I’ve been maintaining a somewhat…I’ll say “exhaustive” work schedule for the last couple months. The reasons behind that I’ll keep to myself for now, but suffice it to say I’m working at least three jobs (counting “freelance” as one, despite being for a few clients) and am going going going seven days a week.
By turns it’s either invigorating or exhausting. I don’t know how much longer this will go on, either because a change could be made to my status at any point or because I find the schedule too much to continue.
I’m by no means unique in my situation. Last year the Labor Department reported 7.6 million people held multiple jobs. At the moment, I’m not doing this simply to make ends meet, as many need to do, but to try and get ahead a bit and make hay while the sun shines, as the saying goes.
It could be worse. While the government tries to impose restrictions to support programs that are tied to work it seems to purposely overlook that the problem isn’t that these people aren’t working. It’s that they’re working at least one if not more jobs that don’t pay them enough (even combined) to support themselves and their families on or benefits that would keep them healthy and involved in their family’s lives.
That’s why the Affordable Care Act was so important because it offered affordable (natch) health care that wasn’t available through employers. That’s why fast-food and other service industry workers are pushing for an increased federal minimum wage.
Some companies have announced enhanced benefits to part-time workers. Others have announced actual wage increases, not one-time bonuses that are great but are meant to evade long-term responsibility. Those are the exceptions, not the rule.
Keeping up a schedule involving multiple jobs and family commitments can be grueling and stressful. You miss your family, who are then asked to take on more responsibility in your absence. You don’t get enough sleep. You don’t know what day it is because there’s never an end to a “week.” It’s unavoidable. You’re pushing your body and spirit to the extreme. I’ve been doing it for two months and can’t imagine those who have done so for years on end, and most of my work still doesn’t involve serious manual labor.
Meanwhile, Silicon Valley tech bros are treating extreme physical manipulation as some kind of game, trying to hack their body as a means to increase their productivity.
“Fasting” is on trend for those who can afford it. If you can’t, it’s called “skipping a meal to save money while prioritizing your kids.”
“Cold Shower Therapy” is meant to make your body uncomfortable so everything else seem achievable. People elsewhere call it “necessary because hot water costs more.”
“Ice baths” are a motivational technique to master mind/body control. Others would probably call it “being outside for 10 hours a day because that’s what construction workers do in winter.”
“Punishing exercise routines” meant to pump you up for the insane amount of work you need to do as a tech entrepreneur.” Otherwise it’s “walking two miles to the bus stop to make it to the job involving being on your feet for an eight-hour shift.”
It shouldn’t be surprising that this attitude is coming the tech industry. A recent WalletHub study identified San Francisco as being the hardest-working city in America. The study calls this out as being the sign of a strong work ethic, not because of the combination of geographic job concentration and insanely high rent/home ownership costs – so exorbitant that professional adults are doing the whole dorm thing again – make holding down two jobs a necessity.
The tech industry is the same one where humans are seen as impediments to the perfect productivity model.
These are the one who don’t see the potential societal problems of their innovations because for two generations they’ve valued the anti-social male as their ideal worker, making sure every new product is the result of a singular point of view that rarely takes the good of the tribe into account.
These are the same ones who want to microchip their employees to track their every movement and make sure you’re not cheating the company of a single second of productivity.
The same ones who want to turn the workplace into an exercise/meditation/play/shopping space because providing those environments is cheaper than increasing pay and keeps people in the office, where they’re still going to feel the pressure to work well beyond what they’re actually compensated for.
If you have a problem with any of this, what recourse do you have? Reluctance to engage with any of this is, as The Baffler story says, to risk being seen as a “poor cultural fit,” which is a great excuse to let you go risk-free. Complaining to human resources is increasingly not an option because they’ve outsource the care and feeding of employees to chatbots. Or HR is more there to protect the owners and founders from legal exposure, not to advocate for the rights of staff. That means raising an issue to HR could be exactly the wrong move because suddenly you’re on the radar as a potential problem or source of litigation.
All that assumes you’re an employee at all and not a self-employed contractor using a company’s app and network to book gigs a la Uber, GrubHub and countless others. And if you are an employee, advocating for the formation of a union that could protect your rights seems to be the number one way recently to be fired (never because of that but again because of “culture fit” issues) or have the company shut down entirely.
So you’ll excuse me if I don’t engage in your Whole30 diet, I’m going to eat this peanut butter sandwich and bag of Doritos because they provide the carbs needed to keep me going. I’ll skip the vitamin-infused water because there’s regular water right here that doesn’t cost $4.99 a bottle and I need to keep my one kidney functioning. I’ll pass on the ice baths, as I’m getting quite enough physical exertion as it is running myself ragged seven days a week.
In Silicon Valley and other well-off outposts it may be fashionable to push yourself to the peak of productivity and glamourize a lifestyle where you eat coffee for lunch and work 21 hours a day to get the most out of life. Those are choices you can make when you have that luxury. When you don’t, it’s simply doing what’s necessary for you and your family, even if it’s hard.
I wish we’d stop fetishizing the former, holding them up as if they hold the key to getting the most out of the human body, while treating the latter as if they too are making the choice to live like that when that’s almost never the case. Personally, I have much more respect and admiration for the single parent who is busting their ass to make sure their kids can get ahead. A truly just and democratic society would too.
Chris Thilk is a freelance writer and content strategist who lives in the Chicago suburbs.