This is a first of a series on time, apparently. Time is great. Time is.
If you ask most people what their time is worth, they’ll think it’s an absurd question. Obviously, you can’t put a value on their time. Who do you think you are? Just like most progressive and morally upright human beings will say that a human life is also priceless. Yet we all act as if the reverse of this is true. We sell our time to our companies, jobs, and “the market” every day. We sign the job offer (that we are lucky enough to get), to serve the company, till death or dissatisfaction do us part, to have and to hold etc. (But in the fine print, there’s this sketchy thing called “at-will” employment. Which basically means the company doesn’t need a solid reason to fire you. Or if they do just so happen to have a reason, they’re not obligated to tell you. “Don’t take it personal. It’s just business. You understand, don’t you??” As if firing could be anything but a personal affair!) Life consists of time, so if we sell our time, we sell our life. Our life has a price, because we act like it does.
There is a fine economic irony which shows that sometimes our jobs cause ennui, a sort of physical and intellectual restlessness. How absurd. People get restless when they are bored, when they aren’t actually engaged even though they’re busy. It turns out you can be bored and busy when you know you aren’t really doing anything worthwhile anyway — or doing something that you literally could not care less about. And yet, you do care about it, because you are hired to care. Salaries for many jobs almost function as bribes. As in, many job positions would simply never be filled if they weren’t prestigious or didn’t pay so well. But isn’t bribery a form of corruption?
“Prestige is like a powerful magnet that warps even your beliefs about what you enjoy. It causes you to work not on what you like, but what you’d like to like.” – Paul Graham
What is a job but auctioning off your time to the highest bidder, or at least the most aggressive or persuasive bidder? Of course, people who do what they enjoy have avoided this bidding war; for them, the perks of the job are the job.
But my biggest realization about time has been this: the weekend is an social construct. As in, there is nothing special about Saturday or Sunday. The fact that we chose them as weekend days is totally artificial. Tuesday is Saturday, and Sunday is Wednesday — according to the universe. It’s just another day. The 5 day week/2day weekend is just the contract we’ve all signed to conform to this hullabaloo called “society”. This has bugged me because many people are literally “living for the weekend”. The existence of TGIF is problematic in itself. It’s good to ask yourself, Are you saying TGIF because it’s been an especially stressful week or if you say it every single week because you don’t like your job? And then people have to work to “earn” vacation time. IMHO, this is a lack of trust on the company’s part to trust their employees to use vacation time responsibly and maturely and not abuse it. It’s almost as if they hired kids and not adults. Sure, some discretion on the part of the employee is valid, but you shouldn’t have to work 52 weeks in America to get 2.5 weeks of vacation.
There is a reason people ask “What do you do?” when they first meet you. Because, deep down, they are asking, “What are you willing to sell your time for?” They want to know what you are guaranteed to do every weekday, besides sleeping and eating. From a holistic point of view, we are not our jobs. We are much more, lovers, friends, thinkers, artists. But strictly speaking, we are. We spend 8-12 hours every day with the people we work with and what our job actually entails. EIGHT HOURS. Surely, something this time-consuming cannot be relegated as a “means to an end”. Time is one of the few nonrenewable natural resources.
Our whole lives are organized around the concept of ‘work’ and the time and energy we give to it. Our whole lives.
(I know there are plenty of people who have to work jobs they despise for very practical and pressing reasons.)
“Time is a game played beautifully by children.” ― Heraclitus, Fragments
“They deem me mad because I will not sell my days for gold; and I deem them mad because they think my days have a price” – Kahlil Gibran
Here is a piece from The Gay Science by Nietzsche that sets a very high standard for work worth doing.
“Work and boredom. — Looking for work in order to be paid; in civilized countries today almost all men are at one in doing that. For all of them work is a means and not an end in itself. Hence they are not very refined in their choice of work, if only it pays well. But there are, if only rarely, men who would rather perish than work without any pleasure in their work. They are choosy, hard to satisfy, and do not care for ample rewards. Artists and contemplative men of all kinds belong to this rare breed, but so do even those men of leisure who spend their lives hunting, traveling, or in love affairs and adventures. All of these desire work and misery if only it is associated with pleasure, and the hardest, most difficult work if necessary. Otherwise, their idleness is resolute, even if it spells impoverishment, dishonor, and danger to life and limb. They do not fear boredom as much as work without pleasure…”
Check out what these three have to say on The choice of a Profession: