Last night, half-awake in someone else’s house, wallowing in those strangely lucid moments before a heavy sleep, I got to thinking about my 9-5 phobia. I mean my fear–however irrational–of being bound to a job which requires my presence in an office or–horrors–cubicle between the hours of 9 am and 5 pm, Monday-Friday. I’ve often considered the origin of this fear (it wasn’t always with me), tried to decide whether or not I should fight it or submit to it. But listening to the night-snuffles of sleeping dogs last night, a new thought occurred to me, and I was just able to hold it in my mind before I dropped into a dream about ordering Chinese food with an old friend near an unamed harbour.
The thought was this: I’m a project-based worker. It’s why I always had a freakish love of writing essays and research papers as a student, why I’m happy to devote years of my life to writing a book but bridle at the very thought of spending a week chained to a desk. It’s why I think I’ll make a great freelance writer but a terrible anything else. I want the work I’m doing to have shape; moreover, like an overprotective mother, I want to see it through, from inception to final presentation. I’ll happily write late into the night, wake early, devote weekends to a project; but the endless toil of working for an organization, the banality of spending a few hours each day doing things which will never result in a finished product, makes me feel actually, physically ill.
I don’t know what this says about me. Perhaps that I’m vain, that if I put in time and effort, I want to see a result more tangible than increased profit figures or a well-organized office–I want to see something that is all my own. Or perhaps that I’m obsessive, unable or unwilling to multitask but happy to pour every last iota of energy into a single sentence. Perhaps it’s only an inability to move beyond the simple reward systems of primary school.
Whatever it is, it’s a huge and increasingly undeniable part of who I am and how I work. It occurred to me too, that in my current position, I’m wasting energy at an alarming rate; my days split between, essentially, two jobs (my office job and my writing), I can’t concentrate properly on either. But at the moment I need both to survive–without the office job, I couldn’t pay my rent, and without the writing, I couldn’t stay happy. As good old Yossarian might have said: it’s a Catch-22.