The beginning of the year is an opportune time for reflecting on the past and making plans for the future. I seem to have been doing that for quite a while. But why stop now? So, as my soul-searching journey continues, let’s talk about breaking work-schedule norms. I swear I will get back to posting articles on pretty places and food. In the meantime, let the whining commence.
Where do I come from?
I get it, I’m spoiled. For over 10 years, I worked freelance in food, travel, and international relations, which meant most of the time I could choose my own hours. Yippee! This of course hinged on getting my work in on time, which I always did, if not in advance.
In 2011, I began a three-month freelance contract, which lasted eight years until the project ended. Then I returned to university in 2019 to finish my master’s degree, which I’d begun in 2007 but had to step away from due to my family situation.
In 2020, during my final semester, Covid rocked the world. Fortunately, even as that changed life as we knew it, I graduated and quickly moved Nana, my grandmother, next door to me. There we hung out in our little bubble for over a year. It was exhausting and frightening as I played bodyguard against any and everything Covid.
But it was also precious. I alternated roles as Nana’s nurse, cook, plumber, assistant, hairdresser, and chauffeur, etc. But nearly everything we did included laughter. Giggling like schoolgirls over the silliest of things. And watching hours of Gunsmoke, NBC Nightly News, House Hunters, and Hallmark movies. The time I was allowed to get to know her, our family history, and a little bit more about myself, and to make peace with a lot of it, was priceless. I am thankful I had that time to spend with her. And I would relinquish everything I’ve been given this past year to have her and the rest of my family physically back in my life.
Alas, in August 2021, Nana passed away, and I wasn’t sure who I was anymore if not Nana’s companion, granddaughter, sister, best friend, and caregiver. Within a couple of months, I went on a journey that took me from Louisiana to Missouri to Indiana to California, and finally to Seattle. Then I hopped across the pond to Scotland, a decision that lead me around the UK. It was during this journey that, because I still had no clue in what direction I should go, I once again began weeding through aggressive job ads and casually sending out résumés to companies in the U.S., UK, France, Switzerland, etc. And one of those companies, after four interviews, helped me make a decision, or at least pointed me in one particular direction.
If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it. — Ferris Beuller
I am now a Content Writer in the tech industry in Paris.
Aside from the obvious changes (not being with Nana), I have gone from writing from any part of the globe on my own schedule to sitting in front of a laptop from 9am to 6pm. Thankfully I only have to go into the office one day per week; it’s over an hour from my place. But the other days, I am in my apartment. Not in a café. Not in a country or beachside rental in the south of France or Spain or wherever. And while I used to wake up calmly and naturally, I now use the help of an alarm clock. I abhor waking up to an alarm clock. Grrr …
However, I’m in Paris, where I’ve always said/whined (it’s a pattern) I wanted to be. My colleagues are nice. I’m writing. I’m learning a new subject. I get to translate. I get to speak French, although I write in English. We’re having a galette des rois party this week. Yum! So how dare I complain. I’d like to think I’m questioning the path of a normal workday rather than complaining about it. But still. With all the newness, I’m a little stressed.
I took a quiz.
I have been trying to figure out where my head is. And where it needs to be. But the stress and fatigue make it hard for me to think straight. So I thought I’d take a test to find out my level. Although, who needs a test? Am I right?
Instead of going on just the last year, since the past three felt like one long extended year (thanks, Covid, not!), I grouped them together. According to the Holmes-Rahe Life Stress Inventory’s Social Readjustment Rating Scale, with all of the changes I’ve encountered, I have about an 80% chance of a major health breakdown in the next two years. Yikes! What do they claim are the top five most stressful life events?
- Death of a loved one
- Major illness or injury
- Job loss
I suppose if you throw in having a month-long bought of Covid (January 2022) and some weird achy thing going on with my feet, I can count four of those. And then, as the relationship with the guy I’d known (off and on) since I was 16 and hoped might give me the insta-family my heart longed for, did not work out, I could squeeze in heartbreak, or a divorce of sorts. And that’s just the beginning. I could count all five. So, I win! What’s my prize? Do I really want to find out? Looking on the bright side, maybe a month-long spa date? Hint hint. Although, I have to say, from experience, that I should be careful what I ask for. Did I manifest this life? Perhaps, I should have been more specific.
On top of all these, I can also count the divorce of myself. Who am I? Without the identity of my family. Without the identity of my closest friends. Living in a new country. Without the ability to joke in my funny accents or use terms only those dearest to me get. Who am I supposed to be?
But not all of this arose in the past year, or even three. I began changing after the death of my mother over 14 years ago. My humor grew darker. I hid out … A LOT. I can’t stand smalltalk. I’m more impatient. Injustice infuriates me. As does inefficiency. I am no longer in my 30s. Somewhere along the way, almost 15 years went by without me knowing it. And here I am, supposedly an adult, receiving not credit card ads and not schmoozing over martinis all night, but instead getting AARP invitations and going to bed at 10pm. Oh, and then there’s menopause. Dude, wtf?
Yeah, I’m stressed. But shouldn’t I be thinking about job security?
In the U.S., job security is no longer a thing. Not like it used to be. And not like in France where we also have great insurance and many vacation days. In the U.S., you are encouraged to study and work in something that will always be useful. Or else you are cheered on as an entrepreneur. And you go from job to job or business to business, learning and growing your network along the way and making a billion dollars (in order to pay off your university loans). Or … you are like me. And because you want to learn how to do all the things, you try on all the many colorful hats life hands you, hoping at some point you’ll figure out what it is you really want or you’re really good at. This lifestyle has worked out perfectly. But in an agist system, how do you keep this going as you get older?
