Work? Play? How much of each?

An amazing panel of journalists discussing the prevalence of distorted/false news

By Caitlin Kelly

An interesting piece, and book review, from The Atlantic:

Even the present-oriented hunter-gatherers, it turns out, had to develop communal strategies to quash the drivers of overwork—status envy, inequality, deprivation. When a Ju/’hoan hunter returned with a big kill, the tribe perceived a danger that he might think his prowess elevated him above others. “We can’t accept this,” one tribesman said. “So we always speak of his meat as worthless. This way we cool his heart and make him gentle.” This practice became known among researchers as “insulting the hunter’s meat.”

It was not the only custom that aimed to discourage a destabilizing competition for status and avoid a concentration of power. The tribe also “insisted that the actual owner of the meat, the individual charged with its distribution, was not the hunter, but the person who owned the arrow that killed the animal,” Suzman writes. By rewarding the semi-random contributor of the arrow, the Ju/’hoansi kept their most talented hunters in check, in order to defend the group’s egalitarianism. A welcome result was that “the elderly, the short-sighted, the clubfooted and the lazy got a chance to be the centre of attention once in a while.”

Reading about these strategies, I felt several things at once—astonished by their ingenuity, mind-blown by the notion of ridiculing exceptional achievements, and worried that my failure to imagine taking comparable pains to protect leisurely harmony meant that my own brain had been addled by too many years in productivity mode, too many twitchy Sunday evenings.

I think about this a lot, as readers here know.

I’ve been working for income from my first part-time job at 15 as a lifeguard. I started writing for income at 19 and was selling my photos at the same age, sometimes from a street corner in Toronto, sometimes to the dubious tough guy old photo editors of Time Canada (sold!) and Maclean’s, Canada’s national newsweekly.

So working hard and competing for jobs and work with many others is normal.

Leisure — rhymes with pleasure! Treasure! Not so much.

Living in hyper-competitive, expensive New York/the U.S. makes rest problematic —- many workers don’t even get paid sick days or vacation days. Freelancers like me and Jose only earn income when we work. Social media makes an ongoing performative fetish of productivity (truly a word and idea I loathe!), never legacy or creativity or beauty.

Some people have wisely created passive income streams (like owning and renting out property) but that’s always intimidated me.

I lived to age 30 in Canada, and in Toronto, an intensely work-focused place. I moved at 30 to Montreal to escape all of it, choosing a regional newspaper much less prestigious (and less competitive) than the Globe & Mail.

I was burning out and I knew it.

The balance between work and rest, ambition and chilling out, climbing a career ladder or even stepping off it is an ongoing challenge. Americans, especially, are taught from earliest childhood to compete really hard and then to work really hard.


I very rarely see anyone legitimately exhort them to slow down, rest, recharge!

I’m nearing the end of my career in the next few years, really not sure when or how to stop. We are OK for retirement income.

Work has been my identity for a long, long time! Journalism, at its best, can do tremendous good — righting wrongs, taking the corrupt and lying powerful to account, sharing stories that help people improve their lives. I love being part of that.

And, I have to admit, it’s a thrill to produce work published to enormous global audiences.

The larger questions yet to be resolved without work are what sometimes are the basics of a good job/career — your tribe, the people with whom, if you’re lucky, you share values and ethics, in-jokes, jargon, institutional memory.

I’ve never been a joiner or club sort of person. Same with Jose. I need a lot of intellectual stimulation to not be really bored. Neither of us has hobbies — likely the inevitable result of being too work-focused since the age of 19!

Nor, like most of our peers, do we have children or grandchildren.

So we’ll see.

18 thoughts on “Work? Play? How much of each?

  1. What’s wrong with work? I think retirement is highly overrated. I haven’t earned income since 2008 but love to write. I started writing in retirement. It’s my pastime. Life is about reinventing yourself along the way. . . just saying, Claudia

    1. Work for income can be exhausting for many people. If not for you, nice. In your 60s and beyond, competing with 20 year olds for 40 year old pay rates is….annoying.

      And leisure is leisure — when you are not facing pressure earn $$$$$$$ for things like healthcare — so your writing is now leisure. Big difference.

  2. It’s scary making that leap. I was forced into it by illness – an abrupt and painful transition. My husband at 71 still works part-time, unable to let go completely. He hasn’t found that replacement although camera equipment and a kitted out workshop await. The greatest benefit is not having to dance to timelines or other people’s agendas. Wish you all the best.

