Greg de la Cruz works in the tech industry and is the author of two published titles on Amazon.
“I don’t mind,” Noel Gallagher sings, “as long as there’s a bed beneath the stars that shine.”
The song The Importance of Being Idle by Oasis is nearly two decades old, yet its message has continued to stay relevant for its frontal attack on hustle culture and productivity addiction.
Oasis, a British band formed by the Gallagher brothers in 1991, never shied of being descendants of The Beatles whose songwriting and music it was heavily influenced by. And when you think of The Beatles, you think of the hippie movement—a counterculture characterized by anti-capitalism and anti-authority.
But it wasn’t like the hippie movement was wholly against capitalism—it was more like the goals of capitalism were simply contrary to the hippie movement’s goals of peace, love, and freedom. For the sake of oversimplification, hippies and executives were as polarized as angels and devils; complete opposites. Water and oil. They just didn’t mix.
Fast forward half a century later, which is today, or at least in the last decade, the ‘anti-hippie’ movement has gained momentum. As a result, the anti-hippie was born. You might have already come across this type of person, despite its many names— ‘self-help guru,’ ‘life coach,’ ‘masterclass maestro.’ They preach productivity 24/7, they reinforce the belief that it is only through hard work and determination that you get a shot at greatness, they want you to keep exceeding your limits, they want you to keep setting goals, they want you to keep thinking about money.
But they also want you to buy their book.
Or at least subscribe to their YouTube channel.
Or maybe enroll in their masterclass? Become a member on their Patreon?
The same people who keep preaching the endless need to hustle and do, do, do are the very same people who are hustling you so that you continue to give, give, give. They don’t really care about you—do they?
We are living in the anti-hippie’s age, and unfortunately for us, we don’t exactly have a popular-enough British band that sings of songs of idleness, who emphasize the value of existing as opposed to producing.
“If you give me a minute;
A man’s got a limit;
I can’t get a life if my heart’s not in it.”
- The Importance of Being Idle, Oasis (2005)
America’s Work Addiction, The American Nightmare
Well over a century ago, Max Weber wrote a book called the ‘Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism’ which took 25 years to be translated into English. Its translation and wider availability led to the formation of the Weber thesis, which proposes that an inner relationship or intimate connection, affinity, and strong congruence exists between ascetic Protestantism (notably Calvinism as its prototype) and the spirit of modern capitalism.
In my own efforts to paraphrase, simply, the Weber thesis suggests that it is because of Protestantism that modern capitalism exceedingly values hard work, and the idea that people should derive their life’s meaning from their job.
Writing for Pacific Standard magazine, Daniel Luzer explains it better:
“As hard workers attempted to prosper in business in order to show that they were God’s chosen ones, over time hard work became the object in itself, particularly in the United States.”
And Tim Kreider, writing for the New York Times described how the Puritans, who were English Protestants in the 16th and 17th centuries, put much value in one’s work:
“The Puritans turned work into a virtue, evidently forgetting that God invented it as a punishment.”
These two statements were of course just anecdotes trying to generalize the Protestant work ethic. But a recent journal article by Andre van Hoorn and Robbert Maseland concludes that the latter truly does exist. In analyzing a sample of 150,000 people from 82 societies, they found strong support for a Protestant work ethic—that unemployment hurts Protestants more and hurts more in Protestant societies.
There is therefore strong evidence that North America, and the people in it, are obsessed with work because the Protestant work ethic has burrowed itself deep into its citizens’ ideologies. People in the United States, especially those who belong to older generations, value work so much that it has to be the very center of one’s existence. So scared of the idea that ‘you might not be one of God’s elect,’ they work so hard to make sure that they seal their fate to go to heaven.
That last sentence may be an exaggeration, but you get the picture—Protestant societies are wired to work hard, and being unemployed is something that causes so much damage to a person’s well-being. The American dream is turning out to be an American nightmare, where people’s lives are judged mainly by the work they do.
The Dangers of Productivity Obsession
I’ve previously written about productivity obsession in my article ‘5 Ways to Cope With Productivity Obsession and Hustle Culture.’
That article dealt with time traps, time famine, and time confetti—all of which were consequences of the need to squeeze in as much work as possible within our limited time. And this is precisely why we assign so much value on time itself. We can’t stop thinking that our time in this world is limited. And that by doing more work within such finite units of seconds, minutes, and hours, we perpetuate the belief that we are gaining more power.
If you’d ever attended a Physics class, if you can recall, ‘Power’ is defined by formula as ‘work over time.’ Scientifically defined, power is the amount of work done within a specific time frame. Not to get further into a topic that would be best explained inside a classroom, but the point here is that even science says that more work means more power.
