The Shirk Ethic

playworkSon 2’s lovely 18 year old girlfriend just found herself a full-time job. This, of course, is great news when so many young people are genuinely struggling to get themselves onto the employment ladder. So I was evidently all-kinds-of-wrong when I had a bit of an ambivalent response. My first thought was the standard one: That’s great! She will earn an acceptable amount (so long as she doesn’t want to live anywhere) and is taking the first step to independence. But hot on the heels of that response was this: And now she’ll be spending  most of every day doing things that are nothing to do with her for people who are nothing to do with her wearing clothes that are nothing to do with her, and when will she have any time to spend working out what IS to do with her?

See, now I’m in my 40s, I think I’m de-maturing. I’m going back to my childhood values. When I was at school, for example, I would have vigorously coveted this t-shirt because I couldn’t accept that THIS. WAS. IT.
birth work death
I just could NOT come to terms with the idea that I had to get off my bike, put away my drawing stuff and abandon my Lego in order to go to this place where I was obliged to work and play with people selected purely on the basis of them having been born at roughly the same time and in the same place as me. ALMOST EVERY DAY.

welcome-to-kindergartenThat was the thing – the everydayness of it. I actually didn’t mind school in general, but what about when I had better things to do? What about on those days when the sun was shining and someone had built the beginnings of an amazing den down the bottom of the hill and we’d found the materials needed for building a table? What about when I had an excellent idea for an illustrated story that urgently needed attention? What about when my snails had eaten through the cardboard box home I’d made them and were escaping? I completely and totally hated not having control of my own destiny and decisions. And the idea that there would NEVER come a time when I could make my own life decisions because I’d move from doing things that schools wanted me to do, to doing things that employers wanted me to do, just blew me clean away. The work ethic left me cold.

This personality flaw led me into plenty of problems which I won’t go into here, but suffice to say, I eventually realised that if I wanted to exist in the world of Having Enough Money to Keep Warm and Buy Shoes/Tampons/Peanut Butter, then I’d probably have to give in and work for someone. And I did, and I learned that there is some satisfaction in knowing that you are a contributor to the machine. Other people treat you differently because there’s some relatively visible evidence that you’re not just useless eater. When you do useful things for others it does make you feel good (I’m not sure how investment bankers get their feel-goods, but I think it’s probably not that way).

So that was fine for some years until my job began expanding out of all proportion. Or rather, I began to notice that my job was out of proportion – that I was working every evening at home and all of Sunday too. And I had stopped doing anything else. If friends or family dropped in, or if a son needed any help with something, I would feel a wave of stress like an acid inoculation because it meant I would probably have to stay up until 2am to do the work I would have been doing in those hours. You know the story. But even if you don’t have one of those jobs that demand all your time, here’s  breakdown of an average working week:

  • There are 168 hours in a week
  • We should spend at least 56 of them sleeping
  • That leaves 112 waking hours in a week
  • An average full-time job involves 40 hours at work a week
  • That leaves 72 hours in a week not at work
  • On average, we probably spend 1-2 hours a day getting ready for work and travelling. That leaves 62 hours a week not involved in work.
  • On average, if we have a full time job, we probably spend an hour a day preparing/cooking/eating food. That leaves 55 hours a week.
  • Perhaps an hour a day is needed to organise/clean/do the chores at home (conservative estimate for some). This leaves 48 hours a week.
  • Other modern-life-sustaining chores (food shopping, getting car mended, doctor/dentist appointments, paperwork, etc.) – perhaps half an hour a day? This leaves 44.5 hours a week.

So, if we have a job that only takes up 8 hours a day and no more, we are left with 26% of our lives to do the things that are – in the grand scheme of things – the only really important ones:  playing with our children, painting, exercising, going to the theatre, thinking, reading, exploring the world, travelling, photographing, volunteering, writing, walking, bird watching, inventing, building things, relaxing, keeping up with loved ones, learning things, etc. The things that we look back from our death beds and wished we had done more of.

just-got-home-from-workI am probably a bad human, but for me that’s not enough. And I’m in a job (now) where I probably can make the occasional small difference to people and therefore achieve some job satisfaction. What about those who spend the majority of their precious lives in some of the mind-grinding jobs that are out there? Bertrand Russell argued that “without a considerable amount of leisure a man is cut off from many of the best things”, and I agree with him. Since I escaped my skull-crushing previous job, I am painting, making things, exploring my native county, photographing with a vengeance and writing. Ideas have started to appear in my head again, and I feel more sentient than I have in years.

Russell also felt that everyone should have a 4-hour working day, and again, I agree. But our ethic isn’t really a Shirk Ethic – I don’t hate work – I actually love it. I will stay up all night and work if I have an exciting batch of photos to edit or some sort of project that’s sparking my inspiration nodes. Because, as George Halas said, “Nothing is work unless you’d rather be doing something else.”

