We Haven't Forgotten How to Live

February 2, 2020
Written by Kate Johnson

On a recent trip to Croatia to film some of the last shots for a documentary, my partner Michael found himself running at a breakneck pace alongside a producer with a huge list of shots and just a few days to get them. You know, the typical independent film story. To help them with the shoots they found a wonderful assistant named Vid who took them around Zagreb and Slavonski Brod over the 5 days. At one point, the producer went off to one of her interviews and Vid turned to Michael noticing his harried demeanor and said “We are a country that has been through many wars, but we have not forgotten how to live. May I buy you a cup of coffee?” With that one kindness Michael was able to relax, knew he had a wise friend in Vid and was able to survive the grueling 18 hour days of non-stop shooting and a crew of 2 to pull it off.
The story made me think about our own lives in our tech mecca dashing at high speeds, careening around each other to finish just under the wire one more ephemeral deadline that is imposed at the possible cost of someone’s health. Just this week there was another news story of a Japanese worker dying from over work. A Toyota employee, he was working on the latest hybrid model and collapsed. In Japan they have a term for death from overwork: Karoshi. While Japan recognizes the societal and health issue the Supreme Court in the United States ruled against a case that was trying to state that this problem exists in our culture as well. The Puritan work ethic is a badge of pride for Americans and saying “no” to a client or boss is seen as not acceptable. Our heroes are superheroes who do the impossible and we bring that into our offices and studios as we deliver just in time. In fact, much of our economy operates on the “just in time” model of inventory and delivery.
In my own life I have had moments after 5 straight all-nighters for high profile and high stakes projects where I believed that I was going to die for the client. I remember sitting in a hotel room looking into my bleached and swollen face, new veins popping out my forehead from the spiked rise in blood pressure and my body sallow and limp. My heart was racing and I feared that I could possibly go to sleep and not wake up. Was it all worth it? Had I crossed over into living to work rather than working to live? Is the adrenalin rush and the feeling of camaraderie with fellow teammates that “we did it again!” part of the addiction? What is living in our contemporary American dream? Is it winning the title?
No matter how often I may beg clients to begin earlier, to not factor costs in by forcing timelines and therefore being able to limit budgets, or to limit their expectations commensurate to their timetable, they never change. We are a society of procrastination and it hits hardest on the people who are the creators or the fabricators of the product who in the end have to deliver. They are the ones that have to tell their families once again: not tonight, or this weekend, or this holiday…I’ve got a deadline. Life is subsumed by work and slowly we begin to forget how to live.
However, there are people in the world who are not so threatened by the clock that they cannot stop to smile and greet someone in the street, or to sit and enjoy their coffee with a friend, or be able to patiently wait while a child dances around a decision. They don’t need to fit their meals, their sleep or their relationships around their career. They understand balance and while they have clear career goals, they also factor in their families.
I love what I do for a “living” but all work and no play, as they say, is making me (and my output) rather dull. It is imperative to remember how to live again and we need to remind our clients as well.