Working Late Tonight?

A couple of weeks ago, a post by a senior ad professional was doing the rounds. It was a piece on why, in her 22-year long career in a reputed agency, she never worked beyond 7 pm. Judging by the comments section and by the way it was shared on various social media platforms, it resounded quite favourably with a lot of people. There were, of course, a few comments to the contrary. Maybe it was because she painted her male colleagues in various shades of black. They passed remarks when she picked up her bag to leave, loitered around unnecessarily in the office socializing and playing games, discussed Tendulkar’s retirement issues and above all, were mama’s boys who managed to make ‘working late’ a means to escape important household duties. It then became a gender-based issue. A fact that clouded the most important point she had to make – leaving office on time.

And to digress a bit, this brings me to a specific growing up angst, mostly inflicted by parents – the craze to score a certain percentage in apparently life-changing exams. A fact that made parents persuade their children to forgo everything dear to them. Cricket matches on crisp winter days.  Favourite TV shows. The wedding preparations of a much-loved aunt. Getting lost in a favourite author’s latest novel. Everything was sacrificed at the score-high-marks altar. Examples of a cousin or a family friend’s son eking out a livelihood in a lowly clerical position because they were not serious about their studies would be thrown in our faces. The result of all this badgering - conscientious students who prided themselves in their ability to burn the midnight oil. They would wear dark circles and pallid complexions like badges of honour. When I was in class 10, there were two other students in the same campus, both girls. Almost every other evening, their mothers would compare notes about their respective daughter’s studying habits. How late they study and how early they set the alarm. I, of course, caused unnecessary trouble in their lives by not switching off my bedroom light all night long. I could sleep blissfully with an interrogation light pointed at my face.

During college years, students could (mostly) be divided into two groups. Those who started studying a month before exams and those who studied the night before.  Of course, I am talking strictly about my stream – commerce. I had friends in engineering or medical who moaned constantly about how much they had to study throughout the year. I also knew more than a few who really enjoyed studying and were very focused on their future life. The point I am trying to make here is that there comes a time, when one needs to make that extra effort, the extra push. Whether it is the aim of securing (or fear of losing) that all-important seat in a reputed institution, or simply because that’s what has been drummed into us since childhood, all of us, irrespective of gender, have at some point really sweated it out.

Then came a day, when our professional lives started. And another round of proving ourselves also started. As trainees in newspaper publications, legal offices, hospitals, manufacturing units, production houses or advertising agencies, the emphasis was on who could work the hardest and hopefully catch the always-wavering attention of the seniors. And get more work. Because that’s how one learns and grows.

Which is why the only thing constant in our lives was work. We enjoyed getting neck-deep in work with our seniors. We loved contributing ideas to a big campaign. Most of us still have our first published ad. Again, gender had no role to play in it. There were those who worked hard. And then there were those who knew how to escape hard work. It eventually boils down to how you view life.

But it definitely wasn’t a case of all work and no play. A weekend of not working was a matter of great celebration. A national holiday was treated with great respect. Time was always made for an impromptu trek in the Sahyadris.

My seniors in the advertising world were some of the brightest, honest and hardest working people I’ve ever met. They instilled values that became part of our DNA. Values that involved giving our best regardless of the situation. Values that trained us not to take the ‘smart’ way out. Values that never made us clock-watchers.

However, with each passing year, the fact that life is not fair has become increasingly evident. You could spend countless hours slaving over a gourmet meal, plate it up nicely and offer it to the client only to discover that all he’s interested in is a burger from a fast food chain. Now does that lessen the effort taken? Of course not. Because that’s what we have been trained to do. To give it our best shot. And to do that there are times when we have to work late.

It is truly admirable that the above-mentioned lady has managed to achieve an enviable work-life balance. It is remarkable that in her long career, she never once had to wait in the office to sign artworks late in the night, or be part of a team that had to work overnight on a pitch that could affect the agency’s future (and livelihoods), or because the I’ll-take-my-account-somewhere-else client wanted three options overnight for every option they rejected. She finishes her work late from home. But that’s, unfortunately, not an option available for many.

Working late all the time neglecting your personal life is not acceptable. But some of us, irrespective of gender, believe that working late, every now and then, for something worthwhile, is definitely worth it.