Why do we work? To sustain ourselves as creatures that need to trade for the resources necessary to secure shelter, food, clothing and other basic essentials? Or is it to fulfill the societal obligation to be employed for 40+ hours each week as a way to demonstrate value as a human being? The prevailing view seems to be the later, though I would posit that it’s insanity.
I grew up on a farm. Though my family gave up farming when I was 11 I had already internalized the farmer’s work ethic at an early age. During my childhood both of my parents typically worked 50-60 hour weeks. They also came from farming families and had a version of the same work ethic that I inherited drilled into them from an early age as well. The accepted cultural work ethic will not make you happy. I’ve seen that firsthand. It’s the idea of work for work’s sake. It’s the idea that through hard work alone you can get anything you want. It is a damaging mind set and simply not true. You’re not likely to get the things you want out of life without working, but the hard work = success equation is a lie. There is so much more to it than that, much of which is out of your control. I’ve spent most of my time as an adult trying to rid myself of those feelings of guilt for not working enough. But working at a job I hate is not going to get me anywhere I want to be. I’ve known that for years, and it’s still difficult to get past my inner feelings of guilt for not putting enough of myself into my job.
People have said to me they wouldn’t know what to do with themselves if they didn’t have to work. I would understand that if they worked at a job they love but that’s not the case with these people. It’s a sad lack of imagination and introspection if the only thing you can think of to fill your time is work you hate doing. There are very few people I’ve known that really enjoy what they do. Most tolerate the misery because of the paycheck, but sulk about it every day of their life. Yet these same people never have the idea to imagine what they would rather do. Or having the imagination to know what they’d like, just refuse to take the next step in achieving it. I would bet it’s a defense mechanism in order to protect oneself from disappointment. Hope and effort are dangerous because you’ll only be crushed when it doesn’t happen. That seems to be another aspect of the cultural work ethic this country has accepted. It’s arrogant to look for anything better, just be happy with the work you have. The only one who benefits from that way of thinking is your employer. Without imagining anything greater there’s no possibility of reaching it. So instead we devote ourselves to jobs that bring nothing but misery because the alternative is a dark scary place from which few have returned. It’s the easy road to death. Like a long car ride in which you don’t notice the last fifty miles you wake up to your life and realize that fifty years have gone by. Lost forever are the potentials for a satisfying life.
All of this is advice to myself. No one needs it more than I do. I struggle with trying to find a fulfilling purpose to my life, yet I keep moving in the direction that I think will lead me to what I need to be content. This blog is one aspect of my attempt at doing so. I don’t know that it’s ever something I will achieve to my own satisfaction, but I can at least say I have made and hopefully will continue to make the effort. It’s a constant uphill battle that often doesn’t seem to have much return to it, but when I look at the alternative I am able to take some small amount of peace.
*edited to include the Eric Gill quote image