Working 9-to-5 (Not a Way to Make a Living?)

Clinically Reviewed by Steven Melendy, PsyD. on March 05, 2018

Is it me, or is the world splitting into two tribes of workers?

On the one side, the 9 to 5'ers  salary slaves who have to sell their souls just to keep treading water. On the other, business owners and the self-employed people who work for themselves, from anywhere, and take control of their time. If you had a choice, which would you choose?

The question is rigged, of course. In 2018, we're supposed to feel sorry for the unfortunates in traditional employment, counting the days until retirement. Clearly, 9-to-5 is the enemy, something to renounce, escape and eschew wherever possible. Admitting that you go to work gladly; that you love your coworkers and look forward to the daily grind, is a bit like saying you like to kick puppies. What gives?

Is working 9 to 5 a waste of your life?

The way I see it, the fervor for freelance turns on the following arguments:

  • Working 9-to-5 is not a natural state for most of us. Sure, there are some who love the routine of going to work and spending the next eight hours at a desk, but others - usually labelled "creative" types - can feel bogged down and stifled by this level of routine.
  • Humans are not robots, we don't plug in and perform at the same rate of output for eight hours straight. Our energy comes in peaks and troughs. Why not work when we're most productive, not when a job demands it?
  • People were not born to work in cubicles. A cubicle is literally a box that you are put inside. It's  a metaphor for the inauthentic life, where you can't charge what you're worth and recognize your full value.

Most of these arguments revolve around one supposed truism: that people would rather be broke and do what they love than rich and miserable. In this sense, work is held up as something revelatory about your character. Those who refuse the 9-to-5 are held out as being more creative, more adventurous, more credible, more virtuous, more self-improving than the soulless salaryman who will never self-actualize and achieve happiness.

Ergo, 9-to-5 is something for people with limiting beliefs who are not empowered to live authentically.

Seriously? Traditional work is for the dull, the caged and the limited?

You have to live by your own rules, do what you love and burn for your work to be truly happy and satisfied? What is this fantasy?

What about the millions of people who work a traditional job they love and enjoy all the trappings that come with it (like a predictable salary)? How the people who are happy paying the bills through a 9-to-5 and then do something they're really passionate about in the other 128 hours in a week?

Or  this will blow your mind  what about the hundreds of thousands of folks who are too busy surviving to worry about authenticity? What about the unpaid interns, the gig workers whose contracts are specifically structured to subvert the minimum wage laws, the millions of freelancers on job sites such as Upwork competing for jobs that give them "freedom" for the princely sum of $3.75 per hour?

"Do what you love," writes Miya Tokumitsu, author of the essay In the Name of Love and the book Do What You Love And Other Lies About Success and Happiness, is just another rhetoric for exploitation.

"By keeping us focused on ourselves and our individual happiness, DWYL [do what you love] distracts us from the working conditions of others while validating our own choices and relieving us from obligations to all who labor, whether or not they love it. It is the secret handshake of the privileged and a worldview that disguises its elitism as noble self-betterment. According to this way of thinking, labor is not something one does for compensation, but an act of self-love. If profit doesn't happen to follow, it is because the worker's passion and determination were insufficient. Its real achievement is making workers believe their labor serves the self and not the marketplace."

Bringing this around to personality, I wonder if there's something going on behind the freelance revolution. It's well known that certain personalities shout louder than others in the blogosphere. Is it those same voices that make sure only the glamorous, successful self-employment careers get glorified, and not the reality of people's lives?

The 9-to-5 as liberation?

It's possible to be a successful and passionate and authentic person while working 9-to-5. I know this is not chasing a unicorn, because I do it.


As a freelancer, in a profession that allows me to set my own schedule, work from a beach should I wish to, structure my week according to my own INTJ idiosyncrasies, I choose to work the 9-to-5. In an honest-to-goodness office with a desk and swivel chair and a half-hour off for lunch. I actually work a more traditional job now than I ever did as a corporate 9-to-5'er.

And it's blissful.

