“Your purpose in life is to find your purpose and give your whole heart and soul to it.”
The statistics concerning work in America tell an interesting story. On one hand, we hate work. On the other hand, we can’t seem to get enough of it.
For the most part, Americans are dissatisfied with their jobs:
- 70% of employed Americans are disengaged from their work.
- 18% of workers are actively disengaged—meaning they aren’t just unhappy; they are busy acting out their unhappiness.
- 74% of employed workers would consider a new job opportunity if one was presented.
- The 4-Hour Workweek has spent 7 years on The New York Times bestseller list.
- Americans count down the years to retirement at age 65 and CNN defines early retirement as the ultimate “American Dream.”
Americans are not happy with their work and do not enjoy it. But we refuse to slow down and take any break from it:
- Compared with other industrialized nations, U.S. workers rank 1st in hours worked (1,800 hours annually).
- The typical American middle-income family works an average of 11 more hours a week in 2006 than it did in 1979.
- 53% of adults check work messages at least once a day over the weekend.
- Americans leave a half billion vacation days unused each year.
- We struggle to find even one day of rest each week.
These statistics paint an interesting picture of our love/hate relationship with work: We don’t like our jobs; but refuse to spend less time at them. Why is this the case?
Most likely there are a number of reasons. Sometimes, our legitimate financial needs require us to work long hours. Sometimes, our jobs require us to be on-call and available at a moment’s notice. Other times, our employers simply do not provide us that type of flexibility.
But I think there is something deeper going on here. After all, all of this is happening in one of the most productive and wealthiest nations in the history of the world. Why then, given our vast supply of opportunity, do we work such long hours in jobs we hate?
If we could discover the deeper reason for this discontent, we could find relief in both areas: both a greater appreciation for our work and more space for rest.
The real reason we have such a love/hate relationship with work in our society is because our motivation for it is all wrong. We do our work for the wrong reward.
Typically, we do our jobs simply for the purpose of earning a paycheck at the end of the day. Work is that thing we do through which we make money so we can do all the other things we really want to do.
But money as a means to fulfillment will always fall short. It will never fully satisfy the longings of our heart—in their own right, power and reputation and fame never satisfy either.
When money is the reward, we can never earn enough. We are always left desiring just a little bit more.
This is a problem with our modern understanding of work. If we are only doing it for the sake of the paycheck every two weeks, it will never be enough. We will always be left searching for more—putting in just a few more hours, skipping another day of vacation, heading back to the office on another Saturday morning.
Do we work because we love our jobs and find fulfillment in them? No. We do it because we believe the paycheck makes it all worthwhile—or at least, a little bit bigger paycheck will make it all worthwhile.
But it never does.
We were designed to work for something greater than money and possessions and property. (tweet that)
Instead, view work as contribution to others—this is the reward. Our work contributes to the good of society. It moves us forward. It makes us better as people. It enriches our lives.
Whether we are bagging groceries, delivering mail, sweeping streets, or managing others, we can view our hard work as an act of love to the people we serve.
And when we change our motivation, we discover work is not something to be avoided—it is meaningful.
Please don’t view your work as something to be endured or avoided. Don’t view it merely as a means to a paycheck. Change your focus. Develop a deeper appreciation for the contribution you are making (or find a job that will).
This will always result in a new love/love relationship.
Glenn Quagmire says
Reply to Heidi @ Barefoot and Paleo (May 14, 2014 at 10:57 am) who wrote “Have you guys ever watched people live in “third world” countries? They have nothing yet they are the happiest people I’ve ever met.”
Yeah, all the starving people I’ve seen in third-world countries on my TV over the years looked really happy. So emaciated their ribs were showing, covered in flies, on the verge of dying. Looking pitifully at the camera in the vain hope that someone would help them.
Of course I know what you’re referring to. I’ve also seen footage of people in third-world countries smiling at the camera. I assume that those people weren’t starving.
Glenn Quagmire says
I agree with much, but not all, of what you wrote Joshua.
I live in England, but people are no happier working over here than they are the other side of the pond.
Wage slavery is no fun at all wherever you live and the way I see it most jobs are pretty much pointless. They don’t contribute anything of use to anyone or society as a whole.
Certain jobs are essential like refuse collectors (we’d be knee-deep in rats without them), farmers (we’d starve without them), house builders (everyone needs shelter), utility companies (people need electricty/gas/water), etc.
