…Thoughts on our workaholic habits and the need to take a break, often
You wake up in the morning and find yourself on a tranquil island somewhere far from reality. You are strolling along the white sanded beach as you take in the sights of the clear blue sea, the tides rising and falling. You can feel the heat of the sun envelope your skin as it shines intensely, its rays threatening to blind you. You dig your feet into the sand as you stroll along the shore. The waves threaten to swallow you as the water rushes to embrace, first your feet, then your calves, and almost your thighs.
On this island, you have absolutely no cares, no fear, no worries. Your mobile phone is not here, so you do not feel the urge to click on the notifications that jump out of the screen as you wonder what’s happening on social media. You don’t even remember all of the urgent emails that you would typically spend ample time responding to.
Do you miss the meetings? Long hours spent cooped up with people who would go right back to doing the same old things they were doing before the meeting was convened to discuss the same old things they were doing? People talking over themselves as they discuss things that do not need to be discussed at meetings? Of course, you miss the meetings! You miss them the same way one misses an angry boss on their day off.
You have forgotten what driving on busy, traffic-laden roads feel like, cussing every driver who overtakes without signalling. Beating the traffic light at a dark and lonely spot on your way home at night because you do not want to encounter robbers sounds like a joke, does that happen? And if you don’t drive, running after the bus as the conductor conveniently forgets to give you change is a distant memory.
You can hear yourself think clearly. It feels like your thoughts have become embodied: you can see them standing right in front of you as you both converse about the weather and a lot of other random nothings. You whisper as you exchange opinions. Shouting is unimaginable. Here, there is no noise, physical or mental.
Then suddenly, you remember you are on your bed, somewhere in suburban Lagos. It is 5 am and as you get up, you realise you are drenched in sweat because the fan is off as there has been no power all night. Mosquitoes have had a field day feasting on your supple skin: you feel both sticky and itchy. If you don’t hurry up and leave home by 6 am, you will not make it to work before 8 am.
And this, ladies and gentlemen, is the reality of many people who live in Lagos. You wake up early so you can get to work on time. You spend hours at work, bouncing from meeting to meeting. You work hard at deliverable after deliverable. You eat a quick lunch from the mama put restaurant down the road.
Leaving work at closing time is something only those who have no work do. You have to clock in an extra two to three hours, most likely because the boss is still at work and who the heck has the right to go home before the boss? And when you are you are the boss, you understand that you have to work long and hard because salaries cannot be paid by wishful thinking. Then you leave the office and pray to God that you do not encounter traffic on your way home, otherwise, the threat of being robbed becomes real.
You get home at 11 pm if you are lucky, 10 pm on an odd day. You repeat the cycle the following day: wake up at 5 am, sleep at midnight, Monday to Friday. Respite only comes at the weekend and only when there are no extra work commitments, social events, or emergencies.
No doubt, life is tough. Lagos can be very stressful: one can almost feel the tension in the air. Some people have suggested that living in Lagos provides a free pass to surviving in any city in the world. So many people go around the city, oblivious of the fact that they may have high blood pressure. One minute they are hard at work, and the next minute, they are hard as a rock.
Burna Boy’s “Dangote” song tells the story of the average Lagosian: “Dangote, Dangote, Dangote still dey find money o… Who I be? Who I be? Wey make I no go find money o. I no dey send anybody o. Me I dey hustle gan gan”. If Dangote is still hustling, who are you not to hit the streets in search of your daily bread no matter what it takes?
Yet, should we spend all of our lives hustling? When do we rest? Yes, all of those bills won’t pay themselves, but should we focus all of our energy chasing the cheese? When do we find time to relax and rejuvenate? It’s not just about resting our physical bodies: our minds also need to settle down.
Many people do not have a culture of setting aside time to rest: going on holidays, staycations, weekend getaways. Some people travel to other locations and take work along with them. Even more people do not know how to sit down at home and lock themselves away from all external disturbances. Granted, it may seem like a challenge for people who have dependants, but where there’s a will, there’s always a way. Do we need life-threatening emergencies to remind us of the need to slow down?
If you cannot travel to the tranquil island of your daydreams, find a quiet place and sit down for a few hours. Turn off all gadgets when you can and meditate. Spend time in solitude, thinking about random nothings. The hustle is real. If you can afford (and I don’t mean financially) to take a break, please do.
What’s the point in securing the bag if you end up being the one secured in the bag? What would all of that running around have been for? Some will argue that they cannot rest because of their family needs. What then happens if they become unable to meet those needs because they have succumbed to a medical event?
I often think about life in “slower” cities where people are not under so much pressure. It’s a running joke that Lagosians can be identified easily when they are out of their natural habitat: they are constantly in motion heading nowhere and want everything done immediately!
Life is for the living. We need to change our circumstances if they do not allow us to truly live life. And when we have limited choices, we need to get creative with making timeouts a constant feature in our lives. We work to live and not live to work. This is the way I see things today.