How do I make peace with the stress of contributing to society?
December 14, 2013 6:10 AM   Subscribe

Having a career is hard work (Duh). But I didn't know it would be this... all-consuming. How can I stay happy and stress-free when I suddenly have a tiny fraction of the "me time" I used to have?

I've had lots of jobs, but now I've got my college degree and I'm settling into what will likely be my career for many years. It's a career that I really enjoy when I'm there, but the very idea that I have to get up before the sun every morning, spend 8-12 hours a day in a position of responsibility and authority, and then spend 2 hours on the road every day travelling depresses the hell out of me when I think about it.

There are a lot of factors at play, I guess. I'm a very introverted person - outgoing and enjoy socialization, but introverted. Like most any job, mine involves interacting with people. Constantly. That's tiring. Then there's that feeling of either never being caught up or always having some new trouble on the horizon - when I'm working I never have that "Ahhh... now I can take it easy" feeling that my low-responsibility part time jobs gave me after we pushed through inventory or whatever. The biggest thing is knowing that when I get home, once I cook and clean up and all, I've got maybe 2-3 hours of free time before I need to go to bed! It's insane and stressful and I don't have time for my old hobbies anymore, let alone anything new and fun like a relationship. And this is going to, realistically, be the lifestyle that I've got to live with for the next 30-40 years!

Now, I'm not looking to change jobs. I love my job. I just wish I could work 2 days a week instead of 5. Knowing that the world won't change the way society works for my benefit, how do I get over it?

How do I get back to the point where I'm excited to be getting out of bed every day?
posted by johnpoe50 to Work & Money (15 answers total) 18 users marked this as a favorite
You will not solve your problem if you keep thinking like this:

And this is going to, realistically, be the lifestyle that I've got to live with for the next 30-40 years!

Why do you think this? If you are assuming you have to work 8-12 hours a day with no time for hobbies for thirty or forty years, isn't the question kind of moot? You've already decided you have no choice in what you do with your life. You're basically asking us for advice on how your can brainwash yourself into living a lifestyle that you hate.

Now, I'm not looking to change jobs. I love my job. I just wish I could work 2 days a week instead of 5.

You don't love your job. That's very clear from your question.

Why do you think you have to work in this career that you already feel unsuited for, when you're just out of college? Do you think people don't choose careers that offer the lifestyle they want?

Until you examine your assumptions and your necessitarian thinking, you will be living like a slave to a work world that only rules your life because you have unthinkingly submitted to its demands.
posted by jayder at 6:22 AM on December 14, 2013 [5 favorites]

Best answer: One thing that leaps out at me is your 2 hours spent commuting. Commuting has been shown by recent studies to be one of the largest contributors to stress (even if it is passive or feels easy, like riding a train). You aren't connected to the place you live because you are away too much. You spend a lot of time doing not much of anything while transporting yourself to work and back. Your life is less integrated. I'd start by working on a way to ditch the commute. You may live in a fabulous place, but if you are never free to enjoy it, it's not contributing to your quality of life anyway.

I became more of a weekend warrior when I first took on the M-F, office hours work pattern. I notice that a lot of the time I (also a bit of an introvert) think that the best way to preserve my energy is just to stay home and refuel. A certain amount of that is necessary. However, when I make the effort to get out and do things with friends or in town - even on a weeknight when the couch is calling - it helps me remember there's more to my life than work and actually renews my energy a bit. The key is finding balance between that kind of creative, engaged-in-the-world-outside-work time and quiet time. Even just having dinner at a restaurant bar with a good book can make a day feel richer than if all I did was work, go home and heat something up.
posted by Miko at 6:27 AM on December 14, 2013 [12 favorites]

How can I stay happy and stress-free when I suddenly have a tiny fraction of the "me time" I used to have?

Your problem is the commute.

I would also put aside any ideas that you will have any more than 2-3 hours a night to yourself during the week. For me, I go to the gym, come home, have dinner, and then after watching a TV show suddenly realize it is time for bed to start the cycle over again. And that doesn't bother me, because (a) what else would I do if I had more time? Probably work, (b) usually I can carve out one night a week to do more stuff, and (c) that's what weekends are for.

