Monday, June 13, 2011

Life as you know it

Hooray for vacation!!  I'm back in the states, after a week off in London and a few days off here and there at home.  I won't go on too much about the trip itself, except to say that there was lots of shopping, drinking and laughs.

Oh, baby.

But here's something that struck me - in the course of meeting many of my sister and cousins' friends, I wound up talking about my job.  A lot.  Probably a certain amount of that was just desperation and gratefulness at having the chance to get away that it almost seemed unreal.  A significant proportion was also residual pain from the way that I had been professionally singed on my last rotation, by some people who I had underestimated in their ability to put personal gain above team duty.  But the thing that drove it the most was the fact that I work so many hours at this one job, and so many people that I met just couldn't comprehend it.

It's a fact of life in the UK that work hours are very severely limited.  It's a culture that is hardly hedonistic compared to the rest of Europe, but by American standards can seem outlandishly fun-oriented at times.  To have several drinks with colleagues, to travel, to spend time together, to shop during the lunch hour, these are all things that are assumed by many to be a regular part of life on a weekly or even daily basis.  Even for doctors, the work-hour limit is about 50 hours per week, just over half of what American residents are limited to (and often work over).  So while discussing my job with people, the shock and horror I experienced at describing a standard 85 hr work week was overwhelming.

I used to encounter this sort of attitude years ago, when I was in medical school and dating around.  People would ask what I did for fun on weekends or holidays, and the response of "I'm studying" used to baffle people.  Later, when I started rotations, I would gripe about having to get up so early when the rest of the world seemed asleep, or having to travel so much in such an unpredictable manner.  But eventually, I took solace in knowing that I wasn't the only one.  It enabled me to get off my high horse when I realized that investment bankers work 90 hour weeks too, and while they have bonuses larger than my entire salary, they also have to do it all in a suit and tie, and deal with way bigger assholes.  Embarrassingly, it took me 3 years to figure out that the guy at Dunkin Donuts serving me my latte had to get up at 4:30 in the morning, too.  And my dad chided me for complaining about the frequent travel - nearly all consultants do the same, and they have to do it on planes.  I gradually started to feel that my situation wasn't special, and that allowed me to tone down the pity party I was throwing for myself at working so long for so little.

It is easy to feel jealous that I do not belong to a culture, or a world, in which lifestyle and experience are the focal points.  I certainly turn green at the thought of my friends, who casually meet up with each other with little notice and maximal enjoyment.  But, the fact is, to make those lifestyles happen, these people all picked jobs where they more or less sit at desks, deal with vague concepts and handle a level of office politics that I am, paradoxically, protected from in many respects because the people I work with just don't have time for petty grudges.  I would never be happy in those circumstances, and the few rotations I went through resembling such work had me bored out of my mind.  I didn't pick it because it didn't suit me.  I feel healthier in some ways, doing a job that keeps me occupied for the majority of my time.  I feel healthier in a job where I walk a lot.  If given the option of living the London lifestyle or not, I probably wouldn't pick it if I had to stay with it the rest of my life.  And that's just the way it is.

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