Who Are You When You're Not Working?
If you are reading this in the future the date is Thursday 1st July 2021, the first day of the 17th month of the global coronavirus pandemic. Perhaps you have found this on a functioning fragment of a Google server, one of the racks ransacked from their data centres during the food wars when populations rose up against Big Tech after realising that they couldn't catch prey with clickbait. If so, let me paint you a picture of now...
Life as we know it has been reduced to three things; eating, sleeping and working with the latter dominating at least 50% of the day. It's all we do now and we are grateful because, during a pandemic, we are told, a job is a privilege not a right. Our jobs serve two purposes in society, 1) they keep us busy (read: distracted), and 2) they keep us paying for hospitals, vaccines and Jeff Bezos's spaceships. It's the perfect scenario, we're a captive population isolated from each other, incapable of unmediated communication, fuelling the consumerist-political complex like cells in a human-powered money machine. Holy shit, we're in The Matrix!
I need a way out. We all do. Without the rituals of life that bring us together and mark the passing of time and relationships - weddings, christenings, birthdays, funerals - we are losing our humanity. An automated Facebook greeting that alleviates the burden of having to write something heartfelt on these occasions, for the price of an ad, isn't really enough as it turns out. You see, innovation has only one goal: efficiency, but nothing worth doing is efficient. Writing a letter, reading a book, sharing a meal, going for a walk, all of these things could be accomplished quicker, cheaper or not at all, but where would that leave us? Right where we are; working, eating and sleeping.
"So, get a hobby", I hear my rational mind cry. "I have hobbies!", I protest aloud to myself in the coffee shop, but I don't do them because they never seem as valuable or important as work. Take this blog for instance, every second I spend on it I feel anxious and guilty because this is time I could spend working; clearing email, beating deadlines, increasing my pipeline, building my nest egg. My wife is the same. She, like me, runs an independent creative business. I like to write, she likes to paint, but she never finds the time to do so. Not because that time doesn't exist, it just doesn't seem worth it, there is always work to do and it pays more.
I don't think this is unique to small business owners or independent workers (I loath the phrase 'freelancers'). I think employees feel this way too in what's known as the 'knowledge economy'. The knowledge economy requires no set location or hours, one can participate from anywhere at anytime, which actually means from everywhere, all the time. When you leave the warehouse or the workshop or the building site you leave your work behind, you can't do it anywhere else, it is confined to a particular place in space and time. Once the package is delivered, the product manufactured or wall erected the job is done, but in the knowledge economy the job is never done, the emails just keep arriving.
Like many couples my wife and I fantasise about retirement; not because we hate our work, we love it, probably too much, which is why I asked her the question at the top of this post; who are you when you're not working? I'd like to think of myself as being a writer and a musician but is that even true anymore when I haven't written anything substantial or even picked up my guitar in months? My wife might like to say she is a painter but her latest canvas has gone untouched for as long as my guitar. The fact is we are defined almost entirely by our jobs, which are never ending and which makes me wonder, when it comes to retirement, will I even like writing or playing guitar, will I even remember how?
I should clarify that we don't HAVE to work all the hours we do. We make a decent wage and don't want for much more than we've already got, it just seems pointless to do anything else. I can literally count the cost of not working, which makes everything but work seem like a waste of time. We're so goal-driven now that everything we do needs an end-game or an exit strategy. Every hobby should be a side-hustle, every undertaking a business opportunity.
This could be a generational thing. I find I am increasingly drawn to the channels of young YouTubers who have decided to forego a formal career to live in the woods and take each day is it comes. One of my favourites, Hannah Lee Duggan, will spend a day in her cabin chopping wood, journaling, reading and sometimes just staring into space as though life wasn't short and there weren't a thousand other things to do!
As I watch I am half jealous and half tempted to write in the comments, "But Hannah, what's your plan, love? Where do you want to be in five years? How will you ever retire?". I suspect she'll retire much more successfully than me, having already learned the value of simply doing things she enjoys for the sake of doing them, which brings me back to the question: who am I when I'm not working? I don't quite know but writing this blog purely for the pleasure of expressing myself might be part of the answer.