One day, many years ago, I came up with an ingenious thought experiment which is the true test of how much I’m enjoying a job.
It’s simple. I pose myself this question:
If I somehow had a magical button that would allow me to black out every day at the start of work, waking me up hours later once I’m finished, would I use it?
I’ve had numerous jobs where I’ve gotten so little out of them that I’ve decided this would be a wonderful idea. If I could black out every day and never have to experience work, but still make the money, I’d jump on the opportunity. Whenever I start to feel this way in a job, I start to question why exactly I’m doing it, after all I’m getting so little from it that I wouldn’t care if I couldn’t experience it.
In the years since getting my degree I’ve been moving around so much that I’ve been unable to find a stable job. Mostly I’ve just been working in menial positions, doing meaningless work to support myself.
Oh, that’s sweet, many of you are no doubt thinking. This guy here thinks that when he finally settles down he’s going to find an inspiring job that will make him feel like a useful member of society. Bless him.
The truth is, my everlasting gap year is an excuse to avoid the possibility of working one of these menial jobs for the rest of my life. I can always make myself feel better by saying “Hey, it’s temporary! It won’t last forever.” But after 4 years of jumping around these jobs I’m starting to feel like maybe it will go on indefinitely.
I get no satisfaction from these jobs. They don’t challenge me. I have no passion for them. But I do them because we have to do them.
One lesson I’ve learnt over these past few years is that sometimes in life we have to do things we don’t enjoy. Life can’t always be parties and fun. We all have to make sacrifices to get what we want or need.
For many of us the thing we sacrifice is our time. In order to keep the life we want we have to sell a large part of our time to work in jobs we don’t like. If we don’t we won’t be able to afford to do the things that make us happy or worse we’ll starve to death, or lose our homes.
Now I don’t even think this used to be considered a sacrifice. It was just accepted for a long time. You will work for your entire life doing things you’re not passionate about and that’s just how the world spins.
Did the idea of job satisfaction even exist 30 years ago, I wonder? Recently it seems it’s a major buzzword. People have finally realised that you spend the majority of your life working, so possibly you should be spending that time doing something you enjoy. That’s great, people are starting to want more freedom for themselves and are questioning who they are. I like that.
The downside is, that freedom isn’t really possible. Somebody still has to work these shitty jobs. There’s still the exact same amount of amazing jobs available – very few. So now we have a workforce that is self-aware enough to despise their jobs but with no option of escape.
Is this really a problem, or is it just middle class, Western entitlement. We’ve created a problem out of nothing. Decided that we are suffering in our lives when really we don’t know true suffering. Many of us have been brought up in a world where we take so much for granted. We have clean drinking water coming out of our taps, heating in our homes and the worst thing we ever feel is boredom.
Whenever I feel bad about a job I’m doing, I remind myself that in comparison to about 80% of the world’s population my gripes are completely ridiculous and stupid. I have to spend 8 hours a day looking at a spreadsheet? I’m sure the sweatshop workers in China working 20 hours a day feel so bad for me. Poor Daniel – he complains about the price of ice cream, while other people in the world starve to death. I should (and often am) ashamed of myself.
These are valid criticisms, but really they do nothing to detract from a person’s own situation. Knowing that others suffer doesn’t alleviate our own suffering. Calling it suffering is ridiculous, it’s not suffering in any true sense. But more just a nagging discomfort that itches away at us until it becomes overwhelming.
I know this is a common problem though. One many people have and I’m truly wondering what the solution is. Is there a way for every person to be completely happy with their situation, job and life. Should we all just make peace with the fact that our entire lives are out of our own control. That we’re stuck in a system that we feel we can’t change.
Often times I feel like a slave. Ok, that’s even more ridiculous than saying I’m suffering. Yet, when I question my life I try to consider in what way I am truly free. We need money to survive, to make money we need to work. If we need to work in what way do we have freedom? Freedom comes from choice. If you have to work, that’s not a choice, is it? When you’re forced to do something you are trapped without escape. Isn’t that a lot like slavery?
