Life is too short for a full-time job. Too short, and too precious.
Time unwatched is its own treasure, gracious host to conversations that drift and swoop, afternoons that stretch into evenings, dinners that slur into a last coffee.
And, if you’re like me, and can spend entire winters watching tongues of fire flicker in an open fireplace, as Bill Watterson said, “there’s never enough time to do all the nothing you want.”
But you don’t have to listen to me, part-time mountain dweller and full-time maverick. Here’s Carlos Slim, the world’s second richest man: “We should be working only 3 days a week.” It is time, he says, for a radical overhaul of our working lives. We need more time to relax, for quality of life.
In his book, Critical Path, polymath and futurist Buckminster Fuller anticipated that rising productivity would make part-time work an option for all of mankind. We haven’t got there yet, but it is an option for most readers of Quartz, I’d warrant. Appropriately, I only found time to read Bucky when my wife and I decided to honeymoon for a year in our stone cottage in the Kumaon. One autumn morning, when the sun glistened off dewdrops, and the Himalayas towered in their snow-white clarity, my wife offered a prayer to the grace bestowed on us. “Do we need to go back?”
We didn’t, and spent six incredibly rich years in our garden in the forest, watching the peaches grow, and our son toddle, rocking him to sleep with Dave Matthews or vintage Stones, serenading the moonlight with candles and home-made peach wine.
When we returned to Delhi, to send our son to school, I knew I could never go back to full-time work. I was too consumed by the love of life and family to chain myself to the clock of a daily routine. I needed the freedom to spend the day in a couch reading a book, or taking the sun in the park. I needed to have time to listen when a friend wanted to talk. I needed to be home when my son came back from school.
Modern life is not structured for such eccentricity. Early feelers made it clear I needed to occupy a desk, administer an office, sit in long meetings, work late hours. “Surely,” I thought, “someone can see my detachment yielding objectivity, my dilettante behaviour offering unusual perspectives, even creativity.” Meanwhile, I ran in the park, lounged in my couch, hugged my son as he told me of his day at school, and drove him to birthday parties in a car bashed into disreputability by years of mountain driving.
When the assignments came, tentative at first, they paid a fraction of a full-time wage for someone of my age and training. But I was grateful. Material progress gives us the choice to trade our earning ability for more consumption, or more time. I had made mine, and found enormous joy in every day.
More recently, I found affirmation in the writings of Bronnie Ware, an Australian nurse who worked with dying patients. She recorded the reflections of their last days in a book, The Top Five Regrets of the Dying.
Near the head of her list is this: “They missed their children’s youth, and their partner’s companionship.” I believe that our children are the most lasting legacy we leave to the world, and it needs both love, and time, to craft that legacy. As my son turns 16, I can see him turn to step out into the world. He will carry his gifts and my flaws, but the flaw of inattention will not be one of them.
Last week, I was at IIM Ahmedabad, briefing a group of students about a property rights project to which I have contributed some time. When we were done, they took me to chai, and asked me about my life in the mountains, my time in theater. “I can also say ‘I want to go and live in the mountains.’ But who will let me?” one of them asked.
“Remember this,” I laughed, “you need no one’s permission to be yourself.” When I got back, I read The Top Regret again—”I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.”
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