My 2016 resolution: work less and live more (Guest post)

Two weeks ago I made a New Years resolution, sort of by accident. It was the end of the semester, I’d just finished a pile of grading and was looking ahead to ten days of panicked administrative work, with a shoehorn or two of panicked research labour shoved down the sides. I suddenly realized it was Christmas time – aka, the winter BREAK – and I was about to be in a situation where, in the words of the great Dr Seuss, no break would be coming.

That’s when I REALLY started to panic.

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I’m one of those lucky women who, at least on the surface, appears to have a really flexible life. My job’s only set hours are the time I spend in the classroom and in my office hours. I can ride my bike in the middle of the afternoon whenever the weather permits, and I can spend Monday mornings at yoga with a group of older women who are mostly retired. But there’s a catch: not having set hours, while sporting a type-A academic’s personality, means I’m hard on myself: I take on a lot of work and I value doing it thoroughly. So when I’m not in my campus office or in the classroom I am inevitably working from home, or racing between meetings with colleagues and artists across Southwestern Ontario. (I teach theatre and performance, and run the theatre studies major and minor at Western University.)

I also have no children, and currently no partner. Which means I feel added pressure to take on labour that consumes time which might otherwise be filled with child care or nurturing a relationship. That’s not to say I am unduly pressured or compelled by colleagues who are parents; for me, it’s also a coping mechanism. If I’m working I’m not thinking too much about the things in my life that are missing.

Because I’m relatively free of responsibilities at home (my dog is an exception; she is an old but sporty girl, and likes a nice walk, or two, or three, or four in a day…), I can spend a lot of time doing the sports I love.

Emma in Stratford (where's my swan??) IMG_0158

(Like many singles, I’m obsessed with my companion animal. Emma visits the swans in Stratford, ON, and the Olympic rings in London, UK.)

I ride three times a week; I row twice a week (more in season); I swim, try to stand on my head at yoga, garden, and walk a lot (see above, re sporty dog). Like Nat Hebert, who writes in this space on Saturdays, I know my sporty lifestyle is a huge privilege, economic as well as social.

And I’m grateful for it, believe me. As a feminist, I am hyper-aware that women in particular often get short shrift in mixed households when it comes to sports time. I ride with a cycling club that is easily 90% men; our long ride is scheduled for Saturday mornings. I’ve often wondered aloud what the wives of my fellow (male) riders are doing while the guys cycle 100+km and have breakfast with their friends. Typically this musing is greeted sympathetically, but most have been quick to point out that the ride is scheduled early on Saturdays so that the married men in the club can head home for childcare and other household duties. Which is marvellous – but it also sidesteps the basic good fortune most men in the club share: the ability to leave the house at 7:30 on a Saturday, while their partners take the first childcare shift.

So my free sports time is a wonderful privilege for me, to be sure. But it can also be a burden emotionally.

How’s that? Isn’t sport a great emotional release? Without a doubt. But for me – and even more for working moms and dads I know – it’s easy to convince myself that sporty time is ME time, and thus I ought not to grouse about not having other time for me in the week. In other words: I tell myself that I should work hard when I’m not sportsing hard, because I’ve already taken this huge chunk of time for me, for my sports. That turns, perversely, into negative self talk, where I insist to myself I should buckle down twice as hard, nose in the screen, because lucky me has just been out for a three hour ride. Isn’t that more than enough “me time”?

No, it’s not. And thinking it is is not a healthy attitude, either. The three hour ride is a pleasure and a blessing, but it does not, and should not, substitute for “having a life”. It’s a great PART of my life – just like cooking, eating, walks with the dog, reading books, watching great TV, seeing friends, and sitting quietly with a cup of coffee or tea are all part of my life, or should be. Having a healthy life means prioritising all these things, not feeling guilty about enjoying them, and not worrying while enjoying them that I should really be working.

Which means, of course, that having a healthy life means working less. More than that: it means being conscious of overwork, addressing it, and then choosing to work less. Or, when required, insisting on working less.

We live in a world that now insists, perversely, on overwork as a norm. Everyone is working more for less; the unluckiest among us work all the time and are not even paid enough to feed, clothe, and house themselves and their families properly and safely.

(This is a feature of the economic system under which most Western governments operate today: neoliberalism. It’s a system in which the shareholder is the most important beneficiary of human labour, and workers are valued only insofar as they can generate greater shareholder profit. Banks and the wealthy benefit most from this system; most other human beings are the underpaid and undervalued cogs in its machine. Governments today depend on shareholder profit and bank-sector stability for their own budget success [and thus electability], and so generally support this system at the expense of workers’ rights.)

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I fully understand that not all of us have the privilege that enables us to insist on working less – but that’s all the more reason for those of us who DO to insist, when we can, publically and actively, that all human beings should work only as much as is fair and feasible, and should be paid a living wage when they do.

Because it shouldn’t take a New Years resolution to have a life. Work-life balance is a human right. Somehow our culture, here in North America, has forgotten that. My hope in 2016 is to remind myself and all those around me of this basic fact.

A happy and healthy 2016 to you all!

