There I was driving in mid-speed, bumper-to-bumper traffic in the early morning dark. Red tail lights as far as the eye could see ahead and varying degrees of headlights just as far into the rearview mirror.
A typical Chicago car commute? Driving into NYC on business? LA, perhaps?
No, no, no.
I was on Highway 30 in Cedar Rapids, Iowa! What? Why is there bumper-to-bumper traffic at 6:15 on a Friday morning in Eastern Iowa? There were more people on the road than I have ever seen in one place around here (barring Hawkeye football games)!
To be fair, I was driving to work preternaturally early. I had a 90 minute commute to a school on the edge of my region. I usually drive to work at about 7:45 and only for 20 minutes. But, what were people doing up so early? Why are jobs scheduled so that so many people have to be at a place of employment so early? What are we doing to ourselves? I thought we were supposed to be in the age of working smarter not harder?
Of course, there are a myriad of logical, economically-based responses to such questions; however, I spent a good portion of yesterday’s drive thinking about how early and hard and long we work. I can honestly tell you that I quite stumbled into a career that I have enjoyed for the most part. The current iteration of my work is flexible, interesting, challenging, and varied. In short – as jobs go – I have a good one. But still, I posit that – as a group – most of us work way too hard for way too little and we relax way too infrequently.
For every car on the road, there was a story of a job that required them to get up too damn early – and, I’m willing to bet – demanded that they stay too damn late.
My grandfather once said to me, “Work gets in the way of living.” Grandpa was well retired at that point, and I was in my first teaching assignment. At the time, I did not fully appreciate his words, but I get it now. Even having a job I like, I agree with Grandpa. I’d rather be at home, walking the dog, writing, traveling, and reading than working. I bet a lot of those folks in their pre-dawn cars would agree with me.
From time to time, the work habits, hours, and attitudes of various countries are compared, and the U.S. seems to always be a loser in some way: too many hours in a week; virtually no holiday time; family-unfriendly work spaces. While these are often true, and many have little choice about working hours, a good point is made here about how much Americans work and what it does to us. (Watch till 1:22)
Perhaps this holiday season we have to line up on our local highway 30s and get to work. But, maybe we can take a few moments – early morning or not – and find time for the pleasure of doing nothing. You don’t have to earn it. Just find time to sit in the candlelight. Or get up on a non-work day and enjoy the coffee in a non-travel mug. A mid-afternoon walk in the winter sunshine without counting steps.