[Editor's Note: Thanks to new blogger Jacob Wick for this meditation on work. Now go, everyone! Quit your jobs today! -ML]
In Episode 83, Frithjof mentioned the large number of successful individuals that are unhappy with their work in the current job system. The feeling this work is creating was described as a "mild disease." This resonated so strongly with me that I recently quit my successful career in civil engineering. A lack of fulfillment in many careers is failing to create happy workers (assuming the desire theory of well-being).
Established work practices are good at meeting some desires. The acquisition of money and power are the standard ones, and employees are rewarded for good service with raises, bonuses, and promotions. While valuable, this compensation isn’t always enough. Additional means of fulfillment can be associated with individual job fields. Doctors may want to help the sick, or teachers may want to shape the next generation. I thought I would be happy if I could build things using math, as fun as that sounds. Sadly, these desires aren’t always met during the 40 hour work week. Healing the same sicknesses, or teaching the same lessons year after year can be more depressing than gratifying. I got to suggest how to build things using computers, which wasn’t quite what I was looking for. The current job system doesn’t just fail to deliver, but directly opposed other important desires.
Aspects often lacking in the current job system include creativity, variety, self-expression, and freedom of action. Nietzsche may not have had a high opinion of it, but the desire to create is a common one. It’s too bad that creativity usually loses out to doing what’s proven. New ideas are expensive and risky. Why waste time designing a bridge from scratch by combining new and exciting techniques and materials? You can use the same process that’s succeeded one hundred times already. Raw, from scratch creativity isn’t even part of the picture, since it’s hard to sell something that nobody asked for.
Variety in work is uncommon for similar reasons to creativity. Specialization is a big part of efficient business. An employee who is especially skilled at one task is more valuable than one who is passable at many tasks. Naturally, they are also most valuable when doing only that task. This can quickly turn a talent into a curse, as workers are pigeonholed into repetitive jobs. I’ve actually purposely performed poorly at work to avoid this.
The job system also values established behaviors, and it doesn’t leave much room for self-expression. Dress codes are a good example of this. What possible function does a necktie have when doing office work, and what detriment could be caused by wearing jeans or--God forbid--shorts? The push to be agreeable, serious, and conforming at work can be asphyxiating (at least for fellow loose cannons).
Freedom of action is possibly the biggest casualty of gainful employment. Offices open at 8:00 am, close at 5:00 pm, and operate Monday through Friday. This is held as an unquestionable fact. If I break this pattern by as little as ten minutes I can be reprimanded. I get time off, but I need to ask permission well ahead of time so that it can be approved. Don’t forget that 40 hours are required every week to keep my employment benefits. They let me into the yard for five minutes every day, and I can hear the birds. I like birds.
Despair not, for there can be escape. Sanctuary can be found in places like entrepreneurship, the arts, or (when all the details get figured out) New Work. When you’re the boss you can make the rules; with talent and luck creativity can be turned into a living; or with some effort a new system can be created to fix these problems. I’d like to thank Frithjof for helping me decide to pursue a living outside the current job system, and I hope my hostility has made Mark happy.
- Jacob Wick
Chad Lott says
This post reminds me of the film Office Space. The entire subplot of coding a virus and figuring out a method of laundering the 1/2 cent shavings is gloriously entrepreneurial.
I feel like some of the new school startup businesses took that movie to heart and thought, “why not wear flip flops and clean fish at the office?”
At least I hope so.
I disagree with the premise that the current job system necessarily precludes variety in work. I’m fortunate in my career as a management consultant to learn about new industries every three months, and the problem solving tools we apply to cases varies. Perhaps I’m lucky to have a job that permits, even encourages, variety, but I just want to be careful in defining the array of options to only include art, entrepreneurship, and New Work.
Cob Wick says
That’s valid. I’ll be the first to say that I was using a lot of flagrant generalizations. My personal experience was that when I started working I spent balanced amounts of time in the field and in the office. As my skill with computers became more apparent I was allowed to spend less and less time out of the office. This kind of narrowing was what I was reacting against. I don’t expect all regular jobs to be as bad as what I described, and I don’t expect everyone to be as resentful about simple restrictions as I am.
After slaving in the corrupted health care industry for 20 years I finally said enough… is refreshing to see a young fella step out of conformity and see our slave type working model for what it is. I spent the last two years of my nursing career looking over my shoulder waiting for the goon squad to show up and take me to the interrogation room to explain why I didn’t scan a medication on time or some other conforming task that was in the policy and procedure manual. Hoping you find a great new, stimulating, refreshing career path. s
feeling yer pain on “I spent the last two years of my nursing career looking over my shoulder waiting for the goon squad to show up and take me to the interrogation room to explain why I didn’t scan a medication on time or some other conforming task that was in the policy and procedure manual.”
in New York State’s mental health system there is already a computer algorithm tracking and flagging psych-med prescriptions, just wait until they get mobile electronic-note-units up and running, more and more of what was professional/expert work is being reduced to manualized-technician’s labor, welcome to the machine I suppose…
Jesse R. says
I find that I share many of the same sentiments expressed here when applied to our current educational system. even the small high-school I attend I found that my “creative” side is often squashed by the systematized style of teaching; and those times when I try to branch out and make an assignment “my own” or have fun with it I am inevitably penalized.
Well put by the author. People will take pay cuts to exercise their creativity, have more freedom, and work somewhere where they can REALLY THINK CRITICALLY and REALLY FEEL VALUED.
Shareholders and Stakeholders (be it a public or private firm) have an overwhelming influence. The market rewards predictable profitability and conservative risk aversion. If change is going to happen chances are it will be slow and always checked against what the shareholders think. Growth is the goal. It can be argued the corporation cares more about its stock than its employees.