The Curse of the 40-Hour Work Week

“And then there is the most dangerous risk of all – the risk of spending your life not doing what you want on the bet you can buy yourself the freedom to do it later.”
– Randy Komisar

If you take even a few minutes to do some internet research on the history of the 40-hour work week, it becomes quickly apparent that what is now universally considered normal in the Western world (specifically the USA) doesn’t really make sense for many industries anymore. When it was implemented, the 40-hour work week was a way for factory workers to get guaranteed work when most employers refused to guarantee work to their employees. Now, employers of hourly workers use the standards set in the 1920s to deny their employees overtime.

For those of us who work salaried office positions, the 40-hour work week has become a point of status. I’m not paid by the hour, but I often work upwards of 50 to 60 hours in a particularly hectic week. I’m eternally grateful to work approximately 4-10s (10 hour days M-Th). Working as a therapist, having that third day in my weekend to refuel and practice self-care has been essential. I love my job, but I still shudder at the thought that if I work an average of 40 hours a week until I hopefully retire around 70, that’s around ten years of my life I’ll spend working (and that’s not including the hours I’ve already put in in past jobs).

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Our first foray into a built-out dirtbag vehicle, the much-loved and now sold Subaru Forester. This platform inspired the design I created for the one we just built for the Toyota 4Runner.

Ever since I started working a full-time (mostly) desk job in June, I’ve been contemplating working life. I have a number of friends who dirtbag full-time, and share a dream with my partner of buying a van for ourselves and building it out for more comfortable extended adventures with our dogs. Our dream is for a versatile and rugged adventure vehicle in which we can take longer trips; but if I’m being honest with myself my true dream is to sell my unnecessary worldly possessions, free myself of the ridiculous financial tethers of real estate, and live a nomadic life.

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Enjoying our #parttimedirtbag life outside Zion NP.

If you ask me, we’re just disillusioned with the life formula that’s been handed to us. Most of us are burdened with student debt that equals our parents’ first mortgages, so we are forced to enter the pipeline. Work to afford a life and save for the future, pay off debts we were forced into in order to be able to get jobs to afford that life. If it seems like a vicious cycle it’s probably because it absolutely is. While retirement is a lovely concept, to kick back and relax after a long life of hard work, I absolutely detest the idea of putting things off for ‘tomorrow’. I guess there’s nothing inherently wrong with this trajectory that’s been handed down by previous generations, but it seems particularly problematic when anything outside this ‘norm’ is perceived to be deviant and odd.

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My fellow dirtbags on a recent trip to Escalante.

Some of us have been blessed to find work or make work work on the road and remotely. Others aren’t so lucky (I’m in that latter party). I’m realizing that perhaps the reason these things have been weighing so heavily on my mind is that my life at work is great, but my life outside of work is totally incredible. Living where I do, I’m able to take epic adventures with my partner and two dogs on a whim without taking any extra days off than my 3-day weekends. Even though I love my job, I find myself pining for the next adventure.

Maybe I need more time. More time to adjust and find balance. To accept the fact that work is a fact of life, and be grateful that the work I’ve chosen feels important and fulfilling. It’s so easy to lose perspective and compare ourselves when we are constantly bombarded with other people’s perfectly curated social lives. I find myself thinking in circles on this topic, which is likely apparent from the stream-of-consciousness nature of this post. What I am certain of, however, is no matter what job or schedule I find myself in, I absolutely refuse to spend my life waiting and putting off dreams and adventures on the hope of freedom to take action later.

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The best “room with a view” is one where the view can change.

Happy adventuring!

2 thoughts on “The Curse of the 40-Hour Work Week

  1. Good read. I hate the 40 hour work week. I too am salaried and the expectation is that you just do whatever, whenever it’s needed. I suppose some of that is to be expected but it is really just the norm for the U.S. The Europeans seem to have a better handle on that than we do and seem to be just as productive- maybe we’ll get there. Thanks for sharing 🙏🏻

    Like

    • Thank you! You’re absolutely right, the overworking culture in the U.S. is really problematic for mental health. Hopefully there’s a culture change in the works soon…

      Liked by 1 person

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