But still, everything is too damn expensive.
Food is too expensive, housing is too expensive, power is too expensive – all these companies (supermarkets, housing developers, utility companies, etc) make huge, obscene profits. They’re way too greedy. They charge way too much for what they provide.
We live in a world run by greedy multinationals & governments with no will to rein them in (because they’re in the pockets of big business).
As for your comment “Whether we are bagging groceries, delivering mail, sweeping streets, or managing others, we can view our work as an act of love to the people we serve”, I have trouble viewing things that way.
If I were bagging groceries the last thing I’d do is view it as an act of LOVE to the people I’m serving. Rather I’d think to myself “Why am I bagging groceries when the person could do it himself/herself.” [Which is what happens in the UK, we don’t have grocery-baggers over here.] I’d think “I’m not contributing anything of any real use to anyone, my job is pretty much pointless.” If I were delivering mail, OK it’s more useful/less pointless than bagging groceries, but again I wouldn’t view it as an act of love (and if I were delivering junk mail, quite the opposite). It’s just a job. And a boring and repetitive one at that. Sweeping streets is a useful job, because the streets would be a complete mess without street sweepers, but it’s hardly the sort of job that’s going to fill you with joy, is it? You’re not going to jump out of bed everyday and yell “Goodie, I get to sweep streets again today.” (But at least you’re not in an office.)
As for managing others, most managers I’ve had have been incompetent and/or lazy and only got to their position because they knew the right person and/or brown-nosed. Many managers are corporate psychopaths and love of others is the last thing on their mind. All they care about is power and money.
Also, regarding why people work so much when they hate their work, one reason is to buy all the stuff that advertising has brainwashed people into believing they need, another is because people are in huge debt, and another is because people hate their home life and would prefer to be busy doing something they hate (and earning money) rather than sitting at home, twiddling their thumbs and pondering the pointlessness of their existence. At least a job you hate keeps your mind off that existential stuff.
A while back I was homeless for about 14 months. I was also unemployed and claiming a disability benefit which meant I didn’t have to look for work. I got about GBP 460 a month, which isn’t a lot, but I built a shelter in the woods, I lined it with cardboard for insulation, I had a camp bed/sleeping bag, and a small gas heater in there (with ventilation to prevent carbon monoxide poisoning).
I got free food from local churches, could use the showers there, and could also get canned food, second-hand clothes and toiletries. It was no picnic, especially when it was -4 Celsius (25 Fahrenheit) in the middle of winter.
When you have no rent or mortgage to pay, no utility bills, very low food bills, a free bus pass (because of my disability) and the only monthly outgoings I had were for my mobile phone & butane canisters, then GBP 460 goes a long way. Oh and I also bought an external battery (15,000 mAh) for my phone, which I recharged in the library, coffee shops or pubs.
I suppose I had more disposible income than many because my outgoings were so low.
Even though I could have made a so-called “homelessness application” to my local council to be housed, I’d had so many bad experiences in the past with noisy neighbours (doors slamming, people arguing, babies crying, loud music/TV, people fighting in the street at 3am, police sirens, etc) that I didn’t think I’d ever get offered a quiet place.
Well the seemingly impossible happened, and I made an application after 14 months and was offered the flat (apartment) that I’m in now and it’s the quietest place I’ve ever lived with wonderful quiet neighbours. It’s not the plushest neighbourhood going, but I don’t care. It’s quiet and to me that is wonderful. It’s also luxury to have hot & cold water on tap, gas central heating, a bathroom, an oven (I love cooking), a fridge/freezer, a washing machine, a TV and a laptop. Obviously my monthly outgoings are now much higher than when I was homeless so everything has it’s up and down sides, even homelessness.
In the back of my mind though I’m expecting everything to go pear-shaped again at any time, so I have some essential camping gear always at the ready in case I end up homeless again: rucksack, double-skinned tent, sleeping bag, ground mat.
So all in all I love having a place to live now even though it’s expensive, but I have a backup plan in case everything goes pear-shaped again. I’m fortunate (if that’s the right word) not to have a wife or kids who depend on me, so if I am made homeless again, I can just grab my rucksack, jump on a bus and go wherever I want. I don’t live in a big city and there’s plenty of woodland on my doorstep.
As I say …
… you cannot satisfy an existential desire with conventional scratching.
