Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Thoughts on Work

I just listened to a podcast of writer/philosopher Alain de Botton who wrote The Pleasures and Sorrows of Work. You can listen to this 30 minute podcast here.

Here's a brief summary of the podcast:

Richard Scary’s children’s book “What Do People Do All Day?” was his inspiration.

Generally work is something we suffer through.

Freud said the 2 parts of happiness are love and work.

All kinds of jobs lie behind the more well known jobs.

We’ve become alienated from knowing how the things we use on a daily basis are made.

But it’s fascinating to know how things come to be.

When you’re a tourist you get shown things in a museum about the history of the place but you don’t get shown the factories of modern life.

The idea of what it means to be modern – the world of abundance

We’ve got unbelievable productivity – we’ve become too efficient, we have too many cars, e.g., thus people are unemployed.

Previously, there was a crisis when there was a shortage, now there’s too much.

We’ve worked too well, we’ve worked ourselves out of jobs.

Many of us are very small cogs in giant machines – this becomes dispiriting.

A feeling of alienation results and people get depressed.

Many organizations that make big profits are involved in making very small things, like cookie factories - and workers there have very specific tasks.

This is a modern condition – the very specific specialization involved in these factory jobs.

When people begin a career, they have this tension of economic value versus spiritual/meaningful value.

Heroes in our society usually make a lot of money. Too often if you don’t maximize income you are not seen as successful.

There have always been these 2 value systems in the history of religion - a choice to be made between worldly success and love/spiritual enlightenment.

This is a fundamental tension in human life.

Our work is supposed to make us happy – yet this is a modern notion.

Through most of history work was a punishment, something you had to do.

But attitudes about work have changed right around the same time attitudes about love changed. (arranged marriage versus marriage for love)

With this change work should have the qualities of play. You should love what you do in work.

We all know people who have found work and love that is truly meaningful and almost perfect, but this is a very small % of population.

We’d probably all be a lot happier if we realized that truly engaging work and love is rare, maybe seen in only about 5% of the population.

Some manual work is a chance to express yourself – a carpenter, e.g.

We have portraits of exceptional people around us that we feel are the norm.

We are always excited to think that we could be one in a million, but what about those who are not the 1 in a million?

Many of us don’t know what we want to do, especially young people.

Many of us know what we don’t want to do, but not what we do want to do.

Many career counselors are under such pressure to find jobs for people.

To really work out what someone should do with his/her life is a monumental task for a career counselor.

The one resource we’ve really wasted is human talent b/c we don’t know how to match people with their proper occupations.

What is it to be ambitious?

The respect for ambition is heroic in our society and people come under suspicion for not being ambitious.

Many ambitious people in business are not successful in other aspects of their lives – family, spirituality, etc.

Ambition is a very personal journey.

In high school many of our kids are directed in the wrong way, making very big decisions. Many times these decisions are made in a hurry.

Right now (at age 40) I’m interested in architecture but at 16 I wasn’t interested in it.

The minute we walk into a party we are asked, “What do you do?” That is our identity and if we don’t say the right thing, we are shunned from conversation.

What if we asked people we meet at a party things like, “What do you dream of?” “What do you hope to do?”

The business card title is not truly the real identity of the person.

Religion had division between Catholics and Protestants. Catholics believed that the most important job was to be the Pope. Protestants say all jobs can be valuable; it doesn’t matter what you do, but how you do it.

That message takes a lot of anxiety away.

We ask ourselves, what will be the point of my work in 100 years?

Work is an attempt to do something that outlasts time. Humans have a need to do something that outlasts us.

The wonderful thing about work is that it keeps us busy and focused on tangible day-to-day goals – keeps up from focusing on anxiety and the big questions of life.

Work is to be celebrated for giving us focus, for giving us something to do even if no one cares in 100 years, that’s ok, it served its purpose for us on a daily basis.

Education system is a mish-mash of vocational and liberal arts – we are often unclear of what young people want. The most determined can make their own path, but many drop out.

Until you are 18 you have to jump through the education hoops, but suddenly the world opens up when young people enter college – there’s no right or wrong choice, it just depends on your temperament and personality.

There is a tremendous hunger for guidance in these issues. There’s a lot of loneliness in people’s questions.

Artists and writers can give people confirmation of their thoughts & questions – to make them feel less lonely. That in itself is a kind of solution.

But there’s no magical solution to these difficult questions, yet it’s comforting to put words to feelings.

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