Yesterday, I was going through the book Designing Your Life: How to Build a Well-Lived, Joyful Life. In Chapter 2: Building a Compass, the authors present an exercise called “Workview Reflection”. You write about 250 words, attempting to answer the following questions for yourself:
- Why work?
- What’s work for?
- What does work mean?
- How does it relate to the individual, others, society?
- What defines good or worthwhile work?
- What does money have to do with it?
- What do experience, growth, and fulfillment have to do with it?
This is a much more difficult exercise than it sounds, because most of us probably haven’t really thought much about why we work or question what work means to us. There is a great deal of social conditioning involved, and most of us are probably just doing as we were told.
My first impulse was to Google the phrase “Why do we work”, and that search will return some excellent articles worth reading and take you as far down the the rabbit hole as you want to go. You can read some Aristotle (he says we work for leisure). You can read In Praise of Idleness, by Bertrand Russell, who says “there is far too much work done in the world, that immense harm is caused by the belief that work is virtuous”. You can read The Communist Manifesto by Karl Marx. Have you read The 4-Hour Workweek: Escape 9-5, Live Anywhere, and Join the New Rich by Tim Ferriss?
Once you do that, you can then become caught in a trap of debating in the forums. “Why should one aim for work that is for personal fulfillment? That’s for the privileged! We need garbage collectors, butchers, cooks, and people who do menial work too!” Indeed, the idea of “designing your life” itself seems like a first world thing, doesn’t it? Most people in the world are probably trying to find their next meal, and avoid their own injury and death. It must be nice to have the luxury of sitting down at a computer, “designing your life”.
I quickly discovered that unless I choose “professional debating” as an occupation, all the opinions are just noise, every opinion can be countered with another one, and then cognitive dissonance eventually sets in.
I suggest that, as an exercise, each person who has time to self reflect should do this exercise. If you aren’t busy working one of your two jobs right now, or hunting for gazelle, or running from a tiger, or debating Marxism vs. Capitalism on the internet. If you have about 30 minutes. Just decide for yourself. You are not describing what you do for a living or writing an argument essay. Just writing your own manifesto.
Here’s mine. (Note: These responses are rough, not composed as a persuasive essay or academic paper.)
Why work?- I work to meet my basic needs. Food, shelter, clothes, etc. I also work because I was socially conditioned by my family and teachers to work. Also, I have been unemployed for a short time before. It wasn’t fun. I felt like my life had no purpose. I became lazy and slept a lot, and I didn’t have money for my phone, gas, car insurance, and other luxuries that are actually considered necessities in the prosperous United States. Consequently, because I have ego and super ego, I felt like a loser. I work to meet my basic needs, because I’m expected to work, to avoid boredom and depression, and to not feel like a loser.
What’s Work For?- In my world, there are different types of work. There is labor I perform for a paycheck, which I then use to pay bills and make purchases. There is my creative work, like writing this blog, making albums with my bands, and studying books for my personal development. That is work for my own self fulfillment. There is useless work that I sometimes fall into- writing lengthy debate comments on Facebook, and non value added “busy work” that employers sometimes make you do, but at least you get paid for it! Work is for generating income, creative pursuits, personal development, and providing value.
What does work mean?- I had a hard time coming up with with what work means to me. I decided to borrow someone else’s words, possibly considering this person as a mentor. The person’s name is Swaminathan Lakshminarayanan, self described as an electronics engineer, avid reader, and counselor. The quote I found on Quora: “A platform to showcase my capabilities, talents and channelize them under specific responsibilities with commitment and contribute to the benefit of all stakeholders, while earning money and other benefits in return to better my life.”
How does it relate to the individual, others, society?- Work relates to others and society through the division of labor. Interestingly, these are three different types of work. Work for the individual- Work for personal gain and fulfillment, doing work for ourselves. Work for others- Helping your family or neighbors with a home improvement project, or moving. Work for society- Doing volunteer work or work for the greater good of society.
What defines good or worthwhile work?- Good or worthwhile worth, to me, is any kind of work that has a benefit for self, others, and society. Work that is enjoyable for its own sake is worthwhile. Work that provides benefit to others or society is worthwhile. Work is good when it doesn’t cause harm to self, others, or society. For example, I choose to not deal drugs, work in the liquor business, deal guns, and so on. I say this not to debate the politics of whether or not drugs, liquor, and guns are bad or morally wrong, but rather to say I’d rather not work in those businesses if I can avoid it. Then there is neutral work, which is my day job. I ship shoes and clothes. People need clothing. Nothing wrong with the work or occupation, aside from the low pay and the fact that there is little opportunity for growth at my company.
What does money have to do with it?- We are no longer using barter and trade as the standard way of exchanging good and services. We use a currency system, which we do mostly for convenience. Of course, it often seems we treat money as an end goal in itself these days.
What do experience, growth, and fulfillment have to do with it?- When I think of experience, I think of mastery of a skill or specific industry. Growth I think of as learning more skills, expanding into other areas, and building success. Fulfillment is the enjoyment of your work for its own sake, your interest and passion in what you are doing.
That’s just a start. Tomorrow I will work on LifeView, as they call it.
Deng Ming-Dao on Vantage:
Distant ridges, far away clouds
All events come from a distance.
With a high vantage point,
Foretelling the future is elementary
Deng Ming-Dao is saying that events can be seen coming, if you are in right place to see things coming. Nothing happens suddenly or abruptly. It reminds me of the expression “taking the moral high ground”. In this way, there is no magic of predicting the future. From the proper place, you can see events coming from a distance. As an example, he says:
“A wise person who lives high in the mountains and who is not blinded by wine, sensuality, intellectuality, poor health, or greed will be better able to see events in the distance than one who lives in a closed room, eyes on some obscure object.”
Daily Stoic: Steady Your Impulses
Today, Ryan Holiday uses the example of the manic people in your life. Their lives are in disorder and chaos, and aren’t these people exhausting? Don’t they have a filter to test and sort out bad impulses. I laughed a little, but only because quite often, I am probably that exhausting person myself! He says. Impulses are going to come up. When they do, ASK: Who is in control? What principles are guiding me?
Easier said than done!
Tomorrow, I will go over LifeView and a new work week begins. It sounds like there is no overtime offered this week, so I will have a Wednesday open to write some more, and get an extra hike in.