Never Be So Busy Making A Living That You Forget To Make A Life
Sounds right... but what do you do?
It is the first question we ask someone at a dinner party. It is how we make polite conversation on the train.
There is a problem with this question, though: our career has come to define us. We are, however, so much more than our jobs.
Of course, it has to be said that we are so lucky to have the opportunity and ability to work. A career can be a source of purpose as well as livelihood. This does not negate the fact, however, that we as a society need to rethink the concept of work. The hard truth is, we are working far more than we need to. We need to work less and live more.
Here are the facts: we work longer hours now then we did in pre-historic times. New Philosopher magazine reports that “Since the 1960s, the consensus among anthropologists, historians, and sociologists has been that early hunter-gatherer societies enjoyed more leisure time than agrarian societies and contemporary industrial society.” In fact, this research shows that their working day was less than five hours.
With the industrial revolution came mechanization and the five day working week. In 1926, Henry Ford shut down the production line over weekends. Then, after the depression, the 40-hour work week was enshrined in law by Franklin D. Roosevelt.
This timeline seems like a natural evolution, the story of human progress. The problem is, something strange is happening. We are working more again.
Just 40 percent of Americans who work full time say they clock the standard 40 hours a week. Another 50 percent say they work more than that. We are no longer just working to make a living. We are forgetting to live.
‘9 to 5’ has become shorthand for a real job.
To question this is to question the vales that underpin our society; being a ‘hard worker’ is good, being ‘lazy’ is bad. This view is too narrow to see the breadth and depth of human purpose. We all have the capability and, I believe, the desire to develop ourselves and our interests beyond the workplace.
Perhaps instead of asking What do you do? we should be wondering ‘What are you interested in? Who lights up your life? How do you bring meaning to your days?’
This would be a good first step. There is so much more we can do to build a life where we work less and live more. This is a view that is being taken up by companies and even entire countries who see value in their workers beyond the hours they clock in.
For instance, here at Tower, our workweek is better than most people's vacations.
We do a 5-hour work day Monday through Friday, 8am to 1pm. The rest of the day is ours to live extraordinarily - to be active, to nourish our relationships, and to pursue our passions. To a large degree, our passions are significantly aligned with our work. You can find us occasionally burning the candle late on a project, but it's because we love to, not because we have to. We are working on creating a life where we are just as excited for Monday as we are for Friday.
The concept of a shorter workday has also being taken up by the Swedish government. The city of Gothenburg tested the benefits of the six-hour work day. The theory is that, by working shorter hours, workers will prioritize leisure over work. This is hypothesized to lead to healthier, happier employees and greater productivity. If the experiment is successful, and workers are found to have improved mental and physical health, the reforms may be extended to the entire Swedish civil service.
It may also be helpful to remember that not all workplaces are regulated by the clock. A fisherman’s work day is as inconstant as the moon, his schedule is dictated by the tides. A farmer's work load varies with the seasons. A painter’s workday is dependent on sunlight.
Until machine industry, all work ebbed and flowed. The workday was irregular and the lines between work and life were blurred. The job at hand was dictated by natural rhythms: the tides, the seasons, the light.
As Antonia Case writes for Womankind Magazine, this mirrors the behavior of university students, artists and writers today. They ‘have spells of light work followed by times of almost complete engagement in the work process’.
We tend to call this procrastination. E.P Thompson, a historian and writer, calls it the ‘natural human work rhythm’. He argues that when we have control over our jobs we typically choose this pattern.
Knowledge-based workers, freelancers and creatives, often have this control and this choice: the schedule or our natural rhythm? The clock or the moon?
For me, the moon wins every time.