For many people, working 40 hours a week would be a dream

Posted By on November 3, 2021

NYT40hourworkweek210813There was a Q & A “workfriend” letter in the New York Times a couple months ago suggesting that a40 hours a week is not sustainable.”  A 27 year old made the comment and it triggered my GOM (Grumpy Old Man) response especially after reading:

I have hobbies. I have creative pursuits and therapy and laundry, and I own a small dog, so I am busy.

Thankfully … Roxane Gay, who answered the letter was a little less “grumpy” than I would have been … and answered the young woman, who additionally pondered: ”I wonder what getting away from the 40-hour work-week looks like. I have considered self-employment, trying out the artist lifestyle, going back into academia, mildly rejecting capitalism …”
Ugh … buck up and get a grip!

At 46, as the workaholic daughter of immigrants with an intense work ethic, I am inclined to tell you that this is life. You have to get over it and find a way to balance your professional and personal lives. For many people, only having to work 40 hours a week at one job would be a dream. It’s important to acknowledge that. But we do live in a country obsessed with work to the detriment of our collective well-being. You ask an important question and one many of us struggle with. Is this all there is? Are our lives destined to be consumed by work? It is kind of maddening. Work is a means to an end. If you’re lucky, you enjoy what you do and thrive professionally but we’re not working for fun. We are working in a capitalist society that demands our participation.

Many European countries model more reasonable work/life balance. In July, Iceland shared results of a four-day workweek trial that showed great results. So there are alternatives to working a 40-hour week. You should know that most of the other options you list are more demanding than you might think. Academia is demanding; you just have more control over where you spend your time when you’re not in the classroom, though that is if you’re one of the very few academics who gets a tenure track position. As an adjunct, you do essentially the same job for a fraction of the compensation.

I don’t want to discourage you, but there is no magical way to earn a full-time salary without working full-time. You have to decide what your priorities are and what you’re willing to do to nurture those priorities. If you want to pursue an artist’s life or reject capitalism, how will you pay for housing, food and health insurance? What are you willing to forego to have a more fulfilling life? That is the question; it’s an unfair choice until we, as a culture, decide there is, indeed, more to life than work.

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Desultory - des-uhl-tawr-ee, -tohr-ee

  1. lacking in consistency, constancy, or visible order, disconnected; fitful: desultory conversation.
  2. digressing from or unconnected with the main subject; random: a desultory remark.
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