Photo by Maria Kristen Steinsson
Meet Jo. Jo is working on her 75th customer complaint email. It’s two in the morning and tomorrow at ten, she has to work on her second children’s book for her language school. She’s an ESL teacher in Shanghai and also works part-time as a customer service agent for height enhancing footwear (she’s 4’10, if you can appreciate the irony). On top of that she also tutors privately to two Korean kids. She can barely get a few hours of sleep, gets chronic migraines, vomits a lot and now discovers she has trouble mustering a decent appetite for a meal of McD’s cheeseburger and a Super Size Coke. She’s currently back at home in the Philippines consulting five doctors.
Jo’s case is an example of rush hour gone wireless. We usually associate rush hour with the phenomenon of hundreds of civilians sprinting to work, munching their sandwiches and gulping their cups of coffee hurriedly. But in today’s society, it isn’t like that anymore. It’s already invaded your office and yes, even in your own house. At home, rushing for work. At work, rushing for home. At malls where they have the Christmas Rush or the Super Sale Rush.
We’re constantly on the move. We now take our own ball and chain wherever we go especially if you work abroad in countries where the pace of life is so much faster.
Michael works two full time jobs. From 8-2pm, he’s a digital archivist at Stanford. Then at 3-11pm, he’s an IT teacher assistant in a college in San Francisco. Presently, he’s contemplating taking on a third job.
Shirley works seven days without a break. She is a freelance teacher in Shenzhen. On weekends, she would swing into the learning center with just five minutes worth of shut-eye, chug down her caffeine laced Starbucks, pump her fists into the air and announce to the whole world, “Alright! Time for class!”
And there’s me. As a college lecturer in Zhuhai, I start work at 7am till 9:30 pm. During evenings, I mark papers in the office with my colleague, Alma. On my first night, she tossed me a bag of chips.
“Dinner,” she said.
I couldn’t believe it. I swore I’d get more proper meals than this but as working late became more frequent, Pringles became my best friend. Sometimes I’d even go without it just to tackle and reduce my workload quickly. I even work at home during weekends putting in a 12 hour work shift making lesson plans and materials. Eating and showering were regarded as mere duties that take time away from my tasks. I just can’t simply be bothered with them. Life was for working than living.
Henry David Thoreau once said, “Why live with such hurry and waste of life?” Sorry Thoreau, I’m stumped for an answer. Come to think of it, ask several others in the workforce and they’d be just as clueless as I am. If we strip down our excuses and alibis to its barest skeletal essentials we honestly don’t know why we’re doing this.
But one thing I do know is that if you continue going through life in the speed of light, it’s going to eclipse what’s important.
Mom: Happy birth—
Me: I just got this urgent email. Wait, hold on. My boss wants us to hand in our class grades within three days?! I have to get on top of this. Mom, can you call me back next week?
Mom: That’s what you said last time.
Me: That’s because you caught me at a bad time. I was up to my neck designing the class boards.
Mom: I only see you once a year and we only talk once a week.
Me: Look, I’m sorry. I’ve just been really busy. We’ve got tight deadlines.
Mom: (sadly) Okay, just call if you’re ever free.
That never happened because once you’re caught in the nefarious cycle of addictive work, it’s almost impossible to get out of it.
If you’re like me and the rest above, when was the last time you had a proper meal? Or talked to your loved one? Or just took a whole day off? Why are we so determined to get burned out in our twenties and thirties before we even reach our fifties? Now I’m not saying to put a halt on your careers or stop chasing your personal goals. Just plant your feet firmly in the ground for once and smell the roses. Put some balance in your life. Learn to experience it more rather than let it pass you by.
Life is not a rush hour. It’s not hundreds of pedestrians making a mad dash at an intersection. The traffic light has to be red for once because life is more than that. And that’s why I’m stopping at last, putting in all the breaks to see and experience what’s all around me. The question is, “Will you make it that way?”
I keep that in mind as I got connected to my mom’s number in the Philippines. “Hi,” I told her. “I miss you.”
Let people know what they’re missing out.