Work is a shotgun wedding between two people that don’t even like each other.

They don’t want you there; they dream of the robot or clever piece of software that could take your place.  But, hey, you don’t want to be there!  Boring, mechanical, soul-crushing, they take your good ideas and find some magical way to render them inert, and make you do a bunch of silly nonsense because the management-consultant-de-jour said it would “improve morale,” but hey, why ask you about that?

You both know the reason you’re there:  the baby.  Er, sorry, “the paycheck.”  And you both took it seriously, because of the baby, er, sorry again, “work.”  But it’s wearing thin and you both want out.  You want to take care of what is important AND enjoy what you do; it’s not ‘New Agey’ to want this, and even more importantly, doing something that you genuinely want to do in a way you want to do it will relate to your economic success as well.   Perhaps over time we will see ‘work’ as a culturally lesser thing, something that robots do, and what we do will be, what, a calling?  I like to use the idea of a ‘task’, as ‘calling’ has sort of religious overtones that are not necessary   This notion of a task is something I’ll be devoting some writing to.  Thoughts?

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12 Comments

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12 responses to “Work is a shotgun wedding between two people that don’t even like each other.

  1. wj

    I don’t think it is really reasonable to simply define “work” as stuff that you do that you don’t want to do. I wonder if it wouldn’t be helpful, instead, to use the word “toil” for that particular kind of work. Something that you love doing can still be work, in the sense of taking a lot of effort (physical or mental). But putting out a lot of effort only becomes drudgery (aka toil) when it isn’t something that you want to do.

    If we want to parse “work” further, we might want to also consider differentiating stuff that you do because you love doing it, and stuff that you do, not just for a paycheck, but because you support the ends (even if you are not all that fond of the particular stuff that you have to do towards that end). Neither is being done just for the paycheck (if any), but they aren’t precisely equivalent.

    And then there is the stuff that you do primarily for a paycheck — in the sense that you wouldn’t do it otherwise. But that could be further divided between work that you really dislike doing, and work that you get some satisfaction out of, even if it wouldn’t be the way that you would prefer to spend your time.

    I guess that, in addition to resisting the way you seem to be defining work for the sake of this discussion, I would like to split out several different levels of enthusiasm for the work that you are doing. I have, at various times, had jobs that I loved; jobs where I wasn’t all that keen on the specific tasks I had, but where I thought the overall goal was desirable; and jobs that I was doing primarily for the paycheck, but where there was some satisfaction as well. I’m not sure whether I don’t remember any jobs that I hated, but did just for the paycheck, because I have been fortunate enough to avoid such, or because I bailed out as soon as I figured out I hatd it. (Then again, I suppose that I could have just repressed the memory. As long as it didn’t last that long.)

  2. kngfish

    wj, first, let me say I appreciate your remarks as exactly the kinds of discussion I’m striving to have here! Brava!

    While I do appreciate this, I think I’ll stick with “work” instead of “toil”. “Toil” seems too falsely utopian for me; everyone wants to end ‘toil’ (in this context), so what’s the problem? The problem is that as ‘toil’ is ending, so is ‘work’, the broader entity that has given us a paycheck AND social definition. The many interesting sub-distinctions you suggest may indeed apply more to what I’m calling a “task”, and immediately gets me thinking how that spectrum may be defined.

    • wj

      I’m thinking that perhaps we need two dimensions here. On one dimension, there is how much you do (or do not) enjoy what you are doiing. Perpendicular, there is a dimension for how much you support (or oppose) the ends to which your efforts are being put.

      For example, I may enjoy what I am doing, but it makes a difference whether the institution I am doing it for is devoted to a cause I strongly support, or one to which I am indifferent, or one which I strongly oppose. Consider if I have a job tuning computers (which I enjoy). those computers may be those of Habitate for Humanity, or those of the Saudi Ministry of the Interior (which, among other things, supervises the religious police there)?

  3. amba12

    Hmmm . . . “work” is turning out to be as ambiguous and multi-meaninged a word as “love.” It’s interesting that the English language prefers this ambiguity for important words, unlike the Greeks distinguishing “eros,” “philia,” “agape,” or the Eskimos with their extensive vocabulary for different kinds of snow.

    Yes, it’s true that you can “work” hardest of at something you want to do; in the meaning of putting in ergs, you will work harder at such a task than at any job that is not defined by you. And it won’t even feel like “work,” because all your motivations are running in the same direction so there isn’t the friction of reluctance. But if you don’t have a “task” that calls you strongly, or one that (as far as you can figure out) would support you financially, you can “work” almost as hard in the energy sense at a job defined by someone else if it rewards you with economic security and feelings of competence and usefulness, if the goal is not noxious or pointless, and if your employer is not stupid, arrogant, and sabotaging your efforts and the work environment.

