The 40 Hours of Work a Week Isn’t Part of My Life Myth

Throughout my short professional career I’ve always thought of myself as living two lives. There’s the world at work at the office with paychecks and cubicles and things I have to do, and the world that is all the other things in my life, my friends and family and hobbies, all the things I really enjoy. Work is this compartmentalized, self-contained thing that I have to do for forty hours a week simply because to function in society you must have money and therefore you must have a job. I’ve always found my jobs ultimately disappointing and unfulfilling, but told myself that it’s okay because it’s just this thing I have to do, and I can leave it behind each day when I get home. But that never really worked for me if I’m truly honest with myself, and I now realize I couldn’t be more wrong in regard to this philosophy.

It’s not that I hate the profession I’m in by any means. In fact, I love being a web designer, which to me is one part design and one part code. As I sat in my Drawing 3 class in college, and we began discussing whether or not spilled coffee on the carpet is in fact a drawing, I knew one hundred percent that I was a designer. I have enjoyed design from the moment I took my first course in it and started learning what it actually is, but in this moment for the first time I called myself a designer. I didn’t want to sit and contemplate the spilled coffee, I wanted to solve problems and meet needs and goals.

Yes, we really talked about spilled coffee being a drawing. After all, it makes a mark on a surface. I think I called it a mistake and a tragedy (because of wasted coffee), not a drawing.

Then there’s the other half of my job, the coding. At my last job I was in a pure development position for about a year and a half. As I was learning more about actual programming and scripting, something hit me—I love programming too. The more I learn about it, the more I love it. That you can write a function to solve a problem, pass it some arguments, and then it always gives you the same result—that’s beautiful to me. I have coded for years, and always enjoyed writing HTML and CSS and JavaScript, but now as the web has matured, the capabilities at our hands have matured too, and it affords some amazing opportunities. Opportunities to learn something new every day, and to improve our craft each day. I love it.

So after this love fest, where does the whole realization and being wrong part come in? Well, I love my profession but not necessarily the conditions in which I’ve practiced it. I realize that I’ve always just sought a J-O-B, a paycheck, security, etc. I’ve never been all that intentional with choosing where I want to work. I find something available, convince myself that it’s tolerable, and go for it. Then I end up being tired, stressed, and miserable at work. Then I feel guilty for that because shouldn’t I just be happy that I have a job and a paycheck, and why can’t I be just like everyone else and realize a job is just a necessary thing in life, and after all I can go do it and leave it behind each day when I walk in the door at home. Not feeling fulfilled and feeling guilty because of feeling guilty for not feeling fulfilled is a weird little conundrum of a situation.

Then I read an awesome book called Quitter, by Jon Acuff, and he, being a far better writer than I am, nailed how I’ve always felt about my forty hour hour dilemma. It’s really quite simple: what you do at work does affect what you do at home. You have one life, and your work is a big chunk of it.

Just come out and admit it. It is a big part of your life, and it affects you. If you took any other activity and told someone that you spent forty hours a week doing it, that you spent the majority of your waking hours each day doing it, that you let it take you away from your family and anything else you might spend that time doing, and then at the end said, "Yeah, but it isn’t really part of my life,"—that person would think your nuts. So why use this argument with our jobs?

If you don’t listen in meetings at work and tune it out, then you don’t listen to your wife when you’re at home because you tune her out. If you sit zoned out staring at a computer screen all day, then you sit zoned out staring at your television at night. If you’re lazy at work, then you’ll be lazy in every other aspect of your life. You just can’t separate it. Your life is one complete thing.

So now what do I do, equipped with my new knowledge? I don’t have that totally figured out, but I do know that I must work, work, work. After I read Quitter over this past Christmas, I decided that I’m tired of having a pile of work that I don’t do but want to do. I’m tired of only saying that I want to do more freelance work and spend time learning more about my craft. I’m actually going to do it. I’ve gotten up at 5am every weekday and put in an hour of learning and work before I start the eight hour day ahead of me. Most days I spend lunch reading and learning new skills instead of going out to lunch. And I continue to try my best to push my work more and more with each project at the day job. I don’t know where I’ll end up, but I’m not stopping. I’ve already found that being more diligent and intentionally putting time into the things that I’ve always said matter to me gives me more energy and makes me feel less aimless. It’s time to stop sitting around and wasting time. I feel more awake than ever. We’ll see what happens from here.