Quite an auspicious prompt for me this month, in the sense that I’ve been meaning to discuss this topic with myself at some point soon anyway. Potentially, by the end of this essay I’ll more deeply understand my feelings about my job, and whether or not I should stick with it for the longer term. Let’s see how it turns out.

Anyway, let’s start at the back, and move forward, shall we?

Why do we work at all?


A hard day’s work is not totally useless. In fact, for many it generally feels pretty good. When I think back on my life, some of my best work has come when I’m not necessarily in love with the day-to-day aspects of the job. When painting the entire indoor portion of my temple’s religious school I was tired and bored. But then a few weeks later the kids came and started decorating the walls with their artwork, and I knew I had done good work. And various bits of my schooling were slow and tedious, and have remained unused since their respective exam questions, but looking back I did enjoy learning what I learned.

Henceforth, let us consider the Official List of Reasons Why People Work (OLRWPW):

1. To pay for stuff that they need
2. To pay for stuff that they don’t need
3. To attain a sense of fulfillment that they’re doing something positive, or even just something they enjoy

Maybe it’s that third reason that the prompt is getting at. It means to ask, “Why would one work for any of those other reasons?” Well, when I go to check out at the drugstore and the woman at the register is obviously bored beyond belief, I think to myself, “Can’t she find a job that she enjoys?” The truth is that she might be able to find something, but probably not easily and good old OLRWPW #1 is a quite compelling reason to work, especially when you have two kids at home who grow a bigger appetite every day.

There are many obvious positives to putting OLRWPW #3 higher on the priority list, but at the end of the day OLRWPW #1 will always be OLRWPW #1, right? So then let’s remove the cases where someone needs to work so that they can fulfill OLRWPW #1. Let’s imagine people have had some rich uncle die and leave them no excuse not for work for OLRWPW #2 & 3.

1. To pay for stuff that they need
2. To pay for stuff that they don’t need
3. To attain a sense of fulfillment that they’re doing something positive, or even just something they enjoy

For that matter, let’s imagine people didn’t have to keep up with the Joneses, and realized they already have everything they need. For those of you from the US, this will probably be very difficult to imagine, but give it a try. So we can update our OLRWPW like so:

1. To pay for stuff that they need
2. To pay for stuff that they don’t need
3. To attain a sense of fulfillment that they’re doing something positive, or even just something they enjoy

And now, finally, we can begin to deal with the everyman’s true motivation for work. Pure happiness.

But what does happiness really entail? Aren’t the things we end up appreciating in the end those that we had to work through? A happy marriage is happy (at least partially) because of the hard times the couple goes through, right? And a college degree would not be treasured if it were an easy thing to attain. So what makes us think a day job is any different? We’ll have to go through hard times at work in order to achieve success, won’t we?

I guess this question is really trying to get a little deeper. What level of unhappiness should one submit themselves to before jumping the proverbial ship? The real answer to this question may lie in the waters surrounding the ship itself. The mystery of life is that we never know what’s around the next bend, or over the ship’s rail if we’re sticking to the metaphor. Sometimes when we look at life outside the ship we see opportunity, and other times there are sharks.

So now, instead of simply measuring today’s workplace unhappiness we have to start to gauge tomorrow’s happiness, the latter of which can be tenuous given the painting example above.

So, what to do? It’s hard to tell if we’ll be happy with the next step, and there are bits of today’s work that make one feel like they’re not meeting the objectives of OLRWPW #3. As I write, I’m realizing I just don’t know. Personal fulfillment and happiness are extremely important, but in the day to day chase of these ideals we tend to lose sight of the fact that a hard day’s work can be a good thing. At the same time, a hard day’s work should not be every day’s work.

For a person who’s considering jumping ship currently, this is a tough essay to write. I feel myself wanting to say, “You should just jump when the ship causes you to be a little bit unhappy every day.” But at the same time a little bit of unhappiness can be worth it, can’t it? Perhaps there’s no conclusion to this pondering, or maybe the conclusion will solidify as I ride my ship among the ever growing waves of my day job.

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