So, if anyone has a spare shack in the woods (with broadband) that they wouldn’t mind filling with a regressing, workshy artist, do let me know.

7 replies to “The Shirk Ethic

  1. Agreed, agreed, agreed. I’m lazy… but weirdly find enormous amounts of energy when I’m being creative and I’m around others. Working from home isn’t ideal for me as I’m alone all the time but I get to be creative. I’m a ‘social creative’ and get a group of people to do some amazing idea bouncing in groups. Sadly, I never found the career that matched that. Write an essay? Sure… Can I write it in stardust with the breastbone of an angel? Great. kthnxbai.

    My head is in the clouds. All the time. It’s where I live. As I type this I have 7 different worlds from my books waiting to be written about.This has lead to do several acknowledgements in my life.

    I have trouble finishing things.

    I love girls and I’m a romantic… but girls don’t love me because I’m too floaty to pay the bills. I’m ALWAYS gonna be single because girls want romance… until the bills come in and then no amount of romance is gonna keep them with you.

    I’m always broke. But then I dont really value money. others do though… which can be unfortunate.

    My imagination is truly astonishing. I’m assuming it’s genetic or muse-driven.

    I’m loyal. In the mercurial sense. I’ll never stray and will rush to my death protecting others (and once almost proved that) but I’m doing it with some chivalric ideal in my head.

    I have an intense sense of time/place. I can live in the moment like no one I know and feel like I’m at the end of my days looking back at the moment I’m in and cherishing it. So much so that one of my friends said “Oh. Steff isn’t here. he’s off again.” (to a vacant look in my eye). Counsellors on two occasions (one for bereavement, and one when I was young and a victim of a serious crime) said it was ‘probably a defence mechanism’. I’m paraphrasing as my memory suffers but hey, my imagination has taken me to some mad places.

    No one on their death bed has said “hm. I wish I had finished that report.”

    I’ve been called a dreamer (apparently, I’m not the only one. Which is comforting.) but I’m not dreaming at all. Dreaming is selling your life away to an abstract construct that demands loyalty and gives none and believing you like that. Or that its the best thing to do. It’s seriously criminal. We’d be living in other star systems now if it wasn’t for the enslavement on non-hobby work.

    Millions have died having never lived or thought about their existence but have just stepped onto the treadmill and been pushed off when they die. They are dreaming. I’m seeing life for what it is… short, precious, and I’m not wasting a second of it.
    Sadly, the only thing that is stopping me living it to the full is a lack of money. I get by on very, very little. I took the income/free time to an art form and have reduced my costs to the point of miracles. And once you realise you’ll never own a house and that insurance is a mugs game you’re on the way.

    LOVE what you do and find a market for it. (It’s art and map-making for me. Or hugs if I could get away with it. Or surprises for strangers that brings them out of trouble or sadness a la ‘Amelie’.)

    Live and encourage others to live. 🙂


  2. Totally agree. Great post. But some are more suited to the machine and some aren’t. When I went self-employed I wondered why on earth it had taken me so long. Getting to the point where you can make the leap (ie enough money to keep you for a while) is the hard part. Roll on that shack!

    1. That is exactly it. How to find a way to be self-employed. I need to cut down on expenses…. find me a field…. That is exactly what I wanted when I was 21, and I thought getting a proper job would somehow bring me nearer to it. Oh well…

  3. I have to admit I readily agree with you. As a kid (and sometimes as an adult), I always questioned why I had to sleep–seemed like such a waste of time when, like you pointed out, I could be exploring the woods or racing my friends on our bicycles or taking my dog out on adventures with me while pretending she was a pony. (That poor dog put up with so much, but was so great and was a spaniel, by the way.)

    As an adult, I wonder about the same things sometimes. But, like you, I truly enjoy my work and, although I get frustrated at situations at times, if I had millions of dollars, I would probably still do the same thing, only calling it “volunteer work” as I wouldn’t have to be paid.

    I think a lot has to do with attitudes and finding fulfillment in the everyday mundane things. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve really learned to laugh about things that maybe 5 or 10 years ago would have angered me and to stop, slow down and enjoy the moment. As sobering as it is that we only get 44.5 hours a week to ourselves, I’ll just have to try that much harder to make the other 123.5 hours interesting in their own way. If only I didn’t have to sleep…

    Thanks for a great thought provoking post! Excellent, as usual!

    1. Thank you! I agree with the idea of finding fulfillment in the mundane. I think that is the actual secret to life, but you can’t do it so much when you’re young. I suppose that’s because if all young people just sat about enjoying leaves and cups of tea then nothing would change or progress in the world. Although, if everyone was sitting around enjoying leaves and cups of tea, then maybe nothing would NEED to change. Hm.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this:
close-alt close collapse comment ellipsis expand gallery heart lock menu next pinned previous reply search share star