The ideal worker – a remnant of the past (or at least it should be)

As you may recall, I signed a contract with a publisher a few months ago to write a book on opting out. Well, the deadline to submit my manuscript is approaching and you will be pleased to know that I am currently working on my final chapter, the epilogue! In other words my manuscript is almost finished and ready to go!

Although I love writing (most of the time) and the thought of working on a book still feels like a dream, I will be so relieved when I have finally sent it all off to my editor. I’ve felt like this book project has been hanging over me, because I haven’t been able to work on the book as much as I would have liked to since I signed. The main reason being I was pretty bogged down with teaching during the winter without much headspace for anything else. But my employer has been gracious enough to allow me to concentrate almost solely on the book since the end of April, and all I can say is hooray for understanding employers!

One observation I have made about myself during this process is especially interesting. The thing is, writing is quite different from many other forms of work. I cannot put in a full eight hours, or however long your workday is, writing and producing new text. If I get up in the morning, go to my office, and just sit down at my computer with the intention of putting words down on paper – or rather in a Word document – it would never work. I wouldn’t know what to write, no ideas would come to me, and there would be no book. In order to have something to say, I need to think about what I have read, I need to think about my research, I need to think about what my take on things is… In short, I need time to reflect. And that is not something I can do at my computer. I cannot get up in the morning, go to the office, sit down at my desk and reflect in order to then write down my reflections and turn them into a book. That’s not how it happens.

I need unstructured time where I let my mind wander, where I allow myself space for unstructured and unplanned thinking. It may be in the shower, it may be when I’m jogging, or it may be when I’m vacuuming (Okay no. That never happens, I just don’t vacuum, my husband does. It was just an example). This unstructured time creates space for creativity and if I allow myself this time, ideas come to me and then I can sit down at my computer and just write it all down. And presto, in short creative burst like this a book is born.

However that was not the interesting or surprising observation I was referring to earlier. What has me completely confounded is that although I know this, and although giving myself time and space to reflect is really the most effective and efficient way for me to write a book, my work ethic and my sort of warped idea of what efficient work looks like, makes me feel kind of guilty about not working all the time. Let me run this by you again: I have been taught that the ideal worker goes to the office and works for whatever amount of hours is specified in the contract plus a few more in order to be considered a good and committed worker, regardless of the nature of the work the person is doing. So I of all people, who research working cultures, cultural conditioning, and new meanings of work; who has all these thoughts on how we need to change work in order to bring working culture into the 21st century; and who knows just how important this is for so many reasons not least of which is our wellbeing; I of all people have trouble with alternative forms of work because also I have been conditioned to believe that there is only one right way of working.

So if it is difficult for me, how difficult isn’t it going to be for people who haven’t been researching this for the past seven or so years?

That is a scary thought. But at least I guess I know what I’m up against. And now more than ever I clearly see just how much we need to redefine work as we know it. Times are a changing and our employers need to keep up!

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