The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation. (Thoreau)
Work sucks. It’s a truth more-or-less universally acknowledged that Fridays (or your personal end of the workweek) must be better than Mondays. We have to go to work, since – except in our fantasy lives – we’re not independently wealthy. We trade our time for money that we later trade for stuff. Work is an unpleasant task we do to feed our needs and wants for stuff.
Nothing against stuff [Well, ok... I have a lot against some varieties of stuff. I'll talk about that some other time], but trading half your waking hours for it is a lousy arrangement.
This is not ok!
I propose a different plan: work is fun.
Hard to believe, maybe. But. When you’re doing work that fits you, how do you feel?
Great. Right? You’re creative, you’re contributing, you’re in flow. You’re damn well having some fun. This isn’t news. Scientists and theorists and Peace Corps volunteers and coaches and social entrepreneurs and even people as diverse as anarcho-communists and MBAs (and anarcho-communist MBAs) have known this for years.
But it is a characteristic of wisdom not to do desperate things. (Thoreau, again)
The only reason things haven’t changed… is us. As long as people like us accept boring, tired, painful notions of what work means, it won’t change. When we rise up and insist on change – even in ourselves – the world changes with us.
I think that change looks like this: people all do work that fulfills them. For me, and I’m going to guess for a lot of people, that work looks like this:
- You make something. It might be ideas or a change, but in any case, there’s a product.
- The thing you make has some meaning to you. That meaning doesn’t have to be grand, just yours.
- It feels like art. You have a tiny sense of awe (or a big one!) when you look at what you’ve done. It seems to come from somewhere else. Somewhere big.
- Your work take effort. You feel, to overuse the word, like you’ve worked.
- You decide. Your stamp is on whatever you do.
- Your sense of play is engaged. You’re curious. You don’t have to Learn Big Things or toss balls around to get this feeling, but it does light you up.
- It adds to and enables the rest of your life. You’re more fun to be with, more active, just better.
Let’s face it, work still sucks for a lot of us. In the process of trading our irrecoverable time for stuff, we accept work that doesn’t do any of those things.
It’s making us miserable, more than we even know. This is not ok!
And! We can change it. We can embrace work that fulfills us, and say no to work that sucks. Even now, as fearful as we may be about our economic security. Especially now – fear and worry have drained us, and if people don’t change, we’ll start to suck, too. Think about what we accept:
- Work that leaves us watching the clock and calendar, waiting for not-work.
- Feeling busy and overwhelmed, but not knowing what it is we make out of all that time.
- Helplessly interacting with businesses and processes that seem to get endlessly more bureaucratic and nonsensical.
- Feeling compelled to perform lousy tasks imposed by unpleasant people (though I have a theory that those “unpleasant” people are mostly in exactly the same boat & feeling just as lousy about their work).
- Fearing for our job security – even though we’d rather not go to our jobs.
Man. That is a depressing list. How can anyone do anything but change it? I know, change is hard. But I believe that each of us individually finding a work life that is more perfectly suited to ourselves will – slowly – make the great big change the world needs easier, until it becomes inevitable. Doing it together, as teams will make that change even faster!
In a way, then, you don’t just change your work for you – you change it for the world.