Work-life balance is a funny word. Does it imply that when you’re working you’re not living? The concept works particularly well for office workers who clock on at 9 and off at 5 (or thereabouts), spending 5 out of 7 of their day sitting at computers or on phones, doing jobs other people ask them to do. The distinction between work and life is reinforced by the fact that in that time, they’re supposed to be ‘professional’. It’s hard to precisely define what that means, but it amounts to not questioning what you’re doing (even if you’re still doing it well), accepting the hierarchy, and refraining from making the normal lewd or random comments that you would with your friends. You also have to wear special outfits. For high flying women, this is often highly tailored dresses or skirts that are somehow the female equivalent of men’s suits.
I went to see Robert Dessaix at the Wheeler Centre the other night, and he was talking about how every morning he goes into his ‘tower’. I think he got the idea from Montaigne, who is one of his idols. In that time, he writes and thinks. Then he goes out and walks around, meets with friends, looks at things. In the evening he slumps and watches TV. I loved Dessaix so much, what an absolute treasure of a man (another story) that I asked a kind of self help question.
What do you do if for some reason or another, you either can’t or won’t have that time?He was like, oh, well I’m not good at giving other people advice. I kind of knew he would say that. But then he went on to say that he’d been through a lot of very awful things, but one thing he’d always been very lucky with was his time. I guess, he said, people who don’t have the time just have to find an hour here or an hour there. Ultimately, he said, it helps to think about what kind of day you want to have, and try and get as close to that as you can. I’m not sure if he was talking 5 year plan, or just trying to enjoy the moment.
Do you ever yearn for the kind of flexibility that Dessaix describes? Obviously we need to work a certain amount, to pay our rents and food. And some people also need a certain amount of unthinking, reliable structure. But is 5 days a week necessary if you have a well paid job? I guess if you want to one day get in a position where people aren’t telling you what to do, you have to put in the time to demonstrate your commitment. Is it just a question of seizing the rare moments of freedom, or having a few months or a year off here and there? Do we have to wait until we retire until we have enough time to write, read, reflect, and sit on park benches.
Possibly this is a very middle-class dilemma. Is it?