If you are a man, and a potential romantic interaction between us had progressed to the point where we were now actively checking one another out for marriage, and I asked you the following question, what would you imagine that I would want to hear?
“What is your approach to work, your work ethic etc?”
I imagine that most men would think that I (and most women) would want to hear something like the following:
“It’s really important to me to provide my family with a good standard of living. So I am utterly committed to working as hard as is necessary to put food on the table; I don’t want my kids growing up with any lack.”
However, speaking for myself I would actually find something like the following response to be highly preferable:
“I understand that work is extremely important and I am committed to working hard to provide for my family. However I can’t help feeling that in our days work typically demands too much time and causes too much stress. I would much rather be spending that time with my family. So frankly I am actively looking into ways of cutting down my work hours and stress – even to the extent of living a simpler life.”
You know what, it is funny that when I was a child at school, I always used to deeply admire my colleagues who were incredibly hard working, self-motivated, who applied themselves to various challenges and excelled. Back in those days, no two ways about it, I was lazy! I was happy to put in the work at school, but someone say homework…that just never worked for me. Looking back, I now understand that there were a few personal circumstances which were not exactly favourable, and these consistently conspired to demotivate me, even though my parents and wider family and Nigerian background strongly value academic achievement.
However, I somehow always got away with this laziness because I’ve always been a voracious reader and blessed with a strong memory so I would pick up things very easily.
But now in adulthood, I look back and to my unspeakable amazement I realise that actually, the amount of work I put into my school work was perfect, as life is not all about work – even in schooldays! However looking back I would still prefer to have had a stronger work ethic, simply so that I could have been more strategic about what to invest myself into, or apply myself to.
So then, when I applied to university, I simply went for the best university I could get into; it did not occur to me that I could make a choice based on how hard I wanted to work, or that this could be a reflection of how willing I was to work in my adult working life. Back then, I still held working as hard as possible as my gold standard. And my Nigerian upbringing encouraged me to be as ambitious as I could be in terms of future career, which necessitated getting into a good university and working hard. Ultimately, even though I no longer prize working insanely hard for its own sake, I am still beyond grateful that I went to an academically very intensive university, where I finally developed the strong work ethic that had been elusive all those years.
Considering my current views of work, it is now ironic that the issue of work ethic was a big part of my attraction to my university crush. He seemed to work extremely hard, which I deeply admired as my own work ethic was so much weaker then. However, translate that into adult working jobs and now that exact same work ethic fills me with dread. A husband who works every hour under the sun – and moon – is definitely not what I want.
Imagine a husband who is constantly looking at his watch while he is with you. A husband who is always having to cancel date nights as “something came up at work.” A husband who never seems to be fully present, even while he is physically right there.
The reason I marry a husband is because I marry him, not his prospects in life, his career dreams, or whichever places he might be going. And being married to him, I would quite like to see him, spend time with him, pour out my heart to him – rather than the empty space where he would be, when he has had to dash off, yet again, to yet another “work emergency.”
I realised a while ago that I strongly value spending time with my husband as one of my “love languages”. I am praying that God would give me a husband who shares this same love language, so that hopefully he will not resent the time demands I make of him.
You know what? Looking back at my younger years I would never have been able to work this out when I was, say, in my early twenties. Back then I would probably have been ecstatic if I had married someone who was successful (or heading for success) in a number of professions, and now I am actively avoiding potential husbands in exactly those same professions: Medical doctors, law, accountancy, pastors! Not to mention investment banking, which was a career I was considering for myself during younger more materialistic days. Or rather, I would be actively avoiding these men if there were any to be seen. It seems that most of them are too busy working to be available for me to have to avoid them. To be honest, I could not truly tell you how I did eventually work it out (that I would prefer a “lazier” husband). Perhaps it was just as a consequence of writing this blog, and spelling out to myself what exactly I want/ don’t want; realising that I have strong emotional needs which I would love to satisfy in marriage, and that all the things I would ask from my husband altogether add up to a lot of time.
I cannot help being aware that all this might come across as being extremely hypocritical, considering that I myself am extremely ambitious – and I never stop talking about my ambitions on this blog! Truth be told, I spend a long time trying to work out how to best achieve my ambitions so that they do not take too much time; I also sit and think how to structure them so that they don’t own me, and I never have to take work home, as it were (although I work from home – you get what I mean!) Furthermore, I am working to achieve as many things as I can before marriage, so that once I am married I can have more headspace to dedicate to my husband and our life together. That said, I know that I am still going to be ambitious within marriage, and to a certain extent I hope that he is too, so that that can be another language that we have in common. I hope that my husband and I can work together to work out how to manage our lives and dreams so that we both excel in our various endeavours, any places we are going we can go there together, while our marriage remains unassailably front and centre, by the grace of God.
Here is the thing: it is not as if work is “bad”, of course. Even if I had all the money I could possibly need I would still work, as I love the sense of fulfillment. But there is a difference between this type of work that you do, because it genuinely interests you and fires off your passions, and that type of drudge-work that you would do only to pay the bills; the latter can be so mind-numbing and dreary and physically exhausting. Yes I have worked as an Amazon warehouse worker not once but twice over two Christmas seasons. While I never had to find any interesting uses for bottles (!) it was still a nightmare, as the targets were just too high to be met consistently. It was due to this job that I realised the importance of getting a good night’s sleep for physical performance. For each stint, at first I was zipping around, meeting all my targets effortlessly, but because the working day was so long at 10 hrs (sometimes even longer), and because I lived a couple of hours travel away from the warehouse, I literally did not have enough time to go home, get a good night’s rest, and then come back well refreshed for the next day. And then being such a physical job I actually needed a solid 10 hours sleep, rather than just 8. And yet this just was not mathematically possible. So in both cases, after just a few days, I was literally just walking so slowly I may as well have been crawling. The second time around, after a mere three weeks, I was so exhausted that I realised that I was going to accidentally kill either myself or someone else, if I persisted. So I left very abruptly – and I stopped going to a
bad church that was far less amazing than I had initially thought at the same time – victory from patriarchal capitalism all round!
Amazon is clearly a very successful company, but the way they treat their staff is so counterproductive. They would hire lots of people and then fire them for not meeting targets. Yet if they were to make those targets a little more achievable, then they would not have such a high turnover of staff and they would save so much money in recruitment costs. It was never going to be the most glamorous job, but with truly sustainable targets it could otherwise have been so good to earn some extra income, or your main income if you had other priorities. It could have been the kind of thing that self-employed people/wannabe entrepreneurs like me could recommend to one another, while working to get businesses set up. If the targets had been more achievable I would have been more than happy to work there indefinitely while trying to get my businesses set up. I would probably still be working there now!
Furthermore everything seemed to be designed for men, even the work targets. Did it honestly not occur to someone that in a physical job, women would need different targets from men, because we just do not have the same physical strength? And yet, under a seeming pretext of “gender equality” they gave us exactly the same targets. Furthermore, all the equipment was clearly for men, nothing specifically designed for women: the protective items of clothing were all man-sized and man-shaped, the trolleys were man sized, meaning that the pushing bars were placed at a convenient level for men to push, but not women making them almost impossible for me to manoeuvre – everything. Seriously? So yeah that was fun! After those three weeks I was so tired that I gave myself two months off where I just recovered.
And alongside these Amazon stints I have worked in so many unexciting jobs, thankfully less physically demanding than Amazon. That is why it is my prayer that God would bless my business endeavours so that I never have to go back to any of these types of jobs (please Lord!)