Full-time or no-time – taking “risky” steps toward real work-life balance

The typical working week is too long – to support myself and make sure I can meet all my basic needs I don’t need full-time work. In fact, I could probably get by happily on 40%, perhaps even 30%, of the going rate in my industry.

Work-life balance is important to me and I’d be prepared to reduce my hours so that rather than earn more cash than I realistically need I get more time to develop and grow in a way that improves my health and happiness.

Many have given voice to a shorter working week. Keynes predicted in 1930 that were productivity to keep rising in the way that it was in his era, and in fact has, then by 2030 there would be higher incomes and a 15 hour working week leaving plenty of time for meaningful leisure.

Keynes - wisewords
Keynes – often spoke wisely

A shorter working week is far from being realised despite probable benefits

Incomes have risen but the average number of hours that people work each week have not decreased anywhere close to Keynes prediction. It has been argued that, aside from improving well-being, a shorter working week would help with both unemployment and over-work, foster greater equality between men and women, and also improve productivity.

nef 21 hours
new economics foundation have made the case for a shorter working week

For me my best work normally comes at the start of the day – when I’m relaxed and fully engaged with what I’m doing. As the day progresses I might get frustrated, or a bit bored, and any work that gets done can often be sloppy. And so when I’m not at my best I’ve learnt, despite being contracted to work some 7.5 hours a day, to cut my day short and try to focus on other things – like going for a walk or a cycle, tending to some vegetables, calling someone I love dearly, or doing something useful for the community. I’m grateful for the flexibility I have but I have often felt substantial guilt over doing this. Yet overall taking this approach helps support my health and happiness, and when I’m feeling healthy and happy this then supports my productivity at work.

A new job, and a request for a shorter working week

It is clear to me that any work I do once I return, if I return, from my big biking trip to Bhutan, will need to be part-time. To my joy and surprise I recently got offered a job as a lecturer in economics to begin in September 2018. I am excited about the prospect of being a lecturer because I suspect that, after a small break away, balancing my academic career with a teaching component will likely revitalise my passion for an academic life.

I decided to request a part-time contract from my prospective employers – 60% to be precise.

Often lecturers can find themselves working easily beyond 40 hours a week – perhaps up to 50 or 60. When they get done with the obligatory, definitely can’t say no to things, such as teaching and admin, there is little time left for research within the typical working week.

However, research is often the primary reason many academics are academics in the first place. Thus with little reservations the research gets done on top of an already busy week and obtaining a work life balance becomes difficult. Thus long work hours are often the norm in academia. I have the sense that a 60% contract would give me enough space to breathe and more than enough income to ensure a healthy and happy work-life balance.

Rejection, fear, and authentic life choices

However, my request for a 60% contract got turned down. It was either full-time or no-time. I was pretty disappointed, deeply saddened in fact. I didn’t know what to do. For some days I was really tempted to simply take the job – I knew it was a great opportunity and everything else about the job seemed perfect for the direction I’m going in my life. Perhaps I’d never have a chance like it – what a great feeling it would be to know that once my cycle to Bhutan was complete there would be something to come back to?

But something didn’t feel right. I looked a bit deeper and it seemed that what was driving me to take the job was mostly fear. Fear of uncertainty, fear of the unknown, fear of being directionless. Fear of myself and what might be possible if I just let myself be.

I can often feel overwhelmed by fear and that can influence my decisions. However, on this occasion in acknowledging and breathing beyond the fear I found my-self stepping into my authentic self – a being that does have clarity on their path, that knows what it needs to nourish its-self, and has the courage to keep along that path at the risk of losing it all. I’m fed-up of being half the person I could be through being constrained by the typical working week. And so with some sadness at living in a world where I have to make this sort of decision, yet with gratitude for what this decision brought up within me to look at, I declined the job.

What opportunities will the future bring?

There will of course be other opportunities. And the opportunity that I eventually take will be the one that wouldn’t have been possible unless I made this decision now. As one door closes many begin opening…

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