Working hard or hardly working? Both.

I always hear variations of the same quote, something about if you love your job, you’ll never feel like you’ve worked a day in your life. So that’s my first clue as to how I know I don’t love my job, because I totally feel like I’m going to work every single time that I’m going to work. I guess I could go through my whole work history, but as of right now I’m working as a waiter, serving food and drinks and smiling and saying things like, “Coming right out, sir,” and “Hope you had a great time, folks.”

I’m not complaining, really. I’ve had enough terrible jobs where I’m at a point that I don’t hate what I’m doing, and so that’s definitely a good thing. And regardless of what the job is, I think work isn’t a question of labor; it’s really all about time. Considering the fact that most of us have to do something considered work, I’ve found that my personal satisfaction on a day-to-day basis stems from how much time I have that I can consider my own vs. how much of my time that I have to be someplace outside of my house doing things that I really, really don’t feel like doing, which is exactly what going to work is.

Because like I said it’s a matter of time. With my current job, I have some set hours, but it’s really such a loose structure. At my restaurant we have twelve waiters working per shift. With two shifts a day, that’s twenty-four spots. On a weekly basis, I’m only scheduled to work five of those spots. Mostly every other employee at this job is some sort of an entertainer, performer, or actor, so these people are constantly looking to swap shifts and make trades.

As a wannabe writer, this always works out in my favor. Seeing as how I do my writing on my time, I really don’t have to set aside any specific hours. So every week I can basically shape and mold my schedule as I see fit. It’s great because, and I’ve been doing this a lot lately, I can work three double shifts in a row and then have off for four days. It’s like taking those thirty-five hours that I once upon a time spent sitting in an office from nine to five, Monday through Friday, and just compressing them into a pill that I can choke down in one oversized swallow.

It’s no picnic, by the end of that last shift I feel like I’ve lost just enough of my humanity, like I’m almost capable of walking outside and mugging a complete stranger, but it’s totally, totally worth it to have four days off.

And this is what I’ve been trying to get at from the beginning of this essay. That whole quote about loving your job so much that it doesn’t feel like work. I feel like it’s a great idea, and if you’re able to make that a reality for your life, then that’s amazing. Consider yourself very fortunate, because that’s the dream, right? Personal and professional fulfillment. But it’s not practical on a large scale. If everybody had that, then there wouldn’t be any garbage men or bank tellers or people who go down in the sewers to do repairs or guys who have to scoop up elephant dung at the circus or waiters and waitresses to get you another Diet Coke.

I think that, for maximized happiness, on a global scale, it would be within everybody’s best interests to find some way where your work time is never greater than your free time. I think, as a society, as a species, that’s what we should be striving for. There are enough people on this planet to make it a reality. There’s no reason that companies should set thirty-five, forty hours a week as this arbitrary holy standard of productivity. Based on my own experiences in the office world, an absurd majority of this time is spent mindlessly cruising the Internet, clicking on some bullshit spreadsheet whenever a boss walks by, but the boss probably doesn’t even care, because she’s got a Scrabble game going on in her office, and she resents the fact her bosses make her get up every now and then to walk around and make sure everyone’s being productive.

And if you think my idea is stupid, just look to the New York City Department of Sanitation. Workers have a very important, very messy job to do, but they get it done, they hustle their asses off, and they pick up all of the trash on their routes. And if they finish before it’s quitting time, then, whatever, they’ve done their jobs, there isn’t any more trash to be picked up, so they get to go home and still clock in for a full day’s work. Oh yeah, plus they get some of the best benefits in the city. Oh yeah, plus they get full retirement after twenty years. And, oh yeah, there’s something like a four-year waiting list just to get one of those jobs.

I’m not saying we should all aspire to work less. We should all be working smarter, not harder. Nothing’s worse than doing your job fast and efficient, only to have some boss turn around and go, “Oh, don’t have anything to do? I’ll give you something to do,” and then giving you some sort of a busy-work, some meaningless drudgery that’ll make you think twice about doing your original work faster ever again. It hinders productivity. Employers should be hiring people for jobs, not time. Let me do my job as fast and efficiently as possible so I can get out and go home.

One thought on “Working hard or hardly working? Both.

  1. Nick

    I’m digging the idea of work time can’t be greater than free time…and all of my students are backing you on the “Don’t have anything to do? I’ll give you something to do…” meme being a bad idea…


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