I’ve been reading some threads from unhappy graduates on the Student Room forum this evening, and feeling all the feels. They are miserable in full time work and struggling to believe that this is what life looks like from 21 to retirement age.
It will be no surprise that I identify very strongly with this feeling, and have never been able to understand modern society’s obsession with full time work at particular hours, with absolutely zero regard for the preferences and differeng high/low energy times of different people.
I reached those threads via some idle Googling to find out who all these people are in town in the middle of a weekday morning…
It has long irked me that while I was told that full time work was absolutely the only career option open to me, any time I left work during the day – for dentists or doctors, an early lunch for a trip to town or a late one to do some banking, town was always heaving with people.
Granted, the skillset I had developed was mainly suited to 9-5 (pffft 8.30-6) office work, and of course not everyone works those hours. But I was led to believe that a vast majority did, and so that is what I did for the first 12 years of my career.
And I remember walking through residential (rather than tourist) London and wondering what all these people were doing, and how they had the freedom & means to wander at leisure while I was trapped in a building whose windows didn’t even open for real air.
Later, at the library and at the university, town was always full. It was hard to get a parking space if you popped out at lunch time to buy a birthday gift, yet I was still being told that most people worked Monday to Friday, full time.
I remember being so immensely frustrated at my lack of freedom that I cried each time I did leave work for something and got stuck in traffic coming back.
Who the hell were all these people and why the hell was I still stuck in a job?!
Now, 17 years after my first job and nearly 13 since I entered full time work, I am one of those people.
I work for myself, I don’t currently have any income streams which require regular attendance of someplace else, and I make my own decisions about what my days look like – Monday to Sunday.
And you know what? I am still baffled as to who all those other people are. Of course some are parents of young children, some are retired, some will be having a day off, or will be shift workers.
And the working world has changed so much since I started university, when the internet was in its infancy.
But looking around me at the sheer variety and number of people who are not, in fact, locked in an office or a shop on an average weekday morning, I can’t help thinking that an entire generation were sold a pup on the career choice front.
I have always been one of the lucky ones – born to supportive parents who didn’t bat an eyelid when I changed full time jobs 17 times in the space of 9 years, desperately trying to find one that would fit. Now, working for myself, it feels like I have found the right fit at last – freedom, not financial wealth/empire building, is my highest priority.
I still don’t understand why we have created this culture of rigid work hours when we are more technologically advanced than any other time in human history, and when we should be reducing, not increasing, the hours we are expected to work so we can earn money to live.
But I am saddened to feel recognition of a societal truth in the unhappy postings of new full-timers, fresh out of uni and absolutely stunned that this is the way they are expected to live their life for ever after.
Wealth does not bring happiness. But even if wealth is what you seek, the 9-5 is unlikely to create it – so I can see why some of these graduates have already given up hope.
My own experience is that you can cram in some fulfilling life around a job you hate and a lengthy, shitty commute.
But my experience is also that those shining drops of light in an otherwise stressed & miserable existence will eventually wink out unless you can change your life to better accommodate the things which light you up.
And if you work full time for someone else, or at all for yourself, then doing the things you love will involve not doing other things if you want to stay sane and relatively physically healthy.
I have often wondered if there is some kind of cosmic scale which says we can balance certain things but not everything.
My own priorities are spending time with people I love, my kitties, working on my businesses and pursuing my various and ever changing hobbies (currently doll photography, metal stamping and roller skating).
This means that housework, life admin and extensive cooking slip down the list, or off it altogether, in order for me to stay sane and actually get some sleep each night. Similarly if my lovely Mum didn’t keep my garden under control, it’d be a wilderness garden!
I also stay single and childfree very much by choice, as this is the way I live my best life, and the way I’ve found which lets me fit in those things which are truly important to me (and which always disappear when I’m in a romantic relationship – but that’s another post entirely).
But no part of the way I live now was presented as an option when I was choosing my life and career path.
And even for my non-self-employed friends with partners, and in some cases children, I know they struggle to fit in everything life demands around full time work.
I work harder for myself than I ever have in a job, 9-5 or otherwise, but because most of my self employment is made up of the things I happily did as hobbies when I was working full time for someone else, it doesn’t feel onerous.
I know self employment is neither desirable nor possible for everyone who doesn’t fit into the old 9-5 mould. But I hope that the working world catches up to the fact that such rigid office hours are already outdated, and realises that more flexible working hours really are the way forward.
Who wouldn’t want their workforce to be happier, less frustrated, less stressed and more productive?
On that note, as it is late and this was originally going to be just a couple of lines and a link… Off to bed I go!!