I recently got caught in a rabbit hole of memes and quotes reminding me that we all have the same amount of time in each day to be brilliant, successful, and productive—I think my spiral started with some other quote about all of us being in the same boat. The boat analogy is bullshit and so was this line I read about time: “Many things aren’t equal, but everyone gets the same 24 hours, 7 days a week. We make time for what we truly want.”
Okay, problematic motivational memes. Calm down with your ableist layers of delusion and privilege. Sure, the measurement of time is a common denominator, but what we do within the span of a day varies drastically between people based on many factors, including ones we can’t control. The reminder that Beyoncé and I each have 24 hours a day to work with wasn’t motivating at all. (While it’s true, it doesn’t take into account the fact that I can’t sing or dance.)
Beyoncé aside, have people still not learned the lesson about comparison being the thief of joy? The idea that we all have the same amount of time in a day to achieve everything we want does not take into consideration that we are human, and not magic. Deficits in privilege show up in ways that put many at a disadvantage, and our privilege takes power away from others. We may all run on the same time system, but our actions, wants, and needs do not exist in a vacuum. To act like these memes are inspirational — or great reminders to just work harder — is to ignore racism, classism, sexism, ableism, homophobia, transphobia, mental health disorders, addiction, homelessness… shall I go on?
There are so many layers of reasons, which are not excuses, for people—myself included—for not being able to get what we need and desire. Prioritizing time for what’s important and making sacrifices to achieve goals is part of many people’s game plan. But my tenacity and ability to focus or work hard looks different from someone else, and I can’t just create opportunities I want; sometimes I have to take the ones in front of me and hope they lead to the destination I envision. There is a difference between willing something through action and being stuck right where you are because of circumstances. I’m one of the hardest workers and most resilient people you will meet, and for all of the privileges I do have, I still have to claw my way through some days.
We need to stop shaming people who are struggling. Food and housing insecure people don’t need better time management skills or the ability to work more efficiently; they need help. A person who isn’t as productive as you think they should be may have invisible—or visible—hurdles that cause their tasks to take longer than yours. Some people need more sleep than others to function at their peak potential. Others need a support system. The parent who has a house cleaner, nanny, supportive co-parent, parents of their own, or friends to rely on has a much different 24 hours than a single parent without the familial support or financial resources to afford assistance.
The type of work people do changes time in a day, too. Manual labor is more exhausting, and sometimes more dangerous, than a desk job. I have done both types of work and compared to a white collar job, I have little energy for anything else after a full day of being on my feet. Working a full-time job, or multiple jobs at minimum wage, creates a much different scenario than managing one job that pays several times that. And if the job doesn’t come with health care, time off, or other benefits, then how is it that we all have the same 24-hour opportunity? Time changes when you are forced to sit in a walk-in clinic instead of the waiting room of your primary care physician.
If inequalities are experienced and situations are blatantly unjust, how can you possibly make the leap to say that the hours within those inequitable days are the same for everyone? That’s like handing everyone an eight-ounce glass of water, but half the people get dirty water. Then instead of giving everyone clean water, you shame the people who say they’re thirsty because they can’t drinking the dirty water they’ve been given. Sure, everyone has the same amount of water available, but not everyone benefits. Some 24 hours are dirty and unsafe.
Our differences are not just defined by how we choose to spend our time each day, but also by how we are forced to spend it. There are systems in place in this country that make it harder for marginalized folks. We can pull ourselves up, stay positive, and hustle our way through the amount of steps we have to take to feel physically, emotionally, and financially safe, but those steps aren’t always consistent. We move in in bursts, are often slowed down, and sometimes we have to retrace our movements because the progress we thought we made the first time wasn’t accepted or necessary because the rules were changed without our knowledge. The idea of suffering until we reach a goal isn’t the way I want to live, and I need to feel okay to take a day off and “waste” time too.
My day shouldn’t be held up to what others consider to be successful, because some days getting out of bed and going through the motions is a win in my book. So many people are putting all of their energy into just surviving, staying sober, or keeping the electricity on while others don’t have to work hard at all and are perfectly content to bask in whatever was handed to them. We each experience 24 hours in a day, but those 24 hours are rarely the same.