Alan Watts Fan says
What you describe is the bedrock of Capitalism largely fueled by consumerism. In order for the infinite economic growth required by Capitalism to work, we need to always have sufficient demand for goods and services. The result? A Fight Club-esque sentiment of buying more crap you don’t need. That’s what has been projected at the American people via all forms of media for many decades. In a sense, we’ve been programmed to consume.
The whole system is broke but no one seems to care. It will implode at some point because infinite economic growth based on this sort of thing is not based in any reality.
Jacob Zoller says
I’ve read a lot about work, and this is certainly one of the best pieces I’ve come across.
Thanks a lot for your thoughts, Joshua, and continuing to sound the truth of intrinsic motivation always trumping the external trappings.
I am currently in between jobs right now. I made a fair amount of money and lived far below my means in a job that I hated while supporting my young family. Then I took a job I loved, and sadly that came to an end last summer after 3 years. At 42, I am now searching for another job that I will hopefully like. Money is secondary now….
Amy S says
Thank you for this today. In a time where the economic outlook in my community is a bit grim (and today is dark and foggy: a perfect metaphor), a different perception of work is absolutely necessary. Here is where the journey is vastly more important than the destination.
Marijke Bongers says
I love this video. Maybe more people find it helpfull. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=21j_OCNLuYg
This is GREAT!
I run an in home daycare, and love my work. The best part is because its mine, I can run it in a way that carters to my life style and the families I get to help be a part of.
As a single mother of two teenagers myself, I of course need to be able to pay my bills, but living simply and within a budget that doesn’t stress is a wonderful thing.
I have been laid off several times, once from a job where I was on a treadmill being on call 24/7. Over the last 8 years I have looked for and thought deeply about various opportunities and vocations. Often times I wonder what the job will do for me. Not often enough do I look at what I can bring to a job. I have a UPS delivery driver in my neighborhood named Stu. Stu always shares his smile with people on his route. Most delivery drivers are rushed to meet their delivery quota but Stu patiently waves other drivers on as a courteous gesture, he waves and smiles at everyone he passes. My friend one day said, … “that’s Stu, the Zen Buddhist UPS driver.” Being a student of Buddhist psychology myself, I introduced myself to Stu. He took time out from his route to have a nice conversation and always gives me a big hug and wants to know how things are going in my life. He is about 6’7″ so that is a big hug. I began to realize that it wasn’t Stu’s job that was offering so much but Stu brings so much to his job. He spreads love and kindness to everyone along his delivery route. My partner once remarked that Stu brings his ministry to his work. After all, we all have a ministry. Stu has offered me a new perspective of work. Along with this perspective and the simplification of my life (with your help, Joshua) I have more options to be content and happy. I have the opportunity to lead a fulfilled life not a life that is simply full.
Mike Lewis says
I was in the Marines for four years, which I loved. I left it to become a Police Officer, which I loved. My last few years at the police department, I no longer loved it but was only a few years from retiring so I stuck around. We called it the golden handcuffs. After 25 years of that, I work for a union now, this I don’t love, but nor do I hate it. I took on a lot of Parent Plus loans, larger than many mortgages. I can’t retire because of that debt and the fact health insurance would eat up 40% of my pension. I’m stuck and my wife whom I love dearly doesn’t want to downsize. Now I look forward to age 65 for some relief on the medical premiums. After years of living my work, this is not how I envisioned the golden years. I envisioned living in a small town, living a simple existence. So I read the stories of others and dream of the life that could have been.
Mike Lewis says
After years of “loving” my work…..
I sincerely doubt that U.S. workers rank 1st in hours worked, compared with other industrialized nations.
Shouldn’t some Asian country be ahead of them?
At least china?
Maybe it’s per person, but then shouldn’t some place with a low unemployment top the list in that case?
Sally Chapman says
All fine and good if you only define work as paid labour, which is all you do. How would your article be different if you acknowledged and took into account the vast amounts of unpaid work that occurs in families? Why not write about THAT life/work challenge?
There are so many important related issues around this topic and I think I’ve experienced most of them. For example, even when you enjoy the job itself, it can be other people’s toxic behaviour, peers or boss, that make the job unbearable. Unhappiness is catching!
Another issue is being able to know when your current job is great and NOT to accept a promotion or go elsewhere. A promotion can look attractive in terms of status and money, but can place you in a position where you’re no longer doing what you love, where the skillset is now very different from what you imagined.
