The Guilt of Free Time

Adrian Eaton
4 min readOct 9, 2021

Catching up with a group of friends the other day made me realize something that shows how deeply embedded “love of work” is in our culture. We don’t even have to love our particular job, but we all know that work is #1.

When people ask you “How are you doing?” or “How have you been?” or “How is everything going?” it’s a work-related question.

They don’t have to mention work at all. Usually they don’t. But it’s right there in the question. It happens when catching up with both friends and family. These people know you, they have more context for your personality and they understand your whole background, so the year-to-year changes in your answer are less important. But these questions are also some of the most common conversation-starters when we meet strangers.

Second to your name, “What do you do?” is the most pressing question on people’s minds. Your job becomes the most important factor in shaping your identity to people around you.

As someone who has never considered myself a writer, this is a difficult question to answer succinctly. I end up launching into lots of tangential explanations about neoliberalism and hegemony and just to rationalize that my time is well-spent, because calling myself a “writer” feels at once incomplete and insincere. But as I elaborate to prove to both of us that I have a “real job”, I notice I’m not talking about the things I’ve enjoyed more than my “work” over the past months. Small talk doesn’t open the door for talking about the road trips or beach days or delicious meals I’ve had. I have stories that are so much more exciting than what I do for work and I’m much more interested in learning things about other people outside of what they do for work. Yet the first thing we talk about is our job. As the saying goes, “When people ask you what you do for work, they’re calculating how much respect to give you.” Suddenly, I feel guilty for “slacking off” so much.

I do love my job. And I loved my last job, too. I was fortunate to work alongside great people at a fun company with an interesting product and exciting clients, but I don’t miss the corporate work schedule one bit. I enjoy what I do now, and a major reason I chose to shift to full-time freelance work was to break from the “traditional” work window from 8am to 5pm. Now I spend the…