My Job, My Life?


John Wright

How much of your time is used in the course of earning the income on which you survive? The answer does vary considerably across any large group of people with different occupations and different life circumstances, and the question, of course, is rhetorical. Or is it? We start thinking about important life questions by first asking ourselves seemingly innocuous questions of apparently little relevance, and thus initiate the process of self-observation. It is through that process that we find more important questions and, hopefully, satisfactory answers.

The question about time spent earning a living is normally and logically coupled with a few other related questions. For example, do you like what you do? Does work directly interfere with doing other things that are important to you? From there we enter the more fundamental area of examining how we live, for it is typical for each of us to want to use our limited time to our best advantage across all areas of life. This means we have awareness that time is an invariant resource that we can use effectively to promote our ends, if only we can figure out how to arrange our lives to take maximum advantage of it.

That some of us die young of natural causes while others live into their nineties appears to be important, but in the grand scheme of life we may recognize that we either experience the events we want as we go along, or we give up the time and the events, day by day. There is no going back to relive that time. If you attempt to do so, you simply take time away from today. Our common error is the assumption that we can defer matters that are important but not deemed critical, until we have the right circumstances, but in so doing we forget that we change physically and psychologically as we age. Our likes and dislikes change, as do our needs and our various abilities. Some improve but most decline markedly.

For example, that child you delayed having in your twenties or thirties to devote time to your career will now have a major, negative impact on your learned, structured life. Of course you will love your child, and you will likely derive great happiness from many aspects of parenthood, and you may simply think that you exchanged one set of life experiences in time for another. What you actually did was create imbalance in your earlier life and follow that with distortion of life at your present age. Your needs in your forties and beyond, and your physical abilities and stamina, do not represent that which is best for you as a parent or that which is best for the development of your child. Your calm wisdom and your lack of real excitement are poison to your child's development, for it needs someone with a high spirit of adventure so that it may develop that characteristic way of approaching life.

Let's shift focus now to other very personal areas of life. Further, lets take a hard look at how you spend a typical twenty-four hour day during a work week and also on a weekend. I recall some words from an old popular song: "Lucky, lucky, lucky me, I'm a lucky son of a gun; I work eight hours and I sleep eight hours and I have eight hours of fun!" The historical placement of that song, in time and in what were normal societal practices at that time in typical towns, seems reasonable for then and ludicrous today. The number 24 is rather small, and a slight shifting of the 8-8-8 ratio has, percentage-wise, a very large impact on the quality of our lives. I believe you will find, on examination, that the ratio has shifted in large, as opposed to slight, ways. If you are competing in any serious career area within a company, even for your job survival, your ratio is now closer to 12-7-5, including travel time to and from work. You have some chronic symptoms of sleep deprivation. You have lost over 37% of your personal time during the work week. You don't leave your job at work at the end of the day; you bring it home with you, even if only in your mind as a collection of nagging, unsolved issues. You spend your weekends playing catch-up with what would have been minor responsibilities if you had time during the week to address them. Moreover, you lose time in crowds during some of your weekend chores, and thus have even less opportunity for fun, relaxation and personal growth.

There was a major shift in the working world that began during the late 1970's. We were experiencing high inflation, significant foreign competition and declining corporate profits in the USA. In a few, short years, the entire character of the typical USA company changed to the detriment of the employees, in the name of cost cutting for profit improvement. You will recall that part of that change was downsizing, and another part was longer working hours. Yet another part was elimination or substantial weakening of unions, combined with very low wage and salary increases. We adapted, economically and destructively, to the two-income family. These things were possible, indeed unavoidable, once the global markets and foreign investment in manufacturing facilities provided access to global workers who would work for a pittance. In short, massive numbers of USA workers suffered a huge decline in quality of life, and the only winners were the already powerful and wealthy. That movement evolved from manufacturing and low skill white collar jobs to include high skill white collar jobs by the 1990's.

