After a lifetime of working as hard as possible and as much as possible, I'm now trying to work as little as possible.
The transition has been much harder than I expected. Like so many others, I feel guilty if I waste time. If I have to wait at the doctor's office, I'll bring work with me. If I walk the dog, I decide that's a great time to get caught up on my podcasts. I'll stay up an extra hour at night to try and get ahead of the next day's tasks.
But those habits I thought were necessary in order to "achieve" success were actually killing me. That's not hyperbole. The long hours and stress of overwork caused me to burn out in 2016. I got very sick and started hearing dire warnings from my doctor: slow down, I was told. Relax. My son said he didn't think I knew how to relax.
So began a three-year research project into the causes of modern burnout and the possible solutions.
I discovered that my obsession with work was not unique to me but a common issue all around the world. Like I once did, many people think they can't be happy without working hard. Like I once was, many are unaware that the 21st-century love affair with work started hundreds of years ago, and it's become toxic. Time for a divorce, or at least a separation...
In order to break away from this dysfunctional relationship, it's important to understand what has kept us in it: an underlying belief that the purpose of human life is productive work.
In fact, "work" and "purpose" are often used interchangeably in modern society, although they are generally two different things. That's not to say that your purpose can't align with your career. Of course, it can. That's certainly true in my case. Yet, I can still make a clear distinction between what I do because it's part of the job that pays my bills and what I choose to do when I have free time. There's not a lot of overlap between those two categories.
I've spent three years studying this, consulting with psychologists, sociologists, even paleontologists. I sought the answer to the question of whether human beings need to work — whether a lack of work actually makes us sick or miserable.
Here's the bottom line.
I'm aware that this may be controversial: Humans don't need to work in order to be happy. To be fair, there are some nuances in this issue. One Gallup poll found that "the longer that Americans are unemployed, the more likely they are to report signs of poor psychological well-being." The unemployed are more than twice as likely to seek treatment for depression as those with full-time jobs. However, there's no evidence that it's the lack of work that causes depression — correlation is not causation.
In my opinion, it's a combination of worry about finances and the anxiety brought on by losing one's status in society. Our culture is so invested in the idea that work is what makes a person's life worthwhile, that lack of work inevitably leads people to believe they are worthless. After being laid off, one man told the New York Times "Your whole life your job defines who you are. All of a sudden that's gone, and you don't know what to take pride in anymore."
This idea that the emphasis on work in our society has made us all feel that our job description is our identity has been studied for years by researchers. Alexandra Michel of the University of Pennsylvania says people put in long hours not for "rewards, punishments, or obligation," but because "many feel existentially lost without the driving structure of work in their life—even if that structure is neither proportionally profitable nor healthy in a physical or psychological sense."
The truth is, we have been told for 200 years that hard work is patriotic, that work ethic is what separates good people from bad, and that those who sit around all day are immoral and undeserving. After all, the Bible tells us that "idle hands are the devil's workshop."
But we were lied to. So were our parents, our grandparents, and our great-parents — going back for generations.
Work doesn't make you a deserving person. You are worthwhile whether you're working or not. Your life has value even on days when you're unproductive. What's more, if you inherited $100 million dollars tomorrow and never had to work another day in your life, you would probably be just fine. You may need a job to pay the bills, but you don't need work to be happy. In fact, if you can afford it, you might be a lot happier if you worked just a little less.
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Every time I think I'm out of outrage — emotionally exhausted from how the COVID-19 crisis has exposed the fragility of all our society's systems and unable to think about it for another second — something forces me to dig deeper and find another well of it stored within me.
It's hard enough to watch people sick and suffering, families being split apart, healthcare workers risking their lives and well-being to provide care, and people losing their jobs left and right. It's even harder knowing that so much of this could have been prevented or lessened but for the poor decision-making and horrifying gaslighting that came from the White House in the weeks and months leading up to COVID-19's appearance in the U.S.
But to see some politicians use this pandemic as an excuse to ban abortion has been a low I wasn't prepared for while I shopped for extra canned goods and toilet paper.
The COVID-19 pandemic presents a governing crisis for legislators at all levels. There is a role for everyone to play, from your city council members all the way up to your U.S. Senators. There are real needs these legislators should be focusing on to protect us all. But, instead, scores of politicians are using this moment to declare abortion care as "nonessential" and are forcing clinics to close.
Amid the necessary stay-at-home orders and guidelines for what kinds of services or procedures are considered essential and which ones must be delayed, Governors in Texas, Indiana, Iowa, Mississippi, Ohio, and Oklahoma have acted to declare that abortion care is considered "nonessential."
They claim that these procedures must be stopped so medical personnel can preserve personal protective equipment (PPE) for fighting COVID-19. But abortion isn't a procedure that can be easily delayed.
The longer you wait, the more expensive it is and, eventually, you run out of time altogether — sometimes because of existing restrictions on abortion later in pregnancy. Restrictions that these very same politicians support or maybe even put into place.
Abortion is connected to innumerable other issues that our society grapples with: employment, paid family leave, gender-based violence, generational poverty, adequate and quality childcare, job security, immigration, transportation, health insurance... HEALTH INSURANCE.
Every structure and component of our daily lives can and does impact a person's decisions around family-building and their ability to access healthcare when they need it. This doesn't just stop because of a pandemic.
Every single one of these issues is at risk right now, and leaving women with nowhere to go if they're facing an unintended pregnancy that they wish to end, is a new low.
To anyone who has been paying attention, how quickly our systems have buckled or how fragile our economic and health security actually is (and always has been) should come as no great surprise.
People with incredible privilege have been able to look the other way for years. But as their stocks tumble and they are forced to consider their health and that of their family members, perhaps they, too, will see that significant structural changes must be enacted to respond to the world we are living in.
The completely arbitrary nature of so many of our laws is being laid bare. The soul-crushing burdens of trying to manage everything — child care, working full time, and running a home and a family during a once-in-a-generation crisis — without a broad, systematic set of structures to support that process is being shown to be utterly impossible. It's simple logic.
Though opponents of reproductive rights have never been much for science, it's appalling how even now that is so blatantly true. Their argument for cutting off abortion access to preserve PPE for other health care services is easily countered when you note that continuing a pregnancy requires multiple prenatal visits and ultimately a hospital stay for actual delivery. All of which require a much higher amount of PPE being utilized over a significant period of time.
Meanwhile, we could transform the landscape of abortion access overnight if we simply expanded the availability of medication abortion, allowing women to get the safe and effective abortion pill without even having to go to a clinic. The U.K just took action to make this a reality. There's no reason, beyond petty politics, that the U.S. couldn't do the same. But, so far, the FDA isn't budging.
Of course, if we attempt to counter these increased abortion restrictions with facts, we'd be presuming that these opponents of abortion are arguing in good faith when they are absolutely not.
This isn't about health and safety during a global pandemic, and it's not about looking out for peoples' best interests. There's no reasonable argument to be made for forcing someone to continue a pregnancy against their will, especially while our entire world is in an upheaval.
The fact that these proponents of abortion restrictions are willing to twist a global pandemic to suit their own needs, and in antithesis to the simple facts of health and safety, is appalling. It is only adding more stress and heartache to already-challenging circumstances. Women in Texas and Oklahoma don't deserve that; no one does.
Pushing for abortion restrictions at a time like this isn't about healthcare, PPE, or even safety. It is a purposeful and manipulative political agenda that will make things even harder at a time when we can all agree things are hard enough.