Saturday, 3 August 2013

Saying Goodbye to the Notion of Work as a Treadmill

We have this thing called work entirely wrong. It’s upside down and it’s no longer working. Working in the way we know it isn’t the law of nature i.e. survival of the fittest, it is the product of our limited resources based consciousness. We strive for endless economic growth and in the process we have created a system that benefits a few while the rest of the world has to suffer. We assume it has to be this way and nobody really asks how we got here in the first place. The more comfortable we are, the less inclined we are to question and yet somewhere, deep down, we know that something is wrong. It is time for transformation because the system we have created is collapsing.

An unexpected thread recently presented itself in the course of my conversations with people, mostly through work. In the job that I have left very recently, I tried to help people in their business wherever I could. Yet at some point during some conversations with clients I became tempted to switch off my business persona and listen to them as people – meaning REALLY listen, understand their challenges and commiserate where appropriate. This often involved acknowledging that I didn’t have all the answers and in that way exposing myself, risking looking like an idiot. The interesting thing was that occasionally the roles were reversed and the client would listen to me as a person and advise me on how to handle my approaching life changes (involving leaving my country). The common theme that emerged was that people are tired of being on a treadmill. They have to work more and more for less and less money and they start asking themselves what the point is.

My mother used to tell me that money makes the world go round. This is such a profoundly untrue statement and yet it’s the belief that society is based on. The world goes round of its own accord and life renews itself without our interference. If anything, we just destroy what is given to us for free in favour of making space for things we can make money of. Looking at the way society functions, we have to have money to get by and yet if we take arbitrary things out of the equation then I wonder how much we really need. Civilisation didn’t get there all by itself and yet I wonder what the money and the work that made it all happen is based on. It’s not even the same in every country. I was taught that if you work hard it will pay off. Yet when I started working in “the system” I realised how far from accurate this statement is. If we understand the original idea behind work from an existential and cosmic perspective better then I think we might come closer to the truth.

I’ve never been a fan of laziness  and yet looking around me at all the things that “money” produce I think it’s based on symbols, belief and magic more than hard work, necessity and survival of the fittest. When I was younger and having trouble getting through a school day I would occasionally have anxiety about “surviving” when I grew up. I was afraid that I might at some point just become too tired to work in the same way that I was too bored/tired at school to listen in class and do my homework like I was supposed to. I remember being told once that I should enjoy being a child because once you grow up you are no longer carefree but weighed down by responsibilities. On the one hand I thought that it was impossible because being a grown up meant that you could do whatever you wanted to. On the other hand I didn’t enjoy much being a child and was wondering how much worse it could get once I grew up. It also makes me ask the question, if life sucks so much and the treadmill is a fact of life then why is it another “fact of life” that we have to perpetuate the cycle by bringing new life into the world? The “normal” course of life is to “grow up” in the way your parents see fit so you could also be a responsible individual one day – one who would earn enough money to provide for the family (if you’re a man) or always sacrifice your own desires for everyone else (if you’re a woman). This is to protect the children that you would raise so they could be responsible, bored and miserable individuals like yourself one day. Once you’re thirty, you have to be settled, rich and have a family or you’re a misfit at best, a drifter at worst.

I recognise the tiredness that I dreaded as child in others and even when it’s my job to tell clients that they “should” be putting in more effort, I would rather sympathise. The dreamer in me wants to know what society would be like if everyone thought differently about work. Perhaps in the world that we live in now, work is a means to “get by”; a necessity rather than a choice. Yet when you want to apply for a job, potential employers expect you to be “enthusiastic”, “driven”, “passionate” etc. like you’d work on their objectives for the love of it rather than because you need the money.

We misunderstand work. The new age spiritual teachers would tell you that “thought is creative” and yet people often forget about the importance of action. Work is the action that provides the fuel to our thoughts. I don’t think there is any more powerful way to create ourselves and society than through what we put into our work. In a purely material sense it means that if you do certain work you would get a certain something in return, based on the parameters that have already been established. In a more direct sense, work is much more than that. It is our means of bringing ourselves into the world and it is possibly the most potent tool we have of collectively creating the world.

Work as I like to believe it was originally intended is about love and authenticity. It is why we exist and how we create meaning in life. It is our answer to life’s most important question – who are you? The answer might not lie in the fixed label of an invented profession, but in defining ourselves through our actions in response to life’s challenges. It is also the way in which we reinforce our beliefs about ourselves and the world to our subconscious mind. If we believe that we will never have enough and have to suffer in order to gain recognition and that is the way in which we work then we will always be on a treadmill. If we believe that we have a gift to bring and that the world can benefit from it then we might succeed in bringing more light to our surroundings. Work is about the pleasure of creating what we would like to see in the world.