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REPOST: On the work/time dichotomy

Lately I have been bemoaning the fact that I don't have time to blog as much as I'd like. But then I realized that I actually write a lot, but they are on forums, and are usually only seen on that site by a few people. I am toying with the idea of reposting the longer ones here. Here is the first, which was in response to someone complaining about the hours they worked at their software dev job. Begin:

I'm an academic, and the single biggest reason is that I'm a workaholic and if the place didn't almost shut down for 4 months of the year, I'd work myself to an early grave. As it is now, though, I work my ass off 8 months of the year, and 4 months of the year I'm blessed and cursed to be able to get almost nothing done (well, nothing that requires the organization). It's been very good for my health and mental well-being, if not necessarily for my wallet.

Over the last summer break, I spent about a week staying with my friends who work at a major IT company as developers. I saw their lives, and was envious. They make a lot more money, they come home earlier, and it is virtually impossible for them to work at home, so they don't. "Damn," I thought, "I really did pick the wrong career." But then I noticed something: I was staying at their house in a different country from where I live for a week, and that was just one week out of about 7 or 8 in a row that I didn't have to report to work. I was still getting some things done on the laptop, but that had much more to do with my workaholic nature than necessity. "Damn," I thought, "maybe I picked the right career after all."

The point I'm trying to make is that you are ultimately in control of your time. You are. Really. It's your time. Your life. If you feel that you are losing it to a company, and the money isn't worth it, you need to change gears. It's not their fault. It's your fault for doing it.

Now, this decision will most certainly result in a decrease in income. It may mean you aren't buying a house (if you're in the US, this is a terrible time to buy anyway--wait for the market to really crash first--and if you already bought, you have my sympathy), it may mean that vacation is usually spent on the couch instead of on the beach. It may mean you will be hanging on to your old car and just keeping it going until it dies. It means you don't get the "American Dream" kind of life people in my generation seem to somehow feel is necessary. BUT, you will get your life back.

Depending on who you are as a person--whether you value money or time more--this may or may not be a viable lifestyle choice. But the choice is there.

Finally, however, I want to address this idea that we work harder than our elders. I think that is really only the case on Leave it to Beaver. In talking to my parents, both of their parents worked. Mom got home earlier than Dad (schoolteachers in both cases), but Dad (a lawyer on one side and a shopkeeper on the other) got home late. Anecdotal evidence, I know, but I really think that we have too rosy a view of our elders' lives. In my own parents' case, they run a business that is attached to the house, so they were around a lot, but were also usually working. When my dad had to go out, which was/is almost every day, he didn't come home until late (8-9). He also gets called out to truck wrecks (independent insurance adjuster specializing in the hard stuff that companies hire a third party to handle) in the middle of the night fairly regularly, and might not come shuffling back home for 18 hours, after dealing with cops, insurance companies, grief-ridden truck drivers, and the survivors of the family they just killed. That being said, there are down periods with little work and no money, and I grew up being pulled out of school during those periods to drive around the country and learn things. My parents basically made the same choice I did. Time is more important than money.

Further, think of the Depression generation! They didn't work because there wasn't any. Lots of time, but absolutely no money. If they did work, it was long hours in a dusty field. And before that? The agriculture- and manufacturing-based economy. The ag business is still crazy hours (grew up in a little town--had lots of friends who were farm kids and grew up working), and the only reason manufacturing went to 8 hours a day is that in the 20s factories were literally working people to death. Go back further, and it's all ag, all the time, all the way back to the Neolithic!

When is this Golden Age when people didn't work? I think that, if it existed, it was in the US from the years 1945-1950 while the US was still reeling from WWII, but there was lots of money, being the only major country to have made it through unscathed, and the workforce had PTSD and you didn't want to push them too hard, else they snap and murder their families. Hard, long work, I think, is the norm.

That doesn't mean I like it. In fact I hate it. So I choose a different path, to my financial detriment. You can too.