The Illusion of Necessity as it Pertains to Lifestyle
Before the advent of the “career” or perhaps even the modern conception of a “job” – ie a place you go for 8 hours a day to perform some task in exchange for enough money to support your need to continue returning to said place of tasks – people lived very different lives. A time when people had professions instead of jobs, where business cards, had they existed, might read blacksmith, stonecutter or butcher rather than cell phone salesman, telemarketer or fast food crony. These people acquired skills that made them valuable to their community. It wasn’t because they opened their door at 9am and closed it no later than 5pm that they were successful. Their clothing wasn’t fashioned to imply status or threat, like the suit of our modern world, but was simply practical garb to cover themselves. If you didn’t feel like working on Thursday, put it off until Friday. Met a friend at the tavern? Have a few drinks with him into the afternoon. Live life and work to continue doing so, not simply working to afford to work.
Maybe this is a naive or grandiose vision of a time gone by. Perhaps these people lived in squalor and unhealth, perhaps they didn’t have instant access to Friends after work and often died before the age we consider to be “middle” these days. But also realize that the work week and organizations in general are a relatively modern concept. Before the industrial revolutions of various areas of the world, large companies didn’t exist outside of organized religion and servants of royalty. For the most part, everyone was their own boss, making their own decisions, determining their own fate. If the butcher didn’t butch as well as the next guy, he’d be out of business. Imagine how much more efficient things would have been without the downtime that is the modern workday. If Jake in accounting feels like he’s being taken advantage of, he’ll work for less time than he’s being paid for simply out of human nature. But once Jake is accounting, he’s only getting paid for the amount of accounts he tings, therefore he’s driven to work harder when he needs more and realizes he can take it easy when he doesn’t need as much.
I believe the thinking of your average human businessman, myself included, goes like this: I can make 10 stones per day if I work 10 hours / day. I don’t want to work 10 hours / day, but I also want to make 12 stones each day. If I hire someone to make me 6 stones per day, I’ll only need to make 6 stones myself and I can do that in 6 hours. Charge people more for the stones and pay your man less than you would pay yourself and there you have it: profit. As the Industrial Revolution began filling the world with forward thinking greedmongers just itching to make thousands of boulders worth of stones, you start to see people lining up in factories, pumping out stones for the masses. Likely, these are stones of lower quality but easier to make, though I can’t argue the semantics of how an entire people let themselves get fooled into giving up a life of self-determination in exchange for a culture of submission and hope, the hope being that your boss might recognize you and give you half a woodchuck’s worth of shillings more a year.
These people went from working on their own terms to working 16 hour shifts, 6 days a week. Maybe this came out of poverty and desperation, maybe the same people I deem to have been “working on their own terms” would more adequately have been considered “not working at all.” I can imagine a Western World emerging from some dark time where the lure of a steady income, and therefore a definite loaf of bread on the table each day, greatly outweighed any other options they saw for themselves.
And so they worked, remaining in squalor but even poorer off for it, having lost their value as human workers as well as their free time.
In the early to mid 1800’s people started advocating a 10 hour work day, sick of working 16 hours / day, six days / week. Later in the century they’d push for an 8 hour work day and to have two whole days off. Imagine what a dream those times would have been to some people. Their grandfathers probably considered them lazy, their grandchildren taking the new 40 hour work week they’d inherited for granted.
But that is still not enough. The idea of 8 hours of work, 8 hours of rest and 8 hours of recreation is impossibly failed. Even if you consider the two day weekend into it, you come up short in the recreation department. Consider this:
8hr workday x 5 = 40hr workweek
2hr commute/getting ready x5 = 10hr prep / week
40hr workweek + 10hr prep = 50 net work hrs / week
8hr sleep x 7 = 56hr sleep / week
50hrs work + 56hrs = 106hrs
There are only 168 hours in the week. That leaves 62 hours of “free time.”
“Bonus!” you say, more free time than work time. But only since the invention of the work week, the job, the factory lifestyle (and yes, your cubicle is just another factory job but with a different type of widget being produced) have we learned to focus our terminology so exactingly that we would forget that our work day also involves cooking, cleaning, home maintenance, etc. And with all of our modern stuff and all of the rituals we’ve learned to perform to create that stuff (think of the concept of the “yard” – it used to be that people simply had nature, you didn’t need to do much to enjoy nature, just take a walk through a field or the forest; now we have yards which are just small fields that require maintenance, ridiculous in nature but so everyday common now that we accept them as nearly necessity), we’ve easily added another few hours. Even if you only do 1 hour of work outside of your day job, that takes your 62 hour majority and knocks it down to 55 hours. But realistically, people do closer to 2 hours / day and that’s if you take it pretty easy on the weekend. You can easily find yourself below the 40 hour mark (particularly if you ever need to work overtime.)
So what’s the point of all of this? Everyone knows that work sucks and we all have resigned to it because in our modern world that is what is necessary to survive, right? I can certainly appreciate that stance. I am not advocating that everyone quit their jobs and we retreat to a more primitive lifestyle or anything. Indeed, it’s the opposite of that. The American dream might do well to transform itself from two cars in every garage and a picket fence to something simpler. Indeed, the new American dream might be to have no cars in the garage and spend more time laying in the uncut grass. I can’t say what this dream would be for sure, as it can occur to everyone individually as to how to achieve their own particular dream. But I can say this, the United States is changing drastically, even if by drastically I mean over the past 50 years. 50 years to history is the penny Bill Gates can’t afford to bend over to pick up. But in that short time we’ve gone from a time where people remembered riding in horse and buggy as children to a time where landing on the moon is something that happened before many of us were born. We perfected the factory line and then shipped it over seas. Americans don’t work anymore, we come up with ideas and then have people in other countries make the ideas happen for us. We’re a nation of creatives and knowledge workers.
When was the last time that you scheduled creativity? And do you only consider those ideas which have come to you during the 9 to 5? Of course not, a good idea is good whether you came up with it at 2am or over an afternoon meeting with the boss. So why constrict ourselves to this on-the-job lifestyle?
My final point is simply that many Americans are doing this already. 10 million of them, in fact. That’s 3% of us. Maybe not that impressive of a number, but consider that 5.9% of the country are considered to be in the Upper Class. Even if every single one of those people considered themselves self-employed, that means for every rich person out there you can find an average guy who’s self-employed. That’s an average guy who didn’t have the backing of millions of dollars to fall back on if his business flops. Certainly more than 3% of Americans have enough confidence, intelligence and gusto to go out and make a better life for themselves.