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The cost of work

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I was asked some time ago about what, in this year without sport, have been the temptations to shift my attention to, either consciously or subconsciously. What have been the potential demons lurking, waiting to lure my focus from the important elements of life – family, friends, community, faith and God?

My gut reaction was that some self-analysis would reveal ‘those’ bugbears of the internet, TV and DVDs, the iPhone and so on.

In the last few weeks, I have come to more fully comprehend the cost that work can extract from us.

‘Fast’?!

We live in an age where ‘fast’ simply does not adequately capture the ridiculous and unsustainable pace at which life operates. For those with a busy work-life, we wear it as a badge of honour. We extol the hours that we spend devoted to our craft. Work comes home with us, night and day, and we stay connected 24/7 via our phones.

It’s easy to feel good about ourselves when our life cycle reflects that previous paragraph. After all, we’re providing for our family, our bodies and our minds were created for work, we feel good after expending our energies.

But not like this.

Australians and Americans are way down in the OECD in two main areas –

  • Employees working very long hours, and
  • Time devoted to leisure and personal care

Out of 33 ‘developed’ countries, Aussies rate 28th and 29th respectively, with our US counterparts faring only slightly better. These are not numbers to be proud of.

We are not nations that the world looks at with a, ‘Wow, we need to be more like the Australians and Americans,’ mentality.

A change

For most of last year, I moved from full time work to 4 days a week. At the time, I didn’t feel it made that much of a difference! My workload was pretty similar, bar the actual teaching components of the Thursday I wasn’t there. Regardless, I had a pretty positive mindset throughout each week. I mean, how couldn’t you!? The longest ‘at work’ stint I had in successive days was three.

This year, with the birth of our first bubba looming, the ‘decision’ was made to go back to 5 days. I mean, what choice did I have, right?

So, while I didn’t notice it as much last year, I now again live each day as a physical embodiment of the toll that a job role such as this takes.

When you have more time to yourself, as I have had in the last 309 days, it’s a virtuous ambition to devote extra time, thought and vigour to your job. Particularly in a service industry such as mine where you are making a difference in the lives of young people, there’s a lot of justifications you can flout when looking at how you dedicate your time and mental and physical energies.

In the western world, too many extend themselves beyond their means, adversely affecting their physical, mental and emotional health, as well as their ability to fulfil their role in the family – husband, wife, mother, father, whatever it may be. Some badge of honour…

Status and Material Anxiety

The rewards of our toils often support a family and a mortgage. It is, therefore, incredibly challenging to consider change in the area of our work life. There is financial fear, linked into what Sam Bloore and Andrew Shamy, in their phenomenal book ‘The Hare and the Tortoise’, define as status anxiety and material anxiety.

Status anxiety is our concern over whether we are occupying too low a rung or are about to fall to a lower one. We worry so much about what others think that it becomes dehumanising.

Our divided loyalties are what lead to material anxiety. We want to ‘do good’, ‘be good people’, yet we can’t help but chase the allure of the next big thing – the new car, boat, house… Flash red car or cute red car – the problem is not necessarily in the having, it’s in the obsessive hankering.

To justify the chasing of these relentless vices, Richard Foster, best known for his book ‘Celebration of Discipline’, notes that we cunningly rename them –

  • Covetousness we call ambition.
  • Hoarding we call prudence.
  • Greed we call industry.

How clever are we?!

A tough change

If we make a change in our work-life – if we don’t push for the next promotion, or we choose to work less hours, this might mean an effect to our overall salary. It won’t necessarily mean we lose the house (or the wife!) but it may affect our lifestyle.

And it is there that we have a significant choice to make!

Is it the stuff that’s important?!

We can say all the right answers, but it’s our behaviours that reflect our values.

(I admit it, I went italics crazy. Forgive me…!)

Com-plex

For me, I have made justifications for my job and my industry for many years and tried, mostly unsuccessfully, to make changes from the inside out.

But if you’re waiting for our culture to change the pace at which we operate, you’d want to be in a pretty comfy recliner while doing so…

We have to be bullish about that which is truly important to us. I never envisaged that my job would partially replace some of the time created in the absence of sport, but that’s where I’ve found myself…

These are some of the most complex and challenging decisions to make, especially when you’re in a job role you love, working with people you admire.

An ancient Chinese curse read, ‘May you live in times of change.’

Apt.

Harsh, but apt!

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About petek8

Pete Evans has just finished going 12 months without watching any sport. The journey stemmed from a sense that the balance was out-of-whack with my time and my priorities. Everything seemed to revolve around creating enough time and space to fit in the last game, games, recap shows or space to surf the net for the latest numbers and analysis. The cycle never ends - one season leads into another, seasons overlap if you follow various sports and the media's insatiable appetite for a new 'story' means that even the greatest of achievements aren't heralded for more than 3 days. So I stepped away from the machine for awhile and intentionally engaging with the journey by writing about it.

2 responses »

  1. Great topic mate. I can relate to so many of your thoughts here. I know we’ve talked a lot about it in the past. You hit the nail on the head when you said that you can’t necessarily change the culture you find yourself in, but the change might involve an individual choice that flies in the face of what the environment you find yourself in. My journey has been one of physically removing myself from the crazy career-driven world of Collins St and finding a place where I may not be progressing in my career at a rapid rate, but I’m out of the competitive game and enjoying everyday life (which I could have never imagined). Of course in that regard, Denmark is an oasis. A healthy work life balance is a Danish right enjoyed by everyone in a company – from the cleaner to the CEO. It’s easy to walk out the door at 5pm sharp and turn off your brain (and the email function on your mobile), but only because you see your boss doing the same. I have never met a person who has regretted those evenings or weekends where they didn’t work. To have a sustainable and healthy family life, friendship circle and personal development we simply need to remove ourselves from career paths that move at an uncontrollable pace. I know it’s easier said than done, but surely this is important enough to justify drastic decision making! Will be keen to hear on what you think the remedy could be…

    Reply
  2. I went to 4 days a week about a year ago. Best thing I ever did. Being a business owner I have the luxuary of this choice. That said, my day away created the chance for some of our part timers to obtain more hours so it actually suits everyone.

    My day off actually involves more work than my 4 office days but its all outdoor work on our block. The work involves planting and maintaining vegie gardens, plumbing water tanks, removing old trees and planting fruit trees, building gates, chicken coops, a cubby house and more. The vegie garden and water tanks have seen our household living costs plummet. We’ve grown more food than we can eat and the surplus that goes to our neighbours is creating an amazing community atmosphere. The skills I’ve learnt are priceless and I believe will serve me better over my lifetime than fiat currency ever could. Aside from that, and despite there being a great amount of toil I’ve enjoyed every second and its become my new down time. Its even surpassed the motocross!

    Reply

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