    It’s that alignment of various motives that reduces inner conflict and resistance and the effort to overcome them, which is what makes “work” feel effortful. My own example: there is a little character inside me who looks like a Dickens clerk who will write anything. But if I am writing something for which my outer layers of mind and my innermost heart have no use and no passion—like another women’s-magazine article, or almost anything that is written to someone else’s specs—to get to the little clerk I have to plow through the aversion of all those other layers of myself, which do not want to go away and do not want to be engaged with that assignment. Once I have tunneled through those layers, the little scribe will tackle the job with great zeal and high standards, and I will “work” harder on the thing, in energy terms, than it deserves. And I will be rewarded by earning money and feeling like a useful member of society, and will take pleasure in my competence; but in terms of giving what I’m here to give, it still seems like a waste of energy, both the energy it took to get myself to do it, and the energy it took to do it.

    Science editing is a better deal for me. First of all it demands SO much less energy than writing. Second of all it is intrinsically interesting—it feeds the thoughts I REALLY want to think and write. The only drawback is that it consumes so much of my time that even as it feeds and provokes, it also postpones “the task I am here to do.” This is a difficult but solvable problem—it takes some discipline in managing time, which I lack but could and will acquire, because I want to do what I want to do, and where there’s a will there’s a way.

    So . . . what’s the takeaway here? We’re going to ALL have to get better at figuring out a “task” that calls to us AND figuring out how to turn it into a monetizable product or service? You’re saying the end of the “job” model is an evolutionary spur and opportunity as well as a catastrophe?

    I worked on Barbara Sher’s book WISHCRAFT, still in print, which is really about the craft of figuring what you like to do and turning it into a life and a living, even if it starts with small steps and as an avocation.

    • wj

      I think it has always been the case that, ideally, you want to do something which you enjoy doing. (And are good at, although I suspect that there are limits to how much you can enjoy doiing something that you are not good at. the frustration eventually eats away at how much you enjoy it.)

      The change would seem to be a combination of two things:
      1) a lot of the dirty jobs which nobody really likes doing are getting automated away. That can be rough for those who think that they are not capable of doing anything else. But at least we aren’t in a situation where somebody has got to do that stuff.
      2) as the amount of automation grows, the economy expands to the point where nobody actually has to toil to keep body and soul together. To live comfortably and well, yes, but not to survive.

      Given the second point, what you do with your time becomes a tradeoff between how much you value your time and how much you value having more (or things that money can buy). If you put a big value on your time, maybe you spend it sitting on the couch watching daytime television. Tastes differ.

      But the second also means that you can do something you like. Even if it doesn’t pay what, in the past, would be sufficient to keep you going. Because now it’s a matter of working for luxuries. (Using luxuries, since I can’t come up with a better word, to mean things over and above what you need to survive. Not an ideal word choice — that’s why God invented editors.) I suspect that there actually are a fair number of people out there who have said to themselves “I’d really lovce to do X, but it doesn’t pay enough.” But now, perhaps it will.

      • wj

        It does occur to me that there will still be people working at stuff they don’t particularly like. Why? Because some people are driven by a need for the status that comes by having more than others. So they can, and do, keep trying to earn more, even after they are already bringing in more money than they can possibly spend. They aren’t working for money as a means to buy stuff; they are working for money as status points. For those people, 16 hour days of something that they don’t like, but which pays well, is a good trade-off.

        I can’t see it myself — but I can recognize that it exists.

  4. amba12

    In other words, we’re going to have to learn to secrete our own niches? Like mollusks?

  5. kngfish

    If this blog makes Tshirts or coffee mugs, they will say “I’m a Niche-Secreting Mollusk!”

  6. amba12

    The funny thing is, it’s a vicious cycle. The less you love your work, the more you may need entertainment and status and other stuff as an anodyne. While people have the potential to make more doing what they love, they may also “need” less.

  7. Pingback: The Ambiguity of Important Words « The Compulsive Copyeditor

  8. kngfish

    Ha! Thanks Melinda! Notice that sub-head, “Does Washington Get It?” I think it’s a good rule of thumb that since forever, Washington is the LAST to get it! Remember…it takes an aircraft carrier 5 miles to turn 180 degrees! The fed is probably slower…..

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