Songs of the Past Decades of my Life: Working Hard is Bullshit

Posted on May 6, 2013

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The job wasn't all she'd been led to expect } foto@me

Something was definitely up with her colleagues that day | foto@me

It feels like I only go backwards darling

So this blog post is nothing revolutionary, but it is about a recent revelation that is nothing short of a complete change of my heart, mind and soul. Namely: Working Hard is Bull-Effin-Shit.

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Tame Impala, “Feels Like We Only Go Backwards”

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It seems that I have been, literally, labouring under a misapprehension all my life. I’ve always been a hard worker. At school, I was a good girl who mostly turned in assigments on time. In group projects I frequently “took the lead”, completing my own part and then collating and editing everyone else’s. At class and school events, I would be one of the last to leave because I stayed to clean up. I probably organized most of the event in the first place.

This behaviour continued after I graduated and started work. My bosses were delighted with me. I was happy to take on more than others, and then wouldn’t say no to piling more things onto my plate, an act which should only ever apply to a buffet lunch.

This certainly shaped my perception of myself – who I was and what I could achieve. I was a Good Little Worker. I wore my busy-ness as a badge of pride. I played the self-martyring card about how stressful my job was, how many hours I had to put into it. At the same time, I developed a disdain for “selfish”, “lazy” people who “needed a break”, and “had their own things to do”. You’re going to the movies? Well I have a Career, baby.

I hope you watched the mv of Tame Impala, linked above. Because the Good Little Worker mindset is just as hypnotic as swirling, grinding, spinning washes of colour that the Aussie psychedelic rockers put together. “Feels Like We Only Go Backwards” is their 2nd release from the 2012 album Lonerism.

And you know, that is exactly what it is. Because when you bust your gut for someone else, you are very likely going backwards in your own life.

Not that there is any wrong with busting a gut for other people. Parents do that for their kids all the time. Aid workers. Caring teachers. Close friends, too. But there seems to be a difference between that and being crouched over your desk at midnight examining a shittily-worded contract for your company’s oil imports, or staying 2 hours late to pore over the perfect specifications for a client’s new office building.

Up every mornin just to keep a job
I gotta fight my way through the hustling mob
Sounds of the city poundin in my brain
While another day goes down the drain

The danger is this – when we become Good Little Workers, two things happen.

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The Vogues, “Five O’Clock World”
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First, we get all caught up in a destructive little maelstrom of our work-world. We drown in triviality, in the who-said-what-and-how-dare-he. The bosses and superviors loom larger than life, and stay imprinted on our minds long after we step out the door. We talk of little else to our partners, family and friends. If we’re not careful, we brick ourselves into our own bullshit and get seduced by little nuggets of externally-bestowed approval. Your senior complimented your speed on delivering the report. Someone stage-whispered that you’re such a hard worker, you’re skipping lunch yet again. You’re told that you’re up for a promotion. But no matter how many more plastic reindeers you add, it’s still a stupid snow globe.

Alright, maybe it’s not quite so bad. As far back as 1965, the Vogues have consoled us that after your work hours there could be a long-haired girl waiting to ease your mind. Afterall, it’s all about self-control – don’t get sucked in, distance distance distance. Compartmentalise! Usually easier said than done, but I have seen it done by inspiring individuals who work their asses off and then are able to leave everything at the door before they go home.

From all this stress that is constantly going on
I just drift along with no focus or meaning
Lean back, stare up at the ceiling

But to me, the greater danger is this – opportunity cost. For a long time, I worked 6-7 days a week, 10-14 hours a day. Work took up my best hours, my best energies. Everything else competed for the crumbs of leftover attention and time.

