Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Lessons from the Furlough

The more tranquil a man becomes, the greater is 
his success, his influence, his power for good. 
Calmness of mind is one of the beautiful jewels of wisdom.
~ James Allen

You may remember that, as a civilian employee of the Department of Defense, I was one of thousands facing a forced furlough - a 20% reduction in hours and pay.  It was projected to last for 11 weeks.  We found out recently that, thanks to various budgetary shell games and sleight-of-hand shenanigans, it would only last 6 weeks.  Last week was our last "Furlough Friday."  

Guess what I discovered during those 6 weeks?  

I discovered that the negative impact on the amount of work I could accomplish was minimal compared to the positive impact on my life.  

I discovered that weekday evenings could have enough time to do more than just eat dinner, call my grandmother and go to bed.

I discovered that 3-day weekends let me get all my chores done and still have time to do something fun.  

I discovered that Sunday evenings don't have to be filled with dread for the upcoming Monday morning.  

I discovered that I could breathe.  :)


Working forty hours a week doesn't really seem like an unreasonable requirement.  

(To be fair, with my commute, it's more like 52 hours per week.  Still, lots of people do it.)

So, I should just suck it up and deal with it, right?  After all, that's what the American work ethic says...  And how else am I going to get ahead?  be a success?  change the world?  convince others of my commitment to my career?  make a name for myself?  

Surely I'm not going to argue that having time to sew, to weave, to ride my bike, to take a dance lesson, to cook a special meal, to hang out with some friends, to volunteer teach an ESL class, to take someone else's child to a singing lesson - to do things that are fun, things that I enjoy - that these things are as important as working hard on my career and professional success, am I?  

When searching for a quote for this post, for every quote I found like this one:

"There is only one success - to be able to spend life in your own way."   
~ Christopher Morley

There was one like this...

"The difference between a successful person and others is not a lack of strength, not a lack of knowledge, but rather a lack of will."   
~Vince Lombardi, Jr.

...making me think that I just need to strengthen my will and put my nose back to the grindstone and deal with it.  

But I've spent the last couple of years dreaming of retirement and wondering how I am going to make it another 10 years...  That's not right, is it?  

So, I asked my boss about the possibility of working 32 hours per week and I have permission for a 6-month trial.  

I haven't committed to it yet.  (I still have to talk to someone in HR, to make sure I understand all the implications for my benefits - vacation hours, health insurance, retirement, etc.)  

But the "cons" seem to mostly be about going against cultural norms and negatively impacting other peoples' perceptions of me; I don't think that those things should determine my course in life.  

The "pros" are simple - a calmer, happier life.  

With the possibility that my working hours will actually be more productive as a result...  ;)

What do you think?  What would you do if you had this choice?  

I do make this promise: I will remind myself every day to appreciate the fact that I have this opportunity - that I can cut back my work hours and still make a living wage - that my employer offers me this possibility - that my husband supports this choice...  


I'll leave you with some of my favorite recently-found quotes that support this choice:

“You'll never achieve real success unless you like what you're doing.” 
 Dale Carnegie

“Success is liking yourself, liking what you do, and liking how you do it.” 
 Maya Angelou

“A man is a success if he gets up in the morning and gets to bed at night, 
and in between he does what he wants to do.” 
 Bob Dylan

“Don't set your goals by what other people deem important.” 
 Jaachynma N.E. Agu

“The moment will arrive when you are comfortable with who you are, 
and what you are– bald or old or fat or poor, successful or struggling- 
when you don't feel the need to apologize for anything or to deny anything. 
To be comfortable in your own skin is the beginning of strength.” 
 Charles B. Handy

“Our greatest fear should not be of failure 
but of succeeding at things in life that don't really matter.” 
 Francis Chan

“To laugh often and love much; to win the respect of intelligent persons and the affection of children; to earn the approbation of honest citizens and endure the betrayal of false friends; to appreciate beauty; to find the best in others; to give of one’s self; to leave the world a bit better, whether by a healthy child, a garden patch or a redeemed social condition; to have played and laughed with enthusiasm and sung with exultation; to know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived—this is to have succeeded.” 
 Bessie Anderson Stanley


  1. I started writing a comment and it was turning into a book - so my short answer is that I agree with you in that - a shorter work week or less hours would definitely be my #1 choice if I had the option. At this point, even if I were able to share my rent with someone - I'd consider a paycut and a part time job just so I could have more time for family and other pursuits. I do think my working hours would be more productive. I know there's a lot of time spent not doing work!

    1. Hi Jenny! Thanks - I must admit I'm a little relieved to hear that I'm not the only one who sometimes loses time at work... ;)
      Wouldn't it be nice if we could all get by on a part-time salary and a full-time life, instead of vice versa?

  2. I would go for the reduced hours, as well. It sounds like the overall quality of your life is much better with them! I may be facing a similar decision as well--my husband and I have been discussing the possibility of me quitting my part-time retail job. It's a definite whenever we have kids, but he says he wouldn't mind me being home more now and having more time to focus on my music, whereas I've felt that as long as I'm not home with kids, I should keep working so we can plan ahead and save a little extra money for that time. (Even though I am much happier being at home--I would have made a great 1950s housewife!) I think it's exactly what you said-- a cultural norm. And it's difficult to mentally get past that sometimes. Do keep us posted!

    1. Hi Becky,
      It is hard to get past those cultural expectations and values, isn't it? How lucky we both are to have husbands who are encouraging us to follow our hearts - not everyone can say that! So, at least it's only ourselves we have to convince! ;)
      I'll keep you posted and please do the same... I'll be thinking of you! :)

  3. Oh I'd definitely take a short week ! A couple years ago our place had a forced 30 hour week. I was only on it for the last 8 of 18 months. Oh my goodness I was so worried about the lost paid day but it was wonderful ! With time to myself, I could get so much done and weekends were no longer the crazy rush of errands and chores. I actually had a restful home life -the difference a day makes. If you get to do this, enjoy !

  4. Thanks, Claire! It sounds like you had the same experience I had with our furlough - you're right - one day can make a huge difference! :)