Work Hard, Play Harder

By Jaime Nava

As a kid, I walked to school. I started with my mom in kindergarten and walked to school all the way to my senior year in high school. Once I got to school, the bell would ring and we’d get to work. Of course, as a kid, I just wanted to be done and go have fun. Recess and lunch were nice, but it was when school was out that the fun happened. And Summer. Oh sweet glorious summer. I’d burn my feet on the street going to the local market to buy twenty-five cent candy. I’d play until the street lights came on.

From an early age, I was taught that you work hard from nine to five. I was also taught that you play harder when you’re out. The rhythm that was created was one of doing something I dread only to wait to do something I don’t. I was taught to squeeze every ounce of fun I could from my free time because work was right around the corner. We’re trained by the industrial revolution to learn in a factory setting with everyone sitting in neat rows getting standardized tests from government-approved textbooks. It was all very efficient. And those kids that couldn’t sit still were given pills or sent to the principal’s office.

As different as things are, they don’t change. Since I’ve been trained for nine to five, it’s only natural that it should spill over into my professional work life. Get to the office, figure out what’s on the docket for the day, get things done. This isn’t to say that every day is as productive as the next. Some days are great and some days are not so much. And of course, the mentality of squeezing as much fun into each non-work minute is there too. Americans spend billions of dollars each year on things they don’t need. These things maximize the amount of fun they can have when it’s time to have fun because we Americans need to make every moment count. It’s no wonder we binge watch television shows or stay up way past bedtime to squeeze in another level. It’s no wonder we charge our credit cards full of eating out and stuff that’s really just that stuff.

We live in a binge society. We binge work. We binge play. Time is precious. Don’t waste your time. Make the most of every moment. We’ve been trained into thinking that if we sit in the park sipping a latte we’re wasting time. We’ve been trained into thinking that if you just show up to work from nine to five, you’ve done the work. We’ve been trained to think that we need to spend our money on things that make life more convenient, to give us more time to have fun.

What if, instead of rushing to school or to work, we had time in the morning to have a conversation over breakfast? What if the day started with dad at home with the family instead of flying out the door with a mug of coffee in his hand while mom is trying to wrangle the kids into the family vehicle to get them to their own industrial study session? What if it weren’t a rat race, but instead filled with cat naps when we needed them? What if we didn’t measure work with hours? Maybe we should be working smarter, not harder.

Imagine the impact of this. It would upend our crazy mad dash for binging. It would undo our crazy need to squeeze fun into every moment. It would help families spend better time together. It would let our “tortured” brains get some rest. We wouldn’t need to fly out of work to get to the bar for happy hour(s?). We could enjoy a meal while reading Chesterton and follow up with a short nap.

I’m not saying we don’t have deadlines. I’m not saying we don’t expect people to be productive. I am saying let’s not fool ourselves into thinking that people are productive from nine to five. I am saying that the nine-to-five mentality breeds binging. I am saying that our quality time as Americans sucks because we don’t know what quality time is anymore. Work meaningfully and play meaningfully-er.