Monday, August 30, 2010

Too Much Stress and Not Enough Time

Greetings Friends,

It's apropos for the end of August to talk about how much everyone bitches about how stressed they are, and how little time they have for themselves. If we were in France right now, most people would be kicked back, relaxing and sipping wine on their traditional August holiday. Some of us would make the snarky comment, "but the French are always on holiday."

One thing I've noticed since I moved to Toronto and started working here, is that the Canadian work ethic is much closer to that of the French and the rest of Europe, as opposed to the "badge of honour" disdain of the 40 hour workweek most Americans wear. When did it become so chic to tout oneself as "so stressed" and severely lacking in "me" time? If anything, the stressed out and overworked are most likely the squeakiest of wheel spinners who constantly complain there are not enough hours in the day. And the sentiment has become so prevalent, that everything from food to cosmetics must be advertised as "time-saving", "multi-tasking", and "convenient".

This is yet another concept I've been ruminating on for a while; granted, I work from home and I don't have any children. But, if the situation were different, and I did have a full-time office job and a couple of kids, I don't believe I would let myself get to the point where I would need to utter that ubiquitous phrase, "there just aren't enough hours in the day." One thing I can honestly say is that I know myself well enough to gauge how much I can handle without getting to that point. And I don't need no stinkin' badges.

When I worked full-time, I gave my all within the parameters of the 40 hour workweek. I worked office jobs, and when I left the workplace in 1999, I was earning a set salary with no overtime. I wasn't your typical in-at-9-out-the-door-at-5 person, but let's just say I wasn't too keen on giving too much more on the arm. 5:30 was usually my limit. Mind you, this was before widespread use of e-mail and smartphones, so for me, there was no extracurricular checking of e-mail or BlackBerrying at 3 am to keep me awake. I put in my required time, and the rest belonged to me. I was able to stay focused and do what needed to be done, but that wasn't always the case for my co-workers. And to make up for that, whether consciously or unconsciously, they could be found at their desks at 7 am, and still sitting there well after business hours. This was interpreted as working hard, and going above and beyond the call of duty. What it was, really, was overcompensating for a lack of focus and too much time wasted. Unfortunately, that mode of behaviour became the American work ethic, and is still the way most people prefer to live their lives. If anything, things have gotten worse; especially in this still floundering economy, where those who still have jobs feel they have to chain themselves to their cubes, in order to demonstrate their gratitude.

I used to work for someone who always admonished his employees to "work smarter, not harder". Those are some smart words; if only the person who uttered them had managed to walk the walk. He was the owner of the company I worked for, and you would always find him at his desk before anyone else, and working late into the night several times a week. Doing what? I always wondered. Suffice it to say, I no longer wonder. The life of a writer is very different from the life of your quintessential office worker. And I am so grateful I am able to make a living at it. Sure, I have deadlines, and I have my fair share of stress; but I am single handedly responsible for my own stress-level, and I don't have anyone else chirping in my ear about not having enough "me" time. I've made peace with the fact that I'll never be Wonder Woman, nor one of those people who "has it all". Let me tell you something: having it all is the biggest load of malarky out there; if you believe in having it all, then you probably still believe in the Tooth Fairy and Santa Claus. No one has it all; and anyone who tells you they do is lying through their teeth.

Here's what I think it means to have it all: if you can make peace with what you can't accomplish in a given day, and can be proud of what you did accomplish during that same time period, that's a pretty impressive feat. You are always your own worst critic, but if at the end of the day, you can lay your head down on your pillow and say, "today was a good day", then the hell with everything else. To everyone who still wants to bitch and moan about so many things to do, so little time to do them in; have a ball. I won't be upset if my invitation to that pity party never arrives.


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