Posted by: patenttranslator | February 14, 2019

The Insanity of Working Hard All Your Life

When the period of 24 hours, also known as day and night, is divided by number 3, the number we get is 8.

Most of our life is divided into a seemingly endless supply of these 3 periods, a banker might say trenches of 8 hours distributed over the time sheet of our life. It is only towards the end of our life that we realize that the supply of available hours is in fact quite limited and pretty soon we will be scraping the bottom. Some people believe that it does not matter that much because God will in the end bail us out, but I don’t buy that. It simply makes no sense to me.

Most people sleep for about 8 hours a day: a little bit more at the beginning of our life, a little bit less during the middle of it and a little bit more again towards the end of our life, counting the naps older people need to take during the day.

When we are children, adolescents, and even as young adults, those of us who live in developed countries do not have to work because we go to school. This is a good time for us, probably the best time, when school, commuting to school and related activities that are mostly fun bite off about 8 hours out of our night and day.

Roughly 8 hours out of the block of 24 hours should therefore be available for us once we are adults to do with them as we please. But is that what really happens?


Theoretically, things should be simpler and more convenient for those of us who work at home as freelancers. For a long time I thought that I finally figured out how to beat the system and use hours available to me more efficiently when I started my home-based business and my life pattern changed from that of an employee who can ask only one question when ordered to jump …. yup, you’ve got it, that would be “How high”?

It is true that things improved to an extent because I no longer had to commute, and commuting was quite exhausting. In Tokyo, it took me one and half hour to commute to my office – a bus at first, followed by two different subway lines, until I was discharged from the open mouth of a crowded train beast in which commuters were packed like sardines in the Yamanote-sen line at Hamamatsucho.   

I thought I would finally be free to plan each of the hours in the day and even at night exactly as I thought it would work best for me. Except that it was not really true, not true at all. I had to divide the number of words I thought I would be able to translate by the number of hours available to do the work to finish each project on time. And contrary to what people who don’t know much about translation might think, such as captains of the “translation industry,” translators cannot work for many hours at a stretch because these hours must be filled with numerous breaks to refresh the little grey cells in our hard working brains.

Otherwise, the translations will be full of mistakes.

So if one counts the breaks between translating as “necessary activities related to work”, most freelancers must work basically from early morning until late in the evening. At least I did: when I was busy, which fortunately was most of the time. I say fortunately, because how else would I pay the bills? I would start translating just after 6 AM when it was still dark, sometime spilling my coffee on my keyboard, to finally call it a day when it was dark outside again around 7 PM, since I would be so exhausted, both mentally and physically, that I could no longer translate. At the end of the day, I would multiply the number of translated words by the rate per word that I was charging and if the result was a nice, round number, I would determine that everything was right with the world.

But was it really? It turned out that it was not true that I as an independent freelance business owner, I would be able to plan my day and therefore work less as I originally thought: in fact, the opposite was true. My neighbors who wasted every day on average 30 or 40 minutes commuting to work at least could forget about working once they got back home.

And they did not have to work Saturdays and Sundays as I did. I would see them from my home office packing the cars with the kids and their boogie boards and taking off for the beach, or having barbecues, drinking beer and stuffing their faces in the backyard, while I could do so only once in a long while.

Since the bills had to be paid, most of my day was in fact taken up by my work, which was not really an improvement from my life as a “gaijin salaryman” in Tokyo.

But because I was working at good rates for direct customers, at least I was making good money, especially compared to poor warm bodies who nowadays have to work for the “translation industry”, right?

Well, yeah, kind of, but most of the money I made was spent not by myself, but by my wife, who really enjoyed spending it (women have such a talent for spending money that they did not have to make by themselves, don’t they?) And in the end, in order to turn her into my ex-wife, I had to agree to give her almost all of the money that we will hopefully receive from the sale of our house, which, incidentally, has not sold yet.

It’s a bum deal when you have to work so much, basically all the time, and somebody else will get to profit from the fruits of your labor. But that’s just how it is. You don’t get rich by working hard and doing good work. You can only get rich by exploiting the work of other people. That’s how things always have been and always will be.

Working hard all your life to please other people and keep acquiring new earthly possessions is totally insane. I should have figured out a better way to be spending the precious hours of my life on something else than work when I was younger and in much better shape than now.

But this is something that we usually realize only when the time sheet of our life is almost filled up with hours spent working and there is not much space available for new hours, regardless of what we might want to do with them.


  1. The unbearable lightness of being …
    has turned into the heaviness of bearing the unbeing upon on.


  2. Upon on what?


    • I don’t think “unbeing” is heavy, I think it’s rather light, and it’s being that is heavy. I may be wrong, but I think that is why Kundera called it “unbearable”.


  3. upon us.

    (sorry I am on a mobile device and in bed)


  4. Medidation helps me a lot.
    I also lost my money to my 3 ex wives.
    Minimalism is also a concept that I practice
    Full conscience meditation make the very long hours bearable and the thought of being a possible digital nomad. I can pack and go on short notice, which I have done many times. I am not sure I would wander to Japan but I did in Iceland and learned a very old language.
    I am a slave to the LSP’s but I get to choose which one I want to work with. In Iceland, I became an English teacher for adolescents and would get no pay but free training in Icelandic. I have the immense chance of being able to be at full capacity with 3 hours of sleep a night. I am thinking of Poland, the Czech Republic or Hungary. With my poor German and my Russian, I could manage it. I do not like where the politics are going in Poland and Hungary but I would be delighted to learn some Hungarian. I managed Finish, I probably could do something with Hungarian. I lived in South Korea for a couple of years and got some Hangul. They do like the Japanese very much over there. Japan and Switzerland two of the most racist countries I visited. Go on writing, I enjoy your posts very much. I am 59 years young and will die translating.
    Kind regards,


  5. Thank you for your kind words encouraging me to keep on writing.

    I may die translating too, although now that I don’t really have to work, I would prefer dying while doing something else, maybe traveling, or writing.

    Liked by 1 person

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