Tuesday, August 11, 2015

The 24-hour work week

image by amanda tipton on flickr

What if you only had to work 24 hours a week? What would you need to sacrifice? What would you gain?

Don't worry: I'm not trying to recruit you for a pyramid scheme. Remember when I said in my last post that I made some tough decisions that have made my life better? This is about that.
I recently got a new contract at work that drastically cuts back on the hours I'll be working. So much so in fact, that I could theoretically do them in a single day. They're making me do them in four, though, because retail.

The reason this was a tough decision is the same as the reason why it has taken me so long to finally publish this post: it runs counter to everything we are taught is right. With so many people struggling to find work at all (and my own co-workers going up against each other Battle Royale-style when my old contract was up for grabs), why on earth would someone be so ungrateful as to deliberately choose to work less? On top of that, I don't even have any children I can use as an excuse, while the right thing to do would obviously be to try and wrangle those on top of a full time job. When people ask how you are, telling them anything other than a variation of "I'm so busy I have slept a total of 5 hours the past week and all of those were power naps in the car as I waited for my kid to get done with soccer practice," has become the definitive mark of a deviant. Somehow, by opting out of this way of living, I feel like I am letting all of those people down.

The ironic thing about this is that the people who most fit the above description are usually those who have the most wiggle room to make a similar decision. I'm perfectly aware that there are plenty of people in the world who have to combine two minimum wage jobs just to be able to feed their families, and my heart goes out to them. It's an incredibly unfair thing. But then there are also a whole bunch of us who have all the comfort we need but are forgoing time we could spend with family and friends or doing things we love just to accumulate more money for the sake of... what, exactly?

I'm certainly not the first smelly hippie to have reached this conclusion,* but it seems like even asking the question has become like a personal insult that can drive folks into vicious rage, as opposed to being harmlessly subversive like in the days of Henry David Thoreau. Maybe I'm over-romanticizing the romantic period here though.

Still, it's fairly common sense that after a certain threshold where all your basic needs are provided for, adding more income to that doesn't make you any happier. The funny thing is that when I looked up what this threshold was (about 75000$ a year on average), that's almost 4 times what I made in a year when I was working 5 days a week. If I didn't know any better, I would have concluded from this that I wouldn't be so miserable if I only made more money, while continuing to drive myself crazy by trying to derive some sense of purpose or meaning from my job, like a dog desperately digging for a bone that isn't there.

Instead, I've decided to do the opposite. I'm making my day job into a day job again. I love the term "day job", because of its inherent suggestion that this isn't what you are really about. This is just what you do to get by, while your real aspirations lie in some grand dream of making it elsewhere. I don't even have that, though, but that doesn't mean that I can't firmly define what I do for a living as a day job, because the things that give my life meaning are just as important to me. It's just not one thing, but a bunch of little things, like reading, or writing, or learning a bunch of new skills just up to the point where I can go "Oh, so that's how that works!" and then happily lose interest.
I'm reclaiming whichever hours I can, so I can invest them in the things that enrich my life.

This is actually making me a better employee, because dialing back the importance I place on work has enabled me to stop taking everything so freaking seriously all the time, making me more relaxed and reliable when things inevitably go pear-shaped. The ability to have my coffee in peace, meditate, and then go for a run before work without this requiring me to get up at 5 in the morning might just drastically reduce the amount of sick days in my future. It's also a lot harder to let a place bring you down if you don't have to feel like you're living there.

I live somewhere else now. I live in those free hours I can dedicate to doing things I like, but am not necessarily good at, without having to worry if I will ever get good at them. Things that inspire me, or that I haven't tried before. Things that, from a utilitarian perspective, have absolutely no point whatsoever, but are their own reward. Things that make me happy to be me.

And for 24 hours a week, I'll professionally try to get people to calm the fuck down about the fact that their throw pillows don't match their whatevers. It's still a pretty surreal thing to get paid to do, but I guess Earth is just a pretty damn surreal place. And most days, I'm still glad to be a part of it.

* Disclaimer: Author not actually smelly, though she is a hippie.

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