Criticism of a Work Ethic

Originally Published February 24, 2011

Watching a few minutes of television with my husband last night while we waited for our problematic internet to re-boot, we came across an Oprah episode where Donald Trump and his kids were on, conversing about different topics.  Oprah asked one of his sons what he admired most about his dad, and he said his work ethic.  He recalled glowingly how, as a child, his father would arrive at the office at 8AM and not leave until 10PM and would continue to work throughout the weekend.  Oprah asked him if this ever upset him as a child because his dad was obviously not around all that much.  He said not really, because he understood his dad’s motivations, and they still had quality time together.

I was simply blown away by this comment.  As a small child, I find it quite hard to believe that he easily put his father’s hours away from home into context and felt happy about it, enjoying the little time they did have together.  My second thought was–working 70-80 hours a week is this person’s definition of having a good work ethic?

Since when–and how–could it ever be a matter of pride to work such hours?

Donald Trump has all the material rewards a person could ask for.  He was certainly not working 2 or 3 jobs to put food on the table.  What is the motivation behind a need or desire to do all this?

Somewhere, at some time, it became a matter of pride to see how MUCH a person could do rather than how little–or how much in how little time.  The “winner” today is the woman with the full-time career, full-time relationship and full-time role of parent.  Whether or not she comes down with a chronic illness doesn’t even factor into the equation of whether or not she “won.”  Getting completely worn down and sick (just one example of over-doing it) would just be considered an “oops,” a side effect, a chance circumstance, or even an inconvenience as it would require some sick days to be taken.

It’s a pretty big collective decision we, as a culture, have made, to make these “superheroes” our heroes.  Those of us who do not see the value in running ourselves ragged are supposedly less hard-working, less strong, maybe lazy.  We are all supposed to “push ourselves.”  As a woman with the right, now, to work and have a family at the same time, without taking advantage of that, I may run the risk of being seen as some kind of house-slave, simply by choosing to focus on being a parent.

Is it not rather foolhardy to go beyond your physical and energetic boundaries over, over, and over again?  Your body, mind, and spirit give you the signals time and again that it’s enough, slow down, take a break, you’re doing too much, and yet so many people don’t stop until they land in the hospital.  Or, perhaps worse (since it won’t force you to stop), end up unfulfilled or depressed–because how can you feel fulfilled without having even a few minutes a day to relax, breathe, and take pride in all you’ve accomplished?  How can you enjoy all you have created when you don’t have time to sit and do nothing but watch your child play?

How much leisure time should a person have per day and per week?

How many people have even sat down to think about this?

I don’t have the answer, but I propose it be not only be looked at but strongly emphasized before we simply give in and imitate whatever we see around us.

Interestingly, the 5-day, 40-hour work week was a huge compromise and really only agreed upon because it was the best that could be done at the time.  Factory owners previously had people work 12-16 hour days, 6 days a week.  Fighting tooth and nail for decades, these hours were finally cut to something reasonable.  It is now possible to achieve SOME concept of a work-life balance, but I would argue there’s room for quite a bit more improvement in this area yet.

I just wonder how we accepted and generally forgot to even question the amount of time we spend working.

(In an office environment, does it really take each person 8 hours to do what needs to get done in that day and 40 hours to complete what needs to be completed in that week?   The numbers are rather arbitrary, when we think about it.)

I personally feel that 40 hours a week (especially when you factor in commute times and lunch breaks) is far too much.  (And, yes, I do have a solution to propose, but that’s for another post.)  When we look at how much sleep is needed, what should be done in a day just to simply be healthy, enjoy some play, cook our own meals, hopefully grow our own food, take care of our children, and everything else–it’s just impossible to do this within our current model.  Not mentioning time for simple contemplation, creative thinking, and… doing nothing.

Most of the 9-5-ers are so mentally beat when they get home, it takes 2 hours just to unwind.  And then do they have the energy to contemplate their purpose, their dreams, their spirituality?  What about exercise, cooking from scratch, and meditation–the absolute requirements for good health?

Without quiet time, how do we get a sense of ourselves?  We otherwise will get that sense almost completely from others via their opinions plus culture’s rules.  Without a sense of ourselves, we can’t even think for ourselves.  When we don’t have time to go within and actually feel our connection with something bigger, we feel small and helpless–a detrimental illusion.

I can’t end this post with tidbits on time management and emphasizing what is important.  A few small words here are not likely to make an earth-shattering change in your life.  I ask, instead, that we all look at these universal assumptions and instead of saying over and over, “that’s just the way it is” to open up JUST enough to say, “this is rotten–and doesn’t have to be that way.”  And to see reasons it does not, and ways for it not to be.  Who’s in charge here, aside from us??

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