We work too much!
Regret for the things we did can be tempered by time; it is regret for the things we did not do that is inconsolable. ~ Sydney Harris
Tonight I want to talk about work. The overwhelming majority of us need to work. I personally only know one person who is independently wealthy and doesn’t need to, but they still do. In America, in addition to our need to work and earn money to live, there is also a philosophy that the more you work, the better you are as a person. I grew up in a blue-collar family, people who worked with their hands, worked outside and I have a great deal of respect for people who earn their living this way. For many years, as I pursued my education, I also worked this way. I’ve been everything from a garbage man to a custodian to a landscaper. My family pushed me toward higher education for this very reason. When after decades of work you’re dealing with a bad back, bad knees and and aching hands because of years of subtle and not so subtle work injuries, you want more for your children. When you are in this position you look at the white-collar workers with their office jobs, indoors, making more money with envy. As a friend’s dad used to often to say to my friend, “son, you go to college to work half as hard, to make twice as much.”
But at the end of the day. in America we have far more respect for people who “work” for a living. We refer to office jobs as cushy, we talk about “bankers hours.” I have actually been called an “egg head” by a friend’s father when he found out that I was an academic. My grandfather used to bemoan that so many of his grandchildren were teachers because it led to them having large backsides, his language was not so polite. Yet, as I’ve said, it’s these cushy jobs we want for our children.
The impact of stress
The fact is though, whether it’s the physical punishment of the blue-collar world or the mental punishment of the white collar world, work is hard. Stress, physical or mental takes a toll on people. As I’ve mentioned it can cause you physical injury and long-term pain. It can also cause people to have emotional breakdowns, I have a relative who developed a constant eye twitch from the job stress they were under. How do most bosses see this aspect of work, well I give you an example from a former supervisor. Her philosophy as stated to me was this, “if you’re not working 50 hours a week you’re not doing the job.” I pushed back on this because everybody’s hour isn’t the same, different people have different levels of efficiency. I’m smart, efficient and I work both hard and smart, my 40 hours is sometimes far more productive than others 50 hours. But that’s not the big point to pull from her statement, just a little bit of defensiveness on my part. The point is, is that what we consider as someone doing a good job is that they work a lot. It’s a philosophy that pervades our society, and as such can drive promotions, salary increases and cause people to think that what life is about, is working more, working a lot, and putting worklife in front of other things that I would personally consider far more important.
What’s important in life
I think a question we have to ask ourselves, what is truly important to us in life? Far too many people live their lives without asking this question. And then, by default, fall into the trap of making their work the primary part of their identity. If you ask them who they are, they answer with their occupation, not a father, husband, brother, adventurer, hiker, etc… Even though all of these things may be part of who they are, the answer is I’m an accountant. These people are on the wrong side of the cliche, do you work to live, or live to work?
I spend a lot of time writing and speaking about keeping a good work/life balance. It’s something the people I supervise hear from me a lot, in general conversation as well as in the evaluation process. And since I talk the talk, I also have to walk the walk. I’ve written about this before on the blog in my post, Tips for Better Work/Life Balance. One of the tips that is contained within that piece is never work 7 days in a row. The main reason I tell people this is that there is no such thing. The fact is that once you work that seventh day, you are into the next five day week. So six days quickly turns into twelve days.
Walking the Walk
So how do I implement this in my life. On the most immediate level I take my own advice, I almost never work seven days in a row. There are occasional exceptions if there is something crucial due under a deadline. But that is no more than once or twice a year and my goal is for it to not happen at all each year. What this means is that I never work on Sundays. But that day could be Saturday or if you’re on a non-traditional schedule any day of the week. But holding that hard break is really important. Whether you use that day to just relax or to participate in something you’re passionate about or spend time with your family, it’s nice to have a day when you can be focused and dedicated to something that is not your job.
I also try and control my hours during the week. I’m in a job that given its realities means that my average hours per week is usually over forty. But I try not to get nitpicked to death. This means being organized and efficient about the way I work. It also means knowing yourself. What that means for me is that first, I know I’m more of an evening person than a morning person. So I don’t push myself to go in early and work before everyone else’s day is started, but I do stay late when I need to do extra hours. However, as part of my wellness and stress relief strategies, I workout four nights a week and try not to interrupt that schedule. This means currently most days I leave on time. However I don’t workout on Monday nights, so that has become the night I plan on staying late. So I know each week that Mondays will be longer days, a time to catch up if I’m behind or to make strides on projects that will put me ahead of the game. I try to limit staying late to no more than one other night per week so that I can get my workouts in each week.
I also have a hard rule, no taking work home. I realize this isn’t possible for some people, but if you have to, define a place in your home where you work, don’t let work bleed onto the dinner table, or into family common spaces. Try, whenever possible and I know it sometimes isn’t, to focus on work when working, family when it’s family time. The goal here is to gain a balance, that your life isn’t so work focused that you lose track of the other, and more important things in your life.
I am absolutely making a value judgement in this piece that your family, your recreation, your hobbies and other things that you are passionate about are more important than your job. There are exceptions, if your work is done deeply in service to some cause it may be on par with the other things that I mention. However for the majority of us this is not the case. Where do I come up with the justification that this belief is valid? It comes from what people regret at the end of their lives. In a piece entitled, The Top 5 Regrets of the Dying, I wish I wouldn’t have worked so hard is number two! The list is below:
- I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.
- I wish I hadn’t worked so hard.
- I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings.
- I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.
- I wish I had let myself be happier
And that number five my friends is what I hope I’m helping you do with this blog. Have a happy day. ~ Rev Kane