But in any case, cut out the commute and your quality of life will improve dramatically.
posted by deanc at 6:30 AM on December 14, 2013 [4 favorites]

i also say the commute is a big issue. live closer to work if you can, even if you sacrifice other things like having to live in a smaller place.

also, does your job offer any telecommuting opportunities? you say you wish you only had to work 2 days a week, but what if you went into the office 3 days a week and stayed home and worked for 2 days - would that reduce your stress? if you don't have to be actually present to do your job, it might be worth looking in to.
posted by nadawi at 6:57 AM on December 14, 2013 [1 favorite]

My life changed for the better once I made a point of living within 5 miles of my job. I found a long commute was soul crushing and getting 90min back each day by living just a few minutes from work greatly improved my early career life.

The other thing to realize is junior positions are tough and hours are long but they're fun because you're learning so much but it's not something someone can do for 30-40 years and you won't be expected to. That kind of workload seems to happen for a first few years but then things get easier or you move into a different position.
posted by mathowie at 7:00 AM on December 14, 2013 [5 favorites]

Another option you can put into place immediately is to bring joy from your personal life into the workplace. Make a list of what you love to do when you are the person in complete control. Then find ways to appropriately insert things on the list. For example read something that moves or feeds you in some way. I do this in book form, kind of sneak a bit of The Complete Dorothy Parker when I can. And obviously an Internet source can offer text that is a little more under the radar too (but something about a book is more satisfying for me). What about music? Or even if you have a love of good tea make yourself a cup and drink it with care. Someone suggested knitting to me but I don't knit. But you get the idea. And don't forget the potential of the lunch hour. Simply do things that remind you about the person you are apart from selling your labor and skills to the entity you work for.
posted by Prayless at 7:41 AM on December 14, 2013 [1 favorite]

Keep in mind that as you're starting a new job (not sure how long you've been at the current position) everything is harder. You're learning new skills and only starting to put in place the structures and practices that are going to make your workday more manageable. So, the way it is now is not exactly how it's always going to be.

I also agree with others above re: your commute.
posted by BrashTech at 7:48 AM on December 14, 2013 [3 favorites]

First, your assumptions about your job precluding relationships and hobbies are wrong. If working 60-80 hours a week in a demanding job with one hour plus door-to-door commute kept people from relationships and hobbies, my town wouldn't have any schools or country clubs ... and needless to say it has plenty of both.

Second, however, take the most important coaching about career that there is: "when possible, row downstream." Start to learn about yourself and what kind of responsibilities and work environment are most congenial for you, and channel your career in that direction. This isn't just pollyanna talk to be happy (although being happy is important), it is also critical for success. Most good jobs are far too hard to be done well if you don't enjoy them. Few if any people have the superhuman strength to do a great job while gritting their teeth. Lots of jobs don't involve interpersonal negotiation in high quantities if that bugs you. You can always get an apartment close to the office if you just can't relax on a one hour commute, etc.
posted by MattD at 8:11 AM on December 14, 2013 [4 favorites]

Also -- if you're single, why are you cooking and cleaning every work night? That's valuable time for the gym and/or Netflix!
posted by MattD at 8:12 AM on December 14, 2013 [3 favorites]

"once I cook and clean up and all, I've got maybe 2-3 hours of free time before I need to go to bed! It's insane and stressful and I don't have time for my old hobbies anymore, let alone anything new and fun like a relationship."

Two or 3 hours of free time each weeknight (presumably more on Fridays) gives you 10-15 hours per week, plus the weekend gives you another 30 free, waking hours. That's at least 40 hours of free time right there. Awesome! So you actually do have enough free time to equal a full-time job, and therefore you certainly also have plenty of time for hobbies and relationships.

You have way more time than you think. We all have the same 168 hours a week, and some people use the same 168 hours you have to work for pay and to raise several children, as well as have a lover and a hobby or two.

The difference is they know exactly what they are doing with their time: they prioritize the things that matter, and get rid of the ones that don't (like cleaning the house every day).