Yet another issue is how people look forward to ‘retirement’, but realise when they get there, they’re too old, chronically ill or burnt out to enjoy retirement anyway. Some of us don’t realise that some activities we dream of doing when retired need to be nurtured for many years, especially when the brain and body is younger and more flexible. Eg, art, music, dance, hiking around the world, etc… It’s important to set aside time in your working life to practise the skills you need to do what you love when you have more time.
I love my work. It allows me to contribute something in this world. Work regardless of what it is, is noble. You cannot get what you want all the time. We work also so we can provide to ourselves and to our family. People just need to change their attitude towards work. Minimalism is not always the answer or spending less because these two are arbitrary depending on where you’re at in your life. Right attitude and right perspective will always make work or life easier.
I wholeheartedly agree that we shouldn’t do our work because of the money we earn and instead do something that makes the world better. BUT I will say it can be a motivator in job choice. My mother in law taught English to 7th graders for 40 years! She came across thousands of students in her lifetime and influenced hundreds for their lifetime; she is a legend in our community. She has one of the most important jobs and I will say over and over that she didn’t get paid enough! Unfortunately our society shows their value to contributing members with money and consequently, severely undervalues teachers. With that being said it can make a job more rewarding when you get compensated appropriately. I’m a nurse with an equal amount of schooling as a teacher and have a job that is just as demanding, but I get paid significantly more. Probably a little off topic, but maybe food for thought. ;)
don godson says
very well said.. in my case the pay check is always the motive… but i am changing slowly… and hope i work for joy and not for the paycheck …
My son who is 32 has embraced this way of living from the start of his working years. He writes and enjoys his free time to write, read, and just enjoy his free time. He lives on his own, pays rent, and all his expenses, yet does not have a car, he rides a bike, eats healthy, yet simply, and works employed enough each year so as to support himself throughout the rest of the year. This is usually in a proportion of 8-4… At first, being a baby boomer, I was distraught at his choices… and worried sick about his “future”. I have learned to respect his honesty and his clarity to be true to himself. Like he has told me: “you lived to work, I work to live”. To him, his greatest asset is his time to do as he wants. And me… I am starting on this path, I am trying to cut down on everything, get rid of clutter and unclutter my mind, live with more freedom and less things and money… to gain my time and freedom. Thank you for your life story. You are inspiring.
Very interesting article. One of the most loved jobs I ever had came about through volunteering at an animal shelter. This was never a “job” to me but a labor of love. It was meaningful work. It wasn’t sexy or glamorous. It was physical and emotional. It was outside work, rain, shine, hot or cold and I loved it. It didn’t pay much in money but gave me so much more than I’ve ever had from a job. I wanted to be there every day and I LOVED my work and the animals I served.
All these issues with ‘work’ stem from capitalism. And this naive drivel about ‘being a good worker for others’ is dangerous and just perpetuates the ideology and practices that recreate capitalism. Those that work the most are the poorest. Their jobs are horrible. This is a collective issue, not individual. If we could change jobs and follow our passion we all would, but the reality is that stories like Joshua’s and the minimalists are anomalies in a world where most folks are over worked or desperate.
Apologies for writing a novel but where I wrote about fair monetary value in exchange for your time I feel I need to add “as fair as that exchange is ever going to be”.
I see where you’re coming from with this article and it is a positive idea. On the other hand, if someone really hates their job I don’t think it would always be wise to try to push back that feeling with “I am doing this for others.” If your inner voice is saying “I am uncomfortable here, something isn’t right,” that feeling is valid. Burying it under self sacrifice could just serve as a way of denying the problem. Some like myself are dissatisfied not because they aren’t making enough per se (but that too) but because they’re not being rewarded in a way that is of equal value to the time they put forth (Like the minimum wage I make which isn’t enough to live on without help – and I’m a minimalist). I don’t think it’s wrong to dislike work not suited to you, or to expect fair monetary value in return for the most precious thing you have — time — or selfish that helping customers (though it can be momentarily rewarding) doesn’t necessarily alleviate that feeling — you still have to take care of yourself first. Otherwise if you’re running on empty what good are you to anyone? Just a thought, no disrespect meant. I have been reading your blog for years now (mostly lurking!) and I think you’re an excellent writer. You’ve certainly influenced my life for the better.
