Growing up on a farm in Grassland, Alberta, Ernie
The Joy of Not Working
] didn’t know what
choose, but he was very good at mathematics, trigonometry, and physics. So, on
the advice of his teachers, he enrolled in engineering at the University of
Alberta in 1966.
Despite staying out an entire year, quitting twice, and missing 85 percent of his
classes, Zelinski surprisingly graduated seventh in a class of 250. He might have
ranked even higher, if he hadn’t failed first-year English three times. Zelinski
thought, if he waited around long enough, English would be dropped from the
curriculum and he wouldn’t have to take it.
Zelinski didn’t bother showing up for class. But before he could be accepted into
fourth-year engineering, he was forced to take English in summer school. Choosing
the easiest English class possible, Zelinski finally passed. Not with a super mark,
“That’s why it’s kind of odd now that I’m a writer. I keep telling people that if I
can do it anyone can,” says Zelinski. “After I finally got my engineering degree,
they took out English for a few years after that. That really bugged me,” Zelinski
says, chuckling. “I figured I was going to outwait them.”
Upon graduation, Zelinski worked for Gamma Engineering in Vancouver. He returned to
Edmonton to work, first for Bechtel, then Edmonton Power, where he stayed for five
and a half years. His responsibilities included designing cable installations,
supervising contractors and subcontractors hired to install the high-voltage
underground cables, and contract preparation and administration.
While working for Edmonton Power, he realized he preferred mechanical and civil
engineering to electrical. “I didn’t care for electrical engineering. I still tell
people electricity to me is really weird stuff. About the only thing I handle now
is switching the light on and off,” laughs Zelinski. “That’s how far I am removed
from the engineering part of it.”
Nevertheless, Zelinski advanced quickly in his career at Edmonton Power. However,
after three years of taking money rather than vacation time at the company’s
request he decided he wanted two months off in the summer to make up for lost time.
The company refused, but he took it anyway. He was fired on his return.
Zelinski was shocked, afraid, and upset. It was during the recession, and his job
prospects were not good. To make matters worse, he lost most of his money in the
stock market and had to sell the majority of his belongings. Yet, he was determined
to neither work nor go to school for a year but just to enjoy leisure.
After taking time off, Zelinski eventually found himself back at the University of
Alberta, this time in the MBA program. Graduating in 1987 with hopes of becoming a
college instructor, Zelinski did manage to pick up some teaching positions;
however, work was scarce. He was about $30,000 in debt from student loans, and he
had to consider other options.
That’s when he decided to write and self-publish his first book about creativity,
The Art of Seeing Double in Business (Ten Speed
Press later picked the book up and renamed it The Joy of Thinking
This marked the beginning of Zelinski’s successful career as a writer,
entrepreneur, and professional speaker. In 1991, he wrote his second book,
The Joy of Not Working
. It was rejected by publishers, so
Zelinski borrowed half the money from his mother to self-publish and market the
book. Ten Speed Press finally printed it after he sold 50,000 copies in Canada.
Today, this international bestseller has sold more than 250,000 copies and has been
published in 21 languages.
“One of my biggest accomplishments was writing and self-publishing The
Joy of Not Working,” says Zelinski. Despite the title, Zelinski is
adamant that he isn’t anti-work. It’s about working smarter rather than harder and
getting a balanced life.
Zelinski seems to have found that balance. This child-free bachelor rises around 11
a.m., runs or bikes for an hour in Edmonton’s river valley, writes at cozy coffee
shops for about three to four hours a day, and prefers not to work at all in any
month that doesn’t have an “r” in its name.
Since opting out of the traditional workplace more than 20 years ago, Zelinski does
what he wants to do when he wants to do it. He also gains great satisfaction from
the letters and correspondence he receives from his readers all over the world on a
weekly basis, and he’s always amazed how his books affect people’s lives.
Zelinski has become something of a Canadian publishing phenomenon. “I’m really the
exception in that I actually was able to make a living by writing all these years,”
Canadian authors have roughly a one-in-ten chance of ever getting a manuscript
published by a reputable publisher, and only one published book in ten ever gets
translated. Zelinski has published 12 books, and every one has had at least three
translations. His average is seven translations per book.
Zelinski and his
have received national press attention in both
U.S. and Canada. Major newspapers such as USA TODAY
, Oakland Tribune
, Boston Herald
, and Vancouver Sun
have featured him; he’s been
interviewed by more than 100 radio stations and has appeared on CNN’s Financial
News, CBC’s Venture, and CTV’s Canada AM.
Zelinski’s books are successful because they have universal appeal. Filled with
humorous anecdotes, quotes, and cartoons, they are both entertaining and
enlightening. From The
Lazy Person’s Guide to Success
Joy of Not Being Married
, Zelinski never ceases
to inspire and provoke his readers to pursue their life’s passions.
Zelinski is particularly proud of the mere fact that he successfully completed his
U of A engineering degree. “I don’t know what the failure rate is,” he smiles, “but
I remember the speech given to the freshman class: ‘Look to the left and look to
the right; neither of the two people you see will be here by the time you
graduate.’” Zelinski notes that the skills he developed during his engineering
career have proved very valuable to him as a writer and self-publisher.
“Working as an engineer at Edmonton Power gave me the skills of handling contracts,
which I do now with publishers. I draft up my own contracts.” Many people are
shocked when they find out Zelinski has both an engineering degree and an MBA, but
has chosen not to make a more substantial income working in either profession.
“It’s true! Some people have made a lot better money than me throughout the years,
but I still believe I’m going to catch up with them one day. Remember what I told
you earlier: I’m the tortoise,” smiles Zelinski. After all, his success is just
starting to roll. His latest book about friendship will be out this year, and he’s
hoping for a total of 100 book
in the next few years.
“I’m feeling more prosperous than I ever have in my life!” he exclaims. I’m only
working two to three hours a day, and I have my freedom too.”
By Ann Marie Pelletier
The Joy of (Not) Engineering - Faculty of
Engineering - Magazine ...
Ernie Zelinski (Electrical '73) ... Upon graduation,