My job, my life? The people entering the work force today have grown up in the era described in the last two paragraphs. They have no memory of a better time, and no sense of what it means to have a balanced, relaxed life. They, like their parents, now exercise regularly to reduce stress. You might note that stress is nothing, more or less, than predictable physical reaction to an unbalanced, insecure life. You might start the process of recovery by beginning to think about what life can be and can become, not what it currently is. The current realities are simply that ... current realities that are subject to change. It is in your best interest to work for that change.

The challenge of changing our working lives is non-trivial. We are frightened into competing with each other, and our security fears cause us to work against each other. Our thoughts are externally directed to keep us away from the realization that global trade and outsourced manufacturing have ruined the lives of workers in the USA, and that we are still the primary market for goods and services produced locally and globally. We have taken on the poverty of much of the rest of the world, with no personal gain, indeed, at great personal cost.

Do you want 8-8-8, with incomes such that a single income family can afford to buy a decent home and have a new car every three to five years? Do you want to be able to afford medical care without insurance? How about a college education for your children that is also affordable, without long term debt? Are these realities of the 1950's and 1960's forever out of reach? Is it not wiser to examine the circumstances in which those realities existed and take action politically to achieve better balance in your life? Do you doubt that people can be organized to have their market strength respected? Are you willing to be responsible in your personal and financial life and in your politics?

There are many who will argue that the challenges of the last paragraph are typical of old people pining for the "good old days." Well, I am not pining for the past. I am rejecting the present. We have evolved regressively to a much earlier state in our history, when the typical work day was 12 hours. And that doesn't consider the two-income scenario, i.e. at least our great-grandfathers could live on one income and have a mate at home to look after the home and the children. Is that progress? Is it a by-product of automation? Of course not!

What we are experiencing is a decline in the value of people, because we have too many people who need to be fed but who cannot contribute any product or service of high value to our present or our future. And we are homogenizing the massive populations of the world, and in the USA, into mediocrity.

This truth is maddening, for we have the capability to produce food, goods and services in great abundance, due to the application of technology and very advanced automation and distribution systems. There is no good reason at all for anyone in a civilized country to spend up to 12 hours a day in work related activities at this time in history. Yet, that is typical today, across most of the world. Our "evolution" as societies has not been good at all in that regard. Two married (or unmarried) people should be able to work a six hour day each and together be able to afford all the fruits of society.

Who or what is the villian behind this stupidity? Put succinctly, our status is a direct result of 20th century attempts to merge capitalism and socialism into a coherent framework for operating our societies. Capitalism is not simply the dominant world economic system, it is the only operating system of consequence external to the Peoples Republic of China. Socialism is the public face of government (justification for high taxes and control over our lives) and businesses also (our products help society and we care about the health of our people), but you have to be a complete fool to accept the notion that socialism has improved the quality of your life, if you are currently a working person.

The simple truth is that capitalism and socialism do not mix. Rampant capitalism now dominates our working lives, to the detriment of quality of life for the individual; for most of us, as employees, are essentially irrelevant to the success of the capitalistic enterprise. Thus we have long working hours and income that is inadequate to allow changing that practice. Socialism is worthless, in that it promotes mediocrity in performance, at the expense of those who do work effectively. Politics and government are now dominated by powerful capitalists as a result of the repeated, profound failures of our dim-witted socialists to create a "great society" that is self-funding. Yet the capitalists are certainly not friends of the common people.

What can you do? Civil unrest in the form of demonstrations, strikes or mayhem are mostly counter-productive. They cannot change the fundamental truths about people and their lack of ability to be high contributors in a technologically advanced society. Accepting the status quo is stupid also, for your limited time here is too valuable to waste as an indentured servant, to business, government or indirectly to non-contributors. The only mechanisms you have to promote the welfare of Humanity successfully are these: 1) your votes, for checks and balances in business and government, 2) your support of genetic engineering to grow humanity to contributor status, and 3) your selective decision to force your working day back to the 8-8-8 ratio, by silent refusal to work beyond that limit, and by active steps to place your thoughts into the domains that will improve your home life, even while at "work."