Why Do We Expect Everyone To Manage Working Full Time?

In the ideal world most people agree that it would be awesome if teachers had the time and resources to follow up every single student individually from a young age. To figure out how that particular child learns, and help them utilize it.

We accept that students fall on the high or low end of grades in certain classes, because they are not all going to get the same job, and we need all sorts, right?

And yet, after they graduate from school, however long that may be, we still expect most everyone to go on to get a “normal” 40 hour per week full time job. That is considered the normal thing to do. And if you’re part time, most people expect you to be looking for a full time position, or have other obligations such as children limit your time.

Why is that?

A bird will never be a fish

It was Albert Einstein who said “Everybody’s a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its entire life thinking it is stupid.”

I believe this is true on so many levels. And just like everything else in life, I believe the ability to work is a sliding scale.

On one side of the scale I have friends who are so sick or disabled that they have to rely on social security to keep a roof over their heads. I have other friends who can manage to work part time, but not more. Roughly below the middle there’s myself, who somehow manage a full time job, but don’t have energy leftover for out-of-the-home hobbies or socializing during the week.

Then there are the people we “see” as a society and consider normal. People I admire but don’t understand. People who like their jobs and still attend hobbies, social events and weekend-long engagements without breaking a sweat. At the top end of the scale I have a friend who gets up early, often works overtime, yet still manages to make time for his girlfriend, volunteer work, social events, exercise, home renovations… The list just goes on and on. It’s as if the man runs on Duracell or something, he just doesn’t stop.

But if we were to believe the picture society and media are painting for us, this should be black and white. The type of people who can work, and the type of people who can’t. Of course, we need the former to be in the majority, or the society would not go ’round.

Don’t believe the hype

I believe this kind of thinking does no good to anyone. The disabled struggle with feelings of inadequacy because they don’t “contribute”. I feel like a hermit and a bad sidehustler because I just want to stay home and relax most of the time after work. And I’d be willing to bet there are plenty of people who do all the hobbies and exercise and social events and would rather not, but they see their friends doing it and don’t want to be left behind.

This mindset of what a “normal” life looks like doesn’t benefit anyone.

Equality is not making everybody the same

While Norway has gotten a lot of things right in terms of social welfare and happiness, there are several areas in which we could make big improvements. I know from personal experience that the primary school system is one such area.

After WWII, there was a strong equality movement in Norway. Class structures were dismantled and upward mobility was made possible. All children had to go to school, and the governmental run student loan office which enabled anyone to get an education was founded.

But in the wake of this strong equality mindset emerged a darker side: Everyone were supposed to get treated equal, and everyone were expected to manage the same thing.

If you fell behind in school, resources were put in place (if such were available) to get you up to the basic level. But if you were what is known in the US as a “gifted child” you were better off staying invisible.

I remember being so excited with math that I kept solving problems, even past our assigned homework that week. My teacher told me off the next day and said I only had myself to blame for not having anything to do in the coming weeks. Finishing a task early meant you got another task exactly the same, not a more challenging one. Or worse yet, they could tell you to help those who were not yet finished, efficiently alienating you from the rest of the class. You were never rewarded for going ahead, only punished and stagnated so that the class was supposed to stay a cohesive unit where everyone were on the same place in the curriculum.

It made me dislike going to school, and it took me many years to unlearn that is was better to keep my head down and stay “average”. It gave me awful work habits, and it is still something I struggle with today.

We are not all the same

This warped understanding of what equality is hurt many people of my generation. It was a system where students on either end of the spectrum were made to think they were losers, and only the select few with “average” talents in the middle truly thrived. Luckily, the government has since understood that this was not the right approach, but change is slow in the making and won’t help those who have already fallen out of society at large.

So when I think about equality, I always think that it means we should all have the same opportunities. It does not mean that we can all do the same thing, be the same way or work the same job. But if means that anyone can be anything, regardless of background, skin color, gender, sexual preference or social status.

So if we are realizing this for our children, why are we clinging to this arbitrary term of “full time”, which usually means 40 hours or more per week, almost as if it were a universal truth? And not what it actually is – which is a human construct that is less than 100 years old?

Embrace yourself

In part, I think this is part of why I latched onto the financial independence community as quickly as I did. While there is a lot of the “hustle hard” mentality, there is also a conversation going about what makes you happy, what makes you tick.

If you have an awesome part time job that makes the road to financial independence a blast – why go full time? If you want to speed up the process by freelancing on top of a full time job – go do that!

At least from the blogs I enjoy reading, there is a strong thread of “you do you” which I really appreciate. There is an acceptance that the path is going to look different for everyone, and we can’t all do it the same way or at the same pace.

And if we can teach children those same values from the very beginning, perhaps we’ll create more people who do not apologize for living a life that fills them with joy, instead of people filled with guilt because they can only work 15, 25 or none of the “prescribed” 40+ hours a week a productive adult is supposed to achieve.

4 Comments on “Why Do We Expect Everyone To Manage Working Full Time?

  1. I agree very strongly with the sentiments of this post!
    Both regarding school and work life.

    I currently work 4 days a week for health reasons and I feel very lucky that my employer allows me to do this, as I think many would not be so flexible.
    There are a couple of others in my company in similar situations, but in general yes, the expectations is that only those with children or other caring responsibilities will work part time.

    Let’s hope this flexibility becomes more mainstream within our lifetimes. It would benefit many..

    • Thanks! I wish I could reduce my work hours as well, but it is just not the done thing in my field. Especially at my age, sadly.

  2. I’ve always worked 40+ hour weeks out of necessity, but I was positive that with my health problems, I was just speeding toward an early end. My best hope was to earn and save enough money to keep myself out of poverty in my last years.

    It was a total lightbulb revelatory moment to learn that you could perhaps aim not to spend your life working and fitting in bits of life around it. That maybe the point of life could be living it and work could be incidental to it, if you planned, saved, invested and spent with that goal in mind.

    I have no idea when we’d be able to retire from full time work but if part time work were more normalized and available, I think it’d be a great alternative life structure to what’s commonly accepted today.

    • I feel you. I am the breadwinner at the moment to allow for Mr. Frugasaurus to establish his freelance/passive income empire – but it is Hard! I just don’t do well over time with full time work.

      I find I postpone everything I need to do (dentist, therapist, doctor, etc) until after the contract ends, or during holidays. Not how the system is supposed to work, and not healthy by far.

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