cultural exhaustion

North Americans work too damned hard.

It’s true, they do.

And they do too bleedin’ much, too.

When, exactly, was the 11th Commandment – Thou shalt work thyself into an early grave – written?

Recently, I took on the task of acquiring a second job to help fund a trip abroad so that I might see and experience a bit more of the world and its wonders. I was hesitant to do this, of course, knowing my need for downtime, alone-time, and writing time, but I thought, “It’s a means to an end, it’ll be over soon enough. I won’t have to do it forever.” I’ve been working two jobs for a month now, and – at times – it feels like forever, let me tell you. There’s so much going on, so much to do, so much to remember, so much to start and finish; there’s just so much of everything, and I’ve come to realize that I’m experiencing a feeling I really shouldn’t have to experience at my relatively young age: exhaustion. I also, of course, am somewhat ridiculously self-aware which means I know that this exhaustion is caused by several different things that are going on in my life right now. I’ve begun, however, to think about exhaustion on a greater scale and I must say, I think the world’s people – North Americans especially – have become much like chickens running about with their heads cut off, desperately trying to get in everything they can before their feeble hearts stop beating and they finally keel over, unable to even get a single glance at what they’ve accomplished because they’ve lost their heads in the process.

Extended foul metaphors aside, going madly off in all directions and trying to fit too much in during your all-too-little time on the planet is over-rated as far as I’m concerned. I think a mental and physical tax break could mean a greater level of happiness and a significant decrease in the number of tired schmucks the world over. Take yourselves off fast forward, folks – play time is in order!

Okay, so that last paragraph was a little on the clever side, I realize, but for me clever foolishness is what results from being over-worked, under-nourished and generally frustrated. I’m sure that there are worse things, so I’m not going to complain.

To me, the antithesis of the cultural exhaustion of which I speak is undoubtedly a common focus and ability to take a big deep breath and chill out for five minutes. Why is it that people want to see, do and have so much, anyway? When did we become a gimme, gimme, gimme more sort of people, and what the Hell can be done to change it? And is my current need to see people chill out a little just a little too ambitious, and does it thus fall under the very banner of those things I would like to quash?!

I suppose what all of this comes down to is that I would like to see people (myself included) focus a little more on one thing at a time and do that well, and then go on to another thing. It is certainly my experience that more gets done, faster and better, when one starts something and finishes it before they start something else. Friends of mine will recognize that I am writing about my own frustration with myself, here, but when one is over-worked and under-nourished, under-slept, and under-appreciated, one cannot thrive, certainly. Doing a lot of things in a mediocre way doesn’t compare to doing a few things in an excellent way.

I often think about what my employers, friends and family would say about me when asked about the quality of the work that I do, and I would much rather them say that I do things extremely well than that I simply can do a lot, kinda-sorta-maybe well.

It is at this point that I would like to tell CV builders (those who build simply for the sake of making a long list) to smarten up and bugger off. Doing a lot can be a grand thing, but lack of theme and focus are the mark of an amateur over-achiever, and that’s a title that won’t get you many friends or allies.

I think there is also a problem with people seeing a list and thinking that bigger is better. Well, I suppose we’re still quite fixated with the bigger is better phenomenon, aren’t we? Working in a store that deals in quality optics, I’ve certainly learned that bigger is really seldom better, and that it’s really what’s on the inside that counts (Of course, you’d have to know something about optics to know what I’m talking about, but I’m hoping you’ll take my word on this).

I wish we had more time – in general. I could sit and wish for lots of things, but I suppose that’s not going to get me very far these days. No, today it’s do, do, do and more doing that brings the money in, which is then spent on more doing. Like I said: we do too much and work too hard. I long for a day when we can do less and do it well, and spend the rest of our time getting to know the world and one another a little better – that could solve a whole lot of problems; or maybe I’m just dreaming – but I bet I’m not the only one.


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