As the pandemic rages on, the media keeps guessing about our future – things will go back to normal; things will not go back to normal; large cities will thrive more than ever; these same large cities will never be the same again. Covid will never leave us; it’s all a hoax. And on and on.
You name it and someone has probably written about it. No one really knows what’s going to happen in a year, so please indulge me as I add my thoughts on the future of work.
According to the U.S. Labor Department, there were 10.9 million job openings in the United States at the end of July 2021. The states that terminated unemployment benefits early saw a 4.4% increase in employment. Looked at another way, that means that 7 out of 8 unemployed people who lost their benefits did not find work. These individuals cut back drastically on their spending which, in turn, damaged the local economy where they live. The states that ended unemployment early had more negative impacts than those that continued them.
Conservatives claimed unemployment benefits were allowing people to stay home, while liberals stated people wanted to work but not for the substandard wages they were making before covid. Others blame concerns about covid and childcare issues as reasons many people are not returning to work. And even others say the algorithms many employers use to scan resumes have not adjusted for gaps in employment during the pandemic, thus discarding those resumes before they were ever seen.
Maybe the reasons above are at least partly true, though I have another possibility — the Lying Flat Movement (tangping) or an offshoot called porch sitting, coined by New York Times opinion writer Cassady Rosenblum in her article “Work is a False Idol.”
Five years ago a Chinese worker named Luo Huazhong quit his factory job and biked 1,300 miles from the Sichuan Province in China to Tibet, getting by on odd jobs and $60 a month from his savings. This past April, he posted an article on his blog describing his new laid back lifestyle and calling it tangping or “lying flat”.
The post went viral and has helped spur a new movement of Chinese Millennials who are sick of working 996 (working 9am to 9pm six days a week) in highly competitive environments for substandard wages and with little chance of getting ahead. It’s now so popular the Chinese government shut down sites promoting the lifestyle.
Similar to tangping, porch sitting is also about leaving the rat race and unhealthy stress. Ms. Rosenblum quit her job as a producer for NPR’s “Here & Now” show and returned home to her parents’ house in West Virginia where she is currently sitting on their porch.
And she’s not alone. Ms. Rosenblum shared that @hollabekgrl posted on Twitter that she would like to sit on her porch – her tweet has over 416,000 likes and has been retweeted over 87,000 times.
I have joined them from Santa Fe.
I have to point out the obvious – not everyone has the luxury to sit on a porch, but I believe anyone can porch sit to some degree, like while driving or taking a bus. And perhaps this is what hundreds of thousands – perhaps millions – of Americans are doing right now and will do until they can’t reduce their spending any further and must find some type of employment.
Or perhaps they’ll start their own businesses. Researchers at the Peterson Institute for International Economics discovered that 4.4 million Americans started new businesses in 2020, a 24% increase from 2019. This is the largest known increase ever.
The added stress and loneliness when the epicenter of covid was in NYC; the divides in this country, the past five years politically, climate change getting worse, cyber attacks, and the unrelenting onslaught of alternative facts and mistruths hit me hard. On top of all that, it’s looking like I didn’t just lose my job during the pandemic, I might have lost my career also.
In late December 2020, after 30 years living in New York City – 25 of them in the East Village in the same apartment – I packed everything up and moved to Santa Fe, New Mexico, not knowing anyone and without a paying job. I’m extremely fortunate because I had a safety cushion when the pandemic hit – I’d been thinking of leaving New York City before 2020 so had some savings stashed away.
A few months after arriving at my new home, I started sitting on my porch, rain or shine – though especially when it rained. I had no idea how much I missed the weather! I can see two mountain ranges from my patio and can watch storms rolling in. I watch sunsets every day.
When it got warmer, I bought a tomato plant, watched it grow, and enjoyed some delicious heirloom tomatoes. I keep bird feed out and enjoy watching birds hop up on my patio ledge and eat. I also added a hummingbird feeder and wait expectantly many afternoons for the birds to come by.
One day I was walking from my car toward my apartment and noticed a hummingbird in the feeder. I stopped a distance away to let him/her finish. The bird looked up, saw me, and buzzed over. S/he flew inches from my face and shifted her gaze to look directly in my eyes. S/he hummed in front of me for 5-10 seconds, and then flew off. I’d like to think she was saying hello. It was incredibly cool.
If you’ve never had a hummingbird fly near you, they flap their wings 60 – 80 times per second, so you not only hear them, you can feel their hum in your body, well, your head mainly. They can also rotate their wings 180 degrees which lets them fly backward or hover in place. Their name comes from the humming sound they make when they fly.
Hummingbirds take an average of 250 breaths per minute and have an average heartbeat of 1,200 beats per minute (humans average 60-100 beats at rest). They are amazing creatures and a joy to experience.
My other joy is watching clouds. They don’t move across the sky where I live as much as they grow. I watch huge, white puffy clouds expand in the sky in front of me, especially during the monsoon season. They also rise from behind mountains.
I’ve rediscovered my childlike joy in finding animals and forms in the puffs of white in front of me. I can spend hours like this as dragons, dogs and elephants grow and morph into new creatures.
I guess I’ll have to work at some point, but my idea of success and what I want from life has changed. I don’t want to be on my computer 12-16 hours a day; I don’t want bosses telling me a very successful event I organized was the worst f’ing thing they’d ever seen (true story!); I don’t want to be told I make too much money and should take a pay cut (another true story). I will never be gaslighted or disrespected again.
And I believe I’m not alone. As a reforming workaholic, I now want and make time to feel the sun, walk through the mountains, and meet and play with all the dogs in my apartment complex. I want time to laugh and feel joy.
That is porch sitting. Porch sitting is not running away from reality – it’s a peaceful act of defiance against the materialistic world we’ve been forced into. It’s radical self care and self love. It provides an opportunity to rediscover joy and beauty in simple things, things that matter.
It’s knowing that the jobs, the success, even the experiences, come and go – they’re fleeting and ultimately have no meaning. What’s important is connecting with and learning to understand ourselves deep inside where words don’t reach. It’s finding the space between the words.
Porch sitting is not passive – porch sitting is peaceful. It’s the act of being fully present. Porch sitting clears the mind and can lead to increased creativity and lower stress. Porch sitting is similar to forest bathing where one walks through a forest to be present – minus the forest. And walking.
I’m sitting on my porch as I write, listening to the wind rustle through my tomato plant, feeling the sun move onto my leg, and watching the sunflowers I grew from leftover bird seed stretch their golden yellow petals to the sun. I wait with excitement for the hummingbirds to come to the feeder and enjoy the nectar I made for them.
How does this relate to work? It doesn’t, and that’s the point. We need to work less. We need to be more present. We need to stop buying into a materialistic culture that ultimately leaves us empty. We need to rediscover our childlike joy within.
I believe covid has given us an opportunity to discover this gift, and I believe millions of us around the world are taking the opportunity to do something similar.
If you haven’t found your porch yet, I hope you do soon.
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