Because this way, there's a firm distinction between work and not-work. For eight hours a day, my clients get to call on me, my editors get to manage me....and that's all they get. There ain't nobody getting their grubby hands on my interior thoughts, they're not up for sale. Not for monetization by a conventional employer, and not for monetization by my business even though my business is essentially me. When you live in your head like I do, it's so important to embrace the liberating boundaries of a well-defined workday. 

And I reckon there's a reason very few people do better starting their own business compared to working for someone else. And that's because most people would rather live this way. Every single person who successfully starts their own business works double the hours of the 9-to-5. Being the boss doesn't mean more freedom, it means more responsibility. You work nights. You work weekends. You skip vacations to keep the cash rolling in. It is easy to lose money and your mind starting your own business.

By contrast, look what a 9-to-5 (or shift work, or any other type of predictable work pattern) gives you:

  • A secure job that pays a predictable wage, where you know what your goals are, where most of the risk is on someone else's back, or at least it's shared.
  • A life outside of work. Come 5pm, you're free to do whatever you want. That means you get to cook dinner, work out, go on a hot date, train living trees into artistic shapes - whatever floats your boat. Except work!
  • Greater efficiency. Essentially, you have a deadline everyday at 5pm. Firmly holding yourself to these boundaries means you have to focus and prioritize tasks. Structure means productivity and for some personalities, this level of focus is a must.
  • The ability to take on new tasks and stretch projects without worrying about paying the bills. The 9-to-5 is a security net that helps you dare to step beyond; to learn new things, make contacts, gain self-confidence. For those who hate repetition and safety, these are all opportunities to challenge yourself and switch up the routine.
  • The opportunity to give back. Instead of hoarding their skills for personal gain, seasoned professionals can pass their knowledge onto coworkers who deserve and appreciate support.
  • You get to be one person at work, and another person after work. Especially in the U.S., there's the idea that these narratives have to converge into one. But for many people, there's a lot to be gained from compartmentalizing your personality. You do your job, you serve society, and then you retreat to the private world. For me, having these boxes is how I get to be everything I want to be. Being able to unplug and come home with a clear mind is a wonderful thing. 

Now, there are some that call for shorter workweeks, which is a perfectly reasonable request in the face of ever-increasing work days. No one benefits from being tied to a working construct that constrains their other pursuits and desires. But when the 9-to-5 works, it gives you the best chance of creating a work-life balance that prioritises the other areas of your life. As long as you're getting paid the right amount for your time, it's liberating.

Reclaim the 9-to-5!

A symbol of a dull and boring life? Heck, no! The 9-to-5 is worth reclaiming as an emblem of empowerment-one that can stop work bleeding into leisure time and actually protect your identity as a worker, a partner, a parent, a life-liver. Who's the sucker here: the super-authentic entrepreneur who's running around like a headless chicken, lacking boundaries, spending most of her "leisure" time with the laptop plugged in? Or the worker who embraces a square schedule and its clear-cut boundaries, and actually has time to do what she loves?

Jayne Thompson

Jayne is a B2B tech copywriter and the editorial director here at Truity. When she’s not writing to a deadline, she’s geeking out about personality psychology and conspiracy theories. Jayne is a true ambivert, barely an INTJ, and an Enneagram One. She lives with her husband and daughters in the UK. Find Jayne at White Rose Copywriting.

More from this author...
About the Clinical Reviewer

Steven Melendy, PsyD., is a Clinical Psychologist who received his doctorate from The Wright Institute in Berkeley, California. He specializes in using evidence-based approaches in his work with individuals and groups. Steve has worked with diverse populations and in variety of a settings, from community clinics to SF General Hospital. He believes strongly in the importance of self-care, good friendships, and humor whenever possible.


Samuel Burmeister (not verified) says...

As someone who struggles with mornings and focussing in long bursts I've found working my own hours and being self-employed to be very fulfilling. Higher pay, more flexibility and much less stress. It really depends on the person and their suitability to self employment and choosing the right field.

