The 50+ Hour Work Week

SpanishBanks09 009To a certain extent, some people are defined by what they do as much as by who they are and, in fact, the two are often inseparable.  For example, take me.  I am very defined by what I do and I love my job.  I love the challenge, the way every day is totally different, how unexpected things happen that alter my carefully constructed agenda for the day…  I love the learning curve that comes with new roles and the constant striving for improvement that I have as an instructor.  As an instructor, you can never be good enough.

There is a maxim that if you want to get something done, ask the busiest person you know.  This is the “it” person, the go-to-person, the person who naturally gravitates towards ambition or leadership roles.  Presumably what is meant by the maxim is that this person has the drive and time-management skills to accomplish a task and rarely says “no.” 

I think we often forget that we can say no.  “Oh, was ‘no’ an option”?  And here I was struggling with increased demands at the expense of my own physical and mental health.  What people rarely mention is that very busy people, the busier they get, are more likely to forget things, start to make mistakes, miss appointments (or leave one meeting early to get to another meeting late).  They might let things slide because, quite frankly, they just cannot do it all.  And since busy people are sometimes perfectionists, this is a hard realization.

Most of the time I count myself among “the busiest” and most of the time I don’t have a problem with this.  However, occassionally I need to ask someone to do something, or I need to solicit volunteers for a particular task.  If nobody is forthcoming with time or nobody volunteers, I am often struck by the thought that I should just do it, both for simplicity’s sake and because it looks bad to others (usually bosses) if nobody steps up to the plate.  This is where things get less comfortable.  A colleague of mine recently said to me “guilt is not a good motivator.”  I think this statement has value.  We have to have  boundaries and feel able to say “no, it’s someone else’s turn.”  Otherwise we open ourselves up to that kind of simmering resentment that is so incredibly counterproductive.  After all, good for them for being able to draw the line around those things to which they will or will not devote their time and energy.

The overall problem is that society tends to value overwork more than it values life balance.  The cost of this, ultimately, is productive time lost through illness, stress, etc.  The people that take on the most, volunteer constantly, attend all the meetings or conferences or belong to numerous committees are rewarded and validated for it.  It can even enhance their position and status.  Something is a bit off kilter here, no?  The person that has to leave to go to the gym or walk the dog or pick up the kids, etc. stops being asked, stops being given the opportunity

It’s worth asking oneself what things one is best situated to do or the most skilled at and then to devote oneself to predominantly those things.  The things that are more soul destroying or that one is severely underinterested in should be a lower priority.  Wouldn’t it be nice if the world were more tolerant of this kind of to-do list, one that actually made sense in terms of likes and dislikes, strengths and weaknesses, checks and balances?

Contemporary “Hot Spots”

CollapseMuch of the most profound contemporary art and literature – of the “impactful” kind – leads back to political hot spots – areas of civil unrest and conflict.  It is not necessarily created by those living in the midst of these traumatic events (those people are often too busy struggling to survive war, drought, famine, occupation, political corruption), but rather those who once lived in particular areas but are now in exile from them.  They could be immigrants, refugees, voices from the diaspora.  We could say that this is a positive thing emerging from otherwise bleak situations. 

While those heavily influenced by technological advances might ask us to believe that the microchip and the gene are icons of the 21st century, we could just as easily counter that the recurring motifs of the 21st century are, more tellingly, the refugee camp and the suicide bomber. 

I do not believe in compassion fatigue.  Were there such a thing, we might remain unmoved by the many strong voices bringing us harrowing and uplifting visual and written accounts of their own cultural experiences.  Instead of being worn out by all this tragedy, we  are hopefully paying attention.  Very close attention.  And, equally hopefully, empathy is the result.  Or perhaps rage.  Maybe the immediate result is not always a call to action, but isn’t empathy the first step to action?

We know that countless capitalists profit from horrific natural disasters and human-caused catastrophes (just read Naomi Klein’s The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism).  If you need an antidote to that dark truth, pay attention to the literary and artistic output of those artists from (and now living outside of) their home territories: Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq, numerous African countries… or how about commentators on what I (as someone who was a teenager in the 1970s) still think of as “the Israeli-Palestinian conflict”?  I am also someone who, as a child, was terrified of the potential for nuclear war.  How sad that the post-Cold War world should still have to be worried about it.

I’ll have future posts featuring some of the artists emerging not only from the areas listed above, but also from China and Korea.  Art has always been political, but never have its multicultural imperatives been so urgently interconnected and global.