"No obstacles are insurmountable when God commands and we obey"
- - Heber J. Grant
April 25, 2014
Earning Leisure
by Orson Scott Card

A recent Economist pointed out in a headline that "the rich now have less leisure than the poor." This is not quite what the article ended up saying -- the rich have, as they have always had, exactly as much leisure as they want.

Instead, the article demonstrated that high earners seem to have less leisure than low earners. High earners are not rich, though if they are managing their money wisely, they may become rich.

The classic definition of "rich" is that you live from the labor of others. Either you live from rents or from interest on money you have lent out or invested. Think of the lord in the parable of the talents, who entrusts large sums of money to the care of three of his servants. He expects them to increase his wealth, and if they do, he rewards them by giving them greater opportunities to ... increase his wealth.

Few Latter-day Saints are rich, or even aspire to become rich. Especially in the United States, the idea of sitting around owning stuff, while other people pay you for the privilege of using it, is not something we aspire to.

Rather, we value hard work for its own sake. We may no longer sing the old words of the hymn, but the idea is still among us: the world has no use for the drone. We are supposed to be actively engaged in a good cause. We are supposed to earn our bread by the sweat of our face.

This means that most Saints are permanently juggling the demands of a job, of a church calling, and of a family. We see a predictable pattern among men: Those who get high-demand callings, like bishop or stake president, tend to be those who can control their own schedule.

There may be crunch times, as when a bishop who works in accounting for a large corporation has to leave more of the running of a ward up to his counselors during tax season; but most of the time, a bishop can be reached by phone or can take time off work when his church calling requires it.

So it's not that there's an income test for leadership offices in the Church -- there's simply a scheduling test.

To a degree this also applies to women. A Relief Society president whose work as a nurse is scheduled by a hospital, and who cannot change shifts at need, is going to be sharply curtailed in her ability to respond to ward emergencies as they come up. It is not impossible, of course -- but she is going to be more reliant on her counselors than a Relief Society president who is not employed outside the home.

We all live with various restrictions on our time. Every ward knows that a couple with very small children can't both be called to positions that require them to serve on activity night. Somebody has to be home to get the babies into bed on schedule.

The fact that high-earning jobs tend to require longer work hours than lesser positions impacts Saints most in our home lives. For instance, "in the 1980s, a man working 55 hours a week earned 11% more than a man putting in 40 hours in the same type of occupation," but "that gap had increased to 25% by the turn of the millennium" (Economist, 19 Apr 2014, p. 71).

What does it mean to work at your job for 55 hours a week? Well, if you work seven days a week, then you're still averaging fewer than eight hours a day. But if you take Sundays off, you're working nine hours a day, including Saturday.

In my last real job -- by which I mean, the last time I had to leave home to go to a workplace on a schedule determined by somebody else -- I often worked very late, arriving home after my children were in bed. Exhausted, I would sleep through all the morning rituals, rising only in time to pour myself into the car and get to work on time.

I only saw my kids on the weekends. And that wasn't enough. I hated that schedule with my whole heart, and perhaps I was more keenly aware of what I was losing out on because I had spent four years before that working for myself, at home, on my own schedule. I had been there for my children's first words, their first steps. But now, working at this high-demand job, I was missing everything.

I was so glad when my circumstances changed and I could quit that job, returning to the freelance life.

I'm not sure my wife was thrilled, though, because it meant the regular paycheck ended, and we were back to not knowing when the next dollop of income would drop into our laps. We lived in a rented condominium, drove a couple of unreliable cars, and were required, from time to time, to borrow from family or some very generous friends just to keep various vital services from being shut down for nonpayment.

We had one child who could not be insured because of a crippling birth defect. And the healthier children still thought that meals should come at predictable intervals, daily. There were times when I thought I must be the most selfish father in the world, because I put my own desire to work for myself, at home, on my own schedule, ahead of the family's need for a dependable flow of cash into the household.

In the Church, we share the ideal that when children are young, it is good for at least one parent to be home all the time. My wife and I decided early in our marriage that she would be the designated stay-at-home parent. Not me.

When you decide to live on one income, you've already determined that money is not your highest priority. At this moment, my earnings from book royalties make our financial decisions look wise; but early in our marriage, that decision looked insane. None of my books had earned out its advance, so I had no royalties coming twice a year. My various publishers had their own cash flow issues, and while some paid faithfully, others took a long time to send a check, and now and then a paycheck would bounce, causing chaos in our finances.

It was that sort of thing that had led me to leave freelancing and take an honest job in the first place.

But my wife assured me that the family worked better when I was there, and I knew that with our then-youngest child being handicapped, with no prospect of improvement, there was zero chance that we could afford for my wife to return to gainful employment.

In other words, we were juggling earnings on the one hand, and the life of the family on the other, and we found a balance that we could live with. We accepted Church callings and did them to the best of our ability. We were perfect at nothing, but usually adequate at everything.

How much leisure time did I have?

All that I wanted -- as long as I was content to have no money coming into the household. But I had learned that nobody ever paid me for things that I didn't write. Well, that wasn't strictly true -- I got paid the on-signing money for a book I merely promised to write. But there was a limit to how many promises you could get paid for without actually delivering the finished books.

So here's the dilemma that we all face. Mammon expects us to show up for work and put in the hours before we get paid. And in many cases, the work that pays the best demands that we put in the most time.

The time we spend making money is unavailable for associating with our kids, with our spouses. We aren't available for time-consuming church service.

If anyone wonders why home teaching numbers are so low, isn't the answer obvious? Any man who only gets a few nights a month when he isn't at the office isn't going to be thrilled to spend those nights visiting other people's families instead of his own kids.

But there is one way that we can get a bit more leisure: Organize our lives so that we can live on less money.

