Rethinking Work

(This column is posted at and Steve’s Tumblr)

I was thinking about this recent tumblr post about moves to an even shorter workweek. This got me thinking about the benefits of an even shorter workweek.

I wanted to discuss that one of the problems is how much we define ourselves by work, that is, what we do for pay. In America, it’s become a problem.

Work Defines And Destroys

How much of our lives are consumed by work and by overtime? By preparing for work and recovering from stress and too-long days? By searching in an ever-uncertain economy? Work often dominates our lives.

How many of our conversations are about work? Do you ever introduce yourself by a modified version of your job title? Is the job the first thing we discuss socially?

How much of our news is about the economy and jobs, while at the same time abstractly missing how shitty work is for so many people?

Work dominates our lives, and we don’t seem all the better for it. It seems to be literally killing us.

Work Limits Focus

Work also limits our focus on what matters. When we boil things down to hours work, money paid, company profits we miss that there are many other things that matter or matter more. Life is more than DJIA returns but we don’t make any effort to measure it as we think in terms of *work*

It doesn’t take much effort to find out that, in America, a lot of stuff is messed up. Obesety rates, health issues, etc. But how much effort goes into asking how dollars flow around abstractly (and rarely flowing to people that NEED it).

Work Can Corrupt People

Now let me confess what I am about to say is stuff I am guilty of. We can make work into a vortex that sucks everything up. How are we eating so we work better. How are we learning so we can work better. Can our hobbies pay off? We think about work so often we miss that some stuff just doesn’t involve work.

Me, I’m guilty of this in my own way due to my big thing about geeky careers. Now, I don’t think the idea of hobbies-used-for-careers is BAD, but I’m realizing I need more emphasis on fun, social bonding, etc. I don’t want to be part of the problem.

Work Distracts From Other Issues

Work distracts us from other issues. We’re burnt out from the day, trying to get a training session in, and are doing a job search on the side to get a less crappy job. This time could be spent socially bonding, in our community, doing stuff that’s not our jobs that benefits others. But we focus on the job.

How many of our political choices relate to that job and not to the larger picture (which might make our jobs easier)? How many of them are worried about having work the next year?

We Need To Rethink Work

We need to rethink Work while also being realistic. Yeah, we work – we all have to work, its part of contributing to society, making stuff happen, and earning our keep. I am PRO-WORK – I’m just not so sure our current idea of jobs is helping.

First, I think we have to reclaim “work” from “job.” There’s a “job” that you do and then there’s “work” you do. A job may pay you, working at a church social is “work” but has other benefits.

A few things:

  • We should ask if we’re defined by our jobs and our work and how. Some people, like a doctor, ARE often defined by their job. Some are broader, like myself who’d write and manage no matter what – my “work” and “job” are different. Some people aren’t their job 80% of their lives and should define themselves differently.
  • We should learn to think about social and political issues outside of money – though often the issues involve who gets it so there’s only so far away we can get. Still maybe it’s important to not ask if the DJIA is the end-all-and-be-all of thing.
  • We should damn well think about money and politics when it’s messing up our lives, as we’ve been discussing things like irrational CEO compensation and the like.
  • We need to learn to not turn everything into a job, consider if something is worth the “work,” and have fun. Think more of the social roles we play over job.
  • We can’t let work distract us from what’s important and the larger picture.

Me, going forward, I’m going to try to think of myself as more than my job and about work. Oh, I still intend to focus on being a geek job guru, but I need to emphasize more thats just a thing *I* do, and to learn to focus on larger issues. I also need to ask when something is “work”, a job, and both.

Any feedback is appreciated.

– Steve