Lord guilt

I struggle with the strains of freelance life, the good things as well as the bad.  The ability to take off when we have an unexpectedly nice spell of weather, as last week, provoked irritatingly mixed feelings.  There was no reason I should have felt guilt.  Work wasn’t going badly.  Merely a quiet lull, my main client going off radar as they’re wont to do from time to time.  As yet it has never been for too long.

Still, part of me is constantly paranoid.  When I took off for the seaside at 3pm on a weekday afternoon because I couldn’t resist the weather, I was still nagged by guilt.  What else would you do instead? I asked myself.  Sit at your desk being unproductive?  It’s extremely unlikely for any email to land in your inbox which will demand immediate action.  And if it does, you’ll have it on your BlackBerry immediately, and be back at your desk by around 7.30 at the latest.

No need to worry.  Just relax.  Enjoy this perk of doing what you do, having developed what seems to be a satisfactory business model.  Don’t sweat it.  Feel smug.  Stroll about in the sunshine, listen to your podcasts, music, read your book, take some photographs.  Enjoy the stuff that interests you so much more than your work.

A flipside of this is, however many other interests you have, you will sometimes be bored.  Your day-to-day life, even when it is occupied with work, won’t be all that interesting.  With no immediate colleagues and no commute, there are fewer variables.  Your flat buzzer might sound because a bloke wants to read the meter.

And when the work does dry up for whatever reason, as it has recently, you have to contend with yourself, try to be relaxed and philosophical and optimistic.  Rather than anxious, fraught and doom-mongering.  Don’t sweat it, don’t be guilty if you spend a little longer reading that book, or in the gym, or if you click your Xbox on for the first time in months.  If you ever click on daytime television you certainly do deserve to die, but that’s never even been tempting.

To have the liberty though, it’s nothing to be ashamed of, no less legitimate or respectable than sitting at a desk in an office in a city with other people for 7 or 8 hours a day.

Although.  That’s exactly it.  It does feel less legitimate and respectable and normal.  That’s what nags, despite everything.  The nebulous overlord which dictates you must be busy and important at all times – who I largely shun – I’m still aware of, in the background, tutting and shaking his head when he sees me getting furious about my weak video game skills.

There’s an implicit culture of fear which comes with careers and employment.  The dire, desperate, urgent need to feel busy and important and needed at all times.  I’m not sure if it’s a British thing or a more general developed western world thing.

It’s a thing some people relish and thrive on: the need to feel powerful and important.  So much so that they cultivate extra work and any number of projects which will draw attention to themselves but have a questionable impact on profit.  Those projects are now practically infinite thanks to social media and the web.

A friend in her mid-twenties is on a graduate scheme for lawyers, bouncing around different firms.  She takes work home and works into the small hours of the night to get everything done, such is the pressure she’s under, the fear of not achieving, not being successful.  I don’t think she relishes it in the same way as some, although the feeling of being professionally needed and important is fresh, and likely to still flatter her ego into doing the work.  She and millions like her are being exploited.  This is amplified with repetitive news about the economy and jobs market.

Everything becomes infected with urgency and stress.  As a result people seem to allow themselves to be dictated to by relatively minor things:  absolutely having to go to the supermarket as soon as possible.  They cling to trivial things for a sense of balance and routine and confidence.

I have no conclusion or summary about this.  The ingrained culture and the ultimate futility of commerce just saddens me, makes me hanker for simpler times and places where that looming overlord of guilt has fucked off.


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