Have you ever kept a time diary for 1 week to see where all of your time is really going? Most people who do this exercise discover they are not spending as much time working at work as they think, among other revelations. Waking up earlier and going to bed earlier also helps people manage their time better.
posted by hush at 8:56 AM on December 14, 2013 [3 favorites]

1. Why can't you move to be closer to the job? I'm sure you have Very Good Reasons Why You Can't Move, but clearly the commute is taking up half of your entire night's free time here, both in drive (presumably) time and in having to go to bed super early to deal with the commute.
2. Is taking public transport also utterly ruled out? I'm sure if you're asking that question it is, but public transport at least allows you reading time or something.
3. Are you just sitting at your desk working during the lunch hour, or can you get away from your desk and other people to go somewhere else? At the very least if you're that stressed out from other humans (I hear ya), going out of the office for lunch has to be under your control.

My commute is 20-30 minutes or so, which still gives me plenty of time to work on my fifty billion hobbies, go to the gym, watch TV, and even take nighttime classes. Okay, so I am a clerical lackey who does nothing hardcore like you probably do. But unless you suddenly become a woman who has a family of four to take care of the second she gets home, you have a lot more opportunities for free time than most of your coworkers ever will because you're not having to go home and take care of everybody. Other than your commute issue, this shouldn't be that hard for you to find the time at your age.
posted by jenfullmoon at 9:06 AM on December 14, 2013

I have never regretted leaving the suburbs to live within walking distance of work. I would much rather live in a small space and have no commute.
posted by Chaussette and the Pussy Cats at 10:42 AM on December 14, 2013 [2 favorites]

Others have addressed the commute issue, which I agree is something that is syphoning up a lot of time. A short commute is a blessing, and if you can arrange your life to have one, DO SO.

Re the cooking: Learn to use a slow cooker - America's Test Kitchen slow cooker cookbook is great - so cooking can happen while you're at work. Because I cook for one, if I cook a batch of something on Sunday evening I have meals for days - I usually freeze most of the leftovers so I'm not eating the same thing day after day, and rotate frozen meals. It saves a ton of time versus cooking from scratch every evening. If you eat bread with most meals, a bread machine is another timesaver. It will streamline your routine to have your evening meal down to heat, eat, and wash one set of dishes and a slow-cooker liner or storage container.
posted by Rosie M. Banks at 12:47 PM on December 14, 2013 [2 favorites]

gotta do something about the commute. once you deal with that you will feel a lot better. i speak from experience.

any way to do flex hours or work from home some days per week? consulting? freelancing? (can work from home). think of this position as a stepping stone to something new and keep in mind what your priorities are - work life balance, or flexibility, or a shorter commute, etc.
posted by zdravo at 10:44 AM on December 15, 2013

I think most of these replies are blowing smoke up your bum, which is a shame because I was close to asking this very question myself and hoped there was a better answer. I've been working full time for 13 years and I still SUPER resent it and feel like you do nearly every single day. My commute is short. My office isn't very stressful. I don't have children. I don't cook every night. The fact is, I get off work at 5 and go to bed at 10 and that only leaves 5 hours. After my short commute, microwaving a dinner, vacuuming quickly, getting my outfit & coffee ready for the next morning, feeding the dogs, etc., that time is much shorter. I am trying to find a way to either work from home or go part time and neither one of those seems to be panning out. Honestly I think you just have to learn to suck it up, or somehow become independently wealthy. I wish I could say it'll change but if you are like me and think the 8-5 M-F thing is pretty bunk and pointless, you will probably still feel this way years from now. Sorry to be a downer!

On the bright side: I think you just have to think of it one day at a time. Sure, you'll be doing this the rest of your life. But you'll also be pooping, breathing, getting dressed, cleaning the bathroom, showering, etc. every day. The alternative is pretty crappy so try to think of ways that your job benefits you. If you have work friends, free coffee, a cool restaurant near your work, the ability to wear headphones, or any little thing that brings you a little bit of joy and is related to your job--be grateful for those. I mean, eventually every day won't be like "daaaang I'm wiped out" but yeah most nights I feel sleepy when I get home and when I go to work the next day I feel like I just left. Try to do your favorite things when you can to stave some of the yucky feelings off.
posted by masquesoporfavor at 2:00 PM on December 17, 2013 [2 favorites]

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