Every night, at work, I feel rushed or squeezed or pinched in some way, like god is my older sister trying to test my resolve until I snap. Either someone calls out, a customer becomes irate over nonsense or a freezer goes down and we suddenly have to move all the product to another one downstairs. None of this changes the fact that I need to write the production list, employees are in my ear, upset about one thing or another and I’m on a constant search to find time to eat my lunch while standing in a hallway with my mask sitting on my chin like a diaper.
It’s during these moments that I hear a stern, matter-of-fact voice come over the loudspeaker and announce, “Do more with less.” I panic, scarf down my pizza, wipe the grease out of my beard and I’m on to the next thing. For me, life is in constant movement here. Before I know it my day is coming to a close and I am checking list and making sure everyone did their cleaning tasks like I teach kindergarten and I’m saying goodbye and I sit down at the same desk where I “ate” my food, thoroughly exhausted.
In some ways, I enjoy it. In others, I hate every moment, because I go through a myriad of seemingly pointless struggles daily. It’s the Myth of Sisyphus in real time. And it’s incredibly mundane. I’m filling a role that I chose to do my best at or not. No more, no less. It is interesting to know my job can be boiled down to spontaneous suffering wrapped in mundanity. I would never have imagined this is where I would be at this time in life. For years, I thought I’d be settled into something, anything else with a house and a car and “happiness”. But now that I’m writing this down, I don’t think that I ever actually imagined being thirty-five years old — let alone did I comprehend what the world would look like when I reach that age. It was purely an abstraction in my life until one day during the pandemic it was my truth. So, whatever job or phase in life or blah, blah, blah, that I thought I could assign to being in my mid-thirties is kind of irrelevant.
And this leads me back to the magnanimous and prevalent phrase I hear so often at work, “Do more with less.” Recently, I was texting with my friend about this phrase. I told her I had come to loathe it due to the unnecessary stress that accompanies the words. It’s an easy way for a lazy capitalist to brush off institutional problems and management shortcomings. It’s a hyper-pragmatic way to spoon feed work-ethic into people. As a capitalist but also a man of words, I feel there are many better ways to organize how a company might run. I said this in less words but the point remained.
She rebutted my transgression and said it’s a great, counter-intuitive way to look at life. Instead of focusing on the need for more, more, more, it shifts the priority to maximizing our time with the little we have. Her one caveat was that when it’s forced it can be exhausting and people can miss the big picture. Immediately, I associated myself with her caveat in a reinforcing way but then I thought about it more, and I’m still here by choice — suffering, toiling away, having random dance parties with co-workers in the back hallways of the Grocery Cathedral — it’s not all bad. I’m missing the big picture because all the pinching and squeezing is building muscle and calluses and fortifying me up for something else. Something much bigger and more meaningful. Maybe I’m being prepared for a life where I will have no choice but to push through despite myself if I want to put food on the table. A creative and fulfilling life. The journey I want. The place where doing more with less is a reward based on instinct instead of the cause of worry and doubt.