Sitting in a chair on a veranda, staring into the distance and watching the hours disappear. For about six years, that has been the image I associated with retirement, ever since my pastor told us about his dad’s boredom as a pensioner. This story loomed over my head this summer break, especially on the days when I woke up at an embarrassingly late hour. I felt ashamed, and I wanted to work—to have something to do. Funnily enough, I did have responsibilities at that time; I just didn’t want to perform them. Part of me maintained that this holiday would end and I could simply work then. Recognizing the illogic of my behaviour, and remembering that story, left me wondering how this purgatory-like experience counts as rest. That led to another question: is the way we rest logical?
Does the concept of a weekend, for example, make sense? We grind for five days, rest for two, rinse and repeat. Is it restful, though? For me, it’s more like the relative calm between two crashing waves. I will use the weekend as an incentive which keeps me from drowning: ‘just survive till Friday.’ But by living for the weekend, I find myself excusing self-destructive behaviour. I will pull all-nighters, or deprive myself of fun on the weekdays, because I know that there will be a time to heal from that. In my mind, the weekend has transformed from a time of rest to a support structure for my work. And why wouldn’t it? There are five days where I am expected to be productive. I’m supposed to work hard and get work done then, but despite living with that expectation since I was in grade school, I have not been able to live up to it. On any given weekday, there will be hours where my body and my mind refuse to work. I will procrastinate, or zone out, or find some contrived reason to be unproductive. Still, the fact remains that those hours were earmarked for work, and so I pay that debt with my weekend.
This trade feels inevitable. I know nobody who can be productive for an entire day. Even if they can, it’s not something they can repeat five times in a row. There is a disconnect, then, between our assumptions about how we ought to work and our human limitations. It seems more realistic, and therefore sustainable, to allocate time for leisure and work every day. A sea change like this could free us from thinking that an hour spent recharging, on a weekday, is an hour misspent.
In this world, our ‘days of work’ wouldn’t be designed to fill our schedule; imagine something like a five hour workday. Maybe we wouldn’t have to put work off until the next day, and run up the time tab which we pay on the weekend. Maybe we wouldn’t feel ashamed about having an ‘unproductive’ moment, and could instead enjoy leisure daily. Maybe, and perhaps I’m going too far here, we wouldn’t need days, weeks, or months of rest. In other words, we wouldn’t need holidays.
Especially now, it seems like the holiday was designed as a breather between marathons of work. It is the time when, after over-exertion, you are allowed to collapse properly. That would implicate holidays in this broken mindset, which makes me wonder if they’re part of a healthy rest culture. It seems strange that we would stop and start our enjoyment of life, or our productivity, for that matter. Accomplishment, progress, growth—all these things feel incredible. Here, I recall the tension between my longing for work and my hesitance to do ‘real’ work this summer. It got me wondering what it means for work to become real, and why I was so averse to it.
I think the answer is simple: real work is any task associated with my productive time. Once a task comes with deadlines, obligations, expectations, it becomes real. Once it becomes real, I won’t do it in my ‘free’ time. Since those tasks are part of how I perform productivity, I can’t justify completing them when I’m expected to perform the opposite. Again, the problem can be traced back to this work-leisure dichotomy. Something tells me that I could work every day of the year, and be happy about it, if we stopped treating productivity like a lifestyle which we adopt for the weekday. The grind shouldn’t stop, but it shouldn’t be a grind either.
It feels vaguely utopian, re-imagining work-life balance—a term that became ironic almost as soon as it emerged—in these terms. Being able to feel accomplished every day, and to feel relaxed every night, would be quite amazing. Paradoxically, it might make us more productive when we rest, too. Remember that image of the depressed pensioner: even in our ‘resting’ state, there is a desire to do something. I can’t recall having spent a weekend doing ‘nothing,’ and feeling accomplished afterwards. The days I remember fondly involve work—writing, cooking, creating something freely—followed by a rest which felt earned. It’s the difference between ‘watching Netflix stressfully’ on a Sunday night, to borrow from a meme, and grabbing lunch after deep cleaning your dorm.
For all its utopian notes, this future feels well within our grasp. It begins with no longer expecting total productivity on any given day, and treating leisure as a normal, daily occurrence. In other words, the key to work-life balance is acknowledging reality.
Dan Reznichenko is a Trinity sophomore. His column runs on alternate Wednesdays.
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