I knew when my work day started, but never when it would end. My arrival time was the only thing I could control, so I started to be increasingly late. I was young and part of the first “free” generation to work and live in the shy and emerging capitalism of Romania during the 2000s.

Lawyer’s Office, New York, 1997 by Lars Tunbjörk.

Lawyer’s Office, New York, 1997 by Lars Tunbjörk.

It was in 2000 that I started my first job in a private media company, but it was so much more than a job: it was being part of something glamorous and entirely new, it was about the feeling of changing the world, about building and contributing to something so much bigger than ourselves. In the media entertainment industry, this feeling is stronger than in other fields: the feedback, the results of our work were visible in real time; instant gratification for high-speed work. I remember hearing quite often the famous mantra of rising capitalism: “time is money.” Naturally, I became immediately impressed and determined to sell my time to make more money. The everyday enthusiasm was overwhelming. Work was not work, but fun, colleagues were not colleagues, but friends, creativity was our only job description. Time was the last thing we cared about. I felt that, whatever I was doing, my mission was beyond any fixed schedule or limits.

Office, Food industry, Tokyo, 1999 by Lars Tunbjörk.

Office, Food industry, Tokyo, 1999 by Lars Tunbjörk.

As time passed, though, the unpredictability and enthusiasm I so appreciated gave way to monotony. I really needed some life after work, but I didn't really know how to ask for it or how to get it. The unwritten law was strongly established: we work late because good ideas come when you least expect them: in a dolce far niente atmosphere, with no pressure and no schedule. The first time management training session we attended made us laugh: no, we needed time to be free-floating and unbound, if we were to be truly creative.

Advertising Company, Los Angeles, 1997 by Lars Tunbjörk.

Advertising Company, Los Angeles, 1997 by Lars Tunbjörk.

My reason to exit this circle of unmanageable timelessness was not creative, but natural, human, and profound. Also classic: my first child. Returning to work after maternity leave introduced me to a new level of appreciation, of my time, energy, and attention. All I wanted was for others to appreciate this, too. I was longing for a schedule, without really seeing the danger to creativity anymore. On the contrary, a lot of my ideas were born on the playground, while digging in the sand: it was a new type of freedom I was discovering, a new way of imagining my place in this apparently well-oiled machine of creative industries. I fed on the guilty pleasure of reading success stories of people of my age: quitting and traveling around the world, quitting and turning their hobbies into small businesses, quitting and getting a life. It all sounded like an awakening across an entire generation of 30-something-year-olds who were suddenly recovering time lost. It took me two more years and a second child to take full control of my time and become a freelancer.

Computer Company, Texas, 1996 by Lars Tunbjörk.

Computer Company, Texas, 1996 by Lars Tunbjörk.

With two kids and a never-ending chase for clients and projects, I had less time than ever, but I curiously felt like I had all the time in the world: it was now that I completed the most interesting projects of my portfolio, and I found time to write and publish my first book. Time was always there – but I had just begun to find it and realise that it was more than money: it was the immense source of small and meaningful happenings, increments of joy, beautiful routines, and genuine freedom.

Words: Joe Popov

Copy edited by Elena Stanciu