September 23, 2022

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This First Person article is the experience of Eliza Baynes, a writer in Montreal. For more information about CBC’s First Person stories, please see the FAQ.

So many of us are going through difficult times right now. Between inflation and the ongoing pandemic, you may be wondering if this is the right time to be talking about working less.

But attitudes toward work have been changing for years, even pre-COVID. And with so many routines upended, this could be the ideal moment to strive for change.

For me, that means not spending the majority of my waking life working at a desk.

I used to work in an office environment you might be familiar with — the meetings were many and the emails were endless. Not long after starting, a single thought began to crystallize in my mind, one that would permanently alter my relationship to full-time work: this is not sustainable.

My ultimate goal was to write professionally, so I started out at a digital media company as a freelance writer. But the temptation of stability was too great when I was offered a full-time role that didn’t involve writing.

I told myself the steady income was worth it, that I’d still do my writing on the side.

But writing time was scarce: a listicle here, a blog post there. The first draft of a children’s book that I’d started before landing the job sat untouched for years.

Until then, I’d avoided the 9 to 5 job — working in food service for years, then freelancing on my own schedule. I quickly found that it was more than the lack of writing time that made me unhappy spending all day at work.

The real hours in an office were often longer than my eight-hour shift, and somehow I’d often end up putting in additional time on weekends. Once I factored in prep time and a commute, the commitment was much more than 40 hours a week.

When COVID-19 hit, work went remote. But the hour I saved from my commute just became another hour of home office work time.

Then there was the physical aspect: sitting at a desk and staring at a computer screen for so many consecutive hours frequently gave me a sore back and strained eyes. When I’d do my own writing, I’d go old school and mainly use pen and paper, breaking up my screen time into shorter chunks.

Even my time off wasn’t as I’d imagined. Giving my best hours to my job, I was too tired in the evenings for much beyond eating dinner and watching TV.

Chores, errands and social activities took up most of the time I was hoping I’d have for rest and writing on weekends. Trying to squeeze in exercise as well as quality time with my husband, loved ones and for myself felt like a constant struggle.

It made me realize that you can love your job and still not want it to dominate your life.

There are countless articles and videos telling us that we’re just a “life hack” away from perfect work-life balance. But what I really needed was less to balance in the first place.

This isn’t about laziness; it’s about quality over quantity. It’s about taking care of my body and my mind by rejecting the idea that constant busyness is a marker of success.

So I decided to quit in March — and my next job won’t be full time. 

I’m just one example of a larger cultural shift. The pandemic has already changed how many of us think about work, making remote or hybrid setups an office norm almost overnight. Some companies are experimenting with a condensed work week.

Obviously, choosing to leave behind full-time work comes with certain risks. I’m lucky enough to have a supportive partner and to live in a country with universal health care. I’m a relatively thrifty homebody and I don’t have a car. So I think I can keep my expenses low enough to do this. 

I’m sacrificing greater financial stability for greater access to my own time. And I’m thinking differently about retirement, too. If my career doesn’t demand as much of my time, then why should I view it as having a firm endpoint?

I’m not saying that I have it all figured out, but I do know this: life is short, so time is infinitely more valuable than money.


CBC Quebec welcomes your pitches for First Person essays. Please email povquebec@cbc.ca for details.

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