I hear you about there being many reasons behind people’s love-hate relationship with work, yet still wonder. All reasons taken together, aren’t they “just” differing reflections of the basic relationship we have with happiness and unhappiness respectively?
Unhappiness requires zero effort. Happiness takes guts.
Hardship cases excluded, I feel to have guts or not to have guts is the question, i.e. at the root of life decisions that lead to doing work you hate, or conversely to creating satisfaction for yourself and for other people.
Of course, unhappy people are every bit as courageous as happy people are – when what’s preventing it is eliminated. When asked to point at themselves, even people who hate work point to their heart, but when guts are demanded and the universe rewards speed – then they switch to their minds instead. Even though the switch is simple, it’s damn hard to get across.
Best done by leading by example – so hats off to your doing just that with your post and your blog and elsewhere probably, too.
I agree, Joshua and before I leave for work I ask God to let me be a blessing in someone’s life each day. It’s not my “ideal” job…but for now (due to other obligations) it is what it is. I do have a love/hate relationship with my job, for sure. Come fall, I will get those other obligations in check and actively seek new employment. I need fair compensation. I do work hard…but for very little pay. Good thing I’m a minimalist…I’d never make it if I weren’t! :)
Love your inspiring posts. Thank you.
JR Riel says
I’ve been following your blog for some time now, even on FB, and haven’t commented much. I just wanted to say thanks a lot for always giving me something fresh and something provoking to meditate on. I am constantly in a cycle of trying to stick to my values of simplicity and minimalism, but find myself surrounded by pressures of what this world says is the “right way” to live your life. Anyhow, your words and photos are always inspirational and motivational. Mahao nui loa!
Gladys (The Pinay Mom) says
There are people who really love their job and a lot of us don’t because of few factors: money,passion or just simply no choice. Like me, I wanted to use the skills I have but it would mean taking our kids to daycare which costs a lot. I have to find job where we live (only three minutes away,actually),it’s not the best job in the world but the reward I get is priceless and that is to watch our little girls at home rather than take them to a babysitter/daycare.
Yanic A. says
Wonderful post : We, my husband and I, are at this very moment trying to make it so I don’t have to go back to work after my maternity leave. We have decided it would be better if I stayed home until the kids are in school and then, I would find work again. We know that when we make the final decision and announce our choice, reactions will be varied and most likely negatively received. Some of the people I’ve already shared our idea with have literally tried to talk me out of it : How will I define myself, how will we live, will I be happy doing “nothing”… like raising a family isn’t a job worth doing.
This was just the article I needed to read tonight to remind me of the importance of my choices.
There is no greater job than raising your own child. I suspect those that say you be doing “nothing” either have no children or paid others to raise theirs in daycare. I am/was an engineer and have not worked outside of our home for 13 years. My boys, my husband and I have all benefitted greatly from this. I love my job as a homemaker and mother.
Great article Joshua! Work should start with the idea of service.
Unfortunately, we live in a society that has taught us to value money and possessions over more important things. And we seem to be spreading that idea to other cultures. Fortunately it seems like at least some people are starting to wake up and understand that money and possessions can’t lead to happiness, nor a full life. But wholesale transformation will take a while.
Joshua, thank you for a beautiful post that really resonated with me. Do you know Skidelsky’s book ‘How Much Is Enough?’ It describes the same idea (at much greater length!), that of working just enough to pursue ‘The Good Life’ rather than perpetuating the endless cycle of earning as much as possible in order to keep up with everyone else’s levels of consumption. I can’t recommend this highly enough.
Maybe all of us here are the start of the revolution – could the minimalist way break the cycle and become the new normal?
I spent most of my life trying to fill myself up with my job. My job had to be my passion (I am a designer, illustrator) but after several years my jobs always ended up being just a means to an end (funny how that happens). I still look at work as a means to an end (how much does it pay, what are the benefits). It is not that I hate my job, I actually work at a very cool place (art school) and work a nice flexible gig with very awesome co-workers. But the bottom line is, it is still a “job” and sometimes I feel very uninspired despite the fact that technically I really am positively impacting others (creating classes for our online environment). I guess the problem is that now I am pushing 50 and work is still… work. How nice to be able to treat work as optional, that is what i spend a lot of time day dreaming about. So I have been saving more, downsizing and really beginning to look at other options as I get older. Ideally, I would love to spend my time volunteering and running trails, maybe one day :) Thank you for the post!
