On the 80-Hour Work Week

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“What?! Eighty hours a week?!”

“Yup,” I calmly replied.

“You’re insane. I can’t believe you do that.”

“It’s actually not that bad once you get used to it.”

“When do you sleep?”

“Ideally… five hours. I basically have a six-hour window after my second job to attend to the quotidian tasks. Though, I seldom achieve the ideal.”

“You’re crazy, Ephraim.”

“Among other things, yes,” I chortled.

 

It is fortuitous that today happens to be the twentieth anniversary of Pokémon. I remember choosing my first Pokémon, Bulbasaur, and embarking on a journey that would indelibly change my life. A world of strange beasts, new landscapes, and rare candy, I aspired towards the goal all Pokémon trainers hope: to be the very best. Perhaps a little trite—and a bit too grandiose even for a trainer of these fantastic pocket monsters. However, one hundred  fifty-four days ago, I was officially hired by my second job as a full-time employee. And what a journey that has been.

Conversations like the one above had taken place at least several dozen times throughout my dual employment. After the fifth or sixth time, I had developed a general script that I would recite in an almost Pavlovian manner—akin to a script one summons when greeted by an old high school classmate. The initial reactions were often disbelief, horror, and bemusement, the former two being the commonest. I was never bothered by the responses. In fact, it would help carry some conversations along. Fierce interrogations more than likely followed, inquiries into my motivations or if I had indeed become non compos mentis.

I can no more faithfully demonstrate that I know insanity than I could demonstrate that I know happiness. However, I am acquainted with the feeling one has when traipsing along the interface between sanity and its antithesis. Sleep deprivation points one towards the interface and dispels one’s apprehensions about remaining there too long. Lack of sleep also severely dilates time, a phenomenon we are all familiar with. Thus, it is difficult to imagine that someone would voluntarily undertake an eighty-hour work week in light of the aforementioned traipsing (and dangers). Yet, it is a common way of life for business executives, accountants, food service, employees, single parents, and economically-disadvantaged people generally. Some attempt to promulgate the idea that one can successfully maintain a social life despite the draconian hours.

Bullshit.

One’s social life becomes significantly—if not completely—amputated. All functions gravitate towards the pragmatic, so friendships and familial relationships suffer greatly. Friends become exceedingly generous as they vie for one’s time. They will proffer massive inducements in the form of food and alcohol or all-expense-paid theater excursions. Family will call to complain about one’s absence and insist on proper visitation rights. As a result, leisure time with friends and family are taken by appointment on a first-come, first-served basis.

I did have a strong motivation for pursuing this path of veritable dangers. I don’t often have the opportunity to travel usually due to poor financial prudence. As attrition via a banal first-world existence whittled away my humanity, I was visited by brief moments of lucidity that permitted me to ruminate on my existential crisis: what have I done with my life and what will I do with my life? Why haven’t I traveled more? Was I being the very best that my inner Pokémon trainer would have wanted me to be?

Alas, no.

I had become comfortable. I made just enough money to survive. At home. Employed at a tepid nine-to-five job. I had no spark. No ambition. After several hundred applications sent out since 2012 had proven fruitless, I had basically given up.

Until someone suggested traveling to Germany.

A small digression: almost three years ago, I started listening to German language courses and slowly practiced my German in relative obscurity. The high walls of my (now former) cubicle permitted me the luxury of whispering all the Michel Thomas sentences and vocabulary to myself undisturbed. This minor hobby graduated into an arrant obsession, to the extent that I currently practice two additional languages aside from my two mother tongues. To date, I have only spoken German aloud with a native speaker once. Slightly heartbreaking when one considers all the hours I have put into the language. Nevertheless, I had rekindled my passion and found a deeply obscure reason to commence eighty-hour work weeks.

I can confidently say that the experience was more instructive than I had anticipated. The immediate benefit is one of a loftier savings account.

And that’s about it…

Time gets lost if not becomes more elusive. This doesn’t permit much disposal of one’s income. Actual benefits arrive during and after one has survived the whole ordeal. Time management was one thing I learned. With that said, I must preface that statement with my history of tardiness. I’m late to everything. Every. Thing. I go as far as often joking that I will be late to my own funeral. (To my loved ones: I fully intend on making this a reality, hopefully in the very distant future. Be warned, so please laugh and prepare for the longue heure.) Not to sound like a complete living contradiction, I developed an unprecedented degree of temporal precision with respect to daily tasks. I would never shower longer than required. Cooking times dramatically decreased. I was punctual for when it came to the quotidian task while remaining consistently tardy to all other engagements. (I did need a constant in my life.) Standing around was absolutely forbidden, for all my free time was dedicated to preparation for the following day. Experience had taught me to plan meals in advance which became ever more critical in my new time-sensitive life.

Arguably the most important thing I learned was perseverance.  The journey ended yesterday after one hundred fifty-three days. I far exceed my monetary goals for Germany and I completed the exact amount of days I had wanted. When I first contemplated this journey, success seemed uncertain and distant. “There is no way I can make it. It’s too much,” I thought. Eighteen-hour days didn’t seem exquisitely attractive and I unfortunately know the tragic consequences of working too hard, namely in the form of a brother I shall never know. But I had friends and family who were determined to see me triumph over adversity. It was more than money for a trip—it was an opportunity to leave a stagnating job in pursuit of better options. I had a clear vision of my goal and I did my best to remain indefatigable. Doubt often crept in during times of sleep deprivation or when I lost momentum at work. But I persisted because of my friends and family, with their beneficent words, their charitable advise, and their love and belief in me. (Although they each know my love and gratitude were always eternal, they now have my love and gratitude more strongly and evermore.)

I suppose it isn’t always a bad thing to traipse along the interface between sanity and its antithesis. I have become convinced that chance favors those whom will cast of their shackles of comfortability and traverse the planes of the unknown in search for that rare candy. No matter how difficult this experience was for me—to borrow the words of Arthur Hugh Clough—I can say not the struggle naught availeth.

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