Monday, May 04, 2009

The Concept of "Work"

Anytime I talk about "work" (work being defined as a series of assigned tasks for which you are regularly paid), I'm always met with misunderstanding. Work, clearly, is one of those deep and layered topics that convey class and privilege. I know that.

I know that the things I am about to write clash in a country beset with a recession, with terrible stories of loss and hardship.

That's not the context of work I am talking about today. I'm not talking about work as a means of survival, a means of providing life and nutrition and basic needs. I'm talking about work as an avenue of creative force; a garden of possibility to grow and till our ideas and tender seeds of maybe.

Work, the way the US has exposed it to me, sucks.

That's all. That's pretty much my point.

Across sectors - academic, corporate, private, public, government - and across disciplines - mental health, social justice, physical therapy, spiritual and religious, legal, blue collar and white collar...

Work tends to suck all the energy and creative forces from me. The paid, 40-hr work week frankly depresses any bank of creativity I had. Even jobs that boast the ability to be creative don't really want new ideas, they want new ways of being successful, but not necessarily new or philosophies.

By no means a research study, but I often ask my friends and acquaintences how they feel about their life in terms of their job. A lot of them say, "it's ok," and divide what they do professionally with their personal life. That's understandable. Not everyone has the privilege of fusing the two in a pleasing relationship.

So, what's wrong with me? Is anyone else out there that feels like an office is an eerily similar shape and size to a cell?

Or when you look at children, your joy fades when you envision them growing up to sit in front of a computer screen?

As I continue on an aggressive path of carving out a career, I am consistently coming back to these questions of division. Why do I have to do this? Why have I not yet learned to just suck it up when everyone else has?

In the pit of my stomach, I feel a pretense when I say what I do for a living. An ideal life to me is brimming with work that brings me joy...a life where I met with challenges and daunting prospects that bring me closer to community, the world, and myself.

"That's what everyone wants," is what I'm told.

Than what do we need to do to make that happen?

Forget funding the revolution, how about funding our own existence, starting with being happy with our jobs, our lives!

Are you happy in your work? Do you separate work and Work?

Since I can't ask when, I'll ask this: HOW do you find what you love to do?


  1. It is so weird that I found this post today. I am having some serious questions about my own career right now. I spent 5 years earning a degree in something that, although at times I was very frustrated with, I thought I loved but the past two years working in this field has nearly killed me. I spend between 8 and 10 hours Monday through Friday looking at a computer and praying my phone won't ring. I am constantly told not to go too fast and not try anything too new. I have just been accepted to graduate school and I think I will enjoy it but in two years I will return to the cubicle farm from which there appears to be no escape. My neighbors in the cube farm have PhDs and still they sit and stare. I always thought that my job would be my career, my life, and my passion but I find myself counting the minutes until I can leave. Thanks for this great post on a topic that is painfully pertinent.

  2. Anonymous3:40 PM

    I feel similarly about my job. It's a good job. I'm lucky to have it, but I can't say that it makes me happy. Sometimes it makes me very unhappy, and I get that panicked feeling that I have been pouring years of my life, the only years my children will be young, into this career that I sometimes don't even LIKE.

    It double annoys me that in order to even function at my job, I have to take pills that are probably reducing my life expectancy. Why?

    It is a frequent trigger around here for existential crises, I'll tell you that.

  3. What you said rings very true. "Even jobs that boast the ability to be creative don't really want new ideas, they want new ways of being successful, but not necessarily new or philosophies."

    I spent lots of time searching for the holy grail of combining love and money, as well -- ultimately deciding on prioritizing the latter as a way to put down a bet on someday being able to prioritize the former. My first job out of school involved a cubicle, an office on top of a mall, and losing myself in the mall during lunchtime to fall asleep on a couch under a newspaper, since I was staying up late at night depressed about punching in the next day.

    This may not be all that comforting, but here goes. There is nothing wrong with you, and sucking it up is overrated.

    But a certain amount of power comes from figuring out where in the love vs money balance you want to target. Maybe there's something you love to do that pays low in the short term but better longer term. Or maybe there's something you can tolerate that has a payoff that makes the BS more worthwhile.

    Once you figure out where in that spectrum makes most sense -- and obviously, privilege plays a role in that, but the general concept is widely applicable -- you can live with it better. You may be able to alter where you work (eg maybe some time from home, and increased flexibility/less facetime), whom you work with, the terms of payment, etc. You may develop enough mastery with the rules that you can start breaking them. You may ultimately figure out a way, because you will inevitably be more clever than the average bear doing whatever you do, to do it more quickly and therefore work in more things that you really care about, either into the fabric of the work or into an expanding amount of free time.

    Bottom line -- it may not be paradigm-shifting, but there are ways to find what you love to do while doing something you don't love. This is going to sound old-fogeyish, but it's rare to get there before 35 IME, and in some cases 40. It may still suck, but you'll get better at controlling the suckage and hopefully eventually conquering it.

  4. all over the world people wort 5 days/40 hours!
    sometimes i'm so tired... because it's the same every day - wake up, take a shower, go to wrok, drink coffee, work/work/work... often you have to stay longer then 8 hours.

    in some countries the salary is enough just for paying bills - electricity, water, telephone, internet, cloths and then you are over.
    no money for traveling, no money for meeting friends, eating in restaurants... life is hard!

    work brings joy but u have to get enough money to spend it like u want and enough time to spend the money :)

  5. I think about and struggle with this too. I don't understand how people are supposed to get excited about a life stretching out ahead of them full of administrative tasks. The level of fakery and fake enthusiasm, too, for this system - that this system requires just to enter it and begin working - is really taxing.


Hey there,
Before you leave a comment, just remember two things:
1. You are taking responsibility for a public comment
2. Anything that resembles racism, homophobia, classism, ableism, or anything based from religion, citizenship, or ethnic bias - don't bother commenting, you'll be deleted.