The Contrast Of Loving Your Job

A man doing his job.

Author and anthropologist David Graeber mentioned in his book ‘Bullshit Jobs’, that today’s work features a lot of needless busywork and it’s preventing people from making a meaningful contribution to the world.

Maybe the modern quest for future unemployment comes from the fact that many jobs seem meaningless and unfulfilling. However, I have been wandering with this topic of ‘meaningful’ and ‘meaningless’ work for quite some time. Like, do I love my job? Is my job really bullshit?

For many years, I have lived my life arguing that most jobs are meaningless, this includes most of my own job as well. Only after failing my first start-up and having gone through unemployment, I can safely say that the only thing worse than working is not having a job. This made me reframe my perception of ‘meaningless’.

The Pleasure Of Work

During the time of my unemployment, I had all the time to reflect on my own thoughts and actions. For many years, I have asked myself daily whether my job has meaning or a sense of purpose. I was breaking my head trying to find a fulfilling answer, but I eventually came to the point of “No, it was neither meaningful nor fulfilling, but I did have fun.” It’s weird but that thought was quite uplifting.  

Looking back on my previous jobs, I actually did enjoy them and of course, some more than others. Eventually, enjoyment is what got me to do what I do now, which is writing. And because I get pleasure from writing, as a result, it gives me a sense of purpose. I initially thought that the job itself gave me a sense of purpose, but it’s not. It’s the pleasure of work that gave me a sense of purpose.

Yes, that’s right, the pleasure of work. In the moment of doing, meaning doesn’t matter, just the task at hand. That’s a break from my usual thought dwelling on the bigger picture of who I’m meant to be and what I should try to achieve in my life. When I’m working, I’m doing what’s needed.

When you perform your task well, you’re successful in your own way, big and small. That feels temporarily great despite that you may not change the world, but your approach to it makes a meaningful difference in how you and those your work with feel. Of course, people share different views on whether the pleasure of work is meant for everyone.

Puzzle Of Survival

Ryan Avant argues in The Economist’s 1843, that the pleasure of work lies partly in the process of losing oneself in a puzzle with a solution on which other people depend. He believes that the average wage service workers don’t have access to the same kind of pleasure. The puzzle we’re all constantly solving is survival, ideally by minimising both friction and conflict and maximising positive relations.

For example, when a hotel staff opens the door and offers to carry your heavy luggage to your room. Even though it doesn’t change the course of humanity, but it sure is nice and it makes you appreciative of the person doing the job. The staff earns a wage by solving the puzzle of carrying your luggage and hopefully making their share of the world run smoother.

There’s dignity in doing whatever must be done and having the appreciation for occupation.

However, work isn’t completely satisfying when you’re paid a lot and feel a bit arrogant about your wonderful position. Low-paid work may be undervalued societally, but it’s critical to everyone, and we all know it. Every job has some possibilities, but sadly not recognised by snobs.

In Need To Make A Living

John Danaher shared an interesting view in The Philosopher’s Magazine, saying that all this talk of jobs and purpose is exactly the problem with postmodern society. He defines work as “the performance of an activity for economic reward or in the hope of receiving some such reward.” Also,  believing that work is bad because many employment contracts allow employers to undermine worker freedom. However, because jobs are not securely held, workers accept this difficult position as they need to make a living.

But as anyone who has been under- or unemployed, knows that much worse than work is to worry about its absence. Stressing over how to pay for food and shelter, doubting when or if you’ll work again, and avoiding to spend money leaves little to no mental space for creativity and is more dreary than nagging about your boring job.

For most of us, work is necessary. Treating our working years as a kind of hell and dreaming of early retirement isn’t going to make life any more fun. So, you’re better off learning to live, work, and play now.

Contrast Is Key

“Clay is made into vessels; but it is on their empty hollowness, that their use depends. The door and windows are cut out to form a house; but it is on empty space, that its use depends. Everything is shaped by nothing,” according to Lao Tzu, a Taoist sage. Labour gives leisure time more quality because you push yourself on the job that makes having days off to spend time with friends, family, or even alone really enjoyable.

Besides, whatever your job, it has some satisfying aspects. Even if it only lets you pay your way, you can find ways to appreciate even the most boring jobs. Perhaps with time, you will find a more interesting job to spend your time working. But for now, dwelling continually in unhappiness will only build-up more unhappiness and make you less likely to find your way. Even if you’re not naturally passionate about, for example serving cranky customers, or reading corporate law documents, you can discover that these parts present fascinating discoveries and solutions as well.

What I want you to think about is that your work, your job, doesn’t have to be earth-shattering or dramatically impactful. It just has to matter to you because you’re doing it.

