Work work work

posted by Jeff | Friday, July 25, 2008, 12:51 AM | comments: 3

I've had work on the brain a lot lately. I have a certain amount of anxiety that I should be doing some certain amount of it, only to realize it's some poorly defined result or end game that I seek. Just as you do with software problems, you have to break them down.

My last post stops short of asking, "What do you want work to be?" I don't think our culture teaches us to ever ask that question. For decades there was the simple expectation that you figured out how to do something for a living, did it for years, had a reliable pay check and insurance, tried to put some money away, then retire and start to actually live. Whether or not that was what you wanted was not part of the discussion.

In a lot of ways, it's easier to think about what I don't want work to be. I don't want it to be measured in face time. I don't want countless meaningless meetings. I don't want meaningless tasks that don't challenge me.

On the other hand, I know I want to be a part of some act of creation. I want to make something. I want to make enough money to support my travel habit. I want to be challenged. I want to lead and mentor. I want the opportunity to learn something new every day. I want a gig that compliments my life, not replaces it.

I had two interesting encounters today. One was lunch with a friend. The company she works for is in a bit of turmoil, and her future there is not certain. She equated leaving or losing her job to a loss of time, much the way you might think of the end of a long-term relationship as wasted time. But talking her through it, I think she agreed that she's now more than the sum of that experience. I think her line of thinking was influenced by what she described as "sacrifice" during the years she had at that job. If you're sacrificing anything for a job, that's reason enough to quit.

I also caught up with one of my fellow lay-offees. His experience out in the world has been similar to mine. There is plenty out there, and you can pick and choose. That's unfortunately not a luxury that everyone has in every profession, but given that the circle of people I know best are in the biz, it's relevant to me and them. But the point remains that there's no reason to sell yourself short for a paycheck.

I know a lot of people feel that this line of thinking isn't realistic or whatever, and that's fine. I just don't understand the desire to put your life on hold for more than four decades or sacrifice the life in front of you to make what may or may not be a sweet run of your golden years. Why not do something with today?

Others believe that this is some kind of slacker mentality. I think that's a total load of crap. I've never suggested you don't have to work, and I don't think anyone like minded would make that case either. What I do think we'd agree on is that work should never be something that takes precedence over everything else you do. The word "sacrifice" should never come into play. Even if you like your job, I can't imagine it's more important than your friends and family, or simple joys like a sunset, or reading a book, or seeing a movie, or whatever else it is that allows you to really embrace the moment.

Comments

Jeff, July 25, 2008, 2:10 PM #

Again... I think you're drifting out of context. I'm talking about white collar, college educated people that one way or another will probably do well enough for themselves, and especially people working in technology.

But you do have one example that gets to the meat of my issue:

Maybe the guy who passed on a high pressure, 10 hour day, six days a week job actaully made a huge sacrifice because had he taken it, it would've given him a certain specific type of experience that would be key in landing him that sweet three day weekend, six figure salary plus bonuses job down the road.

That's a good hypothetical, but at what cost? Is the sweet end game worth the years thrown away being miserable? Considering there's no guarantee you'll even have those years, knowing you could die at any time, that's not a risk I'd take. There's too much life goodness right in front of me to make that sacrifice.

Gonch, July 25, 2008, 8:20 AM #

*I started posting this as a reply to the previous entry, but I think it might make more sense here. Just note that you need to have read the previous entry and its replies as well :)

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I totally get what you (and Walt to a degree) are saying and/or getting at and I don't necessarily disagree. But there still seems to be this underlying current that says dedicating a significant amount of time to work is a bad thing. I'm don't buy that.

I don't think that everyone who works more than 40 hours a week is definitely making sacrifices in life and I don't buy the idea that everybody working less than 40 hours a week is definitely getting more out of the other aspects of life.

I also think everyone is in a different situation. If you're trying to support a family of four on minimum wage and working 60 hours a week will put you into a place down the road where you'll be making a decent wage and working normal hours (not to mention put food on the table now) - it's not really a sacrifice, is it? It's an effort.

On the flip side if you're pulling in six figures and working 60 hours a week will put you into a place down the road where you'll be making a higher six figure number, then on the surface that's probably a sacrifice. (although, I suppose depending on the situation it might not be)

On yet another side, is someone working just 20 hours a week and pulling in the same six figures making a sacrifice if they make it doing something that absolutekly deplore, disagree with and would not condone if they weren't getting paid to do it any better off than the guy working 60 hours in an attempt to get ahead.

Maybe the guy who passed on a high pressure, 10 hour day, six days a week job actaully made a huge sacrifice because had he taken it, it would've given him a certain specific type of experience that would be key in landing him that sweet three day weekend, six figure salary plus bonuses job down the road.

I dunno. I love your idea of "What do I want work to be?" and I really love your list of things it should or shouldn't be.

But to me, it just reinforces my initial thought that the time spent with your work/job/career is just one of many important variables to consider - not the only one.

I mean, anyone reading this is capable of holding a part-time minimum wage job that would let us watch sunsets with our friends every day, but that's probably not a real good situation for most of us to be in either. :)

Gonch, July 25, 2008, 5:40 PM #

Ok, so in the context of your life I'll agree. There's no readily apparent reason that you should be slaving away for 10 or 12 hours a day.

"Is the sweet end game worth the years thrown away being miserable? Considering there's no guarantee you'll even have those years, knowing you could die at any time, that's not a risk I'd take. There's too much life goodness right in front of me to make that sacrifice."

Here's I generally have to agree with you again - I'm very much a 'live for today' kind of guy myself. But at what point is that mindset just as detrimental as always looking to tomorrow?

For people in the white collar, technology who are doing well for themselves - there's probably a lot of leeway there. :)

Situation specific, I'm with you. In general, not so much.

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