Work and the perspective of time
One of my favourite hobbies is to try and understand some of the more abstract concepts of quantum physics; in particular those related to the concept of time. I regularly try to wrap my non-Einsteinian brain around concepts like space-time and time dilation. I think the older you get you become more aware of the precious nature of time. When chatting with students who are struggling to find direction in life I regularly remind them (and myself) of the importance of finding some enjoyment and meaning in their lives before they wake up and realize that they are near the end. I believe it is less important WHAT you do and more important that you find some enjoyment and meaning in your work. It seems that most of our life is spent on a program that was created by society, not that long ago. That program is to enroll our children in school at age five and keep them there until age eighteen and then encourage them to find a job that is generally 35-40 hours of work a week or go on to college and university to delay the entry into the work force for another two to ten or more years. The idea of post secondary education is that the graduate will find more meaningful work with more education and training than he or she should would have with out the extra investment of time and money. Whether this actually occurs or not is another subject. The working life (usually working for somebody else) occupies more than two-thirds of your life. This means from the time you are four or five until you are sixty-five or seventy, you are on a treadmill and on the clock.
My point is that we are really on this earth for a very short time. In fact, if the earth is 4.5 billion years old, our species (homo sapiens) have only been around for approximately 200,000 years. Seeing as over 90% of the known species in the history of the planet are now extinct, I imagine homo sapiens turn is not far off either. I know it may sound like a depressing subject but I find it actually a motivating one! If the average life span of a man in North America is approximately eighty, I often remind my students (and again, myself) that they might be more than 25% done and that is the best case scenario! I use this morbid math to inspire and motivate myself. So much of our life is spent on a track that somebody else set for us. Most people never lift their heads and instead stare down at the revolving treadmill. When did our short life become a program of work eight hours a day, five days a week for approximately 50 weeks a year?
Many would suggest that as soon as we transitioned from hunter-gatherer people to an agrarian society, we were on the clock. The agrarian society began approximately 12,000 years and with it ended a nomadic existence. We built towns around the farms and most people worked sunrise to sunset in the various activities required by farming. This however was not the most noteworthy of developments which put us on the clock. The advent of electricity and the rise of the industrial revolution and capitalism now meant that people could work day and night and were paid for their work. Since society was now well established with formal banking systems and governments in place, it meant that ambitious capitalists and wealthy landlords could exploit the labors of others for their profit. People were forced to work because they now had to pay for things like rent, clothing, and food. It seems the “land of the free” or the “true north strong and free” is not really free!
So here we are, thousands of years later since the development of a work week by society and we ask ourselves, “are we better off?” Undoubtedly we do live longer than our nomadic ancestors but our nomadic ancestors worked for survival. It is estimated however, that the hunter-gather spent approximately two hours a day finding calories for the family. The rest was spent being with family. It is clear that we are not going back to hunting and gathering – most humans would die within a week due to lack of skills and lack of natural habitat to feed the billions. We must accept the agrarian and now capitalist society that we live in and make the best of it. Since it is clear that our time is short and most of it is actually spent in work, it is imperative that we find meaningful work that brings us some enjoyment. I think each day we need to remind ourselves of how short our time really is. It might be time to dust off that old Trooper record and play the song, “We’re here for a good time, not a long time”.