Hello fellow trail runner…this is one of the very things I hope to have more time for. Oh how beautiful it would be to work as needed, while traveling to and fro to check out a new trail?! As we hack away at our debt and decrease our “cost of living”, I hope to do just that!
I agree with this post. I began working strictly for the job I wanted. An upper management person told me one day. We sell ourselves to the highest bidder in our working career. I dwelt on that for a while, my job offerd perks for my hard work. Then our company was sold. The new boss had his own goals and ideas about what the company should be. We sometimes wonder if the employees that came with the company was a part of it at all anymore. Never the less, we all began to do things the new way. Today we all have a different perspective about the company. There aren’t as many of us as there use to be, and the boss isn’t replacing any of us as we go. I keep trying to find ways to make myself happy and stay, but the truth is I think I’m suppose to go!
Can’t agree enough. When you said we are designed to work for something greater than money and possessions and property, you hit the nail on the head.
Sure, Americans dislike their jobs. I believe it’s mostly because they are dependent on them and naturally, we don’t like to be dependent on things for our livelyhood. Throw in the fact that we “have” to be there and the negativity there and you’ve got yourself a problem.
I believe we can all put ourselves in a position where we can choose to work on what makes us happy by both living on less and always taking action and making progress towards our goals.
I’m doing this and watching many, many others take action as well. I think things are changing and they’re changing fast.
Great post and keep up the great words of wisdom.
Sandra Pawula says
Joshua, The idea of seeing our work as an expression of love and service to others is beautiful. At the same time, a great deal of work that goes on in the U. S. isn’t really designed to serve others, but to accumulate wealth for a few.
So, I think we also need to come to terms with that and see whether our personal work is part of the problem or part of the solution. Of course, we can still personally do our work with a love and caring attitude. That is the best of all and I appreciate how you cut right to the core of what is important in this life.
I think another factor underlying our obsession with work is the need for personal affirmation or even affirmation of our existence. It seems like so many are missing this basic need that was never give freely to them in childhood. It’s a very subtle form of need that we may never be aware of but it keeps us on the treadmill doing more and more and more.
Heidi @ Barefoot and Paleo says
Interesting. I have been working on my husband to get out of the love/hate relationship. Although he is much better these days he still has a strange addiction to work. He actually loves what he does (developer/builder) but takes workaholic to a new level. There is some type of pull for him and it is really hard for him to separate work from personal life.
To reduce some of the work stress, I personally have changed my thoughts to the intention of being wealthy (with visualiztion and positive thinking) instead of focusing on making more money right now and all the negativity that comes along with it.
If you truly need money, it will come your way.
Kush Sharma says
I think this issue can be tackled in two ways:
1. Find out where those paychecks are going. Besides the needs, work on eliminating any expense that you don’t value. This lessens the burden.
2.Design a road map that work towards a target. A target that would set you free financially. While you’re working towards this, start looking for what you would really like to do and do it at night even in small steps.
The first point reduces the negative pressure that revolves around the need to do a job and the second point makes sure we work towards developing something we love.
Sue @ When Did It Get So Complicated says
I love this Howard Thurman quote: “Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive, and go do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.”
However, I do understand that not everyone knows how to make money at what makes them come alive. Until we find what makes us come alive, I really like your approach to finding meaning in any job, or move on.
I personally think the other side of the argument is that we feel stuck at jobs because we need that paycheck and therefore become resentful and feel we have lost our freedom.
A few years ago, I started becoming a minimalist… not to save money, but to bring more peace and happiness into my life. I was making a 6-figure salary, so I could have easily afforded lots of ‘stuff’, but I feel ‘stuff’ takes away my freedom. By living a simple life and creating multiple streams of side income, I now work part time as a professional consultant because I WANT to be working, not because I HAVE to be working. This makes a HUGE difference in workplace engagement for me.
Heidi @ Barefoot and Paleo says
Perhaps the best contribution a worker can make to others is to push back against an employer’s demand for more and more hours for less and less pay. Workforce participation has dropped to an appallingly low percentage of adults. It seems that half the population has given up even finding a job, while the other half is working insane hours and resenting it mightily. Take back your power, people.
