Work has become our way of identifying others and their function of society, as well as creating an identity for ourselves. Even though most of us work for other people, we work hard to be good at our jobs, to create an identity of ourselves with which we can be satisfied when others look at us, or when we look in the mirror. It becomes increasingly difficult to step away from work, because it also means stepping away from ourselves. What a poisonous voice whispers into our ears in idle moments: You should be working.
I saw many people around me experiencing similar crises: reaching their thirties and feeling alienated by the choices they had made, as those carefree, absentminded, or seemingly temporary choices took root and became the foundation of their lives. The gravitas meant it was no longer enough to just “make a living,” we were now confronted with the luxury problem of self-actualization; you must be fulfilled by your job, you must be happy.
The pressure to work hard and be happy doing it brings an enormous existential weight to normal people who cannot possibly be happy all the time. Faced with the mystery of their own unhappiness while completing the checklist for successful living, the individual works harder, convinced that the failure is essentially their own. Meanwhile, they lose sight of the importance of taking time for the simple pleasures and gratitude of being alive.
For this project, I began to encourage my friends, who I saw similarly drowning in the pressures of work, to stop and smell the flowers, and simply allow themselves to not work. Here are individuals. Not “engineers” or “executive assistants” or “consultants” or “musicians”. I do not show their struggles nor their successes, I show their escape from a work-based life. These photos capture us when we “should” be working — but are not.