Hasan (not verified) says...

I like 7 -12

Tae Joseph (not verified) says...

This is a heaven sent article! God has captured my attention through the words of a very insightful and talented writer.

Let me explain, over the last 6 months I have been going through a huge self transformation this involving; discovery, awareness, strength, power, confidence, letting-go, and acceptance. Before these qualities could manifest themselves I literally had to lose my mind first, I had to let go of an old way of thinking and behaving, causing me to face my fears and see myself, then realizing, I have not been true to my inner person, I had been living my life as a reflection of what others expected me to be, and although I'm happy to please people, I am not happy with the 'false faces' I wore to be that people pleaser. I was left feeling drained; emotionally, spiritually, mentally, and physically at every turn. 

At my revelation point, I decided to be true to my values and not compromise my sanity anymore. I started taking inventory all around my life, getting rid of toxic people, rebuilding, and restructuring healthy relationships in my personal and professional life. I started setting new goals and defining happiness for myself, I am on a full throttle life makeover! 

I currently working as a licensed insurance service agent under another agents agency. (what a mouthful of words huh) I was hired with the ambition to start a career in insurance helping people protect what matters most in their lives. I was excited about the opportunity to make a salary, plus bonus money for exceptional sales ability. I found out however, that this didn't really make me happy, mainly because my boss and my bosses boss were micro mangers, they didn't tolerate diversity and creativity, the main focus assuredly was on making money and not changing the proven process to do so. What I found was they wanted robotic clones of themselves. This idea no longer fit in with my values or lined up with my new found identity. 

So, I started thinking of opening my own agency-I could be happier. I could be creative and come up with solutions on my own terms, right? I could set my own hours and be more flexible, having more time to spend with my family. I could be the boss and the driver of my own destiny...right?

Well, of course I could. My positive self talk says I'm strong, smart, and capable of anything I put my mind to. Plus, being a business owner is "the way" to true happiness. 

I ended up interviewing for a company that absolutely loves me, they want to put me in charge of an agency and pay me Big Bucks! It's all so simple and clear. I had to quit my CSR job with the agency I was under to pursue this grand opportunity because of a conflict of interest.

However, starting a new business takes time and money that I didn't necessarily have saved up, so I applied to a prestige cruise ship company call center to make ends meet until things for my agency were off and running. 

Surprisingly, I have a very strong feeling I'm going to love working for this company! The people are so upbeat and friendly, it's like I know them already. The atmosphere is energizing, and the work seems fun and interesting-I like planning vacations. 

The work is at a desk, and I'll be on the phone, but I like talking to people. My family seems disappointed because I keep saying, "I might stay at the call center and see what happens- I do get a free cruise after a year."  They feel like I'm settling for mediocre. "Why stay at a shift job, and you can have an agency making real money, and be in control?" They say. 

I started praying and asking God to show me the correct path, because I'm at a fork in the road here. Should I travel the glamorous most coveted self-employed route or the mediocre, yet fulfilling 9 -to -5? I would be great at either one.

Your blog article this morning shed some real blessing on my decision. Thank you for the work you put into it. 


an INFP.

Amos Lamar Ealy (not verified) says...

Tae Joseph I just read your comments you wrote on this article a year ago, and wanted to know how it worked out? 

Marcia Reisz (not verified) says...

Yay Jayne! You're the first person I've seen describe the good side of a 9-5 job. I am an INTJ too. I like things to be organized and moderately structured. Knowing when the workday is through, I can close the door on it and switch gears. I work a sit-down, computer-dominated job (i.e. routine) job. In the evenings I make jewelry and do other creative things.  When I was in college, I struggled with what kind of future I wanted. I was equally interested in art and in science. I pursued the degree in science and I'm glad I did. I'm not embarrassed to say I like security. Being secure in a scientific job allows me to be an artist outside the job. Plus art is now something I do purely for enjoyment.

Besides, being an IN I tend to get lost in my thoughts. Having a traditional job brings me out of myself... which is good for me.  I mean I'm the most interesting person I talk to :)  but I also enjoy talking to a few others in a day.

