How many times have you caught yourself complaining about how busy you are? Do you find yourself feeling like you are running on a treadmill without much to show for all your effort? If so, you might want to check out this article from the New York Times about “the busy trap,” as the author calls it.
It’s been a little more than a month since I started my internship at the U.S. Embassy, yet despite the relatively short time I have been test-driving a job with the Foreign Service, I have made some disconcerting observations:
- Yes, I realise that I am an unpaid intern, and as such, I am mostly there to help fill in the cracks rather than fulfill a full-fledged role in the office, but the majority of the time I have spent at this job so far has consisted of twiddling my thumbs waiting for work to do. Now, before you berate me for not being proactive, I have repeatedly inquired of my colleagues whether they need help with anything, but much of the time, they don’t have anything for me, and when they do, it is usually small tasks like running errands within the embassy or simple phone calls or emails that take a couple of minutes to complete. The other two interns in my office attest to the same experience.
- While my coworkers regularly stay past 6:00 and certainly seem occupied most of the time, I still do not know exactly what they are doing to fill all of those hours. Sure, there have been a couple of times when I know that they are out handling visitors in person, but my impression is that while their work may be more sensitive or important than my own, it still consists of sitting at a desk doing a lot of busywork most of the day. One of my colleagues has confided to me that things have changed since she started 30 years ago and that her impression is that in the grand scheme of things, most of what my office does is inconsequential. Of course, that is a personal opinion, but a frank and candid insight, nonetheless.
- By the end of the day, despite the fact that I have barely anything to show for my eight hours spent in the office, after the half hour metro ride back to my apartment by 6:30, I feel mentally exhausted from boredom and hardly in the mood to write. Too often, I end up wasting what little free time I have in the evenings by reading articles or checking Facebook until it is time to go to bed and start all over again.
Now, lest I seem like some upstart, entitled, idealistic, naive 20-something who’s suffering from a bad case of “the grass is always greener” syndrome, let me state upfront that I completely understand the value of starting at the bottom and paying your dues, and I have no doubt that there are many jobs in the private sector that are just as dull. However, I have worked three minimum-wage jobs before this one (which is completely unpaid, I might add), all of which were more interesting (except maybe those times when, as a valet, I spent eight hours standing outside in the heat doing nothing, as well). I’m not asking for a position as a CEO, just something meaningful that requires more than my mere presence at work.
I neglected to mention a failed, four-day stint at a fourth job I had one summer, where I worked from 9:00-7:00 in a warehouse for a man who ran his own company selling used and excess computer parts on eBay. I absolutely hated the job, not just because of the menial nature of sorting thousands of pounds of extension cords or computer mice, but because I had absolutely no human interaction whatsoever for nine hours straight. When I left that job unexpectedly early, I felt terrible. My dad raised me with a strong aversion to quitting anything, but I learned one of the most valuable lessons of my life from that job: I will gladly take a lesser-paying job doing something that stimulates my extremely active mind rather than a higher-paying one that crushes my spirit.
At the risk of sounding conceited, I am tired of playing the role of a Lemming on account of my age and lack of experience; send the easily-mouldable sheep to the cubicles– heaven knows we need people to fill those roles. In my experience, American higher education does little to teach or encourage critical thinking and individual resilience. Instead, we college students dutifully– and unwittingly– practice the same sort of routine which will dictate our adult lives in the work world: passively absorb 50-85% of some kind of information and regurgitate it in a slightly altered manner to prove that you know something or, translated to the work world, are “productive.”
Sure, it’s easy, and I’m certainly grateful that I’m not digging ditches or cleaning restrooms, but humor me for just a moment when I say that I am not your ordinary 21-year-old American. If playing twelve-page Mozart sonatas by memory at the age of 11, or teaching myself French and starting down the road to write four novels at the age of 16, or creating a blog to lay the foundations of my brand at the age of 20 doesn’t set me apart from my peers, I don’t know what will.
What I do know is that I have never been a daredevil, a wild-child, or a risk-taker, and despite my nonconformist, unconventional streak, the thought of diverging from the well-worn, tried-and-true, “safe” path of the world gives me pause. As a young person with no current income, I can’t help but worry about how I am going to at least keep a roof over my head and food on the table, though given my frugal upbringing, I’m not too concerned about squandering my money.
I also know, after having lived in France among a people famous for their 35-hour workweeks and belle vie lifestyle, that there is more to riches than just money. I have come to the conclusion that having a job that inspires and fulfills you is a type of wealth in itself. I have seen both the good and the bad of the American and French ways of doing things, but it’s hard to argue with the French philosophy of “working to live” rather than “living to work.”
Of course, I would never advocate laziness, and I’m a firm believer in pulling yourself up by your own bootstraps and accepting the consequences of your choices, but surely, there must be a better way than this modern, post-industrial, 40-hour hamster wheel we have created for ourselves.
So, I refuse to buy into this bizarre worldview of busyness just for busyness’ sake. If I can knock out a task in four hours instead of eight, there is no reason to stay in the office for the sake of tradition. If I am being completely honest, my dream is to be able to make a living doing writing of all kinds: nonfiction, freelance, blogging, creative writing. If that makes me pretentious or cocky, so be it, but thanks to the inspiration of countless other writers like Kristen Lamb, Holly Lisle, Matthew Wright, and Bob Mayer, I believe that being an artist is a realistic path, and one worth pursuing, especially with the advent of epublishing.
My internships will end eventually, but after that, I have no idea what will happen. The logical next course of action, then, is to begin generating income from my writing. Even though I will likely have to take a day job of some sort upon my return to the United States, it is high time I began investing in writing as my true occupation.
So, this is a manifesto of sorts, my declaration of independence from the rat race and the trap of “busy.” With this post, I am putting myself out there and shunning the title of “intern” to publicly declare that I am a WRITER.
What are your thoughts on the matter? Have you fallen into the busy trap yourself? Or do you have a success story about living the writer’s dream? What would you suggest to young (and young at heart) writers looking to support themselves through their craft?
Hold fast to dreams
For if dreams die
Life is a broken-winged bird
That cannot fly.
Hold fast to dreams
For when dreams go
Life is a barren field
Frozen with snow.