Alan Watts famously gave an answer to that question in one of his lectures.
We are going to explore how this question is much more profound than you may think.
What would you do if you did not have to work for a living? What would you spend your time doing? And what would be worth pursuing and dedicating your energy to?
In a work-centric society, considering such questions is a radical shift in perspective. Right now you may think that the main purpose of your work is to generate income. If you are higher up the income latter you may also have other requirements on top. Like a sense of purpose and some socially meaningful contribution. But does the core purpose not remain the income-generating aspect of work?
Asking yourself what you would do if you did not have to work for money is more profound than just having more free time to play with. It is not just the question of what will you fill your time with instead, or how can you spend your time for maximum enjoyment. The desire to be more free is fueled by an underlying desire for personal development and the transcendence of your current state of existence.
Over the course of a lifetime, pondering this question is similar to the vision of a higher state of consciousness. Your desire to be free of the need to work comes from your deeper longing for higher consciousness. A longing for a state with more degrees of freedom. As time is one main constraint for all of us, freeing up more time is a major step towards more freedom.
Higher states of consciousness are a very similar pursuit. You strive to free yourself from the limitations of your mind. On the spiritual journey, you ultimately give up the perspective of the limited self. Beyond that, you can discover a place of union with all of existence. You merge with god so to speak. This is the highest goal of every genuine spiritual path. And whether you realize it or not, the freedom from income-generating work is one step that can lead you in the same direction.
Not having to work essentially opens up the possibility to pursue consciousness work. Through the movement of financial independence, retire early, more people than ever may reach financial freedom early in life. If you reach this you may be someone who goes on to explore alternative ways of living. And maybe it will awaken a natural desire for personal development and consciousness work within you. Or you may first desire to explore many other activities that seem more pleasurable than work.
But I think that it is likely that after many years of exploring your interests, you will start to ask more meaningful questions. Doubt of this new lifestyle will arise and you still feel some uneasiness. All of these activities can only give you satisfaction for so long. And maybe at that point, you go back to work because you think you miss certain aspects of it, like meaning and social connection. Or maybe you start your own business to keep you busy for years to come.
Maybe by luck or maybe out of a deeper knowing you look elsewhere. You come in contact with different spiritual teachings. Or your path may start with a sudden event. Maybe an awakening experience induced by psychedelics. Or a personal crisis. Something triggers within you a short glimpse of something very unexpected. Something that ignites your curiosity to know what that glimpse was about. You got a glimpse of a higher state of consciousness and the experience transcended your personal perspective, your personal identity. You will see your whole life recontextualized. Nothing seems as it once was. Suddenly you know that no relative experience will ever give you the same contentment and tranquillity as realizing your highest self.
This desire to transcend the personal and illusory limitations is the same desire that is at the core of the question, what you would do if money was no issue. You desire to be free of the major limitations imposed on you through your daily work. When you achieve the financial state of not having to work for a living anymore, it can be the ground from which you achieve great personal transformation.
The earlier you achieve a state of freedom from work, the better you can channel your energy towards personal development. In previous articles, I have written about how you can achieve this. All of those articles are listed under the label Financial Freedom.
When Alan Watts asked the question, what would you do if money was no object, he meant it in a different way though. He did not think of financial freedom through passive income. He rather asked what would you choose to do with your time regardless of how much you get paid for it. But he assumed that you somehow will earn a living by doing that thing no matter what you choose to do.
If you would actually be able to take money fully out of the picture, this would actually be very similar to financial freedom. In reality, very few people actually take that approach or even have the courage to truly consider such possibilities. Compromises have to be made and extra care given to the development of a career that allows for true personal development.
In practicality, only with financial freedom will you truly grow to your highest potential. When after a couple of years of working and investing enough income is generated without a need for daily work, you are free to pursue whatever you want. I think that in the future this will become possible for more and more people because in a capitalistic economy people are always striving to improve efficiency in production. Decreasing the necessity for human work input. While society has decided to use those gains in efficiency to develop more complex products, on a personal level you can decide to use it for more freedom by keeping your consumption low.
Here I wanted to spark your interest in the relationship between work and money and to consider if maybe personal development is the wiser choice over increased material and experiential consumption. I want to leave you with the suggestion to deeply explore your interests while closely observing what your present experience is like. Whether those activities are called work or hobbies does not matter.
Maybe you discover that freedom is always available in the present moment, right here. And that, what you call restrictions and the feeling of not being free, reveals itself to be mere mental constructs. Place your bets on raising your consciousness. Knowing that no relative experiences will ever give you the same level of contentment, happiness and peace as does knowledge of your true self.
Not to say that the journey won't be difficult. It might as well be the biggest challenge you will ever take on. But integrating more of your higher self might turn out to be the development beyond the ego. The stage of self-transcendence.