The typical 9 to 5 schedule.
A couple of recent conversations reminded me of how lucky I was to have had such flexible schedules most of my working life. One guy I recently met in Paris has a flexible work schedule, mainly from home, but has never had much time to travel and often works until midnight. Another friend spoke about toxic work burnout in China, her home country. Similar to the Great Resignation, mainly in the U.S., young tech workers in China are now calling on the “lying flat” movement. Something has to give.
Not everyone has the privilege of flexibility. There are those who need office structure. Those who thrive socially in office culture. Those who have no choice. And many places still enforce employment based on excessive production, not the mental or physical health of the worker. However, thinking of the inefficiency of the 9 to 5 (or 6) schedule and missing out on the bits of life that happen throughout the day makes me physically ill. You might say that I’m just not used to it. Friends tell me I’ll get there. But why would I want to? Why would any of us? It’s not healthy. And this is our one precious life. So why does society still enforce this rule? Where is the joy in wishing that the week pass by quicker so we can finally make it to those two beautiful days off that we just end up filling with errands anyhoo?
I think about how the American labor unions, Henry Ford, and Welsh socialist Robert Owen pioneered the eight-hour workday. Changing the norm from endless work to a shorter week was revolutionary. But times have changed. Even Ford has altered its typical work schedule. And we’re now seeing how much life it sucks out of people and how many are cheering remote work and having livable wages, and the four-day-work-week. Not like the one in Belgium, where you just work more hours during those four days. But the one with fewer hours, fewer days, and the same pay, because honestly, how much of the day is wasted waiting on email responses or having meetings where nothing is resolved?
Shouldn’t the goal be about doing your job well but also having time to enjoy this life? Of course, I didn’t just pull this question out of a hat. And I’m not the only one talking or thinking about it. “Will remote work continue in 2023?” Remote work is here for good.” “Remote work is not working anymore.” “Say good-bye to the 9-to-5 workday.” I even noticed my boss reading a book about the “4-hour work week.” She may also be reading this blog post. Ahem. This just goes to show you that the topic of working fewer hours and having more freedom is on everyone’s mind. Covid broke many of us, in a good way. If we were privileged, time for reflection allowed us see how short life is and how much of it we want to experience. So how do we change this social mentality? I’m not sure, but I think a force is building.
There still aren’t enough hours in the day.
It’s a real shitter when you realize all those things you wanted to do in your life, all those possibilities, all those lives you wanted to lead will probably never happen. Don’t get me wrong; I’ve done a lot, and I am thankful for that. However. I will never be an astrophysicist. I will never be a money-making photographer. I may be an artist, but I won’t make any money from it. I will never be a ballerina. I will never be Christiane Amanpour. I will never be a muse to Vivienne Westwood (RIP). I will never get my family back. I may never be satisfied living in one place. I will never have children. I may never get my PhD. I may never work in the culinary or travel industry again. Okay.
But will I ever catch my breath again? Or sleep a full night’s sleep? Or be content with what is? I would like to finish my book. I would like to have time to finish my book. I would like to have the will power to sit down and finish my book when I DO have the time instead of hiding in bed under the covers wishing it would write itself.
Tao spiritual system. There was never more need for the Tao today. Tao gives you a feeling that you belong to the cosmos and gives purpose to your life; it gives you such a sense of identity and strength to know you’re living the life you can live and therefore ought to be living: make full use of your character and full use of your life on earth. — Vivenne Westwood
What would you do if your days were freer?
If I had more free time, I might spend it painting and writing and creating and dancing around and sipping martinis with the eclectic ones. Part-time. The rest of the time, I would lie around in my jammer-jams streaming sitcoms or soap operas, eating really delicious food that tasted better than sex. Then I would have sex with a delicious person who really gets me and can look into my eyes and be simultaneously wolf and lamb. And then I would sit on the beach and see how far my nearsighted eyes would allow me to see. And then I would take pictures of things I found on said beach and make funky collages with the photographs. And then I would cook something flavorful and ask a friend over to join me. That would be nice. And I would do some charity work too, especially with the elders. AND I would take more time to remember friends’ birthdays and not just send them wishes via social media but actually call them and send them a card, you know, like in the mail. What would you do?
Reflecting on where I’ve come from has been a beautiful experience. I love my past, despite the shitty bits. Yet, I tend to live there, which is an issue I know. But my future is rushing at me in full force, and I haven’t yet figured out what I want to be when I grow up. Oy, the speed — not used to it either. It makes me wonder if all those hamsters running around so hurriedly are just making the days fly by that much faster. Have you heard about hurry sickness? It’s a thing. Life goes by so so quickly.
What to do? What to do?
But despite the whining and ranting and soul-searching, all in all, this is my life. I have a good job with good people in the city I love. And although I would love for things to be a little different, I am grateful for my present situation and I do honor the free time I currently have. But we still need to do something about this whole 9 to 5 business. There is more out there to experience and more balance to be nourished. (Note: do more yoga.)
I’ll let you know when I’ve figured it all out and become that PhD-rockin’, Nobel-prize winning, martini-schmoozin’ artist and photographer with still plenty of time to call my friends on their birthday and watch Netflix. Because in the sage words of a certain Eminem …
… You better lose yourself in the music, the moment
You own it, you better never let it go
You only get one shot, do not miss your chance to blow
This opportunity comes once in a lifetime
What about you? Do you have it all figured out? If so, how did you do it?
May you all have a soulful and present 2023, full of gratitude, laughter, and long weekends!