“I love my job.”
That’s usually a thinly veiled lie I say in order to handle the amount of time I dedicate to doing something I don’t want to do.
After all, if life is truly infinite, why would anyone want to forcibly do something they don’t want to do? And why would they want to do that same thing 8 hours a day, 40 hours a week, for 40+ years until they can finally be allowed to do all those other things they really want to do when they retire.
Chances are you’ve had this same thought process. Congratulations, you are well on your way to demonizing work, creating a scapegoat for the emptiness or unhappiness you feel.
“If I didn’t have to work, then I would be truly happy.”
As my beliefs about work have been continually challenged over the past year in a myriad of ways, I have come to view work much differently.
What is work?
Work can be defined in many ways. In simple mathematic terms, work = force x distance. Or in human terms work = labor x time.
Work is usually considered something you do for money, like entering data, shelving books, hammering nails, or cutting hair. It is also usually considered that you only do it for money. Someone asks you about your job and you say, “it’s good money.” Ah morality begins insidiously seeping into a simple mathematic formula.
Then there is work that isn’t considered in the same breath as money. Maybe your life’s work is helping disenfranchised people or making metal sculptures of farm animals. Either way it’s certainly your life’s work not your life’s play.
People in the olden days (which is a vague term referencing everything from the time of the caveman to the 1950’s) worked for survival and nothing more. Perhaps work meant something more because there was a direct corollation between the work you did and the amount of food you ate. Perhaps then it wasn’t really work at all, it was just part of your state of being.
Work is further demonized by the fact that you don’t have to do it when you are a child. Somewhere along the line you’re walking along and all of a sudden a great weight is attached to you that you must pull your whole life, unless you find a way out.
Yet by trying to find a way out, you’re actually getting pulled deeper in.
The Illusory Way Out
You don’t want to be a sheep anymore. You want your time to be your own, whatever that means. So now you’ve got a plan. Maybe it’s a multilevel marketing scheme or maybe you’re going to write a hit song even though you’ve never played guitar. Or maybe you’ll just straight up rob a bank.
You will find a way out of this hamster wheel existence even if you have to dismantle the wheel. You’ll live outside the system, grow your own hamster food, and eek out an existence in the dusty walls of your master’s house. And on those rainy dark nights in the creaky wooden netherworld, you’ll long for just a bite of the cheese.
Or maybe you’ll build a better wheel, either by creating steam power or subjugating other hamsters for the good of your own life. You’ll even have enough hamster currency to buy yourself a three piece suit, top hat, and monacle. Perhaps then you’ll buy more wheels. Hundreds of wheels turning far into the night as you sit atop your hamster empire with an abundance of cheese. Yet as you have it all you feel the same emptiness with as without.
Whew, I think I just got the prize for longest metaphor ever.
So now you’ve got to work to get out of working, because you can’t simply do nothing. The maze has its traps and chances are your fellow friends in the maze are not going to be very helpful – either because they don’t know or they do but their route can only accommodate them.
After many failed attempts you might come across two increasingly bitter realizations – that working to not work is just working in disguise, and that you might as well give up on being able to not work and thus on your prospects of being happy.
Yet I didn’t write this post to bring you down. Because working is not the issue. It never was.
Work is a big juicy red herring, charged with so much power, that the word causes you to sober up, shut up, and start considering your future.
Yet what if there was no plan, no future, no sobering up, and no stopping the inevitable freight train of happiness now doing deliveries off the tracks and right to your doorstep?
What if, *gasp*, you actually liked work?
I am generally anti-work. I like taking pictures with my digital camera instead of developing pictures at the store because it’s too much work. I prefer driving to a location instead of biking because it’s too much work. I’m interested in green architectural design, but I don’t want to go to school for five years because it’s too much work.
And I don’t like 40 hour workweeks because, well you know.
So as you know, I’ve moved from the safety of my parents house back the big bad world of adult living including a requisite residence and occupation. The residence thing I’m nailing down (see the previous post) but the job had eluded me. I’m certainly employable and can write a mean resume, but there was nothing biting.
Two weeks may seem like a short time, but I had been blessed with the get-a-job-quick skill to the point where I abuse it, and I was also running out of money really fast about to move into the most expensive place I’ve ever lived. Apparently I have less power in my money eggs.
So the normal laziness modus operandi that I employ wasn’t working and I decided to get out the big guns and use what Steve Pavlina calls Overwhelming Force. I cold emailed 40+ catering companies, called up my old jobs in the area, and did a lot more work than I ever did even when I was working.
Nothing worked. Not a surprise, work being an illusion and all. But if you’re in a play and the universe is your acting partner who seems to be forgetting their lines, you start to get a little nervous. Sure the show must go on, but you’re just a part. I was dumbfounded, illuminated by the stage lights of uncertainty, waiting to see if my ES tour bus was about to drive off a cliff.
An Unlikely Turn
I woke up the next morning early to hear that my friend’s wife’s father had some work. Not just any work, the exact kind of work I didn’t want. Lots of lifting, long (12+) hours, and low pay. If this was a play, my ES seemingly flubbed the line. Yet the audience didn’t seem to notice so I went with it.
A week and 87 hours of work later, I felt like I’d stepped into a different life. Not only did I find I didn’t mind the job, but I found a perfect boss and a kindred spirit in the most unusual place. Though his chosen business was installing and filling vending machines, it could have been sheep shearing, basket weaving, or bean counting. I’m learning from a real mentor in a way that I can truly grow.
Only in Phase 2 could I see that something I thought I would love to do (filmmaking) could be a complete nightmare and something I thought I would hate (vending) could be so completely and perfectly enjoyable.
I realized that I didn’t need to move from job to job knowing from day one that quitting was inevitable. This was a chance to really enjoy my job, to change the meaning of work. But not to play. Work is still work, but somehow different, the way so much of Phase 2 changes things. It’s almost like a new sense is developing.
But the Chris who never wants to work is stripping his costume of unshaven laziness. The Chris who equates work to a wheel-shaped prison is having his beliefs challenged. And the Chris who took the road away from success and then secretly longed for it is having those desires slowly reawakened. But I’m not trying to get out of the maze anymore. That world of success beyond the exit is just as much an illusion as my being trapped here.
This is fluid. This is unstoppable. This is the complete unknown. And I’m terrified and exhilarated.
What is Work?
It’s a place you learn about yourself.
It’s as necessary a part of the game as sleep.
It’s your sworn enemy and your loving friend.
It is all of these things and none of these things.
What is work for you?