Author and anthropologist David Graeber mentioned in his book ‘Bullshit Jobs’, that today’s work features a lot of needless busywork and it’s preventing people from making a meaningful contribution to the world.

Maybe the modern quest for future unemployment comes from the fact that many jobs seem meaningless and unfulfilling. However, I have been wandering with this topic of ‘meaningful’ and ‘meaningless’ work for quite some time now. Like, is my job really bullshit?

For the longest time, I have lived my life arguing that most jobs are meaningless, this includes most of my own job as well. Only after failing my first start-up and having gone through unemployment, I can safely say that the only thing worse than working is not having a job. This made me reframe my perception of ‘meaningless’.

Pleasure Gives A Sense Of Purpose

During the time of my unemployment, I had all the time to reflect on my own thoughts and actions. For many years, I have asked myself daily whether my job has meaning or a sense of purpose. I was breaking my head trying to find a fulfilling answer, but I eventually came to the point of “No, but I did have fun.” It’s weird but that thought was quite uplifting.  

Looking back on my previous jobs, I actually did enjoy them and of course some more than others. Eventually, enjoyment is what got me to start writing, because I get pleasure from writing which gives me a sense of purpose. I initially thought that the job itself gave me a sense of purpose, but it’s not. It’s the pleasure of work that gave me a sense of purpose.

Yes, that’s right, pleasure. In the moment of doing, meaning doesn’t matter, just the task at hand. That’s a break from my usual thought dwelling on the bigger picture of who I’m meant to be and what I should try to achieve in my life. When I’m working, I’m doing what’s needed.

When you perform your task well, you’re successful in your own way, big and small. That feels temporarily great despite that you may not change the world, but your approach to it makes a meaningful difference in how you and those your work with feel.

Puzzle Of Survival

Ryan Avant argues in The Economist’s 1843, that the pleasure of work lies partly in the process of losing oneself in a puzzle with a solution on which other people depend. He believes that the average wage service workers don’t have access to the same kind of pleasure. The puzzle we’re all constantly solving is survival, ideally by minimising both friction and conflict and maximising positive relations.

For example, when a hotel staff opens the door and offers to carry your heavy luggage to your room. Even though it doesn’t change the course of humanity, but it sure is nice and it makes you appreciative of the person doing the job. The staff earns a wage by solving the puzzle of packing and carrying and hopefully making their share of the world run smoothly.

There’s dignity in doing whatever must be done and having the appreciation for occupation.

However, work isn’t completely satisfying when you’re paid a lot and feel a bit arrogant about your wonderful position. Low-paid work may be undervalued societally, but it’s critical to everyone, and we all know it. Every job has some possibilities, but sadly not recognised by snobs.

In Need To Make A Living

John Danaher shared an interesting view in The Philosopher’s Magazine, saying that all this talk of jobs and purpose is exactly the problem with postmodern society. He defines work as “the performance of an activity for economic reward or in the hope of receiving some such reward.” Also,  believing that work is bad because many employment contracts allow employers to undermine worker freedom. However, because jobs are not securely held, workers accept this difficult position as they need to make a living.

But as anyone who has been under- or unemployed, knows that much worse than work is to worry about its absence. Stressing over how to pay for food and shelter, doubting when or if you’ll work again, and avoiding to spend money leaves little mental space for creativity and is more dreary than nagging about a boring job.

For most of us, work is necessary. Treating our working years as a kind of hell and dreaming of early retirement isn’t going to make life any more pleasurable. So, you’re better off learning to live, work, and play now.

Contract Is Key

“Clay is made into vessels; but it is on their empty hollowness, that their use depends. The door and windows are cut out to form a house; but it is on empty space, that its use depends. Everything is shaped by nothing,” according to Lao Tzu, a Taoist sage. Labour gives leisure time more quality because you push yourself on the job that makes having days off to spend time with friends, family, or even alone really enjoyable.

Besides, whatever your job, it has some satisfying aspects. Even if it only lets you pay your way, you can find ways to appreciate even the most boring job. Perhaps with time, you will find a more interesting job to spend your time working. But for now, dwelling continually in unhappiness will only build-up more unhappiness and make you less likely to find your way.

Interests aren’t inherently fixed, as Stanford psychologist Carol Dweck points out. Having a growth mindset, being open, is wiser than putting your whole being into a single passion. Even if you’re not naturally passionate about, for example serving cranky customers, or reading corporate law documents, you can discover that these parts present fascinating discoveries and solutions as well.

What I want you to think about is that your work, your job, doesn’t have to be earth-shattering or dramatically impactful. It just has to matter to you because you’re doing it.

Originally published at ye-chen.com.

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