• 08.08.2016

Work – is it taking over our lives by Smitha Jayakumar

I work a lot.  I work with people and on people (no, I am not a masseuse, I am a life mentor).  I enjoy work.  I work with a lot of people who work a lot.  I work with people who are employed; I also work with people who employ lots of people – business owners and entrepreneurs.  I work with people who enjoy their work hugely and I also work with people who are struggling to enjoy work.
A common theme I address with many people is Stress, work stress and burnout; whether it is the employer or the employee, the person struggling to find ‘their kind of fulfilling work’ or even the one who enjoys work.  I was myself stressing over a workload recently.  So as I was huffing and puffing and feeling disgruntled, I decided to do some research – how on earth did we invent this idea of work?

It was interesting research.  So now for some history…

Did you know – in the time of Plato – leisure and the pursuit of leisure were considered the prerogative for the development of the human mind and finer intellect?  Yes.  Work did not have this central importance it is given now.  It was considered a dreadful drudgery and many people looked down upon it.   The Greeks believed that a person’s morality, wisdom and discrimination depended on the amount of leisure time one had.
This philosophy was also endorsed largely by the Christian catholic world.  So for a long time this was the dominant view of the ruling elite, the powerful and rich, and the intelligentsia.  Of course there was a large group of people who were doomed to work – someone had to do what has to be done!

With the rise of protestant Christianity and ethics the view around work changed.  The protestant ethics stand for diligence, punctuality, deferment of gratification and the primacy of the work domain; that an individual could be the master of their own fate through hard work. So work became worship, an exalted position.  People started embracing work and taking pride in work – working hard became very important.
The next change came in the 1850s – with the industrial revolution and the later capitalist model, work became more impersonalized.  The factories were born – mass production and manufacturing began. So where skill and workmanship in the domain of work was primal, discipline and production became important.  The joy went out of work. There came a lack of intellectual stimulation and the emptiness of work began to be felt.
Then Communist/socialist thought came along.  Did you know one of the reasons communism is so opposed to capitalism is the effect of capitalist industrial corporate culture on the human psyche?  The sadness, drudgery and the lack of growth or expansion of creativity or fulfillment for those caught up in the cycle of work for survival. Well communism may have tried to create a more equal society, but it did not bring any great change to the work system.

Has much changed since then?    Regulatory bodies have been created to improve the quality of work life and the work environment.  We have tried to improve people’s levels of inspiration and motivation with incentives, recognition and raises which have all been included into system.

Now in recent times, there is a large group, ‘the professionals’, which has replaced the so called working class – some of these people enjoy more freedom with work probably because they get to do what they love to do, but the truth is that due to higher pressures they also experience stress and burnout…

I found the research on work really fascinating, so I felt I had to share it.

We are now left with a better understanding of what has influenced our thoughts about work and our beliefs around it but the problem is still very much there and many of us have a love/hate relationship with work.
Some of us say, ‘I am so stressed, but I love my work!’ (we hurry to include that last phrase of the sentence  – to make this point emphatically – of course I like it! How can I not like it? It’s absurd to even think or feel otherwise!).  Some of us admit, ‘I hate work, this is so stressful...  I want to stop, but I am afraid to stop, I don’t know what else to do.’  ‘I have tried changing my work, its better, but the monotony seems to catch up and I find myself disliking it all over again.’ Some of us are worrying about work and its completion or worrying that we not doing enough at work…  We are caught and fairly confused.

All these thoughts and beliefs brought me to the way I am seeing the solutions available to us now…

Ultimately the real freedom and enjoyment with work is when it can be separated from survival – food, clothing and shelter.  But for this change, systems, governments, societies have to embrace this idea.  We are looking at evolution of human thought here… It’s going to take a long time!  The fact is, human history shows us that however intelligent we may be, we are slow in a sense – it is very hard for us to see/hold the bigger picture or reflect and learn and not repeat the same things.  We are impulsive, highly survival-driven and very habitual.

So some people have decided to get out of the system.
Scenario 1 – work hard and make enough money or create an idea, build a business and sell it profitably i.e. to be financially able to out of the cycle of work for survival. 

Scenario 2 – to just say, ’you know what, enough is enough’ and go off the grid. 

There are clearly lots of challenges in both scenarios.

What else can we do right now to improve our situation, even as we plan or dream for these big changes?

We can pursue the work we are passionate about or that excites us.   If we are in the capacity of creating employment or facilitating employment, we may motivate people to do the work they enjoy.  It can be a trial and error process that requires some patience.  When we are fulfilled in one aspect, we actually feel more energized to also do things that we have to do, even if we don’t particularly enjoy it or if it’s a chore. 

Now saying that, It is not just enough to pursue what you enjoy doing, it’s also important to have a balance.

I am sorry, however repetitive that may be as a solution, it is so important and true.  ‘Too much work’ is not sustainable however much you may enjoy it.  There will be a point in time, where like a coin flipping, what you like/love becomes what you dislike/hate.  It’s not by our own fault.  It’s because of who we are, human nature and how we are designed to be.

One reason is, in a very evolutionary sense, we are naturally nomadic – born to be free in nature.  The establishment of society, civilization, governments, religion and philosophy – even ‘the philosophy of work ethic’ has ‘civilized’ and provided structure to live as large groups with better stability and harmony.  It may have shown us one way of self expression and fulfillment, it may have helped given a meaning and purpose to life and existence. 

But if the same structures throttle our instinctive need for space, spontaneity, pleasure, leisure, reflection, variety in expression or freedom, the result can be painful and stifling and we can become ‘burnt out.’   We are tired and exhausted and unable to enjoy anything in life any more. We feel disconnected and meaningless.  We have a need to be doing work (if we don’t, we become restless or feel unproductive or guilty!), but we don’t feel we have a choice anymore.

As a civilization we have forgotten how to rest, relax or experience leisure and we even look down upon that need as a weakness.  We work, ignoring so many things – our health, pursuit of activities that we enjoy or make us happy, our relationships, living itself – and then we wonder how to find that elusive sense of freedom, happiness and fulfillment. 

There is no one complete solution for getting out of the drudgery of work but each of us wherever we are, let’ s meditate on this.
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