On The Nature Of Work

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It’s always the first step that is the hardest, the first word, the first act, the first step out the door, the first ring of the alarm bell in the morning. I don’t know what it is about starting things that human beings find so difficult, but it seems to be the way our brains are hardwired: at the prospect of imminent work, and therefore pain–because work, even work we love, is not always very fun (and sometimes even very painful)–some part of us, deep inside, closes up tightly like a Venus Flytrap, and refuses to cooperate.

The older I get (which is not very old, so far), the more I feel certain that the price of success is pain. If you want anything good in life, any sense of satisfaction, contentment or achievement, you have to work very hard for it. Bleed for it, even, and perhaps, while you’re at it, donate a kidney or two as well, just for good measure.

And sometimes, doing that–working hard–is a lot easier than you would imagine. For one thing, as I said at the start of this post, hard work is only hard when you are about to begin it. Once you ease into the flow of it, without allowing your mind to wander or any unnecessary thoughts to enter your head, it is actually not very difficult. It’s sort of like dipping yourself into the pool for the first time. When you first jump into the water, submerging yourself from head to foot, it’s so cold you could die; but gradually your body acclimatises itself to the temperature and in moments you’re swimming through the water wondering how the water could have felt so cold and painful only minutes ago. The same goes for hard work, for anything difficult, really. You want to climb a mountain, my dear? Why, just take the first step: that’s all there is to it.

Ultimately, what separates those who do very well in their fields, and those who bumble through their days, is that one group has figured out hard work and pain is nothing very much to be afraid of if it’s the kind that doesn’t kill you, while the other camp is so in love with comfort they don’t like the slightest bit of suffering, especially self-imposed suffering, to sully their lives. But without suffering, they will never be able to experience a true sense of accomplishment or fulfilment either, so I guess in the end it’s about whether you value the short-term or long-term payoff when it comes to life.

Most people are, at their core, lazy and indulgent. If given the chance to live a life of comfort and pleasure without having to lift a finger, they would grab at it in a flash, without a backward glance or even wiping their shoes on the welcome mat to their free mansion. Under the capitalist model of our society, however, many lazy people are forced to work in order to earn a living and keep a roof over their heads, so they usually end up either trying to find a ticket out by, say, marrying well and living at home to look after the children, or doing their best to wrangle for a job that pays reasonably well, but is not particularly difficult or stressful, and requires little thinking. Working at a cafe, for instance, provides for a straightforward and simple existence, whereas working as an architect, as someone who has to wrack their brains and design entire buildings, the level of mental energy, focus and ability required is much higher—which is why it pays better, too.

As a child, I used to hate work, but that was because school didn’t exactly provide stimulating material in the first place. I had a wild imagination, and I loved reading, and doing sums while sitting inside in the classroom, with thirty other children, just didn’t cut it. My brain protested by giving up, choosing instead to daydream and doodle when I should have been concentrating in class. Even work you love, though, as I stated before, can become tiresome if you do it professionally. Many are the writers who, finding themselves relying on their ability to produce a set amount of high-quality words every day to keep a roof over their heads and food stocked in their fridge, come to the sudden realisation that their interests lie very much elsewhere. Being a professional is hard because it means you must do the work whether you want to or not, and most of the time you won’t want to. But you have to do it, anyway, because it’s your job, just as a person who is starving must seek out food–because if they didn’t, why, they’d starve. Just because someone works in a very “artsy” profession, like writing or design, does not mean their days are unstructured blobs filled with the kind of joy, fun and play only children get to experience. In fact, on the contrary, you’ll find that the more supposedly “creative” a job is, the more discipline, focus and hard work it requires. Some of the offices of designers and writers could give lawyers and bankers a run for their money.

A life lived well is a life spent doing work one finds meaningful, is passionate about, and is happy to devote hours of one’s time— your entire life, sometimes. More and more, I have come to the conclusion that the meaning of life is work, whether that work be helping to manufacture marshmallows as a factory hand, or writing books, or teaching children, or building houses or filtering water so it is clean enough for people to drink safely. At the end of your life, people will remember what you have done for them and the world, and nothing else—so make your work, and your life, count.

 

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3 thoughts on “On The Nature Of Work

  1. This all rings very true for me. As an INFP, and a very young one at that, I tend to procrastinate, and since I’ve started procrastinating way more then I used to during the past few months, my attention span seems to have shortened too, which is going to take a very long time to restore. For a long time, I thought that this was something that I could solve as a conscious thing, that I could make a plan to “get my life back on track” and I would reach my goals everyday and all would be well. However, after countless attempts and countless failures, I’ve found that this way of going about it will probably never work for me, and seems to only fit a few, specific types of people. Rather, it seems like the better thing to do for a lot of people is to do things less consciously and more slowly, by making your smallest, least significant decisions better everyday. Instead or binge-watching, read a bit or catch up on some work, if you feel like eating for no reason, take a walk instead, etc. And for a while I thought that this, unlike other work, does not involve taking that first step, making that first commitment, but it does, maybe more so than any other work, because you first have to take the first step of realizing you have to change and making a commitment to make better choices, and then make hundreds of other first steps so you can come closer to your ultimate goal of change and progress, which will bring you closer to finding a meaningful career and a meaningful life.
    This reminds me of something you wrote earlier, that the meaning of life is love. That is true in many ways, but it is also true that the meaning of life is work. After all, our whole life is work: getting an education, maintaining a career, maybe taking care of children, and ultimately finding your place in the world. Yet it is all things that we should love, and things that will lead us to love, so maybe the meaning of life is both.
    Love,
    Khadija
    PS: I sent you an email.

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