The Brutal Reality of the Third Shift

Jane wakes up bright-eyed and bushy-tailed after a good night’s rest. She heads into her bathroom to get ready for her day, before sitting down to eat a healthy breakfast of oatmeal and orange juice. Jane hops in her humble hatchback and commutes to her office downtown, where she puts in her solid eight hours of work. Jane comes home, eats dinner, and unwinds for the rest of the night with Netflix, a warm blanket and a glass of Merlot.

I’m not Jane. I work the third shift.

First Shift, Second Shift, Third Shift…

Some people have the luxury of enjoying a life like Jane’s. For the most part, they only work the “one” shift at the office and they can leave work behind when they get home. For some parents, there may be a “second” shift involved after coming home from the office, because they have to take care of the kids. And then, there are workaholics and entrepreneurs like me who decide to take on the third shift too.

The “third shift” can be loosely defined as going back to work after the kid or kids have gone down for the night. When the house is quiet once more, we slink back into our home offices to get some more work done. On the surface, this is just being productive. This is just an effective use of time, rather than “wasting” it away with reading books or watching Netflix. But it’s much more complicated than that.

By the time I arrive at the third shift, I’m already exhausted from my first two shifts. For the past several months, after my wife’s maternity leave ended, we’ve been trying to establish a routine around the house. Since my wife typically works afternoons and evenings, she’s around the house during the day. And while she’s around, I try to get some work done.

Two Places at Once

“Try” being the operative word there. When I hear them in the other room, doing whatever it is that they are doing, I get overrun with an overwhelming sense of guilt. Oftentimes, I use this as an excuse to get away from the computer… but then I feel guilty for not working. It truly is a double-edged sword.

Assuming that the little one is sleeping well in her crib, some of my most productive hours are during the third shift. This is despite a weariness of mind and an exhausted body. There is no time for leisure and rest. There is no time for a glass of wine and Netflix. There’s work to be done. And so I do it, under the warm glow of my computer monitors well into the quiet of the night.

The Lifestyle Trade

In many ways, I brought this upon myself. I chose to be a freelance writer. I chose to work from home. I chose to have a flexible schedule where I have the option to go out in the middle of the day and work the twilight hours. And for the most part, life’s good, and it has afforded me many freedoms that I may not have otherwise enjoyed. I have come to accept that this is the new normal.

Leisure time simply takes on a different form. Instead of curling up with a good book, I roughhouse with my daughter. Instead of a relaxing break at the coffee shop, we visit the playground in the mall. Instead of kicking back with some video games, I go to the pool with my daughter. And that’s okay. Because her little smiles and giggles make it all worthwhile, no matter how brutal the third shift may be.

Swim lessons.

A photo posted by Michael Kwan (@beyondtherhetoric) on