On Work

Published on April 26, 2017 (↻ February 5, 2024), filed under (RSS feed).

This was idling in my drafts and is good enough to bridge a few days until we can touch on quality web development again.

It is not work, but overwork, that is hurtful; and it is not hard work that is injurious so much as monotonous work, fagging work, hopeless work.

—Samuel Smiles: Character (1871).

Quite a few people appear to loathe work.

Others, clearly not just referring to Silicon Valley people, appear not to loathe it.

Is that difference really for as trivial reasons as we may at first think?

One may argue that it’s due to the fact that people feel forced to dedicate a good amount of their time to something they don’t want to do, for perhaps meager pay.

But there are others who dedicate even more time to work, sometimes for no pay.

So where’s the disconnect?

Being forced to do something?

Yet nobody gets “forced” to work anymore anyway. There’s no one standing behind people threatening to do horrible things to them if they don’t go do the job they loathe. There’s no external force, that is, and no direct one, at least.

And so there may be an internal force. Such internal force could, of course, be powerful. (Our beliefs make our reality.)

And with an internal force that makes people loathe their work, there may come this idea of retirement. Wanting to retire early, or worrying about another thing, like retiring later (unless those people live in a country that marries work-phobic thinking with economic naïveté to lower retirement ages), reminding of Fromm’s statement, “the meaninglessness and alienation of work result in a longing for complete laziness.”

But maybe, within a confining economic system, our understanding of work is all wrong (with the physics definition being useless). For example, as I wrote in How to Work on Oneself, we could consider work doing something useful for oneself or others (useful, then, meaning for psychical or physical benefit).

Could that be our definition of work?

If someone did nothing useful for themselves nor others, perhaps that person has a really good reason to loathe what they’re doing?

And the person doing something useful for themselves or others, perhaps that person doesn’t even need pay, not per se?

Without looking further into intrinsic and extrinsic motivations, nor socialization and alienation, this is where I want to leave this all hanging. I’m not sure our normal thinking about work is useful, and neither do I believe should we be afraid of working all our lives. Not if what we do is useful. And especially not if we can axe, at least improve, the fiat-, interest-, speculation-impaired “invisible hand” of a global economy that benefits a few and ends up stacking others against each other.

[…] it does not seem to be true that work necessarily needs to be unpleasant. It may always have to be hard, or at least harder than doing nothing at all. But there is ample evidence that work can be enjoyable, and that indeed, it is often the most enjoyable part of life.

—Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi: Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience (1990).

Toot about this?

About Me

Jens Oliver Meiert, on September 30, 2021.

I’m Jens, and I’m an engineering lead and author. I’ve worked as a technical lead for companies like Google, I’m close to W3C and WHATWG, and I write and review books for O’Reilly and Frontend Dogma. I love trying things, not only in web development, but also in other areas like philosophy. Here on meiert.com I share some of my views and experiences.

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