Hustle culture has become such a danger to society because it romanticizes overwork; that if you have some extra time, the best way to spend it would be on either improving your skills or doing side gigs. Skills classes and side hustles—these are the only two options on how to spend your free time, according to hustle culture.
According to a 2019 survey by GOBanking rates, a quarter of Americans have a side hustle in addition to their 40-hour day job. And of those with side gigs, 10 percent work 15-20 hours additional. Martina Mascali, who cited the survey in her article ‘Hustle Culture: How “Every Day I’m Hustlin” Became a Mantra’ writes:
“The data makes it clear that many Americans still have to hustle out of necessity, but many more choose to adapt a hustle lifestyle—23 percent are taking on a side hustle as a hobby or for fun, 11 percent for more experience, and 10 percent to grow their professional network.”
“People who hustle,” Mascali says, “chase success, but once they reach their initial goal, they’re so addicted to the hustle that their current success isn’t enough. There are always more hours they could be working to achieve an even more ambitious goal, leading to a workaholic lifestyle.”
The Need for Gaps in our Lives, ‘Untimed Time’
Ever since I discovered coffee, the coffee shop has become my favorite place of refuge. Away from chronic busyness, hustle culture, and the relentless pursuit of success—and near the comforting smell of coffee, the ambient sounds of chairs being dragged, laughs being shared, pages being turned—this is how I’ve managed to create convenient ‘gaps’ in my life.
Whether it’s a book, a laptop, or empty space that’s in front of me when I visit my café of choice, the purpose has always been to have no purpose. The goal is to lounge, to be idle, to reflect, to exist—and not to produce, nor consume, nor think about doing anything. The Importance of Being Idle captures exactly the thoughts of someone in that moment. It’s a plea to just ‘leave me alone and let me be’ and to stop judging a person as ‘lazy’ for not being occupied with something worth doing.
We desperately need to have gaps, these spaces in between busyness and hustle, in our lives for us to make sense what it is that all these things are for. We all need some untimed time to free our minds from the bondage of productivity addiction. Because when we are consumed by productivity addiction, we think of wasted minutes and hours that could have been spent in checking off items on our to-do list, whether mentally or in actual practice.
Is laziness a myth?
Tim Ferris, who wrote about laziness in his book The 4-Hour Workweek had this to say:
“Let’s redefine ‘laziness’ anew – to endure a non-ideal existence, to let circumstances or others decide life for you.”
His redefinition of laziness tells us that we might need to accept things as they are; that there are simply things beyond our control.
I remember a few moments during my remote work phase of the pandemic, that there were days (Mondays most especially) when I simply did not have the willpower to flip open my laptop and check into work. I had reached the point where I deleted all of my work apps on the phone; because the non-stop notification bonanza was just too much to bear. And so, my work laptop became the only gateway to my job—if it was closed and shut down, I was “off work.”
It got so bad that I would wait for official work hours to start before I rolled myself out of bed. My motivation to work was at an all-time low.
Was I simply being lazy? Or was I starting to mentally check out of my work commitment?
Like many, the pandemic made me ponder a lot on what my job meant to me. There was a time in the past that my job defined me as a person. It became the very nexus of everything else that happened around me.
Could I attend a relative’s birthday party? No, because I had a work meeting scheduled late in the evening.
Could I drop by for breakfast at my grandmother’s house the next morning? No, because I had to leave early for work.
There was a time where I, too, was caught in the trance of having my job make most of my decisions for me. I had put such prime importance into what was paying for my salary, that I hardly had time to realize that there was so much life outside of one’s career.
So when I look back to when I was hardly getting up in the morning to start my workday at home, I don’t think I was being lazy. I was just starting to believe that my work didn’t give me enough purpose, and that it didn’t occupy that much space in my existence after all. Had I not been trapped in poverty—knowing that if I didn’t have my job, I’d have no means to financially support myself—maybe my job would start becoming an insignificant part of my identity.
It’s Not Too Late To Change
If you’re somehow still in that trance, or if the pandemic never managed to get you out of it—it’s not too late to take a course correction. For your sake, here’s the second verse of The Importance of Being Idle:
“I lost my faith in the summertime;
‘Cause it don’t stop raining.
The sky all day is as black as night;
But I’m not complaining.
I begged my doctor for one more line;
He said, “Son, words fail me.”
It ain’t not place to be killing time;
I guess I’m just lazy.”
We need to slow down and start accepting “doing nothing” as just simply being human. We put so much care on what we need to get done and things we need to accomplish, that we sometimes forget that we can just exist.
Does it suck so much to just be a cat sitting on a tree? We’re so repulsed by it that we call firemen to bring the cat down.
© 2022 Greg de la Cruz