Money. Obviously. But that’s not all, is it?
As kids, cash rules. We see a big adult playground and money is THE golden ticket. Sure “the best things in life are free” – but that doesn’t pay for food, shelter, travel, hotel rooms, concert tickets – all the things. Any job that isn’t sufficiently horrible will do.
Then comes adulthood.
Fulfillment, creativity, passion, validation, community, status, meaning, respect, contribution, legacy. Whoa, what’s all this stuff!? A basket of “subtle” needs we carry as adults, even if only subconsciously. We see a world of thriving people – who apparently “found their bliss”, or power, or status, or fame, within work. Of COURSE we’d want to taste this ourselves. The mythical dream job will sure deliver. If we don’t have this, we clearly have more grinding and maneuvering to do.
What a fantastic and sad illusion. 😔
For any soul starting their hunt for a “dream job”, or, several decades into it, feeling vexed or stymied, consider:
Work will never deliver – not in the way we are prone to imagine. In fact, in a cruel twist, it might lead us astray from the best of our human project. Work very likely becomes a royal goose chase disguised as destiny.
There’s nothing wrong with these feelings, obviously – fulfillment, creativity, passion, validation, community, status, meaning, respect, contribution – but the idea that they are best sourced from work – or that they need to be sourced in the first place – is illogical.
1) If you really pay attention – you’ll notice it’s all quite ephemeral and cyclical. No matter how hard you grind, no matter the job change, promotion, new role, new conquest, new paycheck, new accomplishment, there’s an ever-present “itch” that cannot be scratched. Satisfaction in all dimensions rapidly fades. And so, we grind even harder – in novel ways – for new hits of satisfaction, with an assumption that the ultimate hit is around the corner.
2) What is the cost of this pursuit? 40, 50, 60+ hours per week, during the best decades of our lives – old enough to have some wisdom, young enough to still have energy and excitement to explore. WHY on earth would we spend tens of thousands of golden hours this way?
This is criminal! Absolutely criminal. We are both the perpetrator and the victim!
Let me be clear what I am NOT blaming: the government, capitalism, work in general, greedy corporations, insert-your-villain. All of these have some role and influence – good and bad, but by far the most powerful carrot on the proverbial stick is our own imagination! The image of future us, “killing it”, getting everything we’ve ever dreamed of from our work. And maybe this isn’t everyone. Maybe some folks, some lucky minority, are totally clear-eyed on why they work, under zero delusion about why they’re doing what they’re doing. Maybe it’s totally selfless and they understand EXACTLY the lifelong trade they make – and it’s all quite harmonious. But for many, we fly into our careers with this dim expectation that magic awaits – because mostly everyone else is doing the same. Everyone is hunting for magic and we rarely-if-ever question if that magic actually exists. And while there ARE many moments of peak satisfaction, they always fade fast, don’t they?
So, Why Work?
This a simply a plea to hold the question in your mind.
Pin it there.
Anecdotally after a couple decades working at breakneck pace, I’m tapping-out. Pulling the ripcord. Reducing my wants and needs to their minimum due to a seismic mental shift that began three years ago. After a long pause, I will find a new way to contribute to society, that has very little to do with me “killing it”.
Work is not bad. Society needs to run itself. Everyone must contribute in some way, whether by providing a crucial service or expressing themselves. We need to take care of each other – amuse each other – comfort each other. Our families, friends, and the world broadly.
But we don’t need to work mindlessly for decades in order to do this. We don’t need to consume and obtain more “stuff”. Sacrificing all of our precious time, just to arrive at old age and ask: what the hell was I looking for?
Modern-day work and its imaginary providence will eat us alive, if we allow it. It’s hard to notice, because all along – we WILL be paid, and we WILL experience varying spurts fulfillment, creativity, passion, validation, community, status, meaning, respect, contribution. But at what cost?
At least some of those beautiful feelings – namely creativity, community, contribution – can be found elsewhere. They are treasure – many orders of magnitude more satisfying than what the work jungle can provide.