be evident at first, but this has a lot to do with the constraints of time.
If you were born with a silver spoon in your mouth, you wouldn’t have to worry about balancing work and life. You could earn money in your sleep. Of course, wealthy people aren’t necessarily slackers; they can be quite busy finding ways to grow their wealth. But they have the freedom to spend any given day as they see fit, doing things they are genuinely interested in.
On the other hand, the rest of us have to work to make ends meet. Most jobs are, by definition, time spent doing things that your employer is interested in. Unless you have a job you love, those tasks aren’t necessarily aligned with your values or passions. And that cuts into the time you could be spending on what matters to you.
Change how you work
Fighting back against the burdens of shadow work means taking control of your time. With only 24 hours in a day, and some of those necessarily going to rest and recovery, you can’t be at the mercy of your employer. It would help if you found an alternate means of making a living.
One way to do that is by exploring passive revenue streams. But you have to make sure that they are genuinely low-fuss investments. Real estate, for instance, can be quite demanding if you take a hands-on approach. But paying the fees of letting agents can help you find and vet reliable tenants, avoiding vacant periods and minimizing the effort on your part.
Another option you can explore would be earning money through a ‘barbell strategy.’ Under this framework, you hold down a day job, but it is predictable and doesn’t impose upon your time or energy outside of fixed working hours. You combine that with a side hustle that you’re passionate about and has scalable earning potential.
This arrangement gives you a stable income without coupling your time and joy to your day job. If something goes wrong with either of your income sources, you aren’t helpless. And if you succeed in your gig, perhaps as a musician or author, then you can walk away from your employment.
Ultimately, a lot of people still love having that sense of autonomy in their lives. If you’re able to settle the underlying issues of time and income generation, you can free up a considerable amount of mental bandwidth to exercise control over things that matter. Even without the resources of someone born rich, you can enjoy devoting your attention to whatever interests and fulfills you.