She couldn’t make the meeting. It wasn’t because she had an emergency. She wasn’t sick. Her kid wasn’t acting up at school. No…
This new meeting was dumped on her by her boss at the last minute. Her boss makes three times as much as her. He spends most of his day in meetings like she does, or sending out confusing memos. Both of them complain about how they never get anything done. They work all the time, including nights and weekends. They have back-to-back meetings. Sometimes they go to two meetings at the same time. (Thanks, Zoom!) They don’t exercise as much as they used to. They have trouble sleeping. They worry about bills. They feel guilty for never spending enough time with their families.
My question is simple: Do we have to live like this?
The answer is simple, too. It’s no. We choose to live like this. We make prisons for ourselves first, and then we start making prisons for everyone else. That’s why one boss is always dumping their pointless meetings onto their subordinates, instead of just canceling them.
And of course, meetings are just the tip…
We all work way, way, way too much.
When I was little, my dad wouldn’t come home some nights.
“Where is he?” I’d ask.
“He’s still at work,” my mom would tell me. I would stay up late waiting for him, and go to bed disappointed.
He wasn’t there when I woke up, either.
It wasn’t until I was older, maybe in my 20s, when my dad told me exactly how much he used to work. Some nights he simply stayed there. He pulled 20-hour shifts to cover for coworkers. He came home to sleep for a couple of hours, or he slept on a couch in his office. He wrote reports that his boss took credit for. He put up with endless bullshit, all so one day he could become a manager who put up with even more bullshit, all while giving up weekends to be “on call,” which means getting woken up by cries for help in the middle of the night when something breaks.
Things really haven’t changed much. I have friends who humble-brag about keeping a wardrobe in their office, along with a travel bag. They work all night. In the morning they hit the gym on campus and shower. Then they teach their classes and go to more meetings, and then they go back to their office to get their “real work” done. I used to be just like that. We’re proud of this, until one day it hits us.
We’re dying inside…
“My daughter basically grew up without me,” one of my friends recently confessed. She makes $100,000+ a year. “Sometimes I wonder if I wouldn’t have been better off keeping my old job. I was a bartender...”
Then she quit.
The sad thing is, I’m pretty sure it doesn’t matter what you do for a living anymore. You can kill yourself at your job and make six figures, or you can kill yourself and make barely enough to live on.
I know a lot of people who make a helluva lot of money. And I know a helluva lot of people who make almost nothing by comparison.
None of them look especially happy.
We all consume way, way, way too much.
One of my friends tried the whole Eat, Pray, Love thing. She fell in love with that book while we were coming back from a conference. She kept comparing herself to the author.
“Oh god,” I told myself, “here we go…”
My friend put her entire life on hold so she could travel the world. Of course, she missed the little footnote that Elizabeth Gilbert got a $200,000 cash advance in order to write that book. After all, traveling the world costs a lot of money — even on the cheapest budget.
So my friend gave away all of her worldly possessions and then went on this spiritual quest around the globe. She came back absolutely broke, with mountains of debt. As far as I could tell, she didn’t come back spiritually enlightened. She came back with a bag of souvenirs, and a couple of stories about living in a Buddhist monastery.
The first thing she did was get a job just like the one she’d left. The second thing she did was move into a townhouse apartment she couldn’t afford. The third thing she did was fill it with brand new furniture. The fourth thing she did was throw a house-warming party. This gave her a reason to go out and buy a bunch of new flatware.
“Wow,” I said. “This is a lot of stuff…”
My friend got defensive, in that passive-aggressive kind of way where you turn it into a joke. She laughed through an explanation of how Elizabeth Gilbert had taught her the value of being kind to herself. “There’s no way I could live like you do, Jessica, with your one plate, and your one coffee cup. You don’t even have a table!”
It’s interesting how we spend half our time promoting minimalist lifestyles based on eastern philosophies and gratitude maxims. Then we turn right around and praise mega-billionaires like Jeff Bezos, or authors like Elizabeth Gilbert, for selling us on consumer goods and mindsets we don’t need, and delivering it to our doors with breakneck speed so we don’t have to wait more than a day or two. It’s even more interesting that this contradiction doesn’t seem to bother most people.
They want to have their gratitude and eat it too.
It’s the American way.
We’ve got healthcare completely twisted.
My husband has a friend who travels everywhere. His job title is “consultant.” Every time he posts on Facebook, it’s from a different city. London. Milan. Hong Kong. Dubai. He’s done this throughout the pandemic. It’s not that he doesn’t believe in vaccines or social-distancing…
He just thinks he doesn’t need any of that.
That’s all that matters to him.
He’s healthy. He runs triathlons. He has a straight up trophy wife almost ten years his junior, who has nothing better to do than follow him around the world posing next to him in selfies. His health insurance is so good, he honestly might live forever.
It doesn’t occur to him that he can spread a lethal virus to someone else, who then gets sick and dies. In his view, it’s not his fault for flouting guidelines. It’s theirs. He explains his thought process this way: “If you don’t want to get sick, then take better care of your body.”
The basic problem here is simple:
We treat sickness and disease like moral failings, just like we did a thousand years ago. Our technology has advanced by light years. We’re about to solve the problem of aging. We can correct someone’s vision with lasers. It won’t be long before you can 3D-print an artificial heart. Meanwhile, our cultural mindsets remain stuck in the medieval age. Half the population thinks you won’t get sick if you have a good attitude. We think we can cure cancer by forwarding a chain email, or sending a few hundred dollars to the head pastor at some megachurch, who then sends his own family to the best doctors and medical centers in the world.
It’s really something…
We never, ever, ever acknowledge our privilege.
Every now and then, one of my white friends gets called out on their privilege and then posts this on social media:
“Someone please tell me how I’m privileged…”
It’s actually not that hard to see your privilege if you step outside yourself for a minute and read about what’s going on with the rest of the world. If we did that, we’d see a lot of privilege in our lives. Maybe I can’t explain how my friend is privileged, but I can explain how I’m privileged, and then let people like her extrapolate from that.
My privilege includes the following:
I was born in a city with good public schools, and not too much pollution. I grew up in a relatively stable household, at least compared to a lot of families. I’ve had reliable internet access since I was eight. Although people might make judgments about me because of my gender, they don’t make judgments about me because of my skin color. I don’t live in fear of police violence. Even when I was carrying loads of student debt, I never had problems with credit or taking out even more loans.
My job as a teacher exposes me to my privilege every single day. Some of my students grew up in areas so poor they rival third world countries. Their public schools were so terrible, filmmakers made award-winning documentaries about them. They struggle with food insecurity, because every penny they make goes to paying for an overpriced tuition or a textbook their professor requires but barely uses. They can’t afford internet, and they can’t afford to live on campus.
So many of our problems stem from one simple fact: A lot of us refuse to admit we have it better than most, and always have. Imagine if some of us took the energy we spend trying to convince everyone we don’t have privilege, that anyone can “get ahead,” and just started helping people.
In a nutshell:
We work too much. We consume too much. We’ve got basic necessities like healthcare twisted inside out. Too many of us never admit our privilege, because we’re scared they’ll be taken away. Can we stop all this, and can we stop letting so many people get away with it?
I mean, it wouldn’t solve everything.
But it would help.