Kim

 

About Kim Solga

I am a university professor currently based in London, southwestern Ontario, half way between Toronto and Detroit. I teach theatre and performance studies at Western University; previously, I was Senior Lecturer in Drama at Queen Mary, University of London. I am a feminist, both intellectually and politically; I believe that my research makes its greatest impact in the classroom. On Wordpress, I'm also a regular contributor to the popular blog, Fit is a Feminist Issue.

10 thoughts on “My 2016 resolution: work less and live more (Guest post)

  1. cdaigle says:

    Thanks for this post which strikes a chord. I always think of sporty activities as “me time.” It is not work so it must be “me time,” no? It is really easy to let work invade every bit of space in our lives, especially with loose schedules like ours. While I have been trying to remind myself I should resist it, I have yet to find an efficient way to do so.

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    • Kim Solga says:

      I know what you mean! I also struggle to find ways to put this into practice; I’m giving a lot of thought this week to tactics, and to managing my boundaries. I’ve sent an email to my boss asking to talk about my workload in the new year, and I’m about to send an email to one of my editors telling her that the project due on Thursday is going to be late. Managing expectations is probably part of this task, and I struggle a lot with that.

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      • cdaigle says:

        I made a resolution a while back to say “no” more often. I have stuck to that resolution and say “no” very often. However, since the requests on my time have also multiplied, it means that I am still as busy, if not busier.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Kim Solga says:

    Reblogged this on The Activist Classroom and commented:

    I wrote this post for Sam and Tracy at Fit is a Feminist Issue, and wanted to share it here as well. In many ways it’s a continuation of my last post, about unplugging and learning to manage work stress better. Enjoy and be well this new year’s week!
    Kim

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  3. Jean says:

    If I may offer something as someone with a partner but I don’t have children (he has 2 adult children, living independently and fully employed):

    I never felt guilty about having the freedom of enough time and a schedule that allows cycling. Cycling is not a replacement or substitute. It just is an activity. No different from several organizations where I each volunteered for several years and learned/enjoyed a lot. Yes, totally I agree I have privilege to shape my personal time in any way I wish, outside of work.

    The most important thing what our families and friends want: is we be healthy both physically and mentally. Take steps to ensure / towards this. I think most of us know someone or have been ourselves quite depressed / highly stressed for long periods of time (months, several years at least), but they never had additional pressure of children or unsupportive partner.

    It helps to finally experience the freedom as an adult after university,I felt I didn’t quite experience as a teenager because of upbringing (abit strict) and responsibilities of looking after younger siblings (there are 5 others younger than I).

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    • Kim Solga says:

      Thanks Jean! I like the way you say “cycling is not a replacement or substitute. It is just an activity.” I think it’d help for more of us to not *moralize* either work OR “down time” – but rather to think about activities that are work- or not work-related *in balance* with one another, in a value-neutral way. That would also help with vocabulary issues! I couldn’t think, just now, what to write instead of “not work” – because I don’t think everything in our lives needs to be compared to work! – as neither “life-related” (it’s all life, right?) nor “leisure-related” (it’s not EITHER work OR leisure!) seem to cut it. So maybe talking about activities and tasks, rather than in broad strokes, is one of the challenges (and possible solutions) here.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Tracy I says:

    This is such a great post that resonates a lot. I’m also overcommitted much of the time but I’m way better at managing this stuff than I used to be. I feel my balance is not bad these days despite a demanding new role at work at a career stage where my research productivity (hence deadlines) is at the highest its been. I would love to get together for coffee (more time with friends!!) and talk about strategies. I’ve developed some good policies for when to say ‘no’ and when to say ‘yes’ that are actually working. Saying ‘no’ more is all fine, but knowing when to say ‘yes’ is equally important. Thanks for this! Happy new year and good luck with your resolution!!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Kim Solga says:

      Yes to coffee and strategies! Fit feminist community: Tracy is a dean in my faculty at work – she’s a kind of “boss” to me too! So this invitation is itself helpful and solution-driving: more administrators need to invite team members to talk this stuff through, rather than waiting for team members to approach them…

      Liked by 1 person

  5. catherine womack says:

    Great post, Kim! Yes, it is a great privilege to be able to say no to things (and also yes to others), but I also agree that maybe we can use that privilege to try to reset the norms that target women (and many other groups) for extra tasks that are generally less-valued but of course crucial to the running of organizations. I have typically deflected confrontation at work by saying no in more sneaky ways; for instance I’d cite a doctors appt rather than research deadline as a reason for not attending a meeting I considered unnecessary. But maybe I shouldn’t— I’m a full professor, so if I can’t tell the truth about these things, who can? And with respect to life issues, the same holds. For 2016, my number one goal is to become stronger and more active so I can feel comfortable doing activities with friends (e.g. group cycling and longer kayak trips). That requires focus and saying no. I hope to hear more from you about all of this– thanks for opening the flood gates!

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  6. ainsobriety says:

    Learning to be ok with doing nothing is a gift. Perhaps that is what you are looking for. Time to just be.
    Enjoy your time. There is a lot to hear in silence!

    Like

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