Money may be the major motivator for working long hours, but those of us who hate our jobs and don’t care how much we make (so long as it’s enough to cover our basic needs) have other reasons we hate our jobs – emotional trauma as a result of abuse that prevents us from actively engaging people and work out of fear rather than joy and a sense of fulfillment.
joshua becker says
Zelda, are you taking intentional steps to find different work? I would hope so. You are in a great position to do so if you are content with only basic needs being met.
Sort-of. I put in a resume and application at the encouragement of my supervisor to brush up on my skills and even scored an interview, but was not offered the job. It wasn’t something I really wanted to do anyway, but at least I pushed myself to get out of my comfort zone. Truthfully, I’m absolutely terrified of “breaking out” of the “rut” I’m in despite my dislike of where I’m at.
What about a job that actually should be one where an employee can feel he or she is contributing to the greater good? I am married to a teacher who tells countless stories of the lack of appreciation and downright disrespect from both students AND parents, as well as administrators, across the board, at the school where he works. Morale is so low that I think any of the teachers there would leave in a heartbeat if they could find a place in another career. And I know that it is the state of employment of teachers in the US, in general, not just his school. So many teachers feel like they have wasted their lives.
I am a teacher (albeit not in the US) and feel exactly the same. Our profession has changed, from actually teaching and educating the whole person, to form filling and box ticking. On top of that, as you mention, at the end of the day we get very little appreciation (though I realise other jobs are pretty much the same, which is why I make a point of saying ‘thank you’ at every possibility).
I am due to go on a sabbatical for a year, to finish a book I have been working on, as well as trying to find alternative, more fulfilling career, but I realise that is a huge privilege I have, as my husband is also employed and we can live on his salary for a while (and believe me, it’s not going to be easy)! As you said, most teachers at my school, including myself, started teaching as we found great meaning it, yet as years go by and expectations change, find it a burden to go on…
joshua becker says
The world will never give you the respect or accolades you so desperately desire. They are all too busy fighting for their own. You will need to find it elsewhere.
I concede that fact; however, it’s the blatant disrespect and demeaning disregard teachers are given that is really the source of most of that “What have I done with my life?!?” feeling which permeates the staff at most schools. And who would hire a teacher of 18 years to do something (in a new career) they could pay a 22-year old with fresh college knowledge to do for far less? Alex@lifeandotherweirdtales is fortunate to have a spouse who can support her while she makes those changes. Most cannot.
Great post, Joshua. I’ve been following you for about a month and I’m really enjoying your blog.
I am a teacher as well and felt the need to comment here. Firstly, I understand how tough teaching can be and how unappreciated teachers can feel. I’ve been there many times myself. However, It is so important to have a tiny spark of joy in your day to keep you going, whatever that may be. My happiest and proudest moments as a teacher are made up of the little successes: getting a smile out of a shy kid, seeing a struggling student finally ‘getting’ something, even just having my naughty class all turn up on time one day!
I made myself a promise at the start of my career that I would leave when I stopped enjoying teaching: it does no one any favours for you to feel miserable and frankly, the job’s too hard to suffer through. Look past the paperwork, the broken system and the negative colleagues: focus on the kids. It’s not easy, but that’s what I’m trying to do. If you can’t, be kind to yourself and move on.
My first thought in response to Josh’s post was, “I’m so lucky that I’m a teacher!” I find enormous meaning in my job every day. If I were able to do it all over again, I know I’d choose being a teacher. It’s not a job, it’s a calling. If people connect with others and build relationships, it is a spectacular thing. Of course there are difficulties but so, so worth it.
I agree with you, Marilyn and Elizabeth. This is my 30th year in education (I started when I was 22) and I’ve been a teacher for 1/2 of that and now a School Psychologist. I’m also a Licensed Mental Health Counselor. I’ve worked in public schools, private schools and international schools with children and families of all socio-economic status and ethnic diversity. I have seen more teachers who love what they do than not. And those who really are not happy teaching are usually the ones stuck in the ‘system’ of getting a paycheck, insurance, retirement and all the safeguards that a career in education provides. It’s scary not having those things, and very scary to leave and look for something else when you have trained so long and so hard in the first place.
I try to come to an understanding of why I love my work so much and why it’s such a huge part of my life, and most of the time I realize it’s because I know that I am giving back to society in a way that will make a difference. Even if for one person. Even if I don’t know how it will manifest itself or when. My joyfulness toward my work came full circle when I got my financial situation under control and made a commitment to self that my life work could not be for the money or accolades. It had to be about ‘the better good’. And taking the time to study human personalities, high conflict people, systems change and staying true to self and learning to work strategically around people who do not help me to become a better person.
