Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Why work?

There are so many different reasons that people give for why they work, it is worth  taking time to ponder why you work. The obvious answer is "to make some money" and the obvious next statement is, "I wish I was so rich that I didn't have to work."

Could it be that there are other reasons to work besides pure necessity?

I am going to suggest the making money is not the only reason, or even the most important reason to work. Here are the three top three reasons why people work:

1. to interact with and influence their surroundings
2. to make friends and develop new interests
3. to organize your life and bring meaning into each day

To interact with and influence their surroundings
The concept of "the idle rich"may seem attractive, especially when you watch rich people play and live on TV or in movies. Lounging around all day, being waited on hand and foot, never worrying about paying bills--all this seems wonderful.

But look at the downside--if all you do is lounge around, how can you connect with your surroundings other than passively? If you never work, never do anything that brings you into a creative or productive relationship with people beyond the few who serve you or live with you, doesn't that leave a gap in your life? You may be happy enough with idleness, for a while, but if you don't work--take on some responsibility for some aspect of the culture around you--I think you are missing a key pathway for making a mark on that culture.

Being an observer, not an initiator, is a boring and unfulfilling life. Your life may be comfortable (if you can be sure your money will last as long as you live!), but you are simply living on the surface if you don't work. Even rich people usually have to work, anyway, to manage their wealth and make sure no one is embezzling all their funds while they sit on a tropical island drinking pink beverages with tiny umbrellas. So if you have to work, why not work at something you care about, where you can have an impact for the good?

Photo shoot in the Old town, Prague
To make new friends and develop interests
It's fairly easy to make friends when you're young, in high school or college, where you spend a great deal of time in common activities such as attending classes and doing schoolwork. If you never leave the place where you made these friends, and they never leave, either, you will most likely stay friends.

But if you move, you need some way to make new friends right away. Working is the ideal way to make friends, as you are teamed for projects, seek new clients, develop and implement plans, and so on. The time spent working with colleagues usually is enough to build friendships, many of which may last a lifetime. The emotional and mental energy spent in work often spills over into work-based relationships: you work many hours together, find solutions for tough problems, and celebrate accomplishments.

You can also easily find new hobbies and outlets for your creativity with your colleagues who become friends. They invite you to their meetings, outings, and so on; some of these new interests may be a great fit for you, giving you a more diversified life.

Cleaners take a break
To organize your life and bring meaning into each day
Most people who work love to moan and groan about the absurd amount of time works eats up, what with commuting, work itself, after-hours work events, preparation for the next day's work, etc. Yet having a working schedule brings benefits as well. Unemployed people, or people who are "stuck at home" all day, often dream of working so that their days don't seem do random or purposeless. Work gives you an anchor around which to organize your life; without work, your empty calendar may, after a while, look pretty pathetic.

And each day brings its end. What did you do today? "Not much" is a poor result if you are a reasonably energetic, talented human being. On holiday, doing "not much" seems like an amazing luxury, but as a steady diet, "not much" is starvation rations.

Sleeping on the tram...not too exciting
I believe that human beings are social creatures (some more so than others, but everyone needs company sometimes!) In isolation, humans get strange. They develop obsessions and weird theories; they neglect their health and get sick; they lose their connection to other people and suffer intolerable loneliness, which can get warped into all kinds of sociopathic and actual criminal behavior. We need other people to shake us up when we get strange. There's no better way to be shaken up than by work, which forces you to confront reality, in one way or another.

I also believe that people need to know their lives have meaning. There must be more to life than the brief span of time on earth--your life needs to mean something to someone, or why live? The most consistent meaning in life that I can think of is to influence and be influenced by other people.Work does just that.

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