a perpetual holidayFor many people life is defined by alternating periods of very long work weeks and very short vacation slots.

It’s pretty much like in school, just that the vacations are way shorter.

Instead of that picky maths teacher your boss will be waiting for you. Instead of homework assignments and exams he’ll have mountains of other work for you. Instead of  talking to classmates you’ll be looking forward to conversations around the water-cooler or regular office brand coffee-break banter.

With all of that – especially if your vacation is too short – it’s not easy to relax, to phase out all those fresh memories and anticipated future, even if you are lying on a beautiful beach.

If a well-paid job is the epitome of career and education, why does it look and feel so much like when we were back in school? Why are we struggling for the better part of our first 20+ years just to end up in a condition that is characterized mainly by work?

Work, Work, Work

The idea of “working hard” is at the basis of  (not just) American culture, it is derived from Puritan ideas that God loves the one who works him or herself to death, inspired by Presbyterians who were inspired by Calvinist doctrines, and so on and so forth, each resting on the other, one of the oldest formulations of this principle maybe being from Genesis 3:19 “In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread, till thou return unto the ground; for out of it wast thou taken: for dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return.” – King James Bible

For many people it will be hard to accept an alternative – to even consider that a “work, work, work” philosophy may not be the only approach to life. It’s so ingrained in us, be it embedded by religious or even non-religious ideas of “The Worker” as in Marxism.

One of my favorite short stories is called “An anecdote to lower the working morale” by Heinrich Böll who won the Nobel Prize for Literature. The story is about a fisherman and a tourist. The fisherman is happily hanging out at the shore and just relaxing in the sun. The tourists asks if he has already done his fishing to which the fisherman replies “yes”.  He says he caught a lot, so he’s happy. The tourist then goes to pontificate about how if he would go out again and catch even more he’d be able to have employees in the future, get his own fleet of helicopters, a fish factory and build his own Franchise restaurant.

So the fisherman asks him: “Why would I want to do that?” – The tourists says:” So that you can have a happy life and relax in the sun .” To which the fisherman replies: “But look, this is what I’m already doing right now.”

Work & Life: An Integrated Approach

As you  saw in the above example, it’s not that the fisher is lazy (one of the most commonly encountered critiques of his attitude). Far from it, he already got his work done for the day.

This fisher does not need to go on artificial holidays. He doesn’t need to be afraid of what will happen when his vacation is over. He doesn’t need to worry during his vacation what people will do without him.

His idea of working and living is not compartmentalized. He works, then he relaxes. This way he doesn’t need a vacation. He’s able to perform when called upon because he’s in a perpetual state of relaxation from which he draws energies to do the necessary work.

Since I’ve moved from teaching languages offline to online, I feel like my life has become similar to that fisherman.

I work every day. On some days there’s more to do, on others less. But I find time to rest every day.

Since I stopped wasting my energies in commuting for hours in badly aired buses and trains – inhaling the fumes of traffic and being pushed along by thousands of people following the push-button mentality, I have become happier, more relaxed and less afraid of the future.

Now, I do this by teaching languages – but there are many other ways to do it, too. By using the net – and this is still baffling me – we can return to a more natural state of working. By using the infinitely complex system of the Internet we can simplify our life!

If you want to find out about other ways to do this, you can check out my book  A Mindful Guide to Online Living

Also, if you’ve found this article interesting and would like to share it with a friend or colleague plagued by too much work, I’d be very happy! After all, I’m not writing for myself. My main concern is to spread those ideas and create opportunities to re-think what we silently believe to be true.

Thank you for reading.

photo credit: CC license via flickr by *Micky