I have heard a number of interviews on NPR over the years with Norwegians, Swedes, Europeans in general, and also Americans who live and work outside of the United States, and a subject or “issue” that almost always comes up is how Americans work and WORK and W-O-R-K, and seldom use all of their allotted vacation time, or paid and approved sick time, and take some sort of, “sickening pride,” is how the one Danish lady put it in her interview, in being overworked and overtired and how ridiculous it seems to most of the rest of the world!!! Now, just to be clear, I have no allotted vacation time, I have no approved sick time, I have no PTO as I know it’s called. I am self employed, I am single, if I do not go to work I do not get any money. Period. I have no choice but to work until my fingers are raw and my back is breaking, but YOU PEOPLE with employers, benefits, and perks, what’s the deal??!! What is it about “us” that makes some sort of glory out of exhaustion and busy-ness, like it’s a huge compliment to be SO STRESSED and always tired??!! What’s up with that?? It sounds awful.
I took yoga class with my two granddaughters on Valentine’s day morning, we did it in my loft via zoom, we then ran some errands, the soon to be licensed driver drove us around town in my work truck, we visited briefly with their great-grandparents, also known as my mom and dad, and then we decided to go out to the diner for a late lunch. I did not go to work that day. It just did not happen, the day flowed otherwise. In the late afternoon, when I got back to our shared driveway I felt like I could not be any happier than I was, at that moment, watching them run up their porch steps into their house, the house right next door to my own… If I had died in the seconds that it takes to get from their yard to mine, I would have died a happy woman. Yes, I lost a day of pay, but what I gained was an unexpected day with two teenagers who will soon fly their nest and I likely will not see very much in the future…and that time will be here before I know it…I earned no money that day but gained hours of joy.
Time treats us all equally. My clients have just as many hours in a day as people in our neighborhoods who are struggling and live a very unstable life. I work for wealthy people. I take care of their beach houses. Some of them have country houses and mountain houses too, in addition to their main houses, some of which occupy entire floors of NYC skyscrapers. They have more money than you and I do, or ever will, but they don’t get any more time. They unexpectedly get sick too and their plans, just like ours, can be dashed by divorce, pandemic, accidents, death…their bank accounts might be much bigger but their clocks don’t have more hours than ours.
Just like us the super rich and the very poor get 24 hours of their day and 365 of them make a year. My clients of means have very little in common with me, but for our love of their homes, and I never had many, or any girlfriends actually, who were just like me while I was a parent; single, working, mothers, so I have rarely, if ever, been able to have a conversation with someone walking in my shoes. I am okay with that, but I never got to really have a real peer group. Wealthy people can complain together about the devolving of first class service or excessive fees from a fund they decided to turn over, and married women can chat together about what annoys them about their husbands while meanwhile the husband is keeping a roof over their heads, so I never could talk deeply with anyone about how hard my life was when it was so hard. What I do know is that success never happened for me, my dreams were all thwarted by my terrible decisions and dumb choices in my late teens and twenties, so I make my life as good as I can, and for me, as good as I can has a lot to do with stability and self care, as money is not something that I have in abundance, and so it can’t be equated with success…
I don’t have the financial comfort that most of my friends have, and certainly not like my clients have, so I make the absolute best that I can with what I do have, the time I do have…I like a stable life, I like not drowning in debt, I like being responsible with my bills and keeping my credit score high, BUT if I could work less and do more yoga, or more housekeeping, or more yard work, or travel, I would…If I could make the choice to do more of what excites me and work less, I would. What confuses me is people who have more “free” time, or PAID time no less, available to them, to do the things I wish I could, to do self care, to travel, to do yard work, to spend with their granddaughters, and they don’t…well that just never makes a lick of sense to me. All the money they have won’t buy them more time.
If that week of Valentine’s day was my last on earth, those girls are not going to remember about which customer’s decks I got bleached, or which customer’s garage I did a full Marie Kondo on, or which customer got their soffits sanded, no, they would remember our morning yoga class that we enjoyed together, the super fabulous crystal encrusted candles and chakra bracelets they unwrapped from me rather than boxes of candy, and our visit with my parents and our unplanned trip to the diner, and they would remember that Valentine’s Day probably for the rest of their lives. What I might have done that day for work would have earned me some money, but it would’ve been just another random day of pay that would be meaningless to anybody but me & the people who had to pay me for it.
After the mess that has been “the covid years” of 20-21-and now into 22, what can we collectively do as humans to make a real change for the future as to how we define success??? Success can be defined in many ways but I think as Americans it mostly feels like money and material goods…I heard this week from a client who has spent the last month in the hospital and is now going on a more toxic cancer treatment that might kill her before the cancer does so she won’t be able to come down to her beach house at all this spring and probably not at all this summer…she will not get to see the ocean probably at all this season and I can see it every day if I want. It puts so much in perspective for me, what matters to me, what kind of stability matters to me, to appreciate the beauty in nature around me, and how I use my time, because that lady and I have the same number of days this week and I still have a choice, what I can do, and cancer has taken most of her options away. Time passes and there is nothing we can do about it.
Spring cleaning time is upon us, and who does not like a full spring cleaning??!! It’s like a fresh slate when the yard gets cleaned up and the house is refreshed, but how about when we spring clean our thoughts??? THAT is where change in behavior can be found, change in attitude, the realization that what you thought was really important when you were 25 does not seem as important at 52…Sure I can be standing in line at the market with people whose car costs more than my house, who have investments in just one account of their multiple accounts that total more than I could ever earn in my entire lifetime, who have properties in different climates, and whose diamond rings cost more than my truck, BUT their clock is ticking, second by second by second, just like mine…
Do they get to spend a day with and a yoga class with their granddaughters on a random Monday, do they get to drive their youngest granddaughter to school every morning and say that last words she hears before she goes out into the world, “do good work, and be kind,’ do they get to go out for drives with their older granddaughter who is practicing on her permit and running us on as many errands a week as possible??? Do they get to walk just a few hundred feet from their front door and get to hug the people they love most in the world?? How they choose to spend their time and their regrets are not any different than yours or mine. A clean slate for spring might do us all good, the rich and the regular, to rethink what matters.
These people may have much more “success” than I do but can they take a break every day from their job and walk up the dunes to the ocean and breathe in the salt air, feel the sand tickle their face, see the whole world in front of them, and listen to the waves crash against the shore??? All their money won’t another minute buy…I think we could all learn from the Danes and their other Scandinavian neighbors, that being happy has so much more to do with WHAT WE DO than what we have or earn. We can all make changes, changes in how we “judge” success, and I think in the future, it’s going to be that I am onto something…I’m willing to bet success is not going to have as much to do with wealth and assets, as it is to do with health, love, and time well spent.