Work and Leisure

As a sixth former now, I don't have much time to myself. I'm forever working at school, and then I have work to do when I get home so I don't get nearly as much time to talk to friends and loved ones. I have work on the weekends, too, so I stay in the house and don't see people or do things. On top of that, I'm supposed to be doing extra independent work (5-10 hours a week, combined) and then reading around my subject - such as reading New Scientist, or Scientific American, or American Scientist, or French media, or books about mathematics and physics, or books about Latin literature (or indeed Latin literature itself, but it's sometimes very difficult to translate depending on the writing style; Tacitus is a case in point). Moreover, I recently went to an open day at Cambridge (purely to learn about the Oxbridge process) and was told that they're quite neutral about extracurricular subjects; they just want people who are good at whatever they want to study. All in all, not much time for leisure.

And call me lazy, call me selfish, call me whatever you want, but I want my leisure time. Not because I love staring open-mouthed at the latest episode of The X Factor - I don't watch much TV and certainly not that which fakes spectacles and calls it reality - and not because I don't like my subjects, because I do. I love them. I want to do theoretical or mathematical physics as my day job, speak and read in French, and discuss the translation and transmission of Latin literature with whoever'll listen (probably a stray cat...). I want my leisure time because I miss reading things that aren't about science, maths, French or Latin, things that I read just because I enjoy reading them and because they broaden my mind; the works of Hermann Hesse deserve a mention, as do those of Tolstoy and indeed Russian literature in general is something I love (yes, I know Hesse was German, I'm talking about two different categories here). I miss being able to put my time into drawings that I took time and care over. I miss being able to blog as much as I used to do, to be able to commit my ideas to writing; indeed, I even took up writing short fiction again despite being terrible at it. In short, I miss being able to do things that might not be a part of my work, but are still a part of me.

And that got me to do a very dangerous thing: namely, to think. What's worse, I've been thinking about work and leisure. Now, I'm critical of Western society's notions of work anyway: the idea that work should be an unpleasant means to a pleasant end seems wrongheaded to me at best and damaging at worst, especially when people work for the better part of their lives. If the only excuses for not working are age and infirmity, surely it would be a good idea to strive for something you enjoy doing, or to turn that into a job, rather than to take a job that offers you a lot of money but that you can't stand? I've seen people who do that and they are some of the saddest, sorriest human beings I've ever met. (I am aware that this attitude is naive, but I plan to keep revelling in it for as long as I can before I have to lose my fire and passion and become just another wage slave.)

There seems to be another bad attitude that Western society has towards work, though, and that I've seen a lot more of recently: the attitude that work is the only part of you that counts. If it doesn't go towards success of some sort (academic, financial, sporting...), it must be unproductive and a waste of time. Again, this is a damaging attitude: it's not wrong to have a passion for things that aren't your job or your studies, and it's not unproductive. Maybe it doesn't translate into getting As and A*s or to being paid, but that doesn't mean it isn't important to curl up with a good book or to go hiking. It's not shameful to take a serious, almost academic interest in a field you don't plan to work in or study, and it's no sin to be a well-rounded person in a world that encourages specialisation. It's no sin because while people don't bother to measure people's personal development, that doesn't mean it isn't important, and it's something that's too often neglected.

I hesitate to say this, since the quantification of anything rarely if ever leads to anything good, but sometimes I wish people would bother to measure, or at least observe, personal development. I think it would stun society, and who knows? Maybe we'd learn something - or we'd be forced to admit something to ourselves that we've tried to deny for a very long time. Maybe we'd learn that work isn't everything, that it's only a part of who we are and that our leisure is another, very important part. Maybe we'd learn that not everything has to translate into grades or cash to be important. Maybe we'd be more forgiving of people who do take time out to read or draw or write, because they're honing their minds. Maybe we wouldn't be so uptight about requiring everyone to specialise in at most a few fields and stick to them rigidly. Maybe, just maybe, we'd have an attitude to work and leisure that's a little less messed up.