Sunday, March 10, 2013

Does it take continuous 100 hour work weeks to change the world?

Because I am a masochist I started following the blog of Penelope Trunk. It all started innocently enough, a friend of mine posted a link from her blog that criticized universal pre-k from the perspective of a homeschooling family. Well, we are a homeschooling family and this was a smart post from an accomplished homeschooler, so yes, I'll add this blog to my RSS reader and begin to follow.

Before doing this, I decided to take a gander at her posting history and well, for someone prone to competitive comparingness, this was not a pleasant thing to do. Tales of 100 hour work weeks or driving two hours one way to take her prodigious six year old son to cello lessons taught by a music professor at the University of Wisconsin. I know its wrong, but these are not tales I enjoy reading.

Finally after reading yet another post written a long these lines, I felt like I had to write a response of my own, maybe as a defense of my own life choices? To give myself some hope that I can still accomplish some of my own goals without making these kinds of sacrifices?

The 60, 80, 100 hour work week tension has been something I've been living with since graduating with my engineering degree back in the 1990's. I started my career at a company that had this crazy over-time compensation policy. If you worked 40-59 hours in a week you were paid your salary, but if you crossed the 60.0 hour boundary, you were paid for every hour you worked. And my colleagues at the time were in the habit of exploiting this loophole to maximize their income. I resisted the urge mostly, but it's hard to work less while those you work with work more:  they take the most interesting work assignments and leave you with the scraps.

But I felt this prompting at the time that I needed to be more well-rounded and in my early career I was, trying to make up for my culturally barren childhood. At one time or another I had season tickets at the Phoenix Art Museum and the Herberger Theater. I attended concerts at the Phoenix Symphony. I spent all of my post-college single life mentoring a boy as part of the East Vally Big Brothers/Big Sisters.  I even took up piano lessons.

Although single, I was not giving up my life for my job. And I tried hard to keep my personal life in-tact. I think it worked out because I ended up marrying a pianist. Would this marriage have worked without this min-self education? I'm not sure.

But I spent my twenties working on myself in ways that had nothing to do with my day job. My thirties were spent married, bearing four kids the Bradley way, joining the ranks of homeschoolers, and still spending large swaths of my personal time in ways that had nothing to do with my day job. Obviously, this did not put me on the path for a high powered career at Google or Facebook.

And I also happen to belong to a church that asks for a lot of my time. Three hours of church service on Sunday, a command to keep the Sabbath day holy and work free, a responsibility to watch over four or so other members of your congregation through at a minimum monthly visits, requests to help fellow members of your congregation move or to bring them dinner when they are ill, a request to research your family history, to regularly write in your journal, take on additional church callings (through the years I have been a quorum president and a counselor in other presidencies, a leader in the scouts and with the young men, in the primary (working with children), and with the church's missionary program and of course to spend daily time in family, couples and personal prayer, meditation and scripture study.

Devoting 100 hours every week to your career does not line up (that's 14 hour days, 7 days a week).

So, I have to ask myself, is 100 hour work weeks really required to change the world? Without any evidence to prove this assertion (being as I have yet to change the world myself), I say no. In fact, I've already covered this topic here.

I'm afraid that many (not all) of the companies at Silicon Valley are building products nobody really wants because they are mostly building products they think people want but end up building products only tech geeks who work 100 hours a week want. Steve Yegge says it well here:
You can look at any phenomenally successful company, and it's pretty obvious that their success was founded on building on something they personally wanted. The extent that any company begins to deviate from this course is the extent to which their ship starts taking on water.
The other day I was out to eat with my friends and one of them was selling girl scout cookies for her daughter and I asked if she took PayPal, she laughed and told me she had no idea even had to login to her account.

People love Facebook, but really, if they had just stopped working on Facebook five years ago and just made sure it scaled, would it be much different than it is today? Google built search which people love, but what else is coming out of Google that people really, truly love? Apple is the best at building products people love, but are Apple products really that much better than Windows? And how much time are people wasting browsing the web on their iPhone rather than going to bed?

I'm probably over-selling this point a bit, but what if people mostly just worked 40-50 hour work weeks (there are times when you have to crank it up, but they should be rarer than people think) and spent the rest of their time with their families, working on their hobbies and building their communities?

Given how much work is happening out there building stuff that nobody wants or needs (housing bubble anyone?), wouldn't the world be a tad bit better place if more of us were building stuff for ourselves and for our friends, and by extension consuming the stuff others were building for us?

I'll end this rather long post with a quote I just recently ran across reading the "Lord of the Rings" to my kids:
"'At least for a while', said Elrond. 'The road must be trod, but it will be very hard. And neither strength nor wisdom will carry us far upon it. This quest may be attempted by the weak with as much hope as the strong. Yet such is oft the course of deeds that move the wheels of the world; small hands do them because they must, while the eyes of the great are elsewhere.'"
If we ever want to truly change the world, we need fewer Mark Zuckerbergs working 100 work weeks trying to convince more people to spend more time wasting stuff they don't really need or want, and more people like the Bishop of my congregation who homeschools his five children, runs his own law firm and spends countless of hours ministering to the poor and the needy in Tempe.

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