Well, you can quit your job right now. Travel into the wilderness. But still you’re not free. Once the money dries up you’ll find your chances of survival dwindle a lot. Maybe you can live off the land, hunt for rabbits and deer, but if everybody decided to do this it’d be unsustainable. Plus your standard of life would be so low that you’d wonder how this is the best choice you had to escape the modern world.
The answer to all of these problems – we’re led to believe – comes in the form of material possessions. Here’s a weird thing I’ve noticed. Whenever I start feeling bad about something, the first thing I think is that I should buy something to alleviate the pain. Maybe I’m having a bad day, so I automatically think “Fuck it, better buy a cake!” or maybe I hate my job so I think, “Man, I really need to make more of my time at home, I’d better buy a massive TV.”
When I buy these things, the instant gratification of a new possession takes away the dull ache I feel with my life. But eventually that new toy becomes an old toy and no longer has any magic. The sadness comes back and I think, hey, a new TV made me feel good last time, I’d better buy something else to make myself feel better again.
This is nothing but a short-term solution. Buying new shit doesn’t change our life situation it just distracts our mind away from the real issues pressing into our head. Our life continues on as it always did, just now we have a new TV to mask our disappointment. That’s why media, in all its forms, has always been so successful. It allows us to escape our own lives for a time, which many of us hunger for.
There’s a genius to this system. Possessions make us feel temporary happiness. To get possessions we need money. The only way to get that money is to work. Nobody ever thinks, wait a minute, it’s the work that is making me unhappy to start with. If I don’t work, I won’t be unhappy, so I won’t need things or money.
The thing is, I don’t think possessions do make us happy. They make us feel something else. Maybe it’s an emotion so close to happiness that we can’t even tell the difference. We’re tricked into believing we’re feeling happiness, but really it’s something else.
Happiness isn’t really what I would consider an emotion. It’s a mindset or a lifestyle. When a person is happy they don’t spend all day thinking “Woo! Yeah! Happy, baby! So happy!” but rather they have a powerful contentedness running through their self that makes them fine with their situation. Is that what we feel when we buy a new games console?
It’s hard to break the cycle of work and money, we’re born into it, it’s built into our behaviour. Plus the thing about work and unhappiness are that they sap away your strength. The obvious solution to having a bad job is to get a good job. But after working for 8 hours a day, who has the energy to look for another job? Work keeps you in a position where the only way to alleviate your pain is to buy stuff which continues to validate your work.
My friend would tell me that the answer to all of this is socialism in some form. Get rid of money, get rid of capitalism and hey presto we all become happy shining beings. Part of me agrees. I wonder what a world without money would be like. Where we help sick people for the goodness of doing it, rather than to make money. Where we give away food, so that nobody goes hungry.
My other friend would argue that this is a fairytale. If money didn’t exist, if life was free, nobody would work and I know my friend is right. The only way to keep our current standard of living is to force people to work, either through the law or through financial pressure.
If we didn’t have to do these shitty jobs, we wouldn’t and no matter what system there is around us there will be jobs that nobody wants to do. Meaning that there is no perfect system. There is no utopia because no matter what world we live in there will always be trash, meaning there will always need to be somebody to take that trash away. Somebody always loses because somebody will always have to stare at a spreadsheet or work in a sweatshop.
All of this is too easy though. To blame capitalism, to blame The Man. Any positive change in the world doesn’t come from the system, but from the people. The only way for our situation to change is for us to change.
Our lives need to become simpler instead of more complex. We need to change ourselves to become more grateful for what we have, rather than what we don’t. Wouldn’t the world be a lot nicer if we were all happier with less, instead of constantly clamouring for more?
It seems an impossible task. It would mean sacrifice. But we’re already sacrificing our lives and time – is that more valuable than our television?