A lot of Saints are already doing that. Within reasonable limits, it's a better choice than you might think.

There were six kids in my family as I was growing up, and you know what? Sharing a bedroom with my brothers didn't cripple my development. We didn't have all the coolest toys (though my parents did surprisingly well at providing a bounteous supply) -- but there were creeks and orchards and neighbor kids and outdoor games and a copious supply of books to read and chores to do and other ways to occupy the endless hours of childhood.

None of us grew up to be perfect in every way -- well, except my sisters -- but none of our flaws can be traced back to the amount of money that we grew up with.

In fact, I suspect many of our virtues may be owed to the fact that we had to be resourceful and creative and self-reliant and even, from time to time, helpful around the house.

And getting along with siblings in somewhat crowded conditions was excellent preparation for living with missionary companions, roommates, and, evenually, a spouse.

How much money is "enough"? Parents who have bought into the world's answers to that question usually find out, pretty quickly, that on this topic the world is mostly wrong.

"We have to be able to pay for our kids to get a degree from a good college." Where we often run into trouble is in the definition of a "good" school. I've known a lot of deeply ignorant and even perniciously stupid people with degrees from prestigious universities -- and a lot of wise, kind, intelligent, well-educated people whose degrees -- if any -- come from community colleges or affordable state schools.

You want your kids to be well-educated with a good earning potential? Then read to them and with them when they're little; let them see you reading lots of books and talking about them; and show them that you value a wide-ranging education. We as parents have far more influence over our children's self-education than any teacher or school. And self-education is, ultimately, the only kind that actually exists.

I once sat through a meal with a woman who had inherited a huge amount of money and was sincerely trying to do good with it. But every single person she mentioned was immediately descibed and evaluated by one criterion: Which university they attended. Unsurprisingly, she seemed not to be acquainted with anyone who had not earned a degree from one of the most famous schools.

I was quick to point out my much humbler degrees from BYU and the University of Utah. She pretended that she still thought of me as a human being, but her subsequent behavior showed me that for her, "education" was all about the fame of the school and had nothing to do with the quality of thought or character of the person who possessed the college degree.

Shallow people do judge others by how "good" their school was. But if you are careful, you can live your whole life without ever being at the mercy of someone that shallow. If you make the choice to work fewer hours, earn less money, but spend the kind of time with your kids that helps them become self-educating human beings with good judgment and Christlike character, you will have given them something far more important to their future happiness than money.

And I see more and more Latter-day Saints making exactly that choice. There comes a time when we realize that to make money enough to impress Mammon, we would have to sacrifice our ability to be good parents and good Latter-day Saints. And we make the right choice.

Someone else gets the promotion, the huge raise, the stock options -- and therefore the big house, the expensive vacations, the high-tuition private schools and colleges for their kids.

But those high-tuition schools expose them to other kids whose parents have money-first values, and they're no less likely to be tempted by drugs and sex and other distractions than kids who go to public schools. The only real difference is the cost of the drugs, and of the clothes that come off in the back of the car, and the price of the car they come off in.

One of the measures of a man is how well he provides for his family. But when we evaluate ourselves by that standard, let's keep in mind that there are many things that people should provide for their spouse and children, and money, though important, is only part of the picture.

There's faithfulness. Love and concern. Real interest in their lives. There's time spent being silly with them, and being serious with them. There's conversation in which they learn some of the things that life has taught you, and in which they come to know the kind of person you've made of yourself in this Second Estate.

So you have to decide if more time on the job is going to earn enough money to make up for the time you then can't spend at home.

It used to be that the only way to earn "leisure" was by earning a lot of money. But these days, maybe the way we earn "leisure" is by deciding to build our lives on a little less money than we might possibly earn.

I once knew a good Mormon man who said to me, "Money isn't the goal, it's just a way of keeping score."

But in the years since he said that, I've reached the conclusion that if you're using money to keep score, you're playing the wrong game.

You can't control who your kids turn out to be -- they have their free agency and they begin using it from their first breath.

What you have some control over is how well you know your kids, because that depends on how much time you spend with them, and how you spend that time. If you're there, you can see what challenges they face in their own character. The child who needs to learn compassion, or anger control, or who lacks confidence and needs to know you believe in them.

And every child needs to see that you value your kids more than you value money, more than prestige, more than anything except the spouse you partnered with to create and raise them, and the God who gave us all the chance to live this life together.

It's good to live an interruptible life, one in which we can depart from our plans and respond to the needs of others.

But when it comes to our spouses and children, their needs should not come as an interruption. We should already have made choices that allow us to have the leisure to know them well, by spending time with them on a regular, predictable basis.

It's worth so much more than money -- to them and, in the long run, to ourselves.

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More by Orson Scott Card

About Orson Scott Card

Orson Scott Card is the author of the novels Ender's Game, Ender's Shadow, and Speaker for the Dead, which are widely read by adults and younger readers, and are increasingly used in schools.

Besides these and other science fiction novels, Card writes contemporary fantasy (Magic Street, Enchantment, Lost Boys), biblical novels (Stone Tables, Rachel and Leah), the American frontier fantasy series The Tales of Alvin Maker (beginning with Seventh Son), poetry (An Open Book), and many plays and scripts.

Card was born in Washington and grew up in California, Arizona, and Utah. He served a mission for the LDS Church in Brazil in the early 1970s. Besides his writing, he teaches occasional classes and workshops and directs plays. He also teaches writing and literature at Southern Virginia University.

Card currently lives in Greensboro, North Carolina, with his wife, Kristine Allen Card, and their youngest child, Zina Margaret.

More about Orson Scott Card

Orson Scott Card currently serves as second counselor in the bishopric.

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