On Time, Pt. 1

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?

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“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

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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.

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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.

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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.)

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“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:

Paul Graham
William Deresiewicz
Robert Louis Stevenson
Henry David Thoreau

10 Comments

Filed under Philosophy

10 responses to “On Time, Pt. 1

  1. nitaspiel@aol.com

    Such an interesting post, Darius! If you want yet another perspective on time, please get Ben to bring you to one of my yoga classes if you are near NJ! Ben’s mom

    • Darius Liddell

      🙂 Thanks Nita. Getting more perspectives on time is somewhat of a lifelong journey, I will definitely let you (or Ben ) know if I’m around that area!

  2. Victor A

    You are nibbling on the outskirts of a bigger problem. Keep plugging away and you’ll see that our relationship with time is essentially governed by our pathetic fear of death. 🙂

    • Darius Liddell

      Yes, Victor. Fear of death definitely plays a role in our misguided and warped view of how we should spend our time. I’ve thought and read a lot about death and how we can overcome our fear of it, and I will definitely be writing an upcoming (maybe not the next) post detailing some of the pitfalls we fall victim to when reasoning about death and time. We can’t understand life completely until we admit and probe all our thoughts about death.

  3. Brian Lump

    I recommend reading Mitch Albom’s the Timekeeper. It is a very powerful book on the meaning of time and how it relates to our lives.

    I think the issue you need to look at is why are people dissatisfied with their jobs and how can we increase satisfaction. There’s nothing wrong with working long and hard hours because work provides social aspects, it provides intellectual growth and the roles people take on in their jobs contribute to an evergrowing society. Many times jobs give people a purpose and direction in their lives. It gives them something to strive towards and goals. Without these goals people tend to be lost. Otherwise we could be aimlessly wondering where we will be going in life.

    • Darius Liddell

      Yeah, I’ve heard of Mitch Albom’s book I’ll have to take a look at it.

      I think people are dissatisfied with their job(s) for several reasons:

      1. They are actually bored at work (the job is not intellectually challenging) and would rather be doing something else – I think most people fall into this category, even some who are getting paid well. They just put up with it because a well-paid job with good benefits is secure and hard to get back if/once you lose it.
      2. They feel they aren’t paid enough for what they do. They feel under-appreciated for their work, by their managers/coworkers and by society. (I imagine many public service careers fall into this category, and many private sector jobs too)
      3. The work itself is not so bad and even tolerable, but the culture at work is lackluster, if there is an emphasis on keeping a vibrant and stimulating culture/environment at all.
      4. The culture is great, but the work itself sucks. (I think the second most people fall into this category, they like their coworkers and get along well with them. In fact, they would be happy to go hang out with their coworkers most days if they didn’t have to do the work as well)

      This list is a good start, but there are more reasons.

      Thing is, once people find they are dissatisfied with their job, they still won’t leave their jobs for several more reasons:

      1. Inertia, sloth, timidity.
      2. They don’t have something else lined up.
      3. They can’t afford to live 3-6 months without a job, or however long it takes to find another job. Job-searching is a full-time job that sucks; they don’t want two jobs they hate, they want one that they like.
      4. They decide it is better to be complacent at their current job, bide their time and rake in the dough, and just ride it out until they find something better, if they ever gather the courage and diligence to do so. They are happy with living for nights and weekends and the work isn’t all that bad, anyway — or so they manage to convince themselves (This is most common IMO)

      Working long/hard hours is fine, as long as you do it because you care about the work in itself. Of course, work does give people a sense of belonging and purpose, which is why it’s so important that we look at the work we do, and not just the privilege or money it affords us.

      I hope I addressed your concerns. Looks like I’ve written another blog post in the comments. I’ll probably post it later down the line.

    • Darius Liddell

      first reblog, thanks much dude. It’s kinda nice to be reminded every once in a while that I’m not talking to myself in this blogosphere. Incessant writing with little to no feedback kinda makes one feel like Nietzsche must have felt when he went up in the mountains in late 1870s and just kept writing and writing until he went “insane”… Yet to be sure, he had much bigger fish to fry than many bloggers today have.. or at least many today aren’t going after the big fish

  4. I wonder if, or to what degree, people consider their role as a member of a society when choosing a profession. On an individual basis, jobs serve financial and/or personal need (I work because I need to pay the bills. I work because my job gives me purpose). On a larger scale, jobs contribute to the needs and the demands of a society.

    I wish that those who have the luxury to take purpose into consideration thought more about the latter. As a member of a society, who reaps the benefits of other’s labor, how can I contribute? Another way I like to think about it is: given my skill set, how am I most likely to make a positive impact? I think life becomes easier and more fulfilling when those questions guide our professional path. .

    • Darius Liddell

      Yes, I see what you mean Adri — it is helpful to take a step back and look at the larger picture of how you are contributing to the greater good. In a way, anyone who works for a corporation is providing a service to someone. That’s why they are turning a profit or getting paid or have customers. So every corporation, and thus everyone who works for a corporation, is fulfilling a desire (need or want, generally want) of the customer(s).

      I don’t know if life becomes easier if we take into account how we are servicing the public, but it can/will definitely be more fulfilling.

      This can break down quickly though because it is relative to each person. Like me, I think Snapchat and/or Instagram have added little to no value to the greater good. And yet, the people working on them draw purpose from that work, and it fulfills their needs, and there is a lot of money in it. I think the money, or the possibility of becoming rich, is the biggest draw IMO. Does it contribute to the greater good? You could say, “Yes, because it makes its users happier and lets them share and play with photos in a new/creative way”. I think this is a stretch, because you could justify any company’s efforts by this definition, “They fulfill a desire of their customers”. I think it says something good about our society when people get morally and ethically offended when someone gets rich for a mediocre fashion. These guys make have worked hard and learned many things along the way, but all to build and service a photo-sharing app? The journey is key of course, but the product is questionable. Then again, no one would care at all if the founders didn’t get rich. That’s the sad part.

      ~Prestige and money are still the biggest reasons why most choose jobs they do~ No surprise why CS is now the #1 major at Stanford.

      Maybe, we should look at the public service aspect and purpose of a job first, before we look at whether it fulfills our personal and material needs. This kind of job searching is foreign to many students, who have massive debts to pay off or just wanting to earn money steadily and surely in a legitimate and respectable, but hardly worthwhile, career.

      Most have no particular discretion what they work on, as long as it is legal and respectable, and it pays well, and has good benefits. “The market” determines the conscience, it seems.

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