Another day, another boring BBC article about work-life balance. And yet it’s interesting that such a mainstream media item would question (gently) the conventional idea of success. It is described (tentatively) in the article as a trap.
There are [sic] “an endless amount [sic] of things you could be doing to make yourself look amazing,” [says the CEO]. “There’s big pressure to do that. You have founders [of companies] trying to achieve success on multiple fronts, whether it’s media attention, revenue growth, etc., and that’s where the trap sets in.”
There’s an “outside portrayal of founder life as this amazing journey that you have to make look so exciting and so high growth all the time,” says Moore. “I think there’s just an inevitable crash for a lot of people when they feel they’re not living their real life.”
As we’ve said many times at New Escapologist, you need to know why you’re doing what you’re doing. Where are your actions taking you? What are they really giving to (and taking from) the world? When do you imagine you’ll start having fun? And what is the point of all this “success” anyway? Will it really make you feel good or is it just a rather base (and impossible to ever achieve) defence reflex to gaslight the entire planet?
Post Scriptum! For the kind of insight not offered by copy-writing dullards hired by mainstream Web media, why not join New Escapologist on Patreon to access an expanding of amusing, interesting Escapological essays?
Last year, somewhere in Austria, I decided to drop out of university in my very first class. We can say actually in the first fifteen minutes. I was 18, took my backpack, got out of the building and said “Goodbye to all that!”
I worked a bit after leaving university and saved money. I am now in a small town somewhere in the world, educating myself, reading Plutarch, and drinking chocolate in the afternoon, hoping to write soon.
I live simply and I am very young and inexperienced, but Thoreau taught me to try the experiment of living to learn to live.
In today’s Guardian:
An influential conservative thinktank – fronted by the former work and pensions secretary, Iain Duncan Smith – has proposed the state pension age should rise to 75 over the next 16 years. If the Centre for Social Justice (CSJ) had its way, the retirement age would go up to 70 just nine years from now, as the change is phased in.
This has been on the cards for a while, hasn’t it? Four million women have already been asked to wait an additional six years for their promised pensions. They want us to work until we die. No gold watch! No respite!
“Well, 75 isn’t quite the end of life,” one might say. Well, maybe that’s true for some but:
In Glasgow, boys born between 2015 and 2017 have a life expectancy of just 73.3 years – meaning under this plan, many would never reach pensionable age.
The wealthy and powerful Right don’t want us to ever rest.
And it’s the way they put it too. That the unwilling sweat of their citizens will “boost the economy” as if that were’t tyrannical lunacy while also adopting the tone of all this doing the work-knackered elderly a favour:
The CSJ’s idea of raising the pension age further received glowing coverage in sections of the rightwing press, with the Telegraph marvelling how it would “boost the economy” by £182bn and stave off the “escalating cost” of state pensions. As Duncan Smith tweeted this week: “Removing barriers for older people to working [sic] longer has the potential to improve health and wellbeing, increase retirement savings and ensure the full functioning of public services for all.”
It really does feel like like we’re at an extreme crossroads now, at which we need to choose between expanding the leisure franchise or enslaving everyone forever.
Escapologists may not be personally motivated by a state retirement as such, what with it requiring forty years of work to reach and all, but it would be nice to live in a world where Escapology (a rare and individualist act) were’t the only way to be free from drudgery.
It’s a dystopian vision of life, in which capitalism tells workers who have already grafted for 40 years that working a five-day week through their 70s is in fact the path to a healthy body and society.
Thanks to reader Antonia for drawing our attention to this BBC article. It’s a bit of a fence-sitter as articles go, suggesting that a shorter work week could be a “double-edged sword,” in terms of its social effects; but it’s fair to acknowledge, I suppose, that some people feel a bit lost without work and the article at least offers some real-world examples of how people who can’t sit still might use the extra time.
The scattered shorter-week trials that have been conducted suggest that workers with longer weekends – but whose pay stayed the same – used their extra time for a mix of activities. For a New Zealand financial services firm that last year gave employees the option of a four-day working week, this included more employee time spent golfing, watching Netflix, studying and spending time with family. For a UK PR firm that also instituted a four-day week, one young employee started spending her extra time volunteering with elderly people.
