Thursday, August 25, 2011

I'm sorry, Jason

Jason P. had devised a weekly schedule with each day of the week assigned a specific activity. On Monday I work on an open source project. On Tuesday I run. On Wednesday I read. And so on.

After he finished telling me about his plan, I laughed. How could anyone stick to a regimen so rigid? The first Friday someone invited him to a Fun Time doing something Unproductive, he'd bail on whatever Friday Chores he had scheduled. And I struggled to imagine anyone reading one day a week and staying enthusiastic about it. But in hindsight I know I shouldn't have laughed. I had a friend named Jason.

Jason and I met as coworkers at our first real job after graduating college—and by real job I mean a stodgy, nine-to-five corporate gig writing software. I was a year-and-a-half ahead of him and thus less sensitive to it, but we both acutely grieved the loss of free time that was part and parcel with our job's compensation package. Everyone who has worked a job knows how this goes: you devote time and energy to readying for work, going to work, working at work, and going home after work, and by the time you arrive home you're tired and need a break. But it's during this break-time that your real life happens, and if you spend the time vegging out with television, computer games, Internet surfing, or whatever spins your scroll wheel then you've been broken. You're someone who consumes and doesn't produce. You've no art, no purpose.

We're most vulnerable to the artless life during the first few years following college graduation. Middle class American life doesn't demand much from us. You need only continue showing up and trying a little, and the world bestows upon you a material comfort that would have paid a king's ransom in earlier ages. But after awhile, the artless life gnaws upon our happiness. We seek to create and accomplish. Something. Anything.

It's easy to blame artless living on our jobs. We invest a lot of time and energy into them. But for Jason and I, post-dot-com circumstances shoved us face-to-face with an unpleasant truth. We had both been unemployed for several months before finding our jobs, and we had both squandered the trove of free time we had had during those months. With the sun always rising tomorrow, we had failed to seize any one day among the hundred, though later when employed we seized with the regrets of goals and projects not pursued when we had had the time. So we came to understand by counterexample that though it seems choring ten or so hours a day with work-related activities is a valid excuse otherwise, we're unproductive in our real lives because of the choices we make.

One reason I quit my job in June was to prove those unemployed months nine years ago were a fluke, that now I'll choose to be artful despite being given ample, unrestricted free time to tempt me otherwise. If Jason and I were still in contact with each other, it would be his turn to laugh. Today is Thursday. Today I post to Just Enough Craig, study the Greer book, and hack on my web application demo.

2 comments:

Bobby and the Presidents said...

Jason's pre-planned agenda made me think of this article, which I found very interesting. Thought perhaps you may as well: http://www.nytimes.com/2011/08/21/magazine/do-you-suffer-from-decision-fatigue.html?pagewanted=all

Craig M. Brandenburg said...

Bobby— I admit I suffered from too-long-of-an-article fatigue and made it only halfway through…but interesting, nevertheless.