MT (not verified) says...

I have been wishing for an article just like this for a few months now. I study web development and even though I was glorifying freelancing at first I then found out it just didn’t suit my personality. But in this field, it’s about adoring start ups and freelancing, almost braggingg about it. This article truly gives me hope and relief, thanks a lot ! 

Andrea Delgado (not verified) says...

Well... Finally!! Someone dares to speak the down to earth reality of the "working world". Seriously, this entrepreneur propaganda is causing more harm than empowerment, is misleading and should be reframed. Every person in the world is as valuable whether they are their own bosses, or they are employed. Making things happen is not a "solo mission", making things happen is about colaboration and the person who´s in charge of cleaning the bathroom is as important as the one who own´s the bathroom.

This articule was very reassuring, thanks for sharing and I hold the very same view on this, let´s make some more noise, aiming to dignify -again- the "9 to 5 job"

Saludos, Andrea (INF?)

Gene (ENFP) (not verified) says...

I reject the implied notion that we can't have both - a reasonably rewarding career, interest-wise, with somewhat flexible hours and a living wage. The article talks about 9 to 5 jobs, but many office jobs today are more like 8-6, or even longer, plus a long slog home in bumper-to-bumper traffice. An eight-hour work day, plus the commute, might take 12 hours or more, not counting getting ready for work. After workers in such jobs get home, they might spend a couple of hours with the family before calling it a day, and getting ready to do it all over again the next morning. And the next morning, they'll walk in, bleery-eyed, and take their seat in a cube, focusing on a screen under a florescent light for the next 8-10 hours or so. If one likes that sort of thing, then fine - there are lots of jobs just like that. But for some of us, it's no way to live. 

Authenticity is a take-it-or-leave-it extra for many temperament types. But for some, it's a big part of who we are, and determines to a great extent how we feel about ourselves. Many aspects of our daily lives have changed over the years to better suit us. One thing that hasn't kept up is the way we work. We're lucky if there's a relaxed dress code. And, by the way, those who so look forward to spending the day with their colleagues make me wonder what - or who - they're trying to get away from. 

One last thing. None of this would be as onerous as it is if compensation had kept pace...but it hasn't. Once upon a time, many a worker - white-collar, blue-collar or pink-collar - could depend on a company-funded pension plan, double-digit (percentage) salary increases, paid-for health care for the worker and the worker's family, and enough employer loyalty that the worker didn't have to worry about "downsizing," layoffs, becoming "redundant" or the victim of consolidation or takeover, and - most ridiculous of all - "rightsizing." My grandfather had such an employer, and saved more than enough for retirement, and retired with full benefits at the ripe old age of 56. His wife never had to work out of the house, nor did she want to. They had a long, fulfilling retirement together, and were financially secure the remainder of their lives. Try that today. Now, we're lucky if we get, say, 50% matching on the first 4% of so of our salary that we have directed into a 401K - something that was never originally intended to provide retirement for people. And that's if our employer even offers a 401K plan. One's share of the health-care plan is steadily creeping up, along with ever-higher deductibles and co-pays, while salaries for most middle-class workers, when adjusted for inflation, have remained flat for decades. But hey - there's always that two-hour-a-day commute and the florescent-lit cube to look forward to. No, thanks. 

Guest (not verified) says...

As a person who about 2 years ago was presented with an opportunity to break out of a "routine" job and become self-employed through a parntership sort of situation, this article really hits home for me. Over the course of the past 2+ years I have actually found that my ability to be more creative through my work has been reduced due to the responsibilities of owning/ running / managing my own business and being responsible for keeping others employed. I feel this can be especially true in partnership type situations where you are kind of self-employeed but also have obligations to your partners.