I must say that I find all this “what would I do with my time?” talk slightly bewildering. If we’re including relatively default activities such as “watching Netflix” and “spending time with family” as suggestions, I’m not sure we have much to worry about. One doesn’t need a particularly fertile imagination or very much social privilege to come up with the idea of filling an extra day with such activities. Washing? Should that be included as a recommendation? Eating lunch? Having a poo-poo? A wee-wee? Does all of this need to be explained to people as something to do when you’re not being cajoled into a workplace?
This article isn’t even talking about the total escape from the drudgery of work, remember, but about a reduced (i.e. four-day) working week. The idea that people will go off the rails (it is often suggested that people could fall into crime and drug abuse without good old Work to provide a structure for the day) has never sounded genuine.
As much as anything, we already have evenings and weekends. I’m aware that a minority of workers go a little crazy in terms of Saturday night revelry, but they don’t go insane as soon as the whistle blows and start hot-wiring cars and slinging burning bins through shop windows, do they?
You can just imagine Puritanical ministers and industrialists invested in a docile workforce having this kind of reservation when the idea of a weekend was first proposed. “Two days per week of not working? Whatever will they do to fill the time? Whatever it is, it’s sure to be immoral! Work, Work, Work! That’s the only way to keep society together. Work and the Holy Bible!”
See also: pensioners. The proven, everyday, humdrum fact of the matter is that few people willingly work or fall into criminal behaviour once they’re given a modest stipend to live on. They just tend to potter about and play with grandchildren, don’t they? Society doesn’t fall into chaos when people stop working: I might be wrong but there seem to be remarkably few gangster grannies to suggest otherwise.
My time was running out as quickly as sand through a glass. Back in the real world–the nontravel world–I was caught up in this odd arrangement whereby I agreed to spend all day doing things that were unbearably dull and monotonous for which I was compensated financially, much in the manner of a sea lion being rewarded with a halibut.
This is from Hokkaido Highway Blues by Canadian humorist Will Ferguson. It’s a superb book if you’re interested in Japan and great if you’re into long-term travel more generally. Ferguson hitch-hiked his way up Japan from southernmost Cape Sata to northerly Rishiri Island, following the cherry blossoms as they erupt across the country.
How much more Escapological–how much more motile–could you be? For a time, anyway.
Ferguson worked as an English language teacher in a Japanese high school before undertaking his journey. He saved up some money and took a period of leave with which to enjoy a micro-escape and to complete his adventure. There’s a sense throughout the book of playing hooky, of avoiding responsibility, of being on the lam, and–because of his limited funds and his intention to go back to work at the end of the adventure–of time running out.
If you’ve ever taken a micro-escape/mini-retirement (perhaps you’re on one now?) you’ll be familiar with this sensation: of ticking-clock countdown dread, of agoraphobic near-total liberty, of damn-it-all-to-hell Selma and Louise cliff-edge exhilaration. Beats sitting at a desk.
Give it a read. Ferguson has good insights into Japan and travel more generally, and he’s good company at the same time: a funny fellow and a devil-may-care fellow traveller.
A few years ago, I attended a conference just outside Glasgow. It was a waste of time and energy even within the framework of my already-a-waste-of-time job, but attendance was mandatory and that was that. It was precisely the sort of thing that would push me from a state of generalised frustration and into a bleak, chastised, depression-adjacent funk.
As I walked deliberately slowly to the conference centre from the train station, weighed down with a laptop bag of stupid paperwork, I crossed the Forth and Clyde Canal. I looked down from the bridge at the still water, and thought “one day, I’ll walk through this junction again, on my own terms and trouble-free.” I knew that my state of consciousness would be completely different to the one that was currently currently me to grind my teeth. It was such a certainty that I could practically see my future self walking contentedly along the towpath.
I looked up at the bridge and imagined my past self and sent the telepathic message back through time that things would be okay.
And then I climbed up onto the bridge and took a photograph for a reminder. This spot can now be called Future Echo junction. (Thankfully I did not also see my bloated corpse floating face-down in the canal.)