Art by Pascal Campion
“It’s impossible,” said pride.
“It’s risky,” said experience.
“It’s pointless,” said reason.
“Give it a try,” whispered the heart.
I read this article about a guy who quit his nine-to-five job to work for himself at the age of thirty-two. Very quickly, he realized that while working for himself was enormously rewarding, he was completely unprepared for this new kind of lifestyle. All of his time suddenly felt like work time, because he didn’t have paid vacations anymore or someone telling him what project to work on next or when he could eat lunch. All that was on him now.
At first he felt bewildered until he began to realize that he’d never truly been encouraged to manage his own life before. He, like many of us, started life in a school system where he knew what to do because he was given a curriculum, a yearly calendar, and choices for the future. Do this homework, go to this classroom, listen to these teachers, obey these (sometimes arbitrary) rules. Then he graduated from school and entered the working world, where again he knew what to do because authority figures told him. Go to this interview, say these things, do this report, go to this meeting.
What I find personally fascinating about most jobs is the whole nine-to-five concept. Considering how much evidence there is that only a small percentage of those eight hours (or more, as the case may be) contains actual work and the rest is biding time until the clock sets everyone free, you’d think companies would figure out a better way to utilize that time, or just let people do their work and go home when they’re finished. I know I always finished my work in school a lot faster when my teacher said I could go when I finished. Sadly, in most cases, you don’t decide how long you work. I figure this is because it’s much easier for employers to figure out how much to pay their workers by assigning them a certain number of hours to exist at work. Easier than it would be to consider each person’s workload and measure the monetary value of their effort and time devoted to any given task. Mom and Pop shops typically have the luxury to do that, since they’re smaller, but a corporation with thousands of employees? A nightmare of numbers.
The more I read about the writer’s experience transitioning from company life to working for himself, the more I realized that we all do a lot of things in our lives because we’re told. It’s not just the linear pattern in which we live our lives. We marry at a socially acceptable age, we don’t wear white at certain times of the year, we drink certain brands of beverages because their commercials are funnier, we laugh and scorn shoes that are functional and did no harm to anyone (on record at least) – all because we’ve been informed through one means or another that we’re supposed to.
Here’s a fun side story about breasts to illustrate that point: An anthropologist once went to Africa and, while hanging out with the topless women of a tribe, she took off her shirt and much amusement was had poking her round, perky boobies. A lifetime of bra-wearing had shaped the anthropologist’s breasts in a way that the other women’s weren’t. The anthropologist explained to the women that part of the reason she wore a bra was because breasts are seen as sexual in her country, and men desire the boobies, so she had to cover up as a form of modesty. The women, who’d spent their lives in a hot climate immersed in a culture where breasts are no more than floppy milk tanks, laughed incredulously, “Your men are like babies?!”
It begs the question: since women’s breasts are no more sexual than men’s nipples, why are we told they are? In fact, for many women, breasts just downright suck because they’re big ole heavy bags of fat we have to cart around on our chests. Without some very strong fabric pinning our floppy friends to our chests, running can even hurt. Kudos to cavewomen – running from sabertooth tigers already wasn’t fun. (I’ll be fair, though, breasts can also be fun if you draw little alligator faces on them while you’re in the bath and then have them attack bubble monsters. DISCLAIMER: I have not done this. Yet.)
A lot of people familiar with Japan are quick to point out Japan’s follow-the-leader tendency (yours truly included), but the whole Western world is guilty of doing the same. We’re not educated to design our lives the way we want to live them, no matter how many times the American media and education system enjoy singing about individuality. We’re educated to follow rules, and play the following game: grammar school, high school, college, (graduate school debatably optional), job/marriage (you have some generous flexibility on which comes first), wobbly amount of indeterminate existing time, death, afterlife with Bill and Ted. (That last part applies mainly if you’re an American kid with awesome adults around to show you Bill and Ted movies.)
Recently, I heard someone say: “Work isn’t fun. Work is work,” but damn. Considering work is an activity to which most people dedicate approximately eight hours out of their approximately sixteen conscious hours five days a week, that’s a massive chunk of time taken from one’s life. I’m not saying everyone can or should have a job making alligator costumes for boobies (though seriously, if Halloween is so obsessed with lady boobs, I highly support any company that provides them with their own costumes), but finding a job you love to do isn’t unthinkable. Sometimes it’s ridiculously difficult to find, or depends on timing, or you spend three years in a job you hate to get to that dream job, but I believe with all my annoyingly optimistic heart that perseverance can wear down the worst of times right through to the best of times.
I could go deeper into this, and I think I’ll come back to it someday with slightly more structure, but I see the situation like this: not everyone must be happy at work. Some people aren’t wildly passionate and spend hours daydreaming about what they could be getting paid to do and are content to do their job sufficiently and leave. Some people don’t want to work at all.
But there are success stories everywhere.
I have a friend who worked at a publishing company a few years as an unpaid intern and finally, when facing the very real prospect of having to move back in with her family, the company added her to the payroll.
My older sister worked in the finance industry for eight years, paused to have kids, went to grad school in her early thirties, changed career tracks completely, and was hired by the White House in her late thirties. (She’s my hero – never ask me about her unless you have an hour to kill listening to me tell stories about how awesome she and my nephews are.)
More than luck or karma, I believe in perseverance. Some writers receive hundreds of rejection letters before they get just one of acceptance. …If you get a letter of acceptance on the first try, that’s still not luck, that’s a legitimate reason for other writers to pelt you with paintball thingies.
You’re next, Quinn.
I love hearing about people’s dreams. If I’ve known a person for longer than eight minutes, odds are good I’ve wondered aloud or in my head what that person’s dream is. I love hearing about people’s passions. Even if I don’t share that passion, watching people talk about something they love is a lot of fun for me.
More than that, I love hearing people talk about loving their jobs. I love hearing someone say they’re excited to go to work every day. Since I was a kid, I dreamed of becoming a writer and making stories for a living, and so sometimes when I hear someone tell their story of how they ended up with the ideal job for them personally, I feel a burst of pride for them because fuck yeah, you! When dreamers succeed, a dead fairy is resurrected.
Remember that, dreamers.
In your hands, you hold the ability to raise zombie fairies from the undead.
…I now want to write this story.