In The Economist, Ryan Avent writes: "My work – the work we lucky few well-paid professionals do every day, as we co-operate with talented people while solving complex, interesting problems – is fun. And I find that I can devote surprising quantities of time to it." Nearly a third of college-educated American men, for example, work more than 50 hours a week whereas elite lawyers with billable hours can easily work 70 hours almost every week of the year. And the work does not stop at the office:
"It follows us home on our smartphones, tugging at us during an evening out or in the middle of our children’s bedtime routines. It makes permanent use of valuable cognitive space, and chooses odd hours to pace through our thoughts, shoving aside whatever might have been there before. It colonises our personal relationships and uses them for its own ends. It becomes our lives if we are not careful. It becomes us."
This phenomenon was not envisioned in the 1950s when the American dream consisted of a leisure class with a fine house and car, vacations to Europe, a three-Martini lunch, and an early retirement so one could play golf. Today a large number of middle-class couples both work 60 hours a week and find their future job prospects constricting in the face of advanced technology and globalization. In addition, the relentless competition for prize jobs adds up to more stress and less quality time with their children.
Avent is grateful for the meaningful work he has: "Offices in the rich world's capitals are packed not with drones filing paperwork or adding up numbers but with clever people working collaboratively . . . The sense of purposeful immersion and exertion is the more appealing given the hands-on nature of the work: top professionals are the master craftsmen of the age . . . at the end of the day we can sit back and admire our work — the completed article, the sealed deal, the functioning app — in the way that artisans once did."
We here at Spirituality & Practice know what he means. We work hard, and yet we enjoy the long hours. We lament the growing inequality between those with such fulfilling and immersive work and those with high-stress and meaningless low-paying jobs. We feel very fortunate to have spent 47 years doing our journalism ministry which has been consistently rewarding on many different levels. Sometimes we feel like master craftsmen but most of the time we identify more with the novelist and prolific writer John Updike, who in an interview once said of his aspirations for his work:
"I will try not to panic, to keep my standard of living modest, and to work steadily, even shyly, in the spirit of those medieval carvers who so fondly sculpted the undersides of choir seats."