The Work Week Ahead

As we're approaching the end of what is a nice four-day holiday break for some of us, I want to talk about getting back to work. This will also be my final guestblog on Boing-Boing, for now. [Blogging here has been a welcome distraction and a delight; thanks for allowing me to share this wonderful space with so many of you.]

While traveling recently, I came upon "The 4-Hour Workweek" in paperback, prominently displayed in an airport bookstore. I started wondering how the book is selling today. (The hardback was released in 2007). Its subtitle says it all: "Escape 9-5, Live Anywhere and Join the New Rich." Author Timothy Ferriss, not to be confused with Timothy Ferris, the science writer, considers himself a "lifestyle designer." He reveals how to cut your time at work by 80% and spend more time doing things you really enjoy such as skiiing or scuba diving.

The book's title, "The 4-hour Workweek", suggests the least amount of work you could get away with. However, in this economy, I kept thinking the title might suggest the most work you're lucky to find. Ferris' pitch now seems out of tune with tough times, a bit like books that guide you to "Invest in Real Estate with No Money Down."

Ferriss promises to reveal the secrets of the "New Rich, a fast-growing subculture who have abandoned the "deferred-life plan" (aka "slave – save – retire") and create luxury lifestyles in the present." It seems like the book was written for NY investment bankers who don't enjoy what they do but they can't bring themselves to walk away from $500K salaries and seek a new lifestyle. Ferris notes that it's not the money of the millionaire that most people want; it's the freedom that it buys them. So what keeps us from being free and enjoying it? It's a valid question but I had to ask its opposite: what keeps us from enjoying work?

With the investment banking lifestyle fast disappearing, like a lot of good deals gone bad, this book might represent the apex of the boomer fantasy — the self-absorbed vision of abundance and personal prosperity, and its pre-occupation with retiring early and leaving the work world behind.

Ferris does have good things to say, but times have changed. Most of his advice applies if you don't like what you do for a living. Ferris says that most people see their "job description as self-description". We get trapped answering the question "what do you do?" Yes, that happens but it's what you do, not what you say that defines you, and that's why work is important. Work is where you can do a lot of things that you can't do on your own. Work is where you can do something that matters, not just to you, but to others. We don't have the luxury of ignoring the problems that face us and the people around us. (The economy, education, health care, climate change, etcetera, etcetera).

Ferris writes that "the perfect job is one that takes the least time."
I beg to differ. I love what I do because it demands more and more of me. So, the perfect job is one that requires the most of you — more of your talent, more of your time and more of your will to make something happen. It challenges you to grow and learn more about yourself, often through the people you work with. I realize not everyone has a job they love and nowadays, a lot of people are happy just to have a job, even if they don't love it. Nonetheless, I feel fortunate not only to have a good job but to be in a position to make a difference in other people's lives. I want more hours, not fewer.

I like poet Frank Bidart's words in "Advice to the Players."

"The greatest luxury is to live a life in which the work that one does to earn a living, and what one has the appetite to make, coincide – by a kind of grace are the same, one."

Here's to a full workweek ahead, not merely four hours but forty plus.