“They let you dream /Just to watch ‘em shatter,
You’re just a step / On the boss-man’s ladder,
But you got dreams / He’ll never take away.” - Dolly Parton, 9 to 5
A lot of things have made me feel grown-up lately. You’d have thought that by the age of 22, I would already feel kind of like an adult, but like a lot of people my age, I still feel as clueless and naive as I did when I was a teenager. However, a bunch of things have started to make me feel just a little bit more grown-up over the past few months. I am no longer a student, I no longer live with my parents, I take an interest in politics, I have hang-ups about my body and the way I look, I worry about the environment and I worry about my finances. All of this stuff has, for better or worse, made me feel a little less like a child masquerading as a real person.
The thing that has made me feel old above all else, though, is getting a proper job. I work in an air-conditioned office in Cambridge, surrounded by lovely people from various exciting countries, pressing buttons on a computer from nine til five. That probably doesn’t sound especially exciting, and that’s because it isn’t, but I consider myself incredibly lucky to have landed a job during a time when so many people are struggling. I never thought I’d work in the kind of place where there’s a passive aggressive post-it note permanently taped on the water filter, or where there’s an allotted day on which people eat salad for lunch, or where people speak in a strange version of English that is comprised almost entirely of acronyms – but I do, and I like it.
This is my first full-time job, and making the transition from a sloth-like student to an actual functioning member of society has felt a little weird. The biggest change has been the huge reduction in my amount of free time, meaning that not only is there less time for relaxing, but there’s less time for writing, too. However, this hasn’t been as detrimental to my productivity as I first thought. In fact, if anything, I’m more productive now than I was before.
While I was a student, (or just good old unemployed), time felt endless. My days were empty, full of potential time for writing, but also, and more attractively, time for procrastinating. It was easy to pass hours on end watching old episodes of Friends and filling out quizzes on Buzzfeed to find out what kind of sponge I was, and before I knew it, it would be time to go to bed again. The idea of ‘tomorrow’ was always shrouded in vague ideas of productivity, but once tomorrow actually came, the same ritual of daytime TV and comfort eating would inevitably resume.
As you can imagine, things are very different now. When so much of your time is suddenly taken away from you, you learn to make the most of what you have left. I can no longer put stuff off until tomorrow, as I know that come tomorrow I’ll be back at my desk, not having the chance to write until I get home. As a result, my free time has become much more sacred. I use it wisely, cramming in as much writing and editing as I can (because who needs a social life?) before it’s time to go to work again. I write more these days than I did when I was unemployed, because suddenly I have a reason to write right now rather than tomorrow. I’ve realised that if I want to succeed with all this writing malarkey, I’m going to need to put in the hours and use my time the best way I can. Otherwise – what’s the point?
Of course, the vast majority of writers need to work a full-time job in order to pay the bills. Those who can live off their writing are truly the exception. It makes me wonder though, whether those fortunate enough to dedicate their whole day to writing are that much more productive than the rest of us. Surely the lure of Reddit and questionable pornography would mean that productive hours are somewhat limited. Besides that, unless they have the bailiffs banging on the door, these writers no longer have the drive that makes us 9-5ers go that extra mile. They don’t have to sacrifice their social time, relaxation hours or love life, because they can prioritise their time as they like. That’s the dream that the rest of us live for – to earn a living from what we write – but until that day, as I have learned, we just have to keep working on for the man.