No matter what you do in life, if you find yourself somewhere doing something that does not give you a sense of joy, accomplishment, fulfillment, AND if you happen to be in a ‘helping profession’ where people are dependent upon you, then please leave. Please.
Finally, it’s also really about our materialistic society and needing everything that is culturally expected from homes to cars to expensive technology. And on and on. If you get in this trap, and add children to the picture as well, you can easily become a slave to your work.
I appreciate your reply as I have always believed that to be true. I had feared it was a cynical view but I believe it’s accurate nevertheless. Thanks for sharing your perspective.
Oops put the above comment in the wrong place.
I am a nurse and sometimes feel the same way…working way too much for the company’s bottom line with little respect or appreciation for it. Morale in my department at the hospital is very low right now. High turnover rate, which then burns out the remaining staff. It does take a lot of strength to step out of the chaos and center myself in the role of a caregiver as an act of love and service. Thanks all for your posts!
I’m in that profession as well, and we don’t get paid overtime, are judged and evaluated by measures beyond our control and if at all responsible to our kids
(students) are often called to spend long hours beyond the work day to plan and prepare. I am more satisfied when actually left to do what I was hired to do, teach. Unfortunately, that rarely happens.
You are right on. I have dreamed of being a teacher since I taught my first swimming lesson when I was 17 years old. Now, at 36 years old, I am 20 days away from “retiring” from education. As I look through the teaching tools I saved for and purchased, or at my student loan bill, it saddens me that even though I truly feel teaching is my calling, I must walk away. Those who don’t teach or aren’t married to a teacher may say many things about my lack of “stickwithitness” or weakness, but my mom always taught me that life was too short to waste a single second on anyone or anything that isn’t growing you in the direction I wish to grow. Have I influenced thousands of American kids? Absolutely. I’ve fed them, put clothes on their back and shoes on their feet as well. I AM growing and serving, but the cost? My investment in my own family. My total focus on the story MY sons are reading out loud to me or the 36th flip on the trampoline or undivided attention on my husband, rather than lesson plans and paperwork late at night. Life on Earth is to be explored, not merely worked and I pray our new adventure gives a little more time for just that. I wish you all well on your journey to simplify and LIVE LIFE!
Good article Joshua. The paycheck for many is the means to an end – it was for me for several years until I began the process of simplifying and de-cluttering my life, which is what you discuss.
What many people practice is backwards, but is commonly preached. For many who aren’t unemployed or underemployed we work hard to buy more stuff. When we are tired we want to treat ourselves with another purchase. We even buy stuff because we want to show it off.
The stuff adds up, and it gets to a point in which we not only despise our job, but now we feel trapped since we need the job to pay for all the stuff and bills.
joshua becker says
You are absolutely right about that. Consumerism holds us hostage to many desperate acts.
Heidi @ Barefoot and Paleo says
Have you guys ever watched people live in “third world” countries? They have nothing yet they are the happiest people I’ve ever met.
I know what you’re saying…
I often think about Europe and the simpler lives people live. I saw on TV a family that lived at the foot of Mt. Vesuvius in a beautiful little house. They grew veggies/fruits and celebrated life each day with homemade bread and wine and cheese. They sat at a table outside and relished in their beautiful surroundings…remembering the ancient Romans. :)
Actually, we here at Europe are pretty disengaged and working long hours as described in article. You can always choose living in a small village, but for multiple reasons people dont do this that often ;)
Gladys (The Pinay Mom) says
You are right here! I personally know people who brag about how much money they make and all the stuffs they just bought. And knowing from them that they got stuffs (boats,motorcycles,four-wheelers,iphones,etc) at a very low interest makes me think they work so hard just to pay for them and I’m sure they don’t like their job,some barely spend time with their family.
I have spent a huge proportion of my life focused on finding a job that fulfills me, rather than a job that just provides me with a paycheque. But I never thought about it the way you described it. Taking every job as a means to contribute to the world no matter if it is what you love to do at the moment. That’s a really interesting and gratifying way to look at it. Thank you for the post!
Pain comes from my spouse living just as you described above. It’s a vicious cycle. The fear to change exacerbates the cycle. It’s such a bummer when the beautiful reasoning in this article doesn’t break through that fear. The unhappy worker loses and those close to that one.