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The Rakes, “Work Work Work (Pub, Club, Sleep)”

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Over the past few years, I blew off museum visits, talks, backpacking trips, afterwork projects, and several self-developmental opportunities. It wasn’t necessarily that there was No. Time. The afterwork hours were there. But then I had to meet my mates to blow off steam from work, buy myself good dinners to reward myself for working hard (for other people), or stare brainlessly at a dumb movie because my mind was zapped from a day’s work. Basically that meant I was still spending time on work, after work. I might not have had the same soy sauce stains on my shirt like how The Rakes lamented, but I certainly identified with scenario of waking up sleep-deprived and groggy, and then wanting to kill everyone in my path for walking too slowly when I was trying to get to Work. (Although, really, what would a bunch of English indie rockers know about that? Also, if you’re in need of a bunch of catchy job-bashing singalongs, The Rakes have a admirable number of those.)

You need to git up, git out, cut that bullshit out

Don’t get me wrong; I loved my job. I’ve loved all my jobs, even aspects of my first job which frequently brought me to hell and back. I’m still working, and still enjoying it immensely. But I realise now, if busting my gut for someone else to realise his/ her dreams comes at the expense of mine, then it’s time to git up, git out and seriously cut that bullshit out. Trust our fav East Point hip-hoppers to remind us.

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Outkast, “Git Up Git Out”
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Maybe what we all need is a rethink of what work expectations are. Employees are contracted to work from a certain hour to a certain hour. We are not under any obligation whatsoever to do more than what our jobscope entails. We don’t have to go the extra mile for our employers. We don’t have to pay attention any insinuations, snide remarks or unsubtle hints about us not going this mythical “extra mile”. (Reality check: to most bosses, there is no such thing as the “extra mile”. Whatever we just did becomes blueprint for what we will be expected to do again in the future. Why not? Dude, we just did it!) Most of all – we do not have to take shit from our employers. They are giving us money in return for our skills and services. They are not buying time-share into our souls.

Change of guard is in order
Throw ’em out the door

The catchy electropop of the Canopies lays on the fist-waving, guard-overthrowing and rhetoric-spewing, but hang on. I’m not saying we should all lynch the bosses and leap giddily into self-employment. I am saying, stop the self-martyrdom. 5,000 hours of OT later, what have you to show for that you can call your own? What have you invested in yourself, that makes you grow as a person, that makes you more than your job? What have you done that makes your heart sing?

We often hear about how everyone should get jobs that they’re absolutely bat-shit passionate about. While I agree with this, I don’t totally buy it. We’d be hard-pressed to find people who are “passionate” being an accounts executive or receptionist or lab assistant or data-sorter or – ok I have to stop making enemies now. I think it’s actually ok to get a job that you’re fine with, and pays the bills. It only becomes ridiculous when people start bending over like yogis or pornstars to please a boss/ company at the expense of their personal development time. Not everyone can get a Job of Passion, but everyone can develop a Passion After Job. And then make sure those jobs don’t get in the way.

The dog days are over
The dog days are done
Can you hear the horses
‘Cause here they come

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Florence + the Machine, “Dog Days Are Over”

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If I can’t find employment that not only tolerates my newfound philosophy but also does not penalise me for it, then I think a venture into self-employment, freelancing or entrepreneurship has to be on the cards. I don’t do very well with unstable incomes and so far Against All Odds has been more an annoying KTV song than a way of life. But the horses are coming, and it’s time for me to start running. “Dog Days Are Over” is originally a neon and perspex artwork by Swiss-born artist Ugo Rondinone which inspired the Florence + the Machine song above. Reportedly, Florence Welsh used to see the sign everyday while riding her bike over Waterloo Bridge. [1] The artist meant to evoke the optimism, uncertainty and anxiety of the ending of an epoch and the beginning of another. My days are not dog-like by any means – on the contrary, I’m practically covered in cat fur on any given day – but the new era of my life is an exciting, scary mystery.

"Dog Days Are Over", Ugo Rondinone, 1998 | @ Galerie Eva Presenhuber

“Dog Days Are Over”, Ugo Rondinone, 1998 | @ Galerie Eva Presenhuber

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[1] “Dog Days Are Over“, Wikipedia article.

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