10 August 1998

I have a love/hate relationship with jobs, especially 40-hour-a-week ones. (Yeah, I know, so does nearly everyone who's ever held one.) There's something in me that just rebels at 40-hour work weeks. I've never actually gone through them for more than a few weeks at a time, and then I always counted the days until I was free again, not just for a weekend but free without the next week hanging over me.

I'm not counting school in this, even though my hours in school plus homework and bus time generally did add up to 40 hours a week by high school. That's because school wasn't work. Learning is fun; stuff done with the brain never sucked up nearly as many hours for me as it did for the other students in the same classes with me (partially because I read faster than anyone I've ever met). Plus, school was seven different subjects in a day--constant stimulus.

Oh, I did get bored in school, but I generally already understood the subject and so I could get my homework for other classes done or write in my own personal notebook about whatever I wanted to under the guise of notes. No teacher really objected, because I wasn't disturbing anyone else and they trusted me to know the subject before I goofed off. (Or they just didn't notice because they were too busy disciplining others and helping those who needed it more.)

Work doesn't work that way. I've never had a 40-hour job that was sufficiently interesting enough not to feel like I was sacrificing my whole life for a few shekels and getting nowhere near its value. I don't even know if university teaching, the job I currently consider my primary one, would be interesting enough if I did that 40 hours a week, although it's the only job I've ever held that I would even consider keeping in the long-term.

The thing I like so much about being an adjunct instructor is that one does a limited, specific amount of lecture hours and office hours (and unlike many instructors, I am always there for my office hours), and the rest of the schedule is flexible. If you want to write your lesson plans at 10 p.m. on your living-room couch, that's fine. And sometimes that's better than doing it during "business hours," when your mental state might be so miserable that you can't think up a decent way to present the information, or can't even get your eyes to focus on the paper you're trying to grade. And also, if one can grade that stack of papers in 4 hours, there is no need to be stuck killing time or doing work you're too tired to do well just to fill out an 8-hour day. Since I get my office work done quickly, I work fewer hours, am happier with my schedule, and still get high ratings on my students' teacher evaluations. (This may be because the questions they e-mail me at 10 p.m. when they're doing their assignments are often answered promptly because that's when I'm online working too.)

I'm not a "slacker." I just need to find interesting things to work on. For my other part-time job, I spent extra time after an 8-hour day looking up holidays and historical events of September to put in the monthly newsletters this establishment publishes. I also spent about 8 hours while at work, spread out over two days, on that project. That was interesting! This is why I'm trained as a librarian and will eventually use that degree -- getting paid to find information is really cool. (For me--your mileage may vary.) Getting paid to write little filler articles for the newsletters was also wonderful. These likes are one reason I work at B.C. Publishing and also why I teach people to find stuff on the Internet and write detailed class web sites. There might be enough variety in this for full-time, if the boredom of 3 hours of a day commuting didn't suck up all my time and add to the boring tasks that also come up there.

But 40 hours? I haven't had a consistently interesting job or even a job that managed to have that many hours and have even half of it be interesting. I have some hope for my chosen fields, but I worry. And I know that some people will consider me a wimp. A hundred years ago people in industrialized countries had to fight to get workdays lowered to eight hours, five days a week. Read the bit in Black Beauty about the cab driver who dies raving "I never had a Sunday's rest." Conditions are better now, and compared to the possibilities then, I am probably spoiled.

But just because it's better doesn't mean it can't still be improved. That guilt doesn't stop me; I want to make my life as comfortable as I possibly can, and time to relax is more important than piling up money in that goal. I'm lucky enough to be able to earn tolerable amounts of money through the things I'm good at, without (usually) that feeling of sacrificing my life. And I don't intend to give in on that -- I'm no one's wage slave.

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