This first-person article is the experience of Eliza Baynes, a writer in Montreal. For more information on CBC’s First Person Stories, please see frequently asked questions.
Many of us are going through difficult times right now. Between inflation and the ongoing pandemic, you might be wondering if now is a good time to talk about working less.
But attitudes toward work have changed for years, even before COVID. And with so many routines upended, this could be the perfect time to fight for change.
For me, that means not spending most of my waking life working at a desk.
I used to work in an office environment you may be familiar with – meetings were a lot and emails were unending. Shortly after starting, a single thought began to crystallize in my mind, a thought that would change my relationship to full-time work forever: it is not sustainable.
My ultimate goal was to write professionally, so I started at a digital media company as a freelance writer. But the temptation of stability was too great when I was offered a full-time role that didn’t involve writing.
I figured the steady income was worth it, that I would keep writing on the side.
But writing time was scarce: a list here, a blog post there. The first draft of a children’s book I started before I got the job sat untouched for years.
Until then, I had avoided the 9-to-5 job — working in the restaurant business for years, then freelancing on my own schedule. I soon discovered that it was more than the lack of writing time that made me unhappy to spend all day at work.
The actual hours in an office were often longer than my eight-hour shift, and somehow I often ended up putting in extra time on weekends. Once I factored in prep time and a commute, the commitment was well over 40 hours per week.
When COVID-19 hit, work was done remotely. But the hour I saved on my commute became another hour of working from home.
Then there was the physical aspect: sitting at a desk and staring at a computer screen for so many consecutive hours often gave me back pain and strained eyes. When I was doing my own writing, I was going old school and mostly using pen and paper, breaking my screen time into smaller chunks.
Even my free time was not as I had imagined. Giving my best hours to my work, I was too tired in the evenings for much beyond dinner and television.
Chores, errands, and social activities took up most of the time I was hoping for to rest and write on the weekends. Trying to get exercise as well as quality time with my husband, loved ones and for myself was a constant struggle.
It made me realize that you can love your job and not want it to dominate your life.
There are countless articles and videos telling us that we’re just a “life hack” away from a perfect work-life balance. But what I really needed was less to balance in the first place.
It’s not about laziness; it is a question of quality rather than quantity. It’s about taking care of my body and my mind by rejecting the idea that constant fidgeting is a marker of success.
So I’ve decided to quit in March—and my next job won’t be full-time.
I am just one example of a larger cultural shift. The pandemic has already changed the way many of us think about work, making remote or hybrid setups an office norm almost overnight. Some companies are experimenting with a condensed workweek.
Of course, choosing to quit full-time work comes with some risks. I am lucky to have a supportive partner and to live in a country where health care is universal. I’m a relatively thrifty homebody and don’t have a car. So I think I can keep my expenses low enough to do that.
I sacrifice greater financial stability for better access to my free time. And I also think about retirement differently. If my career doesn’t demand so much of my time, then why should I view it as having a specific purpose?
I’m not saying I have it all figured out, but I do know this: life is short, so time is infinitely more valuable than money.
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