Greg de la Cruz works at NCR Corp's R&D center in the Philippines, and author of two self-published titles on Amazon.
It was January 2016, and I had officially accomplished one year of service for my employer, a Manila-based engineering firm. What were 12 months (or 52 weeks) felt more like 2 years on the job, as my regular working schedule was from 6 in the morning until 6 at night.
There were three of us who shared the same triple-six routine (Sunday was our only day off). I don’t know about my two other colleagues who were both older and far more experienced than me (and both former overseas workers), but I yearned for a regular 9-to-5 schedule.
Well, technically, for Filipinos, the 9-to-5 schedule is actually an 8-to-5 schedule since an unpaid 1-hour lunch break is squeezed right in the middle of the day. But you could still argue that the Filipino 8-to-5 is still very much a 9-to-5 considering that the first hour is usually when a lot of settling in, coffee-drinking, and office gossip happens. That fresh hour between 8 a.m. and 9 a.m. is the part when co-workers talk about their exploits of the night before (or their weekend escapades if it’s a Monday).
When I reached my milestone of one year of experience under the same employer, I was starting to feel burned out. I always felt envious of the regular workers who were able to report to their jobs between 7 to 9 in the morning and able to leave as early as 4 p.m. I was starting to feel exhausted by the 4:45 a.m. commute to work, owing to the fact that I was residing three towns (approximately 20 km) away.
I was starting to question whether my choice of a college degree was a smart one. had I labored those five years in engineering school away only to be enslaved in a system where I barely got any time off?
As I mentioned earlier, upon hitting the one-year mark, I felt like I already had two years on the job. I yearned for fewer (and more regular) working hours, better pay, and more time off. Funny and unusual as it may sound today, I wished for a regular 9-to-5 corporate-ish job.
I eventually quit five months later, seeking admission to a local law school. But whatever I did after my stint at a triple-six work style worked. My wish of getting a job with regular working hours eventually came true.
Barely Noticing the Positives
When I finally landed a job with regular working hours, to be honest, I barely noticed the difference. I was pushing my second year of law school when it happened, and I was trying to balance these two interests on my very limited attention.
At last, I had a job that started at either 6, 7, or 8 in the morning and ended between 3 and 5 in the afternoon. "As long as you did your eight hours," my old supervisor used to say. It was such an output-based job that as long as I met my daily quota, the company didn’t really care much about what I did afterward. It was like a sales job, and in fact, our team was kind of part of the structure of what you’d call a sales team.
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But looking back on that pocket of time, which was longer than I thought (one year and eight months), I hardly took the time to appreciate the fact that my wish of having a regular work schedule had finally come true.
I was too caught up in fitting a full-time law curriculum into my daily schedule, which was at least four hours a night for five nights a week. It was an illustration of my arrogance at the time and how caught up I was in subscribing to hustle culture, which mandated that a person of legal age and able physical condition do everything in their will to fill their days with productivity and self-improvement.
When I think about those days when I had a full-time job while enrolled in law school as a full-time student and put all of that under the backdrop of a world that has changed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, I cringe. How I valued getting the best out of myself over my own physical health and mental well-being I can no longer fathom today.
And so, when my yearned-for 9-to-5 finally came into existence, I wasn’t there to appreciate the hours I could do whatever I wanted with. Instead, I was there to fill in the missing four hours that I was so used to consuming back in my old job. Because I had such an esteemed view of my own grit, ambition, and willpower, I failed to realize that all of this hard work came at a hefty price.
Finding a Sustainable Pace
To my surprise, I lasted three years having a full-time job while being enrolled as a full-time law student. I had ballooned to a weight that I never want to remember (probably because I went vegan for a little while), and my sleep pattern was disrupted.
To this day, it continues to be hard for me to wind down in the evenings before going to bed—probably because I was so used to using so much mental energy in the hours between 6 and 10 p.m. when law professors were shuffling index cards and calling on the next person in class to answer a question. The effects of my over-ambition from a few years ago continue to haunt me today.
That is why today, I’ve learned to appreciate as much as I possibly can the work schedule that I have. I now have a job that allows me to enjoy the free time I have. The COVID-19 pandemic allowed for all sorts of flexible schedules to pop up, in some cases, overworking people, and in others, allowing for more work-life balance. I have to admit that there are days where I feel overworked, but there are also days where I definitely feel like I've struck a healthy balance. The important thing is that I’m able to find a sustainable pace—this is probably what they mean when. they say "find your balance."
And so, I no longer yearn for the 9-to-5, and I doubt it will ever truly make a big comeback in a post-pandemic world. Don’t get me wrong—it still exists today in some industries, and it will probably make some kind of a comeback.
But what I do hope doesn’t ever make a comeback is our yearning to fill those hours before 9 a.m. and after 5 a.m. with more stuff to do—stuff that’s supposed to unleash a better version of ourselves. Let’s abandon this hustle culture nonsense. And for those who happen to be in a fortunate position—it's time to be more appreciative of the privilege to pace our days as we please.
This content reflects the personal opinions of the author. It is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and should not be substituted for impartial fact or advice in legal, political, or personal matters.