The past few months I have been reassessing my situation and have found myself missing the benefits, routine and security of being an employee over an employer and have been thinking I must be crazy - because isn't "being the boss" what every driven professional wants? This article helped to articulate and point out the exact imbalance that has occured in my life. Granted, while I was an employee, I never worked a meer 9-5 job. 7 to 6 was more like it - but that was my choice as I was driven to climb a corporate ladder and knew the only way to do it was by putting in the extra effort. I was still able to unplug and take a real vacation when needed. Now, I no longer get to do the recreational things I use to enjoy and can't ever really totally unplug and go on vacation b/c if there is an issue with the business that needs to be addressed, there is no choice but to stop what you are doing and address it because no one else is. This article may have given me just the perspective I needed to make a serious change... and I feel kind of excited about it.  


EricaM (not verified) says...

Thanks for writing this article. I have been wondering when something like it would be written. Everywhere I look I see articles, which are no doubt meant to be helpful, stating how you must aim for your highest potential, make something of yourself, and so on. I thought to myself, who is anyone to say that each person is not living up to their best at any given time in their life? Why does no one commend people for dealing with health issues and getting through life, or having family members with permanent health issues that take up a lot of their time and energy while they go to work, or people who have lost loved ones, or are dealt great tragedies in some form, or hard family issues that they are trying to handle everyday, and various other things that no doubt many, many people are dealing with. Is there not enormous strength and respect in handling life while trying to make a living and put a smile on your face everyday? Where are the articles that applaud that effort? For whatever reason that people are able to thrive in the manner that is suggested in media, that is great for them. But I don't think in terms of actual energy output it diminishes those that are handling various difficult life situations AND holding down a job, whether it's 9 -5 or freelance. We are each doing our best at any given time and that alone is to be applauded.

Sarah Bergley (not verified) says...

Thanks a lot for sharing this article! I found tips described in it really helpful. Even though there are a lot of topics for an argument essay, sometimes person can be disoriented with how many of them there actually are. Gives a lot of thoughts to wonder about at nights. 

Anonandon (not verified) says...

As someone working an ordinary job (not 9-5 but close enough) I think this brings up some valid points. But i still think a lot of people are better off in some other sort of employment (myself included probably) just for other reasons which are purely practical, because 9-5 in a job where you don't work from home is a bit different in practoce than it is in theory.

It definitely takes up more than 8 hours to work 9 to 5 or whatever variation on that. You have to get ready before, you have to actually get to work, then you have to get home, still have to cook and then get ready for the next day and attempt to get a healthy amount of sleep so you can do it the next day. So you effectively get an hour or two per night on work nights of free time where you're not pretty much just getting set for your job. 

As well as the actual cost of working an ordinary job, work lunch tends to cost more since it has to be portable (in my case if I'm off work I eat less but better), and you have to pay for gas or taxis or public transport to actually get around.

Plus there's the cost of your energy and that's a really important resource, if you work a job you absolutely can't stand out of necessity (bills/debt/family/whatnot) that absolutely drains your energy levels and cuts into your ability to effectively use what should be your free time, especially if you're an introvert because in an ordinary workplace a certain amount of being social is expected (like xmas parties which in some places are compulsory or as good as compulsory leading to being penalised if you do not attend).

That isn't even taking into account things like your natural body clock, health (both physical and mental), and outside factors that can stretch your minimal amount of time even thinner. Plus separate considerations need to be made for those of us who have a 9-5 style job doing something besides cubicle work because then there's a whole host of other strains placed on you simce the workplace climate is different in a lot of ways and work conditions can be vary degrees of poor. 

There are certainly some people suited to 9-5 jobs, but being in a 9-5 style job when most things about it totally doesn't suit you feels like a prison sentence because it's very difficult to get out when you're in it. The structure of work hours and non-work is great in theory but doesn't really work out that way for most in an actual cubicle/factory/etc job.

I'm sure freelancing is hard with its many pitfalls and more risky finances, but if I could jump ship or at least jump to a 9-5 cubicle job instead of where I am now I'd do it in a heartbeat, and if I can figure out a way to make that happen without messing up all of my responsibilities then I'll do it. 

Share your thoughts


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