By Jason McClain (@JTorreyMcClain)
A friend asked me a question the other day that dovetailed nicely with my latest TPB, Concrete Volume 1: “Depths” by Paul Chadwick. He asked me a simple, yet personal and revealing question, “What is your ideal job?”
Before I get to this question, as I wanted to move on quite quickly in my writing about it, I need to explain how the question connects with “Depths.” In this opening trade paperback, Chadwick slowly reveals the origin of his hero, Concrete. Aliens capture speechwriter Ronald Lithgow and transplant all of his memories into a large, agile, powerful, hardened stone body that does not need the air, water and food that his human body needed. In this body, he can’t be the speechwriter that he trained to be, but the world opens up to him in a different way. Suddenly he can be the adventurer of the serials, novels and non-fiction he read as a child, stories where heroes save the day everywhere from the far corners of the Earth to far away planets and galaxies. He decides to change the course of his life and become his version of those adventurers, digging below ground to save miners, trying to swim the Atlantic Ocean, serving as a bodyguard for a rock star and studying giant rays in the Pacific.
As for my friend’s question, I didn’t have the immediate answer that Concrete had. (Well immediate to the reader, as I kept turning page after page to find out what happened next, and though his time passed slowly going through government tests of his abilities, for me, it was just moments.) I had to stop and think and because of the kind of person I am (varied and detailed) I did not stop at one, but journeyed into my brain to get four different possibilities, each of which would be a good way to spend the work day. That got me to think even further and wonder if concern about the ideal job is even the right question.
There are 168 hours in a week. Let’s say you spend an average of 50 hours a week with work. (Maybe you add in commute time, grading papers, thinking about a project while at home or whatever, but it’s probably more than the full-time measure of 40.) Let’s say you get your recommended 8 hours of sleep a day and that is 56 hours. That leaves 62 hours. What are you going to do with that time?
Let’s head off the people that work more than 50 hours a week first. I know you read that previous paragraph and thought, “I spend way more time at work than that as I work from 8 am to 8 pm, six days a week” or whatever. For you, this is the right question. You’ve found the right job or something close to it and you’re happy to spend the majority of each week doing that job. You’re sacrificing the now to make money and advance in your career so that your future will be free from financial worries with job security and you’ll have the time and resources to do whatever you want for yourself and your family. Your answer is easy, “I have my ideal job.”
For the rest of us, we have to dive a little deeper and that brought me to whether or not it is the right question. In my hypothetical above, 50 hours is spent on work while 62 hours is spent on, excuse the phrasing, “not work.” It’s not much more time, but it is more. Should our worries be more on the “not work” and how we choose to allocate our limited time on this big blue and green near sphere?
Maybe the question becomes, what do you want to do with those 62 hours? Instead of worrying about money or a job, the situation widens to anything. Do you want to watch ants as they march across the sidewalk? Do you want to stick a blade of grass in the corner of your mouth and count the stars? Do you want to race go-karts? Do you want to raise five kids? Do you want to breed albino geckos? Do you want to roam the earth? Do you want to eat at every restaurant in Jonathan Gold’s top 101? Do you want to read every novel in Modern Library’s top 100? Do you want to run an ultramarathon?
That’s where the road diverges. Is it the job or life outside the job where you meet your personal goals? If it is outside your job, then the job is just the means to a different end. If it is the job, then the quest to find the way to make those 50 hours a week the best, most challenging, interesting hours is your focus on a daily basis.
However, even as I type that, I know those two highways share many of the same lanes. I want it all. I want a job that I like and hobbies and activities that interest me during my free time. I want to work on things I enjoy during my down time and I hope to turn those into something where I can bring in a few extra sawbucks if I’m lucky. I want every hour of every day to fill with enjoyment and happiness.
We all face that time in our lives when we feel we must make a choice between responsibility and fun, though that is a false dichotomy. We have fun because of work we put in before the fun. Fun is fun because it isn’t work. Responsibility can be fun. It’s not an either or proposition.
Life changes daily for us. We find new interests, new friends, take new travels and try new adventures. Every day is a day where we transform from our human self to Concrete on a search for life. It just rarely is as obvious as it is in Chadwick’s stories.
So what is your ideal job? What is your ideal way to spend time outside of work? As of today, I know my four answers for the jobs and have a good idea on four things I like to do when I don’t work. Do you know yours? Will you chase those things like Concrete?