That 6am alarm is a killer. Especially in the middle of winter. The room is pitch black and it won’t get light before you leave the house and sit in traffic to get to yet another Monday morning meeting. An adventurous toe confirms that yes, it is cold outside the blanket, and you have to drag yourself out into the blizzard anyway.
As you sit staring into the abyss of your breakfast bowl, the highlight reel of the weekend plays in your mind. You think you’d give anything to be back doing what you do best on Saturday night.
Slugging through the day, you antisocially check Instagram on your coffee break and see pictures of that stag-do in Turkey, some hot girls in Bali, your Mum’s friend in Canada and an old mate backpacking around South America. Everyone seems to be on holiday living their best life and here you are stuck at work, as usual, feeling underappreciated and waiting for Friday (again). As you sigh, take the last sip of caffeine and head back to the desk, you find yourself staring out of the window at far away clouds, daydreaming about working on a remote island in the shade of a palm tree with a cocktail by your side and toes in the warm sand. A world where you don’t have to sit in traffic, clients don’t call at ten to five, and you never encounter an empty stapler.
Just a sun-lounger. On a beach. In Asia. That #laptoplifestyle that looks so good. You’re on the side where the grass is always green, and no-one talks about their struggles. Because if you make it that far, they don’t exist.
But hold on a minute. We’re getting ahead of ourselves. Is that really a better life? Or is it just different? A lot of freelancers and self-starters don’t have the benefits you have. A lot of people in the world don’t have the benefits you have. Some get paid to clean vomit off cubicle walls in club toilets when you are sound asleep. Some deal with death at work on a regular basis. Some don’t even have a job at all and go to bed hungry. Some live in war zones. Some were just born into an unfortunate situation. Some people have lost everything.
The 9-5 office job has always been ridiculed, as if you’re slogging away at the system, just a cog in the machine and all that. That everyone is in the same boat, grinding away, and quietly grumbling about it; that you’re the absolute majority in the world. But actually, you’re the minority; the privileged. If you’re sitting at a desk putting hours into a project that you’ve spent years studying for, you’re actually nailing it. If you’re the support team that sits at the next desk over, they couldn’t do it without you so you’re nailing it too.
Yes, you might have to get up for that alarm. You might have to go around the supermarket at rush hour after work or go to the gym at the same time that everyone else does. It might well rain on the two days a week that you have off.
But when you turn around and look at what you have achieved at the end of the day, it’s worth zooming out to the bigger-picture scale (while you stay another 10 minutes to send that last email). It’s easy to forget just how privileged you are, when you spend so much time looking at what is ‘better’, believing that the grass is greener.
In reality, you get to go home, with job security and the knowledge that you’ll come back tomorrow.
Even if you made mistakes today, you’ll still be paid for your time.
If you feel sick later in the week, you can take a sick-day and this won’t affect your income.
That annual leave next month means you’ll sit on the sun-lounger in the islands – without a laptop – and still get paid for it.
The health insurance that your company offers is a pretty sweet deal.
The fact that you can occasionally work from home means you can be flexible around your family at no cost.
You’re likely to get a pay-rise at the end of the year.
All the taxes, retirement, mortgage and student loan repayments are taken care of.
Whether it’s raining outside or too hot to breathe, you’re comfortable in a temperature-controlled office all year round.
You have weekends.
Other people’s jobs are literally serving you; the cafes that give you coffee, the restaurants that make you lunch; the gym classes that are scheduled at 6am. They all cater to the 9-5 business; a business in which you are booming. And it’s made you complacent. It’s not your fault, really. Humanity is wiring you to always want more, to look ahead, to be better. But you can only be ungrateful for what you already have once you start taking it for granted. Other people might look at you, ordering your morning flat white in your blue pinstripes and wish they had what you have. While you check your Instagram feed in the queue and wish you were sipping Pina Colada in Thailand right now.
If you’ve gotten to the point where you’ve achieved the 9-5 lifestyle and you’re hating on it, congratulations, my friend, you are one of the world’s most privileged.
So where do we go from here? If the world’s most privileged have forgotten how to see their worth? Imagine if we could turn this huge minority into a self-loving and appreciative bunch of professionals not only doing the best for themselves but for the community at large. Who genuinely smile when they get to work; who channel their time and money into watering new gardens instead of scrambling to get to the so-called greener grass that we are promised exists; and who are mindfully aware of the giant impact their seemingly small ripples can make, both as business professionals and individual people.
What if we start believing in our own grass? By being real with ourselves, we might recognise the grass underneath our feet is pretty damn green too, wherever we are standing. It’s like the bottom of our shoes are lined with our own personal astro-turf, going with us wherever we walk; giving us that spongy bounce in our step; making us a centimetre taller. You might look at the bottom of your shoes and see dirt, or even worse, just a blank sole of rubber. But maybe – just maybe – if you try hard enough, you can see bright green astro-turf in the very shape of your foot. The kind of grass that’s always green, that doesn’t need to compare its colour to other grass to validate its own shade, and the kind that loyally follows you wherever you go. Better still; it leads you there. Step by step. Because believing that you walk on green grass every day will get you to where you want to go.
Or help you realise that you’re already there.
It’s just a matter of perspective.