[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