I was recently talking to a bartender friend of mine after work, who was in a bit of a bad mood after a particularly shit night. It was about 4am, and he felt dejected at the prospect of having to do it all over again the next day.
‘I guess at least you’re not in until 5pm,’ I said, perhaps with an unfairly wavering level of empathy. ‘You can have a good lie-in!’
I was trying to look on the bright side, but admittedly the last thing anyone wants to hear when they’re feeling pissed off is someone suggesting that their despondencies are ungrounded.
‘You don’t get it though,’ he said. ‘You just work 9 to 5.’
That second bit he hurtfully spat out – and clearly untrue given I was sat in a closed bar at 4am. But before I could realise how much this dialogue had annoyed me, the conversation had moved swiftly on, meaning that I was left alone to mull it over in the week that followed. And the more it mulled with me, the more it vexed me.
I’ve always prided myself in being a hard worker. That desperate year after graduation I was working two bar jobs, often combining to create some pretty gnarly 60-70 hour weeks – not including the freelance writing work that I squeezed in as part of each week on top of this. Sometimes I would work one job until 5pm, whizz home to write an article, head back into town for 6.30pm for a gig and club night double whammy at my other job, climb into bed at around 6am, get up at 8am to schedule social media for another job before scooting back to that first café job to smile at middle-aged women totally desperado for their fucking latte fix.
But it was okay because not only could I rest – for 2 or 3 hours – assured knowing that it was temporary, and that perhaps the next day wouldn’t be as full-on, but also because it’s just what so many people do.
The 9 to 5 lifestyle is actually a bit of a myth. I’ve been brought up watching my mother, a teacher, marking work, lesson planning and writing reports most evenings. She would get to work at about 7.30am and return at about 6pm (which doesn’t look like 9 to 5 to me), and during the school holidays she’d often be back in the classroom preparing for September’s onslaught of new arrivals.
I’ve also got bartender friends who’ll work 10 days on the trot without so much as a sniff of time off. I’ve got chef friends who spend 70 hours a week in the kitchen as standard. My brother has a full-time job and goes to college, also studying for exams, on the side. If my boss does have some kind of off-switch, she doesn’t ever seem to go near it.
So perhaps the 9 to 5 lifestyle is a rarity in itself – it’s unnatural. When I first started working as an intern at a small communications agency, I found the hours strange. I’d not know what to do in between finishing at 5.30pm and eating dinner at 7pm, so I joined a gym. And because the intern’s wage will never be a particularly flourishing thing, I started working on the door in a bar (taking entry money, not as a bouncer, I hasten to add) every Friday and Saturday night – only 4 hours a pop, but still. I also still have to work each weekend and pretty much every evening writing, and spend many lunch hours scheduling social media for my freelance work. Plus, no longer an intern, my supposed 9 to 5 job rarely goes a week without a couple of evening events or late night work. And I honestly don’t mind, because I love all of it.
So, no, I don’t ‘just work 9 to 5’ – because few people do.
But if I did, I would go fucking mad.
Image credit: Steve Lodefink @Flickr