I am an unabashed lover of all things leisure and relaxation. Good books, sitting on my porch swing journaling, and naps, glorious naps. I can never get enough of those. I also teach part-time, work in a research lab at a top university getting my PhD, run a household with my husband, take care of my fur babies, and write this blog and other articles on work-life balance for various publications. I’m busy, very busy. Just like you.
But if you ran into me on the street and asked me what I had been up to, you would probably hear me mention my latest Netflix obsession (Black Mirror) over the fact that I have worked three, 12 hour days in a row. This is not an innocent omission; it’s a calculated strategy on my part to curtail our society’s fixation and glorification of busyness.
Whenever I hear anyone humble brag about the insane hours they claim to put in to their jobs, my first instinct is to roll my eyes. Not only because so few of us are really consistently working 80 hour work weeks (the average for all workers is just under 40 hours according to the American Time Use Survey) but because working for that long is not anything to brag about, period. I find it consistently odd to take so much pride in the amount of hours spent doing anything, rather than the content of what took place during that time.
If you spent the length of an entire workday rehabilitating injured animals, teaching children in a classroom, building houses for the less fortunate, or making some fascinating discovery that will help people all over the world; now that would be something to share with others. Unfortunately, in my circle, the culture is the complete opposite as if spending eighteen hours locked in a lab with half of those hours eaten up by email and Facebook is a worthwhile endeavor.
The busyness epidemic is now so widely entrenched in all sectors of the American workforce and society in general that it can be downright intimidating to be that person who walks out of the office at 5 pm. I have stayed late in my lab after finishing all my work for the day more than once because other people were still ‘working’ and I didn’t want to appear undedicated or not committed to the pursuit of scientific research. It’s all a bunch of baloney, it really is.
Comparing how many hours you work or routinely throwing that into conversations is a just a sign that you don’t have more interesting things going on in your life or you’re oblivious to all the many wonderful things that exist in the world besides sitting in front of a computer sending emails all day. Just because we are fortunate to not have to clock in and out each day doesn’t make us more special or better than the folks in retail, hospitality and all of the other employment sectors who don’t have the same opportunity to dictate when and how long they work.
In fact, they might actually kill to be able to work 80 hours a week as my dad once did while I was growing up. He spent three years working 12 hour days, seven days a week. We didn’t realize at the time how illegal that entire arrangement was; he was just trying to provide for his family in any way he could. As his daughter I now have the opportunity as an adult to work smarter not harder, which is something I wholeheartedly intend to do.
I also intend to make full use of my leisure and vacation time because I want to. Because it makes me feel good when I get to spend an entire week with the only thought in my head being whether I’m putting on actual pants that day or not. You don’t have to earn the right to enjoy your time off or to even take time off, whether a weekend or a full holiday. We constantly forget that human beings need time to recharge and that study after study shows just how much more productive we are after we take care of ourselves. Becoming more robot-like may be inevitable in the future but I’m not going down without a fight.
With the privilege of being able to dictate my own schedule comes the responsibility to make it clear to others that becoming a martyr who worships at the altar of work is wholly unnecessary and undesirable. Don’t you have something better to do? You only get one shot at this whole living thing, and it seems awful shortsighted to trade so many of life’s small pleasures for a bunch of re-circulated air and bad fluorescent lighting.
So take a page out of my book next time you ask someone how they are doing and their response is “busy” and tell them how very sorry you are at their bad luck. When they begin to give you a quizzical look as your words sink in, casually mention how much you’re looking forward to binge watching the next season of Black Mirror and then walk away before they can respond with the falsehood of just how much they enjoy working 12 hour days. Only then will there be hope for the rest of us.