    1. Thanks! I still enjoy my work — but low pay rates and very high health insurance costs are a lousy combination.

      Sorry you were forced into it….And I doubt my husband will also let go easily.

      As long as (I pray) we have health and $$, I plan to travel a lot — solo, if needs be — if this damn pandemic ever ever abates.

  3. Jan Jasper

    While I don’t miss the constant pressure from when I was working, being retired feels kinda odd. I’m always busy – I’m never bored, I read constantly, and I have a house, large garden, and dog 🐕 to take care of – yet I miss the focus I used to have. I need to find a new passion.

  4. Honestly, I’m wearing down. I’m not as quick, I get tired more easily, and I really need my zzzs. Powering through is getting harder. I’m at the the top (more or less) of my career and will never be paid better than I am now, but I want to call the shots over my time and be with my husband who is already retired. I’m looking forward to walking, travelling, lots of photography, and just flying for fun.

    I don’t think you need regimented “hobbies,” really. Or, is travelling a hobby?

    1. I hear you on this as well!

      I work hard and do a lot but now just have less stamina than a 25 or 35 year-old (with whom I compete for work, so I also have to be wary of appearing “old”!)

      OTOH, Dr. Fauci — at 80!!!! — is such an inspiration.

      Now (ugh) there are more and more MD appointments to add in as well. I loathe the endless attention to my body, but needs must.

      I love antiques and auctions — that’s my hobby! Also travel.

      1. Dr. Fauci is amazing. Exactly the kind of elder medical professional role model one wants in that job. He might be working until he’s 90! And your new president is another good example.
        But I’m really at the point where I want to be able to direct my own time, not always running to hit deadlines, living by the clock. This never used to bother me, but it does now, so that’s a pretty big sign, I think.

      2. For sure!

        I’ve been working at home on my own since 2006 — so am able to totally manage my own time. I make very little income compared to a “real” job but I also carry much less pressure as a result, and that matters more to me. We are OK for retirement funds, so I don’t feel huge pressure any more to make $$$$$$ (thank God) and that allows me to work more slowly and choose only work I really want to do.

        Having said that, this has been a super-busy week and have been working with sources all over the place so having to accommodate a wide range of time zones.

        All we are given is time, and the older we get, the more precious it is!

      3. Jan Jasper

        I also love antiques! I remember my mom, who is now gone, taking me to auctions over many years, starting when I was a child. So it runs in the family. Last year I wanted to go to Brimfield, that huge outdoor antique fair (in MA, I think?) – but of course it was cancelled due to Covid. Actually, they moved it online, but that doesn’t appeal to me. Virtually everything in my house was obtained from an auction or estate sale, along with some pieces I inherited. I’m happy to say I have very little that’s new. I rarely see anything new that I like. I also avoid buying new to lighten my environmental footprint.
        Caitlin, that’s a testament to your (and your husband’s) smarts and hard work that you’re in decent shape for retirement. As soon as you qualify for Medicare, it will save you BUCKETS of money every month. I had an advantage, I think, getting health insurance as the surviving spouse of a person who used to work for a big company, i.e. the insurance buying power that should bring. Even so, it cost me $900 a month for health insurance, until I turned 65. Yup!
        Now with Medicare, even though I have a “Medicare replacement” thru United, I only pay a couple hundred a month. Would be cheaper if I chose plain-Vanilla Medicare. But one thing I like about the plan I chose is that I have virtually no out-of-pocket costs.
        Anyhow Caitlin, knowing your determination, curiosity, and love of learning, I have a hard time imagining you retired from journalism. Maybe you’ll write part-time? Perhaps there are subjects you’d love to investigate and write about, but didn’t in the past – figuring nobody would buy?

      4. Thanks…

        We are also very fortunate (beyond hard work, because journalism is not a lucrative field) to have some inherited $ from my family and a decent chunk from 2015 when Jose took the NYT buyout with a 30% sweetener. But we have to be careful to invest/grow it, as we have.

        Not at all sure what comes next. I’ve always dreamed of having a little store to sell lovely things, mostly old, some new….but I won’t necessarily want to sit there all day! So we’ll see.

        My dream has been to live in France and real estate there can be a lot more affordable than here and esp. in Canada.

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