To Work – Jobs and Identity

There’s always something that needs to be done. When we speak of work, however, we usually think of those things which get done in order to make a living.
With all proper deference to feminism, and in the experience of the exhausting nature of house work – this is not the topic here. Toiling in the fields to eke out a subsistence, joining cubicle nation to make money, but also taking the risk of setting out on entrepreneurial ventures in order to self-direct one’s attempts at striking it rich… those are the things to consider here.

There is a fascinating chasm opening up already.
Work is somehow essential, and even promising. Your first job means that you join the responsible people who have a place in this world, get ahead, maybe even have a chance at a career. With entrepreneurship, maybe even more so, in its attempt to lead to self-directed purpose. Then again, there seems to be higher risk in entrepreneurship. Being self-employed sounds good (even if you may still end up hating your boss), but it often doesn’t even feel like “a real job.” There can, on the other hand, be quite some drudgery in the grind mill of “real” work. There’s a reason it’s called  the rat race.

Yet, in general, people want to work – and there’s a pleasure in the feeling of work well done. Even, and maybe especially, when it is hard work that challenges your skill. Many who seek happiness also seek their ideal happy lifestyle, maybe through the (in)famous 4-hour-workweek that’s supposed to make them enough money to live as they want – and they seem to completely miss that even something as simple as flow, for example, is much more often achieved at work rather than during leisure time.

Social connections, too, are often mitigated by work. There are office politics that get people down, but there are at least as many office friendships, even romances. The lack of social interaction is what gets people working independently into coffee shops and sort of-offices.

Things go still deeper.
There is much talk of how we should be someone, not just own something – but it’s often forgotten just how much we define who and what we are by the work we do – income, social status, even our very identity, is commonly bound up in the job title we have on our business cards. (It’s very much a middle- to upper-class thing, albeit being a craftsman or similar can be just as defining, and may be even more stable.)

Of course, there’s also the simple matter of money.
At the very least, we look to work to make a living, put food on the table, pay the bills… and preferably, have a sense of security about our present and future lives. It is obvious, but sometimes it is necessary to remind one of such things. It is particularly necessary to remember this, given how difficult things have been getting – and to change it.

Socially/economically, jobs have been getting more ephemeral.
We still continue to ask “what do you do?,” and expect the answer to be a job title. More and more people change their jobs, though – or get them changed around, sometimes rather wildly. Employment is still much more common, in general, than freelance or similar contract work, but both are becoming more short-term, more insecure, more changeable.

Things may easily get even stranger in the future.
The system that had been built up over just a little more than the last century – of industrialization and consumer societies – has been running into complications: the debts it’s based on, financially and ecologically, may be coming due (and given human population growth, they will definitely impose greater and greater limits); and ever-more people seem to see that working just to get by (and maybe hardly even that) or working just to make money (while hating what your job stands for, what effect it has on you and the world) isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.

These things will get more interesting yet when they come together: when we need a transition to a future with less, and therefore more expensive, fossil fuel and petrochemicals, we may need more people in agriculture rather than advertising and social media marketing. – You can’t eat web design. On the other hand, provided there’s no total breakdown (and such predictions of doom and gloom seem more scaremongering and hunting for donations than constructive admonishments to work with – which is what “the ecology of happiness” is about), there are many opportunities that information and communication technologies offer even in post-industrial/-consumer societies – just consider how they are used, for trade, education and entertainment in “poorer” countries right now.

So, if you don’t totally ignore the changes that have been happening already, you will want to work, but give it a different importance.

Work, even and especially the hard kind, done for a reason, will be a factor that contributes to a good life. Finding ways to do good work realizing that the work of work is not just to work, but to work towards something – and maybe there are more matters of importance than income alone? – it will contribute to better lives. (And yes, that’s a very tough call.)

Moreover, there is an increasing need to anchor identity in who we are, what we live for, and not what job we do…

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