Killing oneself for career, English-style

I’m reading The Silkworm by J.K. Rowling under the pen name of “Robert Galbraith” (I was not a fan of the Harry Potter books and thought that I should give the world’s most successful writer a second try). The plot concerns a private detective who takes a break from his usual work of helping women turn their marriages into cash by searching for a missing writer: “Strike had recently helped several wealthy young women rid themselves of City husbands who had become much less attractive to them since the financial crash. There was something appealing about restoring a husband to a wife, for a change.” The prose style can be peculiar: “And by the same power of will that in the army had enabled him to fall instantly asleep on bare concrete, on rocky ground, on lumpy camp beds that squeaked rusty complaints about his bulk whenever he moved, he slid smoothly into sleep like a warship sliding out on dark water.”

So far the paragraph that has struck me the most is this one, about what it would mean to have a demanding job in England: “Robin was twisting her engagement ring on her finger, torn between her desire to follow Matt and persuade him she had done nothing wrong and anger that any such persuasion should be required. The demands of his job came first, always; she had never known him to apologize for late hours, for jobs that took him to the far side of London and brought him home at eight o’clock at night.” [emphasis added]


  1. Chris

    July 13, 2014 @ 6:51 am

  2. Frederick Nelson

    July 13, 2014 @ 12:46 pm


    Life in London is about an hour and a half later in the day than in similar US cities. Arrive at work about 9:30am, not 8:00am. Lunch at 1:30pm, not noon. Get home after commuting around 8:00pm, not 6:30pm. There’s no firm rule, but this needs to be considered when reading British books.

  3. Izzie L.

    July 14, 2014 @ 12:56 am


    New York law firms traditionally start at 9:30 also. Getting home – sometimes you don’t.

  4. michiel

    July 14, 2014 @ 1:33 am


    I’ve been reading Seneca recently, and he points out that the richest man, on average, is not allotted more time on earth than the poorest. Granted, health care has improved since his day, but this still holds true.

    It occurs to me that it might be interesting to measure wealth not by the amount of money someone has, but by the degree people are willing to trade their time for money.

  5. E. Rekshun

    July 14, 2014 @ 5:38 pm


    @michael: It occurs to me that it might be interesting to measure wealth not by the amount of money someone has, but by the degree people are willing to trade their time for money.

    Good point. Are you saying that willingness to trade time for money indicates less wealth. And, conversely, willingness to trade money for time indicates more wealth. Keeping in mind, wealth and income are two different measurements. This is how I see it.

    I just voluntarily traded 20% of my salary for a 20% (i.e. one day per week) reduction in my work week. I now take every Friday off w/o pay. Every weekend is (at least) a 3-day weekend! I’ve decided that the time off is worth more than the income.

  6. Alex

    July 16, 2014 @ 9:48 am


    Am I correctly assuming that your implication is that 8pm is a perfectly reasonable time to get home every night?

    I think for a lot of families, that’s when they send the kids to bed. Young kids, anyway. I think it’s perfectly reasonable that parents might want to be able to see their kids for at least a bit when they get home. Or that stay-at-home moms might want a little help from their husbands in the evenings after having to deal with the kids all day long.

    I work in software; there is constant pressure from management to “be professional”, be “committed”, and just “get the job done”. But management also constantly takes on too many projects, and expects things done by unreasonable deadlines. And there’s this idea in the software development community now of the heroic startup programmer who sleeps in a sleeping bag on the floor of their office and works weekends for months in a row, because that’s what all the famous names in our business did – Jobs, Zuckerberg, Gates, etc. I would suggest if you’re one of the other 99.999% of us non-exceptional people, working a bunch of extra hours to try and live up to those expectations is only going to make other people richer at the expense of your health and happiness.

  7. philg

    July 16, 2014 @ 10:08 am


    Alex: I did not express an opinion regarding what HR professionals call “work-life balance”. I was merely pointing out that an American who sometimes got home as late as 8 pm would not likely be characterized with “The demands of his job came first, always” and “he works late hours.”

    [Personally I like to be available to my family so I mostly work from home!]

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